Oh, honey …

First Honey
First Honey

Bill the Bee Keeper set up two hives this summer and is about to make that three. The bees were extremely healthy when they arrived from a nearby “bee farmer” in May, and they have been more than busy in the three months since. Bluestone Farm and all its blooming plants seem to agree with them.

Each bee is named Margaret, after the mom of one of our sisters. That way we always know how to address any particular bee. I think of the queens, however (one per hive), as Queen Latifah. You just can’t get more creative and beautiful than that.

The Margarets head out with the sun each morning, flying to whatever blossoms are at the top of today’s tasty chart. The scouts have already found a good location and communicated it to the other field Margarets through a complicated and amazingly accurate wing-flap-and-dance map.

Off they buzz to load their saddlebags with pollen and to sip the occasional drop of nectar. Those drops are processed in a bee’s “honey stomach”, where select enzymes are mixed with the nectar. Once home, the pollen is loaded into prepared comb cells, and the nectar mixture makes a return appearance in the form of baby honey.

One of the several jobs of the house Margarets is to fan those honey-combs to help evaporate the excess moisture. When the honey is just thick enough, the cell is capped to hold the honey for winter feeding of the hive.

Bees will produce as much honey as they have space for, so if a few extra frames are provided, they happily create honey to share with other creatures. Like us.

They’ve done so well already that we decided to relieve them of some of the excess honey a few days ago. I’ve never seen that process, and I was duly impressed. We borrowed six frames of honey from one hive, and spun them around in an extractor we borrowed for the day. I estimated we might see a pint or two (about two or three pounds), and selected a nice small pan to hold under the extractor spout. Bill politely suggested something larger.

I smiled politely back (men can be such wonderful optimists), and took out a stock pot.

It’s hard to see the bottom of an extractor, which is where the honey gathers, but I was pretty sure our first honey crop was going to look a little lonely in that stock pot. Even so, we are always grateful for whatever Earth has to offer.

Bill lifted the protective plate from the spout and a golden river began to pour out. When that river hadn’t begun to abate at the half-full point in the stock pot, I could see I had thoroughly underestimated what bees can do.

The next day we took another eight frames from the second hive and repeated the process. This time I got a large stockpot. By the time I had filtered it all into jars and weighed each one, we had about forty-seven pounds of honey!!

Women can be so wonderfully mistaken. Well, at least this woman can.


4 thoughts on “Oh, honey …

  1. Those little Margarets are amazing creatures. But will they still have enough honey to last them through the winter? Will they refill the frames that you emptied? I think you said that the production of maple syrup was somewhat low this year due to the weather. So will you be using the honey this year to replace the syrup?

  2. For Sue B: The idea is to take small amounts, being sure that you leave more than enough for the wintering over. In addition, the bees will continue to produce honey over the next three months, meaning their winter stores will be hefty. It is just amazing how quickly they will fill the replaced frames, and will also fill the new ones each hive now has available. Bees aren’t called “busy” for nothing!

    And we still have a good stock of maple syrup from this year; the bulk of the production happened at the very end of the season. We will use the honey sparingly throughout the winter ourselves. Next year, all being well, we will have honey available for sale as well as for our own cupboard!

  3. 47 lbs. of honey! I’m impressed. The Margarets sure are busy bees. 😉

    My husband wants to get a couple of hives and take up beekeeping. I’m looking forward to it.

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