Sunday, 14 March 2010

Oh what a glorious thing to bee

A view from the “Top and Tail” of the day. At an early morning market I got talking to a British immigrant to New Zealand (she’d lived here for as long as me), who in six years had found it very hard to settle. Her parting comment was “I’m not surprised the Kiwi bird has been adopted by New Zealanders as a national symbol, because it sums them up well; they are reclusive, shy, and only come alive at night”. Whilst I could identify with her difficulties settling in our adopted country, I couldn’t totally agree with her assessment of the locals.
Fast forward to 11pm and picture the scene; three ladies sitting in a living room drinking cups of tea. The lighting in the room is subtle, and all three of them are watching a nocturnal scene through the French windows. Four big blokes, two dressed completely in white overalls, scrubbing and cleaning a collection of very odd looking equipment by the light of the moon and a few garden lights. One of the ladies smells of honey and is trying to make sure her sticky clothes don’t leave any amber nectar on the furniture.
The sticky female was me; I had just taken refuge for a few moments inside the house, to escape all the mosquitoes that had been eating me for dinner.
The evening was the highlight of my life in NZ so far. My bee-keeping buddy had invited me to help in the annual honey harvesting. The fraternity is wide and a fascinating collection of people from many walks of life. We took a drive north to the valley of the “Honey Extraction Beast”, a contraption that would have made Heath Robinson jealous. The HEB is joint owned by a couple of apiarists, and stored in this northern suburb. When we arrived, we were invited into the house for dinner. This was the first of many delightful surprises during the evening. It felt like a Harvest Home supper, as the table was weighed down with an amazing home cooked meal; and very welcome, as I had not had the time to eat a meal since breakfast.
We set up a line of equipment to process the honey. 29 boxes of comb (around 230 combs in total) were stacked at one end. Next to this, an aluminium bath with a rag stopped tap. Overhanging this was a heated electric knife for shaving off the wax caps on the comb. All the wax fell into the bath, to be processed later. Next the “Honey Extraction Beast”, which looked like the lovechild between a 19th century laundry cooper (with mangle) and a Caribbean oil drum. It spun four combs at a time in vertical cages, the final product oozing out of a tap at the bottom. The equipment was arranged on a massive black plastic tarpaulin and an arrangement of buckets of hot water sat on the edge, for washing of hands and equipment.
Add into this scene quite a few disgruntled bees that had also made the trip as passengers on the combs, and a mafia mob of mosquitoes.
It took us just over 4 hours to process the combs, and a good half an hour for the subsequent honey tasting. Three different varieties from three different parts of the city. One was judged to be quite citrusy/flowery and light, the other rich and dense, the other a good varietal bush honey.

After dropping off the empty hives at another suburb on the way home, I arrived back just before midnight.
Henceforward, having honey running down my wrists to my elbows will no longer seem unusual or even inpolite!

1 comment:

Poetikat said...

Excellent post, Jane! Despite my fear of bees, you've made me wish I could have been a part of your adventure. (I do love honey, mind you.)