Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Peek Inside a Honey Harvest

In this post on Bee House Hives, you can see the process one woman uses to harvest her honey.

It's a sticky business.

Especially when young children are involved!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Honey Stand in Pine, Arizona

In a previous post, I talked about stopping whenever we travel to get local honey. The good news is that Sarah uploaded her photos today, so I can now share the photos she took for me at The Honey Stand in the small town of Pine, AZ.

The bad news is that the business card on which I wrote down the name of the gentleman pictured got left in the rental car (along with several other souvenirs such as a book for Colston). My memory says Russell but that's highly unlikely. So, friends at The Honey Stand, feel free to tell me!

Mr. Honey Stand was friendly and shared the history of this old gas-station-turned-roadside shop. The original honey salesman would set up only in the summer, and outside. Now the shop operates year-round, indoors, and is well-stocked with all kinds of honey, granola, candy, snacks, jams, jellies, etc. for travelers. He carried a wide variety of flavors of honey stix, and the favorite flavor of those tasting turned out to be amaretto.
Arizona beekeepers are fortunate to have an outlet for their wares -- The Honey Stand owners are not beekeepers, simply shopkeepers with a passion for sharing the sweet stuff with passers-by. They have an online store on their Web site, so if you know someone who'd like some dark wild pecan honey, mesquite, desert clover, or even more exotic varieties, give The Honey Stand your business.

At least until Prairie Blossom Bee Farm has some to sell. ;-)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

For Great Gifts, Buy Local

"Buy Local" is a phrase heard a lot these days, and the holidays are a great time to find all kinds of treats to share with friends and loved ones.

Today at a local arts & crafts festival, some friends of mine were selling gourmet delights under their label "Not Your Granny's Goodies."

I love to bake, but to be honest, festively wrapped, pretty bite-sized treats are not my specialty. So I picked up adorable peanut butter cookie mice as a hostess gift for a dinner party tonight, and a box of turtle mini cheesecakes to give to the people who share their office space with us. I could have slaved for a few hours, spent a bunch of time and money on making something myself, but this allowed me time for other activities, and supported my friends too. Win-win!

Okay, so I bought a homemade marshmallow with salty caramel pretzel goo on the bottom for myself. If you've never had a homemade marshmallow, I highly recommend it. I brought home a couple of treats for Mark, but I may eat them before he does. Win-win-win!

If you live in the Golden Triangle and need some help with your holiday baking, check out Not Your Granny's Goodies. In addition to traditional holiday fare such as fudge and mini pumpkin cheesecake bites, they're available for catering both sweets and savories, including cheddar biscuits. With notice, they can create your heirloom family favorite recipes if you have something you need that's not included in their current list of treats.

If you don't live here, look for local gifts at your farmer's market, holiday bazaars, and shops. You'll be helping people in your community by supporting their business. And if you can't think of the perfect gift for that "hard to buy for" person, buy local honey. Beekeepers need you!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Three Types of Honey from Two Different States

Today I present three lovely souvenirs. There would be four, but the very-dark-brown-almost-molasses-wild-pecan honey from Arizona stayed in Arizona with my brother-in-law. (Hi Malcolm!) Honey varies in color based on the time of year it was made (spring honey is lighter, fall honey is darker) and the nectar source for the bees.

First, we have a bottle of mesquite honey from Arizona. Mark picked this up when Robert took him to a fruit stand/farmer's market on Black Friday. ($5.69) I like how the label design reflects the geographical location and producer's name. This honey would be a tasty addition to barbecue sauce or grilling adventures.

Next, the bear is full of desert wildflower honey. When I tasted it at the shop in Pine, it was light in flavor -- just right for me. Generally, I prefer my honey *with* something else, such as butter or peanut butter. Putting a label on a bear is tough (which is why there's a dilemma about packaging -- will the allure of the bear's shape and the squeezable bottle be more popular than a jar?) They use a no-nonsense address-style label on the back.

Finally, I found the comb honey from Oklahoma mentioned in this post. ($8.75) The trouble with comb honey is the time and effort it takes to cut it, not crush it, and get it into the jar. Most of the time, comb honey is noticeably more expensive, so my question is: is it worth the extra time to charge the extra money? In this case, however, the weight of the honey is more than the other jars, so in reality, the Oklahoma comb honey was a real bargain! I like their relatively straight-forward design with the old-fashioned skeps. Yellow and black labels are very common, and some are more memorable than others.
Can you tell I'm thinking about our labels and containers? I hope to have something to share soon. There are so many choices, so I'd love to hear from some of you on your preferences, especially for containers! Glass or plastic? Squeeze or spoon? Check out some options at Brushy Mountain Bee Farm.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Stormy Night

The tornado siren went off four times last night.

