Monday, September 19, 2011

Yummy honey


Removing the honey frames.

Earlier this year, Cottonwood Community Gardens got its own beehive.  Armed with minimal experience but a lot of enthusiasm, those of us on Cottonwood’s Bee Team have been figuring out how to care for these complex and incredibly helpful little creatures -- all 30,000 or so of them. At our stage in the game, bee husbandry is a group effort.  At each regular hive inspection, we need one person to operate the smoker, one person to lift the frames, one person to actually inspect the hive... it’s a lot of work, the kind of thing that is best done by a community, and another example of the power of collaborative gardening.

Smoking the hive.
On August 28th, we did our first big honey extraction.  Serge removed the frames from the hive’s top super (beehive box) and brushed the bees off, while Samantha applied smoke to calm them down.  In the meantime, Jackie cut strips of burlap to be burned in the smoker, and helped Samantha to re-light it.

Once we removed all of the frames, we moved to a work area that we’d prepared in one of Cottonwood’s sheds.

That was when the fun part began.  Armed with a metal spatulas and kitchen knives, we gently broke open the honey cells that the bees had constructed on each frame.  The texture of the honeycomb was gooey and delicious.

The frames that we had opened were placed into the extractor two at a time.  The extractor is basically a big metal drum with fitted with a basket that holds two frames, along with a big crank on top.  You secure the extractor (in our case, by sitting on it), turn the crank vigorously, and the centrifugal force pulls the honey out of the wax cells.

Serge, Bruce and Samantha figuring out how to use the extractor
While Bruce, Serge and Dan worked the extractor, other team members monitored the canning kettle that we used to sterilize the glass jars that Cottonwood gardeners had donated, and heated up up spatula and knife in the steam to help it melt through the frame’s wax.

Due to our lack of experience as beekeepers, not all of the frames were pure honey.  We encountered a number of frames that were at least partially filled with brood (larvae).  This was a problem, because we couldn’t put these frames into the extractor (just imagine the ride that the baby bees would get).  Even worse, the brood cells kept hatching as we worked.  Our shed started to fill up with very confused newborn hive members.

Some of the honey was so gooey that it
didn't even make it into the extractor.

In preparation for our next extraction, the team is going to use a queen excluder -- a grate that keeps the queen within a designated area where she can lay her eggs, preventing her from reaching the frames that we have earmarked for honey.

By the end of the day, we extracted a huge amount of honey -- we lost count, but it was probably something like 20 jars.  Best of all, the bees did all of the cleanup for us, swarming our work area just as we finished working and licking up every tiny drop of honey and wax from our equipment within the next 24 hours.

Bees do a lot more that just make us tasty honey.  They are incredible pollitators.  Without them, we wouldn’t have any fruit or nuts to eat.  Moreover, these social creatures have united those of us at Cottonwood in an amazing new community endeavour.

Honey is yummy.


(Post by Rebecca Cuttler.  More writing at www.gardenproduce.ca)

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