A few weeks ago I spotted the first of the goldenrod blooming in the field behind my house, which meant all of my other projects and activities came to an abrupt halt while my life turned into a sticky, honey-covered disaster.
Because goldenrod– whenever it makes its appearance– means that honey harvest needs to start in very short order. The thing about that beautiful yellow plant is that bees love it, which is awesome for them, but it also has the peculiar characteristic of making honey smell like, ah, feet. Which is not so awesome for those of us who want to enjoy honey without being reminded of a gym locker.
Last year I harvested a bit after the goldenrod came out, and my honey actually had a pleasant tang, and not too much funk, but I didn’t want to take any chances this year, so at the first opportunity I harvested 2 medium supers and 1 shallow box of cut-comb honey from my 2-year hive.
(That’s everything above the red line. I leave everything else–around 100lbs of honey–for the bees to eat over winter.)
The Sunday I started pulling boxes off the hive was intensely hot and muggy, and toward the end of a couple of very sweaty hours the combination of a soaked bee suit and lifting a 40 lb box of honey into my honey-harvest-mobile (aka golf cart) the bee suit was pulled tight enough against my shoulder than one of the bees actually stung me through the fabric.
4 hours later:
That’s the price you pay for what turned out to be 80 lbs of jarred honey and 60 pieces of cut-comb. However, the icing on the cake was that as soon as I was done removing boxes from the hive and jumped in the golf cart to drive back to the house, the battery died.
I very often push a heavy sled as a part of my workouts during the week, and I also very often grumble at that activity, however after pushing a golf cart up a hill while wearing a bee suit and being pursued by some less-than-amused bees, I won’t be complaining about that particular workout again. In fact, I may need to keep upping my weight on the sled… golf carts aren’t light.
As for the honey, the process of extracting and packaging honey was significantly easier this year because I actually know what I’m doing. I sprung for a stainless-steel 4-frame extractor this year, which is light years beyond the plastic bucket I used last year.
First I uncap the frames…
Then spin them…
And the honey drips down to a valve at the bottom of the extractor, while the frames come out about 5 pounds lighter…
The honey (and some wax bits) get poured through two layers of filters and into a bottling bucket…
Where it sits for 24 hours so any air bubbles can rise to the top, and then gets poured into sterilized jars…
This whole process takes a few days, and from about 5 minutes in I end up with honey everywhere. Floor, tables, sink, clothes, electronics, eyebrows… seriously. It’s just not a job that can be done without a little stickiness.
I also harvested a box of cut-comb honey, which is built without a plastic foundation…
And cut to be served comb-and-all.
I got 60 squares from one box, and my freezer is going to be full for the next year.
Interestingly, the honey I’ve extracted this year is entirely different from the honey I extracted last year. None of the tang from the goldenrod (although I did leave a couple of boxes on my other hives for a few more weeks to see how the goldenrod affects them.) The cut comb has the sweetest and most delicate flavor I’ve ever smelled or tasted in honey, and the jarred honey smells almost exactly like a lily or some other very strong pollen, but has very little flavor. (We’ve taken to calling it “honey light” since it has half the flavor of last years.) I’m not sure that it’s going to be great “eating” honey, so I’ve reserved a gallon or so for more mead this year (hopefully made with some of the peaches from my orchard.)
I’ve considered getting a booth at the local farmers market to sell some of my honey this year, but time is scarce as usual, so it may just end up that I spend all of this time harvesting honey to give it away to friends and family like I did last year. And since being able to provide for people I love from tending the land is one of my very favorite things about having this farm, I’m actually totally okay with that too.