Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Beekeeper's Apprentice

Wow, I'm doing two posts in a month!  Now that's pretty uncommon during summer...  Well, the hubby is off on a wilderness EMT certification course for a week and I have absolutely zero contact with him!  We have always been able to communicate in one form or another, even when I went to Switzerland and we only emailed.  But this is completely different and I’m trying my best to be an independent wife for the week.  So here goes my adventure time (I’ll spare you the super random stuff and share only the really amazing and fun stuff)!
So let’s see…Oh, right!  I’ve been being a beekeeper’s apprentice (I think I’m going to patent that term as my own).  A friend of mine just got married to a local beekeeper and I am quickly becoming friends with him as well.  I mean who can say they know a beekeeper and even if you can, you probably agree with me that they have the coolest (not temperature wise) job in the world!
What have I been doing you may ask? Well, I started off helping him label his leftover honey from last year.  The crop for this year isn’t quite ready yet and if most of you didn’t know, bees generally don’t make honey year round.  We therefore sell last year’s crop until this year’s comes in.

Honey comes in many colors and many flavors.  Both are dictated by the primary floral source a bee is collecting nectar from.  In the photo above, the primary source is knapweed-a noxious weed originally brought to the US because the nectar makes amazing honey.

Once I got labeling down to an art form, I started helping sell the honey jars at the market since beekeepers in summer are busy bees (you see what I did there) and are constantly working to make sure their hives are healthy and successful in addition to collecting frames full of honey and processing the product for sales.  

Honey sales at the local farmer's market with my friend, the beekeeper's wife.

Okay, so after a few weeks of honey sales at our local farmer’s market, the first honey harvest was upon us and I was invited to help my friend “rob” the bees.  This entails removing the top box generally full of honey comb (there are usually 3-4 boxes per hive) and taking all the tops back to a warehouse where the wax caps are removed with a heated knife and the honey is then free to flow out of the comb into a vat. It can then be heated and filtered for bulk sales (think honey bears in your supermarket) or left alone as raw natural goodness that is what this particular beekeeper believes in.
Now, I’m going to go off on a tangent about how honey in supermarkets is most likely not one hundred percent honey and usually has fillers such as corn syrup, etc.  The best kind of honey is unheated and unfiltered, because then all the natural enzymes, vitamins, etc. are all left in the honey and can/have been used for centuries as a natural medicinal product.  Okay, so moral of the story is to buy honey from your local beekeeper and make sure it is RAW!
Fun Fact: Honey is the ONLY food product that will not spoil over time.  Archaeologists actually found intact honey in an ancient Egyptian tomb. How cool is that?!
So back to keeping bzzzy ;)… I went out today with the “master beekeeper” (what I’ve taken to calling him) and we collected all of the top boxes that contained honey.  There was quite a technique required that involved a natural concentrated almond scent  that the bees don’t like (placed in a tray on top of the hive), along with a bee smoker and of course beekeeping attire.  There’s obviously more to it than that, but I won’t bore you with little details (too late, right?!).

The "master."

The "apprentice" aka ME!

Anyways, I was absolutely enthralled by the sound of a healthy hive upon removal of the lid.  The buzzing becomes a deep thrum you can feel in your throat and since the bees are “tamed” with the almond scent and smoker, they don’t all swarm out at you like I may have imagined in my head a thousand times before opening the first box.  It was an experience I will never forget and I hope to continue to help this friend.  Maybe someday I’ll potentially keep some of my own bees, but I highly doubt I’ll ever be as ambitious as his 200 hives and his father’s 1200 hives. One or two would definitely be manageable! 

So, that’s about all I have to bore you with today! Bees are absolutely fascinating creatures and I’m still learning something new every day.  I highly suggest studying up on this magnificent insect, because without them, much of our agriculture would not exist and without agriculture, how would we eat? The honey bee is important in so many ways and so many variables affect them, so borrow a book and learn something new!  Until my next adventure…

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