Friday, August 30, 2013

Summer Honey Time

-Posted by Isaac

It's Summer Honey Time.
This has been a familiar routine during the last month:

Full supers come off the hives and go to the honey house. Empty extracted supers, sticky and sweet, go back on hopefully to be filled again.
Well, here's hoping...
It hasn't exactly been a good year. I've got three bee yards left to pull, but judging from the previous twenty, I'm guessing we'll produce about a third of the summer crop of last year. Too bad. We had such high hopes.
Oh well, we'll just charge three times as much... hahaha!
Is that how it works? No?

Mr. Blair gets a taste of the hot extracting room.

As many of you know the Summer Honey is mild and sweet, a bit darker then Spring, a bit lighter then Fall. 

And every week at market I get asked what the bees are foraging on, making the different honeys. Spring and Fall are relatively easy: Black Locust and goldenrod respectively. Of course there are other nectar sources mixed in, but for simplicity's sake this is what I say... the major players: black locust trees in May and goldenrod blooming in September. The Summer Honey is more complex. And it can actually vary a little in taste and color from one bee yard to the next. This is because there is such a wide range of flowers available (or not) to the bees during the summer.
For this blog post I tried to capture the bees working a few of these nectar sources.

Clover- the old stand-by
This is Dutch clover. I've noticed that when the bees are on this it means there is nothing else available at the moment. Not a good sign. Yellow clover is a much better nectar source. (I missed getting a picture.)

Canadian Thistle- Makes pretty good light honey. Now if the farmers would just quit bush hogging it!

There is a wide assortment of thistles. The bees don't care.

The summer berries- Raspberries, black berries, blue berries, black raspberries... all welcome. You just about need acres of them to make a decent honey crop.

The above photo was from the berry patch in our garden. Here, Bridger shows off another garden flower the bees just love.
Yummy lavender!
 Milk Weed- Makes a clear, delicate honey. Unfortunately (for bees and butterflies) there isn't enough of this. Round-up ready crops took care of this little "problem." I miss the good ol' days of weedy fields!

Alfalfa- Makes a light spritely tasting honey. The farmers usually cut it (for hay) before it blooms, but every now and then we get lucky.

Soybean- Here's one that the farmers actually benefit from having a few bees around. Soybean honey is mild but somewhat bland. My experience with this as a honey crop is boom or bust. Hot and dry years are the best. This year was a bust.

We had maybe ten good days in July where the bees were bringing in soybean nectar.

Fireweed- Oops, sorry. Montana flashback.
But if you ever come across fireweed honey, buy it! It's delicate and water-white. Very unique taste.  This was in the Bitterroot Valley near Stevensville, MT.

 With agriculture everywhere, weather dictates the crop. Beekeeping is no different. Hopefully next year one of the many sources of summer honey will weigh in heavy with nectar. As I said, this year was a down year, but hearing some the the lack-of-honey horror stories around the state, I guess I can't complain. We didn't get skunked.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


-Posted by Isaac

"The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand"
-Annie Dillard

I've been thinking Annie Dillard lately. It was too long ago I read her great, philosophic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and I couldn't help picking through the book again, thinking about some of the things she was trying to get across to nitwits like me. It was all provoked by a butterfly.  

Maizy blustered into the honey house a couple months ago with her usual rush and boss: "Daddy! A butterfly! Take a picture!"
"Not now, Maizy, I'm working. It's just a butterfly." My hands were sticky with the extracting of Spring honey. Maizy rushed back out; about thirty seconds later slammed through the door again. "Daddy, it's got blue! Take A Picture! Please Daddy!"
I rolled my eyes, cleaned my hands and reluctantly walked out. As you can see, sure enough, it was a pretty cool butterfly. Just calmly stretching its wings in the morning sun while Maizy frantically pointed, "See! See! Look!  Take a picture!"
I obliged.
It wasn't so much the butterfly that made me pick up Dillard's book, it was Maizy's exuberant reaction. I remembered reading something in there about ways of seeing the world, noticing color and light and movement and hidden things; learning to see and appreciate. Through Maizy's excitement, almost contagious, it dawned on me that my three year old is doing better than I. She's actually noticing the many free gifts the universe throws her way.
With that in mind, here are a few small surprises I've managed to capture over the last two months.

