Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter Candy for the Bees

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to make candy cakes for the bees.
 As you might know, bees are stuck in the hive for the duration of the winter. They spend much of the time huddled in a ball, flexing (shivering) to keep the queen, the brood and themselves warm. To keep warm, the bees need a constant source of food, which is where honey comes in. The reason bees make and store honey is to survive the winter. The only problem is that here I come in the fall and remove a bunch of the honey.
Now, of course I think I left the bees with plenty, a full 9.75" deep box, but I don't really know
So, just to be sure my bees don't starve to death, I feed the bees in the winter. Last winter I fed dry sugar, which works, but is not the best bee feed. So this year I made candy cakes following the simply recipe from  

Candy cakes drying on the counter.
 The nice thing about these candies is that they are clean and easy to place in the hive (unlike dry sugar), they are easy to store, and they have a bit of apple cider vinegar to keep them from spoiling (unlike sugar syrup). The other thing about dry sugar is that the bees might mistake it for dirt or other contaminants in the hive, and so will carry it outside and dump it. Bees are tireless house cleaners!
I made these candy cakes a couple weeks ago and placed them on the hives, just in case. Today was warm enough, so I opened the hives to see how our girls are doing and this is what I found.

Bee colony feeding on candy.
The bees seem to be doing well, they are active and smell like clean honey - all good signs. The thing I didn't expect was for them to be eating the candy already. I was thinking that the honey would last them longer into the spring. But that's why I feed, because you never know. We are just getting into the hardest time for the bees. Late winter and early spring is when most colonies die, and is when I lost one last year. Later in the spring, I'll feed candy and protein to jump start the colonies and get them ready for the bloom, but until then, I'll keep feeding the bees candy cakes and hope for the best.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Pike Fishing Done Right

This weekend I had the good fortune of being invited on an ice fishing trip with two work buddies. Now I'm no big ice fisherman. In fact, my only other experience was a long cold day with no fish. And frankly at the end of the day I was left wondering: Why does everybody love ice fishing so much? Needless to say, I was hopeful this trip would be more fruitful.
So, my goals for this trip were to 1) have a good time 2) learn what the ice fishing craze is all about and 3) bring home some pike for dinner. In fact, as I left the house in the pre-dawn dark, Whitney's words to me were: Have fun, Be safe, Bring home some fish! 
The morning dawned clear and crisp, temps around 15. We headed west and after about an hour's drive pulled into a local favorite spot for pike on the Noxon Rapids Reservoir. We walked out a short ways on the ice and drilled our holes. The ice at that point was over 7" deep, so there was no question about the stability. Further out where the river current is stronger, the ice is much thinner, and it would be a very bad idea to walk across. We set our tip-ups (limit two per person) with smelt for bait and then enjoyed watching the sunrise.

tip-up rig for pike on the Noxon Rapids Reservoir.
After a time, sure enough the tip-ups started to flip! My tip-up went first and I approached it excitedly, but pretty soon something seemed wrong. The reel wasn't spinning and the line had gone limp. I pulled up the line to investigate and there was my poor smelt with a hunk missing. This pike was a wily one, because instead of taking the whole fish, it had just taken a bite and moved on.
The next bite was the group down the ice from us and they pulled up a nice pike. Soon after one of my friends pulled up his first pike of the day, a nice 23 incher. 
Not long after that, it was my turn again. One of my rigs flipped and as I approached the hole I could see the line spooling out. Then it stopped, "he's eating the bait, just wait" said my friends. A long minute later the line started spooling out again, slowly and then faster. "Set your hook"! I reached down, got a grip on the line and gave it a yank. The line got taunt and then the pull was steady. I got him! I pulled up the line hand over hand and soon the pike was in sight under the ice. One more pull and it was up on the ice. I had landed my first pike! The guys then showed me how to remove the hook, being careful not to cut your hands on the pike's thousands of very sharp teeth.  
My first Northern Pike, a decent 18"
The day continued with steady action and beautiful skies. The afternoon sun warmed us nicely and the day of good company was very enjoyable. Eventually the shadows got long and the air got cold and it was time to go. We were each successful and had nice pike to show for our day's effort, four in all ranging from 2 lbs to 5 lbs.  

