Liquefying Granulated Honey

I love honey!  I love it sooooooo much that I can easily consume a couple of pounds each month just in my tea.  I not only love it, but I’ve begun to acquire a taste for different flavors.  Whether it is buckwheat, blueberry blossom, linden, clover or wildflower…….I love them all!  The only trouble is some granulate a lot faster than others. 002 Granulating is no big deal.  In fact, there’s too many folks who think that granulated honey is honey gone bad.  There’s nothing bad about it.  In fact, granulating is a good indication that your honey is pure and minimally filtered because it is those minute bits of propolis, pollen and wax (the good stuff) which act as bonding agents for this crystallization to begin .  It’s this “stuff” that you want in your honey as opposed to the pasteurized honey  which kills a lot of the enzymes with high temperature and takes out so much of the good stuff with over-filtration.

But, if you’re like me, and want your honey to remain in its liquid state then you’ll need to warm it back up to around the same temperature that it was when it was still in the hive.    Believe it or not, the optimum temperature in a beehive is around 95 F (35 C).  The key to properly liquefying honey is a balance between warm and slow.  Too hot or too fast and you’ll kill all the “good stuff” in your unpasteurized honey.  That’s why I am not a fan of using the microwave for this process.

Instead, fill a sauce pan with warm water and place it on your stove burner.  Turn your burner on low and put your jar of crystalized honey into the sauce pan.  Monitor the temperature of the water with a thermometer and adjust accordingly in order to keep the temperature below 100 F. 005 With the honey partially dissolved (15-20 minutes), stir the contents with a knife in order to allow the heat to work its way up to the upper portion of the jar. Before you know it, your honey will be completely liquified and   you’ll be spilling it once again on the table or  counter as you race with that spoon from the honey jar to your mug of tea.KODAK Digital Still Camera Regards, CB

How Do Bees Make Honey?

063Have you ever thought about how bees make honey?  The thought crossed my mind a while back and I didn’t have an accurate answer.   I figured that since I was going to become a beekeeper, than I’d better become educated in this process.

Step #1 The Need For Pollen and Nectar

Bees and blossoming plants need each other in order to survive.  Bees seek out flowers for their nectar and pollen and in return end up pollinating (fertilizing)  the flower as they transfer pollen grains from within each flower or from one flower to another.

In order for pollination to occur, pollen must be transferred from the stamen (male part of a plant) to the stigma (female part of the plant). When pollen from a plant’s stamen is transferred to that same plant’s stigma, it is called self-pollination. When pollen from a plant’s stamen is transferred to a different plant’s stigma, it is called cross-pollination. Anybody else feel like they just got teleported back to grade 5 science class?

But, this doesn’t tell us how the bees actually transfer the pollen grains from one part of the plant to the other?  Well…bees are pretty hairy and the pollen grains stick to the 100s of hairs on their bodies.  Some have even argued that bees actually carry an electrostatic charge which helps the pollen grains to stick to the hairs on their bodies. These grains attach and then come loose as the bee moves within each flower or from flower to flower. Thus, pollination  (reproduction) is completed.

But,  the bees also intentionally collect pollen from flowering plants.  It is this protein packed food which is used to nourish their larvae.  Believe it or not, they actually transport the pollen back to the hive by way of tiny baskets (scopas) that are attached to their rear legs.  No…I’m not joking!  Take a look at the picture below from one of my bees.  Do you see the yellow stuff on her back legs?  That’s pollen!  It’s a great sign for beekeepers because it signifies that the Queen is laying eggs which are developing into larvae who need to be fed. 055 - Copy

So, how do the bees get the nectar back to the hive?  Well, first they have to draw it up into their body by way of a giant tongue (proboscis) which remains rolled up (kinda like one of those party favors that you blew on as a kid) until it is need to extract nectar.  This tongue, when fully extended, is around 1/4″ long.  Considering that a honey bee is between 1/2″- 3/4″ long that makes for a freakishly long longue!  To make a comparison, a 6 foot human would have to have a tongue somewhere in the 2-3ft. range .  These bees make Gene Simmons trade mark tongue look like a joke!

