Bees are fascinating creatures and what they give us (a little unwillingly!) is one of the world’s most delicious natural gifts. But like so many foods these days we as consumers know little about how it gets to our toast. I could tell you all about how many bees it takes to make a teaspoon of honey or how a bee likes to do the rumba and the jive but you can find all that and so much more on the internet.
I thought I would let you in on our Honey Harvest.
My mother has been keeping bees for about 35 years. It is safe to say that she knows what she is doing. And yes it’s true, she does talk to her bees.
She only has 2 hives at the moment and has, in recent years, struggled like never before to keep them healthy due to foreign diseases and the heavy use of chemicals on crops close to us. ( We are not an organic farm but we do believe that spraying should be kept to the absolute minimum and protecting the soil is a farmers duty.)
A few days ago she went down into the orchard and, much to the bees consternation, stole away their honey (she was stung on the bottom in a revenge attack). But eighteen fat sticky frames ended up in our dairy with the bees angrily buzzing outside the windows hoping to get in to steal it back.
We always feel a little mean on the day she takes it away from the hive but her bees are cared for all the year round, she feeds them sugar syrup when the weather is poor and will make sure they make it though even the coldest winters.
So how do you get at your golden crop? First is the wax capping which the bees use to seal in the honey is cut away from the frames.
Then the opened frames are put into an extractor and spun. (Sometimes with the help of a kitten or two.)
This is not hi-tech equipment, centrifugal force throws the honey from the cells to run down inside the barrel and it is collected in the bottom.
This golden gloop is then strained through muslin to get rid of any little bits of remaining wax or twigs and leaves that have found their way into the overall stickiness! And then it is poured into sterile jars so that it is ready for your toast!
Every last drop is precious.
The jars are then go into our dairy store-cupboard which my industrious mother keeps stocked with all kinds of jams, chutneys and marmalades.
But once a year the shelves groan under the weight of a fresh harvest of honey- 31lbs this year!- and I am reminded how lucky I am to have grown up and still live in the countryside.