The big surprise of the week is the bees. A few weeks ago, they were looking a little sparse and lackluster, but now we’re buried in honey. It’s all due to the japanese knotweed, an invasive plant that has all the environmentalists up in arms. You see, it clogs stream banks, driving out native plants and harming salmon populations. It also is as hard as a cockroach to kill: it spreads by rhizomes, seeds, or even tiny cuttings; if you chop it down or burn it, it hides underground in a fat root to spring back a few weeks later when you are not looking. Word has it, it even drinks gasoline… generally, an apocalyptic plant. But the good news? It makes awesome honey.
So that is why my bees are ON. By dumb luck, my hives are a half mile from the largest patch in the county, and it blooms like crazy in early September- right when everything else is done for the year. The result? Lots of last minute honey, the dark and floral kind you can only get from knotweed. I took 52 pounds of honey off the hives last week, and another 40 or so yesterday. Zowie. We’re now selling it at the market stand, which ended up tripling our earnings last week. We’re pretty excited about honey.
Here’s Terry, my beekeeping mentor in the Oregon State Master Beekeeping Program, showing me how to work his extractor.
And with all that, the hives still look REALLY strong for winter. I have four that are so heavy with stores that I can’t lift them (a good sign) and even the weakest is stronger than my strongest one last year. We remain optimistic for their ability to overwinter, hopefully not to repeat last winter’s debacle.
And to close, here’s a picture of the solar wax melter I made, to melt down the cappings I got when I extracted all that honey. It’s extremely low-tech. I got the stuff from $6 in parts laying around at the junk store, and some scrap wood I had. Totally worth the massive investment. I made the box to match the pane of window glass I found ($1). I drilled a few holes in the edge of a pan ($3), and it is suspended at a slight angle on some wooden braces that span across the box. A catch pan ($2) sits at the bottom to get the drippings, which separate out nicely in the heat. When it cools down tin the evening, I have gunk (dead bugs, twigs, whatever) in the upper pan, pure wax in the lower, and a little gunk honey under the wax. A bit of soap and water, and I’ve got a pretty wax block!
Incidentally, I was out of paint, so the black paint was added after I used it… it works fine with bare wood, but should go faster with the black.
And I will leave you with a blessing (of sorts). Emily’s birthday was two weeks ago, and we had a gathering of friends at the farm to celebrate. It was a pleasant evening, and a chance to reflect on all the hard work we’ve done and create a little community. Following the ancient tradition of her family (and ours), she’s using our Blessing Cup to share the goodwill and brotherhood with all who were able to attend.