Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em – Secrets of Lighting a Bee Hive Smoker

This is a reblog from last year. Just in time for Bee Season!

The secret of lighting a bee hive smoker is burlap. Who knew?

When I first started beekeeping, I learned that you lit a smoker using a layer of newspaper, some twigs and some fuel such as baling twine or dry leaves.

First you light the newspaper, then add the twigs. After the twigs are on fire, you add the fuel, which catches on fire and makes the smoke.

Sounds easy, right? It wasn’t for me. I could never keep my smoker going for more than 10 or 15 minutes.

Then I found a post written by Karen Edmundson Bean of the Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog.  She had the same problem. I wasn’t alone!

Karen learned from a fellow beekeeper that the secret to keeping a smoker lit is using burlap. That’s pretty much it!  No newspaper, no twigs. Just burlap.  For the details, see Karen’s post.

Commenters agreed with this advice:

MikeRoberts says:

I do a similar thing, but I just light the burlap directly (I get it from the local coffee roasters), get it going well, then stuff it down in there, give it a few more puffs, then add a handful of freshly pulled green grass on top. I’m told this makes the smoke cooler. Hasn’t failed on me yet ..

willowbatel says:

I use burlap in my smoker, because it’s cheap and easy, and stays lit for a long time. The key to getting it started is lighting it outside of the smoker and letting it burn for a little bit until there’s a large flame. I usually fold the burlap up loosely, and leave a little thin corner out to start the flame on. Once that corner is lit, turn the burlap so the flame is at the bottom, then put the whole mass into the smoker. Don’t force it all the way to the bottom of the smoker, because the flame almost definitely will go out, even if it acts like it won’t. I pump the bellows a few times, slowly, to get the flame really going. Once thick smoke starts coming out of the top, you can push the burlap a little farther down (do this on one side, not in the center, so the burlap gets a little more spread out) and then close the lid. I’d recommend a long stick or a pencil to shove the burlap down.
It takes a few tries before you figure it out, and even then, sometimes it just goes out. If you forget about it while your working and don’t pump it every so often, it’s very likely to go out. I’ve found this out the hard way dozens of times. For multiple hives you’ll definitely want to have multiple bunches of burlap ready for use. When I did my split I used one clump for the first hive, and then added the second clump before moving on. I had more smoke than I needed the whole time, and it kept the bees calmer as a result. The smoker was going so well that I rarely had to worry about it, because it was angled so that wind was constantly blowing in from the back and pushing the smoke over the hives/ through the clouds of bees. Working with the wind is an important thing!
So now I know the secret of successfully lighting a bee hive smoker!  I hope this helps some other beekeepers out there as well!
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Poetry Month – William Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us”

My selection criteria for poems to post are simple:  Either I know all or part of the poem by heart or it must be somehow related to bees.  Or both.

This poem is one of the former, and one of my very favorites. I hope you enjoy it too.


The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Beautiful Beehives Of The Day

Hives at Kew Gardens in London

Hives at Kew Gardens in London

Kew Gardens has an educational bee habitat as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the need for a more bee-friendly planet.

Beautiful Beehives Of The Day


The beehives on the roof of Fortnum & Mason in London may be the most beautiful in the world. I took the picture above when I visited them in London last year.

Before the hives were installed on F&M’s roof, they were showcased in a Chris Beardshaw-designed garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Fortnum 4 Fortnum bees 3 Fortnum-2 (1) Fortnum-2

Whether you prefer formal or rustic, there are endless possibilities for beautiful beekeeping!

Girl History Month – Helen Duncan, Britain’s Last Jailed Witch

duncan and boat

Helen Duncan (1897-1956), was the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735.

Duncan, who had demonstrated psychic ability throughout her life, got into hot water when she performed a séance in Portsmouth, England in November 1941 and accurately revealed that a battleship, the HMS Barham, had been sunk.

Wartime censorship meant the catastrophe was known only to relatives of the casualties, so the authorities were particularly alarmed at Duncan’s “inside” knowledge. The authorities’ biggest fear was not of Duncan’s connection to the “other side” but that she might reveal military secrets.

