Friday, December 14, 2012

Happy Holidays!

If you have received Prairie Blossom Bee Farm honey this holiday season and are visiting the blog for the first time, welcome!

With the support of several business clients, Mark has bottled, shipped and/or delivered over 300 one-pound bottles of this year's first-ever Delta honey crop.

This super-sweet honey, made primarily from the nectar of cotton blossoms, has a tendency to crystallize faster than our wildflower honey. Exposure to lower temperatures also increases the rate of crystallization. But don't worry! Crystallization is a natural process.  Here is a brief article on the process.

If you don't like your honey in its crystallized state, we recommend warming it in hot water. Repeated warming and cooling can impact the color and taste of the honey. Microwaving, while the fastest method, super-heats the honey and diminishes its health benefits.

Our honey is a raw product -- we filter it only once, when it comes out of the extractor. We don't super-heat it, because heat kills the beneficial enzymes. Our goal is to bring you a pure, natural and delicious treat with its health-related benefits intact. 

If you have any questions, feel free to ask us.  Wikipedia has a thorough article on honey, and details best temperatures under the section titled "Preservation."

For more information on the natural benefits of honey, visit the National Honey Board's website.

Our thanks to the Tatums at Loresco, Ronnie Jones Construction, the Brocks at Shelter Insurance, Johnny Wigley at Southern Landscaping, the DeLois Smith All-Star Team and everyone else giving the gift of honey this year. We appreciate you!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mississippi State Fair

We went to the State Fair this year, the first time since I moved to MS.

We took my favorite 4-year-old, who made the day so very memorable with his excitement. He never complained or asked to be carried. On the way home he said, "We had a big day. We can go again."

Of course we stopped by the honey booth! We didn't enter anything this year, but this gave us a good idea of how it's done.

Mississippi Beekeepers Association Conference

Last Friday and Saturday we attended the annual MBA conference. For me, it was very convenient, as it was held in the conference center at my workplace -- the Bost Extension Center at Mississippi State University.

Event organizers had a stellar line-up of speakers.

Randy Oliver, whose site is a repository of all kinds of research-based information, knocked our socks off with his keynote address. He and his sons run 1,000 hives in Grass Valley, CA. He is full of energy and enthusiasm for maintaining healthy colonies. He also convinced me that raising queens isn't as hard as I think it is. ;-)

Russian bee breeder and long-time MBA leader Harry Fulton greeted everyone and taught packed sessions on beginning beekeeping. It was heartening to see so many people interested in taking up beekeeping as a hobby. (I didn't even get up and give a testimony about how they *think* it's going to be a hobby and then it takes over their lives . . .)

Walter T. Kelley Company and Dadant were both on site to sell equipment and all sorts of bee-related goodies, like these signs.

One of my favorite presentations was given by Ed Levi, a retired apiary inspector from Arkansas. He has traveled the world to help struggling beekeepers improve their practices for more financial stability. His amazing photos included traditional hives, a house with a hive kept in the wall for instant access to sweetener, and photos of honey hunters who have to avoid tiger attacks while harvesting.

Thanks, MBA, for a great conference!

Monday, September 17, 2012

900 pounds and counting

On Saturday we extracted about 300 pounds of honey from the Delta. We've had to order more storage containers, as we still have honey at Mayhew to harvest, including what we hope is delicious comb honey.

If you know of any businesses that need a holiday gift for clients, we'd love to help! Last year we shipped our honey all over the world -- the business owner provided the mailing labels and greetings, we boxed everything and took it to the post office.

Cooler weather is making the honey harvest more pleasant! I've also started my fall garden in my raised beds.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Calling All Honey Customers!

We have been blessed with a bountiful harvest. If you have empty PBBF honey bottles you need refilled, please let us fill 'em up! Remember there's a $2 discount on refills, so the prices drop to $13 for a 3-lb refill and $5.50 for a 1-lb refill!

We'd love to fill your honey bottles and make room in the bottling tanks. Both are full and we've only harvested from two bee yards.

Bring your bottles to us with your name on them somewhere (a Sharpie marker on the lid works well), and Mark can fill them up with super fresh honey from this summer's harvest.

Coming soon: 2-lb bottles. For those of you who just can't decide between the 1 & 3!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Honey Bon Bons?

