It took our bees about 3 ½ months of working steadily, but they've now provided us with our first 50 pounds or so of honey. (Technically, we've gotten honey from a hive in our backyard in the past, but that was when someone else was doing the beekeeping for us and he gifted us with a jar or two before selling the rest.) However, yesterday was the big day for my neighbor Dell and I (the two "official" beekeepers, although the rest of our households get a lot of credit too). A friend and veteran beekeeper, John, generously offered a few hours of his time to help us learn how to extract the honey, and he showed us quite a few tips along the way as he examined our hives. He gave us our first glimpse at a queen bee (she is twice the size of the worker bees) and helped us diagnose some of the happenings in the hives in recent weeks.
One of our colonies has been exceptionally strong, so we were able to harvest nine frames of honey from that one. The other has been queenless for a time and hasn't been very productive, so we didn't extract any from it. We couldn't complain; a 50 pound harvest (about 17 quarts worth) seems bountiful to us, even though I know of beekeepers who get 300 pounds in a season with two hives. If we were to sell all of our honey at the going rate, generally $7-$9 a pound, we'd have a good start at recouping some of our $555 start-up costs.
Our harvesting party turned into a neighborhood affair as several people joined us for John's teach-in at the site of the hives (our neighbors' backyard). Madeleine and John's five-year-old daughter alternately watched with interest—she in her own bee suit (now Maddy wants one)—and played quietly by themselves, completely unfazed by the sight of thousands of bees buzzing around. After we "worked the hives," we traipsed the honey-filled frames to our shed where we had set up the extractor equipment.
Others joined us to help handcrank the extractor (a large centrifuge that spins the honey out of the frames) and to see the honey flow. We let it settle overnight so the wax would rise to the top, and this morning we lined up our jars, opened the spigot, and oohed and ahhed as it filled jar after jar.
Because we don't have all the fancy beekeeper's equipment, we haven't perfected a method for recapturing all the beeswax that gets lost in the extracting process. Nor have we perfected a straining system to keep small bits of wax out of the honey, so you'll notice in the photos that our honey comes in "creamy" and "chunky" varieties (although the wax does rise to the top by itself in a matter of hours). It all tastes the same, and Madeleine will attest that it's yummy. We hope to have more honey to harvest by this fall, and we expect by then our harvesting techniques will have improved. In the meantime, there will be a lot of bread baking and granola making happening in the neighborhood this week.
Now, I know this is a family blog and all, but this seemed like something that we needed to share here. You see, Ann has been leaving bed in the early morning (at least for her) to have plant sex.
You'd think that having two bee hives in the immediate vicinity would be enough to get adequate pollination of our squash and zucchini, but Ann has been dissatisfied. So, taking a cue from our next-door neighbor, she has been taking a small artist's paintbrush in hand and pollinating manually.
Squash, zucchini, and other vine fruit produce both male and female flowers on the same plant and pollen from the male flowers has to get to the female flowers for them to turn into fruit. So the process is to "tickle" the stamen in a male flower and then "tickle" the tip of the pistil in a female flower. This has to be done when you catch both of them open, usually requiring an early morning hour.
After she returns to bed, I usually only get a grunt in response to my query of whether it was "good for you."