Construction · Cooking · Lazer Creek Apiary

Oops – I did it again! Food processor woes.

At the end of July, I had 4 pounds of very ripe figs ready to process into jam and could not get the lid to my food processor to seat.  At first I thought it was too early in the morning, so I polished my glasses, took another gulp of coffee, and tried again.   After struggling with it for another five minutes and feeling like a fool, I looked at the top of the bowl and saw that it was no longer perfectly round!   With all those figs waiting and us trying to get ready to head back to the farm, I took the easy way out and headed to Target to buy a replacement for the food processor that had served me well for well over 10 years.   Why did this happen?   The answer to that lay in the booklet that came with the new one — don’t wash the bowl on a sani-rinse cycle.   I’d never done that before because I usually have my jars washing before I start slicing and dicing, but with the kitchen counter replacement, I was doing things out of order.

I made two batches of jam using my shiny new food processor and happily headed back to the woods and stayed there until a multi-day forecast of 80% rain!   I came home and harvested the last of the figs and got ready to make a new batch.   Once again I was dealing with a lid that didn’t fit and once again the bowl is no longer round.   However, this time I know that I did not wash the bowl on a sani-cycle, so I’m not very happy about my purchase.  I’m still waiting to hear back from the manufacturer about why replacement bowls are not available.

The jam I made with that batch of figs tastes good, but as I resorted to pureeing the figs in the blender before making fig and blueberry jam, it just doesn’t look as appetizing as when the figs are in chunks.   Now we’re at the point of the year where I look forward to having more pantry space so that we don’t have to store jam and honey in odd places around the kitchen and dining room.    Maybe next year we’ll be able to start the foundation for the new house….

New countertop and sink
New counter-top and sink

Still, it is a joy to cook in my kitchen with its shiny new counter tops and stain resistant sink.   Even the blackberry and blueberry juices wiped right off.    We painted the floors of the base cabinets when we replaced the counter tops, so much of this week was about putting shelf paper down and putting everything away.   Instead of just putting stuff back where it’s been for the past 15 years, I tried to put things away where they made more sense.  We’ll see how well that plan works as we try to find stuff over the next few weeks!

So, on Tuesday, Farmerella and her Prince Charming turn back into teachers, but we’re returning as relaxed, inspired, and excited teachers for our 8th year until retirement!   We have to get used to alarm clocks instead of sunrises and walking on the treadmill instead of walking down to unlock the gate in the mornings, but my recent reading and hubby’s two seminars this summer have us burgeoning with new ways to present material, and that is invigorating.    It’s going to be a good year!

 

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Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Pollen Substitute and Regicide

I guess I need to start by telling you that the pollen substitute did not cause the regicide — I was an accessory to that crime, but I have no idea of how hubby actually disposed of the evil queen once I helped catch her!    We have another hive that has just become more and more unreasonable over time, and they now go straight for the upper thighs when we even approach them, never mind get started with a hive inspection.   We had purchased a new queen — one that was purported to be from a calm strain and also a strain that is very good at dealing with Varroa Mites.   After we removed the old queen, we waited 24 hours to re-queen, placed her in a queen introduction frame, sprayed the frame and the frames in the hive with Honey B Healthy to mask her pheromones — and they still killed her.     Talk about frustrating.   We’ve had other evil hives turn nice, so we haven’t given up on them yet, but I have had quite a few choice words for them over the past month.

Queen Introduction Frame
Queen Introduction Frame

The production of new brood has fallen off in all of our hives over the past month, and we really want to build them up before the fall flowers (Goldenrod and White Milkweed, mainly) start to bloom.    We’ve noticed that all of the hives have a lot of nectar and honey stored, but very little pollen, so we decided to give the pollen substitute another try.

Bees Collect Pollen Substitute
Bees Collect Pollen Substitute

Now, when we put this stuff out in spring, the bees showed no interest whatsoever.   This time, they are flocking to it like the dog to canned food!   We already saw an increase in bee bread in the frames of hives we inspected yesterday.    I placed the first batch in bird feeder that gave the bees plenty of access at the bottom, but provided shelter from rain.  I only put a small amount in and the bees crawled through the holes, through the inch high pollen, and became trapped in the feeder.   I understand why a little better now that we’ve watched them roll the powder around, roll around in the powder, and generally behave like little dung beetles rolling the powder up into little balls which they then take home with them.  By the end of the first day,  they had moved all the remaining powder to one end of the cookie sheet — and there was not much remaining.

