This year has been odd in regards to honey production. We would normally harvest wildflower honey early June and sourwood honey in July, but June was a bust. We ended up with one medium plastic frame that wouldn’t seat in the extractor and one large frame that fell apart and dumped all the comb in the bottom. While we were able to extract about five pounds over about two hours, the time spent was not worth the output.
However, the bees packed the frames when the sourwood trees were blooming, so we have honey coming — we’re just waiting for the girls to cap the honey! Just in case the honey was actually ready to harvest, Hubby bought a honey refractometer. The last remaining bit of honey we have from last year contains 16% moisture. What is in the hives was still at 20% a week ago. Below 17.8%, the honey will not spoil , but until it gets there, we and our customers are waiting.
Our biggest problem with that right now is the increase is small hive beetles and the decrease in available resources for the bees. Small hive beetle larva can ruin a frame on uncapped honey very quickly if the hive population is low, so we’re keeping an eye on that. We’re also holding off on supplemental feeding as we don’t want any sugar syrup making its way into our honey supers. Once we’ve pulled honey, we’ll split strong hives, feed them well, and try to build up strength before the fall nectar flow starts.
In early spring, we had an abandoned hive that was rife with small hive and wax moth larvae — the chicks loved it! A not-so-nice part of me already feels intense satisfaction feed Japanese beetles to the chickens, but I’m still hoping to not have any chicken treats in our hives — especially as the chickens have not yet started to repay our kindness with eggs!
Hopefully we’ll get to pull honey this weekend. If not, I will attempt my first hot-process soap. Life is good on the farm, and we never run out of things to do!
The first multi-oil honey soap I made didn’t cure well, so I was a little worried about buying even more ingredients to try another complex recipe. Still, it’s a great moisturizing soap, even if we go through a bar in two days because it’s so soft even after 2 months of cure time. This time, I used a recipe from another book, The Beeswax Workshop, and the soap already looks better from a soap perspective, but you can clearly see that I need to make an adjustment to my process!
The soap on the right is one of the first I poured. At that point, the soap was the consistency of banana pudding and easy to get into the corners of the mold and smooth out the top. The soap on the left is from the last tray poured. In the five minutes between starting to mold the soap and molding the final batch, the soap became more like tofu! I squished the soap down with my spatula. I thumped the mold down onto the counter. I pushed down with the plastic ruler I use level the tops/bottoms, but it just didn’t let itself be manipulated.
This recipe produced about twice as much soap as the other recipes I’ve made, so I think the easiest solution will be to reduce the recipe. I am waiting until tomorrow to unmold all of the soaps and I’m hoping that the first two trays (12 bars) all look like the good one above. If they do, cutting the recipe in half would probably work well. My other option is to use my wooden soap mold for half of the recipe and cut that into bars. I have time to think about that as I will let this soap cure before making a second batch. I do like my soap molds, but making twice as much soap and only cleaning up once is good too!
The failed recipe will probably be the next one I retry. The ingredients were very similar, but the process was different. Soaps that include honey become very hot, very quickly and prolonged high heat can damage some of the ingredients. Many of my resources recommend preventing honey and beeswax soaps from entering gel phase by refrigerating or freezing them. Yesterday’s soap recipe said to place the soap in the freezer for 24 hours. The other soap recipe recommended insulating the soap to hold the heat in. I’m going to try that recipe again, but not insulate it and maybe even freeze it.
Just like any other imperfect attempts, the tofu-look soaps won’t go to waste, especially as this is a new recipe and we’ll use it for a couple of weeks before giving some to friends and family to try. Only after that will we put it on sale. While no-one has had a negative reaction to anything we make, we’ll keep testing every batch of soap and doing our multi-step testing of new recipes.