Recently I visited waitbutwhy.com and downloaded a sobering document. I’m sober anyway, not having touched the product of yeast + sugar for many years, but this document jolts me into full clarity of mind. Laser focused sobriety. That could be my new super-power. The document is a one page chart which breaks a 90 year lifetime down into tiny blocks of one week. For those without a calculator or a talent for arithmetic that is 4,680 tiny squares. I then ticked off all the weeks I have lived so far (that’s the sobering bit) so that I get a visual representation of roughly how long I have left, assuming I am fortunate enough to make it to “four score years and ten”. I think the idea is to give me a kick up the backside, stop procrastinating and grab the reins of life, galloping purposefully to my grand destiny, hopefully stopping to enjoy the view along the way. Funnily enough, it actually works. I’m writing this aren’t I?
Yesterday was a big day in the Donohoe household because I took the first honey of this season off my monster hive. There always seems to be one hive which towers above the rest, and in my case this year it is the imaginatively named “hive 5”. As a prolific queen lays and her colony expands you have to add more and more boxes to the hive to make sure there is enough space. The bigger the colony, the more honey they make, as long as there is available forage. In a good year I get a honey crop in June, which is always my favourite one, and another in August. The June crop is light and floral and stays runny for a long time. The August honey is still good but has a less interesting flavour, although I get more of it.
My bees are generally quite easy going, and this trait is particularly desirable when it comes to taking their honey. Some beekeepers use clearer boards but I have a system worked out which is quick and effective. I pull frames of honey from the hive, brush off the bees with a bee brush (made from the finest walrus hair) and hand them to my daughter, who quickly pops them into a box and puts the lid on before many bees can follow. This can make the bees a tad irritable but I only got one sting and the whole exercise was very quick. That’s the easy part.
I then have to carry boxes laden with honey frames, which can be quite heavy, across a field and into my car, then drive the 10 miles home and take them to a hut in my garden. It was built to be an office but it has become the honey extraction hub of the Donohoe bee empire. I then cut the top layer of wax off the frames using a knife, place them into my honey extractor, and spin them round by furiously cranking a handle so that centrifugal force pulls the honey onto the sides of the stainless steel tank, then it runs down and collects at the bottom. This is then run through filters (to remove pieces of wax and perhaps the odd bee) into a plastic tank where it settles, and later on is tapped into glass jars and stored for future consumption. The devine aroma of fresh honey fills the room and will attract any nearby bees, so the windows are kept closed.
There then follows an extremely lengthy cleaning up exercise. Anyone who extracts honey in their house – say the kitchen – is likely to be in big trouble with their nearest and dearest, because honey seems to get everywhere and you can never quite clean it all up before it gets spread somewhere else.
Finally I can sit back with a jar of perfect honey and a spoon, and ponder on how many more times I’ll do this before my allotted number of weeks is up.