The Accidental Gourds:
I thought goats were supposed to eat everything.
It seems they don't like the taste of these renegade gourd vines growing out of the compost pile:

So many cool gourds, all from stray thrown-away seeds. This should take care of a lot of Fall decorating.

Jayne's hydrangea made its summer debut:
I don't know if she planted it two or three years ago, but I do know it has never looked like this!

Our Monster Sunflower:
Mason planted it in the Spring from a packet of seeds he brought home from school (Thanks Ms. Gregg!).   It guards the driveway flowerbeds as we pull up to the house.

I missed capturing its full beaming glory, but in this shot you can see how many seeds this beauty is going to give us. 

The bees collected some good pollen off the sunflower. Speaking of which, I put the pollen traps back on the hives about two weeks ago. Surprise! Completely different forage paths for different hives. Here you can see the varied pollen from the first three hives in the line:
Makes me wonder.

"What limpid lakes and cool date palms have our caravans always passed untried?"

Of course the garden berry patch was a bountiful surprise. Bridger has become a berry eatin' machine... and then steps up the regularity of his own bountiful surprises.

This mammoth mushroom was practically an overnight sensation. I had just been working in this out-yard two days before. Stopped in to hive a July swarm and found it guarding the yard. (Now you don't see it, now you do.)
Mushrooms and Honey: an excellent brunch
Montana Surprise:
We hiked out of the dense scrubby woods into a clearing above a lake in Glacier Park. I looked up at this mighty pine and caught my breath. Is this a tree or is this God? I can hardly tell...

Ok, maybe it's just a big tree. But sights like this reaffirm my suspicion that the pagans had it right.

Same day, hiking above Bowman Lake; in the middle of beautiful nowhere. No bear, no moose, no mountain goats. Instead, a surprise pair of fishermen seemingly out of the thin mountain air.

And here's our own novice fisherman: ready for the pro tour.

Last week the Clintonville market was really getting frustrating. If not for these "free gifts from the universe" I think I would have killed a customer. Actually, the universe had nothing to do with it. Both perfect, delicious and unexpected, Amy with her peach and Jamie Thompson with her Bawdu  really turned my day around.

I came home from that market and found Jayne reading the latest Time Magazine. Surprise, surprise! Bees (and beekeepers) in the limelight... again.

Hey, chill. As I've probably explained a hundred times every Saturday, it's not as bad as they make it sound. A problem, yes. Catastrophic? Extinctions? No.
Bees have been around for some 100 million years and I'm pretty sure they'll still be here long after we mere humans have checked out. 
But thanks for the attention, Time.

"I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam."

Last and Best: My old bow making mentor, Ed Scott surprised us with a visit all the way from New Mexico. Ten or twelve years ago, by accident and a stroke of luck, Ed and I became friends. Through many miles, memories and bows we have since become good friends. I'm a decent bowyer because of Ed. Ed is the best in the world. And I'm not even slightly kidding. Nobody can do what he can. I feel humbled in his presence, shooting and admiring his bows. He's a scholar and philosopher to boot.

Two years ago he gifted Mason with his very own kids bow.
This year it was Maizy's turn. And she's really taken to it!

Bridger learns from the master
Thanks, Ed!

And thank you Maizy and Annie Dillard. You've opened my eyes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

It's The Berries!

-Posted by Isaac

"Now that outdoor wood burner I put in last year... it's the berries!"
"That Chillicothe trail you were askin' about, the one we ride about every month down in the hills... it's the berries!"
We have a neighbor who likes to use this expression. When he says, 'It's the berries!,' I gather what he's talking about. He means, of course, it's awesome.  But I, with my high falutin thinking, always kinda dismissed the expression as striving to be overly redneckish.
This season has changed my thinking. Lately I find myself silently saying 'It's the berries!' about every mid-morning as I take the kids out to pick.
It's simply Awesome!

It's The Berries!
 Two years ago Jayne wanted to put in a berry patch. As usual I griped. And as usual she won out. Well, not really. We compromised. She wanted about a half acre of raspberries but we settled with this line in the garden for now.
As is oft to happen, I regret ever dragging my feet. This is wonderful!

We have raspberries galore. Every day a bowl full; we can't eat them fast enough.
Maybe she'll get that half acre after all.
(But you've got to do the marketing, Honey.)

