Both jars contain cut comb. Jar on right has been reliquified.
Raw honey will granulate in time, and it is perfectly fine to eat it that way if you wish. Depending on the floral mix, moisture content, and the temperature at which it’s stored, some honeys granulate sooner than others. Many people prefer granulated honey. You can use it as is in your favorite recipes, spread it on warm toast, or spoon it into a steaming mug of tea or coffee. But if you prefer to drizzle some honey over a warm biscuit, don’t despair! It can be liquified again with a little heat.
Most people just zap a bit of honey in the microwave or heat it in a pan of water on the stove. These methods work well, but you risk overheating and thus burning, darkening and damaging the honey as well as destroying nutrients and enzymes. Beekeepers often use special water-jacketed tanks or heating bands. These are expensive, often unwieldy for small batches and also risk destroying the quality of the honey if not attended closely.
Ideally, to preserve color and quality, you want to hold the honey at about 105 to 115 degrees for several hours, depending on the size of your jars.
My brother and his wife usually get a case of honey from me every year to give to their friends as Christmas gifts. But by Christmas, the raw honey, pulled in the spring, has begun to crystalize in the glass jars. Ingenious man that he is, my brother substitutes the light bulb in his oven with a regular 100-watt bulb and leaves the jars of honey in the oven over night! (Just remember to replace the bulb again before you use the oven to prevent the bulb from breaking! He also suggests checking your oven first by sticking a thermometer in overnight to see how warm your oven gets.)
If I have only a few jars, I use my chicken egg incubator. I can set the incubator at 110 degrees, leave the lids on, and walk away! I can even reliquify comb honey this way because the wax does not melt until about 140 degrees. In the photo, both jars contain cut comb and honey. The one on the right has been reliquified overnight in my incubator.
Entropy, “4. a hypothetical tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity. 5. Inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.”
Inert, “1. Unable to move or act. 2 Sluggish in action or motion; lethargic.”
No, this is not going to be a political discussion, although…
I have great compassion for Newbees, novices who are trying to learn the art and science of beekeeping. It was easier for me. I had a mentor, did as I was told, worked, learned, kept my opinions to myself, and eventually branched out, started my own apiary, and did it “my way.” Today it’s harder to find mentors, and for as many beekeepers who are asked a question, that’s how many different answers a Newbee gets back.
The reason for this blog is to give back, pass on what I’ve learned, but it’s not that easy. I get a lot of push back from established Agri-beekeepers because I don’t feed my hives (once established), don’t use chemicals, and don’t purchase all the latest bee gadgets. This past year, I had a bad year, and you know what? This year’s results were exactly equal to the NORM of Argi-beesiness in recent years! And that, a normal year for most beekeepers, was a bad year for me--until now I’ve had excellent results. So now, as an act of faith in myself and what I have learned by observation, I am sticking to my guns, letting my poorly preforming hives die, and rebuilding from the survivors. Stay tuned, survive or fail, I won’t lie to you! If I fall on my face, y’all will be the first to know.
Now for the entropy part. The expanding access to information and the many voices is a blessing and a concern. Quantity doesn’t trump quality. It can just lead to confusion and inaction. If you love bees, just commit! Go for it. Make your own mistakes and learn from them. Give yourself a few years of apprenticeship and don’t expect instant results. Every failure is one step closer to success. Don’t be afraid to fail! And above all, give yourself a period to just observe what the bees do naturally and then adapt to them.
That said, don’t keep bees because you think you’re going to make money. If you want to make money, get a job--any job! Keep bees because you love them. If you love them enough, you may make money from them in a dozen years or so.
Cleansing flights on a warm winters day. Notice the carpet-tack strip and entrance reducer.
Everyone wants to find a warm haven and a hot meal when it’s cold outside. Field mice love to claim a hive corner just a few inches from the warm cluster of bees to winter in, chewing up comb to make way for the debris they haul in for nesting. Skunks and opossums will park themselves at the hive entrance and scoop out pawfuls of honey and larvae to gorge on. You can see signs of them from the clawed up turf in front of a hive.
Now is the time to make sure your hives are protected from these marauders. This week I am making my “last call” to each hive before winter. First I install the entrance reducers to discourage the mice. These were removed before the spring nectar flow to make more room for landing and taking off. I also make sure all the hives have carpet-tack strips attached to the bottom boards (see photo). These have always worked for me to fend off skunks and opossums looking for a winter snack.