Below is a picture of my bees drawing up some honey that I accidentally spilt while inspecting my hive.  Check out the length of the tongue on the bee who is hanging upside down in the rear of the picture.  And still, that tongue is not fully extended!078 - Copy

Once the bee begins drawing up nectar via its tongue, it is deposited into her “honey stomach”.  In fact, bees have two stomachs; their honey stomach which is like a nectar backpack and their regular stomach.  The honey stomach holds almost 70 mg of nectar.  When it is full, it weighs almost as much as the bee, herself. Now……That’s impressive!   Imagine picking up and carrying a load which is equal to your body weight?  But to make it even more outstanding……..we want you to fly to between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to gather that weight.       I don’t know about you, but I am TOTALLY impressed.

Step 2: Back At The Hive

Once the honeybees return to the hive, they  pass the nectar on to other worker bees.  These bees actually suck the nectar from the foraging bee’s honey stomach! This is definitely one bit of info. I’m not sharing with my kids.  If they ever found this one out, our honey consumption would drop to near zero!

The “transfer” bees then “chew” on the nectar which helps to break down the complex sugars into a digestible food source which can be stored indefinitely within the hive.  Incidentally, did you know that the honey which was found in King Tut’s tomb is still considered edible after 2000 years. Talk about a natural preservative!

The bees then deposit the nectar into the honeycombs where it continues to evaporates into a thicker syrup.  The bees make the nectar dry even faster by fanning it with their wings.  Once the honey reaches a moisture content of around 18%, the bees seal off each cell of the honeycomb with some wax.  The honey is then stored until it is consumed by the colony.  Incidentally, did you know that honey bees need to store around 100 pounds of honey in order to survive the winter?  Talk about the ultimate Prepper! As for the honey that you and I eat?????  Well….that will have to wait for another post when I will show you how I took off some honey from my own hive.056 - Copy

Honey Bee Trivia: 

Did you know that one honey bee will only make about 1/12  teaspoon of honey in her entire six weeks of life?  Maybe I’ve been taking that teaspoon of honey for granted that goes into my tea each morning.  Considering the above calculation, I consume the entire life’s work of 12 bees in a few gulps of tea.

Cited Work:

1) http://www.mbgnet.net/bioplants/pollination.html

2) http://www.pa.msu.edu/sciencet/ask_st/073097.html

3) http://animal.discovery.com/insects/question300.htm

City Boy Honey Update

“Ladies and Gentlemen………I give you…THE QUEEN!”…………068“Alright….Who said where?????”.  Okay…once more from the top.  “Ladies and Gentlemen….it is with great pleasure that I give you….THE QUEEN!”069“Okay….. you win.  There…I circled her!  She’s the one that is much larger, darker and has the shortest wings. She’s a looker ain’t she!   Now…let’s  get on with the post.”069

It’s been a while since I wrote about City Boy Honey.  In my last honey post (click here), my hive was built and I was just waiting for Dan (my bee mentor) to order my Queen.  For those of you who are familiar with bee keeping, you are definitely thinking that we are really late in the season to introduce a queen.  In fact, we are now in the midst of the Honey Flow as many wildflowers are  in bloom in Northern Ontario.  This is the time when the bees are really bringing in the honey. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not too interested in giving up her arsenal of frost and cold temperatures in May and many professional beekeepers beat us to the Queen supply due to their devastating hive losses this past Winter.  As a result, local Queens were hard to come by this Spring.

With that said, the Queen arrived last week and she was placed into my hive body (bottom box) along with 100s of bees and 9 frames that were taken from one of Dan’s really strong hives. 058 These frames are made up of a combination of comb that is already made and filled with nectar or brood (baby bees).  This will really help to give the hive a jump-start because a lot of work has already been done from the bees in Dan’s strong hive.

Drawn out comb filled with nectar or brood.

