Friday, September 6, 2013

Varietal Honey

How does a beekeeper harvest varietal honey?  Once again just like wine, when you have a varietal honey it is from a single source. That means that blueberry honey is harvested from blueberry flowers, orange blossom honey from orange blossoms, and ...well you get the picture.

So how could that work?

A beekeeper will put a honey super, the smaller box where the honey is stored, on top of a hive near at least two acres of a particular kind of flower, say cranberries, just as the flowers are getting started. Then the bees go and suck up all the lovely nectar from the cranberry flowers, bring that  back to the hive, and make honey in the super.

Bees have this really wonderful single-mindedness that varietal honey makers exploits. When a forager  bee has a strong nectar source, think acres and acres of cranberries, she tells all her sisters about it. They go out and enjoy it returning to the hive to tell more bees about it. Soon the whole cadre of foragers is on the cranberry flowers and little or nothing else.

Just as the blossoms are fading, the beekeeper returns to the picture. She cannot be late or the bees will start adding honey from the next flower in bloom in the area. She will take the honey super off and do one of two things. She can put a new super on or move the bees.

The beekeeper extracts the honey and now has a varietal honey, in this case, cranberry honey.  What is the point of doing such a thing? I think it is two things. First taste - varietal honey has a wonderful palate of colors and flavors. Second money - varietal honey commands a premium price. There are some terrifically rare honeys that are quite expensive.

Some of my favorites are:
*Lavender - super light and floral
*Clethra - also light and delicate with a delightful aftertaste
*Blueberry - medium colored with a strong fruitiness - rarely crystallizes

A few others I've tried are:
*Manuka - tea tree honey - medicinal and camphory {shiver}
*Buckwheat - dark, mahogany colored - I can't get over the grassy taste

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Honey Terrior

Eating most honey is just plain yummy but my mission is to turn you into honey connoisseurs!

Honey, like wine, has terrior.  There are lots of formal definitions of this but really they mean it has a sense of place. Honey also tastes like a terrior at a specific time too. Stick with me here. Different wild flower honeys taste different depending on where they were made but also when.

Spring honey is always the lightest of the year no matter where you harvest in the northern hemisphere.  Fall honey is the darkest.

Here's how you can taste honey.  Put a small amount in your mouth - half a teaspoon or so. Roll it around in your mouth so it reaches your body temperature. Slowly, slowly swallow it. Breath in through your nose and out your mouth.

Spring or summer wildflower honey is the one you want for toast or in tea. Try it drizzled over goat cheese or fruit. Generally this honey is floral and sweet. Our honey also has a strong after taste of Black Locust.

Fall wild flower honey is darker and bolder. This is the honey you to bake with as its assertive flavor will stand up to other flavors. Try this in apple pie or in a honey cake. Our fall honey has a strong maple like flavor and an earthy finish.

Varietal honey is honey that is made from a single type of flower like Orange Blossom or Blueberry. This is challenging to make as a beekeeper and often commands higher prices as well. Aside from taste, some varietal honeys will crystallize at different rates and may have different antibacterial properties.

If you are interested in a formal honey tasting, let me know. I have led them at the Millbury Public Library in the past. If you are not local to me, I would recommend Red Bee. Marina sells a mini honey tasting kit.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Give Bees a Chance...

Give Bees a Chance.  That's what is on the back of the colorful shirts you can see here at the most recent outdoor meeting of the Worcester County Beekeepers Meeting. This one was in Sutton and it was a nice hot day with clear weather.

Ken Warchol, Bee Inspector and fabulous teacher is showing how to do an assessment for mites.  This isn't for the faint of heart or the casual beekeeper, this is serious science. The idea is that you should test to determine if you you need to treat for mites by sampling about 150 bees from a hive. Ken demonstrated the sampling in a lovely and elegant fashion. Ken scoops just the right number of bees into alcohol and the rest remain undisturbed.

Me, well, lovely and elegant my sampling is not. I shake a frame of bees, nurse bees specifically, into a wash tub and scoop them with a measuring cup.  One cup of bees is about 150.  I knew you'd want to know.

After you have soaked the bees in the alcohol, you strain out the bees and pour the liquid through a coffee filter. Then you count. I love data!

Look closely at the filter. Really closely... there are three mites on the paper. You should treat if you have more than eight or nine mites. This sample is post treatment.  If you treat early in the year, you should retest. 

So how did my bees do? Our girls were fine. We had a good but not crazy high mite load in August so I treated. I did treat all three hives even though it might not have been necessary to treat the split hive (Cerulean's hive). They haven't really had enough time to get high mite levels. Nonetheless, I treated all the hives since they are in close proximity to the other hives.

Treating for mites can take many forms. We use formic acid and this is normally found in a hive but in low levels. We want to blast those nasty mites away from the bees. Blast we did and there are two potential consequence to this treatment in addition to fewer mites. First, and I quote here, the queen will have a  renewed  vigor in laying. That is exactly what happened in two hives. The queens are laying like crazy.

And second, you can lose a queen. That is exactly what is happening in one hive. The queen didn't die from the treatment but it messed with her something fierce. Her laying pattern is terrible and there aren't many larvae. It isn't a laying worker, it is a queen but a bad one. And the workers know it.  They are ready to toss her to the curb. The new queen should be out in the next week and I already have a great name for her. Just wait!

Finally, thank you to everyone who has purchased honey, hand cream, beeswax, and honey sticks. This helps to support the bees. We are not sold out, but there isn't much summer honey at the moment in our store. If you want some, drop me a line. Fall honey, hopefully, will be on the way in another month.

In my next post, I will give you some of my favorite uses of honey.  And it isn't just eating.