The only thing I know about harvesting honey is from reading Winnie the Pooh, and that always seemed to end with Pooh's head stuck in a honey jar.
So when my friend Tracey Yeager asked if I wanted to learn how to collect honey from her hives, I said yes.
"Wear white and bring gloves," she told me. "And we'll see how you handle bee stings."
The white I could handle but I wasn't too sure about those bee stings. But nevertheless I drove west on Elkinsville Road in Indiana's scenic Brown County to the Red Hen Barn, Tracey's home on a hill where she keeps her horses, free range chickens and, of course, honey hives. When I pulled into her driveway, Tracey was already taking apart a hive. She was wearing what looked to me like walk-on-the-moon gear and she pointed to a pile of similar clothes, including a helmet with a net to cover my face.
"This is Langstroth hive," Tracey explained as we started removing the wooden boxes, each with a narrow frames coated with wax. "He was the one who discovered that bees need three-eighths of an inch of space to pass through and work effectively."
Tracey is an attorney by day, so she always studies whatever subject she's interested in very thoroughly. She offers to lend me one of her beekeeping manuals but I decline, saying I'd try to learn by watching and doing.
Back in her spotless kitchen, we remove our gear (no bee stings so far) and start removing the frames.
"Bees make a wax and spit it out, covering the honey," she tells me as she picks up a capping comb and brushes it across the wax, pushing it out of the way to reveal the honey combs, each soaked with rich amber honey.
The next step is to take each de-waxed screen and place it into an extractor. Though there are electric extractors, the one we're using has a hand crank. Taking my turn, I crank the handle, sending the frames spinning around. The centrifugal force, Tracey tells me, forces out the honey. It flows to the bottom of the extractor and then out of a little spigot into a big container. Or at least most of it does. My face is also getting pelted by droplets of honey. I decide to think of it as a honey facial. Once the five-gallon bucket is full, we take it to the kitchen counter and start to spoon it into jars.
"It's unfiltered honey because I don't microfilter it," Tracey says as we start to cap jars. "We'll probably extract between 200 and 220 pounds of honey today."
That's a lot of honey. But there's a high demand for Tracey's award-winning honey. By the end of each season, she seldom has more than a few jars left for herself.
One reason it tastes so good is that her bees feed on the wildflowers like goldenrod and sweet cloves growing in her pasture; the tulip, maple and locust trees in the surrounding woods; and the asters, roses and raspberry bushes in her garden. Both early summer and fall are harvesting time for her hives - she started off with two and now has 12 - each containing about 50,000 bees. It's a good thing she likes to keep busy - that's a lot of honey to collect.
Greek Yogurt and Honey
1 container plain Greek yogurt
Dried apricots, cut into small pieces
Place the yogurt in a sieve or wet cheesecloth, pushing it down to remove all the liquid. Place solids on a plate and top with the honey, walnuts and dried apricots.
Tracey recommends this as a dessert accompanied by a glass of sherry or port.
Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to Focus Department, The Herald-Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.