Friday, June 29, 2012

Sweet Summer

-Posted by Isaac

It's been really dry as you know. I don't think we've had a meaningful rain in six weeks. This means that flowers conserve nectar, thereby limiting the summer honey production. This is what I'm seeing in the hives-- some honey, but not a huge amount. I'm glad our hive count is up this year.

Some plants do well in dry conditions. Lavender is one. This is a row Jayne and I planted three years ago:

We went to a lavender festival in southern Ohio a couple weeks ago, and watched women in Sunday dresses snip little sprigs of lavender. For me, it's much more enjoyable to watch our own naked ladies sample the lavender.

                                                 Wow, can she use her tongue!

I was on the phone with Jim North (friend, beekeeper, Jedi master) and noticed a cloud of bees moving over the cornfield. As I watched and talked, I observed that the swarm was directing itself toward one of my very own hives. Walking out there, sure enough, they were moving in!

 I told Jim what was happening, and he said that sometimes you get a "hostile takeover" of a small hive.  That's exactly what I witnessed. This was only a two frame split, and apparently the swarm decided that there was plenty of unused space in there. I checked on them yesterday evening, and the box was full of bees-- swarm bees. We had a few casualties out front, but all in all I think I'll take the swarm.

Speaking of swarms. We caught number thirty of the season a few days ago. They moved into a trap, I brought them home, hived them, and the next day they were out on the limb of a small locust tree. I guess the home I gave them didn't suit. Later that morning I noticed that the scouts were checking out the very box that they had originally been trapped in. So I put the trap on top of the trellis to see what would happen:
 They moved in! Right over top of the fire pit. This makes Jayne a bit leary when we have company, but I think it's a nice conversation piece. Who wouldn't want to watch stinging insects fly home right over one's head?

We're making more splits using Koehnen queens from California. Carniolans. I've been noticing that hives with these queens do much better then the Georgia queens.  Makes me think of that Beach Boys song... "Wish they all could be California... girls..."

Mason helped me with the cork and candy plugs that go in the cages.
Mainly, he seemed more interested in the candy plug.

The bees got a little help from our sweet tooth.

Summer honey is right around the corner.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bacon Infused Honey and Orange Basil Infused Honey

This week I've been sampling some new infused honeys that will be used in ways I don't traditionally use honey.  Vinaigrette Salad dressing!  I've been buying salad dressing for too long... it's time to start making it myself.

We were fortunate enough to be a part of the WOSU Chefs In The City program, and during their segment featuring honey they gave a great little idea for a vinaigrette recipe using honey - bacon infused honey to be more specific.  Isaac was also featured in the segment (yes that's right, he is not too manly to wear a hairnet while bottling), talking about our farm, how the bees make honey, other products we make, and all that good stuff.  You can watch it here:

The video doesn't give exact measurements for the recipe, but here are the ingredients, courtesy of Chef John Skaggs from Heirloom :

White Vinegar
Orange Juice
Orange Honey
Bacon Honey
Olive Oil

I also had a customer at the Worthington Market this week who requested an "Orange Basil Infused Honey."  While I explained that I probably would not be introducing that to our line-up anytime soon, I told her it was a wonderful idea and I would try it at home for my own use.  (I also suggested she buy some of our summer honey and make it herself, too!)  So here's what I did:

 Zest one orange.  Chop fresh basil.  Place inside a jelly jar.  Add honey.   See how easy that was?!

I let it steep for 1 day, then strained it out with my tea strainer.  I used a lot of orange zest and a lot of basil, making a very small batch that would be pretty intense with flavor.  When infusing honey, the one thing you must be careful about is to not add too much moisture to the honey.  Honey will last forever if is has the optimum moisture content (16-18%).  We have a special tool called a refractometer that can tell us the moisture content.  If honey is above 18%, it can actually start to ferment.  So if you add anything with moisture to your honey (such as fresh basil leaves and orange zest), you should use the honey as soon as possible, or refrigerate and use within a few weeks.

