Squirrels with tiny shovels?

You know it has been a long winter when the woodland critters start digging themselves paths through the snow.

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

I wish I had seen them with their little shovels!

This morning, I looked out the kitchen window to see not just prints but a regular daggone pathway leading from the house to a hydrangea bush.  I figured it was a squirrel route, but squirrels (like my students) don’t have the attention span to dig a pathway.  They just leap and scurry.  No, this pathway must be the work of tunnel digging chipmunks.  In summer, the rock wall by that hydrangea is one of the entrances to their Maywood Metro System.  Yeah, I can just picture Simon, Theodore and Alvin (!!!!! ) with tiny little shovels working their way across the garden.

The snow pack  reveals a lot about who is coming and going out there.  For example, it revealed my brother-in-law’s visit to the front door the other day.  It also reveals all the routes the squirrels take to get to the house. One route is across the patio and over the abandoned hot tub where they leap on the house and into the attic to party until spring.  There are other routes that involve leaping, Tarzan-like, from trees to the roof.

Like the squirrels, the mice have no desire to shelter under a hydrangea bush in the Maywood subway system. No, they want the full comforts of home for as long as  they can get away with it.  Maywood Man keeps tossing snapped invaders and still they come.  You’d think they would  get the message that the one-way track of mouse prints leads to a cozy house of death.

Meanwhile, out yonder, the deer have gotten the message that we are turning the clocks forward tonight for Daylight Savings Time.  They have been seen traipsing across the field, brown against white, as though spring is coming, it isn’t below freezing, and they aren’t walking through nine inches of snow.  Is it the longer days or the lack of men sitting in trees that signals to them that it is safe to use their usual paths through the yard?  It sure isn’t the weather.

So it’s March, and we have no idea who remains in the beehives  because it has been too cold to look inside and they certainly have not been coming out to play in the snow.  We know at least one hive is empty and suspect that a second was not going to last the winter.  It would be great to find the two strong hives waiting for us when the temp breaks 50 later this week. Regardless of who has survived, we ordered four packages of bees for the new season.

Spring is coming.  It always does.  The chipmunks are ready.  And maybe some  bees.

What’s in Your Freezer?

Forget the wallet. There’s nothing in there but club cards to stores I frequent. What’s in the freezer is a much more interesting topic.

Certain current and former colleagues will recall a Christmas party at our house at which we revealed little freezer bags filled with skinned squirrels, frozen in all their scrawny nakedness. The ensuing conversation revolved around all the staff members who had ever eaten squirrel. Based on the number of people who had eaten squirrel, one would not have thought that we were advanced degreed educators living a mere hour from the sophistication of Washington D.C.

In our defense, I must say that those squirrels ended up in a very tasty French recipe,soaked for three days in cognac. Ok, I personally couldn’t eat the meat,having watched the squirrels splayed on the ping pong table being skinned, but it was quite a flavorful stew.

Then there was our (third) daughter’s wedding where the groom had to be warned not to open the green trash bag in the mancave freezer. It contained a decapitated deer head, with antlers of course, awaiting a trip to the taxidermist. The deer, in all it’s taxidermied glory, now watches over football games wearing a Raven’s cap. The freezer is currently available for things like ice cubes.

My niece’s husband recently got a deer with a very nice rack on it and he wondered if he could store the head in our freezer. Ha ha, no. John suggested he put it in his father-in-law/my brother’s freezer. I’m guessing that went well…I haven’t heard yelling from my brother yet.

Our currant unorthodox freezer arrangement involves bee hives. Bee hives can not just sit around in the mud room. Critters like them. Ants, for starters. And wax moths, for keeps. After spinning the honey in July, the honey box sat in the mud room for a little while. To ensure that no unauthorized squatters had taken up residence, Mr. Beekeeper put the frames on ice. A little time locked in the freezer will kill off unwanted pests.

The difference between freezer storage versus fridge storage is that stuff can stay in the freezer indefinitely. It might get freezer burn, but it doesn’t get moldy or liquefy and drip into every inaccessible crevice. It sits there gathering ice crystals until you have to make room for something else. It may be inedible, but it doesn’t smell bad. Hey, my mom used to put garbage in the freezer so it wouldn’t stink up the trash.

