Furnace Mountain In February

Furnace Mountain is a Zen Buddhist Retreat Center in Powell County, Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia.
The surrounding area is not exactly a hotbed of Zen Buddhism, yet despite that fact Furnace Mountain has existed and thrived for over 25 years.

I attend retreats as often as I can. I just returned yesterday from spending five gorgeous days there.

The Mountain

The Mountain

I’m keeping two hives of bees there this season.

Apiary Beginnings!

Apiary Beginnings!

I have a lot of work to do before bee season!!

July In The Hive – More About Hive Splits

Example of Bee Hive Split (Not My Hives…)

Ordinarily, I would be giving you routine advice about maintaining your hives in July – do bi-weekly inspections, add honey supers as needed, be on the lookout for honey robbers, and harvest your honey when appropriate.  (Remember bees need at least 60 pounds of honey – two shallow supers – for their own consumption during the winter.)

But my July was anything but ordinary. I lost a hive of Italian bees and discovered I had a Buckfast hive that was overcrowded. As a result I did a hive split to make two hives out of one.

There are a number of reasons to do a hive split, the most common being 1.) to get more hives and 2.) to prevent swarms. I split my boiling Buckfast hive for both of those reasons.

When I first thought of doing a split, I wondered whether it was too late in the season. Typically, splits are done in May or early June after the original hive has had time to build up. I was nearing the middle of July.

Was it too late to do a split?

I checked The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush. According to Michael, you can do a split as late as August, provided you have a good honey flow into the fall.

So I went ahead and did the split on July 12. So far, so good!

I’m going to do an inspection today, and I’ll report back on the status of the new hive later.

British Week – Crumpets

Amazingly, we’ve reached the end of British Week!
A  few days ago my UK blogging friend Emma Sarah Tennant messaged me that she was enjoying some of my spring honey on a crumpet.
Okay, I know that crumpets are iconic.
But here’s an embarrassing confession.  Anglophile that I am, I didn’t know what a crumpet was!
I pictured it as something like a fortune cookie.
It turns out that a crumpet is what we Yanks call an English Muffin!
I’m sure British crumpets are much better than our store-bought muffins, especially when they are made from scratch!
So here to round out British Week is a kick butt recipe for crumpets!! Enjoy them with butter and honey!! (If you want Romancing the Bee honey, contact me!!)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (230g) unbleached white bread flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (230g) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 0.6oz cake fresh yeast (15g) or 1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons) plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups (510ml) lukewarm water
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons (10g) coarse sea salt, crushed or ground (use about half this if you’re not grinding your own coarse sea salt. If you’re measuring by weight instead of volume, you’re fine.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup (140ml) lukewarm milk

And to prepare the crumpets, you’ll need:

  • a griddle or cast-iron frying pan
  • 4 crumpet rings, about 3 1/2 inches diameter, greased

Instructions:

Sift together the flours and cream of tartar into a large bowl. Crumble the fresh yeast into a medium-sized bowl. Mix in the lukewarm water until smooth. If using dry yeast, mix the granules and the sugar with 3/4 cup lukewarm water and let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining lukewarm water.

Mix the yeast mixture into the flour to make a very thick, but smooth batter, beating vigorously with your hand or a wooden spoon for two minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm spot until the batter rises and then falls, about 1 hour.

Add the salt and beat the batter for about 1 minute. Then cover the bowl and let stand in a warm spot for 15 to 20 minutes, so the batter can rest.

Dissolve the baking soda in the lukewarm milk. Then gently stir it into t he batter. The batter should not be too stiff or your crumpets will be “blind” — without holes — so it is best to test one before cooking the whole batch.

Heat a very clean griddle or frying pan over moderately low heat for about 3 minutes until very hot. Put a well-greased crumpet ring on the griddle. Spoon or pour 1/3 cup of the batter into the ring. The amount of batter will depend on the size of your crumpet ring.

As soon as the batter is poured into the ring, it should begin to form holes. If holes do not form, add a little more lukewarm water, a tablespoon at a time, to the batter in the bowl and try again. If the batter is too thin and runs out under the ring, gently work in a little more all-purpose flour and try again. Once the batter is the proper consistency, continue with the remaining batter, cooking the crumpets in batches, three or four at a time. As soon as the top surface is set and covered with holes, 7 to 8 minutes, the crumpet is ready to flip over.

To flip the crumpet, remove the ring with a towel or tongs, then turn the crumpet carefully with a spatula. The top, cooked side should be chestnut brown. Cook the second, holey side of the crumpet for 2 to 3 minutes, or until pale golden. The crumpet should be about 3/4 inch thick. Remove the crumpet from the griddle. Grease the crumpet rings well after each use.

Queen Boadicea Has Ascended The Throne!

I know I was supposed to wait a week before checking on whether Queen Boadicea had escaped from the Queen cage, but I just couldn’t. The bees in the new hive were looking particularly orderly, so I had to take a peek.

Empty Queen Cage!

The Queen cage was empty.  The good thing about checking sooner rather than later is that the bees haven’t had a chance to make a lot of messy brace comb in the space where the cage was placed.

But was She alive?  I checked one or two frames before I found her, playing with her sisters!  She has apparently been accepted by the older girls, and will soon be Large And In Charge!!

What a good day!!

This Is What I’m Doing This Weekend

Two Supers Full Of Honey

Yesterday, I took two shallow supers full of honey off of the original hive.  It went fairly smoothly. (Despite being Friday, the 13th!)

