Honeybee Colony Winterization: Feeding

During early spring, beekeepers feed 1:1 sugar-water solution to stimulate reproduction. In late summer 1:1 again is fed to stimulate reproduction to increase winter populations. In autumn, 2:1 can be fed if honey stores are light as winter approaches. Keeping with simple ratios, I provide 12:1 sugar blocks “just-in-case” and to give the girls something to do.

These instructions are for use with an empty hive set above a 3/4″ plywood inner cover.  The inner cover has screened holes for ventilation and a hole to accomodate a standard-sized mason jar feeder.  The sugar block created will be fed thru the feeding hole.

Mix sugar and water at a 12 parts sugar to one part water by weight ratio.  This will form a somewhat wet granular paste. Spoon the mixture into insulated drinking cups (16 liquid ounces an ideal size). Add a couple drops of either lemon-grass oil or Honey-B-Healthy to attract the bees. Invert the cup over the feed hole.  Check and replace as necessary.

Sugar-water mix

12 parts sugar mixed with 1 part water.

Sugar blocks ready to feed.

Sugar-water mix packed into hot beverage cups. A couple drops of either lemon grass oil or Honey B Healthy added to attract the bees.

Inner cover feed hole.

Peering through the shredded newspaper insulation, through the inner cover feed hole and down to bees on the colony frames.

Feed_Added

Sugar block cup in place over the feed hole, ready for the insulation to be repacked. Replacing the feed can be done without compromising colony heat or bee cluster.

Not so hard?

If 12:1 is hard to calculate, use 5 pounds sugar to 1 cup water.  If you don’t have a simple kitchen scale that measures grams, ask for one for Christmas.

Feeding in winter is something that hopefully isn’t necessary.  In Virginia, where I live and where this advice is most relavant, if a colony has a full medium hive body of honey – 50+ pounds net weight – the colony ought to be in good shape for winter.  But things happen.  Winter 2016 had 70 degree days leading up to Christmas, such that bees were burning calories (and stored food) on foraging flights.

Then there is the question of whether a colony will eat provided food (some won’t), or treat sugar as debris and remove it from the colony (some do). Sometimes bees will store sugar granules in food cells. Another good thing about block sugar feeding, is that come spring, when it is time to start 1:1, the unused portions of sugar blocks can be recycled and won’t go to waste.

 

Honeybee Colony Winterization: Ventilation and Insulation

Two things kill honeybees in winter – moisture and starvation, not cold. Cold compounds the effects of moisture and starvation, but by itself, cold doesn’t kill honeybees.

For example, coming out of winter this past year, I had one colony lagging behind the others. The queen laid too few eggs and many of those were unfertilized (drones). I was willing to maintain the colony until I could requeen, but then deformed wing virus (DWV) appeared. Because of DWV, the colony had to be destroyed. I put the surviving bees – less than 6 frames – into a 0 degree freezer. After a week in the freezer, the drones and larva were dead, but the queen and the workers were mostly alive. (At that point I killed the queen and scattered the remaining workers.)

My winterization process includes covering screened bottom boards, adding entrance reducers, and arranging insulation WITH ventilation.

My inner top covers are ¾” plywood with holes for a feed jar and ventilation. I cover ventilation holes with “bee screen” on the bottom (bee-side), and window screen on the top (to keep out wax moths).

Inner Cover Bottom/Bee Screen

My basic top cover is 3/4″ plywood with a hole for a feed jar and holes front and back for ventilation. “Bee screen” can be gotten from your equipment supplier, or salvaged from empty package boxes.

I then place an empty deep hive body above the inner cover, with a normal telescoping cover over-all. My deep hive bodies have a 1-inch hole in each side, screened with window screen. This arrangement provides ventilation as well as secured feeding. The deep will handle 2-quart mason jars and even 1 gallon commercial mayonnaise jars for feed.  I use this arrangement year round (except for during certain varroa treatments).

Empty Deep with Good Ventilation

The inside of a top-set deep hive body. Note the 1″ screened holes in each side. I store the empty feed jar inside hive body. The top cover ventilation holes are oriented perpendicular to the frames.

 

Over the course of the summer, the bees will coat the bee screen with propolis, blocking ventilation. Come autumn I harvest the propolis while re-establishing the ventilation. Ventilation in winter is critical; breathing bees give off moisture. If the moisture accumulates inside the colony, water can drip back on the bees at the same time mold grows. On the other hand, too much ventilation results in the bees consuming more of their stored honey, leading to starvation.

