Sunday, September 13, 2009


The past few days have me thinking about very small things and how they add up. One knit stitch -- wrap, pull through, slip off -- measures less than 1/4" square. I pick the knitting up, do some repeats of that activity, put it down, attend to something else, so on and so forth. Sometimes, like this weekend, there's a long stretch of time. A drive, say, to a night away without the kids at a resort. (Wheeee!) I can do that one little stitch over and over and over again.

After I repeat it enough, and if I've paid attention to the bigger picture while doing the tiny movement, by tomorrow night I might have something like a warm hug for a baby in our neighborhood whose arrival is impatiently awaited.

But my efforts (even on socks with smaller stitches) pale in comparison to other incremental activities here on the homestead. One of my beehives was queenless last week, so I decided to do my favorite newspaper trick and combine them. While doing so, I pulled the capped honey supers off of all three hives. What a difference having drawn comb made! Each one was nearly full, in only a month and a half. I'm looking forward to next spring when I have supers and deeps full of drawn comb to offer them, if they're stored correctly in the meantime.

I rented the manual extractor because the deep frames fit better in it than in the electric one. My area was all set up, so I scraped the propolis off to save, since Kristin has me interested in some propolis preparations, scratched the caps loose on the cells, and loaded the extractor.

Small steps, repeated two times per frame, three frames per extractor load, ten frames per box, eventually it was about thirty-six frames of honey, some partial.

Spin the extractor round and round. I started counting. About 300 turns for one side of three frames, times two, so on and so forth. I wasn't trying to throw off every drop of honey; the bees will lick up and clean the bits I leave and I'm not feeling greedy, just blessed with abundance. Still, it takes quite a few turns to make a heavy filled frame into a light emptier one.

The honey flies off of the frame in tiny droplets. They sound like rain at first, but then I don't hear them as the wall becomes covered in flowing honey. Amazing to me as I watch, that each teensy droplet adds up. A warming cable encourages the honey to flow down, where it eventually gets deep enough to drag on the bottom of the frames. I open the gate and pour the honey into the filter on the bucket.

Another incremental issue. Each bit of scraped-off wax is very small. But then, so are the openings in the filter, one smaller even than the other. The wax clogs up the strainer and I have to periodically stop and transfer the wax to another bowl so the filter can strain and the extractor can be emptied so I can spin even more frames. Over and over. When I was done, I had twenty full quarts, a handfull of pint or so jars, and a bag of wax dripping what looked like about another quart of honey. At least 64 pounds this time.

And if I think I'm working hard or having to repeat actions?

Each of those cells is bwtween 4.7 and 5.1 mm at the top. Each one holds roughly 1/2 teaspoon of honey. 192 teaspoons in a quart, 384 cells per quart. 20 quarts x 384 cells is 7680 cells. How many bees it took to fill that cell-- well, a bee's honey stomach holds 70 mg of nectar, but I don't know its volume, only weight. I assume it's about 50 bee trips to fill a cell. 50 bee trips times 7680 cells -- 19,200 per quart or 384,000 trips for the twenty quarts. Almost 400,000 bee trips to do twenty quarts, and that's just this harvest.

Where do I go with these musings? Nowhere special. Just that little things add up, that I might want to take care in my valuation of what I do. I don't know which moment of attention paid to a fruit tree might pay off most, or which hug might tip a child over into "satisfied" for the day. I just have to pay attention and fulfill my duties with as much grace as I can muster, and assume that the bigger picture, the filled quarts, the grown child, will follow apace.


Jackie said...

Lovely post. Thanks for sharing. It makes me feel good about the sauce making and canning I did today...pint by pint.

Mr. H. said...

This was a really nice post, you are so right about the little things adding up. I often think about this in the early spring when there is so much to do in order to get the garden under way...and again towards fall when one can look back and see that something was actually accomplished.

A little bit at a time, post by post, you are talking me into the whole honey venture. It is absolutely amazing to me that you can get that much, that is most impressive.

Oh yeah, and I loved your honey calculations!:)

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks!

Helen said...

Just as the baby grows, cell by cell. Great post. And I'll enjoy my toast with honey with a great deal more appreciation now.

kitsapFG said...

Well said! I think bee keeping is an interesting activity and enjoy reading about it - but the additional thoughts on incremental steps was a nice addition.

Daphne said...

So I'm curious. The next step would be to make something from your honey. Can you use all that honey up over time? 20 quarts seems like so much. I suppose if I kept bees I'd change all those recipes that require sugar and use honey instead.

Stefaneener said...

Jackie, you're so right. There are times I wonder why I put in the effort, especially when I'm not saving "enough" by putting up tomatoes. Every bit, though, adds up.

Mr. H, I assume that at some point you'll be keeping bees. They're a nice addition to a garden, simply in terms of pollination. A hive will average 20-30 pounds of "spare" honey a year, although more or less is possible. You would need electric fencing for bears. . .

Tatyana, thanks for visiting!

Helen, you're right! I hadn't thought of that. There are two more after this one, so I get to play with lots of baby sweaters.

kitsapFG, it is always interesting, and often frustrating because I assume I'm not as "good" of a keeper as I should be.

Daphne, I could probably use it with granola and bread baking, drizzling on yogurt and putting on toast (although that doesn't help with the marmalade and jam consumption), but I believe I might sell some of this batch through our chiropractor for folks who want local honey for allergies. If I run low on the "good stuff," I'm willing to buy Sonoran Desert honey cheaply at Trader Joes because I believe them when they say it's not from China. Baking wrecks the honey anyhow, so it's less of an issue than eating honey.

Kristin said...

You are so right. My motto is: it all helps. I liked reading about you paying attention to the "little things that add up"; your intention kept us readers headed in a positive direction too.

Thanks for the insightful bee trip calculations. That's amazing isn't it? -And they never complain about their day's work. We should all be more like bees.

Michelle said...

I loved this post. My musings don't come together in such a nice coherent way. Thanks!

GP @ ABloominBlog said...

What a great post! Thanks for the reminder that sometimes you just have to step back and realize the small things do add up to wonderful big things.