The SAAS Bee Club, along with faculty advisor Melinda Mueller and Dexter Chapin, gathered in the Arts Center boy’s dressing room Friday to finish the first honey harvest of this year’s “bumper crop.” Under the makeup mirror lights and costume displays, budding beekeepers worked through the science and mechanics of honey gathering. And for the first time in several years, we can expect a second harvest in about one month, Melinda said.
This first harvest yielded more honey than last year, and around the end of October, the bees will have finished capping the remaining combs that weren’t ready for harvesting last week (when the honey is ripe, the bees build a beeswax covering over each cell in the comb to protect it for later consumption).
To extract the honey, students cut those wax caps off each frame of comb, and then use the centrifugal force of a hand-cranked spinner to force the honey out of the cells. After that, the honey is filtered and jarred—special enzymes introduced by the bees guarantee a virtually indefinite shelf life and give it properties that have been historically used for medicine.
The extra honeycomb that’s been scraped from the frames makes a tasty, chewy treat that Melinda calls “the world’s best chewing gum.” Chewing the comb is an interesting textural experience that fills the mouth with rich honey flavor.
Melinda hopes to expand the bee buzz at SAAS with a potential science elective about bees once the STREAM building creates space for more science classes. The class would likely include beekeeping as part of the curriculum.
“I would love to do a biology of bees elective,” Melinda said. “There’s been really cool stuff done with bees as bioindicators. You can look up what kind of pollen and pollution they’re carrying. They’re like this huge army of small data gatherers.”
As to why this year’s harvest is booming while last year’s was non-existent, bees are such sensitive creatures that it’s hardly possible to say.
“We’ve lost hives to colony collapse before, and when it’s cold and rainy the bees are very cranky,” Melinda said. “But the summer before last had all the hallmarks of a perfect harvest summer, the bees looked healthy, and we had no honey last Fall.”
Whatever their reason for increased productivity, the bees made enough honey for 38 jars of “Seattle Academy Amber: Nectar from the Tree of Learning.”