When I got home it was time to clean the fish and get it ready for dinner. Since pike are a little different from the fish I have caught in the past, one of my friends offered to show me how it was done. He smoothly filleted his fish, removed the skin and cleaned out the bones that were in the fillet. After that it was my turn, and although I was much less smooth, I got the job done with a little direction. He then generously gave us his pike, so that we had more than enough for Whitney and I. 
clean fillets ready for dinner
Whitney was excited for the fish and made a terrific dinner by breading and lightly frying the fish, and adding brussel sprouts and salad as sides.
If you get a chance to go ice fishing do it! I had a great time enjoying a day with friends. I learned that ice fishing really is a blast, and with minimal equipment a person can be set up pretty easily. And, I brought home delicious fish for dinner and enjoyed eating the meal as much as I did catching it. With some warm clothes and a little knowledge, it's a great time and there is nothing like fresh fish, straight from the lake or river to your plate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Beehives in Napal

One of the many amazing things about honey bees is how adaptable they are. Bees are kept on every continent save Antarctica, in every kind of climate. Beekeepers use many styles of hives, and more are being developed even today. From the ancient skep (coiled hemp rope) to the traditional Langstroph hive (like I use) bees can be kept in anything that provides them a safe, weather tight environment with enough room to store honey and raise brood. You may remember the first bees we captured here were perfectly at home in the eves of our house. In the wild, honey bees live in hollow logs and trees, and even today occasionally you will find a bee tree in the woods. I remember growing up (not so long ago) there was a bee tree on my family's property for years and years. As kids, we thought racing past the tree was pretty exciting but I don't think the bees gave us a second thought.
Recently a friend of my family shared these pictures with me of bee hives he saw while visiting Nepal.
The thing I thought was so neat about this was how the locals had adapted items they had on hand to house bees. I found it inspiring that without milled hive boxes and specially manufactured parts they were (apparently) successfully keeping bees. In the end maybe all a beekeeper needs is healthy determination and good old fashioned innovation.
Thanks to Paul Green for the photos.

By the way, this is our 100th post! Thanks for all the support, this blog never would have made it this far without you. Cheers!

Monday, January 7, 2013

What happened to my honey?

One day craving honey, you open the cupboard and reach for your jar of honey but in it's place is a jar filled with a cloudy solid mass. What happened?
Your honey crystallized, but don't worry. Putting your honey back into liquid is super easy.
Actually, you should take it as a good sign. It proves that you have raw unfiltered honey the way it ought to be. If your honey does not crystallize, it means that it's been ultra-filtered and pasteurized as is the case with much of the mass-marketed honey in the grocery stores. Take a look at the honey next time you're in a supermarket. Chances are it's so clear, it's like looking through yellowed glass. That's the product of ultra filtering under high pressure. This process removes all the ultra fine particles of pollen, propalis and minerals from the honey.  The downside is that all those particles are part of what makes honey so good for you. Then to make the honey easier to handle and to make certain it does not granulate or crystallize, the honey is heated. Honey that is heated over 145 degrees for 30 minutes will not crystallize, but it's pasteurized (read: DEAD). All the living enzymes and beneficial bacteria are killed. So, when you remove all the pollen, propalis, minerals, enzymes and beneficial bacteria that give the honey it's healthy attributes, you reduce the honey to simple sugars. It's nothing more than fructose, glucose, sucrose, water and a handful of other minor components. Honey flavored water essentially. So it that light, what's the point? Make sure your honey is pure and raw or you're getting duked.
Now, the actual time it takes honey to crystallize depends on the variety of flower that the honey bee collected the nectar from. Honey from some flowers will crystallize in a few short days while others take nearly a year. That's because it has to do with the ratio of fructose to glucose is in the actual nectar of the flower, since only the glucose forms crystals.

Warming honey on the wood stove

If you happen to have honey that's crystallized already, what do you do? Just warm it gently and let it turn back into liquid. I did this recently on our wood stove. All you need is a large pot with some water in it. Into the water you place your jars and heat the water to about 100 degrees. Let it set for a while and just like that your honey will be restored to it's nice liquid state.
So, if your honey has crystallized don't worry. And if you've had the same jar of honey for years and it's never crystallized, now you know why. In either case, use it and enjoy it. Appreciate it and never forget the effort that went into that jar of honey. After all, tens of thousands of honey bees literally worked themselves to death making that honey.
Thanks for reading.
Most of the technical information in this post came from the Beekeeper's Handbook by: Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hello 2013!

2012 was a bumpy ride. There were ups and downs like crazy. One day good news and the next bad. But for all that didn't go right this past year many things did go well, and for that I am thankful.

I' like to take this moment to thank all of you that have read this blog and shared the past year with us. We've learned a lot this year, and I have really enjoyed writing about much of it. I can't imagine what 2013 will bring but I'm sure it'll be filled with challenges and opportunities.  

Happy 2013 everybody, let's make it a great year.