Will You Bee Mine?

imageValentine’s Day at the Bee Sweet Bee Farm brought Hershey kisses, Reese’s hearts, caramels, and heart shaped boxes of chocolates to the beekeepers. Our junior beekeepers have a bad habit of biting into the filled ones and putting back the flavors they don’t like, but I don’t really blame them for putting back the fruit flavored ones! Not to be left out, the bees got their own version of Valentine candies. This time of year, beekeepers worry that their bees might not have enough honey stores to get them through the winter. It is really depressing to lose a hive of bees for any reason, but we really don’t want to let any of them starve, when we can easily help them out. During warmer weather, we can provide sugar syrup, but when the temperature drops, we swap over to sugar bricks as a way to provide a food source.

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Compared to spun sugar, fudge or taffy, in the world of candy making, these bricks are pretty simple to create, just a mixture of cane sugar and water. Specifically, a 4 pound bag of sugar and 1/3 cup water, mixed thoroughly together, are the only things we need to make bricks. A stand mixer makes it easier to get it completely mixed. The mixture is poured out onto a prepared cookie sheet, lined with waxed paper.

imageCompact the mixture with a rolling pin and cut it into bricks with a knife. Pre-cutting is important because once they are dry, it’s impossible to cut them without destroying the blocks of sugar. Preheat the oven to 200°, place the cookie sheet inside, and turn the oven off. Leave the bricks undisturbed for 24 hours, imageallowing the water to evaporate. Invert onto another cookie sheet or cutting board to allow the bottom to dry completely as well.

The bricks work well because bees release a small amount of moisture when they breathe. The moisture condenses on the sugar brick, softening the outside of the block a tiny bit. The bees lick the dissolved sugar and transfer iimaget to the honeycomb for later use, so basically we’re making bee lollipops! The sugar has to be in lollipop form because the bees would carry granulated sugar crystals out the hive door, thinking it was trash.

The bricks go on top of the brood nest, so they’re easily accessible to the bees below. We place a wooden spacer on top of the boxes and under the inner cover to allow space for the sugar bricks. They can be left in place until spring to fill in any gaps between honey stores and the maple trees that begin to bud in February.

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We’re hoping the Bee Sweet bees won’t need their sugar brick lollipops at all, but just in case they do, the bricks are waiting as a little extra insurance policy. Hope your valentine did something kind for you today and that you took time to Bee Sweet too!

 

 

 

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If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

Is there anything that is not available in pumpkin spiced flavor this time of year? Coffee, soap, candles, dips, oreo cookies and even hand sanitizer are pumpkin spiced these days. Now a little pumpkin here or there is not a horrible thing (except maybe the oreos), but the tough part for me is that this scent goes hand in hand with the ending of summer. I’m a summer girl. Give me flip flops and shorts, fresh air and sunshine. While the rest of my friends are buzzing about hoodies and hot chocolate, I am bemoaning that pumpkin spice soap means old man winter is on his way. I know, I know…I shouldn’t let the worry of tomorrow ruin my enjoyment of today, but still the thought of freezing temperatures just snatches all the fun from me.

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But I must confess, even I caught a smidgen of fall fever this week, and I spent a little time in the kitchen with a new pumpkin muffin recipe. My old standby was pretty heavy on the oil, making it moist and wonderful, but not too healthy. This revamped version, minus the oil and plus a dollop of honey from the Bee Sweet girls, came out pretty scrumptious, if I do say so myself. It got high marks with all the little beekeepers here and my husband too.

As I was measuring out the honey for this recipe, I got thinking about how hard our girls honey in jarworked to make each little drop of liquid gold. It takes 144 bees their entire lifetime to bring in enough nectar to make 1/4 cup of honey. Wow! What if that were your life’s work? What if it took you and 719 of your closest friends your whole life to harvest enough nectar to fill the jar in the photo. That’s a pretty powerful work ethic for such a tiny creature. Now before you start feeling too sorry for the hardworking ladies at Bee Sweet Bee Farm, remember that these babees will make honey, whether we eat a single golden drop of it or not. That is what they love to do. In fact, if they are trapped inside during bad weather, they get grumpy. (Much like little kids stuck inside on a rainy day with no access to electronics.) We do our best to not even open the hives unless the weather is bright and beautiful, meaning most of the workers are out happily gathering nectar. Nobody wants to open up a box boiling over with disgruntled worker bees unless you absolutely have to.

