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June Update

We had a pretty slow start to the beekeeping season this year. The cold wet spring delayed a lot of the forage and the hives have been relatively slow to build up their numbers. Sadly we lost a colony over the winter too. A beautiful May has completely turned our fortunes around though.

I was lucky to be called to collect this large swarm that had settled in a tree in Kentish Town a few weeks ago.

Untitled photo

They were easy to collect and have since settled into their new hive. Their queen has started to lay eggs and the workers are busy collecting pollen and nectar. They seem a calm and easy to handle colony and I’m so pleased to have them to replace the one that we lost.

Here is a shot of them in the nuc box (a mini hive) that I caught them in. You can see several bees on the central frame with their bottoms up in the air – they are releasing the Nasonov pheromone from their Nasonov gland at the end of their abdomen – this is telling the other flying bees that this is their new home and that they should come and join them.

The past month has suddenly brought a huge variety of forage for all bees – this foxglove in our garden has had numerous types of bees visiting.

The good weather has given us ideal conditions for raising some new queens – here is our latest to emerge. She’s the big one in the middle that the others are all facing. Each colony has just one queen and her main role is to lay all the eggs. She does very little else, and completely relies on attendant worker bees to guide, clean and feed her.

We are hoping to take off our first batch of honey in the next week or so. If you’d like to be notified when it is ready, please fill in the contact form on our shop page.

Netflix – Rotten

We’ve recently watched the first episode of the new series called Rotten on Netflix. The episode concentrates on honey and pollination in the US. It reveals the rather shocking measures that people will go to in order to cut honey with various syrups in order to maximize their profits. It explains how huge quantities of Chinese honey is dumped on to the american market, often via an intermediary country to disguise its origin. Much of this honey is mixed with rice or corn syrup to make it go further. Some contains antibiotics that can be dangerous to humans. The program shows the elaborate testing that some imported honey goes through and explains that the tests are of limited value – they can only detect what they are testing for, other contaminants will remain undetected. The producers are always one step ahead – honey can even be filtered with incredibly fine filters in order to remove any pollen grains which would give an indication of the origin.

The episode also touches on the migratory beekeepers in the US – in February each year most bee farmers seem to take their hives to pollinate the vast almond orchards of California. They get paid well for this service, but at huge cost to the health of the honeybees.

It was all rather depressing viewing, but fascinating to see how large commercial honey companies operate. It is so far removed from how we treat our bees and honey.

If you have ever wondered about large scale beekeeping, or why supermarkets are able to sell honey so cheaply (product of EU and non EU countries) then I urge you to watch this.

Insect life book

January is a quiet time for beekeepers – there are no hive inspections to be done and the honey has all been bottled. If you look at any month by month guide to beekeeping then they all suggest that the beekeeper should spend their time reading up on bees.

We’ve been making some plans for the coming season. We’ve also pulled out some of our favourite bee books. I’d like to share one that I love that has been in my world all my life.

Insect life

This book was published in 1947 and was given to my mother when she was a child. It has a series of cartoons that follow the life cycles of various creatures, including honeybees, silkworms, flies, termites and spiders. It is surprisingly detailed and accurate.

Insect life

Insect life

It’s long out of print, but I’ve noticed that second hand copies are available from www.abebooks.co.uk

Gift ideas for honey lovers

If I need a gift for a honey lover – and I know a few… then naturally I often give them some of our own honey. I try and pay attention to which type they prefer- dark or light, runny or set, chunk or cut-comb… sometimes honey just isn’t quite enough, so here are a few ideas that I love:

Honey lovers gift guide

1. Alessi Honey pot – £76

I really like this honey pot – it is beautifully designed and made out of glass and stainless steel. My main gripe with most honey pots it that the lids have holes in them. Honey tends to absorb water from the air, which can eventually lead to it fermenting. Additionally in our house we need to be careful to keep any honey in sealed containers otherwise we end up attracting our own bees into the kitchen, this is particularly a problem in the summer if the windows are open! Bees have excellent noses for tracking down honey.

2. Tala Stainless Steel Honey Spoon – £4.08

If your budget is a little smaller, then I highly recommend this spoon. It’s cleverly designed to perfectly balance on the rim of a pot of honey, so any drips fall back into the jar. We’ve had one of these for several years and it’s perfect for when you have a jar on the table and everyone is helping themselves to honey – no more teaspoons slipping into the jar and ending up with hideously sticky handles!

3. Supoon Mini Spoon  – £6.23

I hate wasting honey. The bees work so hard to produce it that I think that its criminal to waste even a single drop. That’s where these brilliant little spatulas come in. They are super flexible and somehow mange to scrape every tiny bit of honey out of the jar. They are particularly fantastic for getting into the corners of our hexagonal jars. We’ve had one for about 4 years and it looks as good as new. Ours was sent to us by a friend in Australia, but I’m pleased to see that they are now available over here.

4. Bee Mix from Seed Balls – £6.99

If you love honey then you need to learn to love flowers too – without flowers there is no honey. These sweet tins contains a mixture of 1000 seeds specifically chosen because they’ll grow into plants that bees are attracted to.  This would be an ideal gift for some one who loves honey and wants to do their bit for helping the bees along the way.  It might be fun to combine this with one of these bee spotter’s charts from the RSPB (£3.99). Our children love referring to our copy when we are out in the garden.

Honey lovers gift guide

Beeswax Wraps made in London

We’ve been making these for a a few years for our own use and for gifting. After much prodding from a friend we finally took the plunge and made a huge batch of beeswax wraps to sell.

