Buzzing, busy bees!
I returned from a night of fun with old friends (our cheer was “to old friends and new memories”) to head immediately over to the Platt haus. Julia is a beautiful friend of mine whose family has been raising bees for awhile. They keep hives a few miles from their haus and I was invited to come over and help them harvest all the honey their industrious bee ladies had produced!
I showed up and was immediately intimidated- right outside on the porch was an enormous extractor, surrounded by hundreds of flying, busy bees. I have never been a fan of stinging insects so I thought of not leaving the house at all. Plus, the sound! They hummed and buzzed and the air was practically vibrating.
However, Julia’s mum quickly assured me that they were in “foraging” mode, and weren’t in the mood to bother anybody. They literally just wanted to be left alone to eat.
I ventured outside with my camera, while the air hummed and moved with the bees moving everywhere. I watched Hamilton run the extractor with the honey trays being centrifuged inside- physics!
The honey extractor is basically a large metal silo with metal parts inside to slide honey trays inside. Before you can centrifuge the honey you have to first de-wax the trays, because the bees have capped them. “De-capping” requires a couple odd looking tools. There’s a hot metal rod that you can use to melt the wax off, or you can use a little comb-like device to get the wax off. The wax is then put into buckets outside for the bees to clean a little bit! The wax is hard to clean but once it’s clean it can be used for so many things!
Once the wax is removed the extractor holds the honey-filled trays. Two people work the extractor, holding it steady while one person cranks it to get the centrifuge working. Honey (and some unfortunate bees that got into the trays) are removed through sheer force and fall to the bottom to be gathered once enough honey has been centrifuged. I watched as they opened the extractor and took the trays out and turned them 180 degrees, to get the honey out of both sides of the tray.
Once trays have been centrifuged and there’s plenty of unfiltered honey in the bottom, somebody opens the spigot while another person takes a bucket with cheese cloth secured across the top. The de-honeyed trays are put back into the bee boxes in the yard for the bees to return to. These are later transported back to the hives where the bees will live for the rest of the year!
The cheese cloth over the honey buckets filters out wax and other things in the honey. Whatever bees were stuck in the extractor also come out. Then, more cheese cloth is placed over the top of the filtering buckets to prevent more bees from getting in the honey and drowning. Although, they are damn quick and still manage to usually find their way into the honey! Poor bees.
Once the honey has been filtered and whatever unlucky bees have been removed, the honey is ready to be jarred!
The honey is poured into special spigot buckets with lids, and then poured into whatever Mason and Kerr jars you have on hand. This must be done quickly because bees will literally zoom into the honey if given the chance.
The color of the honey varies depending on what the bees have been eating- in this case the bees were apparently eating thistles, mint, and clover! The flavor also varies based on what the bees eat. It’s actually incredible to watch the filtered, pure honey come out of the spigot and be jarred- it’s the most amazing, rich shade of gold! Plus, honey has the most incredible smell. I want to smell like honey.
While we were doing all of these random tasks, honey got on our hands, faces, clothes, and in our hair. The bees, which are hungry, immediately land on you. This part was the most intimidating and yet the most interesting- the bees are calm, not scary, but they’re definitely not shy about invading your personal space! We all periodically washed our hands with the ever-handy spray bottle or the spigot hose to keep our hands especially from attracting bees. We also had to rinse off the spigots for the honey. The inside of the Platt’s haus had honey on the floor, table tops, and chairs. Sticky everywhere!
The Platts have a lot of help, but the honey harvest is hard work. A lot of bending, lifting, and working while trying not to step on or bother the bees, which are literally in the thousands all over the yard. They’re in the honey buckets, on the wax, in the trays, landing on your person, and eating honey off of every surface possible. My camera got some honey on it and bees landed there! By 5 pm we were all getting tired, and we were all sticky to some degree. I shook out my hair at the end of the night and thought a bee came out but it was actually something from a tree, ha!
My favorite part in all of this was admiring all the hard work the bees do and how incredible it is that these little ladies made all of this delicious stuff!
Julia’s dad explained to me how they house the bees and give them the trays which already have the wax the bees need. The bees do not have to expend more energy building wax combs, so they can spend time producing more honey.
Julia’s boyfriend Isaac and her brother Hamilton at one point donned handsome (ish) white bee suits to go collect more boxes. This is the part where the bees aren’t too keen on being friendly, because when an invader shows up to take away their honey, they go into defensive mode. This is when the suit is necessary- Hamilton described how the bees would bounce off of the mesh face net, obviously attempting to keep the eerily suited creatures from stealing their food! Hamilton did get stung once, and so did his dad, but other than that nobody was harmed! (Except the unfortunate bees that couldn’t help themselves and ended up in the honey or the centrifuge…)
Overall yesterday was the most interesting observance of a truly symbiotic relationship. The Platts give the bees housing, security, and give them back more than enough of their honey. The extractor doesn’t really take out every bit of honey, and crystallized honey trays can’t be centrifuged effectively, so the bees eat that as well. The Platts have been doing this for years and it was really amazing to work with them and help harvest the honey! Plus I felt really at ease after a while being surrounded by the bees.
I went home with 3 beautiful golden jars of the stuff, which I am planning on putting into pies, pastries, and tea!
Honey is also fantastic for cold sores, chapped lips, and exfoliating skin. Mix sugar and raw honey and scrub your face and wash off- honey has anti-bacterial and antiviral properties and it’s 100% natural. Using raw honey, not processed, is necessary to get the good properties out of honey- buying local is best.
Or go make friends with some folks who have a honey harvest. They’re the best! Thanks to the awesome Platt family for letting me witness such a neat event and help you guys!