2014 Arctic Blast and Bees

The beginning of 2014 was kicked off with an Arctic Blast like none other seen in the US for decades. This was also preceeded by 2 fairly mild winters that had some beekeepers here in Illinois wondering if cold winters were going to be a problem for beekeepers in the future. One less ‘problem’ would be some much needed relief to the long growing list of bee problems being seen now such as varroa mites, small hive beetles, Africanized bees, and colony collapse disorder. Thankfully President Obama enacted some help for those beekeepers that sell honey and had heavy losses due to the harsh weather.

My entry into Mead

Humans have had an absolute love of honey for a very, very long time. It is an incredible thought that if it were possible, we could actually eat some honey that was made when our first love of honey began (honey can last forever). I can only imagine that our love of honey will never fade as our basic love of salty and sweet (honey fitting into the latter) will probably never fade. But, there are other reasons that we can love honey. For some time honey has been used in healing of various maladies such as colds, allergies, and cuts. Honey has also been used to make alcoholic drinks with the basic being a form of wine called mead. It is this turning of honey into a wine that I would like to discuss a little as I have just entered into its making.

After having read a little on the subject of wines, wild wines, and mead I must say that I am not actually making a true mead-yet. But I do plan on doing this in the future. What I did start out with was a melomel which uses honey and fruits or berries to give it flavor.

So there are only a few necessary things to make a basic mead. Some people start extremely simple and just add water to honey. The idea is that there already naturally occurring yeasts in the air and therefore the honey that given the right conditions will start to ferment. The right conditions are enough moisture (water) to make the honey have a lower sugar content. Some honey will actually start to ferment on its own given enough time. In most cases this is because the honey was either not capped and has absorbed water, or the bees capped the honey when it was extremely humid such as during and after heavy rains. In most cases the bees ‘know’ when the moisture is too high to cap it, but it seems that busy as a bee means that the bees have a need to be doing something. So not using the extreme el natural approach of either just honey or honey and water here are the basic needs:

honeywateryeast

Honey

Water

&

Yeast

 

So that’s it, and you can see why people have been making it for so long.

There are of course some other things you can use to add a little spice to it (in some cases you can literally add spices). In my case since I love to garden and grow too much to eat at one time I have added frozen berries, melons, and fruits. Like some of the books that I have read say the only thing that can stop what you can add to your mead is your imagination. Sign me up! But I think I will avoid the garlic, potato, basil, or parsley versions for now.

One of the recipes that I used and changed a little due to what I had on hand was this:

  • 26 oz frozen strawberries
  • 32 oz frozen blueberries
  • 3 oz frozen grapes (for a small amount of tannin)
  • 3 small apples cored
  • 1 gallon of honey
  • 5 t pectic enzyme (to make the mead less cloudy)
  • 5 t yeast nutrient (to help the yeast get started)
  • 1.5 cups orange juice (to also help the yeast get started)
  • 1 packet of yeast
  • water to make 5 gallons

The basic steps are pretty simple with the most important being to have sterile things at every step of the way. It seems that the smallest amount of bacteria or ‘bad yeast’ in the batch can ruin the whole thing. Which would really be a shame considering it takes 1-2 years from what I have read to get a good finished mead. Here are the basic steps and if you are going to do it for yourself you should read up on the more in detail process as this is just the high level view

  • Clean all equipment with sanitizing solution (iodine, chlorine, or other)
  • Add honey and some water and heat to get rid of wax and other things that will make the mead cloudy
  • crush fruits and add to primary bucket (a bucket with an airlock on it)
  • add heated honey and water to primary bucket and add water to make 5 gallons
  • let mixture cool to room temperature or slightly above
  • add OJ, yeast nutrient, warm water, and yeast to small covered container to make sure yeast is active by seeing bubbling
  • add yeast solution to primary bucket and stir to mix
  • let sit for 7-14 days and stir 1-2 times per day (this is the primary fermentation)
  • siphon liquid to glass container and add airlock to keep air out
  • siphon to new glass containers once every 3 months or so to clear mead
  • bottle when all fermentation is done (1 year or so)

The basic equipment is pretty simple too.

