Monday, August 16, 2010

my first jar of farm honey!

Sitting in my kitchen is a quart of honey. it's a rich, dark, golden brown and when you hold it up to the light, it shines. I just held it in my hands for a while as I leaned against the kitchen sink. For three years I have been keeping bees, hoping for this moment. I had lost hives to my own faults, poor planning, two bear attacks, and poor luck. But because I wanted to harvest honey I kept rebuilding supers, spray painting hive bodies, and ordering new bees. Yesterday I finally filled a jar. A very large jar.

I had only planned on checking the hive. I had no plans whatsoever to harvest honey—but like so many things out here—plans rarely matter. Last night I was out checking the hive. It had been a few weeks and we'd been through quite the mess of rain and heat waves—it seemed like a check-in was due. So I suited up in my bee gear, grabbed my smoker and hive tool, and headed out to the hive to see how the girls were doing.

When I got to the bees I was shocked how many were hanging outside of the Styrofoam super. I had read about how bees look before they swarm, and this wasn't far off from that description. But how could they? They had two giant supers on that hive (without a queen excluder. I planned on not harvesting at all this year and putting it on next spring under a third super) and all my previous years keeping bees no hive had managed to fill two to capacity by mid-August. Specially when it was practically June when they were installed...

So I did not expect much when I went to lift the lid. If a quarter of the top section was filled in with comb I'd be ecstatic. smoke rising all around me. My goatskin beekeeping gloves protecting my hands as workers crawled between my fingers. I placed my hands on the lid and tried to lift it. It wouldn't budge. Using my hive tool (a mini-crowbar for beekeepers) I wedged open the lid and then did the same for the inner lid.

Oh. My. God...

The super was exploding with combs and honey! I was expecting famine and discovered a feast! Each frame was packed. Wafting fumes of the gold stuff hit me like someone just opened one of those tree-shaped air fresheners in a compact car. I loosened out to frames with my hive tool and lifted one out. Honey, honey honey.... it dripped off the edges. I realized around this point why the bees were swarming around the outside. They were done here. It was packed. I would have to add another super pronto or give them some other form of work to give them reason to stick around. So I ran (literally ran) back into the house to get some roasting pans from the kitchen to hold a frame or two. I came back out and pulled two fames heavy with honey into the pans, but soon realized one was full of brood chambers and would have to be returned. I was interested in honey, not genocide, so I put it back.

I had no idea how I was going to extract the bastard. I had only watched extraction once. A neighbor in Sandgate showed me how she used an expensive Italian machine to whip honey out of the frames by centrifugal force. I had no such machine. I knew how to prepare and load combs into that but alas, I was a long way from Sandgate now. So I figured something else out.

Necessity is the mother of invention, of course. I grabbed a giant Lobster-sized saucepan and stuck a colander in the bottom. I heated a large serving knife under hot water and carefully removed the wax caps. The wax fell into the strainer and globs of honey poured out into the large metal container. It was pretty primitive honey extracting, but easy and inexpensive to pull off. Annie watched nearby. When a drop or two of honey fell to the floor she licked it up and then padded back a few steps and sat again to watch for another drop. I threw her a piece of comb and she chomped it happily. Annie is a fine sous chef.

When there was a remarkable amount of honey in the pan, I poured it into a jar, filtering it again through a strainer. The liquid was warm which surprised me, but why shouldn't it be? I sealed the lid, ran it under hot water to clear off the stickiness outside. I wiped it off with a dishtowel and leaned back against the sink, just as I said. My house clothing, floor, counter, sink and pans were covered with honey. The place was a mess. I was slick with sweat from the hive clothes and running around. One gold jar.

I am the wealthiest woman in Jackson.


Blogger Trish said...

Beautiful stuff! We got 15 gallons from our hives this year...we call it liquid gold! Enjoy!

August 16, 2010 at 8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a golden glow! Looks AMAZING! And I bet it tastes even better. =)

August 16, 2010 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

i was licking i off my fingers as I extracted it...and annie was licking it off the kitchen floor...

