50 Shades of Honey

I remember visiting a friend’s home when they were bottling honey from their beehives, the different colours of each jar was inspiring to me.

A few years later and it is my turn to harvest some honey.  I have only taken a little bit of honey from my hives in the past but this year was more than I was used to.

There are two hives at my workshop, one National and one Warre beehive.  After checking how much honey was there in September, it was decided to take 2 supers from the National beehive and 1 box from the Warre beehive.

Super frame

National super Warre box with honey comb

When the boxes made it home, it was decided to start on the National supers first.  From following the instructions carefully from various websites, we worked on one frame at a time cutting the honey comb out into a container and slicing it up into many pieces to help release the honey.  We then mashed the comb with a potato masher or a pestle.  Once the container was full of mashed up comb, we inserted muslin into the fruit press followed shortly after by our mashed up honey comb.  We continued this until the fruit press was full.

Slicing honey comb Mashing honey comb Honey Press

Before we even started pressing, honey began to flow through the muslin and was on its way.

We began to use the press and with the honey aided by gravity, it flowed through our 2 sieves before falling into a container.  We used sieves to catch any large bits that were not honey, this could have been wax, parts of bees or anything else, this process was repeated until both supers and Warre box were complete.

Honey Press Sieving honey

To my surprise, we harvested 10kg from super 1, 10kg from super 2 and 10.5kg from the Warre box.  What a fantastic surprise to have 30.5kg of pure honey from the most wonderful Honey bees living in Cwmbran, South Wales.

Now that we had a considerable amount of nature’s sweetener, it was decided to keep some and bottle some.  2 different types of jars were purchased and so began the bottling process, this was a most enjoyable experience on my senses.  The sights, smells and of course the tastes were fantastic, even awe inspiring and many other words that I would only find in a thesaurus, or that I make up like fan-dabbie-dosey.

Honey Jar

It was time to think about labels for these jars, it was quickly decided that we would design them ourselves and not pay for the quite frankly boring designs that are widely available or for the fees of a designer.  So after way too many hours learning about a certain design software, a design was chosen.  This however was not the end of the design story, as the printers who were to print them, needed slight modifications to the design for it to work.

Honey Jars

After many, many hours of work, from spending time with the Honey bees, research, cutting honey comb, using a press, bottling honey, tasting honey, designing labels and sending multiple emails to the printers.  This is something of which I thoroughly enjoyed, learnt so much, tasted so much, had so many headaches but would not change any of it.

“A constant reminder of the hazards of building beehives”

For this tale to be told, we need to go back in time to Friday 26th November 2011.  I must pre-warn you that this may be a long post as there is a lot to recall.

It began as any normal day does for me, my alarm goes off at 0730hrs, and I press snooze and this goes on until I get up some time later. 

The mornings are not the best time to be me; I am always even more tired than when I went to bed.   My hair looks like crap, I feel like crap and slowly I get myself downstairs to have some muesli and a cuppa tea while flicking through the news channels of RT, France24 and Al Jazeera (I cannot abide watching the British news broadcasting)

So after some 30 minutes of realising that I am actually awake, I drag myself upstairs to wash, clean teeth, use the toilet and decide to get properly dressed for whatever my day may hold for me, a regimental routine that is on autopilot every morning.

It was nearing 1530hrs on this Friday afternoon and I was using my Table saw to carry out some cutting of quite thin pieces of Western Red Cedar.  This is something which I have done before, felt comfortable doing it, so was enjoying my time, looking forward to finishing and going home.

Whilst cutting one of these thin pieces of wood, momentarily my focus and concentration were distracted, I foolishly looked away from the blade to look where my hands were going next, to pick up the next piece of wood, forgetting about the other hand that was still holding a piece a wood next to the 10inch blade spinning at some 4,500 rpm.

An indescribable noise was heard, followed by an automatic response to look at my hand…

I looked directly at my thumb and said several words that are unrepeatable on here…

It was serious, I began to panic as my thumb has never looked like this before, and it was very unnerving.  My thoughts were clear as day to me at that point, I need help and I need it now!!!

My best option was to see if anybody was down at the nearby house, so I rushed out of the workshop holding my left hand in the air.  As I reached the gate I thought that having my mobile phones on me would be a good idea, so I rushed back in to get them and rushed back to the gate.

Then I heard the table saw was still switched on, so I rushed back in to switch it off and rushed back out again.

I needed now to navigate my way past; one gate, followed by two horses, followed by another gate.  It was then a 100 metre dash across to my car, while still holding the left hand in the air, luckily for me I saw another car nearby so I rushed up to the house knocked and opened the door calling for the occupant, there was a reply.

“Hello, you alright”

Once I heard a reply, I kicked off my wellies so not to make a mess in the house and headed straight for the kitchen sink, not knowing that I was leaving a trail of blood across the floor.  

