Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Beekeeper's Day Off: Road Trip to Alvinston, Ontario

Yes, a beekeeper's day off!

It was time for a road trip.  Now this trip just so happened to head south down to Alvinston.  Our bee club was booked to have a tour of a large beekeeping plant at Munro Honey, a family based business.

Here's photos and descriptions from our tour.  If you're a small time beekeeper this can certainly get your saliva running.  Just think of it as something to aspire to :)

Let's start with the Mead, honey wine.  Munro honey makes award winning wines that they ship all over the world.  They said they can't ship to the USA but they can ship overseas.

They make flavoured honeys and I couldn't resist a jar of Raspberry and Jalapeno pepper honey.  It was an amazing taste experience.

Of course we did wine sampling and I bought my favourites (I prefer sweet wines to dry) Blackcurrant, Sweet Wine, Raspberry Melomel and an incredible Aged Mead that tastes like a liquor.  Amazing.

What is not pictured is the loading dock where the trucks can back right in, nor the large hot room where the deeps are put prior to extraction.  The hot room warms the honey up so it flows out of the combs better.

This is the stainless steel custom built uncapper and extractor.

The deep is first set on the flat bit of metal.  Then a foot operated hydraulic lift raises the deep up and lifts the frames so that they're hooked on a carrier.  (You should have heard the groans of envy when he demonstrated the lift).

There's knives that cut the caps off the frames and then they travel to the extractor.

This giant extractor, with the curved lid up while it's open, can hold 120 frames of honey.  It spins the honey at 200 revolutions per minute--that's fast.

They run it for twenty minutes.

They only use frames with plastic foundation.  If the frames were wax foundation they'd fall apart in the spinning process.

Here's a another photo of the equipment at the starting point but taken from the other side.

They said they take the equipment apart in winter and put it all back together.  They clean it and replace worn parts.  They can't afford any down time in the honey season due to broken equipment.

The upright rectangular box attached to the left holds hot water where the knives are stored.
This is the cold room.  It's a giant refrigerator.

As you can see it's stacked from top to bottom with silver painted honey supers.

The cold temperature halts the spread of wax moths and keeps them from being a problem.

The room can't be set to freeze though which is what the owners wish they had now.

With small hive beetles on Canada's doorstep, a huge frozen room would be perfect to store frames and to kill beetles.
This is a honey meter which weighs the honey as it's poured into a jar.

This way each jar is filled identically.

It was interesting to note that with a plant this large they still fill their jars one at a time.  But one does have to have something left for the Christmas wish list :)

Munro Honey runs about 3,000 hives.  In addition to honey they sell comb honey, wax, mite resistant Buckfast queens and nucs as well as beekeeping supplies.

This guy, Dad, is our Marketing Manager, but in this photo he's shopping in Munro Honey's gift store.

He couldn't resist a jar of cinnamon and butter honey.

I couldn't resist a painted wall hanging that said:

"Buzzed on Local Honey"

Their gift shop is well stocked with tasteful items, most of them bee related.

These are large vats that hold the honey wine, called Mead.

Now for a short history, mead is considered to be the oldest alcoholic beverage.

To quote Wikepedia:  "Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, although archaeological evidence of it is ambiguous  Its origins are lost in prehistory. "It can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks," Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat has observed, "antedating the cultivation of the soil."

This is a super large melting tank.

The wax is poured out into the plastic bucket which makes nice large bricks.

The bricks can then be nicely stacked on a flat.

Or used as a table to set your lunch on.

See more below...

This equipment is used when making special honeys such as the flavoured honeys I mentioned previously.

When the honey is extracted it's piped across the ceiling and run through this machine.

The honey and any bits of wax are spun at a high speed.

The honey is heavier than the wax and floats to the outside.

The wax stays in the center and knives inside the machine cut it to keep the wax at the same size.

The cuttings of wax fall down to the floor where they are collected.

Then the clean honey is piped to the next room.

This is a large heated tank where the honey is stored. 

The honey can sit to bubble out for a few days.

Then it goes into this large heated tank and from there it can be piped to any number of machines or bottlers by turning a valve.


Next we looked at a heated tank that holds a few gallons of honey ...

well maybe more than a few gallons.

This is a micron filter.

Our tour guide told us that it filters out any debris but it doesn't remove pollen.

Which is great because you don't want pollen removed from honey.
This is a label machine.

We didn't see it in action but I can guess it does a pretty nice job.

