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Archive for the ‘Honey’ Category

It’s been too long since we’ve posted a new recipe for the Garden to Kitchen page. Oh we talk about it from time to time and vow to be more diligent, but… you know, stuff happens and suddenly it’s been months. We’re not promising an end to this procrastination, but here’s at least one more addition to the files.

This Spelt Honey Bread is really delicious and it’s great for those of you who might not be able to tolerate wheat in your diet. Spelt is an ancient grain that still contains gluten, so it’s not for anyone with strong wheat allergies. But if you’re on the less reactive side like I am, this bread might be friendlier to your digestion.

For a long time I thought I might never be able to eat yeast-raised bread again, but I’ve been eating this bread for a couple of months now. Being able to once again have warm bread fresh out of the oven and slathered in butter is heaven for me.

Click here for the recipe.

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When we were children, we would go to Connecticut to visit my mother’s parents. Granddaddy Foster was a farmer in his bones and his retirement years were spent perfecting the most beautiful little farm in Ridgefield. On his acre or so of land he grew tons of vegetables and flowers. My very favorite area was a little mini orchard full of fruit trees — mostly apple as I recall.

My grandparents were great “putter-uppers.” They canned all manner of fruits and vegetables, most notably Bread and Butter Pickles and Pink Applesauce. Eating that applesauce was one of the highlights of my visits with them. The pink color came from cooking the apples with the skin on, which is actually the best way to get all of the nutrients from the fruit.

I’m sharing my grandmother’s delicious recipe. It really isn’t all that different from other applesauce recipes that I’ve seen, but to me it’s special because of the memories it brings back.

The only thing I’ve changed is substituting honey for sugar. If your apples are really sweet, you might not even need the honey. I prefer to use organic Macintosh apples, but they are really hard to find and a bit pricey, so I’ve been substituting Fujis which are really good too. You can use any naturally sweet apple. Try combining different types of apples to create your own special mix.

Another tip is to remember that the apples don’t have to be perfect. You can often get a good deal on a bulk buy of less-than-perfect apples at the farmers market if you ask (nicely, of course).

Grandmother Foster’s Pink Applesauce

  • 16 cups of apples, cored and cut into wedges, peels on
  • 1 cup of water (start out with this, you can add more towards the end if necessary)
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons honey, or to taste

Sterilize your jars, bring your canning pot to a boil and put your lids in a small pot to simmer. Place the apples, lemon juice and water in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until the apples are soft.

When apple are nearly done, add the spices and the honey. Cook for a few minutes more.  If you want smooth applesauce and are using a food mill the skins will be left behind in the mill. For immersion blenders or if you want a chunky applesauce, remove the skins while the apples are cooking. Blend for a smooth sauce, or smash the cooked apples with a wooden spoon or potato masher for a chunkier sauce.

After putting the apples through the mill or blending, return the applesauce to a boil and ladle into your prepared jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims completely clean and put on the lids.

Put jars into the hot water bath and process for 15 or 20 minutes — start timing when the water returns to a boil. If you’re at an altitude higher than 1,000 feet above sea level, process 2 extra minutes for each 1,000 feet of altitude.

Remove from hot water bath and listen for the lovely “ping” of the lids as the jars cool and seal themselves.

Leave the jars to cool for 24 hours. Wipe them to remove any sticky traces, remove the rings, and check the seal. Then label the jars and store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year.

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Mary Beth and I have been trying to push ourselves to blog more often so in the past few months we’ve created several regular features. One is Sunday Zen, a photographic time-out where we go into the garden, usually ours, but sometimes other public and private gardens, and take photographs that reflect our mood. Tuesday’s Tips is where we share what we’ve learned to help make gardening and beekeeping easier and more productive. Another is Wordless Wednesday which honestly isn’t much different from our Sunday post, but we take part in this blogger tradition because we just love posting our photos.

Which brings us to the Garden Journal, which should become a more or less regular post on Thursdays. MB and I noticed that our recent postings have been short on the kinds of stories that we love to read on other bloggers’ sites — stories about the great stuff that happens in gardens. So we decided to get back to doing more of that. But, being kind of scattered, we need to actually put it on the list and have it tied to a specific day to get it done. Kind of pathetic we know, but whatever it takes, right?

Here is our first Garden Journal.

