Wednesday, July 1, 2015

About the Honey

So, about the honey.
I can't get over it.
Put bees and frames in a box, wait a few months and you are rewarded with liquid gold.
I didn't expect to be selling honey, but here I am. I'm gonna give you a little run-down on honeycomb in case you aren't familiar with it. I explained it a lot yesterday with honey pick-ups and private messages, so I thought a once and for all might be easier. 
These bad boys sold out in one day. I can't believe it.
 Below is what a full frame of honey looks like. Well, one side of it at least. With any beekeepers' luck, the back side looks exactly like this too. Don't worry, the frames with baby bees inside look completely different and a beekeeper can make no mistake about it. There are a lot of different types of frames that a beekeeper can choose to use in their set up. We are lucky enough to have a natural beekeeping mentor and he said if he was starting from scratch he would buy the small cell frames, and the smaller boxes, so that's what we did.

 The frames come with a beeswax sheet in the center of them. The cells are already "drawn" in wax to be a smaller size. This guides the bees on the size of the cells. The link above explains it more in-depth, but here is  a crash course. Small cell frames are getting bees back to the size that they were in nature, before beeekeepers decided that bigger bees would be better as far as production. Spoiler alert, they aren't. Read that article if you are really interested in why this matters. The bottom line is, bees are more productive and less prone to disease if they are smaller. Bees are constantly, constantly, reproducing. The average life span is 6 weeks for a worker bee, so they must constantly have brood to rear or the hive will not survive long. The bees will grow to be the size of the cell that their egg is laid into. If they need to make a new queen? They first build a queen cell that is extra, extra large, and then feed her extra food while in development. When she is full grown, she emerges from her cell. News flash, if there are any other "insurance" queens still in development when the first queen emerges, she will stab into those cells and kill developing queens so that her throne can't be overturned. Wild, right?

The reasoning behind shorter boxes, as opposed to the deep ones you are used to seeing is simple. With ten frames of loaded honey in one box, the shorter one is a LOT easier to carry than the one almost twice as deep. The short ones are almost too heavy for me to lift when they are full of honey and bees, I can't imagine lifting the deeper ones!
This is the most exciting thing for a beekeeper to find upon hive inspection, fully capped honey.
Once the bees have evaporated (by fanning their wings!!) the perfect amount of water from the honey, they will cap it with wax. This is a signal that the honey is done. 

The bees even signaled to us that their hive was full of honey by something called bearding. That looks exactly like it sounds, like the outside of the hive has a beard of bees. That told us it was time to check the hive and see if they have enough room to continue making honey. Thankfully it was time to harvest some, and add another box so that they can continue production. Lucky me. Lucky you.

We have not yet invested in a honey extractor, but we will be shortly, as it's becoming a necessity. Since we don't have an extractor and I needed to remove some extra honey, I had to remove the honeycomb off of the frame. This is a special treat. Most people I've talked to have never eaten honeycomb before. When they do, their minds are blown. Wait, what? Honey tastes like this?? That's right. 
Not honey from a store shelf that was bottled from a 50 gallon drum of mass produced honey from bees that were likely fed sugar water and had their hives treated with chemicals. Yes, those things are the norm in large-scale honey production. When you look at your bottle of honey and it says "made from pollen and nectar gathered in the northern United States", let me translate that for you. "We let them gather some pollen and nectar in addition to sugar water that we artificially fed them, and the honey is all blended together from our contracted beekeepers that are scattered all over the northern U.S., so we can't exactly pinpoint their location."

For real.
And that's if you're not unknowingly eating honey that has been shipped in from China and cut with high fructose corn syrup. 

If you're wondering why fresh, local honey is a big deal, you've probably never tasted it like this. I hadn't either until last year. Then, I was hooked. 