Propolis blocking ventilation

The bees have almost completely blocked the bee screen. This pictured arrangement, where the ventilation holes are parallel to the frames, is not a good one. The best arrangement have the holes perpendicular to the frames.

Mold inside a top cover

The gray-green fuzz by my thumb is mold due to poor ventilation.

I control the ventilation and moisture by adding loose shredded newspaper to the top hive body. The paper might absorb the moisture, but the inside of the colony is drier. During mid-winter checks I carry extra shredded newspaper to replace any that seems wet.

Newspaper filled top Deep

 

Next: Winter Feeding.

2017 Honey Harvest

 

Honey extracted during June 2017, batches A-D.

Honey extracted during June 2017, batches A-D.

[by Keith Rowand]

Inside a hive, bees store honey in frames that contain about 4 pounds of honey each.  When I remove the frames from the hives, I store the frames separated by hive location and date.  Once I remove enough full frames, I start extracting the honey into buckets and jars, all the while keeping the batches as separate as possible.

Flowering plants blossom at different times throughout the year, tempting bees and other pollinators with nectar of different characteristics (color, smell, taste, viscosity).  Those floral nectar differences are reflected in the resulting honey; as flowers change the honey changes. In the past couple of years the honey has been dark in the early spring (autumn olive and tulip poplar in April/May),  then became lighter in color as the bees moved  to wild berries and brambles (May/June),  and lighter yet as they finish with basswood, linden, and clover in June/early July.   2017 has been different – for the first time in several years black locust has bloomed in glorious quantity.

Black locust honey is among the sweetest of honeys and very light in color.  I won’t say that I sell black locust honey, because so many other things blossom at the same time and the bees gather whatever they can. What I can say is that the early 2017 honey is lighter and sweeter for which I credit black locust.  Early autumn olive did not make it into honey frames, while tulip poplar was stretched out over several weeks.  Linden, basswood, berries, and clover will be in later honey batches.

For these notes, color is taken from the Pfund color chart, a standard honey measurement.  Grade A honey must have no more than 18.6% water content (above 20% fermentation can occur)

Batch “A”
Black locust, tulip poplar, early wildflowers.
Color: Extra light Amber
Moisture Content: 17.6%
Origin: Tiger Valley Rd, Washington, near Goat Hill Farm, harvested June 24.

Batch “B”
High black locust content, with tulip poplar and wildflowers.  Thicker with beeswax scent.
Color: White
Moisture Content: 17.8%
Origin: Blend from Tiger Valley Rd (June 24) and Jericho Rd (June 8).

Batch “C”
Predominately black locust; very sweet with butterscotch and vanilla tastes.
Color: Extra White
Moisture Content: 18.2%
Origin: Tiger Valley Rd, June 24 of selected frames.

Batch “D”
Some autumn olive, with black locust and some tulip polar; creamy with caramel.
Color: Extra light Amber
Moisture Content: 17.5%
Origin: Jericho Rd, Huntly, June 8.

Sorry for no tasting notes yet on the next 4 batches – they are coming!

Batch “E”
Color: Extra light Amber
Although I manage over 25 colonies, not all colonies produce equally.  Jericho #2 was one of my top 3 producers contributing over 80 pounds.
Moisture Content: 17.2%
Origin: Jericho Rd, near Flint Hill, June 24

Batch “F”
One of the first batches harvested from the rock star Jericho #2.
Color: Extra light Amber
Moisture Content: 17.9%
Origin: Jericho Rd, near Flint Hill, May 27

Batch “G”
This Laughing Duck home colony was a surprise and promises good production in the future!  A captured swarm, such colonies get a late start and a harvest is not expected.  The girls of LD #L4 didn’t get the memo and contributed a full harvest of about 35 pounds.
Color: Extra White
Moisture Content: 18.0%
Origin: Harris Hollow Rd, Colony #LL4 August 1

Batch “H”
This was the last batch of the second extraction run, each batch has 9 frames and these were the leftover frames at the end of the day!  Its like a capping tank batch, but more cohesive as I tried to identify frames of a like color.
Color: Extra Light Amber
Moisture Content: 17.8%
Origin: Blend from Jericho, Tiger Valley, and Harris Hollow areas, August 7.