For a change of pace (or I should say, change of taste) I took the kids berry picking where I grew up. My Dad had numerous wild berry patches staked out on the 200 acre cattle farm we called home. I spent many summer hours avoiding thorns, slapping bugs and filling old cut-off milk jugs with juicy, delicious small blackberries.

The cattle farm is now a golf course, but the old berry patches remain to this day!
Personally, I was thrilled to find such a wild abundance. All free for the pickin'.
Although the kids, to my dismay, were not quite as enthused. 
"There's thorns, Daddy!" 
"Ouch! I scratched! Ahhhh!"
"They're too small... I can't reach!"
"I'm itchy... can we go home?"

Spoiled children.
They did nothing but complain. And attract chiggers. Which called for an embarrassing amount of public crotch-scratching over the next few days.
For this I was awarded way too much undeserved blame.

About the only one who really enjoyed himself was Bridger. 
For one, he ate every bit as fast as I could pick.  It was all just good eatin' to him. I don't think that he realized these berries were different... hunted in the mid-Ohio wilderness. He's still too young to be spoiled rotten by our home grown big fat domesticated thornless berries.

Oh well. 
We'll stick to the garden.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Beeswax Candles as Party Favors

-posted by Jayne

We recently shipped out a special order - some beeswax candles for a birthday party favor.  The customer sent back some beautiful pictures of the event and I wanted to share them here.  She chose this candle, which I call "Hive with Bee" and each person attending the party was able to take one home, wrapped in a cellophane bag with a ribbon.  The party photos look so warm and inviting, with many beautiful details in the decorations and backyard setting.  Each table was different, with the candles consistent throughout.

Thanks for sharing your photos with us Marissa!  Congratulations on your beautiful party!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Montana Honey

-Posted by Isaac

As Jayne posted a couple weeks ago, we had a wonderful vacation this July. As you know, when you're seeing new places, people, and things, you're almost obligated to seek out the local food. Jayne posted about the bouncing Missoula market scene. I'm going to show you a couple of Montana beekeeping operations we ran across.
Just an hour after the plane landed, on our way north to Glacier National Park we sighted this:
I was going about 80 mph at the time, but of course a sudden find like this meant a rapid stop, turn around, and turn-in.
Arlee's was a small outfit. A few dozen hives and a help-yourself stand.
Prices were set to move honey ($4.00 / pound). Cheap!   ...And we bought accordingly.

Montana honey has a light candy-sweet taste. It's mostly knapweed (also known as star thistle) and clover. Fireweed in there too if you're lucky.
We went through Arlee's honey much too quickly. Actually, it took about a day of Glacier Park hiking and we were ready for more.

We were in the tiny town of Babb, a roadside stop really, on the east side of the park when Bridger stalked a honey stash in the small mercantile.

Talking to the two ladies in the store, we found out that this Glacier County Honey Company was just a few miles east. It was time for a side trip. (Really the best thing about vacations).
Driving out, we found a prairie just bursting with wildflowers and a sizable bee operation soon to be taking full advantage of the bloom.

Glacier County Honey Company is about a 1000 hive operation. They make the delicious light Montana honey in the summers and take all the bees to California for almond pollination in the winter.
They had a retail shop and several tables set up in one corner of the honey house. (Something we didn't do when I worked for the Morris Honey Company... but should have!)

Wax was processed in another corner of the spacious honey house.

We didn't get to meet the owners, but well-traveled employee Travis, gave us the lowdown on the operation.

Later, heading to another hike, Jayne and I checked out the company's blog. We found quite a few similarities between us and them (The owners- Greg and Courtney). Similar ages and ages of kids... similar hopes, dreams and aspirations.
Although I think maybe they are a bit smarter... choosing to make a living on bees in a place like this!
Ah, Montana

Back on the home front, I've been painting boxes and building equipment. Basically biding time while the bees dry the uncapped honey. I've now been around to all the bee yards and my initial excitement has quelled a bit. There is honey, I can't complain, but it still looks like a below average year as far as the summer honey is concerned. That's ok, we'll hope for a good goldenrod flow.

We don't have a prairie full of wildflowers or almond pollination contracts, but we do have a wonderful local customer base. Unlike the big western bee operations who mostly send their honey off in barrels, we get to see and talk to you, our market crowd, our grocery store customers. Thanks for your continued support!