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Friday, September 16, 2005

Photo Friday (Vol. XL) [honey edition]

Thank you again to everyone who left comments and sent emails with good wishes and congratulations on the occasion of our 14th wedding anniversary.

Like birthdays, anniversaries often get short shrift since they are really nothing more than a celebration of hanging on for yet another year.  But when you think about all the people whose relationships (or sadly, lives) don't stand the test of time, you realize how important it is to commemorate this 'hanging on', as well as to celebrate the gift of life and love.

OK, as if that wasn't saccharin enough, today's Photo Friday is an update of previous editions dealing with my hobby; beekeeping.

As the summer days 'dwindle down to a precious few'*, honey harvesting season is upon us. 

Throughout the spring and summer months, my bees have been busy as, well... bees!  They have been tirelessly pollinating the local fruits and vegetables... and of course foraging for nectar to convert into delicious honey.

One of my neighbors has a backyard full of fruit trees.  While proudly showing off his garden to me the other day, he mentioned that in previous years he has had a moderate fruit crop, but for some reason this year there is so much fruit that the branches are in danger of breaking!  He honestly had no idea why he suddenly had a bumper crop, so I explained that my little friends had been by to lend a 'hand' in the late spring while his trees were in blossom.  The slow dawning of comprehension on his face was priceless.  My guess is that I might be getting a fruit basket from him in a few weeks.

Anyway, many people have only the vaguest idea of where honey comes from.  Without going into too much detail about the biology/chemistry of the process, I'll give you a rough idea by showing you a couple of 'frames' from inside a hive.

First of all, inside most standard hives there are 10 narrow wooden frames on which the bees build their wax 'comb'.  They build it of perfectly symmetrical interlocking hexagons.  Each hexagonal cell is tilted slightly upward so that as the bees fill it with thin nectar, it won't dribble out.  If you look closely you can see nectar in some of the cells.  The upper right hand corner also shows some cells that have been capped with wax to seal in the matured honey:

The way the bees make nectar into honey is really quite amazing.  First they mix in an enzyme that they secrete, and then place the nectar in a cell.  Then the bees fan the nectar (which is over 80% water) with their wings to dehydrate it until it bocomes honey (which has less than 18% water content).  Once this is accomplished, the cell is capped with more wax. 

Here is a frame where about half the cells have already been capped, and the rest are filled with delicious honey that is almost ready to be sealed:

Here's a closer look:

Once a frame is completely capped, it is mine to take.  Don't worry about the bees though, the honey I harvest is from the upper part of the hive known as the 'Super'.  The honey that the bees need to make it through the winter is safely stored in the lower part of the hive where the queen and her brood live.  The bees will instinctively gather and store as much honey as the local environment provides, and for which they have sufficient room in their hive. 

The entire hobby of beekeeping can be summed up as simply giving the bees enough space to do what they would do naturally if left alone.

Here is a fully capped frame ready to be harvested:

This year I got about 11 kilos of honey from my bees.  This is not very much considering the wealth of flowering plants in the area, but I have a feeling that the move to the new location in early summer may have disrupted things a bit.  In addition to the 11 kilos (which was extracted from the comb by spinning it in a centrifuge), I also kept back a few frames of 'comb honey' because Ari and Gili love to chew the cut honeycomb as a treat on shabbat.

As hobbies go, this one certainly pays a nice, sweet dividend.

Shabbat Shalom!

* Lyrics from the last verse of 'September Song'


Posted by David Bogner on September 16, 2005 | Permalink


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From one of my favorite columnists, Cecil Adams:


Posted by: Dave | Sep 16, 2005 12:29:37 PM

Amazing! Thanks for sharing this.

Posted by: The Hedyot | Sep 16, 2005 12:55:13 PM

A belated happy anniversary! I assume you'll be making good use of that honey soon, seeing how Rosh Hashonna is right around the bend. Now if only you had an apple tree...

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Sep 16, 2005 2:04:25 PM

Dave... Y'know, people can enjoy a good steak without having an intimate knowledge of the workings of a slaughterhouse! When I said, "...they mix in an enzyme that they secrete, and then place the nectar in a cell", I think everyone understood that I was being intentionally vague. Sheesh! :-)

The Hedyot... You're quite welcome. Thanks for dropping by. Shabbat Shalom.

Jewish Blogmiester... Actually several friends have apple trees so I think we may be able to arrange a swap. Thanks for the good wishes.

Posted by: David | Sep 16, 2005 2:22:57 PM

Wow, this is fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing your hobby with us, your readers.

I raise a virtual cup of mead to more sweet success (and to many more good years with Zahava).

Bees rule!

Posted by: Rahel | Sep 16, 2005 2:26:55 PM

The honey-making process is amazing. Like so many other wonders of Nature (or G-d's work).


Shabbat Shalom

Posted by: Sandra | Sep 16, 2005 2:32:20 PM

This is such a cool post, David.

What I want to know is: Where did you find a centrifuge? And how long does it take to extract 11 kilos of honey in said centrifuge? And when can I come to your house to taste the honey?

Posted by: Sarah | Sep 16, 2005 2:35:02 PM

Very cool.

I explained that my little friends had been by to lend a 'hand' in the late spring while his trees were in blossom. The slow dawning of comprehension on his face was priceless.
That is pretty cute :-)

Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by: Essie | Sep 16, 2005 3:32:11 PM

We see here the value of good PR. If the Bible referred to Israel as a "land flowing with bovine lactation and bee vomit," I'm not so sure that it would sound like such an attractive prospect...

