After giving the triangle board a few days to work its magic, we stole the full honey box right off the top of the hive. We got all suited up, lit two smokers, set the honey box in a wagon, wrapped it in a sheet, and booked it on out of there.
We needn’t have worried. The bees didn’t even seem to notice that we were making off with a month’s hard work, and the honey box was completely deserted. The triangle board could not have worked better!
Actually, it could have worked a little better. The bees who left late must have been tipped off that something was up, because some of the honey had disappeared. After a certain point, every bee must have taken a bellyful of honey when she went through the triangle board. It’s not a huge loss, though, and it’s likely just been moved to the next honey box.
We brought the honey box back to Kim’s house and set to work spinning. I’d heard of “spinning honey,” but I’d never known what to picture and certainly didn’t think to take the term so literally.
When the bees declare a cell full of honey, they cap it off with a layer of wax. It’s almost as if they know what we’re up to and are trying to make it harder on us. To clear a path for the honey to slide out, we have to remove every single cap. For the first frame we used a tool that looked like a pointy afro pick to poke them out. For the next frame we tried out an electrically heated knife that came with the rental equipment. It was a lot more effective. It was like running a hot knife through butter. Except the butter was wax.
Once the first three frames were uncapped, we initiated the next phase. This contraption is the extractor itself. A tall cylinder with a hand crank on top, it’s a lot like an ice cream maker. Inside are three wire racks, each of which holds a frame. It’s like an ice cream maker with a rotisserie chicken cooker inside.
With the frames loaded up, it was time to spin. And spin is exactly what we did.
Turning the hand crank whirls the racks around and the honey, uncapped, gets flung out of the comb by centrifugal force. It hits the walls of the cylinder and slides down to collect in a reservoir in the bottom. I gave it 200 cranks in one direction, flipped the frames, and gave it 200 in the other direction. I threw in another 50 for good measure at the end.
Here I am getting into the spirit of things.
Between the hot knife and the spinning, we got a nice two-man procession line going. Before long we had all nine frames extracted and were ready to move on to filtration. At this stage, the honey contains a lot of wax and more than a few stray bee parts. You gotta strain. Disastrously, our rental equipment was missing its filter! My huge brewing straining funnel stepped up to the plate, though, and performed admirably. You’d never even know it wasn’t part of the setup.
We let the honey drain out of the extractor into the funnel, then through the funnel’s mesh into the bucket below. Honey doesn’t move fast, and the day took on a slower pace from this point forward.
When the extractor was empty, we could move the bucket and funnel mess up to the table and begin bottling into 1 lb and 1/2 lb jars. I also set aside three pounds to make into mead.
We opened up a bottle of my previous batch of mead to sip while the honey drained. I have to admit, this honey has a richness to it that the store-bought stuff I’ve been using in my mead lacks. I’m so excited to brew with honey I’ve actually raised and harvested myself, but I’m afraid this will ruin me for the cheap and easy method.
So it goes.
I’m also becoming more aware of the tremendous range of flavor honey comes in. So many mead recipes I’ve read call for specific blossom varieties, a distinction I’ve never really taken to heart. I thought there might be notes of specific flavors that came through mainly to those who were looking for them. Kim and I sampled a few different honeys, however, and I was bowled over by how different each batch was. We tried a jar from our garden in the spring of 2013. (The last jar in existence, Kim said. There’s a dark finality in small artisinal batches, man). It tasted, for all the world, like flowers. Way beyond slight notes.
Then we tried a jar from the fall of the same year. From color alone, you could tell something was different. It was dark. Almost brown. And it tasted, I swear, like autumn. It was smoky and so rich. I’ve never had honey like that.
Then we tried a store-bought bottle from the Caribbean that Kim had been given as a gift. She says once you become an acknowledged “bee person,” people start giving you honey stuff. I’m alright with that. This bottle was completely different. It was dark, but not thick. And while it was sweet, of course, it had a spiciness to it. It was almost hot. I’m not sure I’d put it on my granola, but it was fascinatingly different.
All told, we collected about 30 pounds of honey. Not bad at all for just one month with the honey box! At this rate, we may very well get another harvest in. We’ll be selling the honey within the community garden and using the proceeds to offset bee costs.
Maybe buy a hot knife of our very own.