For each of us, those skills are available in many different places: you can search out and find mentors or people to sit beside and learn, take a class, read books, search the internet, or simply apply the trial and error approach. In many ways, the way those skills were practiced is lost, but the basic skills are still available for those willing to do a little searching.
When you are stuck in the uphill battle of learning everything, it is so easy to idealize how life would be if you simply knew all the necessary skills. It's hard to remember that the learning is the fun part, and all those mistakes, well those are just little stumbles on the way.
For me, this weekend was the perfect reminder that mistakes happen (especially to people who act first and think second), but it was also a reminder that those same mistakes propel you forward even if they turn you kitchen into sticky, honey covered mess. Here is a behind the curtain look at our weekend.
Earlier this week, I made a visit into the hive in our bee garden to discover that all the bees were dead. It wasn't really a huge surprise, but still a bit discouraging. After some investigation, we came up with a theory of what happened. The hive had a late swarm and a huge number of bees left the hive in August and so the bee population was low going into the winter. We decided this fall to leave all the honey for the bees, and when we opened up the hive we discovered one area with no honey left, and one area still full of honey. With a low bee population and a cold winter, it is likely that the bees weren't able to stay warm and reach the honey and they starved or froze to death - so first note: if you get a warm day in the winter, make sure you rotate the honey so the bees have food.
With several full frames of honey and several partial frames, we decided to go ahead and harvest the honey. Since this was the first time we would extract honey, and we weren't totally prepared, we did a little research, and then decided to just jump right in. In the element of pure honesty, I will say that I jumped right in, while Dave kept asking if maybe, perhaps we should wait and do a bit more research.
To extract honey, usually the honey comb is opened and placed in an extractor that spins the frame and removes the honey. Without the use of an extractor, you can cut off the comb and crush it in a colander and let the honey drain off. Then you run the honey through a sieve and cheesecloth to get rid of any debris, and voila - honey. Since we didn't want to totally crush the comb, we decided to start by cutting off the cap of the comb and letting it drain overnight.
Within a few hours, there were frames all over our kitchen draining into every available container. But bees are smart and the design of the comb means that the honey does not easily drain. After a few hours of draining, there was honey everywhere and still a fair amount of honey still in the comb. As a late night burst of brilliance, we decided to rig up a bucket on a rope, wind the rope, and let it spin the honey out. This was moderately effective...
Finally we decided to go back to the original method and cut off the honeycomb, crush it and drain it. A full 30 hours after we started the process, we are now the proud owners of 13 pounds worth of jarred honey (thank goodness we didn't have a bigger hive with more honey!). I am beyond excited. All that honey even made the mess worth it (although I am still finding sticky spots around the kitchen where honey dropped or was flung).
While I believe in good information and solid research, there is something to be said for getting in there and getting your hands dirty. No book or blog could have fully prepared me for all the little missteps we made this weekend. And while our 13 pounds of honey cost us about $500 dollar (cost of hive + bees, etc) the weekend I spent up to my elbow in sticky mess alongside my husband and kids is really what it's all about. Oh, and all those missteps weren't really steps back, but were really just steps forward on our journey.