I will not open the hives again until next spring, although I will check on them often. During these checks, I gingerly tip each hive forward from the back to feel its weight. The heft will tell me whether a hive is well provisioned. Before leaving, I put my ear to the back of the hive and gently knock, “Anybody home?” Before I knock, I can often hear the soft hum of wings and bodies moving inside to maintain the cluster warmth. After knocking, I hear a quick spike in the decibel level of this contented hum. All is well. See you in the spring!
Update: Those of you who follow this blog know I lost a lot of bees to pesticides during the nectar flow last spring when they were foraging on neighboring farms. I am happy to report that my surviving hives are all in good condition going into winter. Again this year I have had no varroa losses despite not treating and I have not had to feed any of my hives. Sorry agri-BEE-ness but we survived another year without and despite you. I only hope my bees can survive another spring spraying season!
Many beekeepers discard their wax cappings after honey harvest or simply forget about them until the wax moths have found and destroyed them. You may be one of them, thinking that rendering beeswax is too hard, is too expensive, or takes too much time. I am going to share a simple and inexpensive way to render beautiful, sweet-smelling cakes of beeswax from your cappings that does not require expensive solar or water-jacketed wax melters. You can find most of the necessary equipment in thrift shops or maybe in your own garage or storage area.
The setup I’ve devised uses an old plastic cooler, a light fixture like the type used in a chicken coop with a 100-watt bulb, a foil pan to place in the bottom of the cooler, and some sort of rack to hold the lightbulb up off the wax cappings in the foil pan. The rack in the picture is the base of an old-fashioned food mill that I bought at a garage sale. Dedicate all your equipment to melting wax because you’ll never get it clean again!
1. Put your waxcappings in the foil pan. The pan should be sized to cover most of the bottom of your cooler. Put the pan in the cooler, put the rack over the pan, put the light fixture over the rack, close the lid and plug it in! If your lid does not close all the way, you can use a sheet of foil to keep the heat in.
You will have to watch your melting setup to determine how long it takes your cappings to melt down. With the equipment pictured, mine takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I have never had my wax catch fire this way but I keep an eye on it and set a timer to remind me to check it every half hour. Remember beeswax melts at about 140 degrees. The flashpoint, 400 degrees, is most likely too high to ignite in this setup.
2. After the wax has melted, use oven mitts to carefully lift out the foil pan and pour the melted wax through 2 or 3 layers of cheesecloth into a stainless steel container. When it cools, you can remove the cheesecloth along with the slumgum (residue from rendering wax) adhering to the cheesecloth. Save this as it makes an excellent outdoor fire starter! In the bottom of the stainless steel pan, the wax will have separated from any remaining honey, floated to the top, and hardened. Remove this wax cake and rinse off the honey. This honey will be discolored from the heating process and will have lost its good flavor and any nutritional value so won’t be worth saving.
3. Before making candles, you will need to melt and filter your chunk of wax one more time. You can melt it again in your cooler (in a new foil pan that you will save and use only for this cleaner wax), or you can use a teflon coated crockpot at the lowest setting (I purchased the one pictured at a thrift store). Once melted, again filter the wax through 3 layers of cheesecloth into a rubber mold or other container to make large blocks. If you don’t have a mold, you can filter it into waxed paper drinking cups. After it hardens, you can just peel away the cup. Your wax is then ready to melt for making candles or for making salves or lip balm.
The cake of wax and the candles in the picture were all rendered using this method. The candle in the center of the picture was made by putting a wick in a small waxed-paper drinking cup, pouring in melted wax, and then peeling away the cup once the wax had hardened. It burns cleanly and for a very long time!
We do things the "hard" way here at Persimmon Ridge
It’s 5 o’clock on Persimmon Ridge. I am sitting on the back porch with a glass of homemade mead, watching my little herd of Tennessee fainting goats browse on an overgrown pasture. Most are pregnant and I can’t wait to meet the kids! The small flock of free-range hens and their rooster are patrolling and scratching for bugs and tender greens. I have lost a hen in the past 2 days--probably to an owl or a coon. I love and don’t begrudge the owls, but am totally unforgiving of the coon that is also marauding my corn crop. But ahh, it’s the web of life.
This is primarily a honey farm and my bees are flying high right now, but I, like other beekeepers, am worried to death about them (see Heartbreaking Piece of Ground blog in the archives). Unlike my other livestock, they are not confined to my land. As they forage for nectar, they fall victim to the pesticides and herbicides that my neighbors spray on their fields and to the genetically modified corn pollen that they gather to feed to their larvae.
