Sunday, June 17, 2018

Turret Honey

      This fall, we noticed a significant uptick in indoor bee activity at our residence.  Our children complained frequently about the fact that dead bees seemed be accumulating in cereal bowl sized servings in light fixtures and crawling about on our floors, sometimes stinging the bottoms of our feet.
       After the problems seemed to be getting worse, rather than going away, we decided to investigate during the winter.  It was determined by the professionals we hired that bees had decided to make a home in the framing of the turret feature on the front of our house.  I had always wondered what it was for.

      We were advised that it would probably be necessary to remove a portion of  our roof assembly, especially if they had expanded their hive beyond the immediate confines of the turret and into the general attic area.  It was explained that it would be necessary to wait until after the rainy season was over, so that we could utilize a "bee friendly" method of extraction and allow for the roof assembly to be opened up for an extended period of days or weeks.  We had decided that we wanted to pursue this more humane method of relating to our friends in the insect kingdom, as we are  untimately dependent on them for our human agricultural needs and survival.
      We encouraged our children to share their space with these humming guests until the weather improved. Morning bee sweeps became part of indoor living. Lizzy, who is fatally allergic to bee stings and carries an Epi-pen, moved to northern California.  Sarah stayed in her position to hold until relieved, just like Private Ryan.
        By April, the torrential rains that characterize typical Orange county wet seasons had abated sufficiently to allow us to proceed.

     We decided to hire Dan the BeeMan, who seemed quite confident and knowledgeable.  When the day arrived, I decided to go up into the attic and scout out the situation.  I had been up there a few months earlier and there was no evidence of any visible hive.  I climbed up the ladder and flipped on the switch.  Instantly, the humming started and I noticed a slow swarm start to mingle from a set of honeycombs that was now quite visible coming down from the framing below the turrent.  There were hundred of dead bees on the attic flooring.  I cut the lights and scuttled down the ladder as if it was a crash-diving sub before closing the hatch like I was escaping from a childhood monster.

     We began the investigation at the top of the turret, where there was a lot of bee action commuting back and forth from the small gaps in the exterior building envelope where the turret assembly met the main roof.

The shingling and felt was removed to expose the sheathing.

     The sheathing was removed to reveal a massive infestation that swarmed our team of extractors, protected by their bee apparel (known as Bee-wear in the industry).  They pumped soothing smoke into the void.

Once the roof was opened up, everybody got pretty mad and the extent of these five-foot long honeycombs was revealed.  The smoke was increased.  It seemed important to bake these critters into a more mellow state during this critical invasion of their inner kingdom.

One of the key combs was removed in a frame to draw out the guards. 

 It was placed into a box immediately outside the turret.  

Our attendant scooped them up in huge wads and gently escorted them into the box. 

       Other bees then began voluntarily streaming into the box by the tens of thousands, occasionally stinging one of our bee techs in the tiny gaps in his Bee-wear.

      The roof had to be left open for most of the week as the bees began furiously cleaning the framing of honey.  They do a far better job of this than humans.  The port of entry was a series of gaps left in the blocking at the end of the turret rafters.  

      It was sealed up once the bees had cleaned up their former domain.  Our bee harvesters returned in a week to extract the remaining thousands of bees that continued to swarm around the exterior of our home, like Ronin.  They estimated that our hive had maxed out at about 60,000 bees, so our pad is no longer the high-density housing it used to be.

     In the interim we were presented with four huge bags filled with honeycomb, nectar and honey.  We learned that the nectar honeycombs, which Dan helpfully sorted for us, lasted about a month before it would begin to ferment and therefore needed to be extracted and consumed first. 

I went online to research extracting honey from honeycombs and learned a great deal. One of the things I discovered is that I did not own any honeycomb tools, nor did I have the enormous stainless steel honeycomb centifuge that spins the carousels of  framed honeycombs to force the honey out of each individual chamber, as demonstrated in every you-tube video I saw.  

     I had none of what I needed and so proceeded with a more primitive approach. I probably got about  3 or 4 pints of this fabulous liquid in a painstaking process that included tweezering  out hundred of individual bees and bee parts and mashing the wax to force out the nectar.  It only took about 2 hours per pint and I had three bags of the more immortal honey-not-nectar to go.  We could theoretically take our time with the honey, but there was still the issue of hundreds of dead bees that had to be addressed.
     Wendy had decided to go with the "set it and forget it" method recommended by Dan.  This involved simply cutting a hole in the bag, supending it over a collendar and cheescloth strainer and leaving it alone for half a day for each bag.  She obtained a couple of gallons with about ten percent of the time and effort I put in.  I might have obtained a couple of pints more, but she completely skipped the whole bee carcass extraction portion of the process.  Hers was the completely superior method in terms of efficiency.

   In the end, we had many jars of nectar and honey that was fabulous, clear and delicious.  I ate more honey that week than in any other year of my life.  We decided to call it "Turret Honey" in honor of its truly homemade origin.

     We took a pint of the rare nectar to my partner Ryan, who makes great craft beer with his co-conspirator Steve.  They told me that they figured they could whip up a batch of honey blonde with the fruits of our lumber and teach us a few things about how to brew up some memorable beverage.

David and I went over to Steves house in Long Beach, where we hung out with Steve, Steve's dad, Ryan.....

 ......and Steve's chickens 

     while we got a lesson on how to make beer.

     I designed a label from a great old photo of the deck of my dad's cruiser, the Manchester.  This picture was taken during a sublime moment at the end of a day of shelling the mountains above Wonsan Harbor in North Korea.  Dad's cruiser had turret-mounted fast firing naval rifles that had huge shell casings, like bullets, instead of powder bags, which allowed it pour fire precisely and rapidly.  
The lone observer appears to be cooling the end of the day and the mood of the moment seems to beg for "Miller time."

     Ryan and Steve worked hard to get this one-of-a-kind brew bottled, charged and labled by Father's Day.  We went up to Long Beach the night before and picked up a bunch.  Our whole family celebrated Father's Day at my Dad's assisted living facility (Aegis) in Laguna Niguel today with a big brunch that featured our family brew and a tip of the hat to the days and nights my Dad spent bringing carnage and preserving democracy on this ragged peninsula.  He did more than Donald to move the needle of hope in the Forgotten War. We are lucky enough to still get to spend time with him on this day and burp to the illustration of high seas action and it's epilogue.

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful Father's Day and remembering that....

These are the Days.