The current batch of hive frames will be ousted soon. We have a dead hive whose hive box has been taken over by wax moths that need to die. Freezer as execution chamber. Some people store dead stuff in the freezer till trash night. Others store stuff in the freezer to kill it off.

So what’s in your freezer? And don’t tell me it is full of apple pies and peach cake. I will believe you but I will be bored.

September Bees–and Moths for the Freezer

Happy healthy Hive A

Happy healthy Hive A

The honey bees are busy with the last burst of blooming weeds that cause humans so much distress, so bee season has not quite ended here.  However, we have not inspected the bees in awhile.  A gorgeous summery weekend in early fall was a great opportunity.  (Especially since the next two weekends will find us on the road.)

 

Lots of brood in Hive A.

Lots of brood in Hive A.

The good news from the bee yard is that Hive A is strong and healthy.  No honey from them, but we did not really expect any this first year.  Hive D, the provider of our July harvest, has several frames of capped honey in the second honey  box.  Mr. Beekeeper decided to leave the honey box on a bit longer because the goldenrod is still blooming and (the real reason), because he did not bring the fume board with him to enable us to take the honey.  So there’s some fun to look forward to…a little fall harvest.  To those of you who are weeping desperate little tears hoping for honey, I’ll let you know what we have when we get it all into jars.

A peek at the fall harvest.

A peek at the fall harvest.

And now for the beekeeper worries…

Small hive beetles can ruin a hive and its harvest by breeding in the bee's brood cells.

Small hive beetles can ruin a hive and its harvest by breeding in the bee’s brood cells.

Small hive beetles were seen in Hive B.  This is not ok.  There are a variety of ways to eliminate them, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.  On the chemical side, Checkmite+ is  a varroa mite control that will also deal with beetles.  It is authorized for use in Maryland.  However, Mr. Beekeeper already bought Apistan for fall application against varroa this season, so we won’t be buying Checkmite+.  It also is a heavy duty chemical attack and the beetles do not seem to be that prolific.

There are non-chemical options for physically trapping the beetles.   Traps vary in design and placement in the hive.  What they have in common is a physical trap for the beetles to fall into and something for them to drown in, like mineral oil, vegetable oil, or vinegar.  One calls for a mixture of water, apple cider vinegar, sugar, and ripe banana peel.   That sounds like too much work.   I’m looking at getting a type that hangs between the frames, with a simple oil bath to drown them.  I am fully aware that the bees may seal the thing with propolis, because they like to seal things with propolis.  But these traps are cheap and disposable.

Propolis is the sticky stuff bees make to seal the hive.  It's a real pain to get off countertops.

Propolis is the sticky stuff bees make to seal the hive. It’s a real pain to get off countertops.

The hive is dead and full of wax moths.  They can do serious damage to the hive structure.

The hive is dead and full of wax moths. They can do serious damage to the hive structure.

Hive C is, alas and indeed, dead.  And completely ruined by wax  moths.  Mr. Beekeeper stopped up the entrance to prevent stray bees from going in and, more importantly, moths from coming out.  There were many cocoons in the hive. He will be removing the hive and putting the frames (wrapped in plastic bags) in the freezer to kill off the moths before cleaning the frames and storing them in plastic for the winter.

What killed off Hive C?  Was it the wax moths? Or was it a weak queen?  This is a hive that survived last winter but has been (along with Hive B which has the beetles) slow to build all season.  Did the queen die and the hive fail to produce its own queen?  Did the moths get established in a weak hive or did they seize the opportunity to take over a dead one?

A puddle in the hive, most likely from condensation.

A puddle in the hive, most likely from condensation.

Hive D continues to thrive but opening the lid revealed a puddle of water, presumably from condensation from inside the hive.  Some online  searching offered many solutions for winterizing the hives to avoid condensation, but it is not winter yet.  I do not have any ideas at the moment, but do know that condensation in the winter freezes, and cold, wet bees die. (Beekeepers, your suggestions are most welcome!)  Aside from water on the lid, the bees were busy in the honey box and several frames have capped honey for us!