Oh, and belated congrats to you and Zehava! Best wishes for a sweet future (and I'm sure the honey will help)

Posted by: efrex | Sep 16, 2005 3:56:19 PM

If the Bible referred to Israel as a "land flowing with bovine lactation and bee vomit,"

More honesty in the world is a good thing, ok, maybe not that much. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Sep 16, 2005 4:57:33 PM

David..have you ever heard that if someone has allergies to different types of pollen, that eating honey from those plants would perhaps prevent allergies from returning or developing?

Posted by: Jaime | Sep 16, 2005 6:20:00 PM

Do you ever walk into your house and shout "Hi home, I'm honey!"?

Shabbat shalom.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Sep 16, 2005 7:13:42 PM

Suddenly have the urge to start beekeeping....what a cool-looking hobby...AND you get honey in the end!

Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 16, 2005 9:15:46 PM

Suddenly have the urge to start beekeeping....what a funky hobby...AND you get honey in the end!

Posted by: mcaryeh | Sep 16, 2005 9:16:23 PM

Do you ever walk into your house and shout "Hi home, I'm honey!"?

How sweet.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 17, 2005 12:56:22 AM

So when can I stop buy Efrat and buy some?

Posted by: harry | Sep 17, 2005 12:24:00 PM

I really did not want to know about the bee vomit.

Posted by: Sarah | Sep 17, 2005 8:02:32 PM

Rahel... Maybe if I have a bigger harvest next year I'll consider making mead. I'm told it's not hard to do.

Sandra... It is amazing. The truth is that during the summer I don't necessarily need to visit the bees as often as I do. But the kids and I really enjoy checking on them and seeing their work in progress.

Sarah... Honey Extractors are readily available from a few mail order houses, but this year a friend extracted my honey for me since I hadn't gotten around to buying one. In the spring I will probably pick one up second hand.

Essie... Like I said, even people who stand to directly benefit from bees don't really think about them much.

Efrex... Gee thanks. Between you and Dave I'm wondering if I'm not turning people off of eating honey!

Jack... There are limits to what people expect from 'truth in advertising'.

Jaime... That was actually why I got interested in beekeeping. Zahava's allergist in the US had recommended that instead of taking more desensitization shots that she simply find some local honey (i.e. containing local pollens) and begin taking a spoonful every morning beginning in January. She tried this while we were living in Connecticut and sure enough, by the time things started to bloom in the spring she was pretty much free of all the runny nose, scratchy eyes, and sore throat that had heralded the start of spring for most of her life. When we got here, I found out that there were no beekeepers here in our area so I decided to give it a try.

Doctor Bean... Before or after she hands me my martini? :-)

Mcaryeh... Yes, that was one of the things that made up my mind. Sure there are some start-up expenses... but you get something tangible at the end of the process. As far as upkeep and demands on your time, bees take up a small fraction of the time and attention that a dog or cat would. And I think you'd agree that you wouldn't want to eat the by-product of dog or cat ownership. ;-)

Jack... very punny.

Harry... Selling it opens up a can of worms with the authorities (from a tax standpoint and also becasue it is food), so for now it will remain something we can give to friends as a gift. But look... for ages Zahava and I have been talking about having you and Ziva over for a shabbat. Any plans for this coming weekend? I know you'll like the bbq'd chicken, and you might just score some honey as a door prize.

Posted by: David | Sep 17, 2005 8:02:34 PM

"Many people have only the vaguest idea of where honey comes from" Not to sound pedantic or anything - but are you serious?? Don't people watch Maya, The Bee anymore? Where do they think it comes from? (Seriously, I genuinely would like to know what they tell you)

I love some honeys on butter toast but others I find entirely too strong. I will probably prove myself a honey heathen when I say that I only like clear, liquidy honey. The darker, pasty sort is too much for me. Pearls and swine, I know...

[LOVED the discussion abt whether to call it v**** or r***********, I felt right at home!]

Posted by: Lioness | Sep 17, 2005 10:54:37 PM

Lioness... Yes, people know that honey comes from bees. But they don't actually picture the process. What I meant by the sentence you quoted is that people know intellectually where food comes from: Milk is cow lactation... beef is cow flesh... and honey is produced by bees in a more intimate fashion than many would like to admit to themselves.

Posted by: David | Sep 17, 2005 11:33:33 PM

Wow...so that's really true. Great, I will pass the information on to my husband. I love keeping the windows open in our house, especially in the Spring, but I always feel bad because of my husband's allergies.

Posted by: Jaime | Sep 18, 2005 2:42:57 AM

Jaime... Just remember, it has to be LOCAL honey (meaning from your area) or it won't do much good. To find a local apiary you can look in the yellow pages or simply call up the nearest office of the department of agriculture.

Posted by: David | Sep 18, 2005 8:52:17 AM

Happy Anniversary. Sweet post.

I know a couple who are within their first year of marriage and are using honey instead of salt oin their lechem mishnah for the whole year.

I could see you keeping this minhag forever.

Posted by: rabbi neil fleischmann | Sep 18, 2005 10:30:33 PM

What happened - no new blog for 3 days. (considering you could, at a pinch write on Mozei Shabbat.

Hope all is well with you and yours.

What a very lovely blog - the one about the honey.

Hope to read new blogs soon . yaffa

Posted by: savta yaffa | Sep 20, 2005 12:52:06 AM


Will there be anything worth seeing at Succot? My daughter would love to come and see the hive. (She just taught me the word for beekeeper is "Kavran" so I feel I owe her that...she is 4.5 by the way :)

Posted by: Safranit | Sep 20, 2005 5:08:37 PM

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