The day would not be complete without seeing the huge refrigerated tank used to make creamed honey.

I must say their creamed honey was very smooth.

Thanks to Munro Honey, run by the Bryans family for taking time out to give us a tour.  They're great to deal with over the phone and even nicer in person.

So, are you surprised I spent my day off at a honey plant?

Honestly, it really was a beekeeper's day off.

I didn't see a single bee the whole day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Black Wraps are Warm

It feels weird thinking that the bee season is done.  After being so incredibly busy balancing job and house (I don't think I did any housework all summer) and our growing hives now I'll have time to do something other than bees.

Well, you know me, whatever I do it'll have something to do with bees!

A few days ago I fitted the hives with entrance reducers (once the Formic Acid treatments were done).  Yesterday and today I put wraps on the hives and removed my hive top feeders.

Our temperatures are dropping at night to -2 degrees so it's certainly time to do it.

For the first time I found bees were landing on me--seeking heat.  I'd not experienced that before.  As always I warmed cold bees up with my hands until they could fly again.

One hive feeder was full of bees.  It was really late afternoon and it was cold.  I shook the bees out of the feeder and all they did was land on the porch in a stupor.  It would be dark soon and I knew they'd die.

So I took them home.  I put them in a pail with a lid.  I gave them some honey and left the pail on the kitchen counter.  It wasn't long until I could hear them moving around--the warmth of the house brought them back to life.

In the morning they were all clustered on the paper towel in the bottom of the pail.  I returned them to the yard.

[Photo - warming up some cold bees]

It was funny watching them go in their hive.  Bees came outside to see them and it was like they had a big party.  I'm sure those returned bees had a story to tell about their big adventure.

The sun came out today and it was warmer which helped as I finished wrapping.  I noticed how much heat those black plastic wraps can generate for a hive.

The plastic gets really warm and it's pleasant to touch on a cold day.  I'm sure the bees are feeling much warmer now.  Like bugs snug in a rug.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Little Snack

A calmer moment.  Actually it was a beekeeper's day off.  I spent the day at a friend's alpaca farm in Thorndale, Ontario.

After my visit I planned to head to the bee yard.

When I went to my truck I saw that some honey bees found my sugar water jugs.  I've been using orange juice jugs lately.

My friend said a neighbour down the road has kept bees for years and years.

I noticed his bees were pretty friendly and I fed a couple with sugar water droplets.  [Photo - see the tongue at full extension while she slurps up a sugar droplet].

I enjoy these quiet moments, the beekeeper and the bee.  I hope you do too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In the Zone

My big dream is to educate people, especially children.

So when I get any chance to talk to families about honey bees I pretty much feel like I'm in the zone.  That's when at the end of the day I may be physically tired but mentally I feel energized.

Fall of the Farm at Pioneer Village over the long weekend was just that kind of an opportunity.

Every time I see a child less afraid of bees or parents with a deeper understanding of them I feel I've done my job.

Then there's the Marketing Manager (Dad).

He had another occupation which he retired from years ago as a teacher/principal but what I've always known is that he has the heart of a salesman--and the gift of gab.  That's why he loves being in charge of our honey sales.  He can network and chat with lots of people.

So all weekend he was in his niche telling people about bees and doing the honey talk.  He proudly told people how he does the extraction and bottling of the honey.

Here he is so busy tabulating his sales that he didn't realize I'd been talking to him.  He didn't know I took this picture either.
The weather was phenomenal.  We had 3 days of 25 degree Celsius weather.  Blue cloudless skies greeted us each day.

The leaves on our trees are turning into reds, oranges and yellows and are breathtaking.  This photo is Fanshawe Lake.

As the season of beekeeping winds down I look forward to some down time.  But I know I'll miss seeing the bees so much, especially when the snow comes.

I do have a list of winter projects though.  I'll tell you about those another time.

Oh and our honey sales?  They were great.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Celebrate Fall on the Farm

The weather is much too perfect this weekend to stay indoors.

If you're in or around London, Ontario this (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend, 8 to 10 Oct, why not come out to Pioneer Village.

They're holding a Fall on the Farm weekend with hay rides and pioneering demonstrations such as weaving, ploughing and of course Beekeeping!

The Marketing Manager (Dad) was at full throttle today with 'his' display of honey.

He did let me have a couple tables for showing off bee equipment.

Of course I love talking to people about bees and answering questions.  We even brought bee gear for the kids to dress up in.