 Now to the easy part- the eating. Everyone asks me how to eat honeycomb. The wax is new for most people and it freaks them out. I grab a spoon, scoop out a piece of comb, chew it until all of the honey disappears, then spit out the ball of wax. As you chew it, it forms into a ball similar to gum. Some people just eat the wax too, but I don't. If I'm eating honeycomb on warm brie cheese, I'll go ahead and just eat small bits of wax because you can't taste it or tell that it's there when there is other food in the same bite. It is a delicacy of epic proportions. One of the reasons it's so special is because the bees then have to start over on that frame. They have to rebuild the comb, then remake the honey. With an extractor, the comb is left in tact because after uncapping the honey with a hot knife, it spins the frames and throws the honey out into the bucket. Then we will just be able to slide the frames back in the hive and they won't have to rebuild wax cells. I think that I will always harvest at least some honeycomb though. It's just too delicious. 

As I've said before, we aren't "in it" for the honey production. I had no idea that they would produce enough honey for us to sell. We are in it for the sake of contributing to pollination, and for the building of the bee population. What can a few backyard hives do in the grand scheme of the plight of the honeybee? Well, more than if we did nothing at all.


Monday, June 29, 2015

On Discovery...

So many adults rely only on what they learned in school. Diploma or degree in hand, we checked out. 
Done learning.
Learning something new? Nope.
Speaking a language that I don't already speak? Nope.
Have something fascinate me to my core? It's been awhile.
When did we become okay with that?

Now, those answers above are not mine. They are a "in general" response that I think most adults would give. Thankfully, not all. Not all of us are okay with existing in the only environment we've ever known. This is something that has changed in me from my five years of homeschooling my children. I get the opportunity to relearn everything. Question everything afresh. 

Last year, one of our subjects was French. I was excited to dust off my four years of high school French and teach them the correct pronunciation of crepe. Hearing most Americans order crepe at a restaurant, I cringe. This past week I spent my days bidding on textbooks for the upcoming year. This year I've decided we will do Latin. Now, mind you I have never taken a Latin class a day in my life. 

This is what excites me. 
The spark of interest.
Adding file folders of information to my brain. 
I'm not talking date memorization of historical facts, and the thought of impending algebra in the coming years makes me cringe.
I am talking about things that add culture, passion, happiness, talent, diversity, and understanding.

A great example is Operation Pollination. If you don't know what that is, it is the name we have affectionately given our bee hives. Last school year I added enrichment trips that I thought would be interesting and fun. We drove to LA and saw a special Van Gogh exhibit at LACMA after studying his work. 
We toured the La Brea Tar Pits, and walked through the neighboring park spotting new tar bubbles.
We toured local farms, and learned about biodiversity and organic growing methods.
Then we got a local organic beekeeper to give us a tour of his hives, and it all changed.

We were stung with fascination. 

Bees blew our minds. We found our jaws on the floor every few minutes when he would tell us another mind-blowing fact about bees. Believe me, they are fascinating. More than you can imagine. 
Now we find ourselves, as backyard beekeepers. Doing our little part for this tiny, wonderful pollinator.
Inspecting a frame from one of our hives.
Let's collectively agree to stop accepting only what you know thus far.
Say 'no' to being okay with just being a cab driver to your kids.
Sure, you have stuff to do.
Don't let that stuff be what feeds you.
You have so many more files to fill.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Savor

I've been thinking a lot lately about my dreams. Surely we all have them. I don't know why I haven't made it happen yet. Mostly because it requires thousands of dollars and a ridiculously long ride in a heavy object that in my opinion doesn't logically belong in the sky. Then there's the looking out the window and seeing nothing but ocean part. Yeah, that. 

Regardless of all of these things, I should be there. I should have been there already. 

I want to wake up and walk to the corner and order the most flaky pain au chocolat ever. 
I want to sit by the Mediterranean with a cold, fruity drink in my hand.
I want to have a picnic on the grass in Paris.
I want to eat pizza in Italy.
I want to use my four years of French class, five if you include the year I spent teaching my kids.

It hasn't happened yet, but it will. I don't know when or how, but it will.

