I didn’t think we’d get a honey crop this year. My bees swarmed three times (that I know of) and I’m sure several more times that I was blissfully ignorant of. Don’t they know they’re supposed to give their landlord (me) notice when they move out??? Of the three swarms I knew about I caught only one, thanks to a helpful iPhone video my husband sent me showing me which tree the swarm had landed in, and with the much appreciated assistance of my bee savvy neighbor Jeff who came over to help capture them.
What keeps me from getting an annually consistent honey crop? Well I could blame it on the weather. We’ve had some rainy summers and cold winters. I could also say it’s the Russian bees I keep, who do so love to swarm. But to be humbly honest, my lack of an annual honey crop may have more to do with my mediocrity as a beekeeper than factors like mother nature and the million year old instincts of Apis mellifera. Many beekeeping books write about how people get into beekeeping because they’re intrigued by bees, but leave the hobby after they’ve been overwhelmed by the honey. Eight years in and I’m still waiting to be overwhelmed by a honey crop. Despite the swarms, rain, hurricane, and loving neglect my bees have suffered through this summer I still had one hive that produced for me.
Ideally you harvest honey sometime before or during August in New England so that the bees still have time to store up enough goldenrod honey to see them through the winter. That is unless you’re a procrastinator like me. So it was in September that I put on a bee escape. The worker bees dutifully left the honey supers for a night so they could go down and nestle in the brood supers with the queen and larvae, but come the dawn when they went to return to their work of ripening honey they were confounded by the maize. One of the joys of beekeeping is using the bees own instincts (in this case the instinct to huddle up in the evenings with the brood and queen) against them. Sneaky, yet satisfying.
I borrowed an extractor from a guy in my beekeeper’s club, then waited for a day when the kids could help. Honey extracting is more fun to do with other people. In the past I’ve borrowed extractors that were so big you had to sit on them to keep them from dancing around the room. This extractor was a two framer which Shawn screwed to a couple of boards he had lying around. The set up allowed us to stand on the boards and hold the extractor in place while we whizzed the frames around and around letting centrifugal force draw the honey from the comb.
First we removed the cappings with a thin knife dipped in hot water. It slid right through the wax and exposed the ripened honey underneath. When bees collect nectar it is anywhere from 90-97% liquid. In order for nectar to turn into honey bees add some enzymes and amino acids from their bodies then “ripen” the nectar until the moisture content is 15-17%. The ripening process has two stages–an active stage and a passive stage. The active ripening occurs as the bees blow bubbles with the nectar, much like you would blow little bubbles of saliva with your mouth (babies are very good at spit bubbles, though they have a tendency to drool). After 30-50 minutes of bubble blowing the tiny drop of nectar is placed in a cell and other bees fan their wings to facilitate additional evaporation. This is the passive stage. Once the nectar has had enough moisture removed so that it will keep without spoiling the bees put a cap of beeswax on top (which is also created from nectar, but I’ll save that story for another day).
Then we place the uncapped frames two at at time into the extractor. Then comes the spinning. For a successful extraction you want to spin the frames as fast as you can. It reminds me a little of the tea cup rides at the New York State Fair my brother and I loved to go on because we could make the teacups whirl so fast you thought your head was going to snap off. The liquid honey is ejected out of the cells and onto the side wall of the extractor, where it then starts oozing down the walls and gathering in the bottom of the extracting tank. When we can’t spin any more frames because there is so much honey the spinner can’t move we open the gate and watch the honey glug out. I strain it through a couple of sieves to catch little bits of wax, propolis, and pollen which come off during the extraction. After the honey has had a few days to settle in the bucket it’s time to bottle it up.
This year’s crop tastes amazing. It’s a fragrant mix of nectars from within a two and a half mile radius of our house in Whately, which is why we usually call it Whately Wildflower. I wish I had more so I could share some, but we love honey in this house too much to give it all away.
Which brings me to my blog giveaway. I’m going to set aside two jars of honey to give to two of my readers who post a comment (are you listening family–this means you too!). All you have to do to qualify is leave a comment below. Tell me about your favorite recipe using honey. You can also write “count me in” or “I want to win” or something else to let me know you want to be entered into the giveaway. Your choice. You will have until midnight on Wednesday, September 28 to enter a comment. I will then randomly choose the two winners and notify them by email. Good luck everyone!