I am feeding myself and my animals very well, but I am not making money. standards, but extremely rich by my own. I do wish people valued what those like me produce enough to pay a living wage for it. Not for me. I’m “retired.” But for all the young people who can and would love to make a living producing good food for the rest of us. But the majority of Americans still don't’ get it. They want cheap, government-subsidized, what-passes-for food.
Sometimes I grow weary of explaining myself. Why am I doing everything the “hard” way? Why do I let my fence rows grow up (duh? I’m a beekeeper and bees like wildflowers, not to mention the other beneficial insects, the nesting birds and other wildlife) when Roundup would kill those weeds in nothing flat? Why do I let my pastures grow up so long before bush hogging them? (Ditto--bees and wildlife.) Why don’t I thin out my woodlot? Why don’t I use Seven on my garden? Why don’t I feed chemicals and conventional food to myself, my bees, chickens, goats? It goes on and on. What I want to know is why do people move to the country from the suburbs and then try to make the country look like the suburbs?!
I know full well why I do things the hard way and the reason is sound. Those of us who homestead sustainably are serving an extremely valuable purpose: We are the zoos for a world of modern agricultural. We are agricultural preservation zones.
Just as some animals can be preserved only in zoos instead of the wild, the same is true of heirloom vegetable seed, heritage breeds of livestock, and sustainable methods of farming. They are becoming lost to us. Those of us who persist in doing things the “hard” way are serving as zoos that will preserve this way of life in the event agribusiness fails us. Many of us believe it already has and will continue to fail us.
We no longer know that we don’t need to buy big, expensive bags of goat chow and layer pellets for our livestock; sugar and high fructose corn syrup for our bees; bags of fertilizer, herbicide and pesticides for our gardens and crops; processed food for ourselves. Do we really imagine that our great-grandparents fed themselves and their homestead livestock this way? They would shake their heads at the waste and the stupidity. Not sustainable.
What passes for agriculture in this country is the production of ingredients for processed food and sweet sodas. GMO corn and soybean fields that require the demise of every other life form in their wake. But it’s cheap, and we get what we pay for. We import labor-intensive fruits and vegetables from parts of the globe where labor is still cheaper. Have you noticed that these foods are harder to find in your grocery store and not nearly as cheap as they used to be? Think transportation costs and the rising labor costs in these countries as they become more developed. One day we will NEED a more local food source. In that day, let’s just hope that there are enough of us who have persisted in doing things the “hard” way.
Even after a wet, lush summer, the leaves have taken on the bug-riddled green of summer’s end and the fall flora have begun to bloom here on Persimmon Ridge. The bees gather nectar from goldenrod, ironweed, asters and other wildflowers to make and store honey for the winter. It’s time to pay my end-of-summer visit to each hive.
Like other beekeepers across the country, this has been a difficult year for me. I’ve lost more than 50% of my hives, and those that survived produced only 25% of the honey crop that they produced last year. I’m anxious to see how the bees are faring.
It’s important to get into the hives now because I still have time to right things before winter if need be. For instance, if a hive is queenless, I can give it a frame of eggs from another hive. The bees will make a new queen, and she still has time to mate before the bees start kicking the drones out for the winter, to conserve food for the queen and overwintering workerbees. If a hive is too weak to make it on it’s own, I can combine the bees with those in another hive. If a hive has died, I can try to figure out why and salvage the equipment before it’s destroyed by wax moths. In other words, I am going to do something with the information I gather from working the bees today.
I don’t get into my hives unless I have a reason. Most of the time, I can tell how the bees are doing by watching the activity at the entrance. Lots of coming and going or lots of bees just hanging out on the bottom board is a good sign. Bees coming in with full pollen baskets on their hind legs means they have young larvae to feed, so the queen is likely OK. Since robbing honey in early July, I have not gotten into a hive unless I saw little or no activity at the entrance. When I pulled off the harvest, I left each hive a shallow super of honey to get it through the summer until fall bloomtime.
An aside here for new or would-be beekeepers: If you’re like me when I first started out, you may fear getting into a strong, mature colony of bees. Last week I wrote about how to prepare now to keep bees next Spring. To start I said all the protective gear you really need is heavy cotton shirt and pants tucked into boots, a veil and bee gloves. A little spritz or two of sugar or honey water from a spray bottle will keep a small package of bees distracted while you install them. However, a mature bee colony or an apiary of established colonies requires a little more. The key to not being afraid to get into your hives is to be prepared and to know they can’t get at you.
