A blog originally for keeping track of my hobby of being a Beekeeper which has evolved to include Home Brewing and even more recently to follow me and my families approach to "The Good Life". Eventually I hope to include baking recipes and stories of our flock of chickens also reporting on the success and failure at the allotments.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Bee History: part 1

Rather than just talk about my experiences with Beekeeping, which I imagine could get a little boring and repetitive to all but the most involved, I would do a few posts on things like the history of Bees and mans involvement with them.

Bees are believed to have evolved from wasps millions of years ago. I have read that this happened because the wasps were feeding their larva with insects covered in pollen and they evolved to collect the pollen themselves.

One of the earliest preserved Bee samples was found encased in amber and is believed to be over 100 million years old. This would make them older than triceratops and tyrannosaurus. The Bee in question is not thought to be a social Bee like the Honey Bee, but rather a solitary Bee similar to the mason Bees of today. This sample was found in Burma.

As I would like to have several parts to this subject I will leave it there for now. When I have done a few I may put them all together in a separate page.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Making Fondant

With the onset of winter and the weather getting colder the Bees will be getting less and less active with there being less forage for them to collect. Due to this I have already started feeding my Bees to help them prepare for winter. I have already given them a heavy syrup mix which they took in next to no time and now the weather is getting colder by the day it isn't feasible to give the Bees liquid feed any more; the reason liquid feed isn't recommended is that the syrup needs to be below 20% water for them to successfully store it without it going bad and with the lower temperature it makes it harder for the Bees to lower the water content. Instead of syrup I will be now giving them fondant to eat over the coming months. I decided it would be cheaper and more fun to make my own fondant and the recipe can be found here.

Step 1: Once all sugar and water is added put on hob and continue to stir

Step 2: When it starts to boil put the lid on and boil for at least 5 minutes.
I left to boil a little longer

Step 3: Check the temperature; if over 234°F then turn heat off and allow to cool

Step 4: When temp drops to 200°F start beating
(if you have a electric whisk I would advise using it!) 

Step 5: Keep beating air into the mix and it will start to thicken,
your arm will be hurting by now if you don't have a electric whisk

Step 6: When it is really stiff it's ready to box.
I have poured it into clean take away boxes.

Once I had made the fondant I allowed it to cool overnight and the next day (last Thursday) I took it up to the hive, removed the lid of the fondant and put it where the feeder bucket was. The plastic tray is now upside down at the top of the hive allowing the Bees to eat as much as they want in the safety of the hive. I will go back next month and see if they need the other box of fondant I made. When I was at the hive I also added an entrance reducer but the Bees were getting a little defensive so will attach a mouse guard next visit. I also received my first sting while they have been in my apiary; on my hand through leather gloves!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Apiary inspection 09/10/2011

Yesterday I managed to get to do my overdue hive inspection. I was due to go up last Thursday but, as mentioned in my previous post, the weather was unfit for opening the hive. I was concerned that I'd left the varroa treatment in for too long as it says remove after 4 weeks. It was only in a couple of extra days so I wasn't too worried. I also had a friend come up with me to see the Bees as he was round my house at the time the weather cleared up enough for the inspection.

Upon arrival at my dad's allotment me and my friend, Tris, suited up. I let him use my suit as it's slightly larger and I squeezed into my partners suit. As it was going to be a quick inspection I decided we would try to do the inspection without smoke. The weather wasn't the most ideal for the inspection as it was overcast and had been raining that day and due to this there was very little traffic coming and going from the hive when we got to the apiary. Upon opening the top of the hive there was a fair few Bees that got air born to see what we were doing but they didn't cause too much problem.

I showed my friend a couple of frames from the super that had stored honey in them, some with capped cells and others that were uncapped. He seemed amazed at how many Bees there were so I moved onto the brood chamber to show him how many were in there. When we removed the super to expose the brood chamber a lot more Bees started flying round us, but I was really impressed with my friend as he kept calm and I carried on showing him the brood area. We managed to get a good look at about 4 frames before the Bees got really angry and were trying to sting my face through my suit; at this stage we stepped out of the apiary for a couple of minutes to allow them to calm down a bit. Once they were a little calmer we went back in and I removed the APILIFE VAR bars that were in, thus completing the varroa treatment. I then reassembled the hive, adding a extra super to allow me room to add a bucket of sugar syrup for the Bees. They did have quite a bit of stores but I would rather feed them a bit extra than let them starve.

