Extracting honey is a sticky, messy job.
The first step is to scrape the cappings off the wax so the honey is free to flow when the frames are spun in the extractor. This can be done with a knife or, as above, with a scratching fork. I’ve done it both ways, and find the fork to be the better tool. It’s more precise, allowing me to leave more honey on the frame. I’m also a lot less likely to stab myself with it when trying to maneuver with my wax and honey and propolis-covered hands.
When the frames are spun, the honey collects in the bottom of the extractor tub. We position a double strainer beneath the tub, open the gate, and do our best to keep our tongues out of resulting stream of honey. Fingers are another story.
(photo courtesy of a friend)
In mid-winter, the bees in my hive are hopefully buzzing away in a tight cluster, keeping each other warm.
It’s best not to take the lid off when it’s cold out, so I don’t actually know what’s going on in that box. While I could get lost in a thought experiment of the Schrodinger’s cat variety, instead I don’t think too much about it and order bees to be delivered in April, just in case.
Last year’s winter was long and very cold. My bees did not make it through, so the colony that is currently in the hive is the one I installed this past summer. Their shipment was delayed due to weather issues down South and they didn’t arrive until June, giving the bees a late start in building up their stores.
When keeping bees, the single most humane thing we can do is to limit the amount of honey we steal. Bees work hard to make every drop, and they do so for reasons that have nothing to do with humans having a sweet tooth. They eat their supply of honey all winter long, using the energy to keep their bodies moving. With no central heating, movement is the only way to keep the temperature up.
Many people steal honey from bees in the fall, making their best guess as to how much the bees will need over the winter and how much it’s safe to take. I prefer to wait until early summer to see what’s left, and even then, I leave them a good supply. So I’ve not taken any honey from these bees, and won’t decide for a few months whether I should. The inner workings of a bee colony are incredibly complex and not completely understood. When striking a balance between our wants and the colony’s needs, I’d rather err in their favor, even if it means a little less gold in the pantry.
The bees are soaking up every last drop of color and sweetness and sunshine.
You can bet we humans are too.
Lemon balm smells bright and fresh.
It is used as both a tea and a bug repellent, and its flowers are particularly attractive to bees. Because it’s a member of the mint family, it can quickly overtake the plants around it, so to keep it under control I will cut it back often and pull any seedlings that sprout. Every time I do I will be met with a wave of lemony air. Taste and looks are important in a garden, but when choosing plants I like to keep my other senses in mind as well.
The oregano is beginning to flower, keeping the bees busy as they stock up on food to get through winter, just as I do.
Oregano is intent on taking over the world. No matter how often I cut it back, it inches ever outward, claiming any bit of dirt it can reach. We grow Greek oregano and spicy oregano, which I dry and mix together. They’re only slightly different in flavor, but combining them adds a bit of depth. With temperatures in the nineties today it’s hard to imagine wanting a hot lasagna sprinkled with dried herbs, but I know that day is coming sooner than I – or the bees, I imagine – would like. Hopefully we’ll all eat well when the snow flies.
Too many bees in a hive on a hot and humid summer day would mean a lot of energy wasted in fanning to try to keep things cool.
Instead, bees ‘beard’, sitting outside the entrance in large clumps. This year our grapevine grew in front of and above their entrance, and the bees seem to be enjoying the shade its giant leaves provide.
You might think we would learn from their behavior, but no. We spent this hot weekend in the kitchen, standing over boiling pots and even turning on the oven for some baking, a single fan moving the heat around but not providing much relief. I know when I pop a jar of preserves in the winter my memory of that heat will be tinged with longing for these long summer days, so I’m doing my best to enjoy every sticky moment.
This grape vine was a volunteer in my sister’s yard.
I think they’re Concord grapes, but I could be wrong. In a month or so they’ll turn a lovely purple, and grape jelly making will commence. Last year we only got enough juice for three small jars of jelly, but this year the vine is heavy with grapes. We planted it next to the deck where our beehive sits, and it sprawls across the deck in every direction. I really should learn more about pruning and training plants, but letting things grow with wild abandon seems to be written into my DNA.
The butterfly bush performs as advertised, attracting lots of butterflies.
Hummingbirds, moths, and bees love it too. Ours is outside our kitchen, and I enjoy watching the activity out the window. But not everyone is a fan of butterfly bushes. They can be invasive, and while they do provide nectar they are not host plants for butterflies. Keeping the flowers from going to seed and planting other appropriate hosts plants can mitigate these problems. Invasive species can create all sorts of unforeseen issues, though, so in retrospect I might reconsider planting this bush.
I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to cut the plant down almost to the ground in early spring if you want to keep it looking tidy. Right now mine is a bit scraggly, as I did not get to that chore this spring. I’ll remedy that next year, and fresh growth should improve its shape.
Fruit, honey, butter.
Get to it.
2 cups fruit (Strawberries, black raspberries, blueberries, peaches, whatever you’ve got.)
1 cup honey, divided
4 sticks butter
Bring the fruit and a few tablespoons of the honey to a boil.
Cook at a rolling boil for 5-7 minutes, stirring regularly.
Allow the fruit to cool completely.
Add the rest of honey to the fruit.
Whip the butter.
Add the fruit and continue whipping 2-4 minutes.
Store in airtight containers in fridge or freezer.
This recipe fills 4 or 5 half-pint jars. It can be divided or multiplied.
If using raspberries, push the fruit through a fine sieve after boiling to remove seeds and larger pulp. If using peaches, peel.
The consistency of your butter will vary depending on the moisture in the fruit and the temperature of the butter and the room you’re working in, and will firm up a bit after it’s been refrigerated. It may come out slightly different each time you make it, but it will always be delicious.
This box contains 8-12,000 individual bees whose every move is determined by what’s best for the hive. By the end of the summer they will have multiplied to upwards of 60,000, each with the same purpose.
Any time I insert myself into their activity I make that my purpose as well. Not honey, not what I have to do later that day or what I was doing ten minutes ago. I move slowly and breathe carefully, looking at both the big picture and the smallest detail. And for those few minutes I understand. Focusing on what’s best for the hive can be what’s best for the individual.