Birney Imes: Sticky business

June 6, 2010 1:53:00 AM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


By the time you read this -- assuming you''re reading the print edition on the day it is published -- I''ll be in the middle of a heist. With the help of family and friends I''ll be robbing my bee hives. 


If all goes to plan, the event will be like an old fashion corn shuckin''. A generation or two ago in corn growing regions of the country, people would gather to shuck a family''s corn harvest. It was a social event that began in the day and stretched well into the night. 


From the Foxfire book: "We had corn shuckings, but not barn dances. Back then they would church you if you danced. You''d go t'' maybe a dozen different corn shuckin''s in one fall." 


Doubt if any of our helpers will be dancing -- other than the bees who do a waggle dance in the hive to communicate to their fellow foragers the location of nectar -- but we won''t "church" anyone if they do. 


First we''ll collect the supers. Supers are wooden boxes that sit atop the deeper brood boxes, which by now are filled with honey, pollen and brood. The bees store excess honey in the supers. In addition to those in my backyard, I''ve got hives at my mother''s, on an organic farm near Steens and in a tupelo swamp, so called because of its tupelo trees. Tupelo honey is highly prized for its delicate taste and resistance to crystallization. 


As you might expect, the honeybees are none too excited about surrendering their amber treasure. To remove them from the supers I use a concoction of essential oils called Bee-Quick. The fumes drive the bees down into the hive whereupon I remove the bee-free super. A full medium-depth super will yield around 12 quarts of honey and will weigh close to 60 pounds. 


We extract on a patio in the backyard. It''s important to keep the bees in the nearby hives from finding out about the party. Otherwise they''re going to crash it, and we''ll end up with a bunch of bees swimming in the honey and on everything and everyone. They''re not in stinging mode, but it''s still a huge nuisance. Best to have a bee-proof place to extract. But, we''ll choose convenience over prudence. 


After scraping off the wax caps that seal honey in the comb, we put the dripping frames in an extractor, a machine that spins the honey from the frames. The honey drains into 5-gallon pails from which we''ll strain it and put into Ball jars. 


It''s a sticky job best done on a hot day when the honey is thinner. 


Last year Beth made an ice using tea and honey, which seemed to keep us all going. 


If all goes to plan we''ll end up with a table covered with glowing golden jars, a year''s worth of sweetness. We''ll extract again in the fall. That honey will be darker and have a stronger taste. 


As with much commercially produced foods, supermarket honey has been processed in a way that destroys nutrients and flavor. The store-bought stuff only faintly resembles local, unprocessed honey, which thanks to trace amounts of pollen is thought to provide relief for allergies. 


Speaking of taste and honey and bees, Harry Sherman and I were cleaning out the observation hive at Plymouth Bluff Nature Center last week. The exhibit offers limited space for the bees and requires a frequent house cleaning. As our reward, we collect scraps of sealed honeycomb to sample afterward. 


From a corner of the hive I removed a light, golden chunk of fresh comb honey about the size of a woman''s fist. After our cleaning was done, I retrieved the comb and picked all the bees from it. As I bit into it, the flavors exploded in my mouth. I felt as though I was tasting every wildflower on that side of the river. Harry took a bite and seemed to be as startled as I was. 


Saturday morning we had an enthusiastic crowd at the Farmers'' Market for a talk on backyard beekeeping. I took a small observation hive, and everyone -- especially the kids -- seemed to enjoy looking for the queen. 


It was nice having Art Potter there. Art lives in Artesia. He has about 75 hives and had no reservations about answering questions I couldn''t from a lively and inquisitive audience. 


I was delighted by what seems to be a growing number of young and old backyard beekeepers.  


Of the farmers'' market Saturday morning, a young girl was overheard saying to a friend, "I just love this place." 


Yes, dear, this place, and the people who frequent it, are easy to love.

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.