Until then, I'll keep doing what I can to bring these moments to life right where I am. 
I will savor flavors. 
Linger a little longer.
Notice beauty all around me. 
Create an atmosphere of relaxation in my home that can almost mimic the feeling of being on vacation.
A place where the world can't reach you.
Moments where the world only exists in that one bite.
From the Farmers' Market this morning. Worth being savored.
 On a side note, we added three chickens to our flock this week. They are Easter Eggers and will lay colored eggs. They haven't laid any for me yet, still getting accustomed to their surroundings. You know that saying, "A watched pot never boils"? Yeah, well a watched hen never lays apparently. Anxiously awaiting the day when I open the coop door and find colored eggs mixed with our brown and cream ones.
Welcome, Gladys, Dorothy, and Margaret.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Return to Writing

I'll be honest. I don't really know what my return to blogging looks like. I don't know who will read it. I don't know who will care. I'm going to treat it as a journal instead of a how-to. Let's be real, there are enough people writing how-to's. Nothing wrong with that. I love them and they keep us inspired. I've just felt a pull in my heart moving away from that for myself. That explains why my blog posts are few and far between.
Lately, for some reason, writing or blogging keeps coming up. Appearing and reappearing. The stringing together of words on a page is so appealing. For now, I'm going to dip my toes back in the water gently. Test the waters and find my stride.

Currently, we are on our summer break. I plan on starting school mid-July. When your husband has no days off in the summer because his business is air conditioning (on the sun...we live on the sun, we just call it central California), you may as well get a jump start on school. You're not going anywhere. 

The most exciting news of all is that after 15 years of living in California and my entire family living in Ohio, my mama is moving here in the end of July! Her house is in escrow! I just can't wrap my mind around the fact that I'll be able to call her and see her in the same day! 

Wanna come over? Yes. 
Meet for lunch? Yes.
Come for family dinner? Yes.
Birthday parties? Yes.
Come help in my garden? Yes.
Teach my kids how to sew? Yes.
Need help in your garden? Yes.
Family vacations? Yes.
Babysitter? Yes.
Weekend at grandma's? YES.

You get it. I'm excited! Here's what you need to know about the new house...
 A LARGE workshop that matches the house, and is (hello!!) turquoise! Yes, you don't have to wonder, I'm jealous.
It also already has a garden. You can't tell in this photo, but you walk through an adorable white arch and gate to get to the garden, and there is a fountain directly to the left of this picture (out of view).

Here she is fishing on Memorial Day. She was out here to buy her house. My dad has been gone four years. I'm looking forward to adding some richness to her day to day life. Also, on her last trip, she taught me the proper way to prune rose bushes, and now mine look AMAZING! So much new growth! See? You need your mama in the same town to teach you things!

Here's a quick run-down of what else has been keeping me busy lately. The garden is calling my name before it gets hot.
 We harvested our first ever frame of honey from our Operation Pollination hives.One hive in particular is THRIVING.
 Our very own allergy buster, from our very own pollen. Also, delicious!
 We check on the bees about once a month, sometimes more if we think we have an issue.
I've started a private Facebook group for giving away my extra organic eggs and garden surplus. When your little farm produces more than you can eat while it's still fresh, but not enough to sell, it just makes sense to hand it off to someone else. I have them save their cartons and return them (because, hello cute labels!) and then I refill them and hand them off again. Be a good neighbor when you can, the world will suck less.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Boho Baby Shower

Over the weekend we got to celebrate my niece and a new baby girl that's about to be born into our family. The last baby born into our immediate family was my youngest daughter, almost 10 years ago. That's a long time to be without baby snuggles. 
 Her grandma has a huge stash of beautiful vintage doilies and we were happy to put them to use in our simple bohemian theme. All you need are some embroidery hoops and yarn to hang them with. There was already an outdoor curtain so we just closed the curtain and pinned the panels together with clothespins so that it didn't blow in the wind.
 We pulled two old dressers out from the house to use as serving tables. They worked perfectly and added charm that regular tables would have lost. It was a brunch so we served quiche, banana bread, fruit skewers, donuts, and had a greek yogurt bar with berries, honey, and homemade granola.


 We ordered brown butter cookies from my friend who bakes (the BEST treats ever) and packaged them up with a cute little paper flower from Michaels. They were adorable in an old drawer that I made-over from ReStore.