So many questions.  Here’s one I know some of you are thinking: What else does she have in her freezer?  And oh, the tales we could tell.  But that’s another post!

Group work.  What are they doing?  Probably guessing what I've got in my freezer.

Group work. What are they doing? Probably guessing what I’ve got in my freezer.

Making lipbalm: one way to avoid doing schoolwork

Cappings from honey box ready to be melted into wax for lip balm

Cappings from honey box ready to be melted into wax for lip balm

A box of honey has been spun and the cappings have been melted into a sunny yellow disc. With the school year looming, I am desperate to spend these last few days enjoying summer projects before the first steps into the school building erase these ten glorious weeks of summer.

Or maybe I am just stalling on getting into school planning.

Lip balm is on the agenda. A new batch of beeswax and a recent delivery of Shea butter, lip balm tubes, and new essential oil fragrances have me raring to go.  I ordered my stuff from http://www.soapgoods.com

Lip balm mise en scene

Lip balm mise en scene

Two years ago, the last time I did this, I forgot to write down what I did. I’m not making that mistake again.

Here’s what I used:

2 oz. beeswax
4 oz. Shea butter
 5 oz. almond carrier oil 
 5 drops Vitamin E 
20 drops essential oil

In a double boiler, melt all the ingredients except the essential oil. Once it is melted, add the essential oil. For this batch I used 8 drops of spearmint and 12 drops of rosemary.
Quickly, before the mixture cools and begins to solidify, use a plastic pipette to fill lip balm tubes. I have a holder that accommodates 50 lip balm tubes. I can’t imagine trying to fill those little tubes without it!

The purple thingy holds 50 lip balm tubes in place.  Plastic pipettes enable me to fill them without making a globby mess.

The purple thingy holds 50 lip balm tubes in place. Plastic pipettes enable me to fill them without making a globby mess.

Once the mixture has cooled, put the caps on. Label the tubes before making the next batch!

This  first batch filled 50 lip balm tubes with a little left over.

The next batch filled 10 larger tubes. I used 4 drops lemongrass, 12 drops lavender, and 4 drops patchouli. Also a pipette of honey.

A note about fragrance:  fragrances are blended according to top notes, middle notes, and base notes.  Like a musical chord.  Top notes come on strong and evaporate quickly.  (Like sopranos.) Middle notes emerge next and last longer. (A shout-out to altos.)  Base notes anchor the chord.  (Yeah, guys!)  There is music and chemistry in blending fragrances.

Fragrance charts are really helpful with this.

The great thing about the lip balm is that it isn’t just for lips. It’s a great treat for tired teacher feet. I bought some larger push up tubes for rolling the stuff on my feet at night.  The lavender is a great fragrance for going to sleep but, before adding the fragrance, I poured two tubes unscented so Mr. BeeMan could treat his icky feet without smelling like a girl!
It’s also great on cuticles, rough elbows, and to smooth eyebrows.  (Mr. BeeMan doesn’t care about his cuticles, but–hmmm–I could attack his eyebrows.)

After the balm is made, labels are needed.  Once upon a time, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find labels the right size for the tubes.  One can buy cute lip balm labels but they are expensive.  I just wanted something I could pick up at Office Depot and print from the computer.  A friendly Office Depot worker suggested that I buy 8 x 11″ labels and cut to size.  That way I could be a creative as I wanted with the labels.  Well, duh, what a great idea.

Of course, my labels are creatively cut into squares.

I spend some computer time tweaking the labels. Then I print, cut, and have a lovely meditative time sticking the labels onto the tubes.  That’s when John points out an editing error.  You got it…after the labels are on the tubes. 

Free tube of lip balm (either size) to the first person to point out the editing error.  John doesn't count--he already got his.

Free tube of lip balm (either size) to the first person to point out the editing error. John doesn’t count–he already got his.

Lastly, shrink-wrap!

Lastly, shrink wrap!

Lastly, shrink wrap!

There are a few reasons why I put on shrink-wrap.

Tip: hold tube in place with a pencil eraser.  The tube won't blow across the kitchen and you won't burn your finger.

