Tag Archives: Gardening

Honey Harvest, finally!

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My family and friends have been very patient with me in my eccentricities. When I first brought up my interest in beekeeping, they were cautiously encouraging, not sure their required level of participation. As I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the art of apiculture, they have become more encouraging and enthusiastic, and I suspect this is because they saw “sweet things” on the horizon.

I got my first beehive 3 years ago, on July 1st. I knew I’d have to wait at least until the second year before I’d get any honey from her. But she had a rough first year. Not only because of my inexperience, but also because of the problems with her location. She was in the shade, she was bought late in the year, she didn’t have a lot of natural food. It was rather rubbish for her really. So I was just happy she survived her first Winter.

Finally on her third Summer, I opened up the top super to have a peak and found it was wall-to-wall honey! Well, the box weighs at least 55 lbs, I cannot lift it, especially with my protruding tummy. (Go Baby!) So my Honey helped me and got suited up and lifted the super for me, and found the next super down was also 10 frames of beautifully capped honey. Yeepee!

This is my first official extraction. Last year I tried to extract 6-8 frames but I made the mistake of leaving them where the bees could find them, hoping they would clear off. What? Abandon their honey? Never! Yeah, they took it all back and all I was left with were such chewed up empty frames.

There is a story about a beekeeper, he took his honey supers off his hives, took them to his basement. He spent all day extracting the honey from the frames, and went upstairs in the evening to take a break and watch a film. Meanwhile his well-meaning wife came home and went to the basement. She found it very stuffy and humid. Unknowingly, she opened a window to air out the basement. That night, the bees found all the honey that had been stolen from them and stole it back! All of the beekeeper’s hard work was for naught. He woke up in the morning to find not a drop of honey left in his basement. So the story goes…

Well folks, I’ve seen it happen and was much disappointed last year too.

Anyway, this year, I was more careful. It’s amazing how fast we learn when our sweets are stolen!

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This fancy cylinder is an extractor. You can put two frames in and then you spin the basket inside and using centrifugal force, it flings the honey to the sides of the cylinder and drips out the bottom spigot.

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The honey is capped with wax, and that’s how we know it’s done. Honey has a “water activity of 0.6.” This basically means that there is not enough moisture in honey to allow fermentation. So honey cannot go bad. If we take honey that is not capped from the hive, it may not be evaporated enough. Thus you could have honey that ferments in the jar. You may notice that if you have honey in a jar for a really long time, it crystalizes. This is not your honey going bad, it just needs to be microwaved. Or you can stick the jar in hot water and the honey will melt again and become liquid. Most micro-organisms cannot grow in honey if you extract it when it’s capped. The “cappings” -wax- on honey is also pure white and makes excellent candles.

Anyway, you have to uncap the honey prior to extracting it.

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It’s a sticky process. It’s best to have a bucket to do this in.

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Then you put it into the extractor, spin it, then you let it drain into a container with a filter. We used a cheese cloth as a filter to get out unwanted beeswax, bee legs, pollen etc.

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This picture shows really clearly how the honey is sometimes different colours depending on the flowers that the bees take from. We found that we had some really light honey and quite dark honey in this extraction.

The next time is either to pasturize it (heating it up) or you can bottle it straight from here.

We have yet to pick up our jars so in the bucket it stays for now.

And now you have learned more than you ever wanted to know about the process of honey extraction. Of course on a commercial scale, it’s a little different but the principles are the same.

In other news, we’ve been planting our Winter garden here this weekend. Peas, beans, cabbage, kale, and leeks among other things. We’re getting ready to harvest our garlic. The curly scapes are straightening up, letting us know they are just about ready to be plucked from the Earth. Since planting them in October, it seems like a wait well worth it.

I just have to mention this, I L-o-v-e gardening in a dress!

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And sunhats….

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Go on, call me a “Fashionista.” I can take it…..

Aspiring to be Asparagus

I’ve never eaten asparagus that I’ve just freshly picked. But it was one of the priorities of our first year having a vegetable garden. This is because the crowns have to be 3-4 years old before you can harvest any of these juicy stalks for a great Spring treat. So last year, after attempting to grow asparagus from seed, and getting frondy little seedlings that were semi-successful, we heard rumour that you could buy two year old asparagus crowns (which is a root ball) from the nursery. We went to Victoria on a hunt. I phoned absolutely every single nursery in BC’s capital city and we literally got the last 8 crowns of asparagus on Vancouver Island.

Even then, we weren’t sure we’d have success. Asparagus flourish is sandy well-draining soil. All we have in our garden is soggy clay soil with lots of equisetum (that is, horse tail) and we had such misery with radishes- the apparent easiest vegetable to grow- so we weren’t sure how the asparagus would fair with our rudimentary gardening skills.

