Sunday, September 25, 2016

Tell the Bees. Such Sad News

There is a saying in the beekeeping world that when a beekeeper dies you need to tell the bees that he or she has passed away.

We're telling the bees today that a very young man, 17 years of age, Jordan Hiemstra passed away on 23 Sept 2016.

We're all stunned and shocked at this sudden loss.

I met Jordan a couple times while visiting Clovermead Adventure Farm.

Jordan's family run the farm and Jordan started working there at a young age.

He showed me how to do old fashioned hand dipped candles in their set up for people to try.

The next time I met him we were both having bees poured on us to create a bee beard for the Bee Olympics at Clovermead.

It was the first time for both of us to wear a beard and we were nervous.

After the bees were on, we danced down the straw bale runway wearing our beards.  It was good fun.

Jordan won a beautiful bee award that day.

I'm so glad I have this lovely memory of him to share.

Please keep his mom and dad and family in your prayers.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Honey is all off

Ahhhh.  Finally it's that time of year when the almost daily trips to the yard are slowed down.

I finally got the last of the honey off the hives a couple days ago.  Dad (Lorne) does the processing so he'll be busy with that.

[photo before honey was removed]

We learned over the years to take honey off bit by bit all summer and that way we're not trying to process 20 or more supers all at once.  The little bee room couldn't fit all those boxes at once!

Another upside is that by processing all summer you don't have to keep running out and buying supers.  The first few years we didn't take honey off until Aug and I'd have to keep buying supers and stack them up on the hives.  And I'm a shorty so reaching those boxes I needed a step ladder.

All the hives have done well this year.  Not a bumper honey crop but a reasonable one.  I did leave most of the honey last year so I began taking that honey off in spring.  A few hives I left with extra boxes because they didn't have a lot.

[Photo of our bee room]

One have had gone queenless.  I missed that so I'm not impressed that they got to the point of a drone layer and I didn't notice.  There are still a lot of workers though.  So put in a queen in a cage, along with a frame of brood from another hive.  Before doing this I shook out all the bees, mostly to shake out the drones, and took away the empty and near empty boxes.  Because they didn't have much honey - it looked like one box got robbed out, I gave them a super of capped honey.  I reduced their entrances top and bottom.

Glad to see they started guarding within hours and I think that queen pheromone will give them a huge morale boost.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A new kind of mischief: Making Mead

My first year of beekeeping we had a terrible cold summer with rain almost every day.  The bees had a hard time getting their honey to cure.  Some of my honey from my first crop fermented.  But I ate it any way.

In subsequent years I'd have some honey get a slight fermented flavour and so I learned that some seasons the honey hasn't dried enough.  Often at the end of the season we have to remove frames of honey that aren't capped yet and that honey has more moisture in it.

I asked my mentor Henry what I should do with my honey that had too much moisture in it.  He said, "Make mead."  In case you didn't know, mead is wine made with honey = honey wine.

Often when the wetter honey from those uncapped frames is combined with a thicker more cured honey the wetness gets evened out and the honey will end up at or below the recommended 18% moisture level.  And that means it won't ferment.

That's where the importance of a refractometer comes in.  They are expensive and when starting up there are so many costs that it's often not purchased.  Until you get one you can save money and possibly your honey by taking samples of your honey to a beekeeping friend so they can test your honey with their meter.  Or maybe they'll let you borrow theirs.

When you know the moisture content of your honey that will tell you whether you need to get the dehumidifier going in the honey room to dry it up more.... or do what Henry advises and make Mead.

If you're in Ontario then you know we've had some really too hot to work days and then other days with rain.  I'd thought about making mead but I was concerned it would be too complicated.

Surprisingly, it's not.  I mean, if a Viking can do it without special equipment, so can I, right?  I did discover on two occasions I actually made mead but was unaware of it.  One occasion was when a couple inches of honey was left in a pail.  It had the lid on but it wasn't an airtight seal.  When I took the lid off months later there was about 2" of a thick white foam on top of the hoey and a soft pop sound when the lid came off.  The liquid was incredibly sweet, and alcoholic.  Viola!  I had inadvertently made mead.

[Pictures are of Peach mead]

Another occasion I accidentally made mead, I had some honey in a small jar and it must have had too much liquid in it because it totally turned into mead.  I can see why so many believe that honey was the first alcoholic drink man discovered.  Honey with a little water in it just seems to like to ferment and create mead out of itself without your help.  The combination of honey + water + a good airbourne yeast and it's off to the races.

The basics of making mead is putting several pounds of honey in a container, adding water, adding packaged yeast and then what's called an airlock - this could be a balloon with a pin hole i it (if you ever watched the TV show MASH then you would have seen Hawkeye's booze set up with the surgical glove as an airlock).  There are plastic airlocks that are most commonly used.  The way they work is they prevent oxygen getting in, but they allow the carbon dioxide to escape by bubbling out through water in the airlock.  The water is the barrier to stop the air getting in.

