Sunday, July 17, 2005

Driven to Extraction

my honey 2005This Wednesday, the gentleman running our beekeeping club meeting put a bee in my bonnet (no wincing now, you have been repeatedly warned about the puns). There is a special beginning beekeeper category at our county fair, and Mr. Miller informed me that a special dispensation from Saint Modomnoc was given to novices who wanted to extract two frames of honey for fair entries.

(My friend Megan built a bee shrine for me, invoking the blessing of Saint Modomnoc, who was a beekeeper while a novice and whose ship was followed by a swarm of bees when he returned to Ireland. He is not so much the patron saint of beekeepers as the bees themselves. Maybe all that buzzing is not just inter-bee conversation after all.)

You might remember that MaryEllen invited me to help her extract this year, and that was something she set up for this weekend. This is all good. I asked her what she thought of this first-year extraction gamble, and she said it was not such a crazy idea. When developing colonies from packages of bees – bees, like mine, that arrive in a box with no honeycomb or honey or resources of any kind – you are not supposed to have a honey harvest the first year, so the whole thing seemed dubious, and, well...TEMPTING.

So I went upstairs, pulled two frames from Twain, got (rightfully) stung once, and brought the spoils over to MaryEllen's, where we spent the afternoon – with her husband Doug, a miraculous configurator of jigs for frames and screen boards, BeeCool knock-offs, and home-brew wine – pulling frames out of frenzied hives, peeling beeswax from the purloined frames, and whirling them in their very-own extractor. They very kindly let me do mine first, and, using their refractor, informed me that my moisture content was at 17.0: acceptable!

We managed to set aside time for a honey tasting (featuring star thistle, sunflower, and less palatable entries!) as well as chortling over various pets.

Finally, I was sent home with a food safe bucket that contained nearly three pints of honey! Two went into jars, and the remainder went on the counter, down the side of the bucket, around my elbows, onto the floor, over this morning's yogurt, and (eventually) into a series of spoonfuls for the bottler and her considerably less-sticky husband.

This figure of three-ish pints was very important to me. As my uncle Darold taught me, "a pint's a pound the world around," and this means that each of the three medium boxes contains only 15 pounds of honey. That is a bunch less than I thought. This means, I guess, that the one deep hive body on Twain has only 25-30 pounds (gosh it feels like more). All told, that means I have about 70 pounds of honey on hand, not the 100 pounds previously thought. Gonna have to feed those girls like the Dickens and hope for lots of goldenrod.

You might wonder, "How did the first harvest taste?" This would be a very intelligent wondering, as much of what the bees upstairs ate was the sugar syrup we gave them, a substance low on those nature-made floral scents and sugars that make honey interesting and unique. Well, I think it tastes lightly floral, and it has a pale golden color. Next year it will almost certainly have more character, and maybe more color. Right now I am considering the tiny little specks floating in the jarred liquid, hoping that they are just air bubbles slowly making their way to the top through my appropriately low-moisture elixir. After all, don't want points off at the Fair.

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