The W hotel in Minneapolis, MN has beehives atop its lounge, and the harvested honey is turned into bon bons for their guests. The news story is here.

I've never been to MN, but I'd love to go and taste those bon bons. Or apparently I can order them online, $7 for three from Mademoiselle Miel. Which would likely be a lot more economical.

Given that my last bottle of gummy vitamins arrived melted into a giant vitamin glob, ordering these chocolates will have to wait until it cools off in MS.

Aaaaand she also has salted honey bon bons. Le sigh.

People may think honey is perfect as it is, but what can't be made better with chocolate?!?

Photo from Mademoiselle Miel's blog.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Slatted Bottom Boards

Mark invested in some slatted bottom boards this year, to help with ventilation.

Some beekeepers think it's an unnecessary expense.

We like them for the following reasons:

  • bees don't beard on the front of the hives -- they can congregate down below the brood chambers. If you have an urban bee yard and it freaks out your neighbors to see bees bearding ("They're SWARMING!"), slatted bottom boards might be a good option for you.
  • ventilation. Mississippi is hot. We have screens on top to help with temperature, but the extra ventilation may help us cut down on common bee diseases, like Nosema.
  • the bees seem calmer. Maybe it's because they don't feel as crowded, but our colonies on the slatted bottom boards don't seem as aggressive.
  • we can still use oil traps for pest control, rather than chemicals.
Here are two pictures.

The hive entrance is to the right.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Hilts' Visit to Bee Hill

Some dear friends stopped by as part of their vacation. I've known Becky & Jay since we were all in college together at FC. They still live in Florida, though we're trying to convince them to relocate here.

We took them to Stafford's Big Burger in West Point for a Mississippi culinary cultural experience: fried pickles and fried green tomatoes. Oh, and I had a strawberry shake for supper. Annabelle really liked the fried pickles. My kind of kid!

They wanted to see the bees, so Mark got them all suited up and Becky took my camera. The bummer was that it was set on manual focus. Boo.

Here are a couple of pictures from their sunset visit to Bee Hill.

We really need to invest in some kid-sized bee gear!

The next morning we fed them deer steak, deer sausage, biscuits and eggs.

Then Dougray had some target practice.

It's a Redneck Vacation Extravaganza, y'all! Come & see us!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bee Yard Inspection at Prairie Wildlife

Yesterday Mark drove out to Prairie Wildlife in West Point to add honey supers in anticipation of the soybeans blooming. He was upset to find that since his last visit two or three of the hives' lids had been blown off in the recent storms. We have no idea how long the bees had to put up with all of that light, wind, and rain! Not their favorite way to live.

So today, after the rain storm and power outage (!) he loaded the 4-wheeler onto the trailer, put heavier lids in the back of the truck, and we headed out. Thankfully, it was only 75 degrees! Not that it lasted . . .

We looked through all of the hives except the "tower of power" on the end. For the most part, they're doing well, though growing more slowly than we anticipated. Most are not generating excess honey stores yet.

We found one hive that was queenless but loaded with honey and pollen. We combined it with one of the hives that had been exposed to the elements, but still had a healthy queen. We hope they'll join forces and create a strong, healthy colony.

It was nice to be out with Mark, working the bees together. I've missed it.

Photo highlights:

It wasn't smoky . . . my lens fogged up when I got out of the truck. ;-)
All of the hives, before we inspected.

Snack time!

If you can't see the queen here, folks, I can't help you.
These bees are making use of every cell -- pollen is interspersed with uncapped and capped brood.

Pretty, fresh brood comb. Well done, Queenie!

Newspaper combining a healthy colony with a queenless colony.

Ah, Summer!

We've been busy, as have the bees!

After inspecting Bee Hill, Mark spent the 4th of July painting honey supers. He anticipates a big harvest.

We're in the final stages of redesigning our logo and honey labels, and I'm *very excited!* I'll give you a sneak peak when everything is finalized.

Today I met the new Extension apicultural specialist, that is, beekeeping expert. I've got a news release about him coming out this week at work, which I'll post here after it's out. He came to MSU from USDA's bee breeding lab in Louisiana, but has been a beekeeper since he caught his first swarm at age 8. Welcome to MS, Dr. Jeff Harris!