Tip: hold tube in place with a pencil eraser. The tube won’t blow across the kitchen and you won’t burn your finger.

  • It’s fun to watch the hairdryer shrink the wrapper to the tube.
  • It keeps the lip balm from gooping up the label, which is just paper.
  • I know which tubes are unopened!  This is kind of important when gifting.
  • It makes the product look official, instead of something I concocted in the kitchen (which I did).

Now that I’ve warmed up to school with the honey harvest-lip balm making activities in math, chemistry, music, art, and writing, I should get to work on my French I planning.  Oh no, that is going to involve new technology.  A rant will probably be posted soon!

 

 

How Much Honey?

Honey box filled with honey

Honey box filled with honey

It’s the big question everyone has when we harvest a honey box. How much honey is in there?
Family wants to know, “Will we get some for Christmas?”
Colleagues ask, “Will you have any to sell this year?
Mr. Beekeeper asks, “How many pounds did I carry up from the bee yard?”
Mrs. Beekeeper asks, “How many jars do I need?”

One day this week found Mr. Beekeeper and Junior Beekeeper at home together. With the Star Beekeepers aligned, it was surely the day to harvest honey.

Removing the honey box

Removing the honey box

A peek through the queen excluder at the bees.

A peek through the queen excluder at the bees.

Hive D.  We took the lower brown box and kept the  top box on for a potential fall harvest.

Hive D. We took the lower brown box and kept the top box on for a potential fall harvest.

Only one honey box was harvested this time. Hive D had clearly finished filling one honey box but was still working on their second one. We leave that to them to continue to fill. Hive A, new this year and thriving, already filling two hive body boxes, received a honey box just a couple of weeks ago. We leave them to their work.
Hives B and C, who had come through winter with one hive box, have struggled to fill a second hive box. They currently have no honey boxes on them at all. Hive C had a honey box, but it was removed and given to Hive A.

Junior beekeeper examines the honey box

Junior beekeeper examines the honey box

So we harvested one honey box. In the fall we will see if we can harvest some more.

Junior Beekeeper spins the honey while his sister watches

Junior Beekeeper spins the honey while his sister watches

This was Junior Beekeeper’s first experience with spinning honey. Grandma Beekeeper has been working her arms lifting grandbabies and willingly handed the privilege of honey spinning to the Oldest Grandchild.

He also learned a physics lesson about centrifugal force. As he turns the crank, a basket containing two frames spins round and round, faster and faster the harder he cranks. The honey is pulled out of the frames to the side of the container. When he stops spinning, the honey slides to the bottom of the container. We open the valve and pour honey into the bucket. It’s just like that ride at the fair that he dislikes so much…the one where you spin and stick to the side walls while the floor drops out from beneath you. (Junior Beekeeper is more of a Tower of Terror guy.)

Straggler bee in the wax cappings a day later...right before his water ride

Straggler bee in the wax cappings a day later…right before his water ride

And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened to a lone bee who got processed with the honey. He got spun and dripped out onto the filter. Another lone bee got stuck in the cappings which were also placed on the filter to drain. He was still barely moving the next day when it was time to process the wax. Alas, he went down the drain on a “water ride.” Some people think raw honey should not be filtered, but I personally prefer my honey without dead bees in it.

Spinning the honey is a lot easier than scooping 48,000 cells with a little spoon

Spinning the honey is a lot easier than scooping 43,000 cells with a little spoon

So, how much honey is in a honey box? Time for some math.
There are 9 frames in each honey box.
Each side of each frame contains about 80 x 30 honey comb cells. That’s 2400 little cells per side…or 4800 per frame times 9 frames. That comes to 43,000 little cells filled by busy bees.

 

 

Frame filled with capped honey

Frame filled with capped honey

Or about 3 gallons.
One pound of honey equals 1 1/4 cups. We have about 48 cups. So maybe we’ll get 38 one pound jars of honey.

Maywood Honey 2014

Maywood Honey 2014: a delicate fruity blend of black locust, wild  grape, and wildflowers.

Which means Christmas gifts of honey will be liquid gold and jars for sale will have to wait until we see what we get in the fall. Or if one of the weak hives fails to make it, then we get all their honey. But who wants a hive to fail?