And now the Bacon Infused Honey (sorry, vegetarians):  Fry Bacon.  Put in Jar.  Add Honey.  Steep until desired flavor is achieved.  Eat honey covered bacon for an afternoon snack (yes, it is really good.)  **added note:  I have received several questions about the storage and shelf life for the Bacon Infused Honey.  Like the Orange Basil Infused Honey, you will want to be careful because you have added moisture to the honey.  I recommend refrigerating the honey (even though this will cause granulation, this is not a problem... just gently warm the honey in a hot water bath to re-liquify).  I would also recommend using within 2 weeks. 

I plan to add these to the above ingredients to create a vinaigrette.  
Do you think we should add bacon infused honey to our line?  
Or does that sound too weird?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Spring Honey

-Posted by Isaac

A few days ago I started pulling the Spring honey off the hives and unfortunately I'm already done. After all that bragging about how great the bees looked building up this Spring, there was surprisingly little honey to be had. Though I did make about 100 splits from the strongest hives. Maybe that had a little something to do with the lack of early honey... fault of the beekeeper, not the bees? Possibly. 

Oh well. The bees are looking strong and active (especially the splits), primed for a great summer nectar flow if there is any at all to be had. The honey that did come off this Spring is beautiful, tasty and dry. Most frames were only partially capped:

Normally this would mean a while in the drying room, but even the completely uncapped frames were testing out at 16% moisture. I guess a dry Spring means dry honey.

The uncapper didn't get much of a workout with so many frames going straight into the extractor.

 We have a "Handyman" uncapper (from Dadant, I think). Although the uncapping knives are run with a motor, the frames are placed in by hand (endlessly) and then cranked down through the machine. This leaves you with tired shoulders in need of a Father's Day massage.
 I had to steal parts from a water pump in Jayne's greenhouse to fix the busted heater pump on the uncapper. (It saved about a hundred dollars and shipping time, but I may never see that massage.)

We didn't get around to snapping pictures until the very last extractor load. You can see the frames on this last round had to be spaced out to balance the machine.

Although the total amount of honey pulled was disappointing (about 700 lbs), it was still uplifting to see the first of this year's crop spilling into pails.

It takes such a short time, and there is so little of the Spring locust honey, I don't bother with tanks or in-line filters. It all goes straight into five-gallon pails.

Gorgeous, delicate water-white honey. And the taste, oh so special...

 You locust honey lovers know that we don't wholesale this. You can only find it by visiting us at a market (or buy it online). This gives me a chance to brag about it face to face.

Although most of the frames were partially or completely uncapped, we did find a few that can go to the Pickaway County Fair next week.
Now that's just showing off!

With the extracting done, today became a project day. First on the list (Jayne's list): a new sandbox.
Here are the kids "helping" me move about a ton of sand by way of wheelbarrow trips across the play-yard.

Next on the list: fix the holes in the chicken pen and move our soon-to-be egg layers.  And build a fire-pit.
Daylights a'burnin!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Balsamic Roasted Carrots - with honey!

We finally pulled up all the carrots in the greenhouse (which is working more like a hoophouse right now) and planted tomatoes in their place.  In celebration of this momentous occasion, I bring you a tasty little recipe that requires very little effort.  Go find some carrots at your local farmer's market and try it out!  I adapted this recipe from the Alaska from Scratch blog.  


  • 8 medium carrots, sliced lengthwise down the center (I chose not to peel them, and sliced them into quarters for faster cooking)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1T balsamic vinegar
  • 1t brown sugar
  • 2T olive oil
  • fresh rosemary, chopped
  • honey, for drizzling
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place carrots side-by-side on a baking sheet. Season with salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary.  Don't crowd the pan, to ensure that they roast instead of steam (I crowded mine a bit too much).
  3. In a small bowl, stir together balsamic and brown sugar until combined. Add olive oil. Drizzle the whole mixture over carrots. Toss to coat.
  4. Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until carrots are crisp-tender and caramelized (cooking times can vary depending on the thickness of your carrots). Drizzle with raw honey. Serve immediately.