The séance lead to the Scots-born spiritualist being charged under section 4 of the Witchcraft Act 1735 for fraudulent activity. She was also charged under the Larceny Act for taking money “by falsely pretending that she was in a position to bring about the appearances of the spirits of deceased persons”.


An interesting misconception about the case is noted on a BBC website:

“… the Witchcraft Act was originally formulated to eradicate the belief in witches and its introduction meant that from 1735 onwards an individual could no longer be tried as a witch in England or Scotland. However, they could be fined or imprisoned for purporting to have the powers of a witch.”

The Old Bailey jury trial caused a stir in wartime London and attracted much media attention. During the trial Duncan was barred from demonstrating her power as part of her defense against the Larceny charges. She was eventually found guilty under the Witchcraft Act (but not guilty of charges under the Larceny Act) and sentenced to nine months in Holloway Prison.

After the trial, Prime Minister Winston Churchill complained to the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison about the “obsolete tomfoolery” of the charge and waste of court resources.


She died at her Edinburgh home a short time later. A campaign to have her pardoned continues today.

Duncan was the last person in Britain to be jailed under the act, which was repealed in 1951 and replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act. However, she was not the last person convicted under the Witchcraft Act. Jane Rebecca Yorke received a lenient sentence due to her age (she was in her 70s) and fined in late 1944.

Girl History Month – Dr. Eva Crane, Tireless Honey Bee Researcher

Photo of Eva Crane

Photo of Eva Crane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eva Crane (12 June 1912 – 6 September 2007) was a researcher and author on the subjects of bees and beekeeping. Trained as a quantum physicist, she changed her field of interest to bees, and spent decades researching bees, traveling to more than 60 countries, often under primitive conditions.

The New York Times reported that “Dr. Crane wrote some of the most important books on bees and apiculture” and noted “Her older sister, Elsie Widdowson, who never retired either, helped revolutionize the field of nutrition, showing similar energy chasing seals on ice floes to study their eating habits.”

Born as Ethel Eva Widdowson in London she earned a Ph.D in 1941 in nuclear physics. She became a lecturer in Physics at Sheffield University. She married James Crane, a stockbroker serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, in 1942. Her husband died in 1978.

Her interest in bees began when she and her husband received a beehive as a wedding present; the giver had hoped that it would help supplement their wartime sugar ration.

Crane wrote over 180 papers, articles, and books, many when she was in her 70s and 80s. Honey: A Comprehensive Survey (1975), in which she contributed several important chapters, and edited, came about because she told the publisher (Heinemann Press) that a book on the subject was sorely needed. Although now out of print, it remains the most significant review on the subject ever written.

A Book of Honey (1980) and The Archaeology of Beekeeping (1983) reflected her strong interests in nutrition and the ancient past of beekeeping.

Her writing culminated in two mighty, encyclopaedic tomes, Bees and Beekeeping: science, practice and world resources (1990; at 614 pages) and The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting (1999; 682 pages). These distilled a lifetime’s knowledge and experience and are regarded as seminal textbooks throughout the beekeeping world.”.

She died at the age of 95 in Slough.

Homemade Honey Marshmallows – For Medicinal Purposes Only!

Marshmallow Apothecary

Marshmallow Apothecary

My UK friends Emma Sarah Tennant and Emily Heath posted on Facebook about their recent visit to the Marshmallow Apothecary, a popup medicinal marshmallow shop in London.

Yes, you read that right. Medicinal Marshmallows. Who knew?


For just two weeks,the Marshmallow Apothecary opened its doors in Carnaby Street, offering free consultations and marshmallow prescriptions to visitors.​  The delicious marshmallows contained herbal remedies for ailments ranging from the common cold to a lack of libidinousness.  As Mary Poppins was wont to say, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”


It turns out that the marshmallow probably first came into being as a medicinal substance.  The Egyptians concocted them with honey to treat sore throats.


That of course gave me an idea. Why not make my own medicinal Honey Marshmallows?

