Monday, August 10, 2015

Caution: Honey Bees at Work

Maggie came out to Farm Dover last weekend to check on her bees. All three hives are doing well this summer as the bees have stayed healthy and have plenty of flowers to collect nectar and pollen from. She thinks we will be able to harvest another load of honey in the next month or so and still leave plenty in the hive to tide the bees over the winter. I couldn't wait another month; I begged her pull one frame from one of her three hives so we could harvest the honey. She obliged.

From the one frame we were able to fill four 8 oz. jars of the new honey. Look how different it is in color from the honey we gathered in the late spring! (The new honey is on the left). Little did I realize that the color and sweetness of the honey is determined by the type of flower(s) the bees obtain nectar from.

In the spring, just about the only thing in bloom around here are our black locust trees. Honey from locust trees is referred to as Acacia and is a light and clear. It has a mild, delicate floral taste. It tends to not crystallize, staying in a liquid state for a long period of time due to its high concentration of fructose. It has a low sucrose content, making it the best choice for diabetics. Acacia honey is known to help cleanse the liver, regulate the intestine and reduce inflammation of the respiratory system. How's that for a hard-working food source!

The honey that we harvested this past weekend is considered a wildflower honey as it was made from the nectar of flowers that have been blooming in our fields all summer: Queen Anne's lace, sunflowers, ironweed, cone flower and coreopsis. It definitely has a stronger flavor than the Acacia honey.

I'm guessing that the honey we harvest in September will be much darker and stronger. I planted about 1/4 of my big garden in buckwheat which the bees are loving. I planted it last month and within a couple of days, tiny green plants poked up. Within a week they were 8" tall and beginning to flower. Now they are about a foot tall and sport tiny white blooms.

 In the morning, as I head to the garden, I can hear the bees buzzing happily in the buckwheat.

Buckwheat honey is dark, full-bodied and rich in iron. It is chock full of antioxidant compounds. It is often used to produce mead, which may have to be my next project...

Of course, our fall honey won't be 100% buckwheat as our fields will continue to bloom with a mix of wildflowers, especially golden rod for the next month or so.

Here's a quick explanation of how honey is made by the bees: The older worker bees (all female) are free range, flying all over Farm Dover (and neighboring farms), gathering nectar before heading back to their hive. Each bee will visit hundreds of flowers, drinking the nectar and storing it her honey stomach. The bee then heads back to the hive and regurgitates the nectar for a hive bee who then ingests the sugary offering and further breaks down the sugar before regurgitating it into a cell of the honeycomb. Then all the hive bees beat their wings like crazy to evaporate the water content. Once they are happy with the honey's consistency, the hive bees cap the beeswax cell, sealing the honey into the honeycomb for later consumption (or to share with their landlords!).

A single worker bee produces only 1/2th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. But working together, thousands of worker bees can produce over 200 pounds of honey within a year. Each of our three hives have between 60,000 and 80,000 bees. We will make sure to leave enough honey for the bees, and if it warms up in the early spring before the locust trees bloom, we'll set out bee tea (sugar water) for them to drink for nourishment. After all, we want our bees to be happy – and productive.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! I remember Maggie bringing me a jar of honey a few years ago and it was delicious.