Monday, March 18, 2013

A Bit About Learning and Honey Extraction

For most modern homesteaders, we are faced with an unending list of new skills to learn.  In days past, these skills were simply passed down through generations: just as naturally as learning to walk or talk.  For most of us, choosing to homestead means that we must each reinvent, relearn, and reach out for the knowledge we need.  In some instances, especially in the commercial farming world, there are a whole set of new, ever-developing skills to learn, but for most of us who homestead on a smaller scale, we look back to old, basic skills in order to move ourselves forward into the world of modern homesteading.


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.

17 comments:

  1. Oh what a great weekend of learning. And look at all that honey.

    I have already lined up an extractor to borrow when we get our bees this year :)

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    1. Kim - you should absolutely borrow an extractor! We had one lined up to use in the fall when we thought we would harvest the honey, and now we have one to borrow this fall - I think we would get a lot more and it would be so much easier.

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  2. We have learned so many things this way - by just jumping in and giving it a try. Your honey looks so delicious! I can't wait until we can extract our first honey. We've made some contacts at our local beekeepers club, so hopefully when it's time to harvest ours in the future we can borrow an extractor from someone. We've looked online and they can be pretty pricey.

    Sorry your bees died. A lot of members in the club said they had losses this winter as well. I guess it's all part of the learning process.

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    1. We've got an extractor lined up for next year - thank goodness! Bees are so fun, you'll love them.

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  3. It sounds so fun. I love reading about everyone's adventures in the beekeeping. It's something I have considered, but with everything else we do...might not be a good step right now.

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  4. It was a fun reading :-). I think your honey costs more thatn $13, that's pure raw, organic honey. If you go to whole food or any other such organic stores, you will have to pay about $8 for a small jar of pure local, raw, organic honey. You can start a small business of selling these good stuff to your readers :-).

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    1. Great point. It actually could be profitable - you're absolutely right.

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  5. You did GOOD! Congratulations on your honey harvest.
    We extracted honey for the first time last summer.
    We used 2 five gallon buckets with lids. They were stacked up.
    For the bottom bucket, we left the lid on but we cut a hole in the lid so the bottom of the other bucket could sit on top of that lid without sliding all the way down. (It perched there.)
    For the other bucket, (the one that perched) we drilled LOTS of tiny holes in the bottom of it.
    We did have a de~capping tool. We de~capped the honey while still in the frame, then cut it up in chunks and put them in the bucket with the holes which was perched on the other bucket.
    We put the lid on the top bucket and let it drain. Since it was summer, it only took a few hours.
    Still messy but effective!

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    1. What a great system - they would definitely work. I think we're going to borrow an extractor next year, but if that falls through I may try this.

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  6. Your honey looks great! We lost a hive to carpenter ants this winter, they took everything, including all the honey. It was super disappointing.

    My husband started asking around at all the feed stores, antique stores and the county extention agents in our area if they knew anyone who used to keep bees and no longer did. He found a man who's dad kept bees and all the equipment was sitting unused in a barn. He got an extractor and lots of other stuff for $250. http://www.schneiderpeeps.com/2012/07/look-what-little-asking-around-can-get.html

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    1. What a bummer about the ants - no bees and no honey! What a great find - everything including an extractor for $250!

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  7. It looks like you had a great time! Thank you for sharing. What will you craft with the wax?

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  8. Looks like a priceless adventure to me. :)
    ~Sweet blessings~

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  9. I enjoyed reading about your honey adventure. I am sure you learned a lot and next time will be so much easier. But as you said, it gave you all some great family memories of learning together

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  10. I'm sorry to hear about your bees :( I wanted to start bees this year, but have had to delay that dream a bit. I hope to keep them someday.

    Thanks for sharing on The HomeAcre Hop!

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  11. Oh wow! I am so impressed. Bees just sort of scare me and since we have a bee keeper locally who sells his honey I haven’t been too motivated just yet. I’m sorry about the loss of some of your bees but it looks like you are pretty well set. Thank you for linking up to our hop. Hope to see you tomorrow morning at our new time! http://blackfoxhomestead.com/the-homeacre-hop/

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