They’ve been a slog, bees. You get a hive, you lose a hive. You get a hive, you lose a hive. And you’re never sure quite why, or how to do things differently next time.
This is our fifth colony of bees, in our third year of beekeeping, and, glory be, last week we harvested honey. Did you hear that? Let me repeat it. We harvested honey.
Our friends Claire and Paul, backbone of the Barnstable County Beekeepers Association, lent us their six-frame extractor, and Kevin and I suited up. We expected that taking all their honey away might make bees angry, so we made sure to tuck in sleeves and pants, and tie veils tightly.
We got a covered box big enough to hold all twenty frames from our two supers, set up a table about fifty feet from the hive, ran an extension cord for the leaf blower, and we were ready to go.
Kevin got the two supers and put them on the table. We tried to blow the bees out from between the frames, but we ended up having to take each frame out individually. I blew, Kevin brushed, and we got all sixteen honeyed frames (four were empty) into the box with only one or two bees.
We used the porch as a staging area, and brought six frames at a time into the kitchen, where we’d set up the extractor – a plastic garbage can with a rotating axle down the middle, a rack for the frames, and a spigot at the bottom.
And then we got to use the diabolical little tool that looks suspiciously like a flea comb to scrape the wax caps off the cells full of honey.
Let me pause here to ask a question. If you designed a tool to scrape wax caps off cells full of honey, what would you call it? Yes, that’s right. You’d call it a decapitator. But it isn’t called a decapitator. It’s called a cappings scratcher. Or a honey scraper. Or a cappings scraper. Since it seems to go by many names, perhaps it’s not too late to start a write-in campaign for decapitator. Just start calling it that and, eventually, the apian community will see sense.
Back to the story. Kevin and I each tried to scrape a frame without making a godawful mess. Predictably, Kevin had much more success, and helped me get the angle right so I wasn’t constantly piercing the frames with the tines.
Once we got the hang of it, you know what we found? Under those caps was actual, genuine honey. There was honey in those frames. Honey, made by our very own bees. Astonishing. Now I see why that song, “Cap Scratch Fever,” was such a hit!
We put the first six frames in the extractor, which is the kind that you use an electric drill to spin. Kevin, who is much better at any job that involves an electric drill than I am, did the spinning. He sustained a couple of minor injuries when he abruptly stopped the drill and his hand got spun around by the still-spinning extractor, but in all other regards the operation went smoothly.
We uncapped, we spun, we drained.
When the job was done, and the last drop of honey cleaned off the ceiling and the backs of our necks, we had twenty pounds of honey.
Twenty pounds, from one hive, is a small harvest; a really strong colony will yield five times that. But twenty pounds is, almost literally, infinitely better than zero.
But here’s the truly amazing thing. I know that, given the same pollen, all bees create more or less the same honey. That’s why, when you buy honey, you buy clover honey, or tupelo honey, or chestnut honey. It’s named for the source, not for the bees. So you will be amazed to find out that our bees, unique in human history, produce better-tasting honey than any other bees. Any other bees ever. Any other bees anywhere.
We have twenty pounds of the best-tasting honey that has ever graced the planet. I keep sticking my head in the bucket and smelling it. I put it on my pancakes and in my tea and revel in the sheer miraculousness of it. A hive of insects, in our care, made twenty pounds of honey.
It makes me absurdly happy.