Hive report: 17 June 2018

This turned out to be a very quick peek into Hive A–the heat got to me.  I’m such a wuss when it comes to heat and humidity.  I’ve been trying so hard not to degenerate into complaining (no, actually make that bitching) about the weather but I give up.  When I went out to do this inspection the local weather conditions were reported as 90°F with a heat index of 102 °F: however, my thermometer read 94.9°F.  Inside my bee jacket (the common white one)–well, I don’t even want to think about that.  (More about the cool blue one later).

What I found when I opened the hive was brood all over the place–yes, I forgot to put on the queen excluder–so now I have brood right up to the topmost medium super.  Some of the foundationless frames that I had inserted are being drawn nicely though.

One frame on plasticell foundation had been drawn into space where the foundationless one was–the girls seemed to be ignoring that one so I had very deep comb on one side. You can see how I disrupted a lot of the comb, so I just pulled that frame out for harvest.  I replaced it with an undrawn frame . This one is going to get harvested in some variation of crush/strain method and I’ll hope that some of the foundationless ones can be harvested for cut comb.

Unfortunately, the heat got to me in a big way so I couldn’t stay out long enough to do a full, meticulous find-the-queen inspection–at least I know the queen is doing well.  I need to make some sort of plan to deal with what these girls are doing–probably going back in and consolidating brood, and putting on a queen excluder would be a good start. But to do that I have to find the queen and that’s not easy because the hive population is SO heavy. At least I know that the girls do have space to store more honey, but…

But I need to see what’s in the “brood box”–though the girls and I don’t seem to agree on where that right now. I also need to inspect the other three hives–but not today. My thermometer is now reading 95.8°F and I’m totally wilted. (Yes, I did start hydrating a couple hours before I got into the bee jacket, but that wasn’t enough.  More water, sooner next time–and start earlier.

I guess maybe the girls will get me appropriately trained sooner or later, maybe….



Comb honey vs. extracted honey

From one of my very favorite (and useful) beekeeping blogs (HoneyBeeSuite) I wanted to share a post that so well describes the grocery-store honey and the wonders of honey in the comb: How to make value-subtracted honey.  I couldn’t agree more, nor could I say it better so I’ll just pass on this link.


More ways to use honey.

Now that the bees are here, thoughts turn to honey–even though it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to harvest from the hive started from the package of bees that I got on 14 April 2017–the bees must have a winter supply so that has priority over satisfying my desire for honey.

I found an interesting series of articles from Kitchn on honey and its use in cooking or just eating:


There are additional links within these articles to recipes using honey, and to a series on migratory beekeeping and production of varietal honey.

Varietals are so much fun. Even the seasonal variations on wildflower honey are special. Raw honey is much like wine–its goût de terroir–a reflection of the total environment where the bees forage.

A son gôut!


The honey bee calendar: seasonal honey.

The bees’ calendar and the beekeeper’s calendar are not the same as the one in Outlook or Google that displays all the holidays for you and the “year” by which we proceed through our daily routines. They are more responsive to temperatures, and hours of daylight–what’s really going on in nature.  They are awaiting the spring nectar flow to increase the population of the hive and to store honey.  Or the fall nectar flow to store food for the winter months.

In summer when we are enjoying a surfeit of fruits and vegetables (because of the bees’ pollen and nectar gathering in the spring) we have to realize that about that time there is a declining flow of nectar–fewer things are blooming. Life can be hard for bees in July. A nectar dearth means less food for them, so depending on forage region, we may be feeding bees while enjoying plenty of fruits and vegetables.  The bees will be waiting for the fall nectar flow–in my forage region (Appalachian-Ozark Upland) that’s primarily asters and goldenrod.

This seasonal variation is one of the delights of honey and beekeeping. The photograph at the top of the page shows the difference between spring/summer honey (left) and autumn honey (right). It’s seasonal flavor when honey is not blended. In this forage region, as an urban beekeeper, I have “wildflower” honey since my bees don’t have access to a large monofloral flow. I can’t produce varietal honey such as sourwood or alfalfa honey, or even clover honey, but I do have seasonal honey.


What “raw” honey means…

…or doesn’t mean.

In many places, the spring nectar flow is over and some beekeepers may be harvesting honey. When you look at the label you may see “raw” honey. Here is a good discussion of that may mean from HoneybeeSuite. 

It’s a lot like the word “natural” used on labels. Your best bet is to ask the beekeeper who is selling the honey. They will be glad to explain the harvesting and extraction process to you so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Hive report: 27 April 2017

It was clear and sunny this morning with only a bit of steady breeze, so I lit the smoker and invaded the girls’ living quarters to see how they are settling in.

The colony seems to be doing well–given that I only installed the package on 14 April in an almost-brand-new hive with no drawn combs in the brood box. Added to that we’ve had a series of chilly, rainy days when there could be no foraging.

When I opened the hive today I was happy to see that four of the eight frames have comb either drawn or being drawn on them, and one side of the fifth frame was being drawn. On inspection, I saw eggs, larvae in various stages, and capped brood–all looking like a good laying pattern from this queen. Two of the frames were quite heavy with brood, pollen, and honey. There was a little capped honey, too.

