A Bee in Andy’s Bonnet

bubbling crude

We have honey – our very first harvest!

Following much the same process as we did last week, with JP’s hive – in one hour, we had removed the honey frames, cut off the wax cappings and centrifugally extracted all the honey. Along the way, more lessons were learned too.

A top tip to remember for next time is to properly zip up the beekeepers suit. Andy must have left a small, bee-sized gap and was visited on the wrong side of his hat by one of the ladies. He did keep very calm, adopting a strange crouching position and managed to successfully shoo said intruder back into the open air without either of them suffering undue harm.

bee off with you!

Despite Andy’s little adventure, I realise that it is important to start trusting the beekeeper’s suit. With inquisitive bees buzzing around one’s head, it feels natural to back off – but so long as one carries on calmly and efficiently, keeping aware of any change in the bees’ mood, its okay to be right in there working on the hive.

Another tip is perhaps to sport gloves, even if only photographing, albeit from a short distance – JP was stung on the hand. Bees can be camera shy.

I wondered what to do with the messy mix left after the honey extraction, and decided to leave it to strain – and was happy to discover that this yielded about 300 ml of extra honey. The wax was then washed in warm water and has been melted down for a future project.

sticky mix of wax and honey, left after uncapping and filtering

Our ‘Extracting Room’ was used, in the olden days, to shelter animals, and has a massive tank once used in wine making. It’s certainly old, and has been the scene of a couple of inexplicable goings-on. Maybe we have a resident ghost, who likes to turn his hand to honey extraction…

We estimate a yield of around 8 kilos of the scrummy, sweet stuff – its all still sitting in the settling tank, waiting to be put into jars in a few day’s time. Time to reach for the honey recipes!

how sweet is this!

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Liquid Gold

Uncapped Earnings

Having ditched the disguises, and made it hot foot round to the safe house (JP’s office), giving the bees the slip, we start to unload the treasure and the necessary equipment, ready to move in to Stage Two of the operation – the Extraction.

Men Beehiving Badly

JP has been tooling-up and amassing the requisite tackle, to be co-owned by us and new crew member, Vincent. The key piece of machinery is the Extractor. This isĀ  a drum, containing three cages, each of which will hold a frame. Ours is hand powered, the handle is turned to start the frames spinning, and the honey is driven from the cells by centrifugal force.

bright shiny gadget ~ no plug, not even a USBee port

Other equipment is a long, serrated knife for uncapping the honey cells, and a large plastic tub over which the frame is worked. This is to catch any honey drips and bits of wax (aka cappings).

The frames are still warm (its about 35 degrees outside), and uncapping the honey is a delicious, exciting moment, as the deep yellow, sticky liquid oozes from the cells. The first attempt at removing the top cover of wax is rather gung-ho, and we realise that more of the cell has been destroyed than is strictly necessary.

The technique however is soon refined, and the first three frames loaded into the extractor. This is put into motion, and the honey starts to pool at the base of the extractor.

When all nine frames have been processed, the tap is opened and the honey literally gushes out. It is passed through a filter and into a bucket. At this moment, it would have been rude not to have dived for the teaspoons and savour the freshest, tastiest honey ever.

Liquid Gold

The filtered honey is then decanted into The Maturateur – a posh name for a tub with a lid and tap, where the honey is left for a few days to settle, to get rid of air bubbles and bits of wax. The weigh-in shows a very healthy yield of 15 kilos.

So, a job well done and time to celebrate. There was a small matter of a sticky floor to clean, and then we rushed back to the house, stopping at the cheese shop, so that we could sit and relish the very first pot of Jean-Philippe’s very own honey.