Basic mead equipment

Basic mead equipment

The large glass container is used for the secondary fermentation and is where the mead is for most of the process. The plastic bucket is 6 or so gallons and has a lid with a small opening to stick the airlock into to keep air out used the first 7-14 days called primary fermentation. The liquid between the two is a cleaning solution with iodine in it to sanitize all equipment before use. The small rubber stopper has the airlock attached to use on the primary or secondary fermentation vessel to keep the air out. The 2 pieces of plastic tubing are used to siphon the liquid from one container to the next while keeping the solid materials behind to help clear the liquid.

The secondary fermentation should look like this. At first I did not have enough mead to fill the containers. So I had to combine some of my mead to fill to the top so there was not much airspace. The blueberry and strawberry have darkened the mead extremely as with just honey and water it is a golden color usually.

1 gallon and 5 gallons of mead

1 gallon and 5 gallons of mead

The last step which I am not to yet is to bottle the mead into wine bottles. I am not to this step yet, but the idea is the same which is to get the liquid from the big glass container into the smaller bottles by siphoning and then capping the bottles to keep the air out.

UPDATE!!! Well, it’s been over 2 years since this mead was brought to life and the quick mead batches that I made turned out great! The other mead with fruit was tested again Feb. 2016 and still has some time to go. I have read that mead is considered young at 2 yrs and may take up to 5 years to allow its taste to mature. Well, it still tastes like cough syrup now so I will try again next year!

What is a Dink?

A dink in the beekeeping world is used to talk about a small or struggling hive. In most cases when possible dinks either have their queen killed and the remaining bees are added to another hive, or have frames added to their hive to increase their numbers and help them survive. In the case of this little swarm it made up a dink that did not make it.

A closer view of the small swarmade up a dink that unfortunately for me did not make it.

Small swarm approximately 8 by 8 inches

Small swarm approximately 8 by 8 inches

It was also a swarm that was extremely late in the season (late August). My only hope is that most of the bees found another hive as they all came from one of my hives to begin with, and there were not many dead bees found in the hive later.

3 oz glass hex jars

3oz hex jar shown with 4" honey dipper

3oz hex jar shown with 4″ honey dipper

These perfect little 3 oz glass hex jars are filled with wildflower honey to make your special day have a lasting and sweet impression. Great for showers and weddings with or without a 4″ honey dipper.

Label options include 1.375″ circle label for the top, 1X1.25″ label for 1 side, 1X1.5″ label for 1 side, or 2,25X1,75″ label to wrap 3 sides.

2013 Year end bloom

Well, I am fully committed to keep the posts fresh for this site. The first of which will be a little of a recap of the end of the 2013 season. First off, it was a very different season than last year. Last year was a boom of a honey crop for us, yet it seems the mid-west was really mixed from what I read and heard. Most of the beekeepers in the area (Kankakee and surrounding counties of Illinois) said they got very good crops. It was an early start in 2012 for sure as the hot weather came early giving the bees plenty of time and opportunity to hit the early trees (maples and willows) to start an early build-up.

Fast forward to this year and it seemed to be a fairly good start (although not nearly as soon with the hot weather) with some moderate weather and fairly steady temps. The rain came late, though which changed things up for most beekeepers.

Unlike most farming operations, rain does not always help the honey crop. Rain at the wrong time and can completely stop the bees from visiting certain blooms. Not sure if that was the case for the goldenrod this year, but I did not get much of a goldenrod flow at all.

early goldenrod

early goldenrod

It may be a little of an oversimplification to think that rain can not hurt other farming operations. I know that too much rain can wipe out entire crops, but in the case of beekeeping, a little rain off and on can really affect a flow.

So, the goldenrod bloom did not pan out much this year. Which is not usually a big factor unless you were planning that in to your calculations of winter stores. I was. So my word of caution to others reading this now in early winter, if you did not leave extra honey, have not checked, or have not fed your bees yet you may be too late. A few of my hives have already been found dead due to starvation. The bloom that did come in instead of the goldenrod was the white aster that is seen a lot around these parts. When this picture was taken on 9/20 the field was literally buzzing there were so many bees on it. But as you may already know just because the bees are out flying does not mean that a good flow of nectar or pollen is coming in.

the field was a buzz for sure

the field was a buzz for sure

I have started to feed many of my hives; which I do not normally like to do at all. I never like to do it this early-November. January or February OK if really needed, but November is pretty crazy.

