I was outside standing on the front lawn of my house waiting. I knew that at any moment an old brown Chevy pickup truck would roll around the corner that I was watching intently. A few seconds passed. Thoughts were racing through my head. “What will it taste like?” “What color would it be?” With the conclusion of each second my excitement grew. Waiting seemed like some form of torture. I eventually folded and went inside. I turned to my mom. The anticipation was killing me. “He’s late!” I exclaimed. Sure it had only been a few minutes, but when you’re walking on pins and needles a few minutes can seem like a lot. My mom eventually picked up the phone and called my grandpa. I could hear his voice on the other end of the phone. “I’ll be there in a minute. I’m in your neighborhood.” I darted outside. My grandpa parked the truck by the sidewalk in front of my house. The back of the truck was full of tools that I had read about in books and seen in photographs, but had never seen in person. He got out of his truck and said, “Hi, sport.” We walked into my house.
At that point of my life I was about thirteen years old and I had kept bees in my backyard for just over six months. I had a bee suit and all the other equipment I needed to take care of the hive and now was the time to harvest the honey that they had made. I knew how to take care of my hive, but harvesting honey from a hive is a different beast entirely. I didn’t even own the tools to harvest honey, but my grandfather just happened to keep bees in his backyard in the 70’s and he did have the tools that we would need. I had been wanting to harvest the honey almost immediately after I was given the hive by a beekeeper trying to downsize.
After putting the tools in the garage we suited up and headed out to the hive. He told me before we went out there, “Now, we’re all gonna get stung today, so just be ready for it.” That seemed like a gloomy way to start this adventure. He lit a piece of burlap and poked it into the smoker. He began to pump the smoker and tall flames began to pour out the top. He shut the lid and cool white smoke began to drift out of the small hole in the top. He began to blow the smoke into the hive to calm the bees down before we opened the lid. We pried the lid off together. I always liked the sound of when someone would lift the lid off of a hive. It’s not an angry buzz that most people think of given by an aggressive bee out in a field, but it’s rather a deep calming sound almost like the sound of a distant lawnmower.
We started to look in the first of the three boxes. Bees generally keep their honey stores in the upper boxes and things like pollen and brood (and a little honey, but not very much) in the lower boxes. Because of this beekeepers only harvest the uppermost box of the beehive. We opened up the top box to see the honey. Grandpa pulled out a frame covered with a sheet of pure white beeswax. It was exactly what we were looking for. Grandpa looked at me and said “Your bees did pretty good this year, didn’t they?” I replied with a smile. Bees fill honeycomb with honey and when the little hexagonal cells are filled the bees cover the cells with a thin layer of wax to prevent it from crystallizing in the cells, so the frames of honeycomb covered in a layer of white wax are the ones that are filled to the brim with honey. He handed me the frame and said, “Take this for me.” The thing that shocked me is the weight of the frame. The frames aren’t usually heavy, but when they have been filled filled to the brim with honey they can start to weigh a lot.
Grandpa said, “Hold the frame over the hive.” He took a brush and began to swipe the bees on the frame into the hive. He got the bees off that side of the frame. He said, “Now turn it over, son.” We continued with this until we had cleared the box of bees. We then took the box to the garage to harvest the honey from the frames. Grandpa brought an electric knife that would heat up, allowing us to cut through the wax cappings. He said, “Now watch closely so you’ll know how to do this.” He grabbed the knife and glided it just beneath the surface of the honeycomb. “See how I’m only cutting off the cappings and not to much of the honeycomb?” He said as he worked away at cutting off the covering of wax. The paper thin sheet fell into the waiting bucket below.
In the dim yellow light of the garage he showed me how to place the frames into a machine called an extractor. The extractor is what actually takes the honey out of the honeycomb. It seemed fairly simple. All I had to do was place two frames in there and start to turn the hand crank on it. The extractor would spin the two frames and the centripetal force would pull the honey out of the comb. Grandpa put two frames in and said, “Okay, now give that a spin.” Little did I know that after spinning that crank for a few minutes your arm gets exhausted. I was all too happy when I was done spinning that crank.
The moment of truth was upon us. I had finished the pains of spinning the honey out of a few frames and it was time to pour the honey. We had a filter on the mouth of the extractor and we opened the valve to release the honey. The honey began to pour out slowly. It crept onto the filter then a million tiny beads of honey appeared on the other side of the filter. It looked like a spider web covered with beads of golden dew. Minutes passed. I sat and watched the strangely mesmerizing flow of honey into a bucket. I tasted a little. The sweet flavor filled my mouth. It was so much more flavorful than the store bought honey I had eaten for years. We only extracted those two frames together before Grandpa had to leave. Grandpa gave me his old tools when he left.
I was able to harvest honey from my hives for years later. I eventually ended up in the ER finding out that I was allergic to bee venom. So now I can’t do anything that has to do with beekeeping anymore. Although now I am not able to keep bees I walked away with some valuable insight. Learning how to do this was fun. While learning in school felt like the most boring thing in the world. I later came to realize that learning to harvest honey was fun because I wanted to know how to do it. While although I knew what I was learning in school I knew was important, I really did not care about it. I realized that if I wanted to have a better experience learning anything I would have to learn to care about it and I have found that it does make learning a better experience.