Bee Mama Missive: Lumpy And Squishy

Squishy and sticky, actually. But lumpy and squishy are a part of the family lore. When my almost 20 year-old son was very little, he was a picky eater.  He’s not any more, but as a tyke, whenever he wouldn’t eat or even try a new food, his excuse was that it’s lumpy and squishy. So lumpy and squishy became our go-to phrase when we don’t like or want to eat some particular food.

I would suggest that this,

IMGP5417.new …is lumpy and squishy.  But try it?  You betcha!!  This golden glory is what remains of one of the batches of honeycomb that Bee Daddy and I harvested from our honeybee hives recently and that I drained a total of about a gallon and a half of honey from.    I should also add that in addition to being lumpy and squishy, the honey is also sticky and delicious.

Really, really delicious.

After checking our hives recently, we ended up with bags full-to-bursting with honeycomb which needed squishing in order to extract the precious, yummy honey.

IMGP5370.new If I was a serious beekeeper whose goal was to reap honey throughout the year, I would have a different type of hive (Langstroth) and invest in a honey extractor.  As it currently stands though, my beekeeping goals are about adding pollinators to my local environment and if we get some gorgeous and sweet benefit from the bees, that’s a-cherry-on top for our efforts.

Honey is the byproduct of honeybees, so here I am with roughly ten bags of honeycomb,

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…plus some partially filled comb.

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Because the extraction is time-consuming (I’ve done this once before after the smaller spring honey harvest), I knew the work would commence over several days, so the first order of business was to store our ziplocked booty.  I placed the bags in bowls and cookie containers and made room on pantry shelves throughout the kitchen.

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If we had Langstroth hives, the comb would be built in an actual frame that we could place in a spinner to extract the honey. Our Warre hives demand that the comb be cut out in its entirety in order to extract the honey.  The Warre hive is designed with top bars and the bees build their comb downward from the bar.  Once the bar is removed from the hive, the only option is to crush the comb to open up the cells and let the honey drain and drip. Which is what I did, on and off, all last week.

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In batches, as I found time, I broke off bits of comb, place those bits in a strainer then proceeded to crush the comb with a solid wooden spoon as my patience and wrist allowed, then let the released honey drip at its pace through the strainer into this large glass bowl.

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Sometimes I left it dripping overnight or set it up the dripping mechanics first thing in the morning while I was gone during the day.  Once I was weary of the crushing and there was a reasonable  amount of honey in the bowl, the more beekeeper-intensive and time-consuming part of the process ensued.  I’d warm the honey for a few minutes by setting the bowl in a large dutch oven with about two inches of heated water, then pour honey through two different tea strainers nestled in funnels, which emptied directly into former salsa, preserve, and jelly/jam jars.

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The first pouring or two typically went well and fairly quickly, then the strainers would clog up with honey detritus, like bits of wax which survived the first straining round.  I’d wash the tea strainers to clear the netting, situate the strainers back into the funnels, pour more honey through until I’d finished the batch of honey. A bag crushed completed, bottles filled with sweet amber gold, I’d dig into another bag, crush more comb, wait for the draining honey, and commence straining and dripping.

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And so it went for several long, sticky days.    It took most of the week in on again/off again honey work to finally achieve 18, 12-14 ounce jars of honey.

IMGP5450.new By the time this photo was taken, we’d already given some away and delved into a jar ourselves.  Yummmm.  Fabulous honey on homemade buttered biscuits, on warm whole wheat toast, and occasionally on a spoon, directly into the mouth….

Yes, I need to be walking and biking more.

Once most of the honey was extracted and bottled,  with plans for eating and gifting, what to do with the honeycomb?  I’m bothered a bit by the destruction of the comb because it’s so beautiful and so perfect.

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It feels wrong to destroy such beauty, but destroy I must if the honey is used by anyone but the bees.

It’s very early spring here with not too much in bloom just yet.  I’d started feeding my bees about a week before we checked the hives because I didn’t realize how much honey was left and I will continue feeding for a week or two more, before spring busts out all over, in full floriferous fashion–to assure the hive has strong start to their brood and growing season.    I decided rather than simply throwing the crushed and abused honeycomb in the compost (which isn’t a horrible idea) I’d set it out for the bees to eat.

And eat they did and still are on balmy days!  Spooned on plates, the crushed comb with plenty of honey still trapped, allowed the bees to engage in binge eating frenzy,

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…filling their abdomens with sweet , gooey goodness and returning to their hives with to do what honeybees do.IMGP5439.new

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Look at ’em go!  Happy, busy honey-filled bees. I placed the bags we’d used in the gardens over rebar,

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..and  over ceramic yard art.

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I also deposited the bits of broken comb on top of the hives.

