My First Act As Bee Keeper

May 16, 2008 at 11:11 am 26 comments

Honeycomb

I suspect bee keeping may just be my coolest hobby to date.  I’m not sure just yet if it tops the belly dancing I did in my early 20s, but it’s pretty darn close and a good bit more practical (in most settings at least).  After just one afternoon of working with the hives, I’m hooked.  All I can think about since is “BEES!”

Actually, my first act as bee keeper was to deconstruct a hive that had died over the winter.  I was fortunate enough to get the help of Matt, a current coworker who has some very applicable experience (he took care of the same hives just a few years back), otherwise I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do. We started by taking apart the “supers”, which are the stack of boxes that provide the exterior framework for the hives; in other words the outside walls.  Then we wiggled out the comb frames, some of which were filled with dead bees, some that were just plain empty, and, most importantly, some that still had lots of honey in them.  

Bee hives

Since this hive was dead, we didn’t have to worry about getting stung for this part of the process.  Later we did add a new “super” to the living hive and checked out its status.  Working with the live bees required the classic bee keeper’s gear (netted hat) and an old-fashioned smoker to control the buzz factor.  Watching the bees when the smoke hit them was pretty interesting…as Matt described it they dive for the combs of honey, jam their heads right in there and drink themselves silly, trying to take as much honey with them since they think the hive is on fire.  However, since they drink so much honey that their bellies are literally bulging, they can’t fly straight, and thus they become much less of a threat to the bee keeper. 

Scraping off the combs

The living hive was doing quite well from the looks of the inside of it: plenty of bees and plenty of honey.  We left the honey in there though since taking honey from live bees is a bit messier than taking it from the dead ones.  So back to the task of deconstructing the dead hive.  I had a lot of questions about why the hive was dead, what with the recent scourge of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in the bee world.  As we deconstructed it, we could rule out some answers and possibly support others. 

Empty Combs

The bees had not starved to death since there was a decent amount of honey in the combs still.  It is unlikely that there was a disease that wiped them out since the other living hive was only two feet away and it’s very healthy.  It is also unlikely that the queen abandoned ship and thus took the rest of the bees with her since there were a few dozen dead bees in the hive itself among the combs.  So, Matt’s theory at least and the one I’m going along with since I don’t know much myself and it makes sense:  the bees froze in the winter.  Normally a hive will generate enough heat to keep the temperature inside above freezing.  However, if the numbers in the hive dwindled for some reason (mites are known offenders for raiding hives), they might not have had enough body heat to keep the rest of them alive. 

Straining the honey

I have so much research I want to do now on bee keeping and how hives thrive and how hives die.  But for the time being I had to content myself with cleaning up the combs of the dead hive (we reused some in the new “super” added to the living hive) and harvesting the honey.  Typically honey is harvested once or twice a year and in very large quantities that require a fair amount of large equipment and time.  This harvest, my very first, was not typical.  Instead of fancy equipment, I used a knife to cut off the wax cap of the combs and to scrape out the honey into a cake pan. Then I used a mesh strainer set over a soup pot to strain out the comb bits.  It was a sticky job, but a fun one!

Golden Honey

All told, I got about a quart and one half pint of honey from five or six combs.  And what wonderfully sweet and floral honey it is!  Some of the best I’ve had, aside from that which I got in northern Portugal this past springBesides just licking it off my fingers, I’m debating what to do with it to really showcase its flavor and silky texture.  Vanilla honey ice cream maybe?  Do you have any good ideas?  It seems almost a shame to melt this beautiful liquid amber into a cup of tea, although it’ll be quite good for that too, I’m sure. 

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Rolling With It The Mac Daddy

26 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ddemeo  |  May 16, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    I love buying local honey, and I’ve thrown about the idea of trying out beekeeping for myself. My only concern is that, since we’re starting a family soon, my kids will get stung. So, maybe in a few years I’ll give it a try. I’ll have more time then anyway.

    The best way to showcase really good honey, in my opinion, is to use it as a topping for grilled bananas. It’s very simple…and delicious! (Here’s a post about it, if you’re interested: http://www.dawnsrecipes.com/grilled-bananas-174.htm )

    You make a delicious angel cake by replacing some of the sugar with honey. It makes the cake slightly sticker to the touch, but the flavor is wonderful!

    Reply
  • 2. gintoino  |  May 16, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I was thinking “mites” as I was reading your text about the dead bees. Mites can be responsible for great losses in bee hives. I read a lot about the disappearing bees in the states. Here in europe I don’t think we have that problem (I might be wrong). And specially in my garden I can say I note a decrease in the number of bees.

    One of the best ways to use honey (apart from just eating it on its own) is as a toping for greek yogurt with nuts. It is delicious! There are also several cakes you can do using it, but I still prefer the yogurt with honey and nuts.

    Reply
  • 3. Leroy Glinchy  |  May 16, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    Great article. It is good to know that this is actually possible. When we get a farm, we plan on doing bees as well. Because I have the animal experience I get to be the beekeeper. What fun!

    Reply
  • 4. Christine  |  May 16, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    I am so envious!!