Mary Beth: I’m visiting family back East (on Block Island) and could not have timed it better — it’s been the hottest period on record. (Why can’t my luck be this good with the lottery?) Despite the crushing heat I have been enjoying myself and this morning the weather has cooled down a bit, thankfully.

If you’ll remember, before I left for Colorado I decided to put a “second story” on the TBH to make sure my bees didn’t get honeybound. I was so happy when I checked on my “girls” and saw that they’re doing so well. They’ve filled out all of the bars for except the last two of the TBH, but they seem to be having a problem going up into the second story.

I decided to help them out a bit and put one of the bars that’s full of honey up in the super. That bar of honeycomb was deeper than the super, so I let it extend down into the TBH by removing the bar below it thinking that it might even help to get them up there. They seemed to be ok with that and hopefully they’ll get the idea soon. It looks to me like they have about 50-60 lbs of honey already and the hive’s full of brood too. I only saw one bee with a mite, but other than that they’re looking healthy.

I so wanted to take a bar of honey for myself but was afraid of the dry weather the East has been having — if the nectar flow slows down they’ll need all they have collected.

I apologize for not taking many photos, and the ones I did take are not that great, but I was so hot in my bee suit. I kept thinking I should have told someone I was working on the bees just in case I went down! When I finally peeled that sucker off I was soaking wet and feeling more than a little woozy. It was a good excuse to go to the beach with my sister Pam and swim in the ocean.  The water was so beautiful and we bobbed around laughing like kids.

So happy to report the bees are doing great! They were so gentle and it was pleasure to work with them. I’ll check on them before I leave and see how they are responding to the small change I made in the hive.

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This week marks the fourth annual National Pollinator Week. Bees are probably the first thing that come to mind when we think about pollinators, but there are many others that deserve our gratitude and care — hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, and beetles to name a few. I love honeybees best so that’s what I’m going to focus on for today’s tips.

Tip #1 — Bees Need Water

Water is essential for a honeybee colony and if there is no natural source nearby then you should supply it. Bees use water evaporation to cool the hive and for diluting honey to feed to their larvae. A hive can use over a quart of water a day. Think about that — think about how tiny bees are. Now that’s a lot of water hauling!

Supplying your bees with water also keeps them from being a nuisance to your neighbors. In the absence of water you supply, they will use your neighbor’s swimming pools, dog water bowls, leaky water spigots, etc. So give them a water source of their own to keep them happy and healthy.

Make sure the water source is clean, has good footing and provide something they can climb on if they fall in. A bit of straw, small sticks floating on the surface or rocks placed in the water will work.

If you get really ambitious you can make a small pond, a water fountain in a container, or a water garden in a whiskey barrel with a few water plants for the bees to land on to take a drink. I started on my own pond a few weeks ago and will be posting on it soon. I’ve been fascinated with the many kinds of bees and insect drinking from dawn to dusk in the shallows where the water splashes on the rocks. Honeybees will come to the same spot every day to drink, so once you start don’t let the water supply run out.

Tip #2 — Extracting Honey

  • Don’t take uncapped honey. Most of the frame, 7/8, should be capped before you harvest any honey. Unripe honey (uncapped honey) will spoil because of the high water content.
  • Harvest your honey when it’s warm. Honey flows best at 80 degrees.
  • After extracting the honey let it settle a few days to get air bubbles out.
  • Honey is acidic so use stainless steel or glass to store your honey.
  • Save your wax cappings. Drain them of honey and melt them down into a block. Beeswax can be used for making lip balm, polishing furniture, candles, and more. An old sewers trick is to draw thread through a block of beeswax. It makes pulling thread through thick materials so much easier.

Remember, a honeybee colony needs 60 to 90 pounds of honey to survive the winter. If you feel your bees have a surplus then take a frame or two of honey. A medium super will contain 35 to 40 pounds of honey, or 3 – 4 gallons and that should be plenty for you and to share with friends and family.

Tip #3 — Learn Something New

Listen to Organically Managed Beekeeping Methods podcasts. The podcasts are very interesting with great guests speaking about how they manage their own hives and deal with the sometimes complex issues of beekeeping.

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It’s been a while since we promised to make this a regular feature of our blog, but we really mean it this time. We’re going to post gardening and beekeeping tips every Tuesday — or if we get super busy, every other Tuesday. And we’ve added a new page where we’ll gather all of the tips for easy access. Let us know what you think.

