Great things often come from small beginnings. Such was the case with my honey harvest this year. This honey harvest is one for the books. You’ll recall the winter loss of my amazing blue queen who produced gentle, diligent bees that provided a wonderful honey harvest last year. It was a sad affair for me, but from it came something good- a new hive, once small that became strong and good tempered.
To get fifty pounds of honey from a hive is a gift. To get 100 pounds of honey from one hive, unthinkable to me. Yet that was the case with that hive that began small, making a queen from brood I shared from the blue queen last year, a new leader from the blue queen’s lineage that overwintered and found her stride in the spring.
I’d like to say, “This is how it happened,” if for nothing else than to be able to replicate this season, but with honey bees, all we can do is support their efforts as best we can and hope that it works out for the best. They do the work that matters, that’s why they are the “worker bees!” With beekeeping, there are lots of factors completely out of our control. This season, factors fell in line just right for me.
That colony built up fast and furious in the spring, with notes of the blue queen’s calm demeanor in this hive. It’s apparent even now as I work my bees post harvest. The hive from the blue queen’s lineage requires little smoke while the newer hive that I started from a package, building up beautifully with the abundant resources provided them, just doesn’t contain the same type of honey bee. Those bees are much more easily agitated by my inspections.
The established hive had the benefit of coming out of winter with honey stores, barely taking any sugar water that I offered, rather finding pollen and nectar and building up bee volume as nature intended. They had another benefit, that of worked comb in which to store their foraging finds. Building wax comb uses a lot of energy and resources; having drawn frames at the ready makes for more efficient work.
And then there was the nectar flow. It lasted a long time with a strong tulip poplar bloom. It was extremely good to my honey bees. They zealously foraged for nectars and stored them up quickly, the frames of liquid gold glistening in the sun when I removed them for inspections, priding me in the girls’ work.
We were down to our last 4 oz. hex jar of honey when we extracted. The honey this year is darker than that of last year. I’ve been saying it’s because of the strong tulip poplar bloom which lends to a darker colored honey, but in all honesty, there’s no telling where my honey bees go and what they bring in because they are flying insects that will go where they choose. I do know that the hives are fortunate enough to have age old tulip poplar trees in the woods next to their hives from which to forage. When the tulip poplar bloom arrives, I joyously watch them exit their hives, navigate and then head up 70 feet to the tips of the many tulip poplar trees where the blooms reside.
While $10/ pound may seem high to some, when you consider the sticky work involved in extracting and bottling honey as sanitarily as possible and combine that with the costs of beekeeping, both tangible in the form of bees, equipment and nutrition along with the intangible like stressing over management options and planting for the pollinators, then the price tag seems quite reasonable. If there’s any doubt, opening a jar of local, raw honey, seeing the pollen and tasting the flavorful honey settles the matter. Even with close to 100 pounds of honey, I was able to sell most of it in short order via friends after a Facebook posting. The rich taste of the nectars, slowly savored on a spoon or on top of toast or yogurt delights me this summer, especially when combined with the spoils of my garden. Once the school year begins, my children will benefit from a teaspoon of honey every morning to support their immune systems.
While the honey harvest is what beekeepers anxiously await each year, it is not without a lot of work. This is fitting since anything worthwhile takes effort. The honey bees worked so diligently to bring in their nectar, all the while maintaining their brethren, both girls and boys, unselfishly sustaining life, so a little work on my part is only fair. And let us not forget that each teaspoon of delicious, nutritious raw honey takes the work of twelve honey bees. A single pound of honey requires honey bees to visit 2,000,000 flowers. It is a treat indeed!
The extraction and bottling process of honey at my house this year:
And how do I clean up the extractor? I let the bees do it! Once the extractor is set outside, bees find it within minutes and go to work.
Here’s one of the first girls to find the extractor. Hundreds of bees will show up and eat the honey, making my cleaning that much easier when the honey is gone.
“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” -A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
I'm a backyard gardener, beekeeper and chicken mama in rural Maryland where I embrace native and pollinator friendly plant offerings absent chemical interventions. Clovers, dandelions and wild violets decorate my lawn in a different kind of beauty, one that embraces nature's offerings and gives back to the wildlife surrounding me. My small vegetable garden provides organic fruits and vegetables to my family, and often to nature's marauders. My chickens eat organically and free range with supervision. My honey bees don't follow my rules because in essence, they're not my bees. I just own the equipment and provide lodging in hopes of harvesting a little honey each summer along with the bounty of produce available from my garden, farmers markets and grocery stores from their vital pollination services. I earned my master gardener certificate from the University of Maryland Extension Services in 2014 and began beekeeping in 2012. What I've learned along the way is that our choices matter and there's always more to learn.
View all posts by Connie