Of course, my English hive has to be different and they are showing little interest in the powder that I laid out in a tray especially for them up in their private garden!   I did experiment with some supplement with sugar water and giving them a protein shake — they loved that.   Maybe they are just spoiled.  Maybe they like soup.   They were in the supplement dish this morning trying to get to the rain water-supplement mush.

When we were updating our hive inspection spreadsheet last night, we started a new page to track available resources by date.   Hubby had noted last year that the pollen death starts around the same time that the pink and white Crepe Myrtles bloom in our garden.    There was also a nectar dearth last year because of the drought, but this year the bees keep bringing in nectar, but not enough pollen.   We now know to watch for this next year and maybe get the pollen substitute out sooner.

We continue to battle small hive beetles, but we’ve cut the brush back from around the hives again and we know that helps.   I plan to put some landscape fabric down to minimize what can grow back, and we’ve also discussed relocating the hives over time.  The area right behind the hives is so very uneven, with trenches that are above knee-height, that we can’t bush hog in there until we do some leveling and clear some of the timber-harvesting debris.  We can’t continue to weed eat that much, but that’s what it takes to keep the blackberries and vines at bay.     The hives that are coming back from the sunflower field we definitely be in the other cleared lane and we’ll put some DE and landscape fabric down under the hive stands before we even go get them.   There is still so much to do and there is so little summer left — we really need to spend some time panning for gold down at the creek so that we can stay here forever!

 

Cooking · Lazer Creek Apiary

A Good Thermometer is Hard to Find

One of my main frustrations with cooking with sugar, whether it be jam or fondant for the bees, is the inconsistency of the texture of the final product.   I know I have to get this right before I’m ready to start selling any jams.   I’m now on my fourth thermometer and finally both batches of jam I made are exactly the firmness that I’ve been aiming for all this time.

Thermometer
Thermonib Thermometer

I’ve been using the metal candy thermometers that clip to the side of the pot with varying results.    Even on the best batches, the jams were not as firm as I wanted until I used the above Thermobib thermometer.   I made two batches of jam this week and both are the same consistency.

The jam in the picture is spiced apple and fig jam.  It’s probably a little more chunky than most people would prefer, but I like to taste pieces of apple in the jams I make for us.   It is a simple recipe – 1 pound of figs, 1 pound of Granny Smith apples,  4 cups of sugar, 1 cup of water, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, and a teaspoon of nutmeg.  I chop the figs first and cover them with a cup of sugar and the salt to draw some of the moisture out of the figs.  Then I peel, core, and chop the apples, add them to the fig mixture and dump the rest of the sugar and the spices on top.   When the figs have been resting for at least 30 minutes, I add the water and a strip of the apple peel, and bring the mixture to a boil while constantly stirring.    It needs to stay at a rolling boil for a minute or two and then it’s a matter of just boiling enough moisture out to reach the magic temperature of 220 degrees.   Remove the strip of apple peel before ladling the mixture into jars.   (The pectin in the peel helps the jam set and the rest of the peel makes a nice, healthy snack while cooking!)

I used a recipe from Delicious magazine for the blackberry apple jam, with the modification of boiling the blackberries in the water first and then straining out the pulp and seeds through muslin.  This is a good option for people who need to avoid seeds.   Personally, I just don’t like having to get the seeds out from between my teeth!    As posted in a previous blog, I’d already boiled the blackberries when I picked them at the farm, so it was just a matter of defrosting them and warming them through a little before straining them.  I chopped the apples a little finer for this batch.

Jam and Honey
Jams and Honey

At the end of “cooking day,”  we had two batches of jam from new recipes and had bottled 33 pounds of honey.    I love seeing the purple of the blackberry jam and the gold of the spring honey with the sun behind it.