My garden is surviving. The hummingbirds are in constant battle over the feeders -- and we have 3! I'm selling honey in fits and starts through a couple of different Facebook pages. The spring harvest is almost gone. The soybeans are in bloom.

Tonight Mark is assembling frames to make cut-comb honey. This involves papery thin sheets of wax, bobby pins, and teeny-tiny nails.

All in all, life is good at PBBF. I hope your summer is going well, too!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Info. on Pollinators

In support of National Pollinator Week, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service did a series of blog entries on pollinators. They also have a web page about pollinators and showed off the new pollinators poster, "Pollinator Pathways" by Steve Buchanan. I may have to stop by our local NRCS office and see if they have any!
Join the Conversation about Native Bees

Monday, June 25, 2012

Velcro flower petals?

Flower petals appear to be smooth, but this article discusses a study that shows the petals act like Velcro to bee feet!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Visit to the Dutch Gold Facility in Pennsylvania

In the book Robbing the Bees (link goes to my book review) by Holley Bishop, she talks about the first honey bear container's creation leading to a family business that is known as Dutch Gold, in Lancaster, PA.

In addition to a display of historic beekeeping equipment, they sell containers and an assortment of varietal honeys. They buy honey from all over the world and stack the barrels in their warehouse. Because the honey sugars, the first step is to put the barrels in a hot room for about 3 days before pouring it into a large vat. Through a glass window we watched how they steam the honey barrels to get out all of the product. The honey is then heated to 180+ degrees, blended into one of their recipes to get the desired flavor, cooled to about 140 degrees, and piped into bottles. It's honey bottling on a scale I've never seen -- a true mechanical assembly line moving at a rapid pace.The honey has to stay hot to move swiftly through the machines.

Each bottle is weighed, labeled and boxed to be shipped. At the time we visited, they were bottling for Costco, which has its own honey label. Many grocery store chains also carry Dutch Gold honey, but under the store's own label.

Our guide assured us that they go through strict protocols to make sure the honey they buy both domestically and abroad is high quality. They send honey samples to a lab in Germany to test it for antibiotics and other impurities before they agree to purchase from any beekeeper.

It was a fascinating visit, but one that convinced me -- more than ever -- of the importance of buying local honey. Yes, super-heated honey will not sugar, is a pretty color in the jar, and will likely have a consistent, if generic, honey flavor. But the minerals and enzymes that make honey something more than liquid sugar are gone. If you go to the National Honey Board's website, you can download a free PDF about the "Reference Guide to Nature's Sweetener" to learn more.

In return for our free tour, we bought two bottles of varietal honey we don't see often: raspberry and orange blossom. Our tradition of buying honey while traveling continues -- more on the "real, local" honey we purchased in a future post.

Photo highlights:

My favorite beekeeper.

An historic photograph.

A collection of old smokers.

Skeps and hives.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Golden Triangle Beekeepers' Meeting

Last Thursday we hosted a meeting for local beekeepers. Reid Nevins, the Lowndes County Extension Service director organized it. We took a field trip to our bee yard, and Mark talked about some of the new equipment he's trying, such as a slatted bottom board for more ventilation, and the oil traps to control small hive beetles.

Several very experienced beekeepers attended, so newer beekeepers had plenty of people to talk to -- if they would. Beekeeping tends to attract some solitary, quiet individuals!

Thanks to everyone who joined us. I can't promise I'll remember your names, but the more we get together, the greater the chances are!

P.S. Bob, from this post, joined us.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Honey Turkey Rollers from the National Honey Board

I made these Monday night and they were a big hit. It will come as a surprise to no one that I added fresh baby spinach to them. Gotta get those veggies in! (Okay, I also used more turkey, I suspect, but the key here is the sauce -- delicious! Especially with PBBF honey!) Sarah made sure the end pieces, which weren't quite full, didn't go to waste. :-)  Enjoy!

Honey Turkey Rollers

Honey Turkey Rollers
Makes 6 servings
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, optional
  • 6 (8-inch) whole wheat tortillas
  • 1-1/2 cups Colby Jack cheese, shredded
  • 12 thin slices turkey
In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add honey, mustard and onion powder; mix well. Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey cream cheese mixture out to the edge of each tortilla. Sprinkle each tortilla with 1/4 cup cheese, leaving about 1 inch around the edge. Place 2 slices of turkey on each tortilla. Roll up each tortilla tightly and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least 30 minutes, then slice each tortilla log into eight 1-inch rounds and serve.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Blueberry Pie

The delicious blueberries available this time of year are possible thanks to pollinators. Here in Mississippi we have the Southern blueberry bee to help, along with many others. 

