Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bees-a-Buzzing

When Stew and Félix last checked, about a month ago, their two beehives, particularly Stew's, appeared to be in a state of deep lethargy. The bees were buzzing around alright—both Stew and Félix were stung seriously enough to require medical attention—but the bees didn't seem to be making any honey. The rectangular frames on which the bees deposit the honey were practically barren.

It was an odd, even somewhat alarming, situation because we're in the middle of a very green summer, with plentiful rainfall and flowers popping everywhere, both wild and those that Félix has planted. Around the English Lavenders, here almost as common as weeds, there seemed to be a traffic jam of bees, but there was activity elsewhere too, including a patch of gaudy zinnias, Mexican sunflowers, gazanias and even some sunflowers.


A patch of English Lavender, with Mexican Feather Grass
 (golden color) and Mexican Sunflowers (bright red).  
Felix, who is averse to discarding anything—probably the result of growing in poverty—had saved a packet of sunflowers the wild birds had snubbed during the winter along with dahlia bulbs I thought were dead.

In front is a battalion of yellow flowers supposedly from
 South Africa and whose name I don't know.
What I do know is that they are extremely aggressive,
 marching out in all directions, and are very resistant to dry conditions. 
He discreetly planted them and a week ago showed me the results of his frugality: A batch of dahlias in a corner of the back garden, and sunflower plants practically everywhere, as if the seeds had been tossed from a helicopter. The sunflowers in the vegetable garden are ready to open.

"You shouldn't throw so many things away," Félix admonishes me regularly.

So where were the bees and their honey? Had we been hit by the plague that has decimated bee colonies in the States, particularly California?

Sorry, but we have no answers to those questions, even hypothetical or anecdotal, let alone scientific.

But the pall over the bees and the honey production apparently has lifted. This afternoon Stew and Félix discovered seven supers loaded with honey.

"Supers" are boxes in the hives each holding eight rectangular "frames" on which the honey collects. I wonder if our bees' fondness for lavender plants will affect the taste of the honey.

Entrance to front patio: At the bottom, Mexican sage,
 and over the wall, "Llamarada" vines.
Stew and Félix are very happy apiculturists right now, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a hand-cranked stainless steel centrifuge for extracting the honey, from an apiculture supply house in Aguascalientes, northwest of here.

That should minimize the mess of collecting and bottling the product and substantially increase production because under the previous extraction arrangement the owner of the centrifuge claimed half the honey as his fee.

Profits? Hmm, er, well. The centrifuge cost around US$400, including shipping. A friend of Stew has offered to split the costs if we let him use the extractor. But factor in the labor costs of maintaining the hives, packaging and labeling, and profits for this operation might not rise too far above the U.S. minimum wage.

There's also the emotional toll on the residents of Rancho Santa Clara. As I write this, two of our dogs are hiding under the desk after getting stung by a bee that got in the house. Our old dog Gladys flew into our office whining and didn't stir for about an hour.

The honey is great stuff though. Friends have mentioned it and a few weeks ago, during a coughing fit, I made a side-by-side comparison of Stew and Felix's honey versus the commercial stuff from the local supermarket.

No contest. Ours is far better—really and truly. So when I give the word, buy some, eh? Sorry, last year's production of about 20 jars is already exhausted.

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2 comments:

  1. Has anyone ever mentioned to the two of you that when a pastime becomes an obsession, it is no longer a hobby? Having said that, I just realized I have never sampled your honey on my visits. I need to remedy that. Of course, I can do that only by making a visit.

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  2. This is an unsolicited exclamation of the deliciousness of the honey. Especially on home baked biscuits on Sunday morning! Yummee.....The BEST honey I've ever eaten in my life....and I've lived a darn long life!

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