On Sunday we headed up to the lake with friends to enjoy a bit of sun and get some swimming in. A cursory check on the bees was on the schedule for the day, but little did we know that we’d end up processing gallons of honey! Luckily with friends on hand, quick work was made of a sticky job (thanks ladies!!) The thought didn’t cross my mind at the time to take photos of the entire process for the blog (stupid), but we did manage a few shots, thanks to the talented Nven, so I’ve put together this little photo essay for your entertainment.
We currently have two beehives – here is our intrepid beekeeper opening the larger of the two (and discovering sticky bounty!). This is a particularly enormous hive – approximately 90,000 bees – and scary as all hell to this suitless onlooker ;) I particularly love the shot with the smoke – look at all the bees in the air!
Ill prepared as we were, our uncapping knives were off-property so we had to get a little crafty. Here’s G working away at uncapping a wheelbarrel full of frames with a fork… which worked surprisingly well. Each frame weighed about 10lbs, and the honey is a beautiful light colour, I think our nicest harvest to date.
We have a badass old-fashioned, two-frame hand extractor (a fantastic xmas gift from mom & jim – even more badass is look where its from!) The trick is to have two frames of relatively equal weight otherwise it can be difficult to manage. Each frame is spun twice (to spin out each side). In the second photo you can see the 6″ or so of raw, unfiltered honey at the bottom of the extractor. This is a pretty crude process – you get honey, wax, bees, and pollen all mixed together in the bottom. You also get covered in a fine sticky mist during the spinning process :)
Here is the beekeeper looking mighty pleased with the haul (even the pregnant lady couldn’t escape manual labor!). Sadly, at this point in the process, we all became too sticky to touch the camera so the rest of the filtering/bottling process remains undocumented. Suffice it to say, we filtered the honey, then bottled it (and did ample sampling as we worked!) Other missed photo opportunities: poor boyfriend’s swollen ankles and wrist (the bees weren’t pleased with him), and the fine coating of honey on the arm hairs of our spinners. Oh and the bumblebee that came to rob, that was pretty cute, too :)
And now, on to the haul!
This represents maybe a 20th of what we harvested. We got a little creative and whipped up cinnamon honey butter, and pumpkin spice honey butter, too. It was our first time attempting honey butters and the recipes we tried to follow were terrible (1/4 cup honey in an entire batch of honey butter?! I think not!). So we did our own thing and the results are fantastically rich and flavorful. yum!
Here are the jars with the labels I designed for our honey. I haven’t designed labels for the butters yet, but I think they’ll just be a variation on the same design.
Now, on to the wax! I use a lot of beeswax in my mixed media stuff, but we’ve never actually attempted to properly render the wax. Usually I just toss some chunks of honey comb into my mini crock pot and go from there, but its messy and the wax itself can be full of gunk. A good half dozen buckets worth of wax cappings and burr comb have also accumulated in my spare bedroom, so it was time to get to business.
The first step of the rendering process is to throw all the dirty wax into a big pot with water and boil the hell out of it. It looks a lot like oatmeal actually :)
We didn’t have a wax screen to filter the boiled wax/water, so a quick run to the hardware store and a few slightly frustrating hours later, tada! Wax screen! It may be a tad shoddy in construction, but it worked like a charm.
Here is the strained wax/water solution. Left to cool overnight, the wax floats to the surface and hardens. The dirty water is then dumped and the wax disk is broken up into small chunks, melted again and strained a second time, this time through cheese cloth to get any small impurities, then poured into the bottoms of milk cartons to set into bricks. The gunk that the wax screen filtered out is mostly bee bits and cocoons – in the future we won’t use old comb because there is just too much junk in there to make it worth while. However, a nifty tip I found online said that this gunk makes excellent fire starter, either for your hive smoker, charcoal bbq or wood stove. As I know folks who use all three, the gunk will not go to waste :)
the end. :)