The Newbees Have Arrived

20140425-150027.jpg

 

It’s a brisk morning, but delightful on the porch, where I am swaddled in a blanket, sipping hot coffee. From the comfort of my porch swing and the warmth of a sunbeam, I watch as BeeMan comes and goes from the bee yard. He is getting the hive ready for the new bees.

 

More bees than you want to count!

More bees than you want to count!

Yesterday we drove out to Whitehall to pick them up. Out the lane past the horse farm, along the road past the freshly manured field–so odoriferous the farmer had to post a “sorry for the stink” sign. (He should also have offered free car de-odorizers!) North we go, past the winery, the alpaca farm, a dairy farm, a sheep farm, a cattle farm. Finally, we come to a barn by a non-descript little rancher. Beyond the barn are dozens of beehives. In the barn are hundreds of boxes of bees.

Mr. Beekeeper ordered four pounds of Russians bees. He is given four pounds of Italian bees. It was too cold down in Georgia. No Russians are ready. Are you kidding me? They’re Russian. Do they need little balaclavas to keep them warm? The BeeMan thinks the Italian bees are more aggressive and prone to robbing other hives. Still, we accept the bees and bring them home to join all the Russian bees in the yard.  Let’s hope they can peacefully co-exist.

How does one bring home four pounds of bees? In the back seat of the car. We probably should have buckled them in. The box fell over on sharp turns, so I had to hold it straight for most of the ride home.

Shoulda buckled them in!

Shoulda buckled them in!

Back home, the bees were placed in the mud room. Mr. Beekeeper was feeling under the weather, so the bees would spend the night inside rather than going straight into their hive. We checked on them before going to bed ourselves. They huddled all together, quiet in one big four pound clump. Awwww. How often do you get to see a hive of bees sleeping?

(This is sign of experienced bee keepers. The first time we had a package of bees in the house I was freaked out. Those bees had arrived via U.S. Postal Service. The post office had called at 6 a.m. to tell us to come get the bees. I spent the day at work thinking, “There are thousands of bees in my basement!” Now I watch them and say, “Awwww! Aren’t they cute?”

As the sun rides high in the sky, we don our bee gear and take the Newbees to their new home, Hive A. It doesn’t take long to dump them in and set up the sugar water feeder to get them started.

First, BeeMan sprays them with sugar water to keep them too busy snacking to bother with him.

First, BeeMan sprays them with sugar water to keep them too busy snacking to bother with him.

Next, remove the queen and put her in the hive.

Next, remove the queen and put her in the hive.

The queen and her attendants arrive in their own little box.  The other bees will eat through a sugar plug to release her into the hive.

The queen and her attendants arrive in their own little box. The other bees will eat through a sugar plug to release her into the hive.

The queen box is installed in the hive.  This will be removed once the queen is no longer in it.

The queen box is installed in the hive. This will be removed once the queen is no longer in it.

The rest of the bees are unceremoniously dumped in.

The rest of the bees are unceremoniously dumped in.

The sugar water feeder is set up to help the hive get started.  Straggler bees still in the shipping box will join the rest soon.

The sugar water feeder is set up to help the hive get started. Straggler bees still in the shipping box will join the rest soon.

A peek in the other hives...

A peek in the other hives…

We peek in the other hives. Hive D already has a honey box on and is filling the comb with nectar. Nothing capped yet. Hive C is busy building up into the second brood box. Hive B has a second brood box but is not making much progress. BeeMan has doubts about the queen. The joy of beekeeping…there is always something for him to worry about.

Hive A settles in. Mr. Beekeeper will pop down often to keep an eye on them. They arrived at a good time. The red maples have finished flowering, but today honey bees were all over the black cherry blossoms. That bodes well for a cherry harvest as well as for yummy honey!

Honey frame or brood frame?

Honey frame being filled

Happy to have 4 hives full!

Happy to have 4 hives full!

