Today was just the sort of day I like. It was, for the most part, quiet, and easy, yet full. It involved things like making applesauce, a slow, laborious, but totally worth it in the end kind of food-making endeavor. It involved gathering tomatillos from the garden with Huxley, and discovering a toad in the process, and watching him turn the spent plants I’d pulled from the soil into “rocket ships, mama!”, zooming around the garden on their gangly stems. It involved tidying, and sweeping, and making simple meals, and otherwise what I sometimes call (in my mind, at least), the “gentle stuff of life.” Nothing colossal, or particularly significant, or even all that noteworthy, just good, and calm, and straightforward, and yet, somehow, completely satisfying.
Which is kind of how I feel about harvesting honey. Sure, it’s got its own definite reward. And I absolutely applaud the bees for their tireless devotion to their task, and for being able to reap some of that labor myself. The thing about harvesting honey, though, is that doing so really is about much more than the sum of its parts. It so far surpasses the act of simply collecting ambrosial jars of viscous nectar. It considerably exceeds the end product. So very much.
Each year, I gather honey just once, in autumn. Historically, I’ve done this on Labor Day weekend, with the same group of bee-loving friends. This year, the holiday weekend came and went in a flurry of activity, none of it bee-related. I knew I’d get around to it, but the whole of September passed before I was able to carve out time to rent the extracting equipment (Natalie at Villagers has all you need to get your honey off your hives, and very affordably at that!) and gather up my crew.
Last Tuesday, I removed the supers (boxes holding frames, for the uninitiated), sticking with two mediums (for now, at least; I may remove another in the next few weeks). Wednesday, my friends Jenny and Kristina came over and we assumed our stations of removing frames from the supers (me), uncapping the beeswax (Jenny), and cranking the extractor (Kristina, and all of us, in the end). While we pried and scraped and cranked, we talked. We caught up on each other’s lives. We shared our concerns, our triumphs, our travails. We laughed, we encouraged each other, we talked some smack.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the sweet reward that comes from both the bee’s labor and that of myself and my friends in getting it off the frames and into glass jars. I really do. What I love more, though, truth be told, are the human connections the entire process engenders. I think that something really magical happens when people come together to collectively process, prepare, sow, glean, harvest, or otherwise work with food.
All of us have to eat. All of us need our physical needs to be met, and we can do that on our own, sure. But when we come together and commune with others, we’re tending to our souls, too. We’re taking care of our emotional needs. We’re recognizing that we’re much more than skin and bones, we’re thinking, feeling creatures, too, and, we’re social beings, as well.
It’s so very easy to disconnect ourselves from others, ironically at a time in the history of humanity that involves more immediate, direct contact than ever. Most of it occurs digitally, though. When you’re in front of someone, and you’re making eye contact, and you’re laying a hand on their forearm to show concern or giving them a hug when they enter or depart, or otherwise completely being human in front of each other, invisible yet highly significant connections are formed. We need each other, on so very many levels. The bees themselves bear silent testament to that. Sure, I got some honey (right around 5 gallons!), but I gained a good deal more. Life certainly is sweet.
Sincere apologies to any of you trying to connect here over the past day and a half that haven’t been able to do so. I myself have been in that same boat! Some hardware of the server I use died, and lots of blogs were in limbo for awhile, small measure amongst them. All seems to be well again, though!
It’s almost time for a honey extraction. Typically, I only extract once a year, around Labor Day. That was the case last year, and that’ll be the case again this year. I’ve been checking the hives and watching the bees while working in the garden and it’s clearly time for busting out the extractor, uncapping the wax on the frames, and gathering some Chez English liquid gold!
The bees have been insanely busy lately, bringing in neon yellow baskets full of pollen in on their hairy legs. It’s such a glorious sight to behold, all that planning and industry and, well, work. There’s a very sound reason the expression busy as a bee exists!
What about you? Have any of you extracted yet, or plan to do so soon? While straight-up honey is exquisite, I love infusing small jars of it with fresh herbs, too (you can find my instructions for doing so in Keeping Bees). Small sprigs of lavender, rosemary, mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, or thyme infused with the honey make for perfect gifts come the holidays.
Thank you, sweet bees, for all you do. Without you, the world would be a lot less flavorful, a good bit more difficult for us to navigate through, and not nearly as sweet.
*Back in my other world, of all things pie, several great giveaways are currently being hosted for copies of A Year of Pies. Check out these sites and enter for a chance to win a copy of your own, to have, hold, and splatter butter and fruit juices all over!
1) The Non-Consumer Advocate
2) Lark Crafts
3) Cold Antler Farm