Sunday, July 31, 2011

Harvesting Honey ~ 2011

Since the Swarm took us a bit off guard last weekend, we went ahead and harvested our first honey of the season.  Yes, Pig Pens idea of a cruel joke is to spring things like this on me at ya know...6 o'clock one evening.  I shall sew his pant legs shut one of these days...

For those of you that weren't around last year, I'll take you thru the steps.  The rest of you can just glaze on thru...

First, you remove the frames from the hive.  Brush off all bees if you are bringing them inside.  :o)
Check out Pig Pen's fancy new stainless steel Decapping Tank...pretty cool, huh? 
Another one of his designs.  Last year we put screening over a rubbermaid container and shimmied around it.  Not this year. 
Next is to "Decap" the comb.  The bees 'cap' off the honey combs with wax once they have completed their work.  Alot of folks will use a heat knife. We found a serrated knife and a warm pan of water works just fine.  The goal being not to heat the honey but rather, keep it "raw".
Keith spank shined the decapping tank all pretty like and then he got sticky!  ;o)  Hey, never a relaxing moment around here!! 

Once you decap, the wax falls to the bottom along with any honey drippings as well.  Not to worry, it doesn't go to waste!

Then you load up the fancy new extractor!  Some of you may recall from last year that Pig Pen fabricated his own design on a Honey Extractor. This year, he decided to rebuild it to hold 12 frames as opposed to 4.  And instead of the Dewalt to spin it, he mechanized it. Yup, a motor!
Well it worked pretty good until they realized we need a bigger motor!  12 frames are pretty darn heavy!  Hopefully by this Fall when the BIG harvest comes in...

The honey gets strained thru two screens to remove any fallen bee soldiers, wax, or other particles.  We then bottle it up!
And oh yes, stickers on each and every bottle!
That's it!  No heating, mixing, or funny business! 

Since there is still loads of wax and honey on the wax in the decapping tank, I slowly simmered it on the stove top.  This process melts the wax entirely and it looks like a big pot of golden goodness.  Then it cools.
As the wax re-solidifies, it floats to the top along with any other 'junk' and forms a cap on the pan.
Let me tell ya, you could use a pry bar to get that out! 
Once you remove the wax cap, you run this honey thru the screens also.  The wax will be saved for another day and another project. 
The screens sit on top of the bucket.  Here is what's left after it is done!
This is what we call "Bakers Honey".    There ended up being approximately 20 lbs.
Because it has been heated, I will use it for all my baking needs.  Don't get me wrong this isn't a bad thing!  It's phenomenal tasting with a deep amber color.  But I wont sell this as part of our "Raw" honey. 
Bakers Honey on Left.  Raw Honey on Right.  

As the raw honey settles, the tiny air bubbles from screening and bottling clear to a nice light golden color.  It is outstanding!  It has a wonderful floral honey scent.

We also did what I like to refer to as "Old Timer's Honey".  
Old Timer's will tell tales of taking a spoonful straight from the comb, wax and all!  Enjoy the honey and chew the wax like gum!  Note:  a little dab'll do ya!  Right, Tricia??
These are actually called Ross Rounds and they are placed in the hive boxes in round frames and then packaged as is!

Not including the 32 Ross Rounds, we harvested a whopping...

240 pounds

of honey so far!! 

Last years total harvest was 157 lbs.

According to my calculations, our honey sales might provide us enough grocery funds to compensate for a lousy gardening/canning year!  Bright side to everything, right?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

As if on Cue

Well wouldn't ya know, opportunity knocked again.  Word travels fast once you start keeping bees.  In the two short seasons Pig Pen has added this to his resume, he's had at least a half dozen calls to come fetch a swarm or wild hive.  Always a friend of a friend of friend.  Pretty amazing in that aspect. 