I was surprised to have so much honey in the middle of July, especially since I had a fairly large harvest in the spring. But this is a huge hive, and we’ve had a strong nectar flow since April.

The hive was absolutely packed to the rafters with brood and honey.  This extraction gave me the opportunity to provide more room and to get my supers straightened out.

I’m sure I had a reason to do it at the time, but my supers were in crazy order. I had a deep on the bottom, then a medium, then two shallows and then a deep on the very top!

The bottom deep was full of brood and the medium was full of brood and honey.  I took the medium out to make the split. It was perfect for that purpose!

The next two shallow supers were completely full of honey. No brood at all. (I don’t use a Queen excluder.) I took those boxes off to extract.

The top deep was full of brood and honey! How did the bees know to skip the shallow supers?  Who knows??

Anyway, I put the second deep on top of the first one and then put an empty medium on top of that. After I finish the extraction, I’ll add another two shallow supers on top of those.  This order makes a lot more sense!!

My spring honey was dark. It looked a lot like maple syrup.  This honey is light gold, almost white. It is ambrosial!

Well, I’ve got a lot of sticky work ahead of me. More later!

The Queen Is In Residence

Statue of Boadicea near Westminster in London

It was looking like it might rain, so I went ahead and installed the Queen in her new home.

To ensure that Boadicea‘s new subjects accept her, I am using an indirect method of release into the new hive.

There is a white plug of candy in one of the three circular holes in the Queen cage.

White Candy Plug

The Queen and her attendants will eat through the candy over the next few days and escape from the cage. This will give her subjects time to get acquainted with her and accept her as their monarch.

I am smearing wax and honey from the hive on the cage so that Boadicea will pick up the scent of the hive.

Smearing Wax And Honey On The Cage

I am also poking a hole in the candy plug to make it easier for the Queen and her attendants to escape. I’m careful not to stab any bees in the process!

Poking A Hole In The Candy Plug

Finally, I added two small nails to hold the cage in place between the brood frames.

Now I am ready to go!

It was great to hear the loud buzzing of the new colony as I removed the top super. The bees seemed interested in the new Queen and quickly surrounded the cage.

I was happy to see that the bees had already made progress in drawing out the empty frames. On one frame I saw the beginnings of a Queen Cell.

Now I will wait a week and check on the progress of the Queen.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

Tomorrow, the extraction of honey from the old hive!

Queen Boadicea Has Arrived!

Thanks to the miracle of UPS, Queen Boadicea and her retinue arrived about an hour ago.

The Queen And Her Attendants

I’m letting them cool off from their trip, and will be installing them in an hour or so.

Here is a better picture of the Queen. She’s the one wearing the yellow dot.

Queen Boadicea Wearing Yellow

More later.

I Couldn’t Walk Away

Okay, I know I said I was going to do a “walk away” split, and let my Buckies create their own Queen.  But I just couldn’t walk away and leave them Queenless.

It takes at least 15 days for them to make a Queen, for her to mate, and then for her to start laying.  And that’s if everything goes perfectly!  I just can’t take that chance, especially after the demise of the Italians.

So, yesterday evening I ordered a Buckfast Queen from BeeWeaver Apiaries in Navasota, Texas, to be delivered by UPS.

Queen Bee In Shipping Box

I’m glad I didn’t dither too long, because BeeWeaver is only selling Queens until July 15, and it is one of the only suppliers of Buckies in the US.

She should be here today or tomorrow.  I’ve named her Boadicea after the 1st century British Warrior Queen.

I’ve decided to put off honey extraction until Friday morning to give the bees a chance to calm down and for my muscles to stop aching. Those boxes are heavy!

More later…

Doing The Split

I have two hives, one in my front garden and one in my back garden.

My Front Garden Hive

I have Buckfast bees in my back garden, and it’s a very established hive.

It’s also a very tall hive. There are two deeps, a medium and two honey supers.

In the past, when the bees needed more room, I just slapped on another super or two. If I keep on going on the same way, pretty soon I’m going to need a ladder.

But the Buckies seem to love it! They haven’t shown any signs of swarming, and they’ve been very productive.

The hive at the White House is tall, so I figured it was okay.

White House Bees

In my front garden, I used to have Italian bees. This was their first year, and they didn’t make it. It was very sad.

So I decided to split the Buckfast hive. I’ve never done a split before. There’s something intimidating about the concept.

I also have a confession to make. My Buckfast bees are so healthy and happy, I leave them alone for the most part. I’m of the “if they’re okay, don’t mess with them” school of beekeeping.

But my empty hive was making me sad. So I took out my copy of  The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush and started reading up.

I decided to do what Michael calls “a walk away split.”  Basically, you do a split without giving the new hive a Queen. Then you walk away and let them sort things out. After four weeks you check to see if you have a laying Queen.

When I opened the Buckfast hive this morning, I realized it was a good thing I was doing a split. The hive was absolutely to the rafters with bees and honey!  They need fewer bees and honey and more room to expand.

Honey extraction was going to have to wait until tomorrow though. Today, I had to find at least ten frames of brood and honey to form the core of the new hive.

I found it in the medium super, which was perfect because the new hive has all medium boxes.

I carefully placed the 10 frames in the new hive boxes, and gave the bees six more empty frames to build on. Then I shut up the hive and crossed my fingers. Split accomplished!

But I still have the problem of not enough room in the original hive.

Tonight I’ll be building frames. LOTS of frames!

And tomorrow I’ll be removing at least half of the honey frames for extraction. I’ll replace them with empty frames, and the bees will have plenty of time to make more honey before fall.

If this works, I may never buy another package of bees again!!