I found the queen on one frame in from the outside on the right.  Some frames on the left of the brood chamber were completely undrawn, so I shifted everything toward the left, and put two of the empty frames on the right so that the brood is now more central in the chamber–I didn’t change the order of any frames with brood on them though–just shifted them toward the left. I sure hope that was an appropriate thing to do. (I suspect that this right sided distribution of drawn frames and brood has something to do with how I replaced frames after removing the shipping box from the hive–I should have split the empty frames–shifting the frame with the queen more toward the center of the hive. But that’s what keeps beekeeping interesting–always learning.

The colony seems quite calm–even while I was removing burr comb that they had constructed between the frame tops and the inner cover (and had filled with “nectar”–I couldn’t help wondering if that “nectar” was the sugar syrup from the bucket feeder that was on the hive. After inspection, I put the bucket feeder back on but if the weather holds, I’ll not refill it–letting the girls get on with foraging for nectar and pollen–or remove it in a couple days if it looks as if they are no longer taking the syrup.

Because I put these girls onto undrawn (but wax coated) frames, I had an entrance excluder in place so that the queen couldn’t get out of the hive–trying to be sure that the new package and queen didn’t abscond. Now that they have brood, I’ll remove that, but I think I’ll leave the entrance reduced for a bit longer until there are more bees in the colony (which shouldn’t be long given the amount of capped brood that I saw today).

For now, all seems well. Long live the (unnamed) queen in hive 2017A!




Varietal honey

I’ve always loved honey–even as a child–especially comb (also known as cut-comb) honey. Now that I have bees I have my own honey–but it is wildflower honey. It’s a mix of Honey jars 20160702_140009whatever is currently providing nectar for the ladies to tote back to the hive and process into honey.

Varietal  honeys have flavors that can be quite distinctive. (Note that I’m not referring to “infused honey” which has had flavors added–e.g. chilli pepper, which sounds delightful to me, but rather honey which is made exclusively (or almost) from a single flower.) My honey shelf includes varietals such as leatherwood, tupelo, orange blossom, thyme, lavender, eucalyptus, buckwheat, sourwood–and what was purported to be kudzu honey. I think the Hawaiian white is all gone. Always on the lookout for good varietals. It’s a real treat to have these on biscuits or warm, homemade bread, or used in a sorbet, sherbert, or granita where the individual flavors really stand out–or just on morning oatmeal.

These thoughts on varietal honeys sprang from update from Honey Bee Suite answering the question of whether or not bees made honey from poison ivy/poison oak. Turns out that they do–and the blog post included a link to a source of some really interesting varietals from the Pacific Northwest varietals. I think I really have to have some poison bees on frame of honeyoak honey–especially as I share the experience of having that same kind of reaction to exposure to poison ivy, although mine didn’t involve any horses. Just a lot of poison ivy.

The post on poison ivy/oak honey had a link to a site that has an interesting array of varietal honeys from Old Blue Raw Honey as single season, samplers, and the year-long honey subscription–a serious gift for a honey lover!

To have a varietal honey there has to be enough of the blossoms to let the honey bees do their “monofloral” thing. Even wildflower flavors will vary from season to season as the flora shifts; fall will bring goldenrod and aster nectar for honey. One of the intriguing things about honey in the comb is that you get to variable flavor even within “wildflower” honey.




Cool stuff for hot weather

pickling and Amira cucumbers side by side

This hot weather has me looking for cool things–ways to beat the heat. Cucumber is one of the first things that comes to mind when I think of cool, refreshing things–with tomatoes in salad, or with mangos. But thinking really cold, I started  skulking through my old recipes for a dimly remembered recipe for cucumber sorbet with eucalyptus honey.

Eucalyptus honey is fairly dark, with an assertive earthy, spicy flavor with a slightly cool overtone like mild menthol. For some it might be called medicinal, but I found it an interesting combination, with the cool cucumber plus the extra little kick of coolness from the eucalyptus honey. (If you don’t have eucalyptus honey, this sorbet will still be tasty.)

Problem–someone (no names here) didn’t write down the quantities or the source of this recipe–or maybe it was an off-the-cuff invention with whatever was around at the time that obviously included eucalyptus honey.

So, some research. Going to The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz (one of my two favorite sources on frozen dessert stuff), and Jenis Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer (my other ice cream favorite) I found what I needed to fill in the missing quantities for the sorbet.

Cucumber and Eucalyptus Honey Sorbet


  • 2 English or Japanese cucumbers–about 2 pounds–coarsely chopped
  • 5 ounces eucalyptus* honey
  •  1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of salt

Preparation and notes

  • I prefer the English or Japanese cucumbers because you don’t need to remove seeds. This would take about 2 cucumbers. Peeling is not necessary. If you have slicing cucumbers, remove seeds.
  • Combine honey and water; heating is not necessary.
  • Combine ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.
  • Pour into prepared ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions
  • To make without an ice cream maker, use the method for granitas: pour into a shallow baking dish and place in the freezer. Stir with a fork about every 30 minutes until firm. (This breaks up ice crystals although the texture will not be as fine as with an ice cream maker–but still tasty.)