Compost aka "Black Gold" will make your plants healthy and better able to resist pests and disease.

Tuesday’s Tip

Get a head start on spring chores.
If the weather’s nice and the beds aren’t too wet, now’s the time to throw on a jacket and grab your shovel. I like to get the flower beds cleaned up early in the season, so yesterday I added compost to the roses and peonies and mulched the beds before the weeds have a chance to get started.

That way if it’s a wet spring, all the hard work will be out of the way. Then you can enjoy the spring and ease right into summer.

Spread the compost at the base of your roses.

Ahhh a finished bed. Seven more to go!

Feeding the bees.
My bees are hungry and chugging down the syrup! So here’s a little reminder for myself and anyone else who forgets the 1:1 ratio for the sugar syrup. It’s 10 cups of water to a 5 lb bag of sugar.

Also, make sure that your bees have some water nearby.

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Mary Beth: It was a year ago that I got serious about beekeeping; I had just put in my order for a package of honeybees and I was so excited. But I really had no clue about what I was getting myself into (neither did my husband!). Sure I’d read a lot and spent countless hours learning as much as could, trying get a feel for what it was going to be like. And you newbies will do the same thing. Be forewarned though, all the research is very helpful, but beekeeping is really a hands-on kind of thing. No amount of research is going prepare you for the rush you’ll get when you see them for real in their screened box, or when you dump them in their new hive, or when they start to build the first honeycomb, or… I could go on and on.

As I went through this first year of learning to be a beekeeper, I kept reminding myself to make note of the important things I wanted to pass on to those of you who are thinking of getting your own hives — you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to get stung, and there will be times when you’re going to feel seriously overwhelmed. But you are going to love those bees!

Here are more tips and some words of encouragement to all the newbies scrambling to get every piece of information you can before your bees arrive.

Ray building the Top Bar Hive

  • Consider a Top Bar Hive, you’ll spend a lot less time and money preparing for your bees. Did I say a lot more money?!  I cringe at what I could have saved if I’d known at the beginning what I know now about the TBH.
  • Have your hive set up before the bees arrive.
  • The hive entrance should be facing the south to southeast if you can.
  • Bees will fly into and out of the hive in the direction that the entrance is facing, so make sure the bee flight path is directed away from sidewalks, streets, etc.
  • If you have to deal with close neighbors or walkways, etc., place a fence or a barrier a few feet away from the hive entrance. That will make the bees fly upwards and out of harm’s way.
  • Spray the right amount sugar water on your bees before dumping them into the hive. It’s not a soaking spray, but it should be enough that they will be too busy licking themselves off to start swarming around your face and distracting you as you get them into their new hive.
  • Use your protective gear. I tried not using any protective gear that first day. Although the bees weren’t aggressive — they didn’t have anything to protect yet — I got so nervous when I was dumping them into the hive that I had to stop what I was doing to run for my suit. The whole operation would have been much smoother if I hadn’t been so worried about getting stung.
  • If you’re using a smoker don’t rush preparing it. It’ll take 20-30 minutes to get it going and to have a decent amount of coals to get you through your inspections. There’s nothing worse than seeing the girls lining up to take a shot at you and finding that your smoker is out.
  • When it’s time to inspect the hive, think about what you’re going to be looking for BEFORE you open up the hive. Are you saying, “DUH, Mary Beth!”, right now? Well maybe, but I was often so fascinated, distracted, or rushed to get things done that I didn’t remember to check for important signs during the inspection. Write it down so you’ll remember. I stressed myself a few times, realizing after I’d closed the lid that there was something I forgot to do and you really don’t want to have to go back in again. It’s not good for you or the bees.

The most important thing to remember as you do your research is an old saying that goes, “Ask 10 beekeepers the same question and you’ll get 11 different answers.” Keep in mind that every region has different challenges be it pests, weather, nectar flow, or any number of other things. Your best bet is to absorb all the information you read and then use your best judgement and follow your gut. That’s the way to make sure you’re doing your best for the bees.

A lot of this information, plus pictures illustrating the process from building the hives to installing the bees and more, is in earlier posts on this blog, along with some great resources that I found very useful.

One thing I know for sure is that you are going to really enjoy this journey. Good luck and, please, if you have any questions, just ask. I would love to help you out.
The Hippie Shack Bee Update

I checked on the bees through the TBH window and found it was warm enough today for them to break cluster. I also noticed they still had food left. They were feeding and roaming around slowly, and a few were taking a cleansing flight. I was happy to see that there seemed to be quite a few bees in the hive. I went inside feeling very hopeful that they will survive this cold winter!

