I witnessed my first honey harvest this week, and it was a spectacular experience to see how honey is stored by honey bees and how we extract this natural sweetener. The UW Farm hosted this public event along side a delicious baking day, utilizing the cob oven on the farm to cook up pizzas and other treats while the honey was being collected. Hosting bees is an easy way to supply pollinators to the plants in the area, these hives create more habitats for healthy bee colonies. Although they do need tender love and care, bees are relatively easy to maintain and have a sweet payoff.
The farm has had a beehive for years, but this summer we were lucky to host a beekeeping class and there are now several hives hosted on the farm. The farm has been abuzz with bees taking in their fill of summer's bounty. The class also built a bee wall. Somebody please inform me of the proper term for this structure, because I am at a loss. But I am so glad we have one. It is secured in a shed and there is a tube structure that allows the bees to fly in and out of the frame to deposit their nectar. The queen bee is denoted by a dot on her abdomen, and if you look close enough you can find her among the busy worker bees who are filling the honeycomb with sweet, sweet honey.
The beekeeping class had already removed the honey 'super's from the hives, to prepare them for harvest. The honey is collected mostly in the top frame, called the honey-super, while the bees live in the brood-box below. Once inside, and free of bees, we were able to start the honey removal process. We used a very medieval looking, but electric, uncapping knife to remove the beeswax from each individual frame so that the honey was exposed. The frames were then placed in a honey extractor, or centrifuge, that spins the frames around in a large metal cylinder so that the honey flies out of the comb structure and drains out into a prepared bucket. The frames can then be placed back in the super and the bees can begin to refill the honeycomb. The honey then needs to be strained to remove any leftover beeswax, or other residue. But then it can be directly poured into airtight containers to bring home and enjoy! And if anyone gets ambitious they can turn all of the fresh beeswax into lovely candles to get themselves through the winter.