I believe I photographed these carrots more than any other vegetable I've grown.  Why?  Because I was so very proud of them!  Carrots are hard to weed, and in our Ohio clay soil they have a hard time forcing their roots down, limiting their size potential.  But these carrots were kind to me, and grew beautiful and long.  The kids learned they could easily go out to the greenhouse and grab a carrot for a snack (much to my delight).  They fed the tops to the goats and munched on the bottoms while I worked.  
I also found it amusing that I planted the carrots while I was pregnant with Bridger back in October, and as I was harvesting them in May I noticed they were approximately the same length (although Bridger wins on weight).  So naturally, I photographed them side by side.
 And then my photographer friend Courtney caught this cute picture of Mason holding these carrots once again during our family picture photo shoot last month.
And sometimes the carrots did funny things like wrap around each other while growing, so naturally, another picture was in order.
As you see, these carrots will forever be recorded in history in the Barnes family photo albums.  And so the season goes on, the carrots are gone, and I must find another crop to photograph.  Tomatoes?  Potatoes?  We'll see!
Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, June 1, 2012

May Excitement

-posted by Isaac

A lot going on and much more still to come on the bee farm. Ah, Spring...
First, a bait hive update: we now have 26 hives in our yard that came from swarms.
19 of these were caught using the swarm traps. Unbelievable!
I'll be moving many of these to out-yards this week. Better forage elsewhere.

The days are numbered for our broilers.
This week we'll be taking them to be processed and making a day of it with the whole family. What a great excuse for a mini vacation (and celebration). No more broilers to worry about! As much as I drag my feet and grumble about Jayne's projects, I really do admire her ambition. She's got a willingness to try new things all the time and quite the pioneer spirit.
We've got the pollen traps on. 29 total for now. The stronger hives are really bringing it in, and after only ten days there are already two full buckets in the freezer ready to be cleaned. We'll have it at market this Saturday for you pollen lovers.
The kids really like to go on "pollen runs." Every other day we go in the morning or evening when not many bees are flying, and collect what amounts to about 3/4ths of a five gallon bucket. Sampling seems to be a must.
Mason can't hide his guilty pollen face

"You're eating the profits, Maizy and Mason!"

Of course we always take time for playing on the hay bales after the work is done.

On May 22nd, I had a chance to share some bee stories with the kids at Walnut Elementary near Ashville. It was a fun day. First through Fifth grade, a new group coming into my little shelter house every 20 minutes.
By the end the kids had me pretty worn out. It really brought back that old end-of-the-day feeling from my teaching past. What a hard job teachers have-- a continual performance all day long. They certainly deserve their summers off, and in my opinion, a raise!

Lots of interest at the honey sampling table
Looking for that elusive queen bee
"I found her!"
Isaac shows a piece of naturally drawn honeycomb to the students.
The latest honey house project has been a total revamp of the extractor room.  I've knocked a couple walls out and moved a door or two in able to fit the bigger equipment we'll need for extracting honey. I also added a drying room with a fan, dehumidifiers, and a heat source. Much more permanent than what we've been working with in other years.

Some of the extracting equipment going in is pictured here on the trailer. Jayne and I bought this stuff years ago before we even had a honey house. It was kind of a spontaneous purchase from the widow of a commercial beekeeper in Ross County. Now I'm sorting through it, not able to make heads or tails out of a lot of it. What fun.

On a final note, our old long-lost Montana friend, Scott Howard (green shirt) paid us a surprise visit. He brought his band with him-- The Dodgy Mountain Men.

These guys are on tour from Missoula and landed here by way of New York City and Columbus. We're just now recovering from two days and nights of music and Montana stories. The lead singer, Jed (white hat) spent yesterday helping me in the bee yards. It was his first close-up look at bee hives and I'm happy to report he didn't take a single sting. What a natural!