Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First Honey Harvest!

My first small honey harvest at "Wayward Girl Apiaries"...lol!...
One afternoon last week I put a triangle bee escape in place under the one half-empty medium honey super that I had on my biggest hive since mid summer (after they successfully re-queened themselves from eggs). The nights are dipping into the 30's and 40'sF now on and off, so I figured I needed to pull that super off and be done with it before super cold weather sets in here. A day and a half later I took off the super and brought it into the garage, where I shooed about 5 straggler bees out before bringing it into my kitchen.
Those triangle escapes work quite nicely! They are like a maze where the bees can leave the honey super but they can't find their way back in, or at least they can't figure it out for a day or two. No need for those stinky chemical bee repellents to clear the bees out of honey supers. Low tech rules.

The 10 frame medium super had been foundationless, with popsicle stick guides. I hadn't really expected the bees to build it all out from nothing in mid summer, but they did complete a few frames and started a few others. I had 4 frames that were mostly all capped honey on both sides, and two more frames that had about half their areas capped....so a total of about 5 frames of mostly capped honey, a little bit empty around the frame edges where the comb floats free.

I picked off only about 6 dead bees- there was no brood in the comb either (I had placed a queen excluder after they started capping honey several weeks ago)- nice clean new honeycomb! I would have made some jars of chunk honey IF I had had a bunch more, but I wanted as much liquid honey for my tea this winter as I could get. With a knife, I cut the slabs of capped comb into a big bowl. Then I used my hands to squeeze and break up all the comb into a mush...that was fun! I think being careful about squishing every little chunk of comb up yields the most honey in the end. This is the 'crush and strain' method of honey harvesting, for people who haven't bought a frame-spinning extractor machine yet.

I had bought a 5 gallon double stacking bucket setup for straining and draining honey, with a fine strainer net and sieve and a honey gate spigot. I didn't really have enough honey to justify using the big bucket set this time, but I wanted to test it all out anyway so I'd be an old hand next year when I (hopefully) get a good Spring harvest.
The bucket strainer setup was very nice and convenient. After thoroughly squishing the comb and honey with my hands into a mash about the consistency of thick apple sauce, I used a rubber baking spatula and scraped every last bit into the net mesh in the top bucket. Right away it began to drip into the bottom bucket, which was gratifying!
I sat the bucket stack on a table in the sunny windowsill to make it as warm as possible. I let it continue to drip through the sieve-net for 48 hours. During the day the sun warmed the draining buckets by the window, and at night I threw a tablecloth over it and the nearby lamp to keep the whole thing flowing, since our house is about 65F at night now. Honey flows better when it's not cool. The lamp kept the buckets at about 75-80F. You never want to actually heat honey, which destroys some of its health benefits... but a nice warm room temperature keeps things flowing and draining nicely.
I set the empty messy honey super outside, and the bees have been happily cleaning it up for me- they remove every speck of honey and leave only the carefully cleaned comb for me to then store in the basement til Spring.

After two days dripping from the netting bag, it looked like I had about a GALLON of pure honey in the lower bucket- way more than I thought I would get!
I used the spigot to fill various clean jars I had been saving. Honey can be stored just as is in clean jars- no need to 'can' it or process it.  Pure honey honey doesn't spoil. Sort of a hodge-podge of jar sizes and shapes, but no matter- the honey tastes WONDERFUL!!! Very potent 'honey' taste, nothing like sugar syrup for sure. I can't detect any distinctive floral notes, but it was made during a time when the Japanese Knotweed and goldenrod were in full bloom around my neighborhood. It does look to me as though we got just about a gallon of honey all told.

After cleaning the buckets and bottling area of the kitchen, I placed the leftover grapefruit-sized clump of wax crumble-goo into a doubleboiler saucepan, with about a cup of water.  It was quite gooey, but you couldn't really squeeze any honey out of it anymore.  I gently heated it in the double boiler til the whole thing was liquid. I stirred and scooped a little strainer through it to remove the brownish globs of pollen residues that had been in some of the comb cells. As soon as it cooled, a beautiful bright yellow disc of pure beeswax formed and floated on top of the now dark honey-water. The two layers were perfectly separated. When cool, I merely lifted the hard wax disc off the top and you can see how lovely it is- enough to make about three votive candles I'm guessing! I think I'll order some wicks, I'll need them next year anyway. Once I took off the beeswax, I put a cookie tin out in the vegetable garden and poured the leftover honey-water in it for the bees to drink- They can evaporate and recycle it into honey for their own winter use. Before I had even finished pouring it into the cookie sheet, two girls were already at the edge of the pan, drinking! I lay some pine branches in the liquid to give the bees places to crawl out and not drown. Nothing went to waste.

I love knowing that there have been no chemicals at all added to the hive or treated on my bees. I can't control the things my bees may get into out in the surrounding neighborhood, but this honey is from completely untreated bees foraging food all on their own, and that means a lot to me. We live in a small rural village surrounded by many farms, fields and hills of wild flowers, forests, etc. Plenty of bee forage of all kinds here.

