Tag Archives: Honey

Honey Harvest, finally!

honeyfromlucinda

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!

extractor

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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cappedhoney

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.

uncappingbucket

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

uncappinghoney

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uncappedhoney

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.

drippinghoney

preppingbucket

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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!

dress

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And sunhats….

sunhat

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

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!

Mourning with those who Mourn

I had a very sad note this week from the Vancouver Island Beekeeping club. They put out a newsletter called the Bee Line. I wanted to share this part of the article with you.

Last month I attended a meeting in Duncan with the Valley Beekeepers. They requested a meeting with Paul van estendorp to discuss the need for support for beekeepers that suffered huge losses this winter.

Under these conditions, support is necessary to make it viable to be a honey bee producer on the Vancouver Island. Trust me; this was not a very pleasant get together. There were about forty people in the room, and one by one they told their crushing stories of bee loss. I was stunned to hear those that wintered down over 300 colonies, and by January all but about 60 remain wintered 30 and lost all, wintered 175 and have 19 left, wintered 22 and have 3. Wintered 12 and have 1. There were tears in the room, and it was well over an hour to before all had told the facts of their loss. Losses in that room were very close to 1000 colonies and maybe 159 remain. You don’t need a percentage, or a dollar sign to see the devastating costs over the past several months.

There was no pattern to the losses, as all beekeepers treatments were varied, but timely and according to best practises. All reported colonies going into late summer/early fall with abundant bees with good stores of pollen and honey. By early winter losses were starting to show, and by early February the devastation was pronounced.

This story breaks my heart. I have spoken to several beekeepers on this island and they have had similar losses though not to the extent and volume of these beekeepers, as the ones on Pender are hobbyists. Though the sadness carries over no matter if you lose one colony or one hundred.

The honeybee loss has struck a chord with the media as well. The Times Colonist has featured a couple articles. CBC has had a special on the bee loss and everyone has an opinion on it that I’ve talked to here.

In the meantime, the enthusiasm for honeybees is also increasing steadily. I’ve had more people coming into my work, asking if I have honey yet. (Which I do not, thank you for your inquiries.) And I’ve received more interesting links to honeybees. Check this one out! Her name is Agathena Dyck and she does a lot of art work with bees.

queen-2

The beauty that bees are capable of just by doing what they know, being who they are, this is what amazes me about honeybees. Somehow honeybees have carved out an existence complimenting their environment. It frustrates me that humans have not figured out a way to do this. We are more of a smash ‘n grab species. Why?? I feel like I am repeating David Lee Murphy cliche “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I hate to despair or bring anyone down, but 90% bee loss is horrific and terrifying. So a small challenge, I urge you to support your local honey producers as they are definitely struggling and any purchase of honey or beeswax from a local producer is going to help the economy and increase the number of people willing to keep bees and invest in this incredible species!

Thanks for reading and Happy Saturday!

Honey by the Road

Someone emailed me this recently. This is a photo taken in Burma, the bottles on the tables are filled with honey!

See the ducks hanging by the ankles? So strange but I love the differences in culture.

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Think I could sell my honey in recycled salvaged glass bottles?

How do you buy your honey?

Pulling a “Marie Antoinette”

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To the left, you have Gertrudabelle hive. I got her last year and she has been a good and faithful hive. I have learned many things from Gertrudabelle. She has taught me that bees will survive with less than 100 pounds of honey through a winter with only one box, even if it snows for 3 weeks solid. She has taught me that when you put a queen excluder on your honey box, to check that the queen is where you want her, or she’ll lay in your honey super. She also taught me that taking frames of honey and then leaving them out over night in the open inspires spontaneous piracy.

To the right, we have Wilheimina hive. Wilheimina has been doomed from the get go. We picked her up in Victoria, and we picked her up on a very hot day. She was in a nuc box that did not have very good ventilation and the ferry workers missed the memo to put us in the shade since we were carrying “livestock” on the ferry. When I got her home, I tipped the box upside down to dump the bees out and all that fell out was a pile of dead bees. It was like shaking a honeybee holocaust out of a box. It was heartbreaking. I still have a mass grave behind the mint plant. Because of this genocide, the hive has been weak from the beginning. Weak = Wilheimina.

I have been eyeing their progress closely and trying to feed them lots of sugar syrup to build them up. Alas, they would not have survived the winter. So today I did the inevitable. I’ve been putting it off and putting it off. It could not be delayed any longer. I had to do the regretable. I had to pull a “Marie Antoinette.”

I finished my bee rounds, checking on all the hives first. I delayed and procrastinated. Finally, I went down to the hive, armed with my hive tool. I found Wilheimina, who was aptly minding her own business, laying eggs, being fed, being groomed by her attendance. I scooped her out of the hive, and crushed her head on the wooden pallet beside the hive.

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Now there is a Wilheimina-shaped hole in the universe.

The Wilheimina hive was almagamated into the Cleopatra hive at the Community Garden. This will significantly increase the chances of winter survival for both hives. It was regretable that the queen had to be sacrificed but necessary for bee survival.

So, for the greater good, Wilheimina paid the ultimate price. I’ve never felt so sad about the death of a bug.