I don't have an observation hive this time out but I did photograph my bees, print it in colour and taped it into a super frame.

When held up for photographs it looks like a frame of real bees.  This is popular with moms and dads who usually have a camera with them.

And of course we're selling our honey.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What is that Smell???

I am guilty of wearing my footwear without socks.  It makes my shoes and my feet smell.  I'm also guilty of grabbing the first pair of socks I can find and often they're on the floor--yesterday's socks.

So wearing the same socks on day two I guess you can imagine how embarrassed I was when I went to a meeting at a friend's house where we were expected to remove our shoes.  Yikes!  I do have painful feet and don't go without footwear so I convinced her to let me keep them on.  It wouldn't be good to have people passing out all over the place.

By now you're wondering what my stinky feet have to do with bees.  Well, a lot actually.  Let me explain.

This summer was quite hot with many very humid days (London, Ontario is in the Great Lakes area which bring moist air).  Many days were 40 degrees Celcius and our city even set up cooling shelters for citizens.

The bees of course were busy ventilating and keeping cool.  As mid August came I noticed a smell in the bee yard.  As the month progressed and the warm weather continued the smell grew stronger and stronger.

And it smelled just like my feet after wearing socks for two days.

I was removing honey supers and I remember thinking, these hives need to have their lids removed to air them out, just like my feet.

Yes I did wonder what the smell was.  I knew it was a bacteria smell.  Was it because the hives needed airing?  My hives have keyhole entrances at the top and the bottom entrances were fully open.  Was it something really bad like a disease?  Was this AFB (American Foulbrood)?  I had read that it had a bad smell too.

I realized I needed to ask an experienced beekeeper what AFB smelled like.

Recently while meeting with some fellow beekeepers I was busy talking but two words got my attention and my ears perked right up:  Stinky Socks.

Uh oh.  Could he smell my feet?  I asked him to repeat what he'd said.  "The bee yard smells like stinky socks this time of year," he said.  "It's the Goldenrod."

I had the AHA moment then and my mind flashed back to the Introductory Beekeepers' Course.  I had heard this before but had forgotten.  The instructors mentioned how the fall goldenrod honey tasted fabulous but you had to suffer the smell of it.

I was relieved.  I don't know what made me more happy, knowing they weren't commenting on my feet or that my yard didn't have AFB.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Carlo the Beekeeper

I met Carlo De Marco two years ago when he began attending our local bee club meetings. He had an uncle in Italy that was a beekeeper. He was feeling a strong pull that many do when they reach their middle age--an urge to connect with their roots and their heritage.

My beekeeper friend Janice and I did a road trip With Carlo earlier this summer to our favourite beekeeping supply store. We helped him load up with all the first time beekeeping equipment. Hive parts, bottom boards, veils, helmets, etc. He bought one hive to start and planned to put it on his property.

John, the owner at Oxford Honey & Supply was there to answer a gazillion questions (he does it so patiently). Then we were invited to go outside and watch while he worked on checking his nuc boxes. There were about 30 small boxes lined up outside. John pulled frames and we observed queens and looked over brood.

The next thing I new I got stung right on my upper arm. I complained about how I got stung when all I did was stand there innocently. Then Carlo commented that he'd been stung too, right between the eyes.
I was shocked. I asked him if he was okay and he said he was. He sure looked fine - no swelling and no redness at all. Now if there's any sign that you're suited to being a beekeeper I'd say that was it. Even later when I talked to him he said he never got swelling at all.  Janice and I were jealous. We'd been getting stung and swelling up with itchy red patches.

On the drive home we talked about bees. We also chatted about our interest in the skills and trades of bygone days such as cheese making, sausage making, etc. Carlo told us about his family and relatives in Italy and the uncle that kept bees.

It was his uncle's influence that had captured Carlo's imagination and put him on the path to becoming a beekeeper.

And now sadly I must report that on 21 August 2011, Carlo, at age 51, died suddenly from a heart attack. I send my dearest condolences to his family. He will be greatly missed.  Carlo was close with his family and spoke of them with love and admiration.

I am glad I had an opportunity to meet him. There are few people willing to talk about bees for hours but Carlo well understood how beekeepers become obsessed about bees.

Carlo's back yard will hear the buzz of bees. His oldest son has decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a beekeeper. It would appear the apple does not fall too far from the tree. And we all know who pollinates those blossoms.

Carlo would like that.