Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Wonderful World of Bees: Part 1

Spring bee season was my favorite time of the year because it meant white clover honey. Compared to the goldenrod honey that was the main staple of fall, white clover had a really sweet mellow taste that went with just about anything. My favorite was to eat homemade biscuits with a little bit of butter and a slab of comb honey. Things just didn't get any better than that.

Though I was fond of the eating, the rest of the process wasn't particularly my favorite way to spend a spring. My parents raised a couple hundred hives of bees and spring started off with lots of trips to the hives, at least one trip to each hive every week, to check hive activity and to add super bodies for honey production and occasionally for brood is signs of a swarm were present. As the spring wore on, supers (large white wooden boxes full of frames where bees store their honey) were taken off as they were filled. These were hauled back to the farm and but in the storage room.

The storage room served two purposes. It allowed us to collect the honey into batches to make processing more efficient and it allowed us away to remove bees so that we could work without getting stung when it came time to extract the honey. Everyday, I would go into the bee room with a shop vacuum and sweep up the bees releasing them again outside. We always gently removed as many as possible out in the field but there were always some that would stick with the hive until being sucked off with a vacuum. After a week of this, most of the bees would be removed from the hives.

Once de-beed, we would haul them inside the honey house, which was a chicken house that had been renovated. The frames in the supers would be removed one at a time and a hot knife would be used to cut/melt the wax caps of the comb so that the honey could be extracted. Some frames were specialty frames with a thinner more edible wax in them that would go over to the cutting table where four round sections of whole comb would be removed and packaged in little plastic containers. Those that were uncapped would be sat over the uncapping tank so that any drips of honey would flow into the tank.

My job was to take these uncapped frames over to the extractor and extract the honey. Early on in the business, this meant putting the frames in a two-frame capacity hand crank extractor and turning them at high speeds to let centrifugal forces due the work. When we reached our peak of production, this mean an electric extractor with a 20-frame capacity. In either case, I had to be sure to extract the honey without damaging the comb to where it was unusable otherwise I just increased my summer and winter workload when I spent weeks assembling new wax into frames and building new wooden frames. I actually loved that job since it was air-conditioned but my dad's scorn prevented me from intentionally damaging the frames.

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