Adding fruit to mead is very popular and there are many examples and how to's on U-Tube and books.

The outlay of expenses to start up is very reasonable and many people make one gallon quantities first just to see if they like it.  Many of the references will mention the importance of "sanitization".  Just to clarify, that doesn't mean scrubbing everything with scalding hot water.  What it means is that your utensils and equipment are properly and normally washed and then are given a dip or quick soak in a safe chemical solution that is designed to kill all yeasts.  This way the only yeast introduced into your batch is the one that you pour in from your package.

What's really hilarious is that I'm not much of a drinker but I got really addicted to making the mead.  I have 11 gallons bubbling at the moment.  Most meads are "racked" which means the liquid is syphoned out into an empty jug leaving the old fruit or dead yeast behind (which gets thrown into the compost).  The clearer syphoned mead is again topped with an airlock for a about a month long sit until it's done fermenting.

Usually racking is done twice to make the liquid less cloudy and then you bottle it.  Most mead can be drunk after about three or four months.  Or like cheese, you leave it to age and the flavour just improves over time.

What I found surprising is that you can actually taste your mead at any point in the process to see how it's coming along and then make adjustments to improve the flavour.

Making mead is easy but patience for it to be ready to drink might be the hardest part.

One last thing, if you find a recipe off the internet or Pinterest, be sure to run it through the Mead Online Calculator because it'll be able to tell you how much honey and if you're using fruit it'll let you know how much is required.

Here are some links if you want to learn more, and a couple books to consider:
Book: Complete Mead Maker (
Book - How to Make Mead Like a Viking (
Online Forum: Home Brew Talk
Supplier: Danny's Wine & Beer London ON
U-Tube VIdeos: The Joy of Mead
Facebook: Wine & Mead Enthusiasts

Saturday, August 27, 2016

You might have noticed I haven't been blogging much the last few years.  Well, I kind of got sick, got busier, had trouble keeping up, got a lay off notice (they sent my job to Toronto), found another job, then spent a year and a half in training for the new job and then we were so busy they wouldn't let me take my holiday time off so I could work the bees.... swarms sat in trees and flew away while I sat behind a desk ... It was a frustrating time.  Yada yada yada.

So.  I'm back. And I hope to post more regularly.  Got the job all sorted out and things are so much easier now.  And I'm feeling much better too.

To catch up briefly, two winters ago I had 20 hives and in the spring I'd lost half.  What a mess to clean up dead hives.  Such an incredibly depressing job.  If you're a beekeeper you have either already experienced it or might in future--I certainly hope you never do.

I had not lost a single hive for 5 years and then I lost half just after corn was planted all around my yard.

Last year I lost one hive.  But it wasn't a good year.  The bees were requeening all summer and their numbers were low.  Most hives didn't make enough honey that I could take any.  I left extra boxes on and removed them this spring once the bees were going well.

This year I didn't lose any.  One hive was very weak but they've built themselves up beautifully.

It's been a very good season so far this summer.  Drought conditions and the hottest summer in Ontario in 135 years.  So record breaking.  Now we're getting the rains and I've had a few days at home (beekeeper's day off) and boy oh boy, have I ever gotten into mischief.  But more on that very soon.

Stay tuned!!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Zombees do exist and found in Canada

Read about the phorid fly which has been found attacking a hive of bees in Vancouver BC.  It's reportedly the first time it's been spotted in Canada.

CBC report on Zombees

Friday, September 11, 2015

How bees are saving elephants in Africa and India

Imagine how a little bit of knowledge can grow into an idea.  Then the idea grows into an incredible ingenious project.
It's called the Elephants and Bees Project.
(http:// and are the web sites).

It's the creation of Dr Lucy King.

She collaborated with Oxford University, Disney's Animal Kingdom and the farmers in Africa and India to help save the elephants.
But we have bees to thank for saving them.
Elephants are naturally afraid of bees.  With this little bit of knowledge the idea was born of creating "bee fences" around crops.  It keeps the elephants out of the crops.

Farmers don't loose their crops and so the conflict between farmers and elephants is removed.

Elephants aren't killed by angry farmers.  And it's all thanks to the little honey bee.
The farmers harvest the honey and have an increase in family income because of the honey they have for sale.

The project has also been used to put hives around trees to protect them from foraging elephants.
They accept donations to help with their funding.  What a worthy project!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Does your bee yard Stink? If so, that's a good sign

Relax.  It's okay.

It's not AFB that you're smelling in your yard.  My first year of beekeeping I got so worried when I smelled my hives.

If you've opened your hives at this time of year then the smell will be even stronger.

What is it?  It's the smell you'll have in your yard every fall - it's Goldenrod nectar being processed.

What does it smell like?  Stinky socks or stinky feet is the best description.

The cured honey doesn't smell.  It's only while the bees are processing it.

So inhale.  Relax.

And think about that amazing flavour of goldenrod honey - my favourite honey flavour.