Flavor of the Year
It is official. According to Firmenich, a private Swiss conglomerate that has produced perfumes and flavors for over 100 years, honey is the flavor of the year for 2015. Recognized for its unique flavor and versatility, Firmenich believes that this should elevate honey flavor to “classic” status like vanilla and chocolate. I read this news the day that I extracted my honey and thought it appropriate when I was absolutely covered in it.
The Big Event
Honey extraction is a process that requires patience, time, and tolerance for bee stings. After babying the girls- feeding, monitoring, re-queening, splitting, and just plain worrying about them- now is the moment of truth. How much nectar did they deposit in the combs for me to rob from them? And “robbing” is the right term because the girls work hard at it. According to the National Honey board the average worker bee will produce 1 1/2 teaspoons of honey in her lifetime. And one hive has to fly 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey! For more amazing honeybee facts, check out The National Honey Board.
This year was a banner year for me, over 120 pounds of honey from 2 1/2 hives. The “half hive” swarmed early in the spring, so wasn’t as strong as my other two, but there was still enough to harvest some honey. The two strongest were Nucs and that is the way to go for me from now on. Nucs are simply frames of honeycomb that a mated queen bee is already laying eggs, and brood is hatching. In contrast, a bee package that I order in the mail comes with a queen that hasn’t yet been introduced to the thousands of worker bees that accompany her in a “package”. Go to A Bee Nuc or Package to see the difference and advantages. Nucs hit the ground running, and packages need to build up.
It is always an anti-climax when we finally remove and extract – kind of like Christmas – lots of build up and anticipation, and then it is over quickly and we are mopping up the mess.
After removing the bees, see Robbing the Bees-A Honey of a Day to see how to do this tricky part, we are ready to spin out the honey. I never do this in the house as you will be bringing in unwanted guests (hanger-on bees), so set up an area in our garage. Wiping down everything with soapy water and laying down large plastic drop cloths and we are ready to go.
Using a heated knife to remove the wax coverings and a fork that looks like a hair pick, the cells are opened up so that the honey can be flung out.
Think of a large metal trash can with wire shelves inside that spin around and you have a honey extractor. An attached motor will turn the merry-go-round inside, flinging the honey deposited in the cells onto the side of the trash can, dripping down to the bottom where it will exit through a gate valve.
Honey pours out into a large clean food grade bucket that has a mesh paint sieve to filter out all bee parts and debris.
The wax cappings are very tasty and we dive right in and start snacking. Grabbing a dollop of warm fresh honey comb that is dripping with honey is luscious!
Once the honey is all extracted, I take the frames and set them up in front of the hives so the bees can wring every last drop of honey from them. The bees, once they discover the free honey, go crazy and buzz around the yard. I am sure not to have guests over when this happens as it can be quite unnerving if you are afraid of bees.
We set up the extractor and all the tools in front of the hives also so the bees can finish cleaning. I use the wax to make beeswax soap and candles. Go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift to see how I process and use beeswax.
Filling up the buckets was exciting and we were surprised after weighing one to see that it contained 68 pounds of honey! We quickly filled another with the thick amber honey. Honey flavor and color depends on the terrior and pollens that bees collect, and has different “notes”, kind of like wine. This years honey is definitely darker in color than last years and has a wonderful flavor.
Giving the honey a few days to settle, I start bottling the honey when the weather is still warm, over 75 degrees. If honey gets too cold, it won’t flow properly into my jars.