Archive for Bees

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

 

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

Printable Honey_Fact_Sheet

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

Honey For Sale!

Rappahannock Arboreal Honey

Rappahannock Arboreal Honey

The 2014 harvest is now available for purchase at R.H. Ballard in Washington, VA,  and through Heritage Hollow Farms Store in Sperryville.  We kept a few jars for direct sale, if you are local and interested.

It’s a very small harvest as we are letting the bees keep most of the honey since we plan to increase the colony numbers, every year for a few years.

Real honey is truly a miracle. That 12-oz jar represents the nectar from 1.5 million flowers. For us, the main sources of nectar are forest trees (hence the name “arboreal Honey”: tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), basswood (aka American Linden, Tilia americana) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) The bees from one hive traveled 41,000 miles to gather it: ten of thousands of bees forage within 1 or 2 mile radius of the hive. Each trip represents a visit to 50 or 100 flowers of the same kind. It takes 10 or 12 bees their entire life time to make a teaspoon honey. Pretty sobering when you think about it.

We are grateful.

Prior blog posts on beekeeping are here:

Signs of Spring

 installing bees 009 comp

March 30:  black currant leaves just visible.

April 2: 14F (14F!!!!!!) at night. Forecast called for 24. I did not cover my newly planted brassicas. A week later they show damage – the outer leaves show large whitish spots.

April 3: spotted the first green deciduous tree on the way to a client – a weeping willow with its acid yellow-green new leaves.

April 5: Keith installs 2 new bee colonies.

April 7: peas pushing through. No sign of the fava beans. Afraid the mice got them.

April 8: we are harvesting large bowls of salad “greens” from the garden. My favorite fast food available again!

fast food lunch 005 comp

April 9:  first bear visit of the year. Yikes! A big fellow (or madam?) too, on the porch, at 2 AM sniffing around empty grain bags. He carried out the box where I neatly fold the bags and proceeded to go through them. No damage done. Noise maker in action…

April 10: First dandelions blooming here. Time to start watching for bee swarms.

April 11: Spice berries clouded in yellow. Can the redbuds be far behind? And we all know what that means

 

 

The Bees in Winter

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It’s been a hard winter for the bees. Harder than usual. We have lost 1 of our 3 colonies and it’ll be a few more weeks at best till we see reliably clement temperatures and blossoms for them. How can we help them?

Read more

Postcard From The Hedgerow

Basswood Flowers

Basswood Flowers

 

End of season for the blossoms  – they are now drying for later uses. The bees love linden too. That’s the other name for basswood aka American linden, Tilia americana.  The British call linden “lime” which used to confuse me to no end. But by any other name, the flowers smell delicious and the bees turn them into a specially fragrant honey.

Sweet As Honey

Harvesting honey is – I hope – going to become one of our spring rituals. We just harvested out first honey: four medium frames, two people working two hours give 8 pints of honey (4 liters) or 12 pounds.

We are about to start our 3rd year with the bees. Last spring, at the  beginning of year two, we could have/should have had a harvest. We did not – for a number of reasons. Not the least of it was that we had a heat wave just as Keith put in new wax frames – which pretty much melted the wax frames which dripped all over the box, blocking access to the new areas of the hive. There was no room for the bees to expand; so the colony – a strong one in need of more room –  swarmed before we realized what happened.When bees swarm they load themselves with honey so they can start a new home with some food. Our harvest-to-be was depleted. We left the remaining honey to the remaining bees.

Going into winter we had two colonies. Coming out of winter we only had one. We knew one queen was weak, and she did not make it in this cold winter. And so no queen, no eggs, no replacement workers, no replacement queen With that knowledge and  no obvious signs of diseases, Keith gave most of the frames of honey of that hive to the remaining hive and saved four for us to extract. Finally! Long awaited honey….

And so last Friday on a beautiful balmy day, we extracted honey. Which proved surprisingly easy.

Remove the frames from the super (the box). The bees have capped the honey in the cells with wax.

harvesting-honey-003

Read more

Blooming Currants

Did you know red currants bloom as the same time as the cherries?

They do.

But unlike the billowy dreamy snowy cherry blossoms, the flowers of red currant are rather inconspicuous. One hardly notices them – especially with the explosion of greens and colors in the garden around the shrubs.

currant-in-bloom-2009-04-2821

Still. As insignificant, small and greenish as they are, the bees and wasps notice them, and make a refueling stop.

currant-flowers-pollinator-2009-04-289

I know of the brilliant bounty the red currants will yield come June – following the sour cherries and at the same time as the sweet cherries.

Blue And Red

Spring is blue and red: blue clear sky and red maple flowers.

maple-flowers-2009-03-136

Indeed the maples are blooming now, the earliest single species source of nectar and pollen for our bees. Read more

Postcard From The Meadow

Yes, this is a food related post. Look closer… can you find the honey bee? her butt sticking out from one of the snowdrops? “her” indeed… they are all “she”, you know.

ah… honey: the food of the gods! bee barf!

snowdrops-bee-2009-02-241

On warm sunny days, they fly out of the hive where the cold weather has kept them cooped to stretch their wings, clean the hive (yes, they do! really!) and see if they is any foraging to do. Pickings are slim, but there are some: crocuses, snowdrops, Johnny-jump-ups, early willows and anything flowering in the greenhouse. Whatever it is, some of them are coming back to the hive with sacs of dark pollen, and you know, they only collect pollen from one species at a time…

There must be something else blooming in the woods.