“Whats The Buzz All About”
I had the honor of helping my Aunt Sue harvest honey on the 13th of August. She resides on the family farm in Door County, Wisconsin. The farm has been in the family for four generations. Sue has been keeping bees for the last six years. I was thrilled to suit up in a white bee suit, fully keeping any bees from getting inside to sting me. I was getting a full experience the first day. Being scared of a bee sting was not an option. That only makes it more likely the bees may attack. There’s lots of bee terminology; I’ll explain it the best I can remember.
First of all, there’s a lot to know about the nature of bees. They’re fussy little fellows. Sue says, “When getting ready to harvest honey, make sure the weather is ideal.” Meaning it’s not windy and cold. An ideal day is low winds and nice, sunny, warm weather. This is when many bees will be out of the hive foraging and will eliminate a full hive of bees to contend with . Another fact about bees is that they will fly two to three miles away from the hive. Depending what grows around the hive will help produce different characteristics of honey. We discovered some dark colored and some light colored honey from the day I helped harvest.
Once your bee suit is on and all sleeves are wrapped with duct tape, ankles are duck taped, and your veil is on with duct tape over the zipper. Then you’re ready to approach the hive. It was my job to listen and do exactly what my aunt told me to do. I had no problem with following strict orders if that meant no bee stings. She proceeded first to start a smoldering fire in her smoker. She said just a slight amount of smoke will subdue the bees. Too much smoke and your honey will take on a smoky flavor, not ideal.
The second step is to remove the top cover of the hive; she uses cement blocks to weigh the lid down. After removing the top cover, the third step is to use a hive tool which looks like a paint scraper. (It’s an orange color in the photos.) This tool is used to break the propolis (bee glue) from the frames. Also, if there are bees lingering on the frames, it’s a good idea to lightly brush them off before removing frames from the hive. The frames are what hold the comb. The comb is then filled with honey and then the bees cover the comb with a thin white wax. This is called capping. The fourth step is to make a good judgment on if the frame is ready to pull. Each frame weighs about 4 pounds when full of honey. It was my job to grab the frames from my aunt and place them in an empty box that we had on the back bed of her truck. I would then hand her back an empty frame if needed. Sue said it is difficult to know the right number of frames to pull as it’s important to leave the bees at least 50 pounds of honey to eat over winter. From this point, she would put the hive back together. We then headed back to the shop were we would start a long process of extracting honey.
Extracting the honey from the comb is a simple but tedious process. First we needed to “uncap” the wax from both sides of every frame. The second step is to place the frame into the extractor vertically. Sue has the ability to spin four frames at a time in her manual hand crank extractor. The extractor spins the frames in a clockwise position and forces the honey to spin out of the comb and onto the side walls of the extractor. Pretty cool process! It was my job to keep the frames spinning until fully emptied of honey. We had a few visitors to stop by and check out the process. In one of the pictures you can see a young child watching the honey flow from the extractor. Once the frames were extracted and honey was poured into three gallon buckets. The honey was allowed to “rest” overnight to allow any air bubbles to escape. After that, the honey would be poured into glass jars. We harvested about 180 pounds of honey in one afternoon.
I had a great time learning a lot about bees and of course, taking pictures. Thank you, Aunt Sue, for showing me your expertise of harvesting honey and allowing me to share this story with others. As a photographer, it’s important to document nature and explore the details so we can appreciate the beauty nature brings.