Bees alive as glaciers recede at Maywood

Let It Bee Spring--Beekeeper starts the season

Let It Bee Spring–Beekeeper starts the season

It’s sunny and positively balmy with temps in the 50’s as we trudge through the snow to get to the bees.  Some parts of the yard still measure six inches of snow.  This snow is not uniformly melting so much as it is receding, like a slow moving glacier.  Or, to think more positively towards warm beach days, like the tide going out.  Winter tide.

Down in the  bee yard, we are delighted to see three hives busy, with bees coming and going and buzzing and sunning and enjoying the day.  We have exited winter with more  bees than ever before. Red maples are budding and these bees are ready to charge into spring.

Hive D is thriving

Hive D is thriving

Tar paper comes off.  After all, tonight begins daylight savings!

Tar paper comes off. After all, tonight begins daylight savings!

Sugar water feeders go on each hive.

Sugar water feeders go on each hive.

Today’s task is to unwrap the hives from their winter protection of roofer’s tar paper.  Mr. Beekeeper also wants to set up the hive feeders.  The bees are ready to go, but there is not much for them to get to yet.  Red maples are the first flowering tree for the bees.  Fortunately, in spite of the semi-glacial look around here, the maples are waking up right on schedule. Why are humans so desperate for spring to arrive and then so surprised that it actually does?

Red maples are budding right on schedule.

Red maples are budding right on schedule.

Lids come off the hives to remove the tar paper.  We get to peek in at the bees.  They look so happy.  They buzz around us, landing on our jackets and hanging out on my camera.  Are they as happy to see us as we are to see them?

The bees don't know that they can't take selfies through the viewfinder.

The bees don’t know that they can’t take selfies through the viewfinder.

They are happy to bee with me.

They are happy to bee with me.

Little bee, don't freeze on the snow!

Little bee, don’t freeze on the snow!

The golden burr comb is a delightful contrast to the snowy ground and the emerging mucky mud of March.  Yet, here and there, single bees lie frozen on the snow.  I wonder, do they die because they landed on the snow?  Or did they land on the snow to die?  I watch one crawling slowly across its frozen landscape, slower and slower, and finally not advancing.  I lift her off the snow.  She warms up and takes flight.

Switching the top box to bottom.

Switching the top box to bottom.

Hive D, which went through winter with two boxes, is going gangbusters.  Mr. Beekeeper decides to go ahead and switch the boxes.  The top box–where the bees have been clustered all winter–gets moved to the bottom.  The bottom box gets put on top.  This will encourage the bees to build up.  Literally.  Soon, Hive D will get a honey box.  Maybe next week.

Back in the house, Beekeeper Man orders another package of bees to replace the hive we lost over the winter.

And another season of beekeeping begins.

Yay!

Golden honeycomb...a beautiful contrast to still barren looking March.

Golden honeycomb…a beautiful contrast to still barren looking March.

The hot, dry air of winter

This is the winter that will not die.

Some people are tired of the cold.  It’s March–when the bees are supposed to emerge to pollinate budding  red maples– and the weather forecast is still calling for a temperature of ZERO.

Some people are sick of the snow.  My husband, for example, is outside right now chopping more firewood in anticipation of the next sleet/ice/snow/bring-down-the-power lines weather event.  The tractor is constantly hooked to a charger to ensure its ability to start when plowing is next needed.  (That would be in the next couple of days.)

Me?  I’m sick of the hot, dry indoor air.  It is so dry around here that salt is actually pouring out of the salt shakers.  When does that ever happen?  We usually have the salt shaker half filled with rice to soak up the moisture in the air.  This morning I came close to ruining my egg; the salt came out so fast.

It is so dry around here that my hair wants to look like this:

She wasn't swishing her hair.  It was sticking straight out after an encounter with the sofa.

She wasn’t swishing her hair. It was sticking straight out after an encounter with the sofa.

Fortunately I have a bathroom full of products to help me look a little more like a grown-up: volumizing shampoo, moisturizing conditioners,  ultra poufy mousse, anchor-it in-place sprays, and shiny stuff to give the illusion of sunlight reflecting off it.  It all sort of works.  My hair isn’t quite as bad as sweet little Emily’s, but it is craving humidity.

