Late morning on a typical hot and sunny July day as I finished setting up the stands I get the call. It’s been a roller coaster week of flash floods, torrential downpours, and falling trees which have left me emotionally scarred, so “typical” day is a welcome reprieve from an atypical week. Today, however, is the day we are going to harvest the honey from our 12 hives on the farm. I was hoping for more notice. In fact just the previous day I had asked our beekeeper to give me a two weeks heads up so I could maybe invite the crew. I had images in my head about planning an event for it. I’m not sure if this is what prompted his response, but as I’m about to take my first sip of coffee I receive a text, “sorry for the short notice, I’m going to be pulling honey from the farm today. I’ll be there around 1pm.” Well, fortunately I was just about to head that way for my weekly walkabout. I turn the ignition on my old truck, took a sip of coffee and put it in gear. Off to the farm.
First I encounter our field manager. There is a look of proud exhaustion on his face as he proudly hands me the most recent harvest slips. They had just finished picking about 25 bushels of greenbeans and as many lugs of squash and cucumbers as I rolled in. It’s going to be a very busy few weeks he assures me while referring to all the greenbeans, peppers, eggplant and onions which will be picked in 20 bushel bins. Tomatoes, okra, cucumbers and zucchini will be picked in lugs and packed into half bushel boxes. I begin to experience an “all hands on deck” feeling of urgency and have an idea. We discuss the stands crew coming out to help pick. In fact I even start thinking about it as our own Farm Stand Olympics. Each stand represents a team of pickers, as we tally up the yields with points for quantity and quality. After two weeks the stands with the most points wins either gold, silver, bronze or nada. I think this is a fun way for our stands crew to experience the farm and spark a friendly competition. We’ll see how it goes. If I could pick as fast as I can come up with ideas the rest of the crew could probably take off and go fishing. Be sure to root for your favorite stand.
We are getting a much needed bush hog for our BCS Tractor to help us mow in between rows where its too narrow for our larger tractors. Our current hand push mower (above) was feeling overwhelmed and recently decided to retire so we needed a replacement. Heirloom, cherry, and beefsteak tomatoes are coming online and cantaloupe is sizing up nicely. Its webbing is pronounced which means we will harvest in about 10 days. The watermelon have grown substantially and feel like bowling balls. I walk down a path of sunflowers that look like a strange cult of ancient sun worshipers, towering over me, there heads tilted back facing the same direction toward the sun.
As I approach the hives assuming that I’ll be staying behind the deer fence as if that is going to act as some kind of barrier between me and the bees, Jim offers me a hooded beekeeping jacket and invites me over to the hives. I look down at my short pants and flip flops with skepticism and uncertainty. I’ve never been this close to the bees. I’m not afraid though. As Jim walks the row with his bee hive smoker, calming the bees, he resembles a shaman blessing the hives. The smell of smoke actually brings me to some state of awareness as well. It awakens me from my typical hurried state of rush, rush, where to? Off to the next busy-ness. I am in the moment, learning about beekeeping from one of the best, Jim Fraser, and I feel privileged to be amongst the bees and their keeper.
Jim explains how much we take and how much we leave. He shows me capped versus open combs. The darker honey is from the buckwheat while the lighter is from black locust. He pries off the lids, inspects the top couple boxes, each filled with slats of honey, and takes the boxes which are “capped”. These are the combs sealed with wax. A low powered leaf blower blows the bees off the slats which then get loaded on the truck. Once he puts the lid back on he moves down the row to the next. Each hive will only get harvested once per season and Jim will take about 40 to 50 lbs and leave the rest. This helps the bees to survive the winter. We have about 600 lbs which we will be placing in 12 oz skep jars with our own label. The artwork was created by our CSA Member, accomplished artist and Yellow Barn instructor, Jordan Bruns, and is appropriately called Party Favors for Honey Bees. We very much appreciate Jordan allowing us to use his artwork. That’s all for now. Have a great week everyone.