    I second Gintoino on the honey-with-yogurt suggestion. Also, I love a drizzle of honey on a slice of warm homemade bread — simple, but so fantastic.

    I’ll keep thinking, and hoping I get invited over sometime soon :)

    Reply
  • 5. VegeYum Ganga  |  May 16, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    Me too, so envious. I think honey icecream is absolutely the way to go. I have made it in the past when I still used eggs in cooking and it would knock the socks off of everyone that tried it. Please do make it and let us know the results.

    Reply
  • 6. fallenangel65  |  May 17, 2008 at 7:58 am

    I thought of you this morning as I was going through the website for my bookclub, looking at what books were available. You have probably already read this one, but the book is called “Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate” and it is by Wendy Johnson. Reading the blurb made me think of what you have are doing and made me appreciate finding you all the more.

    Reply
  • 7. Maggie  |  May 17, 2008 at 11:01 am

    I always thought it was the smoke itself that confused/disabled the bees. We saw bee boxes in the cherry orchard next to where we’re building our new house and I was dying to take a peek. Thanks for satisfying some of my curiousity!

    Reply
  • 8. Louise  |  May 18, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    Oh what a delightful post. For some reason, you have made me feel more comfortable about beekeeping. I’ve pondered the attempt myself. Perhaps, I will have to visit often to see how you do first.

    BTW, my first visit via foodie blog roll, I’ll be back to see how you do.

    Good Luck & HAVE FUN!!!!!

    I’ll have to check this but, I think, September is National Honey Month!

    Reply
  • 9. Julia  |  May 18, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    That was really interesting to learn about how smoke affects the bees. I love the honey I get from the farmers market, and use it anywhere I would use sugar…in coffee, oatmeal, granola, cookies, cake, and so on. It adds this really nice richness of flavor, to coffee and tea especially.

    Reply
  • 10. adelphos24  |  May 20, 2008 at 5:18 am

    We had bees on the farm where I grew up. My favorite part of the whole process was the smell that would fill the garage when we extracted the honey. Mmmm…

    Reply
  • 12. Tammy  |  May 20, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Great article. I suggest as your harvest increases that you use your honey to make mead. Mead from floral honey would be delicious!

    Reply
  • 13. Keerthi  |  May 20, 2008 at 8:31 am

    I like honey combs on bree… It’s amazing!

    Reply
  • 14. Memories in the Baking  |  May 20, 2008 at 9:30 am

    What a sweet experience! Tiny pun intended. Love all the pictures, however, that last (glistening) image looks absolutely mouth watering.

    Reply
  • 15. Jennie  |  May 20, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Wow, thanks everyone for all the great ideas on how to use my honey! I have managed to eat a good deal of it just straight off the spoon. :) Stay tuned for more bee keeping posts!

    Reply
  • 16. Syrie Wongkaew  |  May 20, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Your photos are so beautiful. I think bees are fascinating little creatures. Some of my thoughts for this precious liquid include using it in baklava and honey cake! Thanks for the great post.

    Reply
  • 17. sarahmarie  |  May 20, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    oooo the thought of chewing on honey comb makes my mouth water and gives me visions of childhood. It used to be quite the treat.
    Honey drizzled over cheesecake or ice cream.
    Yum!

    Reply
  • 18. Robin  |  May 21, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    What a cool thing to do! Bee keeping is certainly the best hobby I can think of!

    Reply
  • 19. ApK  |  May 23, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    What an amazing thing to be learning about! And such lovely photos!

    Reply
  • 20. Easy Livin’ « Straight from the Farm  |  May 28, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    [...] tea ice cream dancing in my head.  But to start things off with a real bang, I decided to put that freshly harvested honey to use in a Lemon Honey Ice Cream that is wickedly [...]

    Reply
  • 21. Mercola  |  June 18, 2008 at 2:20 am

    organic honey and green tea is very good match! lots of health benefits, and very refreshing. you should try it!

    Reply
  • 22. Food Blog » Blog Archive » Easy Livin’  |  June 22, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    [...] tea ice cream dancing in my head.  But to start things off with a real bang, I decided to put that freshly harvested honey to use in a Lemon Honey Ice Cream that is wickedly [...]

    Reply
  • 23. Too Good to be True? « Straight from the Farm  |  August 22, 2008 at 9:31 am

    [...] the whole batch in two days.  It’s so good.  And honey…honey in this ice cream is perfect!  I used my own that I’d harvested earlier this year, and it’s floral notes no doubt lifted up the fruitiness of the peach but the uninformed eater [...]

    Reply
  • 24. michelle  |  September 11, 2008 at 4:34 am

    i have a question..
    what is the purpose to collect a honey?

    Reply
  • 25. Ground Cherry Jam « Straight from the Farm  |  October 16, 2008 at 8:08 am

    [...] Ground Cherry and Chamomile Jam and I knew right away that’s what I wanted to make.  I used my own honey I’d harvested from my hive earlier this year.  I didn’t have my own chamomile to use for this batch, but I’ve just harvested a bunch of [...]

    Reply
  • 26. bee hive keeping  |  March 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn’t fail me just as much as this one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read through, but I actually thought you’d have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of moaning about something you could fix if you weren’t too busy seeking attention.

    Reply

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