Thursday, September 1, 2016

Local honey is the bees knees

Today marked my first ever opportunity to participate in a honey harvest! I can think of few things that would cause me to happily bike through the hellacious traffic that is DC rush hour, but local honey is one of them. Some small part of me felt bad smoking the bees earlier today and stealing their food. But just a small part.

Amazed that I hadn't been run off the road during my commute from Chinatown to Foggy Bottom in 5pm traffic, I arrived to find Toni and Kevin -- my beekeeping teacher and mentor, respectively -- just getting the smoker going and pulling on safety gear at the West End Community Garden. We got right to work, checking the frames for honey and estimating how many boxes we could safely take so that the bees would have enough remaining stores to get them through the cold months. (It was strange to be thinking of winter as I stood there sweating in my veil, long sleeved shirt, long pans, and socks in the late afternoon sun.) Each box we harvested had to be bee-free, so Toni applied her special menthol-and-almond-extract-soaked hive lid to each of the chosen hive boxes. This cleared out about 90 percent of the little buzzers, leaving us to gently brush any remaining bees off the individual frames. It's funny that bees don't like the almond odor -- I thought it smelled delicious! -- but it totally worked. I think we only had 5 or 6 hangers on by the time we got to the processing stage.

You will notice that there are no photos of us working with the hives -- I know some of you would love to see me in my orange pants tucked into grey stripey socks and my oh-so-fashionable bee veil. No time for photo ops, people, there was much to be done in the short time: we had to get four hives checked, bees evacuated, and boxes into the back of Toni's car.

Here we are set up for honey extraction at the Boys and Girls Club in Georgetown where, for the price of a few bottles of our honey, the staff kindly let us use one of their classrooms. We got right to work, using some crazy tools to upcap the honey frames: two of us worked with a "scratchers" (glorified metal picks) while the third person attempted to use the "cold knife" (which we later determined was more useful as a spatula):

Here are Toni, Kevin, and Tom trying to figure out how best to balance the 9 frames we would be spinning at a time.

I spent most of my time working with Annie at the upcapping station, using the scratchers to scrape off the outer layer of wax so the honey would be able to flow freely in the frame spinner.

Here's our team pouring our beautiful, freshly spun honey through a strainer.

Straining removes the little bits of dead bees, honeycomb, and other detritus. Not that I am a total purist -- I actually quite enjoyed chomping on some of the honey-coated comb when we sampled some from a blown out hive frame -- but a nice, clear bottle of honey is pretty special.

80 pounds of strained honey later, we were done!

Now it's time for a quick dinner and change of clothes before heading out for a night of salsa dancing. I wonder if I still smell like propolis....


  1. Excellent! I'm all about bees and honey. Got probably 100 pounds of it right now. We should talk local honey some time.

    1. Definitely. Plus I feel like it's been forever since I've seen your face! :)

    2. Should have also mentioned that I'd happily take a pound of honey off your hands. My friend Matt and I will be brewing a honey porter this weekend, drastically cutting into my own small local honey stash. ;)


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