We tried to prepare the soil the best we could but we were using lasagne gardening which we quickly discovered was a favoured method among the colony of wire worms. Wire worms adore chewing on roots, especially grass roots. Asparagus is a grass. Again, another strike against us.

Though we’ve been told that a seed wants to grow, a plant wants to be exactly what is genetically prepared to be. And often, plants grow and succeed in the most unlikely environments. So we are grateful and excited to introduce you to our Aspiring Asparagus.

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Unlikely successes like this makes me wonder about the capacity of our race. If we, as humans, knew what we were genetically purposed for, then how could we flourish?

I remember wanting a garden so that I could benefit from the food, from the herbs, from the freshness. But I didn’t expect that I would benefit mentally and emotionally from the virility of the plants, the tenacity of life. It is the same with the bees. I wanted to keep bees because I have a sweet tooth. J’adore miel, but I found that I learned much more than I bargained for and I’ve gained much more by my relationship with the bees. I learned and am learning to calm myself and check my attitude, my breathing, when I approach the hive. I’m learning to observe in quietness, without expectation. These skills do not only enrich my hive, they enrich my life in all areas.

To go back to the asparagus, growing vegetables has not only lent miracles to my palate. It has also increased my faith. To put a seed into black soil, cover it, water it with no sign of life, with no immediate gratification, this is faith. And then the seed, wanting to grow, does what it knows how to do and I get to watch the tiny leaves unfurl.

And somehow, I grow with the tendrils, reaching for the sun.

Spring is thick upon us. The pear trees are blooming, the blueberries are fertilizing, the morrel mushrooms are fruiting and going straight on our pizza. The cows in the field I walk by every day at work are learning to walk. They are so cute! The lambs are frollicking in the crew-cut grass and the peas are brandishing their new green petals.

We’ve got two big weddings coming up so our focus has been more on arranging that and less on the garden and the bees, it must be admitted. My brother is getting married to his lovely fiancee in a couple weeks in Calgary. Marc and I are flying out at a pukey hour of 5:30am and then we’re staying in a hotel we booked because of the reviews. Get this, it’s my favourite review so far,

Decor strange, staff friendly.

Bring on the strange decor! We stayed in a hostel in Inverness Scotland when we were travelling that could have suited that description perfectly. We’re talking purple walls with technicoloured handprints, lime green baseboards, a red door, zebra striped bedspread on an old iron bed frame. It was surreal. I’m hoping that this hotel brings us close to that experience again. One can only hope.

The second wedding coming up is Marc’s sister at the end of May. That one is a little closer to home, in Victoria. Weddings are such a joyous occasion and I’m really looking forward to them and to all of the planning being finished. Then we can get into the heat of summer with bees, vegetables, Farmer’s markets, pulling weeds in sundresses and sandals.

Pottery is going well and we did our first “bisque” firing at the beginning of the week. This process changes the clay to a ceramic material. It is the stage you do after the clay pots dry, but before you glaze the bowls/cups/plates. So now my works of “art” are rather pinkish, like old bubble gum. And they are waiting for their glaze bath which will come next. Also, we picked up some Earthenware clay. We’ve been using Raku clay which is grittier and for more decorative pots. I really wanted to get into the Earthenware clay because of it’s resilience and functionality. Above most things, I am practical. If I’m making mugs, bowls, and funny-shaped things (that I’ve been told, when it doubt, it’s an ash tray.) I want them to be useful. And did I mention, my teacher is very patient with me. I still have trouble centering the clay and I still ask silly questions, and he dutifully shows up, answers my questions, centers my clay, and generally puts up with my nonsense. Yes, there is lots of nonsense!

Did I mention I bring him cookies? It is my best form of currency… It’s amazing who will work for cookies. So far, my mechanic (which is essential) and my pottery teacher work for cookies so I consider myself a very lucky gal! Let’s see who will work for honey?!

Hope your merge from Winter to Spring is as welcome as it is for me! Happy April!

A Friday Moment

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I’ve been up to my usual tricks this week, gardening and shaping clay. I’m feeling a little dry on my blogging lately. Really, guys, this is my life. I read a little, I write a little, I work too much, I shape some clay, play some piano, prepare some bee stuff and drive my small truck around the island.

We’ve planted some more peas, beans, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, cabbage and other assorted veggies.

On Island, the cows have had calves, the sheep have had lambs that I have no good photos to show you the evidence. The weather has been mostly cold and mostly rainy with some patches of sunshine.

What have you been up to?

What I’d prefer

This is what I’d prefer to be doing.

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This is what I am doing instead,  as my portfolio for my Poetry Class is due tomorrow.

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At least I have good company. And chocolate. What do you prefer to do these days?