The ivy is about to flower around here – which for me means I need to hurry and take off any honey that we’d like from the hives. We have lots of ivy around here and it normally provides enough nectar for my bees to have enough stores to get through the winter.
The hives we use are made up of a series of boxes stacked up on each other. The bottom box is the deepest and is called the brood box – where the queen lays her eggs to raise more bees. The boxes above are called supers and this is where the bees store the honey. Over the summer we add more supers as they are needed and remove them once they are full. I know without looking when they are full because I can barely lift them.
Last weekend we were so pleased to be able to take the first honey of the year from our hives. We’d been waiting for the honey comb to be capped, which means that it has a low enough water content to prevent fermentation.
The sweet floral smell that filled our kitchen was divine… Once the honey is extracted, we let it filter through a coarse sieve and then let it stand for a few days. We then jar and label it.
We are very happy to offer some of our first honey of the season for sale in our shop – I hope that you enjoy it as much as we do!
This week the bees have been working really hard. The long days mean they are out flying early and I’ve seen them still at work at 9:30 at night! The supers are starting to feel very heavy, but they are still working on capping the honey so it isn’t ready to take any yet.
When I took the roof off one of our home hives today I could see hundreds of bees packing nectar into the comb.
When I pulled out a frame it looked like this…
When honey is “ripe” the bees cap it with white wax, which seals it in and prevents any moisture or contaminates getting into the honey. I was impressed to see how quickly they have been working, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I’d put in this frame – back then it looked like this…
You can see that I have been using just a small strip of wax foundation as a guide for bees. They have built a complete comb, filled it and capped most of it!
All our home hives have several supers on at the moment. When I took the top layer off in one hive a small bit of comb that had been built between the layers of supers was pulled off. The picture below shows the bees springing into action and cleaning up the spilled honey within a few seconds – they don’t waste a drop.
Today I’ve written a guest post over at International Elf Service – follow this link to see it!
In our front garden we have an established Cotoneaster horizontalis which I think has to be one of the best plants that you can plant for bees. It has been flowering for about 3 weeks and is always covered in bees. Even in the evening when the honey bees have gone home the bumble bees are busy on it. It is literally coverered in flowers – must must have one of the highest flower to plant area ratios in the world! This afternoon I spent a few minutes watching it and I counted 4 sorts of bees in that short time. The added bonus is that it sets tiny red berries which the birds guzzle through the winter.
I don’t know how much nectar or pollen it yields, but the bees adore it and it is a pleasure watching them at work.
Spring is really underway here now! I’m so pleased to see different kinds of bees visiting the flowers that we’ve planted in our garden. I love this combination of primroses and grape hyacinth – I’ve been dreaming of it through the depths of winter.
Our broad beans are flowering too!
On our street these plum and greengage trees are buzzing with bees.
In our shady front garden our camellias are finally flowering – they are a whole month behind the ones across the road that enjoy full sunshine. Isn’t that white one perfection?
Last night was Burns Night, and as we are partial to a bit of haggis we decided to invite a few friends and make a traditional meal.
For the first time I made cranachan using our honey, and I have to say that it was really delicious!
I used the recipe from here http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/cranachan_66101
The only thing I would say is that the recipe makes enough for 8.
This morning was mild and the sun even came out! I spotted one of our kittens chasing a bee outside, so I went to have a look at our hives. It was fantastic to see bees busily zipping in and out of the hive – I haven’t seen them flying for several weeks because it has been too cold – We have to leave them in peace and not disturb the cluster that they form to keep warm, so it is always a relief to see them out and about again.
This time of the year is quiet for the bees, they spend most of the time clustered inside their hives keeping warm. On the few bright days we have had recently there have been a few bees nipping out to relieve themselves, but they quickly zip back into the hive.
I have been tying up our boxes of cut comb ready for Christmas – I think they make a lovely gift. My favourite way to eat it is to spread a chunk on to some hot toast to enjoy with a big mug of tea …. Mmmmmm!
When we extract the honey it isn’t jarred straight away. First we leave it to settle for a few days in a large stainless steel tank. This allows any air bubbles to rise to the top, making a scum on the surface which can then be skimmed off. This scum is perfectly edible, so we put it into our large honey pots that live on our kitchen worktop. It feels so luxurious having honey permanently on standby!