Oh, honey . . .

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Honey straining out of crushed comb in the hot sun. Smells like victory!

I am harvesting honey for the first time in my three year career as a beekeeper Honey straining out of crushed comb in the hot sun. Smells like victory! but the honey is not technically mine. It might be, soon. Or maybe not.

Inigo Montoya would suggest that I sum up, but I prefer to splain.

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Matt felled a tree a few weeks ago that, instead of going crack whoosh thud, went crack whoosh thud BZZZZ. It was a cedar with what loggers affectionately call “cat butt” (a defect in which the tree curls in on itself giving the trunk a C-shaped cross-section). Trees with cat butt are often hollow inside, and this one was no exception.

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L to R: “The Mrs” (the skidder) and me, “Wifey”. Matt’s women at work.

The boys called me in to suit up and steal the bees. At first we thought that a baited hive set nearby would do the trick. The idea was that since their home was dramatically compromised they would prefer to live in the nice hive body that I set out for them, replete with frames of drawn comb (meaning that bees had built cells on the foundation which, in this case, were empty and ready to fill with pollen and honey and babies). Oddly, they ignored it and continued life as usual in their log –even though having the log on its side instead of standing meant that their once free-hanging comb was now lying, compressed together by gravity, on what was once their wall (and was now their floor), preventing them from accessing the majority of their brood and food.

So last weekend we cut into the log again and removed two long wedges like we were cutting up a watermelon. I stole as many occupied sheets of comb as I could and put them in the super, but I could not locate the queen because the log’s rotten interior was full of channels and crevices and crenelations that I could penetrate with neither my veiled vision nor my sticky-fingered gloves. So now we hope that these bees (who we have begun to suspect are not all that bright) will get the picture and move their queen into the hive and take up residence there since their old house is now wide open to the elements and predators.

We’ll see.

In the meantime, I am using the “crush and strain” honey extraction method on some of the honey-filled comb I stole from the log. I don’t have an extractor and you can only use one of those sweet machines on frames of foundation because this wild stuff has no wooden frame to fit into the extractor’s armature. So I’m following the centuries- (millennia?) old procedure of smashing the comb into a pulp and then straining it through open-weave cloth. In my case, I’m using a particular variant of this method that I found on someone else’s blog (which, of course, I cannot locate now that I want to link back to it), in which the smashed comb goes in a mason jar which is then covered with straining material (in my case, a jelly bag) and secured with a ring, and then inverted on top of an empty jar. I then wrapped the join with masking tape and set the hourglass-like contraption out in the burning noonday sun.

I don’t know what these bees got into, but this honey is intensely fragrant and has the kind of full-bodied fruitiness I associate with wine or mead. It may well be the best honey I’ve ever eaten. It makes the “clover” crap I got at the grocery store taste like cough syrup*.

Next I learn how to melt down the wax.

— Amanda

*Real, actual clover honey is great stuff, but a lot of honey labelled as “clover” is the product of miscellaneous, unknown, or blended varieties. This is what my beekeeping instructor referred to as “Mutt Honey” and the Italians more lyrically call millefiori or thousand flowers. Also, the cough syrup taste of my store-bought honey, because it is very pronounced, may be due to bees harvesting maple nectar.

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