the honey harvest is in. the bees are ferociously finishing up their loose ends by hustling the last of the golden rod. the golden girls of the summer, those industrious, hardworking bees of the hot sunny months are taking their final flights, dying outside of the hive. they die to leave room for the winter bees, born just in time to cluster around the queen and keep her strong through the cold months of winter in michigan.
while the earthworks honey is safe in the freezer until mid-november for extraction, the sweet on detroit community came to the capuchin soup kitchen‘s honey house (our kitchen) for an extraction fiesta. what a sweet time it was!
the process is really quite simple. first, you harvest. a box of honey, called a super, can weigh as much as 60 pounds. each super holds 9 frames which actually hold the honeycomb, and hence, the honey! we processed together about 8-10 supers throughout our monday night extraction extravaganza. some folks had a whole lot, some came with the sweet stuff from their community gardens, and some had only a few frames. it was smooth sailing, full of tasting and discussing the varietal differences between each hive’s honey. it is so amazing to physically experience the distinct individuality of a hive’s honey, even when all of these hives live in the same city. some carried herby, earthy undertones; some minty; some floral and bright. the variety of golds, yellows, sunshines, ambers present demonstrated nature’s most beautiful artwork.
this is a picture of the capped honey on the frame, straight from the hive. see how the honey is gorgeously capped, protected behind the new white beeswax? this means that the bees finished their work processing the nectar to honey– they actually use their wings to evaporate a large majority of the water out of the nectar (nectar contains about 80% water while honey only 18%!).
in the next step, the wax protection is removed with (in this case) a cold knife. a serrated knife on both sides, the decapper glides the knife as close to the wax surface as possible to prevent the loss of honey. the places where the cold knife cannot easily reach and decap are met with a comb-like looking tool that gently scrapes caps off. (no photograph a la gwen available at this time!!!)
here is a frame, decapped and ready for the extractor. OH! look how it drips! how it glistens! that viscous, thick, liquid gold!
next, the frames of honey go into the extractor. we are lucky enough to have this electrically-run extraction machine, though hand-cranking the hone is also an option. it’s a centrifuge that fits 9 frames (conveniently, a full super). once loaded, the extractor gradually increases the speed of the spin of the centrifuge. the comb, decapped, flings the honey onto the walls of the extractor. as gravity pulls this lazy fluid down, the honey lethargically moves toward an exit valve at the bottom of the machine and tumbles into a bucket below. it is key to balance the frames within this machine to maximize speeds and time of spinning-out without the wobbles (not unlike the art of balancing wet clothes when loading the dryer).
the honey is then filtered through a double sieve, which collects bits of wax flung off in the extractor, dead bees, legs, wings, etc. the protein collector!
then, the filtered honey is transferred into the bottling container, handy with a valve for easy jarring. again, how can i stop from exclaiming !!!! admiring !!!! exalting !!!! wildflower detroit honey !!!! ?
tuesday’s extracting adventure, sticky and sweet for sure. a happy appetizer to the main event: the whopping 35 supers awaiting extraction november 13th. i can hardly wait!
***after writing this, i suddenly realized that my friend pa just documented this very experience, his and ma‘s extraction of their own honey! a cross-“blog”ination. ha. i’m not sure that even makes sense… i am just so easily excitable/sharable when it comes to honey!! you should check out their experience— it’s documented with love and attention.