Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bittersweet Farm: The Honey Harvest

   My friend & coworker, Patty, invited me to join them at Bittersweet, their friends' farm today for their annual honey harvest! I knew I was in for a treat, but until I got there, saw the farm and met everyone—and especially until I tasted that fresh, raw honey—I had NO idea just how much of a treat this would be! The whole experience just blew me away... and gave me a whole new appreciation for honey, and the honeybee.
   We started the morning in the little stone farmhouse, which has been owned by Mark and Becky's family for over 50 years. It's a beautiful, rustic house furnished with antiques from the area. We started with a hearty breakfast (who says the 9:00 am hour is too early for red wine?). There were fresh biscuits at the ready to sop up the first honey to be spun out of the combs.
   The hive boxes full of frames coated with honeycomb—and honey!—were already stacked in the kitchen, ready for us to start working:
   Ten wooden frames, covered with a plastic or wax guide for the bees to follow when building up the combs, fit in a hive box. The frames are spaced 5/8" apart, the optimum distance to allow the bees room to move, but without wasting precious space that could be occupied by MORE HONEY.
Bob and Mark demonstrate for the honey virgins in the group
Not hard at all—sticky but satisfying!
The hot knife cuts right through the wax, which falls into the sink, so it can be pressed later to remove all the honey that fell with it.
First honey of the season!
Using a hot knife to cut the bees' wax comb flush with the frame
Scraping the combs to uncap the honey, so it will spin out:
We kept the combs spinning...
And the honey kept flowing...
   I think we ended up with about 30 gallons of honey in the tanks, from 13 hives, and who knows how many bees. This was considered a small harvest, considering some years have produced more than 80 gallons of honey! As Mark explained, the harvest should really happen in July when flowers are done pollinating, when the bees have made all their honey and haven't started eating all of it. But July was SO hot that no one wanted to be in the suits, and anyway, it's good karma to give a little honey back to the bees who made it.
   The bees in this frame spent their time making art instead of making honey. How cool is this honeycomb??
   My hosts, Patty and Bob. 
They just celebrated their thirty-eighth anniversary! Congrats!
To find Bittersweet Farm (and to buy some honey, if you're lucky),
   Huge thanks to Mark & Becky for graciously hosting such an amazing day on their farm. I learned a lot and had a ton of fun! Thanks also to Patty & Bob for inviting me to join the fun. And to Robert, Mary, Zoey, Jane, the other two Marks, and everyone else on the farm that I had the pleasure to meet today, best wishes to you all.