The day before we left to go on holiday, a day when I had a million other things to do, I decided to harvest one last batch of honey from my hives. Why yes, my timing was impeccable. I thought it would be easy, I would grab a few supers and spin off the honey, strain it and pop it in jars.
Except of course when I started trying to spin it, nothing came out of the supers. The honey stayed firmly in place. I should have expected this, but I didn’t – this was heather honey. Immediately behind our site there is quite a bit of heather – well, there is loads of heather. It makes sense therefore to think that the bees might collect nectar from the heather as they are rather clever little things. But because they didn’t do it last year, in my rush I didn’t think about it this year.
Heather honey is more viscous, more jelly-like. The only way to extract it is to crush the comb and squeeze out the honey. This is an incredibly labour-intensive job.
I brought the supers and strainers into the garage – I didn’t want to do it outside as there are always a few bees that run back to their hive and dance the location of the woman with plaits and her stolen hoard of honey.
I cut the combs out of the frames. And yes, right about then I did wish that I had put more marked unwired frames in my hives as then I could have simply made delicious heather honeycomb. I started crushing the honey into my main sieve with a wooden spoon. But the honey is so viscous it wasn’t straining through. Eventually late on the Friday I gave up and went to the pub.
So just before we left on holiday on the Saturday I had to clean up the sticky honey mess in the garage. I froze some of the remaining cut comb. And pushed the honey through my strainers as best I could. Then bottled the honey.
I tidied up the garage and piled the remaining frames of honey in the supers – I thought maybe I could deal with them when I returned from holiday.
I left the garage and crucially I left the door open. Within an hour, those clever little bees had flown home (there are always a few left on the supers when you bring them in) to let their friends know where I had stashed the frames.
The garage was full of bees – yet another lesson learnt. I suited up and decided to carry the frames back to the hives for the bees to pick properly clean – there seemed to be no other solution and to be fair giving honey back to bees is always a good thing.
On a better note, I now have a solution to heather honey extraction. My friends Bob and Eileen have given me a very old fruit press that Bob used for making wine.
At the weekend I gave it a go and it works fabulously.
I filled it up with comb and started to turn the screw. The honey started to flow.
The long and short of this is that we now have a few limited jars of heather honey to sell. Heather honey is remarkable. Its aroma is powerful and its taste is distinctive – it is lovely. But it is a little bit more expensive than our regular honey as it is very labour intensive and I can’t reuse the foundation!