So there are of course going to be those that say it was just me and poor management of my bees that is where I am for this Fall/Winter. And to that I can say, yes I am a little more of a hands off beekeeper than some. I do not subscribe to the idea of going through an exact regiment year after year for sure-feed this time all bees, medicate this time all bees, split this time all bees. It is this approach that has partly gotten us to the predicament we are in right now in all of our farming endeavors. I like to keep as hands off as I can and watch for changes in each hive/area. I also journal every single time I go out so I can compare one year, area, or ‘style’ to another. My hive counts are low so this may sway the stats a little, but it helps over time I’m sure to see what is working or what needs to be stopped.

In conclusion of the year end bloom for 2013 I must say that it was not a good one for sure. It will hurt me most likely, and hopefully I can recover the best that is possible. In reading the reports for the midwest bees in American Bee Journal I can see I am not alone. Honey was also mixed (which makes sense as blooms tend to go hand in hand with flow). Of the late blooms that were out, I saw bees pretty much covering what ever they could find. Which unfortunately could mean desperation in some cases.

Exciting News

We are so happy to announce that our website will be undergoing some major revamping! We will soon have

-A shopping cart with the options to pick up locally, pick up at our market when in season, or ship directly to you

-A calendar with events posted to follow our happenings

 
hooray

A Jam Packed Summer

In the heart of the summer the hive expands to 60,000 bees or more. When this happens the hive is very likely to swarm as there is no room for bees in the hive. In the morning you can see bees on the outside of the hive as the foraging bees are still at home along with all of the other bees. This is called bearding as the bees from a distance look like a big beard attached to the hive. This hive was split into 2 hives and this is the result afterwards. This hive could have easily been split into 4 hives if I had queens ready or more frames with queen cells on them. By just splitting it in two, this hive will still produce more honey this season to be extracted.

Bees Bearding after a split

Bees Bearding after a split

 

 

The purpose of bearding for the bees is to make room in the main hive and at the same time try and help ventilate the main hive. It will commonly be seen that there is a pattern to the bees with them seeming to angle their wings to fan in a certain direction. Most of the bees will be found surrounding the main entrance, and if there are other cracks or openings big enough for the bees to consider them entrances they will congregate there also.

A closer look near the main entrance

A closer look near the main entrance

This close up shows that most bees are facing the same direction to fan

This close up shows that most bees are facing the same direction to fan

Swarm removal

Here is a picture of a swarm we removed in July. The hive had been established for about 4 years and was getting to the point of being a nuisance for the owner. Like all swarms we remove we attempt to save as many bees as possible to either start a new hive (or hives). Most removals do not have much honey, but this one was an exception. Most removals in a building do damage and must be repaired after the hive is removed. This one didn’t matter as the owner was planning on residing soon anyway. Notice how the bees use the entire space from rafter to rafter. Had there been easy access to fill the other rafters they would have done that too.

Swarm size is 4'X6'

Swarm size is 4’X6′

Our Contact Information

Our contact information is below
Email: heavenly-harvest@hotmail.com

Phone: 815-325-1283

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Madelines-Heavenly-Harvest/107940009291656

A Beautiful Site (for Crafters and the creative)

Sometime in Sept of 2012 we shipped some beeswax to the two ladies that run this blogger site. It is a wonderful site if you love cool ideas to make for yourself and others. Well, it is funny how far 5 lbs of beeswax will take you. Since then our Etsy shop has seen through the roof orders on beeswax.

The site called abeautifulmess.com is really cool and has quite the following. Although most of the orders and conversations we got from the article were from the US, we did get a small number conversations from reisdents of Canada and Sweden. It’s not quite up my alley as I don’t have much spare time, but I do like to check in every now and again to see what they have to offer and how the blog in which they used our beeswax is faring. It can be seen here under the How to Make Beeswax Candles. Check it out if you are into that kind of thing and enjoy.