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
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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:
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!
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…
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?
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.
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.
Did you know red currants bloom as the same time as the cherries?
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.
Still. As insignificant, small and greenish as they are, the bees and wasps notice them, and make a refueling stop.
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.
Spring is blue and red: blue clear sky and red maple flowers.
Indeed the maples are blooming now, the earliest single species source of nectar and pollen for our bees. Read more
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!
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.