Today I wear all my gear, nylon bee suit over my clothes and tucked into boots, veil, and gloves. I light my smoker and make sure I have plenty of fuel to keep it lit as I go from hive to hive. I’ve picked a dry, sunny day for this because the bees will be busy exploring for and mining the wildflowers and will pay me little mind. If it were windy or rain was threatening, the bees would all be home with little more to do than try to run me off. I do get stung on occasion, but it’s usually in the honey house or when I’m moving boxes or frames without gloves or protective gear.
At the first hive, I aim a delicate puff of smoke at the entrance just to let them know I’m here. Then I remove the top cover and set it upside down on the ground. The inner cover is covered with bees--good, lots of bees in this hive. A few hive beetles scurry across the inner cover looking for a place to hide. The bees pursue them and I am not concerned. This hive is strong enough to keep a few beetles in check. I give the entrance hole in the inner cover a couple of puffs of smoke and wait for most of the bees to disappear down inside the hive. I use my hive tool to pry up the shallow super of honey that sits on top of the two deep hive bodies, leaving the inner cover in place. As I set this covered box down on the upturned outer cover, I can feel that it is still quite heavy with honey. Food stores for this hive are in good shape. The bees have made it through the dearth of summer with food to spare.
The topmost hive body is covered with bees. A few guard bees buzz me, but for the most part the bees go on about their business. The only reason to check further is to make sure I have a laying queen while the bees still have time to replace her. I carefully pry out one of the frames from the outside edge. It is full of honey and pollen and is covered with bees. I set it gently down on the ground, leaning it against the hive. I continue removing frames from the outside working toward the middle, setting them down in order so that I can return them as they were. On the third frame, I see lots of capped brood and uncapped larvae.
This is all I need to know about this hive. All is right. I return the hive to order, replace its super of honey and re-cover it. There is no need to see the queen. I've found the evidence that she is doing her job, and to tear down the hive further risks accidentally crushing her.
All but one of the hives in this apiary look healthy and strong with lots of brood. The last hive still has plenty of honey but is light on bees. Howe when I pull out and check the frames, I notice two big peanut-shaped queen cells that have hatched, and I find lots of new brood. This hive has replaced its old queen and the new one has begun to lay. I will leave her to it for now. I make a note to check this one again before winter. The other hives look good. No sign of mite infestation, no deformed bee wings, no foulbrood. From now until winter, I will check only the entrances for activity, and then just before winter, I will lift the top boxes to make sure they’re heavy with honey. I will not disturb the hive bodies again until spring.
> I have two more apiaries to check in the coming days, but today my heart is lighter. Earlier in the year, I railed against my hive losses and cussed everything big agriculture: the host of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides; GMO and pesticide-laden pollen from corn and other crops; and the loss of wild habitat to row crops. Today’s inspection of these hives has me again filled with hope and with plans of starting new hives from my survivors next Spring!
Author Phil Chandler's photo of his top bar hive
If you want to start beekeeping next spring, you'll need to start now to prepare your equipment and find a source for your bees.
What you need depends on your goal in keeping bees. Do you want a backyard hive or two for fun, for your own honey, and to pollinate your garden? In that case I’d recommend a “top bar” hive. This is the simplest way to keep bees and requires no special equipment for extracting the honey. You simply remove one of the bars of comb and honey when the bees have produced a surplus (usually not until the second year). You can cut the comb up and have chunk comb honey or squeeze it out of the comb for liquid honey.
If you want to start an apiary and eventually have honey to sell, you’ll want to purchase standard hives with removable frames that will fit into an extractor (a machine that spins the honey out of the cells). This is the way I keep bees because I sell honey. With the expense of hardware, extractor, hot knives, protective gear, bees, etc., I didn’t even break even until the 6th year of beekeeping.
Me getting into one of my traditional hives.
Whichever direction you choose, now is the time to educate yourself, buy and assemble your hives and protective clothing, and to find a source for ordering your bees. In this blog, I’m going to assume you’ve chosen the top bar method. This hive is basically a box with bars placed horizontally over the top. The bees draw comb out in hanging circles from the bars. The hive space can be expanded or contracted by removing or adding bars. For more detailed instruction on keeping bees this way, I love P.J. Chandler’s book, The Barefoot Beekeeper. It even includes plans and instructions for building your own hive (first picture).
