"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hopeful About Honey (When to Invest?)

The other day, Rowan and I put the honey-supers on the hives. Honey supers are just like regular beehive boxes, but shorter, so that when they are full of honey they will only weigh about forty pounds instead of eighty or a hundred pounds.

I didn't have enough of the smaller frames to go in the supers, so I put an ad on Craigslist and quickly found someone willing to lend me some in exchange for half my harvest from those frames. If any, of course - harvesting honey is just a dream at the moment, I don't know whether or not there will actually be any.

I intended to open the hives all up and check for queens, but I didn't. We just pried the tops off, took a quick look at tens of thousands of buzzing bees, and quickly slapped on the queen excluders (grills that keep the queens from entering the honey supers but do allow in the worker bees) and then the honey boxes and replaced the lids. I had added the second brood boxes right before we left for Mexico, so three weeks ago they were pretty much empty. Now it is clear that they are stuffed full of bees.

That means I MUST have queens, and they MUST have been laying their little butts off. I know that sooner or later I will have to take the hives apart and check all the frames and find the queens and look for signs of mites and illness... etc etc etc. But I'm not over-eager. For now, it's good enough for me to peek in and go "holy crap, what a lot of bees!"

I am looking forward to honey. There are issues; there always are. Beekeeping, like many other aspects of farming, can be made much easier if you have the right equipment. Extracting honey is pretty easy if you have a honey extractor, and a big fat pain in the butt if you don't. The thing is, a honey extractor (even a small, "hobby" model) is quite expensive - too expensive to be worth it if you only have a couple of hives, like me.

I have noticed the same thing over and over again in many aspects of farming - sure would be nice to have a drum carder, for example, to deal with the alpaca fleece, but a drum carder costs $400. The fleece is only worth about $150.
I'd like a cheese press and molds, too, but the same ratio applies.

I think it makes sense to wait a few years at least, to see if a given hobby lasts before investing in the equipment. The alpacas, for example, are long gone. If I had bought a drum carder it would be sitting in a closet. The cheese press, on the other hand, I think would be a good investment still.

Then there's the DIY option: I've seen plans on the internet for a passive-solar powered honey extractor. It involves heavy cardboard, black paint, and fine metal screens. I'll probably try that. My DIY cheese press is a tall stack of my biggest books, and it works pretty well, although it does occasionally fall over in the middle of the night and wake me up.


keewee said...

I hope you end up with lots of honey.

Garden Lily said...

I'm hoping for lots of honey for you also... You're right about the right tools. I bought a steam juicer last year, and it was so easy to make juices that I actually looked forward to it. Not so with my old method of boiling and sieving... It would be great if you could find someone who had the hobby, and now has a honey extractor or cheese pres just sitting in their closet that they need to get rid of!

Olive said...

I'm the original gadget person Aimee.cant walk into a kitchen ware shop and come out empty handed. We paid heaps for our tomato press and it is only used one day a year but would I be without it? NOOOOOOOO!!
I have a knitting frame sitting here that I paid over AU$100 for and shipped from the US, but cant for the life of me work out how to use it.

The Idiot Gardener said...

I go the other way; if I am going to take something up, I tend to dive in at the deep end. If I skirt around the edges, I tend to not do it properly and lose interest.

My experience has always been that with the right tools, the job is so much easier, which makes it so much more enjoyable.

That said, I often discover that by seeking out expert advice, you sometimes find that certain tools are not necessary, thus cutting costs.

For me, it's the right tools that you need, and forget the trimmings. As my old dad used to say, when it comes to tools, buy the best you can afford!

Aimee said...

Idiot - I totally agree with you, when I decide I need a certain tool, it's absolutely worth it to buy the best. I just never decide I need one until I have mucked about trying this and that and reinventing the wheel. Often I decide my amatuer method is good enough. But if not, well then I buy the best.

Milkweed said...

Can you borrow an extractor? Our local bee club has one and so does the private college near our place -- are you more out in the middle of nowhere than we are?