It should be a joke; along with the mechanic’s car, the carpenter’s house, the preacher’s kids, but food is different. There is an inherent delicate quality; floral and rich with umami with fresh foods. Over the years I have been part of a lot of food production from commercial fishing in Alaska to goat milking at Harmony Farm on Puget Sound and always fresh food is the best. Honey from your own hive tastes like your land; mine has tones of plums and apples, the fruity texture of blackberries and the spice of the late August weed flowers because I don’t harvest until the bees are done for the year. Its the only way to ensure they have enough of their own perfect food; they work so hard to fill my larder it’s only fair they have their own. Taking honey and feeding sugar (to me) seems as fair as getting a French chef McDonalds’ for dinner.
My favorite hive swarmed and the new queen failed; suddenly my “A” hive struggles. Setting a queen this late is risky; at best she will lay one summer brood and collect the late flowers before winter sets in. The bees become wan and listless, letting me poke though the hive without argument. Experienced keepers suggest to clear it out and collect the honey now. That however is not my nature; beekeeping is storytelling and to put down a good tale before it’s done isn’t my way. So getting a queen and sorting through the boxes to find the best place for her to get acquainted with her new empire a piece of honeycomb breaks off the size of two fingers- full of the early sweet flowers I set the pieces aside for later and rest the queen in their place. The workers swarm her cage and get defensive with me; a good sign. They will remove the sugar cap and set her to work, and perhaps the hive will survive another season. Hope survives; “The Queen is dead, Long live the Queen” they say; activity increases as order is restored.
For my part I take the sweet and plate it in the house; the kids aren’t excited. They prefer it when it’s filtered; a process that on my scale involves mashing the comb and filtering it through muslin. It’s a sticky process to be sure but not the worst job in beekeeping. Various ways of avoiding this task are available at great expense (the “flow hive” costing $500 more than a regular hive is one but an hour of my time, though valuable, isn’t worth that. Besides honey is more than just the pure liquid- it is the pollen and dust (and last year the smoke from wildfires), the full length and breadth of the land from which it was made. It is a story told to the mouth.
Shedding the gear I take two small slivers to the porch and look across the valley at the fields and vineyards from which the nectar is gathered. To be rooted in this place and time; connected to the earth and sky, flowers and forests is a skill I have learned late in life. So much of it was spent on the move; going to the next adventure to leave one behind; the next boat, port, road, bar, hot spring, mountain, lover that to really be satisfied in a moment seems a gift. To accept the imperfections, the stable that needs new walls, the hearth that needs new stone, the kids toys on the floor and the “Livestock Guard Dog” that plays with chickens and be at peace with things as they are and where they are is a long breath of clean air after seventeen years in the city.
Over the years I have shed the majority of my bad habits; smoking, drinking (well nearly, alcohol puts me to sleep before it makes me think I am funny now). My last remaining vice is once a week or so getting a lottery ticket. The clerk always says “sorry you didn’t win”.
“No” I reply “I already have.”