You can see that the first pictured hive has a very simple design and could be hand built if you have woodworking skills. Or you can search online to purchase kits or fully assembled hives. They range in price from $99 to $500 or more. The hive in the picture has no cover so you would need to cover it with a flat piece of wood or tin. I really do recommend buying at least 2 hives to get started with. If you run into trouble with a queen dying or not performing, it’s easier to help the bees make a new queen if you have another hive to get eggs from.
For protective gear, you will need a minimum of a veil and gloves. For protective clothing, you can get by with a heavy, long sleeve cotton shirt and denim pants tucked into boots. Or you can buy a bee suit. I’ve used both cotton and nylon bee suits and prefer nylon. When you get hot and sweaty, the cotton will stick to your skin and if your bees are being disagreeable, they can easily you sting through the wet cotton. You can order catalogs or shop online from companies such as Walter T Kelley, Dadant, Betterbee and a host of others. Keep in mind, they are in the business of selling you a bunch of stuff you may or may not need. But look through them now and compare and price your gear. You’ll pay between $20 and $30 for a good pair of gloves and about the same price for a hat and veil.
Instead of buying a smoker, all you'll need to get started is a spray bottle filled with sugar water. Spraying the bees with this will distract them while you install them into your hive (more on installing bees in a future blog).
Now for the bees! You’ll be looking for a package with a bred queen and about 3 pounds of bees. They will be shipped in the spring, most likely by US mail. It’s very important to find a source as local as possible. I know my Southern neighbors won’t want to hear this, but I don’t recommend buying bees from any state south of Tennessee. You run the risk of getting bees with Africanized genetics.
A typical package of bees from Walter T Kelley (Kelleybees photo)
The more local your source, the more the bees will be suited to your environment and weather conditions. Start looking now and order as soon as you can because suppliers always run out. Prices seem to increase every year, but I think they’re still under $100. Ideally the bees will ship in the spring when everything is blooming furiously so they can get off to a good start and have enough nectar to build the new wax they will need. Do not buy a “nucleus” hive for your top bar hive. These are half-size versions of the standard hives with 4 or 5 frames meant to go into the traditional hives. They will not fit in your top bar hive.
The only other things you might need would be what’s called a hive tool--something to pry the bars apart and lift them with, which costs about $8, and some honey to get them started on (see my blog on feeding bees). So now you have your fall and winter homework: read everything you can, comb through the catalogs, order your hives and protective clothing, assemble your hives and order your bees!
A frame of bee food: honey and pollen
People often ask what I feed my bees. I don’t. They feed themselves nectar, pollen, and water. Feeding bees sugar syrup or corn syrup is akin to putting soda in a baby’s bottle. Poorly nourished bees have fewer resources to fight all of the other challenges to their health: the chemical soup of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in our environment along with opportunistic parasites and diseases.
Bees need their own good honey for proper, balanced nutrition and health. When every drop of it is robbed after the nectar flow and the bees are then fed with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, the bees suffer and your honey crop suffers. Not only do the bees miss out on their own good food, you do too. Your honey contains stored sugar water and corn syrup, which alters the taste and quality and is NOT HONEY.
You need strong, healthy hives to produce a good harvest. Bees gather nectar, pollen, water, and propolis for their health and nutrition. Honey mainly contains fructose and glucose as well as 22 other complex sugars. But it also contains small amounts of enzymes, acids, minerals, and even vitamins. Although it contains some amino acids as well, the bees get most of their protein from pollen. Depriving them of all these nutrients is asking for them to get sick.
So how do you ensure your bees have proper nutrition and still get a good honey crop?
First, do not harvest all of their honey. Leave enough honey so they can use their own stores through a summer of little bloom and through the winter. When you remove your comb to store after the harvest, you’ll probably find some honey that has not yet been capped--store some of this in your freezer as emergency feed. I also leave all of the honey that the bees produce from the fall bloom on the hives for winter stores. If they produce a surplus, I freeze some frames for future use by the bees.
Second, take your losses in the fall and cull weak hives. If a hive is weak, rather than feed it, kill the poorly performing queen and add the bees to another, stronger hive. You can either freeze or give their honey stores to other hives. Your hives will be stronger, healthier, and produce more in the long run.
Start your new hives during the spring nectar flow (time of heaviest bloom) so that the bees have good nutrition for population build up and wax production. You can use a little of your frozen comb honey to get them started, but they will soon be mining the blooms if you let them be.
Leave a full super of honey on your hives at all times (this amount is for Middle Tennessee and will vary with your location and length of winters). Leaving this honey for the bees is not a loss to you by any means. The bees will more than make up for this in honey production each year. They will have proper nutrition for a good spring population buildup without the “stimulus” of sugar water. I save money and time by not having to feed hives AND they produce more, high-quality honey--pure honey. I consistently find that my hives produce more pounds of honey each year, not counting this ever-present extra super, than in the early years when we used to rob them dry and then try to keep them fed.