*A note on honey: Eucalyptus honey is a varietal honey; made from the nectar that bees collect from flowering eucalyptus trees. It is not an “infused” or “flavored” honey–those are made by adding flavoring to wildflower honey. I found the eucalyptus honey in my local Harris Teeter grocery store, next to the orange blossom and wildflower honey.


Some other interesting recipes that I found whilst trolling the internet:



Hive report: Honey in the jar!


My first harvest! Two gallons of this wonderful sweet stuff. Finally extracted and in the jars. It was accomplished without too much mess in the kitchen,  without invasion of those little brown “sweet-eating” ants, and (thankfully) no particular interest from Frankie (the cat).

Hive report: harvest!

Big day! Yesterday, take off the super, and today–extraction!

I turned into a wuss yesterday and donned the bee jacket and gloves since I was going to pull a super of honey for harvest. I thought I might need to use the bee brush to get the girls off of the frames of honey. Even the calmest of girls can get a bit testy when you start pushing them around, but they were extremely calm and the escape board had worked very well.  (I hadn’t had the full jacket on since last July and I hope not to have it on again for a while.) The thermometer on my shaded back porch was reading 88 degrees Fahrenheit when I pulled that super of honey; I was dripping like a soaker hose. I did have to do a little brushing. The frames were almost all full and almost completely capped–felt like 35 to 40 pounds when I lifted it down from the hive. Much more when toting it from hive to kitchen even though the hives  are not far away.

20160628_101041My first extraction. I really appreciate Brushy Mountain Bee Farm’s video library, especially since I’ve not gone through an extraction with another beekeeper. I know part of the video is to sell stuff, but there’s good information on things to do and not to do.


The kitchen was transformed into the honey room last night: plastic drop cloths  covering the table and the floor, the honey extractor, uncapping bucket, honey bottling bucket and the super of honey (but I did manage to leave a path to the espresso machine for morning coffee before I started the extraction this morning.

I’ve discovered one thing that I thought I didn’t need that I will have by the next extraction: a method of stabilizing the full frames over the bucket that I’m using to catch the cappings as I take them off the cells. It gets rather drippy and slippery as you’re lifting those nice little white caps off of the cells filled with honey. A full frame weighs about 4 or 5 pounds, and holding it up with one hand really exercises some muscles that I didn’t think about until almost the second frame! Why did I decide that I didn’t need the gadget that fits over the bucket and is designed specifically to rest and stabilize the frame?  Beats me now as I’m uncapping!  Hindsight is always so much better than foresight! Sigh!

20160628_103735Since the extractor is a tangential, hand-cranked one, it’s a rather long process and I’ve discovered that how you open the cells makes a huge difference in the amount of cranking you have to do. I opted for a capping scratcher, but it takes longer to spin out the honey with scratching as opposed to actually lifting off the cappings (or cutting with a knife)! After the first scratched frame, I resorted to lifting the caps off. But…next time I’ll try to arrange things so that I can use a knife. (I tried a bread knife, but the comb in these frames was uneven enough that it didn’t work well.

Seeing that first honey drain out of the extractor is a thrill.  Awesome. This was the first real taste I’ve had of the honey from my bees–my local honey. It is certainly different from the jars of supermarket honey that go as “wildflower” honey. True, what I’m extracting is “wildflower” honey, but it’s much more aromatic. I’m only straining–not filtering or heating at all to preserve as much of the character as I possibly can. My kitchen smells so good.

My kitchen smells so good.

I made less of a mess than I thought I might! I’m being un-ecological and not even trying to clean up that drop cloth. The honey  the bucket doesn’t look that impressive, but it is a five-gallon bottling bucket, so there is really a reasonable amount of honey there. Now to clean up the extractor.

The honey in the bucket doesn’t look that impressive, but it is a five-gallon bottling bucket, so there is a decent amount of honey there. I am anxious to see how many bottles/jars I have when I can bottle it after it has stood for a bit to let air bubbles go away (although I’m not entering it in any contests or the state fair–this year). I’m just happy to have it to share with friends.

Now to clean up the extractor and the other bits and pieces associated with this process. Most of it was easy to clean–a little soap and warm water.  I think the extractor is going to have to go outside for a good rinse with cold water from the hose! I’ve heard that I could let the bees come clean away the residual honey from the extractor;  but after a conversation with a Facebook friend, also a beekeeper, that might lead to bees stuck in the honey that’s still on the sides and bottom. Not good–don’t like stuck, dead bees!  I’m letting it sit overnight since honey is still draining down the sides to the bottom; I’ll see what has accumulated in the morning. For now, I feel like it was a good day’s work.


I’m hoping to have a little cut-comb from the outside frames even though the ladies decided that would make a good brood chamber (along with the other three medium boxes). That will certainly be easier to process than doing extraction like this, but it is very taxing for the bees since they have to make new comb. With this extraction, they get the comb back to repair and reuse.