25 responses to “Giveaway: How Sweet it Is”
Love it and miss my very sweet friend
Does length of friendship give me an edge? I can’t think of anything more delicious that toast and honey. 😉
Okay — here’s what a friend said about your honey: “It tastes like a field of flowers.” Yum! Count me in!
how sweet the honey
that runneth in through veins
that pulse inside me
as i thinketh of you warm loins.
I haven’t tried them yet, but I have a recipe for honey lime enchiladas that I would love to try if I had some fresh, delicious honey!
I’m a simple girl who just loves a simple cup of hot tea with honey.mmmm.
Getting to be that time of year. Count me in. Thanks for including me.
Honey in my oatmeal.
this is sooooooo cool!
My Plea for Honey
I believe you extracted your honey the same day the great, full honeyed- moon arrived.
Suddenly over my right shoulder. blindingly beautiful through the passenger side window, somewhere on 91 rising high over the Whately hills. I yelped
with surprise and craned my neck to see it, but sadly couldn’t stop.
I had to keep my eyes on the road. Panicking, I realized I was struggling to see well enough to drive once again in the new September dark, a frantic yearly adjustment after a long summer of driving home in the generous, lush, light-filled evenings.
Now in these chilly fall mornings, the one thing that might, in fact, entice me to rise up from bed when all I want to do is stay curled under soft sheets, would be to pad downstairs and dip my spoon deep into the honey pot, pull that golden orb from its jar, and drizzle it all over my oatmeal. Who needs brown sugar? Who needs maple syrup? When all I need is the sweet outpouring of queen bee love…pretty please?
Honey … honey and black tea, a combination I discovered the fall of my senior year in high school as I wrote college applications, forty years ago. But, if I make a cup today and get just the right amount of honey, I am transported back to my parents’ dining room table and to those wistful, bitterweet days of being seventeen. It may have been madelines for Proust, but it’s honey for me!
My favorite recipe with honey is YOUR honey cake (which you memorably made for my birthday a few years ago). Does it compromise 50/50 if I post one of your recipes here?? Well, here goes:
Cynthia’s Honey Spice Cake
1 cup hot water
1 t. instant coffee powder
4 eggs, separated
¾ cup sugar
½ cup cooking oil
1 cup honey
3 cups sifted flour
½ t salt
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
½ t ground cloves
½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ground nutmeg
½ t ground ginger
Grease and flour 10-12 cup Bundt pan. Preheat oven to 325º for a dark pan, 350º for a regular pan. Mix water with coffee powder, set aside. Beat egg whites till stiff, set aside, Whip yolks and sugar until creamy. Add oil, then honey, beating after each. Combine dry ingredients and add alternatively with coffee, mixing only until well blended. Fold in egg whites. Pour into prepared pan and place on cookie sheet. Bake 50-65 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool and serve with whipped cream, honey, applesauce or naked.
Pumpkin Honey Cake
Use ½ cup water and ½ cup canned pumpkin puree. Rest as usual.
First off I would like to shamelessly plug my birthday, which is September 28th, and honey would be a perfect present. In our family we go through honey like crazy. Peanutbutter and honey sandwiches are a staple anytime, honey tops our oatmeal in the morning and sweetens out tea in the afternoon. I use it in my tomatoless BBQ sauce, my honey mustard spread and to crisp the top of our baked apples. Since Maddy’s allergies require that i make almost everything we consume from scratch, I am constantly adding honey to the Trader Joe’s list. It would be super fun to know our honey came from you, Ms. Cynthia!!!
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I must have a jar of that honey, the honey left behind by swarming fleeing bees, and I am wiling to abandon any codes of ethics to which I once ahered, and to climb over any Sunday School teachers in my way — in short, I am willing to do anything. Anything. To have that sweet golden elixir on my desk. A recipe will only get me halfway to the jar. I have experienced “halfway to the jar” altogether too often these days. Look at Congress, for example. I want all the way to the jar. So here’s the bribe. If I get the jar, I give the recipe for honey balls, a recipe so delicious it will cause you to switch party affiliations, to write flawless sonnets while laying in a tub of hot suds, and to fall in love with an elk.
Holy cow. I think the best gift all of the respondents above me in this list have been given is reading the answers of everyone who wants to woo Cynthia with words for a jar of honey.