The wind roared.

The hail skittered on our metal roof.

I worried about the bees being blown over, or their lids blown off.

Mark checked them today while I was at work and says they're okay.

The temperatures never got above the low 50s today, so they couldn't fly.

I hope they're doing what they do, a pulsating cluster of heat, cozy and warm inside the hives.

What exactly is it that they do? The gather in a ball around the queen and pulsate their muscles to generate heat. As the bees on the exterior get cold, they move inward, and warmer bees move to the outer edges. The challenge is making sure they have enough food close by enough to sustain them through the winter. If it's too cold, they'll stay over the brood to keep it alive rather than move upward to get the honey that's available.

I'm eager to go ahead and try Linda's recipe for bee tea and supply it to the bees in Hive 4 to see if it will help them survive the winter. What I really wish for is a warm enough temperatures to do an inspection and see how much honey they really have, now that I've learned a strong colony needs 40-50 pounds of honey to see them through the winter.

On the upside, it's unlikely our hives will ever look like this photo, from the photo gallery at www.tassotapiaries.com. Good luck to our beekeeping friends in much colder places!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A New Travel Stop

Now that we're keeping bees, we stop somewhere to buy honey whenever we travel.

When we were in Nebraska, Mark spotted a sign advertising honey and apples. We drove a couple miles down a gravel road, and arrived at a place with an "open" sign but no one around.

No one except Harley, that is. Harley is a Newfoundland and one of the largest dogs *ever*. He met us, allowed us to pet him, and if he could have worked the cash register, would have sold us some honey and apples. Sadly for him, humans arrived to take care of business and advised him to stop slobbering on us. Though they aren't beekeepers, they have a plaque on their barn that indicates the farm has been in their family over one hundred years. They stock local honey, which was very thick compared to MS honey. The label reads: Boellstorff's Bees, RR1 Box 32, Johnson, NE 68378.

I had a picture of the jar of honey, but both the photo and the honey have disappeared. ;-) Who wants to see a picture of an empty bottle of honey? We also stopped at a co-op in Oklahoma (to use the restroom) and they had jars of local honey on the counter. Mark bought a jar of chunk honey and a bag of peanuts while I refrained from buying toys for Duke.

When Sarah can access her pictures of our recent trip to Arizona, I'll share our stop at a honey shop in Pine, AZ.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

MBA Conference: Photo Highlights

Mark & I spent Friday and half of Saturday in Ellisville, MS at the Mississippi Beekeepers' Association annual conference. Highlights included:

1. Finally meeting the famous Dr. Clarence Collison (photo 1) and Harry Fulton, whose knowledge and passion for beekeeping first inspired Mark at the 2-day class he attended.

2. Taking the "basic" workshops on overwintering and spring management. I learned a lot and have some concerns about a couple of our hives and the amount of food stores they have, but we'll just have to keep an eye on them and if we have to feed them during the winter, we can.

3. Learning that the reason Hives 1, 5, & 6 are so strong may simply be a matter of "drift." When hives are all the same color, bees can get confused. Usually when they return to the wrong hive, the guard bees won't let them in; however, bees who return to a hive loaded with nectar or pollen are allowed it as they are considered contributors. Thus, those hives on the ends of rows tend to have higher populations due to bees drifting in due to confusion. Note to self: paint hives different colors before spring.

4. Going to a workshop on candle and soap-making, which began poorly (the person they'd asked to teach had little experience with candles and none with soap!) but took off with a bang when one of the attendees turned out to be a "master candle maker" and gave us all kinds of tips and tricks. He may not look like a candle maker, but he buys jars in bulk from Big Lots by the truckload. *Plus* he's a commercial beekeeper. He works 7 days a week.

5. Meeting an experienced lotion and beauty product maker from Arkansas, who gave me some tips on finding a niche for products. I told her she needs to teach a class next year, and she said she would be interested!

6. Seeing Joan Thompson (who taught me how to cream corn properly this summer when we went to buy nucs). She said, "One day when I returned home from my work with the Farm Bureau, I discovered a 21-frame extractor in my kitchen." It's like seeing my future before it happens . . . though I've already told Mark this story and warned him 21 frames is a bit too much for us right now!

7. Seeing the wide variety of honey entered in the honey contest. The range from light (spring) to dark (fall) is stunning, and in the first photo you can see Dr. Collison tasting some chunk honey with a toothpick.Maybe next year Prairie Blossom Bee Farm will have some honey for the competition!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ready for Winter

It was hard to believe we were readying bees for winter with the high temperatures and sweat running down our backs on Sunday afternoon. We had to drive the Honda out to Bee Hill because the 4-wheeler was being repaired and the truck was hooked to Mark's big trailer. *That* would make a good Honda testimonial!