If you click on a picture it was enlarge.

In my 3 seasons of keeping bees, I think probably the most profound thing I have learned is this:
A beehive is not a permanent thing. Colonies survive and die, all workers die within 8 weeks and are replaced by an entirely new population of bees, queens get replaced or swarm off... your boxes may stay there appearing unchanged, but in reality the bee colony inside is a work in progress that is constantly evolving and changing, with or without your actions. So have fun with your boxes of insects and learn cool stuff by creating and un-creating new colonies!
Think of all your colonies with less than 10 frames as 'experimental temporary holding boxes'- they can be viewed as not actual hives. Call your nucs 'comb producing boxes' or 'brood booster boxes'. That way, you can keep claiming you only have 3 hives in your backyard and you can have fun with various other 'experimental colonies' piled here and there. ;D Then in the Fall some will have faded out and the healthiest ones can be consolidated or just disassembled if you choose and used to boost your REAL hives for the winter. Or bundle them up against the wind and see if any survive the winter. If you go into winter with a couple of extra cards up your sleeve, you are more likely to have survivors in the Spring to work from. This is the most valuable thing I have learned so far.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My bees in September

Here are 4 of my 5 honeybee colonies in late September on a nice sunny day. I also have one more large hive down the road not shown here.
These are two full sized hives and two 5-frame nucs (baby hives). I am hoping to bundle the two little nucs together and attempt to overwinter them.
It was quite a busy day for them, all in a mad rush bringing in nectar and pollen. Our area is in the midst of goldenrod bloom right now.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Spicy Dill Pickles with Peppers and Garlic

Yesterday I made my second batch of pickles for the year. I'm getting a lot of pickling cucumbers from the garden right now. This time I added some garlic cloves, spices, and pepper strips to each jar, including a sliced whole small hot green pepper. I wound up with a total of 27 quarts' worth, and it took most of the day. I haven't tasted them yet, but they look pretty good. Sheba (aka "Boo-Boo") investigated the jars before I stored them away. (click pictures to enlarge)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

More red cabbage salad

We ate up the first batch of cole slaw pretty quickly.
With the other half of the giant red cabbage from the garden, I made a sort of Mexican style vinaigrette slaw and added black beans, corn, cilantro, red peppers, onions (including their scallion tops), and chipotle sauce.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Red Cole Slaw and first Green Beans

I cut the largest head of red cabbage from my vegetable garden and made cole slaw. Also from the garden I added to it shredded carrot, chopped kale, and red onion. A touch of chopped store bought yellow pepper added some pretty yellow color. I made the slaw dressing with mayo, yogurt, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, black pepper, celery seed, and dill.
That head of cabbage was about the size of a volleyball, and only half of it made a BIG bowl of cole slaw. Now I'll have to decide what to do with the other half. Then there are three more cabbages growing... but happily they are maturing a various rates so I'll be able to harvest them over the next month or so. 

I also picked the first batch of tender green beans.  We'll have them steamed and buttered, alongside wild rice for dinner tonight...
The Vidalia, red, and white onions will need to be pulled and dried for storage soon- their tops are flopping over, but are still green.  When the tops begin to turn yellow the onions have stopped growing and should be harvested. 
(click photos to enlarge)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dill Pickles

Today i made my first batch of pickles for the year- dill spears. I picked a whole sinkful of pickling cukes and they made about 14 quarts' worth of dill pickle spears. Used up the 12 quart jars I had pretty quickly, and some extra pint jars too.

Brian likes dill spears, I prefer sweet pickles, so next I'll make a batch of sweet chunk pickles for me. After that, I will need to make some cole slaw from the big heads of red cabbage growing in the garden.

My cucumber vines look like they'll be giving me 2 or 3 more batches for pickles equal in size to this one, so I'll need to buy more quart jars and a couple more gallons of vinegar. My bees are doing a great job pollinating the cucumber blossoms- they are buzzing all over them all day long.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A new Queen

I managed to get a couple of quick pictures of the new queen honeybee whom I've named "Calico". She came from a queen cell that I swiped from my Old Queen's hive to a new small 5-frame hive 'nuc' with. She emerged in her new nuc, took her mating flight last month, and has been laying wonderfully. I've been taking out frames of her eggs to give to my other hives now, for them to make new queens from as well. She seems like a winner, and it was hard to get a photo of her because she kept running so fast to the other side of the frame I was holding up for the photo- she was trying to get away from the bright sun. She's quite a golden beauty!

(click on the photos and you'll see them bigger)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

kitties in the sun...

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Old Queen, and a New Queen cell...

I split my main 2nd year beehive four days ago. I took out the queen and put her in a new hive along with several frames of brood, bees, and honey. I left the main hive where it was to let them raise their own new queen from eggs.

Today, four days later, I checked in to see how both halves were doing...

