Saturday, July 24, 2010

Honey Storage

This post is more of a personal nature, but in sharing it with you, I hope you get ideas of things you can do to increase your own storage by relying on Mother Nature a bit.

As some of you know, our family raises bees. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying,..."I" do not raise bees...nooooooo way! My daddy did that while I was growing up and I didn't enjoy a single minute of it. I told my husband when we married that if he wanted to get involved in yucky hobbies like beekeeping, he had to deal with it by himself. A few years ago, we moved in with my parents for a few months, and of course it was during the honey season. Daddy got Tommy hooked...and now I live with bees again. For some reason, its not as terrible now that I'm grown as it was when I was a kid. Perhaps that's because we tend to worry about the bees together instead of it being just one person in the house doing that. Perhaps its because I'm a Family Herbalist now and I recognize benefits I never even heard of when I was kid. Or maybe after all these years, I've gone crazy. Who knows!

Anyway, here in Georgia, the "honey flow" as it's called happens just as summer is beginning. Sometimes you can even rob the bees a second time at the end of summer. And because bees are especially dedicated workers, they do their best to keep that honey coming in. [Inserting a sidenote here: I've written an ebook about bees and beekeeping. It doesn't teach how, but instead it correlates bees with life and looks at them in a spiritual way. Interested? Visit and click on The Honeybee Religion.]

Last Saturday, our family went into "busy bee mode" and robbed three beehives. Tommy and Manti suited up in whites, hats, veils and gloves and approached with smoke. The smoke is used just to help calm them down a bit...the bees, not the men. It makes me think a little of those old ways of Native American people where they sat amongst their enemies and smoked a pipe. It was a calming experience then too so that matters of importance could be spoken of in appropriate ways. Interesting thought, don't ya think?

Anyway, back to the bees... When the bees move out of the way enough you can put your hands inside their house, boxes of frames filled with wax are taken off and carried inside. Some beekeepers believe that they can form a relationship with the bees, where the bees recognize the beekeepers scent and mannerisms and respond differently towards them than to other people. Tommy is this type of beekeeper.

Once you have boxes/frames of honey-filled wax inside, you quickly find you have a dripping mess and sometimes even bees who just can't walk away from their hard work.

I was particularly intrigued to watch these bees cleaning each other up. Some of them get squished as their hive is disturbed, and some of them get honey dripped on them. They actually tended to each other and worried over the other bee instead of themselves. Impressive characters!

Notice the covering you see on the frame of wax? The bees make that, and it is formed over those little slots to act as a cap. It protects the honey once it is "ripe"...I guess you could call it that. It means the water content has been sufficiently evaporated and the honey is ready to be used. You can't get honey out of it that way though, which means you have to slice off those cappings and quickly put the frame into your big gadget called an extractor. It's an ugly gadget, but it does the job!

Our extractor has 3 slots for frames. You can see a frame in each one. A lid goes on top of it, and then you turn the handle on top. This causes the basket inside (which holds your frames) to spin, thus slinging out the honey from the open wax compartments. It slings little droplets of honey all inside this big barrel (which is the size of a 33 gallon trashcan) and collects at the bottom. After you spin it one direction, you turn the handle in the opposite direction to more fully empty the wax frames. THEN, open the lid, remove each frame and turn them around so you can spin the honey out from the other side of each frame. If you don't put the lid back on, will be glittering from honey splatters! Ask me how I know!
(overlook my unorganized pantry showing please)
When you complete all the frames, you've got gallons of honey in the bottom of your extractor. There is a "gate" on a spout at the bottom of the extractor, and you open the gate to let the honey flow out. It is always possible for debris to get into it at this stage, but not a lot. From here, it pours into a 5 gallon bucket that has 3 baskets on top of it. The first basket has a mesh bottom that filters out the large particles of broken wax and whatever else. It's very much like bridal veil fabric. The next basket has a smaller weave that filters even smaller particles, and the third basket has such a tiny weave that it can catch the ittiest bittiest things you can imagine. What you collect in the bottom of the 5 gallon bucket is clean honey. This bucket also has a spout and a gate, and from here, you fill your clean jars and cap them. Here is our first jar of honey this year:

There is something about bees that is really remarkable... take a look at last Saturday's honey collection in jars....

Do you see how there are 3 different colors of honey here? Remember that we robbed 3 different hives. Each hive made its own unique honey blend. As tiny as they are, they are still so individual!