One other recipe I tried this week was figs in honey.   I don’t know if the flavors will integrate over time, but this is a recipe that I would only make for family in the future as it uses too much honey for us the market it.   I do want to try Roasted Figs in Honey as an ice-cream topping sometime, but again just for family.   Sometimes we just need to enjoy what our fig tree provides for us without turning it into jam first!

I’m very happy to say that these were the last recipes I tried on our old, boring, beige counter-tops and that I am looking forward to cooking in our almost-updated kitchen.  More about that in the near future…..

Hive equipment · Home Remedies · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

Rain is a Good Thing

Luke Bryan sings that “rain makes corn…” but we are happy that rain also makes honey.   This time last year we were in a severe drought in both Georgia and South Carolina and our bees had few resources of their own to get them through the dearth.  Right now, there are no signs of a dearth in our hives;  we are seeing lots of nectar and a fair amount of honey in every hive.

Bees on sunflower
Bees on sunflower

The sourwood trees have just about finished blooming, and the sunflowers over at our neighbor’s are kicking into high gear with beautiful, dinner-plate sized blossoms.    We have three hives pollinating his sunflower plot and they are clearly loving life.   Sunflower honey is reputed to aid gastrointestinal, respiratory, and kidney health, although it has a downside of crystallizing faster than most other honeys.   We are hoping to harvest  sunflower honey in August, but we don’t know how much we’ll have this year as we only had new frames available to put in the hives and that is going to slow down honey production as the bees will first have to draw comb.   We’ll be better prepared next year.

Hives on sunflower plot
Hives on sunflower plot

We inspected some of the hives with bees that tend to crawl on the ground and up our pants legs yesterday, and the blousing garters we bought appear to be doing their job of keeping the bees on the outside of the pants legs!   Today was a much more enjoyable day as all three hives we inspected originate from the same queen and they are the kindest, gentlest bees we have.   They also appear to be very good at keeping pests at bay, although two of the hives had spiders in the lid which added some humor to the voice recordings!    The bees had killed one of the spiders, but it was still quite fresh and squished in the most disgusting way under hubby’s hive tool.    I have overcome my dislike of bugs enough to squish most hive pests, but I’ve apparently got a long way to go before I squish spiders — or stop screeching when I see one!

These hives also oddly avoid the bottom brood boxes on their hives and will only lay eggs in there when they absolutely have no other room.    We have often spotted swarm queen cells in an upper box of a hive that has plenty of room in the “basement.”   One hive even preferred to use the entrance at the top of the hive until we put a screen inner cover on for additional ventilation and thereby forced them to exit through the “normal” opening.

Screen inner covers offer more ventilation for bees, which is especially important here in the south and when transporting bees.   We’ve also observed wax moths and spiders on top of the screens, unable to enter the hive.   Since we switched to using these in summer, we have not seen a single wax moth inside a hive.    Our hives that always struggle with small hive beetles are also able to herd the beetles out of the hive proper and above the screen.   We were horrified yesterday at the number of beetles in two of the hives, but almost all of them were above the screen.   We added borax traps on top of the screens and we’re using beetle blasters inside each hive to help reduce the numbers.   We’re getting closer to denuding the area around the hives in our problem area as we know sunlight deters the beetles — there’s just so much timber-cutting trash mixed in with the vegetation in that area so we can’t simply bush-hog.

All-in-all, we are very happy with the progress our hives are making.   We no longer have any hives that are aggressive without provocation, although we have a couple that I would like to re-queen with stock from the “nice” hives.   We are not having to supplemental feed bees this July and we have recovered all of our winter losses.  We’ve gone a week with neither helicopters nor bee stings!   Life is good on the farm!

