Sooooo….our bees died. Again. Sadly, the first hive that expired was on us. I have yet to make a decent lid for the hive. So one stormy night, the lid blew off and water made its way into the hive. The bees likely died of hypothermia from getting wet. Ouch.
Irresponsible apiarists? Yes. Will I build lids this year? Yes.
In the meantime, we decided to harvest the honey. Although we have kept bees since 2013 we had yet to harvest any honey – preferring to leave it for the bees so they could build up their colony.
Honey is harvested differently from top bar hives compared to ‘traditional’ Langstroth hives. In Langstroth, bees build comb within a wooden frame – often onto a ‘foundation’ of plastic. In order the extract honey from a capped comb, the cap is scraped off, and the frames set into an extractor. As the frames are spun within the extractor, honey is flung out of the opened cells by centrifugal force and the honey funneled down to a spigot where it is collected and processed.
Top bar hives do not use foundation or even a frame. Bees build comb down from a ‘top bar’. To extract honey, combs are simply cut off the bar and crushed. At first we tried mashing the comb with a potato masher – but it soon became clear that the masher could not break every cell, so I switched to clean hands.
After every cell was broken, we filtered the honey through a fine mesh filter. For us, that was a paint strainer from the hardware store inside a metal colander over a bowl. It’s a good idea to do this when the weather is warm so that the honey flows. It was cool when we processed our honey and it took a few days of hanging to get the last good drops.
From there, we pretty much just scooped the honey into sterile glass jars!
Sharing it with a few friends and family, we found the taste much stronger than ‘regular honey’. This may be because it was raw. Pasteurized honey will contain less interesting proteins than raw honey because of the temperature. I personally find it also has the sweet-strong smell of fresh comb. And it smells like HIVE on a warm day when the bees are fanning like crazy to evaporate their nectar into honey.