Sweet Success

00:00 July 31, 2012
By: Kristal Blue

Sweet Success

[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]

The worst thing that can happen with any new interest is to be successful right away.

My first season keeping bees, I was bombarded with honey. I gave honey to the neighbors, I gave honey as Christmas presents, and I made a batch of homemade granola every week that used what seemed (to me at least) an exorbitant amount of honey to be cooking with on a weekly basis. I had honey in my tea everyday, and we even used a whole gallon of honey to make a batch of mead (honey wine). I was rich, and I made the beginner's mistake of thinking that every time I harvested honey, it would be this bountiful.

I had limited knowledge, no experience, and no proper tools. When it came time to process the honey from the comb, I hauled all the wooden frames heavy with honeycomb to my kitchen. Then I set an individual frame upright and leaned it against the wall, set over a strainer with a bowl underneath, and proceeded to use a metal spatula to crush the bees' hard work, sending honey and comb and bits of wax into an oozing waterfall that inevitably seeped through the sides of the strainer, over the edges of bowls and jars and onto counters, floors, and myself. The entire kitchen was a sticky catastrophe, but I was beside myself with enthusiasm for how easy and rewarding I thought beekeeping was.

The next year, I lost a colony to a disgusting pest, the wax moth, who lays its larvae in honey comb and, once hatched, proceed to eat their way through wax and honey, leaving a trail of ruin behind.

The year after that, I moved the bees to my new house, where they seemed to take a while to adapt. Then we had that ridiculously cold winter (for us) that left the bees unable to get to work in early spring and they only produced enough honey to feed themselves through the next winter. I still got to harvest some honey, but compared to that first spring, it seemed grim.

In some ways, it's probably for the best that I thought I would always get a bountiful harvest from the bees every time I harvested, otherwise I would have hoarded it, instead of sharing with friends and family. I actually prefer to call it "squirreled away" versus "hoarding" since it's really only something I do with good food.

This year, I approached my summer honey harvest with trepidation, both in regards to the possibly limited amount of honey, but also in regards to the amount of work involved to potential stings ratio.

I got all suited up with hat, veil, and past-the-elbow leather gloves to protect myself from the bees. I'm not one of those people who over time, develops a tolerance for bee stings. In fact, I think I've developed a higher sensitivity to them - they hurt more and if I get stung on the hands, feet, or head, it can swell to disfigured levels. But this has made me a smarter beekeeper: I always suit up, and over the last few years, as I've gotten better and more confident, I've learned to be a little smoother in my bee handling, and I'm less likely to piss them off. I like to think that the bees know me now too, and are less likely to sting me because they know the routine and are used to getting handled a little. In reality, that is a completely ridiculous thought because bees live only six weeks during peak honey flow. Though just maybe, each worker explains what happens to the new bees, so they know what to expect.

By the time I walk from the porch to the hives, I'm already dripping sweat into my eyeballs and there's a strange breeze that keeps swirling hot smoke from the smoker into my face. I puff a gentle cloud of smoke around the hive to let the bees know I'm opening the lid and to keep them calm. I use my hive tool (like a very miniature crowbar) to pry off the lid and smoke the bees that are gorging and investigating at the top that sends a warning "roar" downward through the rest of the hive - a buzz that's high pitched, and in unison. Just a few thousand angry, stinging insects letting the other 75,000 in the colony know what's going on.

As the smoke clears and the roar dies down, I investigate each frame in the top super (each super holds 10 frames that the bees lay eggs and store honey in, and in this mature hive, I have four supers stacked one on top of the other). They're all full to the brim with honey that is capped and ready to harvest. I'm rich again! After four years of limited honey, I'm going to make granola and give honey as gifts again. But maybe I'll still squirrel some away, just to be safe.

Honey Granola

3 cups oats 1/2 cup oil, or butter (grapeseed oil works well, but olive oil leaves a strong flavor)

1/2 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup each nuts and dried fruit (optional)

If using oil, measure in a glass measuring cup. If using butter, melt in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, and pour into measuring cup.

Add honey to measuring cup to make one cup. (Honey is easiest to measure in a well oiled measuring cup). Put oats (and nuts and fruit) into a bowl and add honey/oil mixture. Mix with a baking spatula until evenly combined.

Turn the mixture onto an ungreased cookie sheet with shallow sides. Spread the granola out evenly and bake it at 375° for 10 minutes until toasty brown. Stir, and remove it from the oven and allow it to cool and crisp up right there in the pan. Store it in a clean coffee can or sealed canister.

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