Last night he headed out to get another wild hive.  So you will get to see his fashioned "Bee Vac" after all!  This hive was hunkered down in an old tree, so no limb shaking would do.  Sue, this one's for you!!
Basically, he took a large hive box, drilled the necessary holes to attach a shop vac for the suction and inserted a screen so they don't get sucked into the vacuum itself.  Then he drilled a smaller hole that he inserts a long tube into that actually sucks the bees up with minimal loss.
And for the record, nope...not me taking all these fine pictures.  I have yet to be stung.  I give them a respectful distance.  We get along just fine this way.  :o)

So up the tree he goes to begin the process. 
Not always can you get the bees out if they are in pretty far. 
Occasionally, and if the homeowner allows, there is some cutting involved. 
This tree is old and starting to hollow, which is why the bees chose it as well. 
So Pig Pen did have to make a cut.  The bees were none too happy about this I'd imagine. 
But as you can see, the homeowner and his kids were right there and not one of them got stung! 
Well, except for LLL who was off in the distance!  Go figure!  The one guy who is allergic and not carrying an Epi!  He got stung in the nose.  But he is doing fine.  I told him not to to be sniffing on those bees any more. 
So now we have another hive hopefully settling in out back!

This was the second call Pig Pen received this week.  Earlier in the week, a guy stopped by our house and asked if we were interested in a tree hive located at a nearby Rec Club.  He made arrangements with Pig Pen for the following day to extract the hive.  Well, when they spoke again, they guy informed him that the club burned the hive out instead!  Why???

Most of you know how beneficial bees are to your gardens and crops.  Bees are slowly being killed off -sigh- by "us" and battling disease.  You do not want this to continue to happen!!
From New Agriculturist on the Benefits of Bees:
Forget about honey, pollen and royal jelly. Just think of a world without beans, tomatoes, onions and carrots, not to mention the hundreds of other vegetables, oilseeds and fruits that are dependent upon bees for pollination. And the livestock that are dependent upon bee-pollinated forage plants, such as clover. No human activity or ingenuity could ever replace the work of bees and yet it is largely taken for granted. It is often not realized just how easy it is to help or hinder their effectiveness as crop pollinators nor how much is lost by their loss.

To United States agriculture alone, the annual value of honey bee pollination can be counted in billions of dollars. Bees pollinate about one-sixth of the world's flowering plant species and some 400 of its agricultural plants. Poorly pollinated plants produce fewer, often misshapen, fruits and lower yields of seed with inevitable consequences upon quality, availability and price of food. One of the few farm activities that can actually increase yields, rather than simply protect existing yields from losses, is to manage bees to encourage good pollination.
I encourage you all to find a local beekeeper and have their number handy.  Next time you are at a local Farmers Market, stop at the booth, go online, or contact (believe it or not) animal control.  You never know when a swarm might appear!  And as I mentioned in the comments section on my last post regarding bees, a swarm is generally docile.  You should always use caution regardless.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

No Laughing Matter

So the other day Jane (who is also having a horrible year) and Robin (who is having an awesome year) both requested pictures of the garden.  Here's the ugly truth...

Every day, I find a few of these:
Although others seem fine:
The green beans are puny this year.  They don't fill out the trellis as beautifully as usual:
Then again, these are Kentucky Wonder.  I may switch back to Blue Lake next year.  If I live to tell:
My peppers are coming in very slowly.  These are the only Jalapenos I've spied thus far:
Other varieties are coming in, but some look like this:
Then there is was my wonderful head of cabbage!  Before the rain.  After Sunday and Monday, it now looks like this:
My beets came out of the rain like this:
And my Giant Eckdorfs aren't much better:
 My yellow eyed drying beans are dying before their time:
And my Orangeglo suddenly looks like this:
The corn tasseled:
And has signs of ears:
But the underlying problem is this:
And they killed the pumpkins.

Something is gnawing off the taters and maters to nubbins:
I think it's grasshoppers.  I have never had a problem with them before.  Suggestions???  Please?  Pretty??  I've only seen a few Japanese Beetles.

Last night, I pulled the beets, picked a few green beans, one cucumber, a few potatoes that met an early demise and yanked out the crummy lettuce.  I also DE'd everything.  e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.  I looked like the abominable snow man when I was thru.  Or someone with an addiction gone terribly wrong.  :-{

So there you have it folks.  By worst garden EVER.

I suppose I have grocery lines and grocery bills to look forward to this year. 

