While I was in the hospital for chemo I got a text from a friend asking if I would want to help her family harvest their honey this year. She was going to be away on a trip and couldn’t be home so she was wondering if I would be interested in helping out. I immediately said yes but it would depend on how I felt after chemo. I marked it on my calendar. The week of the harvest her mom texted me to see if I wanted to come. I said yes and that I would love to help out. I had no idea what to expect but was excited to see the process of harvesting the honey.
Full disclosure, I am not a bee expert so please forgive me if I do not use the proper bee terminology. On the Saturday of the honey harvest I arrived at her house and was greeted by her dog Gunner. I happily jumped out of my car and gave him a big hug. If you’ve ever met Gunner he looks like a golden retriever straight out of a L.L. Bean ad. I walked into the house and was taken to the honey harvest party that was happening in their garage. I walked in and immediately noticed that they were listening to the Avett Brothers radio on Pandora. The Avett Brothers are my favorite band and coincidentally theirs as well. I was greeted by her family and friends and then was handed an apron and a pair of gloves. By the time I got there the only apron left was classic white with flowers. Her mom was sporting the queen bee apron because she was the queen bee of the operation.
I walked around the garage and observed the various parts of the operation and learned about the process. Now, we all weren’t standing around outside in the beehive. The honey frames had been removed from the hive the day before and had been stored in the garage overnight. The first step was uncapping the frames with a hot knife. Honeybees preserve their honey by capping it in wax cells. In order to extract the honey you have to remove this layer. This is done with a knife that is heated. The heated knife helps to melt the wax enough to remove it. The knife is used to cut off the wax from the top to the bottom of the frame. Most frames have two sides to them so you have to remove it on both sides. After using the hot knife, if any cells are still not opened, you use a tool that resembles a comb to pick out the unopened cells. This is all done over a bin so that wax can be used to make something later. Any extra honey that drips out collects and drips out from the bottom of the container.
Next the frames are placed into an extractor. Inside the extractor are these mesh frames where a single frame is held. Their extractor had spaces for 3 frames at a time to be spun. They used a drill bit to spin the honey so it is forced out of the comb and drips down the inside of the extractor. Once the spinning is done on the one side you take them out, flip them, and then spin them on the other side. The honey fills at the bottom of the extractor and then there is a valve at the bottom that is opened to let the honey flow out into the bucket below. They had a mesh strainer over the bucket to help filter out any left over wax that stayed behind. Once the buckets were filled with honey they were bottled and packaged.
My favorite job was uncapping the frames with the hot knife. It was fun to melt the wax and reveal the honey underneath. I eventually got into a groove and technique where I removed the wax in a couple big chunks. I was complimented on my skills and I only stopped when my wrist and shoulder started to hurt. I also got to be in charge of the drill that spins the honey in the extractor. I had way too much fun using the drill and trying to keep it under control so that the honey didn’t go flying everywhere. That would’ve been a major party foul. I’m pretty sure her mom would have killed me based on the look she gave someone when they spilled some honey earlier that day.
About half way though the day we stopped to have lunch. I didn’t realize I was starving until I started eating. It was nice to sit outside with her family and catch up with everyone. They are all so kind and have a quick sense of humor. They all know about my horse Joe and my riding so they were asking me questions about that and my family.
After all the honey was spun and they were filling jars I took a walk outside with her dad and he showed me their bee set-up. I learned about the various parts and asked if I could go into the hive one day to see everything up close. Don’t worry I’ll make sure to wear the protective suit and I am not allergic to bees. After that I went inside and watched them bottle the honey for a little while. I started to get tired and decided it was probably a good time to head out. Her mom gave me a huge jar of honey as a thank you for helping. I thanked them for letting me be a part of the process and we all joked that I was a good replacement for their daughter since she couldn’t be there.
If I hadn’t met my friend almost 4 years ago through Ulman I would have never been part of this process or met her family. She and I met the summer after she completed the 4K for cancer bike ride across the county. A mutual friend introduced us right before she was set to start working for Ulman. We couldn’t believe that we were from the same area and grew up within close proximity to each other. We played soccer against each other when I played travel but we went to different schools. She was the one who got me to go on Key to Keys both years. The first year on the trip, I was having a really hard time and she was there for me. She listened to me when I cried and laughed with me to the point where we couldn’t breathe. No matter what, she has been there for me. She has been an integral part of getting both my family and me involved with Ulman. I know she’ll be the first person I call when we egg that car. She has allowed me to become part of her family and is always there supporting me. I know that, as she ends her chapter at Ulman there is another one just waiting to be written with her new adventures that lay ahead of her. Or at least that’s what I keep telling her.
I had a blast helping with the honey harvest. It was more fun than I ever bargained for. It was nice to be surrounded by her family who all knew my situation but treated me like I was one of their own. I was so comfortable and at ease that I was able to really enjoy being there and part of the process. Between her grandma helping me sneak tastes of honey and her mom getting me to laugh a lot it was nice to be able to do something normal. My favorite was when her dad said that he was expecting to see me with no hair. I told him that it will probably start falling out soon but good thing that wasn’t today because I didn’t think they would want my hair in the honey. Who knows maybe I’ll start up beekeeping this spring but either way I have a nice supply of honey to enjoy for now.