During the inspection I had thought I'd heard a rip from time to time in a certain area of the suit and when we returned to my car and removed the suit I found a hole in the crotch area; I'm so glad none of the Bees managed to find it! My friend who came with me really enjoyed the visit and as he has a huge garden I am now trying to convince him to also get some Bees or at least let me keep Bees on his property! I should also mention that he recently opened up his own barber shop in the area and I recommend you to visit the Facebook page for his shop.

My friend Tris ready for Bees!

More Mead

Last Thursday should have been the day I went up to see the Bees and remove the last stage of their varroa treatment however for those who live in my area may remember that the weather was atrocious that day; there was high winds and lots of rain, hardly good weather to be opening the hive up. Instead of wasting a day I decided it would be a good idea to start another batch of mead.

So far out of all my mead I have made there has only been one I've tasted as it's a simple and quick mead that is ready in 2 months unlike others that take literally years to age properly. A lot of people would turn their noses at this mead with it being ready so fast but I don't care. It's quick, easy and it works, also to me it tastes great. The recipe can be found here. The only difference I made to the recipe was to add slightly more honey to make it a bit sweeter. This may affect how long it takes to be ready but that's no problem. I added 1.8kg instead of 1.6kg and the S.G. for this was 1.090 so at the end I will be able to work out the alcohol level rather than just guess.

I did make a slight change to the method for making this as well but it was only slight. Rather than just adding the yeast straight to honey water I added it to the sample I'd taken out to do the gravity reading. This was in a half pint glass. When I'd added the yeast to this small sample I left it 10 minutes covered in cling film (or plastic wrap if you're american!) and then returned to see how it was doing. I wasn't expecting it to have properly started in that time but I was wrong and it had already started foaming out of the glass so I moved it into a pint glass until I was ready to add it to the honey water and other ingredients. When everything was put together I placed the demijohn out of the way and will return in a couple of months (Christmas time) to see if it's ready to drink!

1.8kg of honey dissolving in boiled water.

Half pint sample with yeast in bubbling over!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

An Update on Homebrew

Over the weekend I decided it was time to bottle my second batch of mead, which was started all the way back in January. I didn't have a hydrometer when I first started so no gravity reading was taken, which means I won't know the alcohol level of this batch.

This batch was a really large one so I have four demijohns of it to process,three are unaltered and one has been sweetened with extra honey. The unaltered ones were all that I had time to do. I started by sterilizing the vessels that the mead would be going into, in this case I am using my earthenware demijohns for this; the two earthenware vessels hold the same as the three glass ones I'm transferring from. I also added a campden tablet to the mead before in the glass demijohns; this helps by killing off wild yeast and bad bacteria. When everything was sterile I started to transfer the mead into the stone vessels.

A campden tablet crushed ready to be added.

Once completed I put a rubber bung into the larger of the two and attempted to put a cork in the smaller one. I say attempted as the hole was slightly too large for the cork. I had picked up a tip from a friend to make corking easier, which was to soak the cork first to make it go in the hole easier. I thought that this could be why the cork was too small so I tried a dry cork and found this to be same. As I had no other corks at this stage I had to start getting inventive. I thought the most suitable thing to use would be beeswax. I quickly melted some wax and then poured it around the cork making it a complete seal. I'm not totally sure if it's worked so will check it again later and use more wax if needed.

The only thing to do now is wait. During the process I have tried to mead on several occasions and unfortunately it hasn't tasted too great, in fact it tasted pretty bland though ageing the mead is supposed to improve flavour. If after a year the taste is still poor then I will still drink it but use something to mix in it, possibly ginger ale. In the future when experimenting with recipes I will make smaller batches so not as much honey is used. I still have plenty of honey that my dad acquired for me so will keep using that rather than experimenting with my own honey!