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Except for some very cold days this week in which they stayed warm and cozy in their hives, the bees have worked that honeycomb for honey and are still doing so, though it’s turned cold again. The only thing a beekeeper should feed her bees is white sugar/water mixture and their own honey.  For now they’re getting their own beautiful honey to enjoy and take to their hive for strength, endurance and because they’re honeybees!  The bees can’t reuse the wax, though they are excellent recyclers in so many other ways.  I’ll leave the comb out, crushed and otherwise, until the bees lose interest in teasing out remaining honey, or eat what honey is there. Once the comb is depleted of its honey, it’ll go to the compost.  Or maybe I’ll put out a call the the Austin area beekeeper bunch and give it away to someone wanting to make candles–or, the like.  No more kitchen comb work for me, at least until the next harvest.

And with all those jars of honey tucked away in my kitchen cabinet, I suddenly have all these friends….

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Bee Mama Missive, May 2014

It’s been about seven weeks since we hived our honeybees and I’ve received requests for another update with their progress.  You can read about the hiving of our honeybees here and our first hive check here.   I’m glad to report that our honeybees are great!

Eating!

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Drinking!

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Eating more!

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Hanging out!

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Bearding!

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Visiting one bloom,

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flying to another.

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and sipping from that bloom!

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Gossiping with the neighbors!

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About three weeks ago, we added a second box to both hives because our industrious bees completely filled the bottom box with drawn comb.

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In that comb we spotted capped brood, recently hatched brood (next generation!), drone cells and capped and uncapped honey.  We also saw eggs and larva.  All looked healthy and prosperous (from a bee prospective), so we decided it was time to give the girls a bit more space. We haven’t opened the hive since, but all appears well.  I stopped feeding the bees sugar-water as there is plenty blooming for them, plus they’re good commuters.  (They don’t have to deal with Austin’s traffic.)  I placed wood at the entrance for the first week or so after I removed the Boardman feeders, so that the ladies wouldn’t need to suddenly defend a significantly larger entry space.

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You can spot the foragers bringing in pollen.  The pollen sacks on the hind legs are called pollen baskets or corbiculas.  I prefer to call them pollen pantaloons; I think that name has a certain charm.

I eased the wood away over the next ten days, so now they can defend with impunity.  I hope that’s happening.  All seems well and the hive is active and flourishing.

Now,  what to do with the extra sugar-water????

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Anyone?

Thanks to Deb at austin agrodolce for the Bee Mama moniker.

Busy Bees

Posted on May 30, 2014

We hived our honeybees  just over two weeks ago and other than checking to assure that the queens left their cages, we haven’t opened our hives.  We’ve fed the bees sugar-water, watched them cruise in and out of the hives and observed them at blooms and bird baths.  Neighbors inform us that they’ve seen a definite increase in honeybees in their gardens, so we knew something was happening in our hives. Last Sunday, with excitement and trepidation, we opened our hives to check on our honeybees. We took the top off,

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and heard the incessant bzzzzzz of activity.  I pulled up the back frame of hive #1 and was stunned!

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There was fully formed comb in that bar and the next 4 bars!

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In the first combs there is capped honey (the lighter yellow, toward the top left) and capped brood–larva (the darker yellow in the middle of the frames).  We also observed uncapped larva, eggs and pollen stores (the dark amber on the upper right side).  After only two weeks!!!  We were absolutely giddy!  We couldn’t believe  the bees had accomplished so much in such a short time.

Busy, busy bees!

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We closed the first hive,

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and added some more syrup for their dining pleasure.

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Look at these little girls and their pantaloons.

Pollen pantaloons: that’s what I call them.  That’s not the technical term, but I like it.

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We opened hive #2,

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and observed the same conditions as  in hive #1: larva, eggs, capped brood, capped honey, pollen stores and happy, productive bees. In both hives, not all the bars have fully drawn comb, but all the bars have some comb.

Beautiful.

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Perfect comb.

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We were gobsmacked at what the bees accomplished in two weeks, that we forgot the look for the queens.  Considering the built comb and amount of brood, honey and activity,  we assume the queens are ruling their roosts and doing their queen things. So amazing are these bees.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word awesome as: Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.

Except for the “fear” aspect, I think honeybees qualify as awesome.

The bees in hive #2 became a little annoyed at our amateur antics, so we closed the hive,

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and logged our observations like good little beekeepers.

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Meanwhile back at the bar,

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…the honeybees regularly visit my bird baths, especially my blue bird bath.  No matter what time of the day, there are always some gals having a drink and socializing.  Sometimes, they’re drowning or drowned.  I rescue those I can, but there’s not much I can do about the others. Sniff.

They wiggle their butts when they drink.

We’re thrilled that our hives appear healthy and progressing normally.

Awesome is such an overused word,

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but I think our honeybees are AWESOME!!!