Is Spring Around the Corner? A recap of fall and winter 2011.

It has been six months since we have posted anything on here – I suppose we could blame it on the weather!  Seriously, last summer was brutal.  The intense and long lasting heat wave literally tried to suck the life out of everything, including the farmers.  By the time it was over, everyone and everything was just so beat up from the heat, it has taken a while to get back to normal – or as normal as we can get.  Fall came – still no tomatoes.  The garden, in general, made a crop, but not near as much as it would have with average weather.  Our okra, which is a hot weather crop, made, but not like it usually would.  We had 2 80-foot double rows and we would get a five-gallon bucket – maybe- each time we picked – nothing like we got the year before.  The peppers – which tolerate hot weather well – didn’t make like normal.  I would guess more than half of our pepper crop succumbed to heat blister – I’ve never tossed so many vegetables before that were damaged from sun scald.  Thank goodness for the plasticulture – our plants had plenty of water, but could not beat the heat – otherwise we would have not had any crops at all after mid-July.  The scorching sun played havoc on the tomatoes early – we had tomatoes that set fruit in June and early July only.  But it was getting hot then and the fruit that grew were sometimes deformed and most definitely sun scalded.  One example is of this deformity was our “ducky” tomato tion=”\”Ducky\” tomato”][/caption]

Thank goodness sweet corn is an early crop – so the heat did not affect it and we made lots of really good sweet corn.  As a matter of fact, we had several stalks that had 4 ears of corn and one stalk grew five ears – 3 of which were edible on each stalk.

Our bee hives made it through the summer but we were feeding them constantly because – again due to the heat wave – there just wasn’t many plant blooms for them to obtain pollen and nectar from.  But we kept them going with plenty of sugar water and they did well.  We now have five standard bee hives as well as a “tree hive”.  In late August we harvested honey from the five hives.  Off the top of my head, our harvest made well over 55 pounds of honey, which equates into over 5 gallons of honey.  Not bad for a harvest after a summer like we had.  The whole family was involved in the harvest with Forrest doing a big share of the extracting with borrowed equipment (Thanks, Mary!).  It was a pleasant learning experience and the honey was delicious.  We even cut some comb to pack in several jars. Greg and Forrest selected the hive frames for the honey harvest.  This is a carefully thought out process because you need to leave plenty of honey for the bees to feed on during the winter and the next spring.  With the hive open, you also have the chance to inspect brood production.  Here’s a frame filled with brood cells.  Back it goes into the hive – the bees will need all the help they can to make and store more honey after the harvest. In this hive frame, the bees are storing honey; however, it is only partially filled/capped so back into the hive it goes.  The bees will finish filling the comb cells and cap them off for winter food. Here’s another frame full of honey and selected for harvest. As each frame is selected for harvest, the bees are “carefully” brushed from the frame and the frame is inserted into an extra hive body for transporting to the extraction site. This being our first harvest, we had a learning curve to accomplish.  Greg used the heated cap-cutting knife initially.  It seemed to work pretty well, but we found that we lost more honey with the caps this way.  Then we switched to the little de-capping “forks” – this a small hand tool that has several metal prongs that you just slip under the caps and lift the cappings off.  Somewhat slower, but you end up with less honey in the cappings.  That became my job, which I rather enjoyed. These are the comb cappings after being removed from the honey comb.  They are collected in a special box that contains drain holes for the honey to drain from the cappings – as much as is possible.  The honey is so thick that it is near impossible to retrieve it all.  After we allowed it to drain for some time, we took the remaining cappings back to the hive area and let the bees clean up the remaining honey. Forrest operated the manual honey extractor.  Inside the extractor is a stainless steel cage that hold the hive frames.  Once the extractor is loaded, the crank is turned and the honey is extracted via centrifugal force.  After the initial extraction is completed, you turn the frames over to get the rest of the honey located on the outer edges.  It is a fairly quick process but must be repeated numerous times as the extractor only holds a few frames at a time.  The extracted frames are again placed outside near the hives allowing the bees to clean up.  Nothing is wasted. When the extractor is full, the drain gate is opened and the honey flows into a honey bucket fitted with a fine-meshed strainer which captures the bits of bees wax and bee “parts”.  It’s inevitable that a few bees are going to find their way into the extraction building and, of course, they are going to get into the hive frames as well as the cappings. We take the honey bucket and strain it one more time and allow the honey to “rest” for a while afterwards.  There will be some tiny air bubbles after all the commotion it has gone through and this resting period allows for the air bubble to rise to the top and escape.  After that, we open the gate on the honey bucket once more and fill each jar with fresh, pure, raw honey.  It’s somewhat of a slow process as honey is thick and we do not use any heat to warm and thin the honey to make it flow faster.  The end product yields totally unadulterated honey – so each spoonful from the jar is exactly the same as it was when it was in the honey comb cells.

In preparation of winter, we made “bee candy” so the bees would have a balanced food source during the winter and early spring.  We formulated our own recipe, pulling from a variety of recipes we found in our bee literature.  Using organic soy beans which we ground fresh in our grist mill, we added bee pollen, antioxidants and vitamins along with selected other ingredients which were blended thoroughly with double sugar water that was brought to the “soft candy” stage.  This mixture was then poured into special frames and left to set up and one frame was then placed inside each hive.  During the warmer days of this winter we still supplemented the bees with sugar water, especially the tree hive.  So far it seems the bees have tolerated the winter well.  We haven’t had many days below 20 degrees – yet, it’s only the end of January and we still have February to get through.  A few days ago, Greg took at peak at a couple of the hives and reported that the bees are indeed eating their bee candy and doing well.

I will stop this blog post for now, but there’s more to come. . . we are having a lot of fun with the chickens and they are rewarding us with lots of nice eggs.


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