It seems ludicrous today to even think that I never intended to harvest honey.
My original plan was to get one honeybee hive, tuck it away in a garden corner and let the bees do their thing.
Three years, and six hives later, I'm now very particular about where my bees are and when, and how, I harvest honey.
It's not my honey. Bees make, and store honey, as winter food. It takes one honeybee a lifetime to make 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. An average hive needs about 70 pounds of honey stored through summer to eat through a Missouri winter.
If the colony is strong, bees will make extra honey, which beekeepers - well, at least I do - try to inconspicuously sneak out of the hives. Don't think bees don't notice!
Honey is sometimes called the perfect food. It has all of the enzymes and nutrients humans need to sustain life.
As more money is spent on research into bees that are responsible for pollinating one out of every three bites of food we eat, science is discovering that honey itself has properties that keep honeybees healthy. If one has to choose between giving bees sugar water or honey over winter, honey is better.
My newest hive, Rachel, a colony I helped remove from an apartment off 12th Street earlier in April, is still in residence. The colony was not big enough this year to store enough honey so I gave them a little help.
As I was going through hives to remove extra honey frames, I saved 10 to give to the Rachel hive so the colony would have enough winter food.
The remaining frames are a rainbow of colors, each a different color and flavor.
Most beekeepers mix their honey into one batch before bottling, giving the honey names like "wildflower honey." If the hive was in a single crop field, the honey is called "clover" or "buckwheat."
I keep my hive frames separate so I can sample the flavor, and note the color, of each of the individual hive's honey.
One hive made a light spring honey with a tinge of bitterness courtesy of February oak flower pollen. That same hive mid-year had a robust, golden honey from summer flowers pollen. At the end of the season, there was only half of a frame of a dark, almost molasses-colored honey, probably from gathering goldenrod pollen in the early fall.
Although some people prefer the lighter, almost white honey flavor, the darker honey has the most enzymes and nutrients.
What is interesting about hand-harvesting honey is that although a frame may look dark, that doesn't mean the honey will be dark. Bees re-use wax comb so sometimes the comb makes stored honey appear darker.
Page 2 of 2 - I have been surprised more than a few times as I slice off the top layer of dark beeswax to find a golden honey underneath.
Raw, strained, un-mixed honey is very much like wine; no two crops will taste exactly the same.
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Copyright 2013 used with permission by Rolla Daily News - St. James Leader Journal - Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@ gmail.com.