October 6 2015
Extracting honey is slow. One drip at a time, it falls through the sieve into the bucket below, wax building up on the sides. It’s as slow as the emergency room in a country hospital on a public holiday, where at 1pm the nurse says, ‘The doctor is just having a rest. I had to call him out very early this morning for a case of anaphylactic shock. He hasn’t had his breakfast yet.’ Which means that she has also been on duty since very early this morning. One of the other patients waiting with us says, ‘I’m just grateful that we’ve got a hospital’, and we agree. We might have to wait three hours for Martin to see someone about his very painful shingles, but at least he can see someone. The nurse bandages a young man’s foot and knee – injured yesterday while riding a motorbike and obviously left overnight in the hope that she’ll be right mate – deals deftly with a 6-year-old with a rash, and takes everyone’s blood pressure every hour. She offers cool drinks to those who are waiting, and dashes up and down the corridor, a sister of mercy dispensing painkillers to those in need.
But back to the honey. There are emails every day from our bee group telling of swarms that people want removed from their trees, patios, front fences, back walls – and one today in a wine barrel. It’s spring and the bees have woken up, they’ve smelt the nectar and they’ve started making honey. If we’re not careful our bees will be swarming like all the others, having filled up the frames in their hive and wanting somewhere else to store their rations. We have to get some of those full frames out of the hive and replace them with empty ones. Martin is simply not well enough, so I kit up, alone for the first time, trying to manoeuvre the smoker to calm the bees while simultaneously removing frames to inspect them. Trying to speed things up I head for the middle frames, and immediately find one that is full. I take it out and replace it with an empty frame. I remove another frame but the bees are getting cranky. They leave off crawling all over the frames to explode out of the hive and start bombing me. The smoker goes out and I’m left defenceless.
It’s disaster if you panic, so I walk quietly back up to the deck, open the smoker, battle with the tight lid and start it up again. Egg carton, pine needles, light it, let it get going, push the lid back down. Smoke threads serenely out through the nozzle, promising puffs of protection. The bees calm down a little, I inspect a few more frames then decide that … whatever that phrase is about something being better than valour, put the lid back on the hive and clamp it shut. I brush the remaining bees off the one heavy, full frame, and bear it into the kitchen where we strip off the cappings and slot it into the extractor. We already have two frames from the other hive, so the extractor is full and ready to go. Our first go with our brand new extractor! We turn the handle and soon there is honey gathering at the bottom. We flip the frames and turn the handle again. We open the tap at the bottom so the honey can run into a bucket, a thick glistening golden ribbon. Once it’s all in the bucket we remember that we were meant to strain it, and that’s when it runs so slowly, the wax collecting in the strainer, the honey drip dripping through. Slow as the emergency room in a country hospital on a public holiday.