Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The taste of honey

We extracted honey this weekend. As the little hexagonal cells that the bees had filled over the summer emptied, we filled jars with the beautiful golden sweetener to use over the winter. The house was fragrant with the aroma of honey, the floor was sticky with drips and we sated our palates with the incredible taste.

This year we extracted honey from hives in three different locations. Steve and Kanita brought boxes from their hives in the Twin Cities, Paul and Jenny’s came from East Silent Lake and ours from the farm. Each honey had a unique taste. Steve’s was made in a forest, the bees visiting the trees, wild flowers and local farm market gardens to create a honey with a floral taste. Paul and Jenny’s bees also lived at the edge of a woods with some grain fields in the distance. Their honey was similar to Steve and Kanita’s, obviously from a combination of wildflowers. Our hives sit at the edge of the home woods, overlooking a big wetland, beside an alfalfa field. Every year, our honey has a wonderful minty flavor. Our guess is that the bees spend a lot of time at the Motherwort blossoms. Motherwort is a part of the mint family and blooms early and long in the woods, so it could give a minty flavor. But who knows what the bees find for nectar the rest of the time. Alfalfa is supposed to give a light, subtle, spicey flavor with a mild floral aroma. Basswood blossoms yield a light honey with a strong biting flavor and a woody scent. I know our bees find both blossoms, but I don’t recognize the flavor notes in our honey.

Whatever the cause, our local honeys have spoiled our families for store bought honey. That pasteurized spread which is a blend of honeys from many different beekeepers, is sweet, but has no special flavor. Varietal honeys on the other hand, can range from sweet to sour, citrusy to minty, soft to bold. No matter the source, whether we spread it on toast, stir it into chai, or drizzle it over vanilla ice cream, our honey is a treat.

Honey sundaes can be simple, just a light coating of honey thickening on vanilla ice cream, or complex, a light coating of honey thickening on bananas sliced over vanilla ice cream. Either is an incredible way to experience the taste of honey.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Stealing honey from the bees

photo by Lehigh Valley Parenting

Dave and I stole the last of the honey from our bees yesterday. It went well. Some years it’s a more harrowing experience. Like the year Dave had a tiny hole in his pants…

It’s hard to think rationally when you have a bee in your pants. Is it better to remove the bee immediately or to wait until you’re away from the rest of the bees before you drop your pants? Dave compromised by running half way up the path from the hives to the house before he dropped his pants. Bad decision. You can’t run fast with your pants around your knees. The bees have quite a range.

I made an even worse decision while looking for the queen in my dad’s hive. The bees were angry at my intrusion and flew around me, crawling across my bee suit, running into my bee veil. Each collision produced a miniscule thud. I tensed a little more at each thud. On one of those collisions, a bee flew through a small opening at the bottom of my veil. When it flew past my face – on the inside of my veil – I panicked and ripped the veil off to let the bee out. Net result? Instead of one bee inside my veil, I had dozens tangled in my hair. I ran screaming for the lake and stuck my head under water. My mother patiently squished every entangled bee with her bare fingers and then combed them out of my hair. Neither of us was stung.

Unlike wasps, bees don’t sting for fun or as a hobby. Bees die after stinging, so only sting in defense of their hive. Now, when we work on the hives, I try to appear relaxed and non-threatening so that the bees don’t feel the need to sting.

Yesterday, everything worked well. Dave took the lid off the hive and laid it aside. Using a crowbar like hive tool, he separated the frames from each other and lifted them out of the hive individually. He brushed the bees off each frame and handed them to me. I admired the regular array of hexagonal cells capped in golden bees wax, set them into a traveling box and covered it to keep the bees from returning to their honey. The entire process took only a short time and no bees threatened us. Obviously we had been able to persuade both ourselves and the bees that all was well and we weren’t a threat to their hives.

Then we stole their honey.