June 12th, harvesting honeycomb

The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.

-Henry David Thoreau

This morning Kwao took me and Melchizedek out to the Hall Estate hives to collect honey.  Hall Farm is an inland farm and one of three that Kwao and Agape own. We inspected the first five hives with little trouble. The first hive was small and did not have a queen. Luckily, we easily located the queens in all our other hives and gave one to the little hive so it could produce brood again. The hive we took from had eggs so we knew that the bees could make another queen after theirs was gone.

IMG_3594
Can you spot the queen? She’s bigger and longer than the other bees

A queen only flies once a year, during swarm season, and only mates once in her entire life. Tethered to her hive she walks through the combs, laying eggs, followed by her court of attendants. Her court tends to all her needs: feeding her, taking away her royal excrement, touching her with their feelers and passing her pheromones throughout the colony. Pheromone passing is unintentional but it brands the bees to that colony. If an alien bee, a robber or a drifter, comes to the hive the guard bees therefore know that they do not belong to the hive because they do not have the right scent. Drifting bees, fuzzy with pollen and nectar, are usually allowed in because they have resources to share but empty, naked bees are there to steal and will be attacked by the guards.

On our 6th hive I started smoking the hive before we went in as I had with the other hives. This confuses and calms the bees and prevents them from passing along attack alerts. Or at least it should. This hive was not into it. Two bees immediately stung my hands while others went for my ankles and legs through my socks and pants. One bee even got inside my veil but I got away and got it off before it too could sting me. I have been here long enough to see Agape and Kwao get stung and they both act like it hurts. They are both pretty tough so I definitely did not think they were overreacting but I also thought that I pay (a lot of money really) to get hair ripped out of my body and also to get acupuncture so how much can this really hurt? Answer: It hurts like a motherf*cker. But after about ten minutes it stops stinging and just goes kind of numb. I was really lucky because I don’t seem to have a strong reaction. Some people swell up a lot. Bee venom is actually used medicinally. People pay to get stung by the bees. It helps a lot with arthritis. This is another reason why I underestimated how much they would hurt. As a fellow spender of money on beauty treatments that other people find very painful but do not bother me very much (ie. threading), I thought I had found some kindred spirits. Bee stings are a thing that is too painful for me to consider spending money on, regardless of the benefits. Also, I think they are fairly unethical. Bees die when they sting you, so you are basically asking a bunch of creatures to die for you every time you get a treatment which feels sad and wrong to me. (however, I will say that while they sting you it is easy to think “DIE, you asshole!”)

After this experience, I took a break and then went back into the bees. I figured it’s probably like getting kicked off a horse, you should get right back on. We finished the last couple hives and then Melchizedek came back with chocolate fruit. We ate chocolate fruit, tangerines and honey comb on the drive back home.

Later, Agape showed me how to render honey from the comb. We did it in a very low-tech, for-our-household-only way, which is definitely NOT how we would have rendered it if it was for sale.

Hand squeezing the honeycomb through a sieve and pouring it into bottles. To do this on a larger scale we would use a drill and if we were giving or selling it to other people we would use gloves! The honeycomb varies in color by age. Young, pale comb is in the bottom right corner. As the bees use the comb for brood, they create layers of cocoons, darkening the comb. Brood comb also darkens through propolis deposits which are mixed in with the brood capping and through travel stains. There is a distinct difference in taste between the light and dark comb! I prefer the darker comb, it has greater depth of flavor.

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