And so is my skin.  Ack!  Every night I go to bed with my feet slathered in moisturizer and tucked into socks.  My hands, too, are lotioned and gloved.  I look like Minnie Mouse without the ears.  And still my skin is like sandpaper.  My lip balm recipe (in larger containers!) works great on my hands and feet, but is not too practical for full-body application.  My whole body really needs a milk bath.  Lactic acid, ladies.  It sloughs off that dry skin and leaves the rest nice and soft.

This the winter where the least little thing will set off an episode of eczema.  I touched chalk the other day.  I was reckless, I know.  I did not use my special chalk holder.  It was in my desk because I hardly use chalk anymore.  I just wanted to tally points for a competitive activity in class.  A few measly little slash marks on the board.  Ka-bam.  Circle of eczema on my hand.

I was moaning about this with my hairdresser who moaned back that she has gotten eczema on her neck this winter.  She’s dumbfounded.  Her neck?  A friend of mine gets it on her eyelids.  Yes, ouch.

My eyelid suffering friend has found the bees to be part of her skin care routine.  She uses honey to help soothe and heal her eczema flare-ups.

Here’s her concoction:

Lisa’s Honey Mask

  • 1 tablespoon of honey (Maywood honey, of course!)
  • “some” freshly  grated nutmeg
  • 3-4 capsules of Vitamin E.

Grate “some” nutmeg into the honey.  Cut open the Vitamin E and mix it in with the honey/nutmeg.  Apply to face and leave on for 30-60 minutes.  Rinse it off.   (I suppose you could leave it on, but your pillowcase will probably attract ants.)

A bad case of eczema will still require medicine from the dermatologist, but Lisa finds she gets the best results when she uses both the medicine and the honey mask together.  After a few days, the eczema improves rapidly.  Then she just uses the honey when she has a flare-up.

Sweet!

Snow Bees and Honey Butter

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter.  And maybe even a backrub.

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter. And maybe even a backrub.

There’s a break in the weather.  After a foot and a half of snow, Mr. Beekeeper trudges out to the tractor to plow  before the next batch of snow comes in this evening.  The “break” means that it is merely raining.  “Merely raining” means that the foot and a half of snow is  getting packed down.  He will be out on the tractor for hours.  And then it will snow some more.  It might be nice to do some cooking for him.  I’m thinking pumpkin bread with his homegrown pumpkin and some honey butter using our Maywood honey.

But first, a trip to the bee yard.

One of the advantages of cleaning out a closet is finding things.  Often it is useless stuff the girls left behind when they moved out, but today I have found snow pants.  And they fit! So, even though it is lightly raining, I don snowpants and boots for a trek through the snow.  I can’t access the yard from the driveway because John has plowed a wall of snow there (which I will back into with the car until it melts), so I exit the house from the screen porch and wade through knee deep snow to get to the bees.

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax.  Who names a winter storm "Peace?"

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax. Who names a winter storm “Peace?”

I’m feeling bad for all the hard work John is doing plowing, but it is no easy hike to the bees today.  I have marked my walking stick in six inch increments.  Even packed down with rain, the snow still measures 18 inches with every step I take.

Hive B

Hive B

Down at the bees, the hives are putting off enough heat to keep a slim gap between the snow and the hive.  I only look at Hives B, C, and D.  Beekeeper Man determined recently that Hive A is kaput.  Probable diagnosis: dysentery.  (My last bee post commented on signs of dysentery on the hive.  With all the cold weather preventing more frequent cleansing flights, they succumbed.)  However, three hives are still hanging in  there.

Trudging back up to the house, I am tempted to swoosh snow from the garden bench and take a breather.  In the drizzling rain.  Visiting the bees seemed like a good idea when I was heading down to the bees.  Well, I’ve gotten my heart rate up and had a little workout, so even if I haven’t worked as hard as John, I won’t feel guilty having some pumpkin bread with honey butter.

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

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Here’s my ratio for honey butter:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup Maywood honey

I blended the two with my immersion blender.  This is because I couldn’t find 2 matching beaters for the hand mixer, but the immersion blender worked better anyway.  So creamy!  The honey we have on hand right now (from the hives we lost last year) is really dark and loaded with pollen.  John spun it from the brood frames after losing the bees.