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Mary Beth: Winter is coming, I think, and even though the weather continues to be unusually warm for this time of year, I’ve been getting the bees ready.

So, what about the bees? Every time I tell someone that Ray and I are moving back to Colorado (Ch, Ch, Changes), I hear this question. I’ll say, “We’re leaving.” and then, wait for it, wait for it…a look of dismay and “What about the bees?!” Of course it’s logical, but I’ve been a little surprised and amused that the fate of my bees worries them. On the other hand it’s nice that my friends and readers have become so engrossed in this story that one of their first thoughts is for the bees.

So here is the answer.

Out of the three hives that I ended up with after the swarm season, the Top Bar Hive is the only one that survived.

The Hippie Shack

For some reason the other two lost their queens after they swarmed (read about it here and here) and I ended up shaking out the remaining bees in front of the TBH in hopes that they would be accepted into the hive. Losing the Blue and Green hives made me very sad — I was surprised by how much I’ve come to love my bees.

As for the Hippie Shack (named in honor of the laid-back nature of these bees), I checked it recently and it didn’t have as much honey as I thought it should. I think the hive was being robbed. I put an entrance reducer in to make the the hole smaller to give the guard bees less area to defend. Now, even with the warm weather prolonging the season, I’m worried that they won’t have time to store enough food to make it through the winter.

Since Ray and I decided to leave after the holidays, I’ve been trying to figure out how to leave the bees with enough food. I researched fondant ‘bee candy’ and it seemed like a good solution, so I made a frame to hold it and placed that in the hive.

This small frame holds 5 pounds of sugar fondant!

Another good thing about the bee candy is it won’t cause the moisture problems inside the hive that the sugar syrup did in the early spring. I placed the fondant between the false back and the last comb hoping it wouldn’t attract any more robber bees.

I hope the warm weather will last long enough to let them build up their supplies. Every day they’ve been coming in with a lot of pollen, which is a very good thing.

I think she's posing!

Dandelions and the last of the aster are blooming, so I think this is where they are getting the bright orange pollen.

Another sign that the bees are preparing for winter is each day a few more drones have been getting kicked out of the hive. I watched this play out one day — those girls are ruthless!

Poor drone!

One poor male was pulled by his leg and tossed out like yesterday’s paper. It’s a cruel, cruel world my friends, but there is not enough to go around in winter for lazy freeloaders.

I moved the hive from it’s original spot so it will get maximum sun exposure all winter. This should allow the bees to break cluster on sunny winter days.

I also wrapped the hive to give it a little more insulation and to keep the wind out. Now it’s up to the bees. Other than a few more feedings before we leave for Colorado, my girls are on their own until March.

You may wonder why I haven’t given the hive away. I did consider moving the hive to my friend’s property, but I was afraid if I moved it up the steep, bumpy road to my friend’s house, a comb or two might break off ruining any chance of the bees’ survival. So I decided to leave them where they are on my family’s property. I’ll fly back east in the spring for a visit and check on the bees and I’ve arranged for my beekeeper friends to check on them now and then. Fortunately the TBH needs little maintenance and the bees will take care of themselves.

Becoming a beekeeper has been a wonderful journey. Learning about honeybees opened up new worlds for me, not just the world of honeybees in my garden, but the important roles of all pollinators and how critical every last one of them is. It’s led me to examine the negative impact we’ve all had on our environment. I’ve been reading about the decline of the honeybee from Colony Collapse Disorder — just one of many examples of our carelessness towards our environment. But the good thing is it’s made me more aware of what I’ve been doing.

So, with that new-found awareness, I try to do my part to help by adding native plants to the existing flower gardens. And I’ve decided that I will delay mowing the outer fields until after the first frost to allow time for the last of the butterflies to emerge from their cocoons and to let the wildflowers reseed themselves for next year.

Of course, at the center of it all is the honeybee, the incredible little powerhouse.  If you have not yet read any books on honeybees, you should. Some of the things you learn will astound you.

It’s been a great year even with the loss of two hives and no honey to harvest. And next spring I will have a hive in Colorado with even more challenges — bears, skunks and who knows what else, but I have a plan!

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