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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Since our most recent honey harvest yielded close to 15 quarts, I am experimenting with honey as a sweetener. We are so used to the taste of sugar that we don’t really taste it any more, we only taste the sweetness. Honey on the other hand has a depth of flavor that some palates find too potent. But pair it with a complementary yet assertive enough flavor, and you’ve got a winner. And in the spring we’ve got… rhubarb, beautiful, tart, versatile, perennial rhubarb!!!
I used not to care for rhubarb, having been subjected to too many over-sweet strawberry rhubarb pies with less than stellar crusts. So it took me quite a while to embrace its sourness, so welcomed after winter. In comparison with fresh tamarind, a fruit of my childhood, rhubarb’s sour bite is actually quite gentle. No wonder I don’t want its tartness to be disguised by too much sugar. Read more
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.
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.
This is why I pick and freeze berries – and other fruit – in the summer when they are at peak flavor. And for cobbler and clafoutis too.Yeah… I suppose nobody needs a recipe for smoothie? Indulge me a little. It’s a locavore post after all, one that’ll provide plenty of vitamins and taste (and a lovely color in the glass) to help you start the new year on good footing. Forget the Bloody Mary for New Year’s brunch, ring in the Smoothie. You will have sipped homemade peach liqueur the night before anyway… your liver needs a little rest from all that rich food. Hence the Super easy Smoothie. Read more