Harvesting Backyard Honey

If you’ve read my blog for a long time, you KNOW I have on my “bucket list” to someday be a backyard beekeeper. I recently got to find out first-hand what it takes to keep bees, and what an amazing time it was!

A wee bumblebee flies to a spring flower in my garden.

I’ve always been fascinated by bees (bees, not wasps. Even though wasps are beneficial insects, I have had too many run-ins with them, and have a hearty fear of getting too close to the little spawns of Satan). Bees, on the other hand, are so much more docile, and won’t bother you if you don’t mean them harm. They are Mother Nature’s little angels. Without bees, we would not have food, or most plants, for that matter. 

Just the fact that bees can fly is a miracle in itself. Their wings, in proportion to their bodies, would make it improbable that they could have flight, yet they are amazing and fast flyers. The honey they make is also a miracle. Honey is not only delicious, but has antioxidants, antibacterial properties, and can even heal wounds. It’s better for blood sugar than eating refined sugar, and I’m convinced that because I eat a bit of local honey everyday, I no longer suffer from seasonal allergies.

As a tried-and-true farmgirl, I keep chickens, have a veggie garden, and love to can and preserve. Beekeeping seems like a natural step in being more self-sufficient. 

A family that lives down the street knows that I love honey, and hope to someday be a beekeeper myself, so they recently invited us to join their family in harvesting spring honey, so we could get a taste of what it takes to keep hives. My daughter and I were so excited! 

The first thing we did when we arrived was to make sure that we were protected. Though it was a hot July day, we wore long pants and long sleeves.

I’m ready for adventure!

Randa loaned me a beekeeper’s suit (it was a coincidence that she loaned me one in my favorite shade of pink)! 

Mohamed has several hives. He says when I decide to have bees, it’s good to start with at least two hives, to keep the hives strong and healthy. The hive boxes he has are insulated, a better choice for our very cold winters than traditional wooden hives. 

First, smoke from a smoker was used to help calm and disorient the bees, so they would be less likely to sting. The smoke wasn’t irritating; it reminded me of a campfire.

As we helped lift the trays of honey from the hives to the cart that would carry them to the next step, Audrey and I were surprised just how heavy the trays of honey were! Each tray contained honey, honeycomb and wax where the bees had closed the “cells”, behind which the delicious honey was found. You need some upper body strength to be a beekeeper!

The bees were not really aggressive. Mohamed told us that they would first “warn” us by buzzing into us. It was at first a bit unnerving when a few bees “buzzed” and flicked the screen covering my face. We moved slowly so as to not upset them, but also to be careful not to hurt any of the bees by stepping on them, as a few landed on the ground. The buzzing sound of the bees was harmonious. 

A second hive was housed in a different type of box, where jars could be filled right at the hive. On the side, one could view the hive of bees as they worked. Mohamed filled a large jar of honey for us to take home. 

After we filled the cart, we moved indoors to where the spinner was.

Using a large heated knife, Mohamed taught us how to slice the wax off the trays.  It was not as easy as it looked, and was more difficult if the wax was thinner, as opposed to thick. 

Audrey and I each try our hand at using the electric knife to remove the beeswax, not a physically easy task. Any remaining little bits of wax were hand-picked using a special tool.
Once the wax is removed, the trays go into the spinner.

The spinner would spin the trays, collecting the honey at the bottom. The empty trays were considerably lighter in weight than before. Mohamed says when he first had bees, he used a manual spinner for the honey, as opposed to the large electric one.

I could not believe how much honey was harvested from one hive! We filled a large bucket of beautiful, golden honey. (Honey, if stored properly, doesn’t go bad. It’s Nature’s perfect food).

Mohamed shared this photo with me the other day, of the bees in the beautiful lavender plants they have planted in their garden.

“Spring” honey is lighter in color and tastes different than “fall”, which is darker. Taste depends on what flowers are available for the bees, and where they are. Mohamed also had us taste honey harvested from where they used to live in New York state; it had a different taste than what is harvested in Connecticut. We got to try it, along with Randa’s amazing homemade cheese.

We always love seeing bees in our yard. We have noticed more honeybees in the grass on the clover; when we see them we smile and think they must be visiting from Mohamed’s house! Their hives are very healthy; some beekeepers take all the fall honey from their bees and replace it with sugar water; Mohamed does not do that. 

Before we realized, we had been visiting for several hours! We had the best time, and appreciated all of their amazing hospitality! It was so much fun getting to know our neighbors, and was a wonderful learning experience, as well. Harvesting honey was an event, and I loved that their whole family joined in. Harvesting honey is a lengthy process, and keeping bees is definitely not an easy task. I certainly have a deeper appreciation for the amount of time, expense and hard work that goes into beekeeping, but it is a such wonderful, rewarding thing to do!

Tell me, are you a beekeeper, as well? What is your favorite way to consume honey? Drop me a line and say “hello” in the comments below so I know you dropped by!

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