Relief… I was with someone. 

“What’s the matter” I heard

“Ummm, I’ve had a slight accident” I replied

By this time I had already pulled a chair up to the kitchen sink and was leaning with my hand over the sink, trying to come to terms with what has just happened.  This friendly voice appeared, I do not remember seeing a face, and it was the most calming person that I could have wished for at that time.

Only now, this was becoming a difficult time for me, shock was starting to kick in…

This soothing voice told me that they needed to look at my thumb, to see what’s happened, for some reason I looked at my thumb at the same time.

More unrepeatable words came from my lips, mainly because my thumb was looking drastically different to how it did 10 minutes previous when I last looked at it.  Only now after I just looked at it again for the second time, did the pain start, the feeling came back, the shock began to have a massive effect on me. 

I guess previously I was fully alert and realised that I needed to get to help or safety, now that I have found help I can relax but with that came the pain.

What had happened was that the blade spinning at some 4,500 rpm had gone through 90% of the top of my thumb.  Only a little bit was intact and that was acting like a hinge holding the tip of the thumb to the rest of the thumb.  It looked like a mess; it was a bloody mess, I was told 

“It looks like a little bomb had gone off inside my thumb”.

I could feel parts of the thumb, which was very uncomfortable.  After going through what felt like an eternity of time with shock, going through stages of cold, sweating, feeling sick, dizzy, back to sweating, non stop fidgeting, back to cold, dizzy and back to sweating. 

An ambulance had to be called to take me to hospital as the person that was helping me wouldn’t have been able to lift me if I had collapsed.  Listening to the telephone call to 999 was cruel, it took such an age, and the person on the other end of the phone was asking the necessary questions needed to get someone out to me.  I heard her say

“What the pain currently like, marks out of 10”

“12, 12, JUST HURRY UP!!!” I replied

(Patience is one talent that is hit and miss with me sometimes).

So an ambulance and two very calm paramedics arrived and gave me some Morphine which truthfully took the pain from 12 down to 9.  One paramedic spent some time looking for any other bits of my thumb following in my footsteps, none were found.  There was a bouncy drive down to the Newport A&E which made me feel quite sick, probably due to a mixture of shock, morphine and very soft suspension on the ambulance.

The waiting game began, 6 hours had passed which involved squirming around in a bed, walking around the corridor in A&E, seeing some friendly faces turning up to give moral support was nice, having the bandages removed by this sadist member of staff who had no consideration to my pain levels whatsoever and going for an X-ray. 

For my viewing pleasure while I was there, there were a guy with a bandage around his head walking around eating a McDonalds causing mischief which needed security to constantly return him to his cubicle and countless staff rushing around responding to beeps and telephones going off.

I was very fortunate to meet a very lovely nurse, her smile was reassuring, she was gentle, chatty and friendly unlike the sadist I met a short time earlier.  I’m not sure if it was the morphine or her smile that was taking away my pain.

The X-ray showed a problem, the top part of the bone in my thumb was in many, many pieces, this was not good; however, the X-ray was much easier to look at than my thumb itself.  After speaking with a Consultant about my options and having a final dressing put on by my lovely smiling Nurse, I was sent home, some 6 hours later with my arm in a sling to guarantee my arm stayed elevated.

The following day was spent with 9 hours at Morriston Hospital in Swansea at the Plastic Surgery Ward awaiting emergency surgery.  0900hrs we were there to meet an expert and he gave me two options of which I could not decide, so I asked him this

“If you were in my position what would you choose??”

I went with his choice…

The day was really interesting spending time with the other guys in the ward, chatting about our lives and funny stories, all of us with bandages somewhere on our bodies.   Waking up finding that my thumb had bled out all over my nice shirt, so had to make a phone call to ask for a new shirt to wear home. 

My name was called, so I got dressed into the required attire and went for a stroll with the member of staff to a holding area to be asked a ridiculous amount of questions when my brain was only thinking of one thing.  Previously after I came around after an operation, I had no memory or idea of how I got there and as I initially woke up I bolted upright in bed causing lots of pain, did not want that to happen again (this is not my first time going under a general anaesthetic).

Knowing what the outcome was going to be before I had the operation was hard to take initially; I was told that I would lose half of my thumb, coming to terms with that was hard being a Joiner working with tools needing dexterity, but after the operation, life felt much calmer, later that day I was allowed to go home. 

It was only a few days later that I went for a check-up back at Morriston Hospital that I realised the wonders of the staff in that Plastic Surgery ward.  They managed to save quite a bit of my thumb; I was told that I would lose half of my thumb when in fact I had only lost 7mm.  This made me appreciate my thumb so much more and now you wouldn’t be able to tell that I even had an accident unless I pointed it out to you. 

The finger nail has grown back, sensitivity is impaired and my time as the reigning thumb wars champion may come to an end when I’m next challenged.