Anyhow, if you’ve got a hankering for something pumpkin spiced, give this oil free recipe a shot, and while you are cooking, take a moment to think about all the hard work that bees put into making the honey we all enjoy!

Honey Maple Pumpkin Muffins

  • 1/4 c Bee Sweet IMG_3641Bee Farm honey
  • 1/4 c maple syrup
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions: In your mixer, beat honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, applesauce, eggs, pumpkin and milk. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Add the dry ingredients slowly to pumpkin mixture and blend until just combined. Spoon into 12 greased or lined muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cooler weather is coming, whether I like it or not. At least the chill in the air is a good excuse to have a muffin and a second cup of (non-pumpkin spiced) coffee. Y’all snuggle up and Bee Sweet!

Bees’ biggest FAN!

Tom Bodett and Motel 6 will leave the light on for you and me, but how do our bee friends know which hive is the right place for them? Do they click their little bee heels together and whisper “there’s no place like hive” to themselves? Probably not, but just how do they know? We talked last time about bees having a fantastic sense of smell. This is useful for locating a new food source, whether it be flowering fruit trees in a nearby orchard or sugar syrup placed in the hive next door. Bees can also use that sense to discern between different hives of bees. Bees from other hives have a different smell than their own hive mates.

One of mGland close upy favorite things that bees do is to help their friends find the hive again by fanning.  It is almost like the bees’ emergency lighthouse beacon. Bees will gather at the entrance, stick their fannies in the air, and flap their wings like crazy. The part we can’t see is that they are releasing pheromones or chemical scents from their body at the same time. The wing flapping, or fanning, spreads the scent into the air for the other members of their colony to smell and be attracted to the hive. If you look closely in the photo, you can see a white area on the tip of her tail end. This is call the Nasonov gland, which is the spot that releases the pheromones. Fanning happens when the bees are upset from the beekeeper opening the hive or when moving bees from a package to a permanent hive. Kind of like they are shouting, “Yes! This is the place! Enter here!”

032The bees also use this chemical communication when a hive swarms. For me, it’s tricky enough to move the five members of our family from inside the house to the car, much less ten thousand bees moving from one hive to another. The leader that knows where the hive needs to move, sends out the signal that it’s time to swarm. They usually exit the hive and gather in a big cluster on a nearby tree branch. From there the bee leaders take the swarm and the queen to the spot they’ve identified for a new hive. Beekeepers use this to their advantage by baiting swarm traps with similar scents in hopes of attracting swarms that are looking for a new home. Lemongrass is one essential oil that mimics the the pheromone and attracts the bees, so don’t wash your hands with your lemongrass scented soap and go hang by the hive! They’d likely want to investigate you up close. Too bad a little lemongrass oil doesn’t make all my kids want to follow me from one place to another. We seem to have better luck with chocolate. Or me picking up the phone to make a call. Somehow that attracts them immediately from all corners of the house.

Fanning from aboveBee fanning can also be used to cool the hive and to cure their honey. That fanning simply moves air through the hive, but doesn’t distribute a chemical signal. You can tell a difference by looking for the Nasonov gland being exposed and how high their bottoms are in the air. For cooling the hive, the ends stay low, but for signaling they really show their tails!

Thanks for beeing a FAN of the Bee Sweet Bee Farm girls! Remember watching the bees show their tails is cute, and a miracle of nature, watching you “show your tail” is not, so please BEE SWEET!

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Local to Cleveland County, NC? Come out and visit the Cleveland County Beekeepers’ at the Cleveland County Fair, October 1-11, 2015. You might get to meet a Bee Sweet beekeeper!

