Monday, August 23, 2010

Rooftop Honey Harvest 2010: 6.5 Gallons of Bliss

For so work the honey-bees, creatures that by a rule in nature teach the act of order to a peopled kingdom. William Shakespeare

Did someone say "act of order"? In retrospect, we humans were quite orderly in our descent on the hives to disrupt all the hard work these girls did over the spring and summer. Our weather Sunday -- outside the bee costumes, not in -- was sublime.

So many people were interested in watching/participating. Since it was our first harvest, we didn't know what to expect, but we quickly learned.

It started at 9:30 am, when Noam and Laura, above, suited up (me too!), smoked the hive, and cracked open the casa de Italians in Hive #2.

Noam began by removing each frame and giving it a shake to throw down the bees.  Here he's working on Hive #1.
And then he'd use his brush to gently encourage the others to leave.

He handed off the mostly bee-free frame to me...

...and I handed off to Laura (click to big it up) halfway across the roof.

She did a final brush off and placed each frame into a hard plastic bin with lids to keep the bees out. Art devised an attachment for this (heavy when full of frames) box that went onto a pulley. It was then lowered down to the landing on our fire escape. Then the boxes would be carried the rest of the way down.

Remember, the roof is 30 feet up!

Look at the thick comb, filled with honey.
Noam was kind enough to show me how to use the tool, a simple pry bar, to remove a frame. Then I got to try the throw-down maneuver to remove the first bees (I was a little too vigorous, feeling untouchable in that suit) before brushing.

After a lot of backing and forthing, we moved downstairs--as far away from the hives as we could get--where the action picks up. All the honeyed frames have been lowered down, four full boxes worth.

Here Rob carefully removes the wax caps off the hexagonal chambers where bees store their honey. They're incredibly smart. They seal the chambers once they're filled, to protect them.

Note the 1970s-era afro pick (not really, but that's what it reminds me of) used to de-cap.

Rob's an orderly de-capper...
...and Laura's got one all done. Look at the depth of comb...and as a consequence, honey.
Once de-capped, two frames fit into the borrowed extractor (thanks to Noam's pal for this).
The lid goes on and the crank turns the mechanism, using centrifugal force to pull the honey out and into the bucket.
Like this:

Everyone takes a turn turning...
...while we fall into a sort of groove of de-capping and extracting. I'm admitting right here that even though I'm smiling, this is not my favorite task. Rob and Laura were skilled artisans at this.
My favorite part was getting globs of wax and honey out of this scraper bowl to eat:

The bees didn't wait long telling each other where all their honey went.

Frequent washing was essential. I'd say this outdoor sink, which Art set up with hot water, was a star of the show.
Once the honey starts to accumulate in the extractor it gets strained into the tapper--used to fill jars. Here we tried using my chinoise, whose mesh may have been a little dense for the job at hand, to strain the honey as it flows from the extractor to the tapper.
It's an exciting moment--the first pure honey!

Art pulled down his old French cooking strainer, and it fit reasonably well atop the tapper bucket, making the job slightly easier. Here the honey comes out of the extractor...into his strainer...and finally into the tapper.

Noam gets the last of the extracted honey out of his tub.

Now we can start the jarring process. This borrowed tapper unit is meant for making booze and so the tap is a bit poky when filled with the more viscous honey, but that's OK.

We're like a well-oiled machine, with people de-capping, extracting, straining, and filling.

At some point the extent of this harvest becomes apparent. We need more jars, and Bruce comes to the rescue. He wheelbarrows over a bunch of jars he needed for canning this summer.
Meanwhile, the scraping bowls from decapping hold a lot of wax. Bruce and Brooke decide they might make candles. Each went home with about 2 pounds of wax to play with. Here Bruce transfers the wax to a go-container.
Then Noam and Laura de-capped two frames that are extremely dark in color. He postulates that these Hive 1 frames first housed brood (babies) and then honey.
He wants to strain this honey separately, since it's darker.
This is a real Martha I-strain-honey-in-my-pretty-sundress-and-necklace moment. The dark honey and the lovely Laura, who had to leave for a quick shower and costume change so she could attend her workplace picnic, where they were roasting a pig--yum.
It's all gorgeous.
Time for a toast with our neighbors' homemade wheat beer. Thanks Sean and Fran! The perfect ending to a perfect day.

What a fine group effort. So many hands and friends, not all pictured here. And more vids to come.

Thanks, Rob, for the stills and the vids. Thanks to everyone who pitched in. Thanks to Art who never stopped all day and who is strangely absent from the photos.

Most of all, thanks to Noam for his focused tenacity, helping us all learn what to do and toiling from 9:30 until nearly 8 pm to leave us with nicely intact hives and a honey-free work area.

We never did get it all bottled...still working on that indoors here. Gallons to go before we sleep.


Robj98168 said...

Looks like a great time and a greater honey harvest.

Debbie said...

Your honey harvest adventure was amazing. The girls were very generous with their honey. I can't wait to taste some!

Alison said...

Congratulations! That's a hard job made even harder without an electric uncapping knife and electric extractor. You did a mighty deed by going all manual. I can't imagine doing it all outside, too. You are both brave and mighty. And the results of your labors are so worth it. Enjoy!

H2 said...

Thanks to all for the positive comments. Many hands made for happy work...

Anonymous said...

Great, great post. How many hives did you have to produce the 6.5 gallons?

H2 said...

Just 2 hives, Cheryl. Thanks for the good words.

Gesimar said...

The honey must rest one or two days before bottling, eliminates all bubbles and icrease stability.
Good job !
I like the camper parked, send photos please.