Saturday, September 12, 2009

The First Honey Harvest

I'm so proud of them. The bees. Look what they did. They made all this extra honey and in their first year too.

Pictured here are:
5 jars x 750 ml
8 jars x 500 ml
10 jars x 125 ml
If you're ever picked strawberries the way I pick them then you know there was actually more honey than what you see here.....

These bees are pretty amazing because they started as small nucs yet they still managed to make all this extra honey, most of it from Hive #1, in spite of all the queen troubles and weather this summer.

You've probably noticed that the weather has been a little weird this summer. In southern Ontario it was cold and wet all summer with temperatures not exceeding 26 degrees. That's rare.

It was so wet that it was hard to find a decent enough day when I could open the hives to check on the bees. I did as few inspections as I could to try to stay out of the hives. Some times it felt like the only good weather day we had was also the day I had to open the hive and interrupt them. It really wasn't fair at all.

But now... now we've had a solid week of sunshine and another week of sunshine coming. They're having a good run at the moment with the fall blooms such as golden rod, sedums and asters.

Then I'll feed them just to make sure they've topped up all their cells full to the brim. I left them each with a full capped medium super. Below that super is their deep box which should weigh 65 lbs by the start of winter. This is the estimated weight it should be for the hive to survive our cold Canadian winters.

The honey is light tasting and of course delicious. I'm quite addicted to it. Now it's more than just honey on the tongue and a sweet taste, I feel a connection to the bees that made it, to the hard work and toil they put forth to bring it about.

Because the nectar is stored in the bees' honey stomach they add something of themselves to it, enriching it.
Scientists have analyzed all the components of honey yet some parts of it remain a mystery to this day. But I'm sure the bees know and I love the fact that honey has some mystery.

The little bit of honeycomb I had I shared with my family. It was very light coloured and tasting as well.

My friend Henry says their honey is very light this year. But Bill Ferguson said (he runs the queen rearing operation in Hensall) that his honey was dark. So not all of Ontario had light honey.

I bought a 7 gallon pail with a gate at the bottom and it has a lid so I could store honey in it if needed.

This might be a good time to point out that not just any plastic pail should be used with honey (which is food). Only liquid food grade plastic pails or buckets should be used. There are "dry" and "liquid" plastics on the market. You can purchase them from your bee supplier or sometimes the local ice cream, bake shop, bulk food supplier or donut shop will have pails to give away for free or very cheaply. Food grade plastics are durable enough that they don't leach into the food.

I brought the honey home in an enamel cooking pot from the extraction at Clovermead. From there I poured it through a double stainless steel sieve into the white pail and then the cappings so they could take some time to drip through. Then I let everything sit for 3 days so that bubbles could work themselves out. The bubbles don't cause problems to the honey, they're just unsightly so honey retailers do their best to avoid getting bubbles in the honey.

When bottling the honey - I just put my enamel pot under the spout and the jar inside the pail. That way any spillovers were caught in the pail.
When bottling, there were still some small particles of wax visible in the honey so I poured it through a fine clothe I got from the supplier which I cut and used elastics to secure it to a measuring glass.

The hard part was dealing with the sticky fingers. I didn't want to waste a drop so I kept licking them which then meant I had to wash my hands constantly. I just kept the sink full of soapy water to wash with.

It took a couple evenings, because the clothe straining was slow, but I could do other tasks at the same time so it wasn't an issue.

I had hoped to do some graphic arts or a watercolour painting for a label for my brand which I'm calling Bee-Magic Honey (after the book I've written) but I never got time to do it. There's always next year I guess.

Now I have to divvy up the honey... some to my sister and Mom and Dad. Some for the farmer next door who let us drive back into his field. Then I found out Dad has been pretty excited about becoming a beekeeper too and he's been talking to a lot of people. And he's been promising honey to them. He's promised some to his neighbours and the receptionist at the dentist office and gosh knows how many other people ... I think it's time to plan on expanding to 4 hives next year.
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