Let me let you in on a little secret…
Some part of me (obviously the irrational and delusional part) wants a farm. Like pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, the whole thing. Clearly delusional, I know. But that part of me lives on, regardless of the fact that I have absolutely zero farming knowledge or skills. So anyways, this last weekend we got to partake in something that I feel I could actually put to use on my hypothetical farm. We made honey.
Our friends are beekeepers and have often mentioned to me that I can don the bee-suit if I like and check out the bees hard at work. Unfortunately this always seems to come up after dusk, so I still haven’t gotten to do it. In the meantime though, we got the invite to the annual honey work party.
So here’s honey-making, as I understand it:
Once a year beekeepers extract honey. Honey is produced by the bees within honeycomb. (Side note: each bee has it’s own job, usually related to the age/gender of the bee. Young bees make wax to create the honeycomb. Female worker bees make honey. Some attend to or guard the Queen, male “drones” mate with the Queen, and on and on…) The honey-comb is made on “frames”, and there are about 10 frames in a box. If you’ve ever seen bee-boxes on the side of the road, you’ll recall theres usually 5 or so boxes in a stack. So 50 frames. Get it?
There is only one Queen Bee per hive (and one hive per stack of bee boxes). The hive is usually in the bottom box, and this box is for reproduction purposes. Bow chicka wow-wow. Actually the Queen Bee is such a reproductive machine, that she pumps out about 1 egg every 30 seconds, and is so busy that her attendants (Queen’s Court?) do her grooming, feed her, and clean her excrement. Not that sexy.
Fast forward to getting all the honey filled boxes (except the Queen’s Castle Hive in the bottom box) into your friend’s garage. Your friend has all the necessary honey making equipment. And you have been invited to help slave away make some honey!
|Frames covered in honeycomb|
First step is to remove an individual frame from the bee box. You will see the honey-comb on the frame, but it is “capped”, meaning the bees sealed the honeycomb shut. A hot-iron wand is used to “slice” the caps off of the comb. This makes the honey visible, but it is still well within the maze of the honeycomb.
The next step is to set two frames into the honey extractor. This is a barrel-shaped container with a spout at the bottom. Two honeycomb frames are placed on a rack inside the barrel, and spun. The centrifugal force (it doesn’t have to be much) spins the honey out of the comb and into the barrel- and then it will pour out the spout! It’s that easy.
As honey pours out the spout, it is strained clean of rogue honeycomb and wings and stingers. After this, bottling! The “empty” frames are replaced in the bee boxes. There’s still plenty of honey remains within the honeycomb, and the bees will use this for energy. And don’t worry, we didn’t steal all of their food. Bees actually produce 2-3 times more honey than they’ll ever use.
Lastly, the cuttings from the honeycomb caps (way back at step #1) can be collected and pressed. Our friends hung them up in cheesecloth, which allowed the honey within to drip out and be preserved. Pretty sweet.
|Getting every last delicious drop|
In the end we bottled over 300 jars of honey. (This was my job, incidentally.) We had 2 stacks of bee boxes to begin with. I never realized that just one of those stacks on the side of the road would produce somewhere around 150 jars of honey! Mind blown.
|Our share of the rewards|
Garage honey-making seems so New Zealand to me. It’s the type of experience I am hoping to have many times while we’re here. Of course I realize that people make their own honey all over the world- but did I know anyone back in California who did it? Nope. We were lucky enough to be able to get it at the local farmer’s market, and it was made by the same bees stinging us on our bike rides… but this was just so much cooler.
So needless to say, I need to save up for a beehive ($300NZ) and a bee suit, and obviously the honey making equipment so that my farm can produce it’s own honey. Anyone want to invest?