Beeswax wraps

They are the sustainable alternative to using plastic food wrap or plastic bags. We make them with organic cotton, beeswax from our own hives, pine tree resin and jojoba oil. The brilliant thing about them is that they can be used again and again, and when they finally collapse (we have some that are two years old and still going strong) they can be chopped up and composted – they also make terrific fire starters.

We use ours mainly for wrapping up after school snacks and sandwiches in lunch boxes. You just fold the wrap around the food and use the warmth of your hands to set the shape.

Beeswax wrapsBeeswax wrapsBeeswax wraps

They are also great for covering bowls.

Beeswax wraps

We’ve even made some huge ones suitable for wrapping a large loaf of bread.

When you’ve finished using one, you just rinse it with cool water (hot water would melt the beeswax) and some washing up soap, leave to dry overnight then it is ready to go again the next morning.

We will be selling these on Sunday 3rd December at Fortesmere Christmas fair

We will also have our full range of honey, gift bags, cut comb, candles and beeswax decorations.

Pure beeswax Christmas decorations

We hope to see you there!

Image result for fortismere school christmas fair

Pure Beeswax Advent Candles

I really hate to mention the C word before December… I really do love Christmas, but hate that the season seems to be creeping ever earlier. There is a strict ban on any cards or decorations here until the 1st December with this one teeny exception!

As a child we often had an advent candle on the table at tea time – each day burning down a small section until the big day. Now I have children of my own I thought it’d be something fun to make part of our festive traditions. The problem was that I found it very difficult to find one made from pure beeswax. I’ve become dubious about health benefits of burning paraffin, soy and scented candles in our home and really wanted to have a beeswax version.

In the end, we decided to stop wasting time looking and make our own instead! We used our own gorgeous beeswax and a simple design for the number countdown – it was all quite a fiddle, but we are really pleased with the result.

Pure beeswax advent candle

I was so pleased with how they turned out that I thought we’d make a few more and offer them for sale in our website shop. There is a very limited supply, so please move quickly if you’d like one for this year.

London Honey (N6 and NW9) Gift Bags

I’m excited to introduce our latest items in our web site shop!

Highgate Honey 1 jar gift bag

Highgate Honey two jar gift bag

We try and keep all our packaging as sustainable as possible and I’m delighted to have found these lovely jute bags with bamboo handles. They make the perfect container for a jar or two of our delicious honey. For the two jars bags we will put a jar from two different batches of our honey so that you can have the chance to taste the differences between them and appreciate their golden colours. These will make a lovely gift for a honey lover!

Highgate Honey crop 2017

Each year after the last batch of honey is safely bottled, I like to line up a jar from each different lot number that we have harvested. Regular readers will know that we take off small batches of honey throughout the season, so that we can appreciate the diverse flavours and colours of the honey.

You’ll see from the pictures that there is quite a range in colours this year, and the flavours are equally as varied. The colour and tastes are determined by the particular nectars that the bees were foraging on at that time.

Highgate honey 2017

At the moment we still have some of each lot in our web shop   The picture below gives the lot numbers for easy identification.

All of them are really delicious, but each year there are always one or two batches that are my particular favourites – they somehow have something extra in the flavour that makes them really special.

This year the Beekeeper’s Pick goes to Lot#33 and Lot#32!

Rendering small batches of Beeswax cappings

When we extract honey we have to remove the little wax caps that the bees put over the cells once the honey stored has the correct water content. This wax is prized and once cleaned makes the most beautiful candles and other products.

Needless to say, we collect all the wax cappings from the extraction process and have found that using a use a slow cooker to filter them gives really good results. I rinse the cappings in filtered rain water to try and flush away as much honey as possible to start with.

 

First I place a liner into the slow cooker so that it doesn’t get ruined by the wax during the process…


I’ve found these liners to be very good and can be reused several times :Pack of 3 – Slow Cooker Liners (5pk) – Keeps Pots Clean & Seals In Flavour – Swan household ®

Slow cooker liners

I then put in about an inch of clean rain water in the pan – if you don’t have any rainwater then filtered water is the next best thing – tap water can be very hard and cause the wax to become spongy.

I then use a long piece of elastic to hold a piece of fabric over the top of the pan. Some people swear by using silk or other specialist fabrics, but I’ve found that a bit of old cotton sheet or pillowcase is fine. I wouldn’t recommend using an elastic band as they have a tendency to break when they get warm which results in having to start the process all over again!

I place a double layer of nappy liners on top of the fabric to complete the filter.

I’ve found these liners to be very good – they are a decent size and hold together nicely. Link:Bambino Mio, Supersoft Mioliners (Nappy Liners), Single

Nappy liners

Then, all that is left to do is to put the cappings on top of the filter, put the lid on and turn on the slow cooker to Low. As the wax warms up, it will drip through the filter into the water below. You don’t want  the wax to get too hot as it can become discoloured – I’ve found that on the low setting one batch will take about 30 minutes to filter through and the water doesn’t get hot enough to boil. I then turn off the slow cooker and leave everything to cool down over a couple of hours.

 

You’ll end up with the filter looking grotty like this.

Debris after filtering

You can then peel off the filter and look in at the beautifully clean wax below!

Clean wax after filtering

Ta da!

Clean wax

If the wax is particularly grubby to start with I’ve found that it generally needs to be filtered twice to get it really clear. All that is now left to do is to dry off the wax block and then it’s ready to be used for candle making etc.

I cut up the filters into strips and roll them up – they make excellent fire lighters.

Rendering beeswax