Our goal was to check all six hives and for the most part we did. This was the first time I used the inspection sheets, and it helped to make things go quickly and keep us organized. I also found, when I began thinking about this blog post, I could be more general in my observations because it didn't need to be a clear record of our activities for future reference. (You're thinking, "Whew!")

Here is what we found:
  • All of the hives seem to have good stores of honey for the winter. There's a clear difference in the photos from earlier in the season and now: the honey is dark brown.
  • We could see bees bringing pollen back to the hive in their "baskets." They have little indentations on the sides of their bodies and use their legs to move the pollen around. For a more detailed explanation and great photos, visit Linda's Bees post on the subject.
  • The four hives that already had entrance reducers (photo 2) on them were noticeably calm -- we didn't have to use any smoke except to keep them away from Mark's hand when he was adding the extra nail to the reducer.

  • All of the oil traps showed 2-5 dead hive beetles and a couple of larvae. For the most part, we feel our "greener" approach is working.
  • Hive 1 has a thriving population, and the queen they grew themselves is performing well. These bees are physically larger than any of our other bees, and dark in color. They were also more aggressive than the other hives, but that is likely due in part to the installation of the entrance reducer which requires a bit of hammering. After all of the drama and worry, they are doing very well!
  • Hive 2, with its new queen is doing much better. I spotted her -- what a thrill to find a queen at all, and doubly so to spot her before Mark! She (nicknamed Suzanne Sugarmaker by my sister) is a beauty, with a long golden abdomen and reddish thorax. We pulled one frame and found a nice solid brood pattern (photo 3), so we left them alone.
  • Hive 3 continues to avoid the south side of their hive, with 5 frames completely devoid of wax in the top super, and 3 in the bottom. Strange. They've got the next-to-lowest population of any of the hives, and we noticed some supersedure cells along the bottom of one of the frames. Mark said, "we'll let them do what they want to do." They are the only hive we didn't requeen.
  • Hive 4 (the BBQ bees): this hive has the lowest population. There was so little wax in the top medium super we removed it so they wouldn't have to keep it warm. They have lots of honey, so hopefully they'll make it through the winter.
  • Hive 5 (the Macon bees) are going like gang-busters, with a big population, big honey stores, no queen cells, and a calm temperament.
  • Hive 6: always last to be checked, this hive was full of mad bees. They have plenty of honey and plenty of energy, so we closed them up quickly and left them to figure out the entrance reducer we'd added.
The fourth and last photo was taken as we drove away, and shows the hives with the extra supers removed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

All's Well that Ends Well . . . We Hope

It's been an eventful few weeks since I last posted. Between illness, company, travel, work, and the death of my 96 year old grandmother, Edna, I've not been able to spend as much time on bee-related work. Oh, and we got a puppy, Duke.

The good news is that in my absence, the bees have carried on just fine. Mark has put entrance reducers on 4/6 hives. On 9/25, Sarah took notes for him:

  • Took feeder off Hive 4, put on a moving screen. There isn't much wax in the medium super on top. Bees seem content. All focused on the north side.
  • Had put a queen in Hive 1 but now moving it to Hive 2 because they don't seem to be laying eggs.
  • I love the smell of smoke in the morning.
So, when Mark checked to see if that Georgia queen was accepted and he could take out the cork, he found freshly laid eggs and happy bees in Hive 1, meaning their attempt at requeening themselves was successful. So he moved the Georgia queen to Hive 2. Today we'll check and see if she's doing well.

Our goal is to make a plan for each hive, do an inspection of each, and get in our heads where we are for the winter. We had a cold snap but it's hot again, so we'll look at honey stores, and we may remove a super or two so they won't have unused space to keep warm. More later!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Background Work

Tonight, before Mark reset the Internet connection, I had time to browse through some library books. Wildflowers of Mississippi by S. Lee Timme offered me great photos and identified flowers by region and type of soil, so finding prairie blossoms wasn't tough! I'm gathering information for potential logo and Web site design purposes, so I made a list of flowers I liked, and fortunately, some of them were highlighted as specific to the Black Prairie, which is where we are. These included Coreopsis, Compass Plant, Blue-Eyed Grass (photo, from Outside Pride), Rosin Weed, Black-Eyed Susan, and Blazing Star. I also liked Wild Petunia, Golden Aster, and Flax -- lots of purple and yellow, though we're not USM fans!