Some friends had us over Monday night, and invited us to pick blueberries to take home with us. I've been in blueberry heaven ever since.

Here is my favorite recipe for blueberry pie, from Frances Barham's cookbook, recipe by Kim Latham.

Crust for a double crust pie

2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 cups blueberries (you can use frozen if needed)
2/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. margarine (I've used butter, and tend to use more than 1 Tbsp. -- I dollop generously!)

Sprinkle lemon juice over blueberries. Mix sugar and cornstarch together, then stir into blueberries. Put into pie crust. Dot with margarine. Cover with top crust and cut vents in the crust. Bake at 400 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until the filling bubbles and the crust is golden brown. **You may want to put a cookie sheet on the rack underneath to catch any juices that overflow. Or, you can be like me, and get to clean your oven. ;-)



Call Mark if you need honey! 662-418-4422

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Visit from the Reyers

When we first got started beekeeping in 2010, Jody Reyer welded our first bee stands.

These bee stands -- the prototypes of the current Back Saver Hive Stands made from aluminum -- will be on Bee Hill until the end of time. They are beyond solid.

When we went to visit them & discuss the design, Brittany was pregnant with their first child. We finally got to meet their sweet daughter on Memorial Day.

Brittany used to be an Extension Agent, but is now home raising her baby girl.

And about 2,500 tomato plants. Plus squash, zucchini, blackberries . . . you get the idea. The Reyers have started what Mississippians call "truck cropping" -- growing produce to sell from a truck or farm stand, or at the local farmers' market.

While in our neck of the woods, Mark called our neighbors, the Ellises of the Mayhew Tomato Farm. While AP and I stayed in the air-conditioned cool and played, Mark, Robert, and the Reyers went to the farm to pick Mel's brain about how to make a go of it in the tomato business. Mark said, "I think they could have stayed a couple more hours and Mel would have stuck with them -- he answered all their questions because you can tell they're smart, hard-working young people who want to do it right."

Thanks Mel, and thanks to Jody & Brittany for coming to visit!

Photo highlights:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Our girls get the job done!

A few weeks ago, Mark got a call from a man who has a very interesting garden on the edge of Columbus. Bob grows tomatoes year-round, and he grows row upon row of cucumbers, squash and peppers in pots, all fed though a drip system of water that is exactly the pH he wants it to be and contains fertilizer.

Bob needed bees. He noticed he didn't have any pollinators visiting his squash and cucumber blooms, and if he didn't get some pollinators, his garden wouldn't produce. So Mark set up a hive, and on 5/27 we drove out to check on them. They're doing well, they're not aggressive, Bob's got cucumbers growing like crazy -- nice and straight -- and he has fallen in love with the bees.

"Where are my guards? Usually I have about 12 bees on the sides of the opening there," he said. "I come out and watch them, and I read they don't start work until 8 o'clock, but these will be up and working around 6!" he bragged. He was tickled with how hard our girls work!

Bob bought a book to learn more about the bees. He chatted about behaviors he's observed, how quickly they ate the sugar water he put out for them . . . all in the tone of voice I've heard in those of us who are engaged in this hot and perplexing task called beekeeping because we are fascinated with the insects.

I suspect that Bob is going to end up becoming a beekeeper himself.

Photo highlights:

Bob is at the end of the growing season for these tomatoes -- they were planted last July!

Yellow squash growing like crazy.

These bees are picture-perfect brood makers -- just the right pattern of brood with honey stored on the corners.

While Mark chatted with Bob, I watched the bees in the box.
 Thanks, Robert, for taking the photos!

An online seminar on how swarms choose a new home.

Linda's post links to author Tom Seeley's online seminar on his work studying "honeybee democracy."

You can see clear video of the famous waggle dance. You can also see video of bees piping the message, "ladies, warm up your flight muscles!"