Bee Stings · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

Helicopters and Bees

For the past three days, helicopters have flown low over the area, usually in the mornings.  The timber company across the creek is either thinning trees or clear-cutting, so maybe they’re checking the progress.   During the fly-overs today, hubby was checking hives across the road at the neighbor’s sunflower field and I was checking some of our hives — we both found out that bees don’t like helicopters.

https://pixabay.com/en/bees-angry-insect-yellow-black-44527/
Angry Bee from pixabay.com

It’s interesting to listen to the recording of my hive inspection because there is a clear change in the tone and volume of the bee buzzes after the chopper made the first pass.   The bees were nervous at that point, but not too aggressive.  After the second pass, the bees just boiled out of the hive and started stinging in a way that I have never experienced before.   I was able to fend off some by pulling my BDUs away from my legs, but I ended up with 8 stings — a record for me.   Even more unusual was that a handful of bees followed me all the way back to the RV and kept up with me driving at 12 mph on the ATV!

We wish we could find out when any future flights are likely to take place so that we could schedule hive inspections around them.   We both know that if we hear a chopper coming and we’re in a hive, we’re going to end that inspection there and then and get the hive put back together.

To end on a positive note,  7 of the hives we inspected today are full of nectar.  This time last year, we were in a drought and had to feed sugar water to sustain the hives.   Sunflowers and sourwood trees are blooming and our bees are clearly taking advantage of all the resources they can find.   We may even be able to pull some more honey before the end of summer.

 

Bee Stings · Lazer Creek Apiary

Bee in the pants….

English Hive
English Hive

There’s nothing quite as unnerving while working on a hive on a hot day as wondering whether what you feel is a drop of sweat running down your leg or a bee wandering around like a lost and irritated soul inside your pants — unless it’s hearing a loud buzzing around your head and realizing that there is an angry bee is inside your veil!    There’s also nothing quite as amusing to listen to when transcribing hive inspections from Voice Recorder than hearing:

“Is that sweat?”

Pause

“Oh bleep

“Bee in the pants, bee in the pants, bee in the pants….”

….with a rising pitch and a falling volume as I leave the area as quickly as possible while trying to walk in a way that does not make the bee any less happy than it already is!

Over the years, I’ve beat myself around the head with a bunch of lemon grass, had hubby hit me on the head, dropped trou in the bee yard, and hurriedly fought with zippers and Velcro while trying to watch a bee about 2 inches from my nose!   Most of the time, this doesn’t result in a sting, but yesterday’s bee in the pants episode followed 2 stings through the pants, so we skipped checking additional hives today!

This is the first year our bees have had the propensity to crawl up our boots and into our pant legs!   Tucking our pants into our boots has not worked well, because the bees then end up in our boots — stings on the feet or stings on the thigh?  We ordered some blousing garters from Amazon yesterday to see if we can keep them out that way!

Come to think of it, I haven’t had any bees sting me from inside my pants, but I’m sure I’ll feel better knowing that there’s a greater chance of them staying outside my clothes.

Now, bees won’t sting unless provoked, because a bee that stings subsequently dies,  unlike those pesky yellow-jackets that set up home in our gate.  We have one hive with irritable bees, but most of the others are generally very well behaved.   However, one hive yesterday had expanded honey stores to beyond what would fit well in the space available, so when I removed the first frame to check it, I broke the cappings that protected the honey.   Bees don’t like people messing with their honey.  I guess it’s the same as a hacker raiding my bank account or someone breaking into the house and emptying my pantry!    I can’t blame them for being angry, so I’m quite content to apply Stops the Sting and ice packs a couple of times a day and go about my business!   Past experiences have shown me that my body doesn’t deal well with too many stings at the same time, so that’s the main reason to postpone hive checks for a day.

Neither avoiding the hives nor these stings have slowed us down any.   We’re making progress cleaning up the loading deck.   As that’s where the trees were trimmed prior to being loaded on trucks, we have a lot of small branches or even tree trunks all over the place that hide in the tall weeds and make using the bush-hog difficult.   We’ve settled on weed-eating paths into the weeds to expose logs and stumps before hubby bush-hogs just to protect our equipment.  With weeds that are well over 8 feet tall in places, we just have to do that this year.   Now that we have our own tractor, we’ll be able to maintain areas of the land that we need to keep clear and avoid getting lost in the jungle!   It’s slower and more tedious work than re-clearing areas that hubby previously cleared, but we are seeing progress.   As the tree canopies increase, the undergrowth will become less of a problem, but we’ll have somewhat of a battle on our hands for the rest of this year.

