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Our biggest harvest yet – 95 lbs of honey.

May honey 2019
May honey, 2019

Spring was good to us with its profusion of blackberry blossoms which yielded hives full of pale and delicious honey.   We put our daughter and her boyfriend, JI, in bee suits for the first time and had them smoking and brushing bees, which they greatly enjoyed.  (I’m glad that I was the only one who got stung on their first excursion to the bee yard!  I even restrained my remarks to the bee that crawled up my boot. )

We only checked honey supers above excluders and were still able to pull 95 pounds of honey.   There are full supers with frames that were 3/4 capped last weekend, so we’ll have more to process in the near future.

Decapping
Decapping

As the workshop is still in disarray, we extracted the honey in the kitchen with the four of us working very well together in the cramped space.  JI is a natural at decapping frames and we all took turns cranking the handle on the extractor.  I’d covered the island with a sheet and put towels down on the floor, so clean up was a breeze.  With water and electricity at the shop now, we were able to pressure wash the equipment.  I even had enough energy left to pressure-wash the wood ware that I plan to repaint sometime this week.   (Or do I mean next week?  What day is it? I love summer break!)

The main nectar source right now appears to be elderberry, and the bees are still visiting  buckwheat early in the day.   I’m very happy to see them on the lavender, but I don’t yet have enough lavender for it to make a difference.  I just read that varroa mites don’t like the way lavender smells, so lavender pollen and nectar can help protect bees.  (Source:  Plants for honey bees)   That makes me want to go out and clip more cuttings right now, but I need to wait a while as the plants are currently in full bloom.

Honey May 2019
My first attempt at lavender-infused honey.

I did cut some blooms a couple of days ago for my first attempt at making lavender infused honey.    I know I need more, but I really want to leave as many flowers on the plant for bee-forage as possible.  Some of the recipes I looked at require heating the honey, which I prefer not to do, so I am following a recipe from NectarApothecary.com  that takes 4 – 6 weeks.   I do not have dried blooms, so I know there’s a risk that fresh flowers will make the honey crystallize, but I’m not worried about that as I plan to add it to tea or simply eat it by the spoonful when I have a sore throat!    I know I’m not supposed to disturb the honey, but I can’t resist taking the lid off to inhale the incredible aroma now and then.  It’s only a matter of time before I dunk a teaspoon in, so there may not be much left in the jar by the end of the six weeks….

Honey KegToday we get to find a home (other than the living room) for the Honey Keg and pour our liquid gold into it for storage and eventual easy bottling.  I couldn’t find my mason jars and lids the other day, so it may be time to just have a case of pre-sterilized containers shipped in.   Our previous process of ladling honey into jars in the kitchen sink is going to take too long, but I’m not going to complain about how much honey we have.  After all, our progress means we’re one step closer to being able to retire from our day jobs!

It’s another beautiful day on the farm, and we finally have a chance of rain in the forecast.   Cucumbers, grapes, blackberries, and tomatoes are all getting closer to being edible.  We got to eat four incredible blueberries from one of the new bushes yesterday.  The workshop passed the building inspection yesterday.  Best of all — we no longer have to worry about what is going on with our old house and can now focus on framing the honey shop in the workshop.  It just simply doesn’t get any better than this!

 

Hive equipment · Home Remedies · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

Rain is a Good Thing

Luke Bryan sings that “rain makes corn…” but we are happy that rain also makes honey.   This time last year we were in a severe drought in both Georgia and South Carolina and our bees had few resources of their own to get them through the dearth.  Right now, there are no signs of a dearth in our hives;  we are seeing lots of nectar and a fair amount of honey in every hive.

Bees on sunflower
Bees on sunflower

The sourwood trees have just about finished blooming, and the sunflowers over at our neighbor’s are kicking into high gear with beautiful, dinner-plate sized blossoms.    We have three hives pollinating his sunflower plot and they are clearly loving life.   Sunflower honey is reputed to aid gastrointestinal, respiratory, and kidney health, although it has a downside of crystallizing faster than most other honeys.   We are hoping to harvest  sunflower honey in August, but we don’t know how much we’ll have this year as we only had new frames available to put in the hives and that is going to slow down honey production as the bees will first have to draw comb.   We’ll be better prepared next year.