It's a fascinating and easy-to-understand lesson on swarm behavior. It runs about an hour, which may seem long, but it's still shorter than reading his book. ;-)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Three hives for Prairie Wildlife

Remember Hattie?

Mark has been working with her bees to get them ready to move. On Friday night, 5/26, Mark and I went out to eat at Pop's BBQ in Columbus, sold 3 jars of honey while we were there, then went to Hattie's to move the bees. In the near dark, Mark stapled screens to the front entrance to keep the bees from flying out, and carried them to the truck. Lightning bugs kept me entertained while he dealt with the work!

Saturday morning we got up early and were on the road before 6 a.m. We drove to Prairie Wildlife, where Mark set out 2 hives, and newspaper-combined a third because it was queenless. (Well, Mark had killed the queen because these were some seriously aggressive bees.) It was a lovely sunrise, with mist rising off of the pond, ducks waddling in the road, and morning glories blushing in the early light. It was also lovely because we stopped at Hoover's Bakery afterward and got apple fritters.

Photo highlights:

Sunrise from the truck.

The pond in the morning mist.

This is the row of hives after Mark got done adding the new colonies.

This is a slatted bottom board before the oil trap slides in below. It gives the bees more room and air circulation during the hot summer.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hive Contest Winners

Thanks to everyone who voted in our contest!

Here are our lovely and talented winners! The photo and descriptions below are from Cary Haycox, the art teacher.

"The winners are left to right:
Anna Kalarski (pink card: 2nd place, #3, flower power)
Caitlyn McClain (yellow card: 3rd place, #5, hexagon)
Tori Fields (blue card: 1st place - #8, stripes)
The guys in back from left to right:
Cary Haycox (Visual Art Teacher)
Mr. Tommy Gunn (HA Headmaster)
and you know the big guy
Please let Mark know the honey was a huge success and everyone that tried it, really enjoyed it.  I let some students spoon some from my bottle and wound up going home with a third of it gone."
One idea Cary had for next year is giving students the option of painting one board, or working with a group to pain an entire super, as apparently some felt intimidated by so much space to fill. For our pilot project, I think the students did a beautiful job -- I couldn't be more pleased. Thanks, Cary, and HA students!

The number of supers on the front porch is dwindling, but our family's favorites will likely be the last to go out to the bee yards. I'm considering swiping one to put out by our driveway and turn it into a flower box, but I don't know if my husband would appreciate that!

Robbing the Bees, by Holley Bishop

Last night I finished a marvelous book that satisfied my longing to know more about bees and beekeeping history without reading a dry, musty old volume written in the 1800s. Bishop's book is very well-written, thoroughly researched, and fun. Thanks to Audrey for the recommendation!

You can read my review on my other blog, Keri Recommends.

Image from The Nibble.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Swarm Makes a Home in Steens

A week ago tonight Mark and I drove to the home of some friends in Steens who had graciously allowed us to hang a swarm trap in their tree last year. When we arrived, Sol was mowing. Don had no idea we were coming or that there were bees in the trap, which made me feel much better about the state of communication in my marriage. ;-)

Retrieving the trap went smoothly, even when the lid started to fall off and Mark caught it with his ungloved hand. A couple of nights ago, Mark inspected the box and determined the bees were not making use of the frames above them but continuing to build in the trap, so he conducted a relocation project. He said they're very docile bees (they must take after Troy) and nice to work with after the Delta bees.

Photo highlights:

We put the entire trap inside 2 deep boxes for transport.

This swarm went to the back yard for now.
If you're a beekeeper and you're thinking about getting this type of trap, it's important to understand that they're not easy to use, in terms of getting bees and comb out once they've settled in. Mark will likely be making his own traps from now on.

Do pesticides impact pollen and bees?

On Friday, May the 4th, these two light saber- vacuum-wielding grad students came to Prairie Blossom Bee Farm to harvest some bees from our hives -- about 100 bees total. They set up a piece of screen to increase their chances of capturing bees before they slipped into the hive with their baskets full of pollen.

Nice bee vacuum!

I wonder how they found us?

Thanks, Harry & Angus! ;-)
 My understanding is that they are going to test the pollen our bees gather now, and then test again later in the summer, to check the pesticide load in the pollen.

I'm excited that MSU is conducting research on this important topic. Hopefully their findings will help bee colonies all over America thrive.