And here I was hoping to share!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Sale and a Swarm

This weekend we went to an Estate Sale.  These things always bring a bit of sadness as you know someones lives have turned a corner in one way or another.  At the same time, I like to think that when someone like me stumbles upon them, certain things are finding a new home where they will continue to be loved as opposed to being sold at some antique shop and collecting dust.
All sorts of goodies...and yards and yards of fabric for $12!!
It was of course, hot.  A rare day when no one seemed to mind that every person was dripping wet because we all were!
I love this cart!  And my first Crock!!
Towards the end of the sale, we got a frantic call from my Mom saying there was a swarm of bees in the walnut tree.  Uh-Oh.

We were every bit of two hours away from home.  As luck would have it, we made it home in time!
Pig Pen was able to get to it before they actually made a real run for it.  Phew! 
All suited up with a little help from a brave friend not suited.  Crazy!
He believes that they split the hive, but can't be entirely certain until he locates the second queen.  If he doesn't find a second queen, he will order one.  Either way, that puts us at 6 hives if all goes as planned.
Luckily, he didn't have to trim much of the branch. 
For now, into a new hive they went.  He just shakes them down.  Yes...this is the same branch!
Can you see them all flying around?  You may have to enlarge the photo below to see them.
He will let them settle in for a while before he moves them out back with the other hives.
In the meantime, he decided to open the other hives to see how much room they have.  He was going on the advice of another beekeeper this year to keep adding boxes as opposed to mid-season harvest.  The theory being they will continue to build upwards.  Well, they were doing that; however they had so little wiggle-room getting thru those boxes and there are so many bees, that he believes that's why they swarmed. 

So you know what comes next, don't you?  Harvest Time. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Keeping Chickens Cool and What Garden???

Like most of the country, it's been too dang hot!  Today we are having a slight reprieve, but then the mercury is rising again.  Keeping our chickens cool has been a priority.  The 'how to' may be a bit haphazard,'s working.

The Big Girls have plenty of room to roam and find shady spots as the sun travels.  They have their holes dug and chill out in them regularly.  We keep their waterers full and feed them treats when we have them on hand.  They particularly love watermelon.  It's cool and full of water. 
I now have to keep a small waterer on the other side of the fence for the Convicts (escapees) as well.  I don't want them to get overheated and not have water to cool their little throats down!
Caught in the act!
Now the Peeps are another story.  They aren't full feathered yet and technically shouldn't be out and about.  However, rather than a heat lamp, we needed to install a window A/C unit!  So, out of the brooder they came and into the completed Chicken Tractor they went!
We put them up by the house first so that I could monitor them closely.
At 80 degrees when we first put them out, they did very well.  At first they were of course scared, but within an hour, they found out that grass and such is fun and the chicken antics commenced.

Exactly what I was hoping for as I am monitoring their behavior as well.  Based on all your comments and thoughts from my Chicken Pickin' post of course.  (Thank you!)

I tried to get a shot of the two breeds side by side so that you could see the growth difference.  This was the best one I came up with:
Cornish X on Left - Freedom Ranger on Right
3 Weeks Old
It wasn't long after we moved them out that the temperatures sky rocketed.  So we had to "Ghetto Up" our pretty little Chicken Tractor fast!

We moved it to a spot that is shaded thru out most the day, covered the run with an old blanket and started using frozen gallon jugs of water.  We simply emptied a bit of the water and froze them.

Eight frozen jugs seems to be the magic number in keeping them rotated in/out and allowing enough time for the re-freeze.  I put one in the coop itself and one outside -in front of a box fan. 
Yes...I felt so sorry for those little panting buggers that we got them a box fan.  The air is so thick you can cut it with a knife!  We even had fog/haze cutting visibility at night! 

They especially appreciate the one inside the coop.  I think it actually stayed cooler inside than out.  Just remember to keep things as dry as possible too.  The jugs sweat.
Above you can see that they liked sitting near the jugs.  Maybe you can also see the difference in the size of the two breeds legs?  It's pretty notable when you see them up close actually.
So, that is how we are trying to help the Chickens make it thru this hot, hot summer!  What are you doing for yours and any other livestock you have?

I'm all ears!

Even if these aren't...after being knocked down for the second dang time!  But at least we had a little bit of rain.  An inch.  Just north of us...8" in one hour.  It now goes down for them as the wettest July on record.  For's now the 3rd hottest on record.  And dry...

I can now up my garden harvest to the .25 oz of peas picked last week and a handful of green beans the other day.  Seriously.  Not even photo worthy.  :o(