Let me tell you, they are so delicious, it’s almost worth being sick!!

They Are More Medicinal When You Make Them Pink!

They Are More Medicinal When You Make Them Pink!

Here’s the recipe:


Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

1 cup water

2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 egg whites

Food coloring, if desired


Dust an 8 by 12-inch baking sheet generously with confectioners’ sugar.

Place 1/2 cup of cold water and the gelatin in the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Let stand for 30 minutes.

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the remaining water, sugar, honey, salt and vanilla. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. If necessary, wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve any sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pan.

Raise the heat to high and cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees F. Remove from the heat and, working quickly, add the egg whites to the bowl of the electric mixer and whip on high speed until stiff peaks form. Reduce speed to low and slowly pour the syrup into the bowl, making sure the stream remains between the whisk and side of the bowl. If you want to color the marshmallows, add the food coloring at this stage, until desired color is reached. Increase the speed to high again and whip until the mixture has at least doubled and becomes thick and fluffy.

Pour the mixture onto the baking sheet and spread out evenly using a spatula. Dust the top with confectioners’ sugar and let it sit out overnight, uncovered, to dry. Invert the marshmallow mixture onto a cutting board and, using a hot knife, cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch squares. Dust with more confectioners’ sugar.

Prescription:  Eat them until you feel better!

The Russian Mafia And Forex Scams

Disclaimer:  I’m obsessed with the Russian Mob.  I’ve written a novel about it.  This post has nothing to do with bees, gardening or cooking with honey.

I’m sure my fellow bloggers have been swamped, as I have been, by a flood of battling spam e-mails concerning the “Forex Bastards” and Dmitri Chavkerov aka Felix Homogratus.

I have no idea whether this dispute actually involves the Russian Mob in any way, shape or form, but allegedly the Mob has been involved in Forex Scams.  In any event, I have a feeling it isn’t going to end well.

I stumbled upon this post by an Italian Blogger who calls himself “bacerbroker.”  I don’t know how accurate it is, but it is certainly thought-provoking.

Scam & Spam Mail sent by Forex Bastards

Now, a few interesting things about this one [referring to one of the scam emails] :

–          The email was sent by ‘Felix Homogratus’, an individual who obviously uses a nickname to run his business.  His real name is Dmitri Chavkerov.  My gut tells me that there is something fishy about running a business under a nickname but maybe that’s just me.

–          ‘Felix’ runs a few sites, one of those  According to Felix “Forex Bastards was founded in January of 2006, after I literally couldn’t handle getting screwed any longer. Learning how to trade Forex I went through several Forex brokers, a few different trading signals providers and used multiple Forex educational training services; some brilliant, some useless and some down right horrible.”.  For some reason I get the feeling that his Yacht Seminar is a typical example of the types of scams his website was meant to expose.

–          The speakers include Felix’s partner, Rob Grespinet.  According to the agenda, “If he feels like it, [Rob] will share with the participants the “inner talk” and “big boys outlook” on the Forex market over the next year.  Otherwise, we’ll just have to enjoy his profanity and witty humor.”.  Have you ever been to a seminar where one of speakers may or may not participate depending on his mood on that day?  Interesting character…

–          Now the piece de resistance is the other two speakers: Skip Atwater and Marty Rosenblatt.  Those guys are supposedly experts in ‘Remote Viewing’.  Now I have to admit that I had to look up ‘Remote Viewing’ because I had no idea what that meant.  I thought that maybe it was the name of a new fancy indicator or strategy but I came to find that remove viewing (RV) is “is a protocol used in consciousness research where a viewer attempts to gather sense impressions and “knowingness”, non-sensorial information, about a target.”  So basically we are talking about telepathy or clairvoyance in trading the Forex?!?!  How desperate are we getting here?  What’s next, opening a ‘channel’ to Jesse Livermore to ask him for tips?

–          The last speaker is ‘anonymous’ and I quote “He wants to keep his identity unknown before the seminar”.  Come on…people using nicknames, others using clairvoyance, and this last one the enigmatic speaker who wants to remain incognito.  Is it a trading seminar or a masquerade?  Is there really a difference?  I am starting to wonder.