Like A Hive of Angry Bees

A couple of weeks ago, we had a fun time introducing our kids to the sport of wrasslin’ through a few comical You Tube videos. (Not to be confused with wrestling, which is a real sport with rules and such.) Having lived all my life in the South, I’m not sure if this is a southern thing or just what, but when I was younger, wrasslin’ had quite a following. The boys at my elementary school could recount every move that their favorite star had made on tv the night before. They probably tried out their own moves on the playground, but I was far too busy talking high fashion, like Swatch watches and twister beads, with my friends to notice. My husband’s grandfather was such an avid viewer that he wouldn’t allow anyone to talk in his house when wrasslin’ was on the air. Me personally, I’ve just never been a fan. Somehow watching sweaty, grown men in costumes beat up on one another never held much fascination for me.

Really fighting of any sort didn’t draw me in, until there were bees involved. That’s when I became a spectator!

IMG_2911The Bee Sweet girls are normally so calm that they can be worked with little or no protective equipment. My husband and kids usually wear their jackets and veils, in case a bee gets upset, but I just stand in the middle of these girls in my regular clothes to watch and take photos, and I have yet to be stung. (The bees are probably watching me type through the window, and I’m sure tomorrow will bee the day they teach me a lesson.) Now I’m not advocating that you go hang out at any old beehive, up close and personal, cause our girls are probably just weird…everybody else in our family is, it stands to reason that our bees are too.

Sunday was a different story altogether!

Background info: My husband is trying to entice a small nucleus colony (basically a small hive of bees that we’ve babied all summer) to build more honeycomb in their hive. Bees have a small wax gland (who am I kidding, everything on a bee is little) that they use to make IMG_3459beeswax, one tiny flake at a time. Ten to eighteen day old bees have the job of making wax for the hive. (Talk about child labor! And my kids think loading the dishwasher is torture.) After they get older, they move on to other jobs. It takes a lot of energy to make beeswax, so to help speed production we’ve been feeding these girls a supplement of sugar syrup. In turn, they make extra honeycomb to store more nectar during the fall nectar flow. They could do some of this on their own, but feeding sugar syrup helps them build comb easier and faster. Much like me after I’ve had my second cup of coffee every morning…I can just make more things happen when I’ve had a little extra caffeine. The photo shows honeycomb cells, some empty, some filled with nectar, and some already full of capped honey. Honeycomb in other parts of the hive is used for eggs, larvae and baby bees.

Not only do bees have to worry about bears, skunks, raccoons, ants and pesky beekeepers coming along to take their precious honey stores, but also neighboring hives of bees. Honeybees have a keen sense of smell, so they know what’s happening in the ‘hood, just like we know when the neighbors are throwing steaks on the grill. If a hive is not strong enough to protect itself, the neighbors will come over, steal their honey or nectar, and transport it home for their own use. Each hive has guard bees that stand in the entrance and watch carefully for intruders of all sorts.

bitingBee Wrasslin’: Evidently, the neighbor bees caught wind that the small colony had been fed a tasty ration of sugar syrup and they sent bees over to collect their share. The guard bees alerted the workers, and these girls came out fast and furious to protect their precious honey, making professional wrasslers look calm in comparison. Whoever coined the phrase “like a hive of angry bees” wasn’t kidding! I had the experience of watching these girls in action. From a distance, there were tons of bees flying erratically all around the hive. By looking closer, I could see the outside of the hive was dotted with bees locked in battle.

Gang upThe first thing a bee tries to do to protect the hive is to bite the foreigner. A bee can bite many times, but as we learned last week, she can sting only once, so biting is much preferred! Several of the skirmishes showed multiple bees ganging up on one intruder. Eventually, if necessary, each bee is willing to IMG_3584sting an intruder and die to protect the hive. I watched, fascinated at how our sweet girls turned into fighting machines. The ground in front of the hive was littered with little bees that didn’t survive the skirmish. Hard to say which side the dead bees were from. (It was our loss either way, since those bully bees are ours too.) Would good prevail over evil? Could the larger hive be stopped? No need to worry! These little ladies had things back under control in just a little bit, and hopefully their neighbors will think twice about venturing next door to steal again. I was amazed at the vicious, head to head combat that our sweet babees were capable of. They could put a professional wrassler to shame! Maybe I’ll think twice before I head out uncovered again!

Until next time, Bee Sweet, and don’t mess with a beehive or they might unleash a Smackdown on you!