Batch “I”
This is another batch of 21.9 pounds from Jericho #2.  The nectar was collected over 4 weeks with contributions from many different plants including tulip poplar, basswood, and clover.
Color: Extra Light Amber
Moisture Content: 18.0%
Origin: Colony Jericho #2 Honey Super, July 16, Jericho Road, near Flint Hill

Batch “J”
Origin: Laughing Duck Apiary, Harris Hollow.  Last batch made up of frames from multiple colonies.
Moisture Content: 18.4%

Batch “K”
Origin: July capping tank

Batch “L”
Origin: Tiger Vallley Colony #1, July 8.

Batch “M”
Origin: Tiger Valley Colony #4, July 8.

 

(This post will be updated as more batches make it to market.)

Printable Honey_Fact_Sheet

Locust Blossoms: Bottle Spring!

locust IMG_2745

The black locusts enchanting blossoms are melting away in the rain as I write.  As everything else this year, they were 10 days to 2 weeks earlier than usual – I generally count on the 2nd week of May to be peak time for the pearly bunches of fragrant flowers. My nose noticed the first ones on April 28, this year, as I was walking out of the Flint Hill Volunteer Fire & Rescue Hall where I was cooking for a wedding. But unlike many other years, this year was a good season, with showy, abundant and long lasting blossoms – well over 10 days. Despite almost 6 inches of rain last week, they kept blooming. But all things end, and now they are just drooping, brown and limp, rain water pulling them down closer to the ground… Read more

Just Right Bread-and-Butter Pickles

As it turns out, when pickles are good, we eat lots of them. If they are too acid or too sweet, they languish in the pantry. I’ve tried many vegetables and many styles over the years and have concluded that we really only eat a few: “cornichons”, tiny tart cucumber pickles that are a staple of French picnic along with saucisson, baguette, butter, and a pot of “moutarde extra forte”; and bread-and-butter pickles… but only if they aren’t too sweet.

The pickling cucumber plantings are doing fairly well this year. Not well enough to make a lot of cornichons, but well enough to make bread and butters. So bread-and-butters we’ve been making, not too sweet, just right. We eat them with or piled in sandwiches, potato salad, sandwich between fried eggplants, with cold chicken or cold meat … you name it!

Happy to share my recipe below.

bread & butter 3

Read more

Beet & Chocolate

beet chocolate cake IMG_1699

I am firmly in the beet lover camp: a well grown garden beetroot  tastes of clean sweet earth. And that’s a good taste, intense, earthy, crunchy when raw, silky when cooked, deep garnet. But I know that the beet is as fervently disliked as it is loved. As much for taste as for its uncanny ability to color everything sanguine.

But that perceived flaw is also a strength. One can turn beets into a natural food coloring. Years ago, I made preserved cherries from a Greek recipe that called for dropping a chunk of beet-root in the jar of preserve to enhance its color. The cherries tastes faintly of beet – fine with me since I like beets.

Then, a few days ago, at breakfast, leaving through an older issue of Saveur magazine, I stopped turning the page at the gorgeous photo of icing in the most lovely shades of pink. Colored by beet powder! According to the article, beetroot powder has some earthy sweetness but  does not have a strong taste. I was intrigued.

I made beet root powder. Because right now we have beets. The recipe for DIY beetroot powder is here. A mandoline is helpful to slice the beet paper-thin. After drying the beet slices in my yard-sale food dehydrator (they looked like rose petals!), I pulverized the dehydrated slices in my Vitamix. Worked like a charm!

beet powder IMG_1679 beet powder IMG_1684

Then I wanted to make icing. And use it. Read more

A Smoked Duck Breast & Blackberry Salad

smoked duck & blackberrry salad

Blackberry time is here. The canes in the garden have started to produce, and should all go well, continue to produce for another 4 weeks. Which is good, because blackberries (and eggplants) are one of the consolations of a typical Virginia summer, especially the kinds we’ve been seeing the last few years: hot, hotter, no rain, and yet muggy. Ouch.

But at least we have blackberries. That means blackberry sorbet, blackberry sourcream sherbet, creme de blackberry, blackberry shrub. But not blackberry gastrique nor blackberry jam, of which we still have plenty. We eat them. We freeze them. Me make juice. We sell them. It’s blackberry time, I tell you.

It’s also hot. So, preparations with minimum applications of heat are ideal. And blackberries, with their sweet-tart flavor, lend themselves well to savory dishes.