Drawn out comb filled with nectar (red circles) or brood (yellow circles).

Is it wrong to take from Dan’s strong hive?  The answer is no.  In fact it is good because Dan’s strong hive could potentially swarm because it was running out of room.

So…today we put a second hive body on my hive which contained 9 frames.  7 of those already have built up comb.  The built up comb will really help the bees because they will be able to concentrate on bringing in honey and tending to the brood rather than also having to make the honey comb.  The second hive body will also give the Queen more room to lay her eggs which will continue to increase the population of the hive.

In two weeks, I’ll get back to you on the bees.  The hope is that the bees have filled the frames in the second hive body with honey and brood.  The tell-tale sign for this will be to open the hive and see if the bees are “working” on all the frames just as they are doing in the first hive body.063  If all goes well,  a medium super (smaller box) will then be put on top of the hive body which will be strictly used for the bees to deposit  CITY BOY HONEY! In the mean time……we’ll just wait it out…….. sipping some honey cream ale from a local Northern brewery and trying to beat the heat!070Queen Honey Bee Trivia:

Did you know that one Queen can lay between 1000-2000 eggs per day?

I thought of telling my wife this when she speaks about the delivery of our kids.   On second thought, maybe I’ll keep this one between you & me!

City Boy Hens….. & Honey???

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City Boy Hens & Honey ….It’s gotta nice ring to it.

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about honey.  It all started with a bottle of honey that ended up in our house because my daughter wanted it on her morning pancakes.  I then began using it as a sweetener in my tea.  And then…..I started thinking.

As my wife will testify, thinking & me can become a dangerous obsessive combination which generally leads to something new.

Well…..I’m happy to report that this city boy is movin’ into the honey business.  It might be a bit premature, but I want to tell you how I got to this point.  The desire to make honey (well.. I’m not really makin’ it..the bees will) is no different from my desire to make lots of other foods from yesteryear.  Like all the other stuff, it has the right combination of interest, technique and loads of knowledge that fits right up my alley.

In my initial investigation, I thought that maybe I could co-op into one of the various hives that are maintained by a local honey bee association in our city.  That idea hit the skids when I found out that there is a long waiting list and I’d have to do a lot of volunteer hours for a little bit of honey.  Not to mention that the majority of those hours would have to be given in the summer when I want to be at the cottage.

At first, I thought that was the end of City Boy Honey, but then I started thinking in broader terms that could potentially fit into  my desire to harvest this golden nectar.  What about if I partnered with someone else like a local farmer who was willing to share the responsibilities with me?  Then I shot that one down when I realized that I’d have to leave my summer sanctuary in order to harvest the honey in late summer and I’d never get the chance to see how the bees were progressing through the summer.   Then…..I remembered Dan!024

Dan is a local farmer near our cottage who sells antiques and boards horses.  I have known him for around 8 years and I have lovingly restored some of the pieces that I have bought from him over these years.  But best of all….DAN KEEPS BEES!!!!!

I called him about 3 seconds after I remembered this and asked him if he would be willing to share a hive with me.  I am delighted to say that Dan is also excited to join in this venture with me.  For him, it’s really an opportunity to share his knowledge with a Newby.  As I have said before, you meet great people in your discoveries who generally want to share their interests.

Well, off I went up to the cottage for the weekend and arranged to meet with Dan on Saturday.  This Spring is really late up North.  In fact, the ice just went out of our lake on Saturday.011 As a result, Dan’s hives are still wrapped up from the Winter and it wasn’t until the sun came out that the bees began pouring out of one of the hives, which is ALWAYS a great sign after a long winter.033  Unfortunately, 2 of the hives did not survive the Winter.  From what I have read, this seems to be the norm for this year.

As I close this post, I am sipping on a hot cup of tea that is sweetened with Dan’s honey.  If all goes well, I’ll be tasting some of my own honey by the end of August.  In the mean time, I’ll keep you up to date with what I am learning in the wonderful world of the apiary.