Hives on sunflower plot
Hives on sunflower plot

We inspected some of the hives with bees that tend to crawl on the ground and up our pants legs yesterday, and the blousing garters we bought appear to be doing their job of keeping the bees on the outside of the pants legs!   Today was a much more enjoyable day as all three hives we inspected originate from the same queen and they are the kindest, gentlest bees we have.   They also appear to be very good at keeping pests at bay, although two of the hives had spiders in the lid which added some humor to the voice recordings!    The bees had killed one of the spiders, but it was still quite fresh and squished in the most disgusting way under hubby’s hive tool.    I have overcome my dislike of bugs enough to squish most hive pests, but I’ve apparently got a long way to go before I squish spiders — or stop screeching when I see one!

These hives also oddly avoid the bottom brood boxes on their hives and will only lay eggs in there when they absolutely have no other room.    We have often spotted swarm queen cells in an upper box of a hive that has plenty of room in the “basement.”   One hive even preferred to use the entrance at the top of the hive until we put a screen inner cover on for additional ventilation and thereby forced them to exit through the “normal” opening.

Screen inner covers offer more ventilation for bees, which is especially important here in the south and when transporting bees.   We’ve also observed wax moths and spiders on top of the screens, unable to enter the hive.   Since we switched to using these in summer, we have not seen a single wax moth inside a hive.    Our hives that always struggle with small hive beetles are also able to herd the beetles out of the hive proper and above the screen.   We were horrified yesterday at the number of beetles in two of the hives, but almost all of them were above the screen.   We added borax traps on top of the screens and we’re using beetle blasters inside each hive to help reduce the numbers.   We’re getting closer to denuding the area around the hives in our problem area as we know sunlight deters the beetles — there’s just so much timber-cutting trash mixed in with the vegetation in that area so we can’t simply bush-hog.

All-in-all, we are very happy with the progress our hives are making.   We no longer have any hives that are aggressive without provocation, although we have a couple that I would like to re-queen with stock from the “nice” hives.   We are not having to supplemental feed bees this July and we have recovered all of our winter losses.  We’ve gone a week with neither helicopters nor bee stings!   Life is good on the farm!

Bees · Home Remedies

Bee stings and toothpaste

When we were visiting family in Texas this summer, my husband was stung on the forehead by some red wasps that he was attempting to evict from his aunt’s house soffit.  We were both surprised when his aunt exclaimed that she was going to get the toothpaste and disappeared into the house.  We were even more surprised when smearing toothpaste on the sting relieved his pain.

Then, a few weeks ago, my brother-in-law kindly loaned me a bee-hat so that I could get a little closer to the action when he and my husband were working his hives.  The day before, the bees had already shown their dislike of dark colors by dive bombing my husband’s black baseball cap the moment he plonked it on my head.  So, the following day, with my head safely ensconced in a white cover and face-protection, they decided to go after a different dark item — my navy-blue thermal shirt!  That was my first bee sting since childhood and considerably less painful than I anticipated.  (But still something to avoid, when possible.)  We were too far from the house to make fetching toothpaste seem worth while, but the bees had fired a warning shot.

You would think that would be a lesson that would stick with me, but apparently I’m a little slow today.  Now that I have my own bee suit and gloves, I headed out with my husband to put new fondant in our hives and to see if there was any left from the batch we placed in a week ago.  My husband lifted the lid on the least populated hive, and I got to see a wonderfully healthy cluster of bees through the hole in the top cover. Then I got to see that they had eaten almost all of the fondant, and then they let me know very clearly that a bee suit may protect my face and hands, but wearing thermal weave, dark pants is inviting them to find the weakness in my defense.  Of course, they went after the largest and most obvious target area and I was subsequently able to gain first-hand experience about the effectiveness of toothpaste on bee stings.

While cooking a new batch of fondant for the ungrateful little critters, I researched reasons why toothpaste would actually help soothe stings.  According to Rapid Home Remedies,  the alkalinity of toothpaste neutralizes the acidity of the venom in the bee sting.  Apparently fire ants have an alkaline venom, so toothpaste probably will not work on those.  I’ll let you know next summer….

The new batch of fondant is cooling, and the kitchen smells are invigorating.  First of all, the smell of the boiling sugar water reminded me suddenly and very strongly of memories of my mother making red-currant jelly.  I guess the lemon juice in the mixture is what transported me back to my childhood home.   Now the smell of the lemon grass in the Honey B Healthy I mixed into the fondant pervades the kitchen and makes the stress in my life just float away.  It smells so good that my husband recently felt compelled to tell me that the label clearly warns against human consumption!   The bees love the smell even more than I do, so it’s a good way to attract them to supplemental food supplies when there’s a dearth of plants to provide pollen and nectar.  Toothpaste and bee vitamins — what a weird mix of components to make a day on which I got stung still simply perfect!