One entertaining aspect of this research was the names of different flowers: Devil's Walking Stick, Nodding Ladies' Tresses (Did someone mistake the currant wine for the raspberry cordial? Name that movie!), Hercules' Club, Sneeze Weed (aren't they all??), Nosebleed (inspirational!), Dutchman's Breeches, and perhaps my favorite: Rabbit Tobacco. I mean, can't you just imagine Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter lighting up? That'll show old Mr. McGregor!

If you'd like to look up wildflowers by color, check out http://www.wildflowerinformation.org/ though they didn't have most of what was on my list!

The other book I've begun is The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy by Valerie Ann Worwood. Now, before you start questioning my sanity (Kellie), this is more related to producing non-toxic air fresheners, lotions, and candles than trying to cure cancer with lavender oil (though apparently it's as good for burns as aloe vera, but I digress). My favorite factoid so far is that oregano is 26 times more powerful as an antiseptic than phenol, which is the active ingredient in most household cleaners. For all the New Age connotations, the term "aromatherapy" was coined in 1920 by a French perfumer, who burned his arm, plunged it into the nearest container (lavender oil) and was surprised that his wound didn't blister. Thus began his scientific investigation into essential oils and their therapeutic uses.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Drama Continues

While the weather hasn't truly begun to cool, the bees are preparing for the long winter, when they must eat what they've stored. Part of keeping bees is determining how much honey you can keep for yourself (or to sell) and how much they need to survive the lack of nectar until spring. I wanted to share a photo of what their pollen stores look like. Whereas earlier in the summer frames would be solid with honey or a combination of honey and brood, they now have frames with bright yellow deposits of pollen. It's the bees' protein source and is essential for rearing brood. For the record, bee pollen is considered by some a health food that cures all ills, but that's a story for another time.

While I was returning from a work trip to Tupelo and Booneville, Mark installed a new queen in Hive 1. He ordered her from Georgia, because the idea of losing that hive due to queen problems was driving him crazy. The lady in Georgia told him to leave both ends of the queen cage corked for three days, then go see how the bees are behaving and see if he can find a queen existing in that hive. If he finds one, and eggs as proof of laying, he can requeen another hive, for instance, 2 or 3 -- he thinks one of the two is not active enough but can't remember which one. If the bees in Hive 1 aren't aggressive and he can't find a queen or eggs, he can take one cork out to begin the candy-eating-release process.

In other bee news, we received $180 as part of the grant from MBA, as well as a receipt for our conference fees. I've already determined that if a vendor at the conference(October 28-29) has a queen marking pen and cage, we're getting it to make our lives easier looking for queens. Here is a photo of a marked queen from Ebert Honey in Iowa. You can imagine how much easier it would be to see her among the rest! You can pay extra to have the vendor mark the queen, but so far we've forgotten to request it.

And I use the term "we" liberally here. ;-)

Last but not least, our entrance reducers arrived. Did you know that mice love to build nests in bee hives during the winter? Bees tend to congregate together in the center of the brood box and "flex their bee muscles" to keep the temperature up; therefore, mice, if not prevented by some sort of entrance reducer, can sneak in and build a nest in a corner with little fear.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Painting Hive Bodies

Last night while I was home alone, I finally painted two hive bodies Mark allowed me to have. I couldn't find any real brushes for the first one (Bloom), so it's not as well done as I'd like. I was using one of those sponges on a stick. Out of frustration, I went through what felt like every drawer in the house until I found some actual paint brushes. I'm more pleased with the second one (Shine). Most importantly, I had fun and relaxed. It reminded me of being in high school, getting home on Thursdays and telling Mom, "I'm not going to art class tonight. I'm too tired." She'd say, "You are going to class because you're cranky!" I'd always feel better when I went. These hives in no way indicate that I had skill 20 years ago. Maybe Mark will let me have more so I can practice!

In bee-related news, Mark filled the feeders on Hives 4 & 5 on Sunday afternoon while I canned jam. On Monday, he looked for a frame of eggs to put in Hive 1 so they could grow their own queen, but had no luck finding eggs. Apparently they're reducing their laying in anticipation of the coming cool weather. So, the problem of Hive 1 remains unsolved. It's bugging Mark that we might lose that hive -- it's loaded up with bees, by far the largest population. He was told that some hives simply won't take a queen other than one they raise themselves, but the queen they had was one we introduced because the original queen was in the tree. So we'll look again this weekend for eggs and hope we can find something they can turn into a queen they'll accept, or, in lieu of that, we hope we'll see eggs in Hive 1, meaning there is a queen and she's laying.