Mmmmmmm, sweet, sweet honey — Fresh from the hive! The chronicle of our rescued honeybee hive continued this fall with our first honey harvest. What could be sweeter than seeing this thriving, rescued hive proliferating through the summer and making new honey stores to last through the coming winter? A learning experience that tastes good, too!
A small group of SAHC staff and volunteers gathered in early September on our Community Farm to help crack open the hive and see what our busy little bee folks had in store. Well — a group gathered but mostly watched as Community Farm and Food Assistant Yael Girard did the hands-on pulling of the frames from the hive. First, she demonstrated some protective gear and explained safety to the spectators, suggesting that people get only as close to watch as they felt comfortable, staying out of the bees’ flight path and remaining calm.
Lighting some pine straw in a tea-kettle-shaped gadget called a smoker, Yael began ‘pouring’ smoke under the lid of the hive to calm the honeybees. She pulled frames one-at-a-time from the top super (the box-like layer of the hive that contains the frames). Brushing away most of the bees gathered on the honeycomb, she placed the frames to harvest in a large, lidded plastic container.
As she worked, Yael explained how she had kept the hive alive through the last winter by feeding them with bags of sugar water. “This year, we’d like to see the bees survive on their own, so we don’t want to harvest too much. Since some of these frames from the top are still pretty empty, we’re going to swap them with a couple of full frames in the second super. Then, the bees can finish filling them with honey stores for the winter.”
Holding up a full frame, Yael pointed out the wax “caps” on the cells of honey. “That’s what we’re looking for,” she said, “When the bees are done filling a cell with honey, they cap it with wax. So, we want to harvest a few of the frames that have been finished off and capped.”
After she removed the selected frames, Yael moved the box away from the hive, dislodged more bees, then carried the box into the garage of the farm house for processing.
This is where more volunteers were able to chip in! First, we removed the caps from the honeycomb and loaded the frames into a manual extractor. Unlike larger operations, which use a powered extractor, we used a hand crank to spin the frames. The centrifugal force of the extractor spun the honey out of the frames, and then we poured it from a tap in the bottom and strained it to remove chunks of wax.
Taking the separated honey to the work table, volunteers took turns pouring it into jars, garnished with honeycomb, to take home.
We only harvested a small amount of honey this year — Just enough for the assisting staff and volunteers to take a sample to taste. However, we hope to see our hive continue to thrive, and can’t wait to see what happens next year! Perhaps we’ll even find someone in our Farmer Incubator Program interested in beekeeping operations.