That Honey Looks a Little Funny…

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Don’t the fine CO2 bubbles look like fungal hyphae??

So, flash forward several months after the honey harvest, and not only has the honey crystallized to an opaque creamy yellow, but threads of white appear to mar the surface of several jars.

I finally ask the Googles about it and despite ‘honey never spoils’, well, it turns out that it can!

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Fine bubbles on the surface of the crystalized honey

I was very worried what I was seeing were fungal threads creeping around in the honey.  But no.  Nothing so drastic as that.  It was teeny tiny CO2 bubbles from fermentation!

Here is the deal: When bees have evaporated their processed nectar into ‘honey’, it usually contains <20% water. At that point they cover the cells with a wax cap – sealing the honey for later use.  Capped honey is usually ‘safe’ to harvest because of it’s low moisture content.  What that means is that any yeast present won’t have enough water to ferment the honey.  Hence, ‘honey never spoils’.

If the moisture content of the honey is higher than ‘normal’ – due to high nectar flow (not enough time for the bees to evaporate sufficiently before the cells are full and they cap it), or if the honey has time to absorb moisture from the air (as in wet weather during harvest or, say, taking several days to drain your honey), the naturally occurring yeast can begin to ferment the honey – turning the sugars into alcohol, acids, and CO2.

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Water bath to melt the crystallized honey

Eventually, fermentation can give the honey unpleasant off-tastes.  The solution is to liquefy the honey and either pasteurize it to kill the yeast or chill it to slow the fermentation process.

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Foam from fine CO2 bubbles in the liquefying honey

I placed the 3 pints of honey we had left into a water bath on the stove on ‘low’.  Slowly the crystals melted, the honey began to clear, and the tiny bubbles rose to the surface.  After a few hours of this the honey was completely clear with no more fine froth on the surface.  I let the honey come to room temperature on the counter, labeled it and stuck it in the freezer.

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Fine CO2 bubbles slowly rising to the surface of the liquid honey

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Liquid honey again – still some fine bubbles. I actually but the jars back in the water bath until the honey came out totally clear.

From now on, any honey we are not using in the next 3 mo is going in the freezer. Simple.

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Posted in bees, harvest, honeybees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Dead Bee Honey

Photo Nov 25, 10 41 26 AM

Raw honey extracted from the Italian hive this fall

Sooooo….our bees died.  Again.  Sadly, the first hive that expired was on us.  I have yet to make a decent lid for the hive.  So one stormy night, the lid blew off and water made its way into the hive.  The bees likely died of hypothermia from getting wet.  Ouch.

Irresponsible apiarists?  Yes.  Will I build lids this year?  Yes.

In the meantime, we decided to harvest the honey.  Although we have kept bees since 2013 we had yet to harvest any honey – preferring to leave it for the bees so they could build up their colony.

Honey is harvested differently from top bar hives compared to ‘traditional’ Langstroth hives.  In Langstroth, bees build comb within a wooden frame – often onto a ‘foundation’ of plastic.  In order the extract honey from a capped comb, the cap is scraped off, and the frames set into an extractor.  As the frames are spun within the extractor, honey is flung out of the opened cells by centrifugal force and the honey funneled down to a spigot where it is collected and processed.

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Scott ready to take a bite out of the honey comb

Top bar hives do not use foundation or even a frame.  Bees build comb down from a ‘top bar’. To extract honey, combs are simply cut off the bar and crushed.  At first we tried mashing the comb with a potato masher – but it soon became clear that the masher could not break every cell, so I switched to clean hands.

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Honey comb ready to crush

After every cell was broken, we filtered the honey through a fine mesh filter. For us, that was a paint strainer from the hardware store inside a metal colander over a bowl.  It’s a good idea to do this when the weather is warm so that the honey flows.  It was cool when we processed our honey and it took a few days of hanging to get the last good drops.

Photo Nov 22, 4 24 12 PM

Comb ready to crush in the mesh-lined colander

From there, we pretty much just scooped the honey into sterile glass jars!

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Honey pouring from the crushed comb

Sharing it with a few friends and family, we found the taste much stronger than ‘regular honey’.  This may be because it was raw.  Pasteurized honey will contain less interesting proteins than raw honey because of the temperature.  I personally find it also has the sweet-strong smell of fresh comb.  And it smells like HIVE on a warm day when the bees are fanning like crazy to evaporate their nectar into honey.

Photo Nov 25, 10 47 46 AM

Final haul of honey made by the Italian hive in 2015

Posted in bees, harvest, top bar hive | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Magical Pit Stain Remover

It’s called ‘bleach’, my husband tells me.  But I was loathe to use it.  Besides potential environmental dangers, I remember using bleach to reverse ‘tie-dye’ t-shirts in high school.  If I left them in the bleach too long they would disintegrate.  So I was looking for something non-toxic.

This post will reveal some less-than-flattering aspects of my personality and hygiene.  But I’m prepared to deal with the backlash because maybe there are others out there like me who simply didn’t know what to do about this problem.

I don’t use any anti-perspirant and my deodorant is homemade of non-toxic ingredients, so despite claims by others that yellow stains are an interaction with aluminum-based anti-perspirants, I was pretty sure mine were just a result of my nasty sweat.  Nasty sweat?, you scoff – and if you do, you clearly do not know me.  Maybe it’s my chronic dehydration, maybe I eat the wrong foods, maybe it’s my poor bathing habits (I’ve gotten much better…), but family and close friends can attest that I have always had pretty nasty sweat.

Double pit stains

Double pit stains

As a result, some of my favourite cotton summer shirts eventually developed yellow-tinged stains from underarm sweat.  This summer those shirts were unwearable.  And still I didn’t know what to do.  SO they sat in a pile in my bedroom all summer.  yes.

BUT – my wandering mind and the interwebs converged one rainy afternoon and a solution was found.  Pretty simply, it involves ingredients I already had in the house.

Here is what you need:

1 c. vinegar in 2 c. warm water

1/2 c baking soda

1 T salt

1 T hydrogen peroxide

And here’s what you do:

  1. Soak item (or offending area of item) in vinegar water for at least 20 min.
  2. Gently squeeze out and lay on a towel
  3. Rub mixture of baking soda, salt, and hydrogen peroxide into stain
  4. Let sit for at least 20 min
  5. Throw in the wash!

What was especially cool about this method is that it also works on coloured shirts. I have a lovely delicate blue cotton blouse – sleeveless, but still ringed with yellow under the arms. That shirt too is now sparkling clean! And still blue!

Soaking offending areas

Soaking offending areas

The Magical Removal Paste

The Magical Removal Paste

Mashing the paste into the stain

Mashing the paste into the stain

Clean Shirt

Clean Shirt! Lighting wasn’t great, but there is NO remaining discoloration!

Posted in DIY, Health, homemade, household cleaner | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Back Door to the Bee Hive

Although I am very proud of my top bar bee hives, I am not a carpenter.  As such, ‘true’ was just an ideal I strove towards when I built them.

The result in Hive #1 is an extra entrance to the hive where my poor carpentry skills have over time created an opening too big to close with propolis.

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Field bee with fully loaded baskets entering the back door

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Gapy bottom board leads to two back entrances to the hive

Although it might be beneficial at times to have a back door for increased ventilation and reduced traffic jams, the bees have to guard it against intruders, which might be a significant drain on resources.

I should probably plug it come winter, no?

Posted in bees, honeybees | Tagged | 4 Comments