In spring, I reported that the garden got a new colony of bees at the beginning of April. This colony thrived. In fact, by mid June, there were so many bees that many of them hung out on the outside of the hive during the day. This behavior is called “bearding” and bees do it when it is hot and they need to air-condition the hive by fanning their wings. If there is not enough room for all bees to do the fanning inside, some will do it outside. Having so many bees outside of the hive also meant that we could add another story.
Last weekend, it was time to harvest the honey. Sara and Barbara donned their beekeeping suit and veils, started up the smoker and opened the hive. Tequila was there to take pictures.
In the afternoon, it was time to extract the honey from the combs. The Church of the Ascension had generously made its kitchen available for this operation. Sara had set up her honey extractor, a muscle-powered centrifuge.
But before the honey could be removed from the combs, the cells needed to be uncapped. Bees put a cap of wax over each cell once it is filled to prevent the honey from taking up moisture from the air. We removed the caps by gently running a knife over the surface of the honey comb.
Next, the frames were placed inside of the spinner, and then it was time to turn the crank. Centrifugal force removed the honey and a lot of wax from the combs. We used a strainer to separate the honey from the wax.
Because we harvested our honey only once this year, the combs contained honey that the bees made from early summer until October. Summer honey is much lighter in color than fall honey, and many combs were filled with summer honey on one side and with fall honey on the other side. Both kinds of honey got mixed as we extracted it. LaGuardia Corner Garden honey vintage 2016 has a lovely amber color and a flavor that is in the middle between the lavender-like spring honey and the more robust-tasting honey from fall.
While we were decapping the combs, working the spinner, straining the honey and licking our fingers again and again, questions about honey came up: how is honey different from regular sugar? What kind of vitamins are in honey?
So here are some honey facts:
- The sugar in honey is mainly a mix of the simple sugars glucose and fructose. Cane and beet sugar contain the double sugar sucrose, where a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule are bound together.
- Nectar contains sucrose. When the bees are turning nectar into honey, they use enzymes to digest the sucrose into glucose and fructose.
- Bees also remove a lot of water from the nectar such that the final product contains around 80% sugar. No bacteria or yeasts can grow at such a high sugar concentration. Therefore, honey does not go bad and can keep for hundreds of years when it is well sealed.
- Honey contains various organic acids that contribute to its flavor, and also minerals and B vitamins.
- Honey promotes wound healing when applied as a dressing.
- Honey is usually healthy, but if bees make it from nectar of rhododendrons, azaleas and mountain laurels, honey can be toxic.