Honey Harvesting


This week I've been in the middle of harvesting honey, including finishing last year's honey harvest. I was trying to remember why we didn't finish the honey harvest last year but honestly, 2020 was just such a horrific nightmare that anything I got done was a victory.

Our honey strainer was loaded with honey and we'd put it out in the sun which was a minor disaster. Basically, the wax melted and a bunch of slumgum -- bee cocoon sheaths and other gunk -- got stuck to the strainer. Step one was to clean it out by straining the honey out from the wax and other crud:

Straining honey into the bucket

Fortunately this is actually pretty easy and involved just running the honey through a double sieve into a honey bucket. It takes a while if you don't have a room heated up to make the honey run faster, but I just set it up, made sure it wouldn't overflow, then went into my office to work.

Blobby melted comb straining

After a while, the blobs of wax were plugging up the honey gate, so I scooped them out and put them in the sieve to drip off.

All told, more than 30 lbs of honey was easily salvaged. Maybe another pound or so was crystallized onto the wax and not worth trying to save.

The honey bucket has a leak

I thought I'd leave the honey in the bucket until I could get jars, but the next morning it was clear I could not do that, because the honey gate on the bucket was leaky.

Two dozen jars of honey

So I ended up just decanting it into pint jars. This is the size I prefer for honey jars, anyway. But I do have more jars on order.

Cheapo homemade wax melter

After all that, I rinsed the blobby wax out in the sink to get the honey off it, at least as well as I could. Then I made a cheapo wax melter with a cooler, a piece of glass, and a foil roasting pan.

As you can see, this is an AMERICAN wax melter. As such, it does not really work very well and tends to make a big mess. If you try to adjust it, you get burnt. The jokes just write themselves.

With the old honey out of the way, I was ready to start working on this year's harvest. I have four total boxes of honey to deal with. And let's see our first candidate.

Honey comb built sideways across the frames

These bees make me crazy sometimes. The comb on these frames is build sideways, making it impossible to pull one frame out and deal with it. So I turned the entire box of frames upside-down into the strainer.

The same sideways honeycomb, on the other side

This is the other side of the same box of frames. They made a herringbone of comb.

In the middle of breaking the mess apart

So how to deal with that? A knife, a willingness to stick your hands in honey up to the elbows, and a bit of patience.

Chunks of comb ready to be crushed

Here's the comb cut out of the frames and ready to be processed.

We mostly process honey with crush-and-strain, which is exactly what it sounds like. That means combs like these crazy combs are not a huge problem: we just cut the comb out, crush it, and strain the honey out. It's time-consuming but it works OK at the small levels of production we have.

Crushed comb

And after I went at it with the potato masher for half an hour.

Honey straining out of the comb

After crushing it, I let it drip through tray overnight at least. Then I can go back to the beginning of the post and decant it through the sieve into a bucket. Of course, I can't decant it into our bucket because it has a leak, but once the replacement honey gate arrives I can get this back on track.

Waste brood comb

At the very center of the mess of comb was some brood comb. I don't crush that into the honey, but I will wash it off, then send it through the wax melter.

One box down, one more in the back hall to go, and two more still outside. We are going to have a silly amount of honey.

Garden Report: August 3


It's been a while. Some family stuff came up. Everybody is OK, but we've both been super busy with things that are not the house. Also, perhaps I did not mention this, we finally hired a landscape designer/contractor to redo the landscape, in particular to get the hardscape under control. We had an initial meeting with them which went well, and they are coming out to do some measuring soon, with an eye to getting construction started in the fall. To say I am excited about this is a vast understatement. The only thing that will excite me more is when the greenhouse permit finally comes through.

In the meantime.

Some folks have asked for full shots of the bog garden. It's really hard to take pictures of because it is in full sun, so I have to remember to go out in the twilight to take pictures. By which time the flowers have closed up.

The bog garden

And here we are. The drain end feels like it's sinking a little, so I need to get under there with a jack and lift it up to even it out.

(Please admire our patio umbrella, which is lying down because in the evening we get a strong wind off the bay that will easily pick up an open umbrella.)

I even attached the shower

And yes, I did even attach the shower part. I have a dumb idea of actually plumbing the shower head into the irrigation and occasionally spraying everything down. This is one of those incredibly irritating low-flow "mist" showerheads. You know the kind where you basically can't get a decent shower because the spray is so fine? Where better to use such a shower head than as an irrigation tool? Otherwise it would just be trash. The hard part is going to be getting the water pressure high enough to make it mist the right way.

Watering through the sink pool

The way I water the entire tub is by filling this sink up. It directs water down under the plants so they don't get drowned but always have wet feet. I'm still working on a constant dripper for this; mostly I just need more time when I don't have a hundred other things to do.

I'm also still pondering whether I need some kind of top-dressing on the planting mix. It does get a little crusty on hot days. But I'm not sure what I would use.

Drosera in bloom

The plants are really happy. As you can see from the overall shots, I went for smaller plants that can grow and fill in the space. I have more of a "buy small and grow them in" budget than a "buy large, impressive plants that will look amazing right now" budget. This drosera I got from our neighbors is blooming now, and I have some hopes for self-sowed seedlings showing up. From what I know of other bog gardens, the plants can grow quite rapidly to fill in the space, so in a year it should look much more decorative.

More pitchers on the sarracenia

The "Feist Dog" sarracenia is really happy. Every time I go out to fiddle with the garden there is something buzzing in the pitchers, and they have a decided lean from lots of bugs inside (surprisingly, as far as I can tell only one bee; the pitchers are still fairly small). In the center you can see several new pitchers starting to come up, which is a good sign.

Bee yard

Speaking of the bees, I requeened one hive successfully, and they are going mad putting up lavender honey (it's about the only thing in bloom now and every lavender plant in the neighborhood is alive with bees all day long). In the other hive I could not find the queen for the life of me. They had one really ugly box full of combs that were built sideways on the frames and I could not get in there to look for her. So I split the hive into one side where I knew there was no queen -- they got my fancy new Italian queen. The other side has the yucky box and a queen excluder and I'm going to just spend a month or so finding her, and then I can recombine those frames with the split with the new queen.

The reason for requeening the hives was that the bees were very irritable, and in an urban back yard I won't allow that. Even in dearth they need to be mild-mannered or they have to go.

Anyway, I went out today and did a quick inspection and both the big hives were running out of room so I added honey supers on top. The tiny split hive was having trouble releasing their queen so I helped them out a little. And I need to go into the middle hive again later this week and resume looking for that stupid queen.

Mirabelle plums

Out front, the plum tree is doing well.

I was going through my notes on this tree and this is Parfumé de Septembre, even though I think I've called it Golden Transparent repeatedly; that one died off early on for unknown reasons. I am quite fond of this tree; every year it produces so many of these tiny, sweet plums. People walking by on the street eat some of them, and we have plenty for ourselves.

Making ourselves sick on plums again

Every year we learn important lessons about how many tiny plums you should eat in one sitting. It is less than you think. They are just so easy to eat. I've gone out and picked several collanders full of them so far. Once the fruit is over, I'll prune the tree back for size. Next year, I'd like to plant more kinds of these tiny European plums out front. We will see what the garden designers think of that.