August 16, 2010 at 8:57 PM  
Blogger T said...

O.M.G! That looks fabulous - how difficult is it to raise bees?

August 16, 2010 at 9:02 PM  
Blogger Colleen Vanderlinden said...

Beautiful! I can't wait until I can have a hive or two...

August 16, 2010 at 9:04 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

bees aren't hard to raise, they raise themselves. they are a little tricky to install and you may need some help that first year checking and learning what to look for...but it took me three hives, two bears, anda dead queen of lessons to get this first quart. I extracted it by hand... no extractor. just a knife and a bucket. And it was just one comb!

more soon on the harvest. I just wanted to share the excitement!

August 16, 2010 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger Marissa said...

And beautiful honey it is too!

I'd like to have a hive one day, but with being horribly allergic, I'm not sure I'm willing to risk it.

August 16, 2010 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger The Bunny Girl said...

I can't wait to raise my own.

August 16, 2010 at 9:21 PM  
Blogger Mare said...

Great news Jenna! it looks delicious!
(i am crazy about honey!)

August 16, 2010 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger jenomnibus said...

Gorgeous! Are you going to keep it all, or sell it, or trade it? What does one do with many jars of honey (Pooh Bears notwithstanding)?

August 16, 2010 at 9:49 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Beautiful! I love the way your excitement comes across loud and clear. And I totally understand that feeling of accomplishment and amazement.

I'm wondering what you're having for dessert tonight and breakfast tomorrow...

August 16, 2010 at 9:57 PM  
Blogger jugtownjane said...

Jealous! I started a top bar hive this spring, and it's been recommended that I leave them their stores this winter and harvest in the spring. I'm not sure I can wait that long!

August 16, 2010 at 10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do bees have a cold threshold? Do they have an altitude threshold? I keep reading bee-keeping stuff and haven't heard the answer to that one yet. I live at 8300 feet and our winters can get 20 below zero (or more, but that's rare).


August 16, 2010 at 10:12 PM  
Blogger Rachel B. said...


August 16, 2010 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger leafonatree said...

Someday, I will have bees. In the meantime, I will admire your efforts!

August 16, 2010 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

my hive needed some harvesting. the two supers ae packed and they were considering a swarm. So I went in, took two combs (though one was brood and went right back in) so that quart came off of one comb!

i'll extract a few more and let them to fill them up with the next 6 weeks or so

August 16, 2010 at 10:41 PM  
Blogger Brenda said...

The photo of your honey is beautiful! I'm sure the honey tastes as good as it looks in your photo.

I've been following you for a while and am enjoying reading your blog very much. I haven't commented up to now, but wanted to let you know what a wonderful job you're doing with your farm.

August 16, 2010 at 11:51 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

we just extracted our first bit of honey too! we are going to leave quite a bit for the bees to use over the winter...but are taking out a bit for ourselves. hopefully next year we will be able to tstract enough for family and friends. it is so much tastier than commercial is amazing, isn't it?

August 17, 2010 at 12:57 AM  
Blogger Moose Nuggets said...

not sure the altitude threshold but bees do have a temp threshold if in man made hives.
My guess is that as long as you live somewhere that has a native bee species, you can raise domesticate bees. Overwintering may prove difficult.
I'm in interior AK. W have friends who have tried to overwinter hives with very little luck, and know of a large commune that successfully overwinters bees- but in heated greenhouses. Our average cold temps are 20 below, but we do get several weeks at 40 below and even 60 below (um, or colder.)

you could try styrofoam hives as well. We have friends experimenting with those.
Most folks here that raise bees for honey generally order new bees every year though.

August 17, 2010 at 1:33 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

How exciting! And good for you!

I found out from my ant guy today that he captures bee swarms too, and if I want to have one I can get on his list- have to have a hive first though!

But I'm very glad for you Jenna, that you finally got your first honey harvest. Yay bees!