You Don’t Have to Go Home, But You’ve Gotta Go

We watched and waited, and our bee friends only grew in number. No beekeeper in their right mind wanted any part of hive removal from the top of a second story column, not that I can blame them. It WAS a sticky situation and getting stickier by the minute. Column Top before trap outAll those busy bees were busy doing their work, which meant drawing lots of honeycomb, filling it with loads of nectar, and eventually turning it into lovely honey. The trouble is, honey is HEAVY! As I mentioned before, our house is vintage. Eventually, the weight of the hive took its toll on the column they called home, and it sank about an inch from the roof that it supported. The time had come to evict these little squatters. But how???

My husband is a civil engineer. If you don’t know any engineers personally, I’ll give you a quick overview of how they work. Engineers are detailed problem solvers. It is what they do best. Day in and day out, if you need a problem solved, ask an engineer, they’ll get right on it. Civil engineers especially like it when the solution to the problem includes building something…bridges, walls, roads, lakes, buildings, bee hives…whatever it takes.  So, true to his vocation, my husband developed a detailed blueprint for eviction, make that beeviction.

Step one: Bee-come beekeepers!

Package InstallationAs background research for this little project, my husband took a beekeeping course from our local extension service. (Again, these folks have so much to offer you in your home and garden keeping efforts. Go see them. Take a class. They are super nice people.)  We also purchased a package of bees to start our own hive. Side note: A package of bees is a wire mesh and wooden box containing about 10,000 worker bees. These bees are placed in a hive along with a queen to form a bee colony. If all goes well, the queen begins to lay eggs, all those worker bees care for the eggs and together they populate the hive with baby bees. “Babees” for those of your that like puns as much as I do.

scaffold croppedNext we installed two stories worth of lovely, blue scaffolding (our lucky neighbors) on our front porch. The top level served as a base to work from for bee removal. I mean, nobody really wants to work with a hive of bees from the top of a swaying ladder. Now, we were ready to…

TRAP OUT!

Now to me this sounds like a highly intense police maneuver, designed to capture a fugitive, but really it’s a method experienced beekeepers use to remove bees from any place they don’t belong. It’s relatively easy on the bees and allows you to move them safely to a standard hive. Notice I said “experienced beekeepers” there. As we found out, a trap out can also allow ambitious, inexperienced beekeepers to move bees as well.

I know, I know! You’re on the edge of your seat. Hanging on my every word. Will they succeed in removing all these bees? Can they fool thousands of bees into leaving their home? Will they get stung? Will their porch fall down in the process? What will they find in that column? Stay tuned, and in the mean time, BEE SWEET!

A Beeline Into Our Hearts

Sometimes you make a conscious effort to add a new activity or hobby to your life. Perhaps you decide to start running or stamp collecting.  Maybe you learn to knit or you collect rocks….

BUT SOMETIMES your new hobby falls out of the sky and lands on your doorstep. At least that’s what happened to us. No it was not delivered by a new Amazon drone either. One warm, early summer evening my husband and I were in our front yard when a swarm of honeybees came out of the sky. We were literally standing in the middle of bees in all directions. I mean bees everywhere. Not just ten or twenty, but thousands. And they were making a beeline (pun intended) for a column on our front porch. It seems they had decided to move in.

There’s nothing like an uninvited houseguest, right? How about 10,000?

Now let me back up a bit. Our house is older. It is a work in progress. At the top of one of our front porch columns, there was just enough room for these tiny creatures to move in and set up shop. We watched in fascination as they made themselves at home, in our home.

What do you do when bees move in? Well, we called the local extension service. If you’ve never contacted these folks about anything, well you should. They are a wealth of knowledge about your garden, your kitchen, animals, plants, and yes, even bees. Our extension agent encouraged us to leave our new neighbors alone. He figured they might not live through the winter, and the problem would be solved.

So we began to live, side by side, with our new pets. We watched them. Winter came and left. The bees remained…

And that’s how we became beekeepers. We didn’t really choose them, but they knew we needed them. Stayed tuned to hear how we evicted these little honeys out of our home and into our hearts in You Gotta Go Somewhere!