Clary Sage Pollination and Honey Extraction

July 1, 2014 · 8 comments

clary sage // Wayward Spark

Henry has contracted with growers to do a handful of local crop pollinations this year (blueberries for Radke’s Blueberries and Gibson Farms plus raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries for Sunset Valley Organics), but the one crop pollination that he’s been most excited about is clary sage. Clary sage is known for its medicinal properties and for its usefulness in cosmetics, and the purple or white blooms can be seen in fields around the Willamette Valley.

Mike Hathaway is a young grass seed and filbert farmer in Corvallis, Oregon (more about Mike in this article in the local newspaper), and he’s growing a small field of clary sage for the first time this year. Henry knows Mike from their college days when they were both studying agriculture. They’ve crossed paths a few times over the years and have chatted about beekeeping, so when Mike needed bees for pollination for the first time (grass seed and filberts are both wind pollinated), he gave Henry a call.

Henry moved several pallets of bees to the edge of the field around Memorial Day just as the sage started to bloom. The photos in this post were taken on June 22 when the bloom was on the decline. In the month prior, the bees worked the clary sage pretty hard, but they also probably brought in nectar and pollen from nearby hairy vetch and blackberries.

clary sage field // Wayward Sparkclary sage honeybee pollination // Wayward Sparkpulling frames of clary sage honey with Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

As the clary sage bloom died down, Henry wanted to pull frames of honey in order to keep this varietal batch separate from the later season valley nectar flows. Unlike the frames containing our earlier varietals, these frames of honey were mostly capped already, and because he knew the end result would only be four or five buckets of honey, he decided to extract on-site.pulling frames of clary sage honey with Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkpulling frames of clary sage honey with Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Full frames of honey are too heavy to shake to remove the bees, so Henry used a special beekeeping brush to sweep them off the frames he wanted to extract.

pulling frames of clary sage honey with Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkclary sage honeybee pollination with Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Mike the grower, came out to help and stayed the whole time. He was very curious to learn more about both honeybee pollination and honey extraction. Mike and his wife are big honey fans, and he actually traded 100 pounds of filberts in-shell with us for honey last fall. We’re still working our way through the filberts, but Mike and his wife had eaten all their honey and were ready for more.

clary sage honeybee pollination // Wayward Sparkpulling frames of clary sage honey with Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Henry pulled any frames from the top box of each hive that had capped honey.

clary sage // Wayward Sparkextracting clary sage honey on-site with Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

We have a four-frame, hand-crank extractor that can be set up on the back of Henry’s flatbed truck. It’s not ideal, but it’s pretty efficient for small-batch extractions, and we had a hand washing station there as well to keep things as clean as possible. With farm-direct laws in Oregon, honey sold direct to consumers does not necessarily need to be extracted in a licensed facility. We do, however, hold ourselves to a high standard of sanitation when working on this messy task.

extracting honey with Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkhoney extraction // Wayward Spark

Extracting on-site works pretty well when there’s still a lot of nectar resources available for bees. We hardly noticed the few bees buzzing around the truck. Later in the season when food is scarce, bees will actively rob any honey they can find and are significantly more aggressive. An operation like this would be a honeybee mob scene in another month.

One of the biggest benefits of extracting on-site is that the wets (empty or nearly empty frames of extracted comb) can go immediately back into the hives to be refilled with incoming nectar. Because he’s been focusing on increasing his number of hives for the past couple years, Henry doesn’t have a surplus of frames of drawn comb. Swapping full frames of honey out for frames with only foundation can slow honey production because the bees have to draw comb before they can fill it.

extracting clary sage honey on-site with Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

We also got a little help from the kids.

Old Blue Raw Honey's clary sage honey // Wayward Spark

The resulting honey (unfiltered in the photo above) is light in color and bright in flavor. We STILL haven’t bottled any for sale yet, but we’ll be getting there soon.

Mike is planning on growing a much larger field of clary sage next summer, so hopefully, Henry and his bees will be back out here a year from now.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Marion July 2, 2014 at 8:07 am

It’s always a great pleasure to read your detailed explanations – I do learn a lot through your blog. Thank you for this! And, of course, the colors on these pictures are just beautiful.


Carolyn July 2, 2014 at 11:09 am

ditto what Marion said!

I missed out on your honey back at Chrstmas but look forward to your future offerings. Thanks for sharing!


Lisa M July 2, 2014 at 1:07 pm

I bought honey last year and am anxiously awaiting your sale this year. We have 4 hives that we started just this spring so no honey this year but maybe next year! Your bee posts have been informative plus exciting to read. Thanks for your posts!


Cynthia Robinson July 4, 2014 at 2:05 pm

Out of curiosity, when harvesting honey now vs. later…can you harvest more now and not leave as much for the hive since there is more nectar available right now? Or is there always a minimum about of honey you are supposed to leave in the hive no matter what time of year?


Caitlyn July 6, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Love your beekeeping posts, so informative. It makes me want to expand my apiary much sooner, but it will come in time. Does the clary sage honey have a stronger taste?


meg @ joy of cooking July 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Absolutely fantastic and beautiful post. How can I get some of your honey? Do you sell it anywhere in PDX or should I seek you out? ;)


Camille July 7, 2014 at 10:32 pm

We will have it for sale in Portland, but we haven’t bottled our 2014 honey yet. I’ll be sure to make a big announcement (on every media channel I have access to) when it’s ready.


Kate July 12, 2014 at 12:06 pm

What sort of flavour does clary sage honey have?


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