August 17, 2010 at 2:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's GORGEOUS! What an amazing life you have. Will you sell the honey? Wow. So neat.

August 17, 2010 at 2:51 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Julie: the advice above is right. I use styrofoam hives myself, it gets -20 here from time to time too...

August 17, 2010 at 6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yum. I love honey. I am a bit leary of having my own hives, as I have had severe reactions to bee stings in the past.

August 17, 2010 at 8:09 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

beautiful! Now what will you bake with it?

August 17, 2010 at 10:56 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

do you not use a queen excluder to keep brood out of your supers?

August 17, 2010 at 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I extracted 15 gallons this year (my second year tending bees) and was thrilled. I know how good it feels to taste that first bit of comb and honey. I don't use an extractor and I have 5 hives. I am switching over from plasticell frames to natural comb so all ya need is a good knife to cut it away from the frames and then use the crush and strain method to separate the honey from the wax for bottling. Of course a bucket with a gate helps with this part if you can swing it. And, of course putting a few chunks of honey filled comb in a jar for a treat later is also nice. I love a good bite of it in the afternoon when I am running out of steam.

Did you save the wax for rendering? You can make yourself a solar wax melter on the cheap and tuck that away for later too.

Yay for you for sticking with beekeeping even when the times were hard. They are so important and well worth the effort.

August 17, 2010 at 4:08 PM  
Blogger Irma said...

This year my company started a roof top garden (meh, I have one of those at home...) and apiary (SQUEE!!). I have been the official apprentice beekeeper under the watchful eye of a long time expert who set us up with a mature, working hive. Next year I will be on my own and we'll see what happens then.

We had our first harvest a few weeks ago (more than 80 lbs for us, and we left about 70 lbs for the bees) but of course most of that honey belongs to my company and will be used in our restaurant. In my own pantry, though, I have two beautfiul large bottles of honey that I take out and look at several times a day. Don't know if I'll ever get around to eating it, it's just too dang pretty!

August 17, 2010 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

Good job! Very yummy. What a nice jar of honey.

This was my 3rd year in beekeeping. I just lost my bees. Do to lack of hive management, chem-lawn, and last year put the super on to late. I think half of the hive went somewhere else.

There is always next year.

August 17, 2010 at 8:28 PM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

I know people who have gotten rid of severe bee allergies. Extracting the venom from the stingers and diluting it with oil, then using that oil as a homeopathic - esque remedy, rubbing a small amount on the inside of the wrist every few days, or every week, increasing in frequency. After a while, you body figures out the antibodies and you don't have reactions any more.

August 18, 2010 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger T.C. said...

You are wealthy indeed!

August 18, 2010 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Emma said...

Good work Jenna, we want to get bees and you make it sound inspiringly simple.

August 19, 2010 at 7:33 PM  
Blogger Evelyn in Canada said...

In the last few years I've noticed a lot of insulating blankets going on around hives in the countryside in the winter. I'm not sure if they didn't overwinter them in the past or if the coverings just increase their chances of survival. It's not as cold as AK here, but we do get -20 for weeks on end, with occasional -40 windchills.

August 20, 2010 at 12:47 PM  
Blogger mygrayfarm said...

I just finished reading your book about a half hour ago and I was curious to know if you'd made a go of the bees.

I started with two hives last year and was able to get about 50 pounds of honey last month from my first extraction. Nothing compares to holding that first jar in your hands. I just kept picking it up and looking at it.

Those girls are amazing, aren't they? ENJOY!!!

PS - Thanks for the book from an ex-urban girl now living on an alpaca farm.

August 20, 2010 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger Rosanne said...

we had that kind of surprise a few years ago when my husband went out to check the hive and discovered it full. We ended up with 5 gallons of honey that summer! It was the most wonderful honey ever!
We all need the bees, so keep up the good work!

August 21, 2010 at 12:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a haul! And great storytelling, as well. I'm glad all your hard work finally paid off! :-)

August 28, 2010 at 4:21 PM  

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