Canning · Cooking · Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General

Hunter-gatherers

Yesterday, I temporarily deferred my equal rights ideologies and stepped back (way back) into a hunter-gatherer role,  trailing along behind the man of the house, picking berries while he did the manly task!

There are so many beautiful ripe blackberries on our property, but they are so hard to get to.  At the best of times, wild blackberries demand a blood sacrifice,  so I am always weighing the pain-versus-gain factor.   Since my last blackberry harvest, BIL sent us a picture of a timber rattle snake up under one of his blueberry bushes, edging back into some wild blackberries, so that made me even more cautious.

Blackberries
Wild Blackberries

Then, hubby came along and cleared a strip along one of the really good blackberry patches with the bush hog, giving me much easier access — still not  pain free, but easier.  By following in his wake, I was able to harvest 1 1/2 quarts of beautiful, juicy blackberries which I then washed, boiled, and froze so that I can turn them into jam when we’re back in the city.    As a few family members need to avoid seeds and the rest of us don’t really enjoy picking seeds out of our teeth, I’ll strain them and then press the rest of the juice out of them before adding apples and making blackberry-apple jam.  I cheated last year and bought frozen blackberries for a trial batch, but that jam was good enough to make me want to harvest what nature has provided for us here.

Of course the other side of the hunter-gatherer equation is the hunter.   I guess hubby was hunting undergrowth when he cleared those paths for me, but his other hunting chores yesterday involved getting rid of the critters that have been bugging me!   We discovered that the yellow jackets at the gate had actually moved into the gate through a drain hole, so it’s no surprise that they became irritable when we rattled the chain against their home.  They are now in an afterlife of some kind.   We avoid using pesticides whenever possible, but we can’t have yellow jackets attacking guests or us at the gate.   His other accomplishment led to one more restless night followed by a good night’s sleep as two field mice have now been evicted from under the kitchen sink.   There’s a huge hole cut into the back of the cabinet, and we thoroughly spray-foamed that, but that didn’t stop them.  There’s another hole cut in the side of the cabinet to let the drain pipe go through.  We’re hesitant to put spray foam in there because we don’t want it on the back of the oven, but we’ll seal it up with aluminum foil after we’re sure there are no more mice romping around in the walls.    We’re generally believers in the if-you-kill-it-eat-it philosophy, but I draw the line at making mouse and yellow-jacket casserole.  (Actually, I draw the line well before that — there’s still too much suburb in me to eat possum or squirrel, although I did LOVE the dove hubby hunted last fall.)

Tractor delivery
Our new tractor

Even though I spent much of the day taking on more-than-usual traditional female tasks, I did start the day having fun on our new Kubota tractor!   I have been hesitant to bush hog on borrowed tractors, even though BIL and our neighbor have shown more confidence in my abilities than I’ve believed myself to have, but I quite quickly became comfortable on relatively flat land knowing that if I damaged something, it would be something I was paying for!    I even found it easier to back the tractor up than to back my car up because I can see where I’m going so much better.   However, that became tricky after a while because of my on-going neck discomfort (I can’t call it pain right now) and my bi-focals.   While bi-focals are great for many things, they don’t work well for looking back over one’s shoulder or for checking bee hives.   I have an eye appointment next week and will probably get a pair of long-distance glasses and a pair with which I can see bee frames.    I’m not sure how I’ll juggle three different pairs of glasses — maybe the eye doctor will have a better suggestion!

Our other exciting 15 minutes yesterday was when we had to combat a waterfall running down the inside of the RV door!   Hubby made adjustments to the strike plate for the door latch and that kept the rain out, but in the time that took, the torrent filled a casserole dish and soaked a bunch of towels. (I wish I had a picture to post, but we were both a little too occupied to grab a camera!) It’s times like these that make me glad I brought every old towel that we had at the house here.  Sure, they take up space, but sometimes they come in handy.   We started today with a trip to the laundromat and that led to reorganizing towel storage — what better time to do it than when every towel in the house has just been washed?

It’s a beautiful sunny day,  the trails we cut last year are now trails again, and we can see the stakes for the house-site again.     Life is good on the farm!