–          As another test, let’s go back to the CFTC warnings and let’s see how many apply to this ‘invitation’:

1)       “Stay away from opportunities that seem too good to be true”.  In Felix’s own words: “I can teach you a trading system that in my experience can easily make you into a Forex millionaire in 3 years or less”.  Now here note the word ‘EASILY’, ‘MILLIONAIRE’, and ‘3 YEARS’.  Too good to be true?  I also always like when systems promise to make you plenty of money with extremely little effort.  Two beautiful examples in this invitation.  First from Felix himself ” I’ll be honest with you, because of this way of trading, I am starting to become very lazy, and I am actually sleeping through a lot of the news announcements that I used to trade short term.”  Next from Skip Atwater: “The technique takes 1 hour per day, 5 days per week, and it has made this guy millions”.

2)       “Be Sure You Get the Company’s Performance Track Record”.  In Felix’s own words again “[Rob Grespinet] is a heavy weight financial giant, and most people will never be able to comprehend the level of connections this guy has.  Just being in this guy’s presence is an honor”….Ok, what is HIS performance track record?  Numbers please!  About Skip Atwater: “he will be teaching a simple technique he has been using over the years.  The technique takes 1 hour per day, 5 days per week, and it has made this guy millions.”  So this guy is going to teach me how to use psychic abilities to make money in the market?  Show me a trading journal here, show me a trading account statement!  Quantify this guy’s trading system’s expectancy!  Last but not least: “this is Felix writing, and if you know me, you should know by now that I don’t throw empty words into thin air”.  Actually Felix I don’t know you, at all!  Actually it’s only by googling ‘Felix Homogratus’ that I was able to find your real name.  Maybe you’ve made millions but for all I know none of it was made through trading; maybe you have made all this money scamming retail traders.

Ok, I have already wasted enough time analyzing this email.  My only point is that there are plenty of emails like this one finding their way in my inbox every single day, making incredible promises, telling me that there is a system out there that could make me millions by just working one hour a day, and to be honest I not only don’t believe any of them but I have to come to find them insulting.  As individuals who are entering the retail trading world, this is what we are exposed to.  We have to be vigilant, extremely vigilant.


Happy Birthday, Octavia Hill

Today, December 3rd, is the birthday of Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust.


Octavia was born in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire in 1838, the eighth daughter of James Hill, a prosperous corn merchant and former banker. The family experienced financial reverses, and Caroline Hill, Octavia’s mother, brought up her children alone in Finchley, London. Octavia learned her lifelong love of the countryside from these childhood days, “leaping ditches and climbing trees.”

While growing up, Octavia was influenced by her maternal grandfather, Dr. Thomas Southwood Smith, a leading social reformer. Another early influence was prominent art critic John Ruskin, who was disenchanted with the existing social order.


In 1864, Octavia persuaded Ruskin to  purchase three houses in a notorious London slum known as “Little Hell”  for her to manage.  Her aim was to make “lives noble, homes happy, and family life good.”

Octavia’s determination, personality and skill transformed the poverty-stricken houses into tolerably harmonious communities. Communal facilities such as meeting halls, savings clubs and dramatic productions were established, enhancing the lives of tenants. She is viewed as the founder of modern social casework.

Octavia believed in the life-enhancing virtues of “pure earth, clean air and blue sky”.  In 1895, Octavia, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley worked together to raise public awareness of the railway developments threatening the Lake District. This collaboration led to the foundation of The National Trust for the Preservation of Historic Buildings and Natural Beauty, to hold land and buildings in perpetuity “for ever, for everyone”.

In 1995, to mark the centenary of the National Trust, a new variety of rose, “Octavia Hill”, was named in her honor.


Beautiful Things

There are so many beautiful things!  Bees, flowers, food, music, poetry…

Here is another one of my most favorite beautiful things.  Edward Elgar’s Nimrod, from the Enigma Variations.  Enjoy!