Holmes honey harvest
August 10, 2023
A new family holiday has etched its way into Bill and Suzanne Holmes' lives, as friends, children, grandchildren, and more happily land at their home each summer to help with the honey harvest.
"We are lucky," Bill Holmes said. "So many families split up and have little contact. All our girls get along. It is wonderful."
Holmes took up beekeeping about a decade ago. It was, according to his daughter Sara Maurer, another in a long line of hobbies that Holmes immersed himself in until he was an expert. Growing up, she said, the children benefitted from his curious and focused nature, learning about many things, and picking up great and various skills along the way.
"I'm kind of very eclectic," Holmes said. "I will really get into something and I get to the point where maybe I'm not quite mastering, but getting close to it, and then I go off and start looking in another direction."
Prior to his decision to take up the art of beekeeping, Holmes kept running into practitioners.
There was the old boss with hives on his property; a beekeeping uncle who showed no fear amidst their buzzing, while Holmes hung back, wearing a veil, uncertain.
"I kept getting tapped," he said.
In the first instance, he thought "Why don't I have bees? He has bees. I should have bees."
The second time he wondered again, "Why aren't I doing this?"
Ten years later there are 11 hives on Holmes' property, where once stood two. There are no plans to give it up, but Holmes acknowledges a day will come when the boxes are too heavy for him to lift.
Last Thursday, when I arrived, I was handed a beekeeping suit. No longer the lean, agile person I once was, I worried that it wouldn't fit.
"It's for a 7-footer," Holmes told me.
Perfect for Chewbacca or Dikembe Mutombo, I thought.
And me, it turns out.
I pulled it on, and Sara graciously helped me with all the zippers, explaining that I wanted the hood to rest against the back of my head, so the mesh wouldn't rest against my face, an easy target. Next came the gloves.
Stepping into the sea of bees swimming around the scene, I drew in deep breaths trying to calm my nerves, protected as I was, as Holmes and his daughter began removing the boxes from the top of the hives. The boxes are called supers and they contain the frames full of honey.
They had already used a couple methods to encourage the bees to move out of those boxes. One is to place a lid on top of the box. A felt lining inside is sprayed with a scent of almond and cherries, and the aroma spreads as the lid is warmed by the sun. The bees generally don't like it and move along.
After the box was carried to the truck, Sara's son Luke used a blower to send more bees on their way, before Sara threw a lid on top of the stacked boxes, so the bees couldn't get back inside.
They did this over and over until the boxes containing the honey from all 11 hives were moved to the garage.
All that hard work meant that there would be fewer bees to contend with when they began to harvest, work which is done indoors.
Two days later, I returned. I steeled myself again as I made my way to the back door sans bee suit, my path lined with bees. They knew their treasure was on the other side of that wall.
I watched as family and friends took frames out of boxes one by one. At one station, someone prepared the frames, and at two more stations, people took turns removing the caps that cover the honey. The frames were then placed into the extractor or spinner, which spun the honey out of the frames and into buckets before it would be poured into jars, honey bears and pints.
The youngest volunteer, Owen Lai, 6, was in charge of errant bees that were missed in the move. He wandered around with the ShopVac, sucking them up, making sure no one was in danger of getting stung.
"It took us four hours, which was really fast," Holmes said of the harvest. "Once we got going, we were moving right along."
The boxes were weighed before extraction began. They added up to 800 pounds and at 12 pounds per gallon, Holmes' harvest was pretty close to 67 gallons.
After they were done, the boys took the supers and frames to a field some distance from the hive. At first one or two bees showed up, but it was't long before there were a lot more, and Yellowjackets, and wasps besides, all working to clean those frames until they were dry and ready to begin the cycle again.
The following day, Holmes opened up his harvest room and equipment to some other local beekeepers, who with fewer hives, went home with five gallons and eight gallons themselves.
Treasure indeed, to have family and friends, honest work, and honey besides.