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And here’s the recipe for the pumpkin bread:

  • 3  1/4 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1  1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups fresh, not canned pumpkin (mine was frozen, then thawed in microwave)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs (I used jumbo sized)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Put all dry ingredients into large bowl and mix together with spoon.  Add all wet ingredients and the nuts.  Mix until combined.

Pour into 3 greased bread pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.  Test with toothpick for doneness.  My loaves took an extra 10 minutes or so.

(I found this on Allrecipes.com.  The recipe originated from the mother of V. Monte, who used canned pumpkin and added 2/3 cup water.  Reviewers suggested eliminating the water, especially if using fresh pumpkin.  Even without the water, this is a yummy moist pumpkin bread!)

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Bee-ing hopeful in the dead of winter

The bees are still alive!  I saw them yesterday.

Today a boatload of snow is falling… to be followed by frigid temperatures and a sub-zero wind chill.  Already, with hours of snow yet to fall, gusts of wind whip clouds of snow off the roof and swirl it around the yard.  The bees and sensible humans are tucked inside where it is warm. Yesterday, however, when the temperature soared into the low 50’s, we were all out and about.

Look closely--bees coming and going at the entrance and at the lid.  Hive A.

Click to look closely–bees coming and going at the entrance and at the lid of Hive A.  There’s a lot of bee poop in this picture too.

In Maryland, humans spent the warm day before a snowstorm stocking up on bread, milk, and toilet paper.  Quite a few also took advantage of the warmth for some exercise along the NCR bike trail.  It was a good day to be outside.  The bees also found it agreeable.  Bees don’t emerge from their hives unless the temperature is about 50.  When I stopped by for a look, the reading here was 45.  They are on a protected hill and wrapped in tarpaper, so they clearly felt safe to emerge.

Boy, did they need it!  Recent weather has been so bizarre that one day my French III class reviewed most of their weather vocabulary just by discussing local conditions in the preceding 48 hours.  We’ve had sub-zero temperatures with howling winds followed by snow and ice, sleet, and freezing rain.  We’ve had temperatures pushing 50 degrees with rain and flood warnings.  Throw in some fog and a chance of thunder.  We’ve had pretty much anything winter can throw at us. These are challenging conditions for the honeybees at Maywood.

Sunday a week ago was our first chance to venture to the bee yard since Christmas.  It’s not just the extreme cold that is worrisome, but the drastic changes in temperatures.  How well do bees handle a plunge to  minus 2 and then up to 50?  We slogged through the muddy yard to see.  The temperature was still in the 40’s so we were not expecting too much.  To our delight, Hive D was showing activity!  There were a few bees on the entrance porch of their hive and another cluster of bees up near the top of the hive, entering by the lid entrance.  We were very encouraged to see them moving about.  Hives A and B each had one bee on them.  Hive C showed no signs of activity.

Hive B.

Hive B.  Click to see the bee flying back to the hive.

Yesterday, there were bees at each hive.  Coming and going. Doing a little basking on the hive lids.  I was so encouraged by the activity at the hives that I sent Mr. Beekeeper photos at work to warm his little heart.

So what do bees do to recover from one extended stay indoors before the next one hits?  They take cleansing flights.  In other words, they go outside for a good poop.  Bees, being a clean society, do not pee or poop inside their hives.  An extended cold spell means they just have to hold it.  (Some of my students could learn a lesson from them.) Needless to say, bees like a warm winter day as much or more than we do!

Hive C.  Bees coming in for a landing after their cleansing flights.

Hive C. Bees coming in for a landing after their cleansing flights.

Today is a different story.  The recently relieved bees are huddled together to maintain a 92 degree warmth.  Mr. Beekeeper and I, wrapped in new chenille sofa throws, will snuggle by a toasty fire, secure in the knowledge that the bees are still ok and we are well-stocked with toilet paper.

(Correction:  forget the toasty fire.  We seem to be out of cut wood.  I guess we’ll snuggle to the glow of our Ipads.)

At least we have bread, milk and toilet paper.

At least we have bread, milk and toilet paper.