Frame of honeycomb destroyed by wax moths
If you've just completed your honey harvest for the year, you may have empty boxes of honeycomb to store. The bees invested a lot of work to produce this wax, work they can do only during a nectar flow (a time of mass flower blooming). Bees must eat 6 to 8 pounds of honey to produce just 1 pound of wax, so this is valuable stuff, and now is the time to protect your comb from wax moths!
Both the greater wax moth and the lesser wax moth coexist with bees and honeycomb in every part of the world. Bees from healthy hives will remove the moths' larvae as they find them, and wax moths will never be a problem in a strong, active hive. Wax moths are natures way of cleaning up weak and diseased hives. Wax moths find nutrition in the honey, pollen and debris left behind in used honeycomb. They seldom if ever attack pure wax cakes or new wax foundation. Wax moths target weak hives and stored, used honeycomb.
Wax moth larva (Beesource photo)
Lesser wax moth (Bing free photo)
The adult moths lay their eggs in the cracks and crevices of the hive frames. When the eggs hatch, the larvae tunnel through the hives eating wax, pollen, honey and even bee brood. They leave the comb filled with web and feces. When the larva finally attach themselves to the wooden parts of the hive to spin their cocoons, they can weaken and destroy the woodenware.
Notice cocoons between frames
Conventional beekeepers store stacked towers of honeycomb-filled boxes under the vapors of paradichlorobenzene, the same chemical found in moth balls. But beeswax acts as a chemical sink and can easily become contaminated with this and other chemicals. For this reason, I won't use readymade wax foundation for my bees to draw out. A chemical soup can remain in the foundation made from wax produced by conventional beekeepers. Instead my bees draw out all of their own pure wax foundation from scratch. Here in Middle Tennessee, they can do this only in the spring during a nectar flow, when there is enough nectar and honey available for wax production. Giving them a guide at the top of each wired frame gets the bees started, and they draw out beautiful frames of honeycomb.
Wired frame with guide at top, ready for bees to draw out
Having drawn comb ready at the beginning of the spring nectar flow is invaluable. The bees start storing honey immediately, without having to ingest so much of it to make comb. As dear as honeycomb is to me and as much work as the bees expend to draw it out, I don't wax moths to destroy it during storage.
I've found 2 ways to store comb without chemicals. The best way is to freeze it. This kills all stages of the wax moth. I have 4 deep freezers dedicated to storing comb. Even so, some years I still don't have enough freezer space. A covered porch exposed to light and air but protected from rain is my next defense. Here I stack boxes half full of comb, leaving every other slot empty. Exposure to light discourages the wax moths and keeps my comb clean.
I check the hives stored this way often during the late summer and early fall, before freezing overnight temperatures keep the moths in check. If I see a web trail starting or other signs of active larvae, I rotate these combs through the freezer for 24 hours. Between the freezers and the covered back porch, the honeycomb is safe from wax moth damage without using chemicals.
The spring bloom is done and the honey has been harvested. Now is the time I visit every hive once again to ready them for the summer lull. As I go about my end of the season beekeeping chores I am buoyed by the words of a friend--even in this my most difficult year of beekeeping. She said she'd been listening to an episode of the Splendid Table
by Lynne Rossetto Kasper in which Chef Daniel Klein had visited Kars Turkey to taste its famous honey. He described the taste as "intense" and " a little bit of a tingle on the back of your throat. I don't know if that's because there's a little more pollen in it or what it is, but it has got this natural depth."
This had reminded my friend of me and the taste of my honey! Wow! Others have tried to describe that little "tingle" in my honey to me as well and I know exactly what they're talking about although words escape me. Some have called in a "tang" or, as the Williamsport post mistress tried to describe, a "citrus-y taste." The traditional Kars way of beekeeping is like mine--not to feed the bees sugar water or corn syrup but to sacrifice the harvest if it means leaving enough honey for the bees to survive. So the honey you harvest from the hive is just that--honey! No sugar water or corn syrup gets stored by the bees with the honey.
So as I clean up the equipment from my dead hives, ensure that the surviving hives have enough honey to survive the summer draught--until the fall bloom, which means not harvesting from some hives, I feel good about the way I keep bees. As my mentor not so eloquently taught me: "treat them like ladies and not like whores."