In the new hive with the old queen, I located her, looking healthy and regal on a frame of capped worker brood. In the second photo, note how the other bees surround her attentively, like Ladies in Waiting!

There was plenty of healthy looking capped brood on the frames in the old queen's new hive...

Here is a short video I took of the queen while i had my camera in hand.  Once in a while I point to the queen with my gloved finger so as not to lose sight of her amongst all the other bees:


Next... I closed up that hive and then looked for newly made queen cells in the now queenless original hive. See the one large queen cell at the top of the hive frame here:

Here you can see the queen cell. You can just see the butt end of a worker bee inside it, attending to the young queen larvae. Nearby you can see a few cells with regular worker larvae in them- the white larvae curled up in the bottoms of the brood cells.

If you look carefully inside the queen cell, you can see a large soft white larvae curled up in a "C" shape inside the queen cell, bathed in royal jelly. In a few more days the cell will be closed up and the new queen will finish her pupae stage for another few days and then emerge as a new virgin queen, ready to take her mating flight.

Friday, May 6, 2011

New hives for Spring

Today my bee buddy Peter and I got our two new Spring honeybee colonies in the mail. We installed the bees in two new hives at Peter's house, side by side.  Mine is the green hive, Peter's is the brown hive.
Everything seemed to go well, both queens look healthy, and we'll be checking in on the hives several times over the next few days as they get established.
I still have my other hive at my house, which I hope to split into two hives in another week or two when drones are flying and the colony looks strong.
Peter and I had fun installing the new bees, and we didn't even get stung!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Little horn-faced bees mating!

Last winter I ordered a few cocoons of the little 1/4" long solitary 'Horn Faced' mason bee, (Osmia cornifrons) from Dave at Crownbees.com. Along with my two other species of solitary mason bees cocoons from last summer, I kept them cold all winter and only a few days ago I put them out to emerge as new adults, ready to immediately mate and start pollinating and nesting. (see my other posts about my mason/solitary bee nesting houses)
The weather has finally warmed up and dandelions are blooming at last! All my little mason bees have begun emerging from their cocoons. The males usually emerge first, and hang around the nest boxes waiting to pounce on the females when they hatch out of the cocoon tubes.  Today was my birthday, and it was also the birth day of many of the little solitary bees in the nesting boxes on my kitchen porch.

I was lucky enough to get some good photos today of one pair of my new tiny horn faced bees mating! The female has two small 'horns' jutting straight out from her face, she uses them to pack mud into the nesting cavities, thus making an individual chamber for each egg she lays.

Here are two pictures of the amorous couple, the smaller male positioned on top. Click on the pictures and you'll see nice big close ups:

I watched as the male performed some strange moves repeatedly. First he would hike his abdomen very high in the air...

Then he swung it back down and curled it tightly into a very hunched position...
He repeated these odd up/down 'hand stand curls' many times while holding the female still. I couldn't see that he was even making any sexual connection during all this, but I suppose he must have been taking care of business somehow-  lol!   After a while they stayed still for a while as in the first photo. Then the male unceremoniously flew off.  A 'one night stand'.  I watched to see what the female would do next...

Right after the male flew away, the female dragged her behind and squirted out this cream colored droplet and walked forward a few steps.  She cleaned her face for a moment, then flew off too. This droplet reminded me of watching bees poop, but the mason bee poo I have observed is gray, while honeybee poo is orange-brown. The mason bees poop immediately upon emerging from their cocoon before they go anywhere, and this female had probably already done that before mating.
This was a thinner liquid, and almost white.  At any rate, she seemed satisfied with her birthday's chain of events and went on her way.  See her little face horns?  She also has shorter antennae than the smaller male.  She's off to find food, pollinate flowers, and starting nesting!

Birthday chocolate mousse cake

Today was my 57th birthday. I was taken out for a lovely breakfast by my wonderful Brian. Afterwards, I worked a couple hours at the food pantry, then came home and did some gardening- the weather was perfect!
Our friend Madeline DeLosh, pastry chef extraordinaire, came to visit and brought the most beautiful and mouth watering chocolate mousse cake that she made for me. Here are pictures, before Brian and I devoured half of it. Look at the oval white chocolate plaque with her delicate writing in chocolate!  I have no idea how she managed to make the magically striped sponge cake around the bottom. Click on the pictures to see them enlarged...

HERE is Madeline's website in case you want to order some of her masterpieces for yourself! We consider ourselves very lucky to have Madeline and Eddie in our small town community.

Monday, April 11, 2011

April Spring hive bringing in pollen

Took a little video of my active hive today. i painted all my hive components a nice soft dark spruce green. The bees have only been finding pollen over the past few days. (The hive on the left has no bees right now- just storing some honey frames in it.)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ladybug on the window

Suki and Sheba in my office.
Then Sheba spies a ladybug on the window glass...
(click on photos to enlarge)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Breakfast at Ralph's Cafe

A mighty good breakfast in our little town, at Ralph's Pretty Good Cafe...