Rummaging through cabinets in my utility room, I found a plastic bucket of honey I had forgotten I even had. Talk about finding gold!
The harvest was from fall 2013. One of my honeybee colonies had been working hard into October so I waited to take some of their extra honey until later than my other colonies. This particular honey was molasses-dark, the flavor wildflower-full with a layer of goldenrod that just keeps it from being too sweet.
Most honey offered for sale in grocery stores is commercially-produced. Some commercial honey operators mix all of their honey into one batch, sometimes adding flavors. Others will place hives in the middle of fields with one crop so they know the honey produced is one note - clover, blueberries or another singe crop.
My bees, on the other hand, have access to both a surrounding forest as well as gardens within a 2-3 mile radius of my hillside garden. Although they may sit within feet of each other, each colony will produce a different-flavored, and colored, honey, depending on what flowers the bees visit. Honey color also is changed by how often they walk over the stored honey. Pollen-covered feet can make stored honey darker as they trample over it.
I usually keep harvested honey separate so I can compare what each hive produces. Last year, however, I was running late with my harvesting so I mixed all of the honeys. Uncle Tony, who remembers helping his parents with hives on their Louisiana strawberry farms in the 1920s, said it was some of the “best honey” he had ever tasted. He knew that, like wine, I may never have the same honey again.
Then came time to harvest honey from my hard-working colony and they threw me for a loop. Not only was the honey dark but it had a little white “foam” that I couldn’t remove. I tucked the honey-filled bucket away until I could figure out how to better strain it.
The key, according to several beekeepers, is to use a small sieve and cheese cloth, which explains why I have lived with a package of cheesecloth in my dish towel drawer for a year. For the life of me I knew I had ordered it for a reason but I couldn’t remember why, exactly. And then I found that stored bucket of dark honey.
Honey is considered the perfect food. Honey stored in King Tut’s tomb more than 2,000 years ago was still good when the tomb was last excavated in the early 1900s.
Drawing the cheesecloth over one of my finer sieves, I strained the dark honey to remove froth, which are crystalized sugar crystals. Does no harm but the bottled honey looks better without it. This honey is so dark, the lighter froth is easy to see.
Some people have been surprised to see how dark this honey is. Raw strained honey will have all of these color, and flavor differences. The darker the honey, the more beneficial enzymes in the honey although some people choose lighter colors over dark.
I was thrilled to have any honey. Instead of harvesting honey this fall, I chose to leave all stored honey with my colonies. Bees make honey for winter food so it didn’t seem right to take it away. Each colony needs about 70 lbs of honey per hive to make it through winter.
Two beekeeping friends will get the first bottles. They were kind enough earlier to share some of their honey with me. The rest will be bottled to share with family and friends, and I will keep a small supply to get me through winter.
My gift tags originally only had my name on them. I went back and added “from the girls” and I. All I did was bottle the honey, the worker bees did all of the work!