 We also made hoops out of fabric and lace strips. This is such an easy, but beautiful decoration, and can be changed to fit any color scheme. It's hard to see in the photo, but there is a dowel rod draped with baby's breath hanging over the couch.
 We layered the tables with various neutral, non-matching tablecloths, then topped with vintage lace tablecloths..
 The little animals we found at Michaels and then painted them gold.
 The vases were collected from thrift stores, and we taped them off with painter's tape and sponged them gold. It's hard to tell in the photo, but the boards have a gold edge, and a clear coat on top to make them shine.
We had a beautiful day showering my niece and welcoming baby Penelope! We can't wait to meet her!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Bee Beginnings

"The privilege of being a beekeeper is not to generate as much honey as possible. We keep bees so we can contribute to pollination. And actually the future of beekeeping is not in one beekeeper with 60,000 hives, rather it's 60,000 people with one hive, all of them approaching the art and the craft of being a keeper of bees as a holistic practice." - Simon Buxton, Vanishing of the Bees

I thought it might be wise, or at the very least, fun, to document our beekeeping beginnings. Maybe when we're old and gray (which would actually be now if I stopped dying my hair) it will be fun to see where we began in this journey. The statement above is what really did it for us, me in particular. Vanishing of the Bees is a great documentary, and after visiting a bee yard, it really raised an interest for us in keeping bees.

 It's tempting to say "our bees", but that just doesn't feel like an accurate description. They're wild creatures, and they happen to have a welcome home in our backyard. We want to care for them, learn from them, and are more than happy to gather a honey surplus in the summer, but I'm not sure that makes them "ours".

They are still wild, and believe me, they know what's up. They operate on their own, and at any time a hive can decide to swarm and abandon ship. Being a beekeeper is not like owning a pet. A pet is yours, it depends on you. Bees depend on each other. They literally blow my mind with how they operate.
 See those white areas of fresh wax comb? Those weren't there five days ago. There is HONEY in some of the comb after five days! Now, of course it's not capped honey (they cap the comb with wax after they evaporate the precise percentage of water from the honey by fanning their wings), but it is HONEY.

Our hive has been very calm with us so far. We have only opened it this one time, to check to see if we caught the queen when we caught the swarm, and see if she's laying eggs. 
 Can you spot the queen in the photo below? She is partially covered, but her body is darker than the worker bees.
It all began with a field trip to visit a beekeeper and learn about bees. The local newspaper recently did a story on him and the fact that he's teaching his children beekeeping. We are lucky to be able to learn from him. I hope that we can educate people on the vital role that bees have on the planet, and all of the fascinating things that bees do. I think it's cool that my kids will grow up telling people about bees. I want to contribute to the planet, instead of spending my life consuming it. One little hive at a time.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Upcycled Greenhouse From Old Windows and Doors.

I don't even know where to begin, my excitement over this project is out of control. Winter has had me itching for spring planting. The days of picking vegetables in the winter are few and far between, at least in my first little winter garden. I ordered my seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, and I'm counting down to when it's warm enough to start my seeds!
 I needed a "greenhouse" of sorts, and there was pretty much nothing that was going to stop my determination. 
Husband at work?
Oh well. 
Drill batteries dead? 
Charge those suckers up.
 Case in point, the photo above, that I thought to stop and snap while the battery was charging on the saw. This door has been in our storage trailer for years. It's solid wood, and I knew I'd use it someday for something. I decided the height I wanted, and the angle for the top, and cut my two side pieces out of this door. 
Next, I used an old french door (glass still in tact, holllllaaa!) as my front, and screwed them together with long wood screws. This seemed a heck of a lot easier than framing up the entire thing out of wood, then covering the front with individual wood slats. Plus, it's super cute and adds more sunlight! 

Next, I just measured, cut, and screwed in the four framing pieces you see around the top edges. This gave me something to rest and hinge the windows on.

I'm still debating on what to do on the inside, because I know the grass will grow. I am leaning toward pinning down thick black plastic, and topping with tiny gravel, like in our garden.
 All I had to buy were four hinges, a couple of hooks, and a small length of chain. 

The hooks are on the fence, and the chain loops are screwed to the center of each window. Simply lift the window, and hook the chain to the fence to work inside. Ahh! You can tell I'm super proud of this one! Now I have to figure out what to put on the walls of my house, where I removed those decorative windows.