One very simple thing that I don’t think anyone besides me does is cut up red plums or prune plums which are in season as we speak, put them in a sauce pan or large braising dish and cook them for ten minutes with a big spoon of HONEY until the yellow flesh has turned purple from the skins. This is fantastic. Then eat right away or freeze. Can be used by itself or for parfaits, on top of ice cream, custards, yoghurt, baked on top of cake batter, etc,
Also, my husband is Greek and we take honey very seriously. We
find it hard to find good aromatic honey. So yes, we want some!
All of us allergy sufferers in my family rely on local honey to help us desensitize ourselves to those beastly pollens that make our noses run. We all promise to slurp down a teaspoonful a day if we win the honey – and breathe better at night through clear nasal passages.
Looks fantastic. Just watched Ulee’s Gold again with Peter Fonda last week. Hadn’t seen it in years. It it a slow moving movie but it’s so real life and true. It made me think of you and sure that it’s hard work for that sweet reward.
My joints are old and creaky and
I feel a little freaky
My memory maybe slipping and
I rarely feel like skipping
Some hills are seeming steeper and
I sometimes miss the beeper
My naps are getting longer and
I wish I was much stronger
You know where this is leading and
I am not ashamed of pleading!
Your ever lovin’ Mom
Do bees sneeze?
Do bees wheeze?
Do bees eat Cantonese?
Do bees fly on a soft breeze?
Do bees eat cheese?
Do bees say “please”?
Do bees freeze?
Do bees have disease?
Do bees pay fees?
Do bees grow by degrees?
Do bees know isosceles?
Do bees write Portuguese?
Do bees need keys?
Do bees speak Japanese?
Do bees have knees?
Do bees like peas?
Do bees sail the seas?
Do bees climb up trees?
Do bees swing on a trapeze?
Do bees like to tease?
Do bees swim in Belize?
Do bees get their zzzzzzzs?
Do bees walk Pekinese?
Do bees wear skis?
Does mom want honey, please? Yes!
The only reason for being a bee that I know of is to make honey…. And the only reason for making honey, is so as I can eat it. – WInnie the Pooh
Would love some of your honey Cynthia!
dearest cynthia, i completely agree with honey as best on toast and in tea.
and lately, with crusted bread, old cheese and fresh figs. but my absolute favorite for fall is…..
Canard au Miel
• 4 teaspoons (packed) fresh lavender blossoms or 2 teaspoons dried
• 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
• 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
• 1 6- to 6 1/2-pound duck, fresh or frozen, thawed
• 1 cup canned low-salt chicken broth
• 3 tablespoons dry red wine
• 4 tablespoons lavender honey or orange flower honey
• 4 toasted baguette slices
Preheat oven to 350°F. Finely grind 2 teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried lavender blossoms, thyme, sea salt and peppercorns in spice grinder or with mortar and pestle. Remove fat deposits and giblets from duck cavity, reserving liver. Trim excess skin and fat from neck area. Rinse inside and out; pat dry. Cutting through skin and fat (but not flesh) of duck breasts, score in crisscross pattern. Rub inside and outside of duck with herb mixture; return duck liver to cavity.
Place duck, breast up, on rack in roasting pan. Roast 2 hours. Remove from oven. Increase oven temperature to 375°F. Transfer duck to plate. Pour pan juices into 4-cup glass measuring cup; spoon off fat. Return juices and 1 tablespoon fat to pan. Add broth and wine. Return duck to pan. Brush with 2 tablespoons honey.
Roast duck 20 minutes, basting once with pan juices. Brush with 2 tablespoons honey; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender. Roast duck until deep golden and thermometer inserted into innermost part of thigh registers 180°F, about 5 minutes longer.
Transfer duck to platter. Remove liver; mash finely in small bowl. Spread liver over baguette slices. Add 1 teaspoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender to roasting pan. Place over medium heat. Boil juices until thick enough to coat spoon, whisking often, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Slice duck and serve with baguette slices and pan juices.
There once was a young bee from Haydenville
Who sipped nectar from daisy and daffodil,
She said to her queen “I was told in a dream,
to make honey so Marcy can have her fill.”
I am really enjoying your blog and I’d really like some honey. Shana tova!
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