Recently, I prepared a smoked duck salad as an appetizer for a 32-guest lunch  (inspired by this recipe from the James Beard Foundation). I simplified the James Beard Foundation recipe by using smoked duck breasts prepared by The Whole Ox Butcher Shop in Marshall, VA (which sliced paper-thin with their meat slicer); changed the sauce a little bit… and reduced the plate to appetizer size.

An easy dish and attractive that’s great for a crowd, as all the components can be prepared ahead and assembled up to 30 minutes before serving (because we are using robust greens that can stand to the sauce).

So there, Smoked Duck Breast & Blackberry Salad – Appetizer for 12 Read more

A Perfectly Pretty Watermelon Salad

 watermelon salad, small

It took me a long time to accept the idea of fruit in my salads. Too gimmicky, if you had asked me! As a properly raised French child, the only acceptable fruit that was not dessert was an appetizer of charentais melon with port (or maybe Jambon de Bayonne, the French Basque version of Prosciutto).  But now? Now… I toss blueberries in massaged kale salad; I mix cantaloupes, canaries, and honeydews with purslane, shallots & jalapenos; I love peaches everywhere, including in salsa, or sliced thinly on a goat cheese open sandwich with black pepper & a drizzle of honey… and when it comes to watermelon, there is almost no limit.

Not only is this particular salad pretty, you can prepare all the ingredients ahead, keep them refrigerated in separate containers, and assemble at the last minute.. which makes it perfect for entertaining or even for potluck. Imagine the exclamations! Edible flowers bring a nice touch to the dish – in fact they are part of the WOW factor, something we can all relish occasionally. Read more

Beet-root Pesto and Beet-leaf Pesto

beets colorful IMG_1605

As one who loves beets, I have yet to find something made with beets that I don’t like. Raw beet salad, roasted beet and goat cheese sandwich, borscht, pickled beets (a favorite), beet ice-cream, savory beet tart, sweet beet tart (see Bar Tartine, by Courtney Burns and Nicolaus Balla), and, of course (thank you Nigel Slater) beet and chocolate cake – yep, over here, please!

It’s possible that this love for beetroots goes back a long time…. As kids, when we had a cold/sore throat, my mother would thinly slice beet root, layer them with sugar, let them sit until the sugar dissolved and the beets released their juice and give us spoonfuls of the most delicious medicine one can imagine. Cold, unctuous, sweet, and beet-y. In fact, something good enough to feign a cough! Totally unlike cod liver oil!

And although homemade kvass has not been a success (it got to be pretty sticky and literally oozed out of the jar), I have not yet given up on that.

Yet, beet seems to be one of those polarizing flavors – one loves them or hates them. Over several trials and error (and the desire to serve beetroot as hors d’oeuvre without a mess), I came up with a recipe that many people who told me they don’t like beets have enjoyed: Beet root pesto (no cheese). Read more

Shades of Honey

Shades of the 2015 harvest

Shades of the 2015 harvest

Have you ever wondered what determines the color of honey? or its texture? why are some honey darker or lighter? why are some honey extremely liquid, other much thicker, or some even “solid”? why do they have different textures?

In essence, it boils down to which flowers the bees visit. Nectar from different flowers yield honey with different color, texture, viscosity… and taste. Honey absolutely reflects the terroir where the bees live, since they forage within 2 or 3 miles from their hive. When large fields of the same plant bloom at the same time (whether it’s a field of clover, an orange grove, or acres of wild blackberries or autumn olives), bees are able to collect their nectar in mass over a short period of time.  Since a foraging bee collects nectar from only one flowering species on any one trip (50 to 100 flowers are visited on one trip), the hive gives priority to plants that are blooming in mass at the same time: it’s much more productive for them! The beekeeper monitor blooms, nectar flow, and bee in-take to time the placement and removal of the honey supers. Honey supers are boxes of frames dedicated to collect harvestable honey (as opposed to brood frames, or honey that will serve as food for the bees)

Even with our small apiaries the color differences are startling, and the taste sometime very different. Look at the picture: all eight jars represent honey from 2015, harvested at different times and from different small apiaries, yet all located within 8 miles from our house, in Rappahannock county in the Northern Virginia Piedmont at the foothill of the BlueRidge Mountains.

Keith (who is the beekeeper) tries to set aside a jar from each harvest batch and here are his notes for the jars in the pictures: Read more