2011 Backyard Beekeeping in St. John’s, Newfoundland: A Retrospective Slideshow

2011 wasn’t a good year for beekeepers on the east coast of Newfoundland. We had a late wet spring, a short cold summer, and we (i.e., the royal we, as in I’m talking about yours truly) made plenty of mistakes along the way. But we managed to harvest about 20kg of honey from our two established hives and it was all worth it.


Here are some photos from 2011 (about 100 photos, approximately 5 minutes)… UPDATE: I removed the slideshow because it didn’t display properly. Here’s a video slideshow that pretty much the same:

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A Sudden Dying Off of Winter Bees

I’m not sure if it has something to do with today’s date (the winter solstice), a recent snowfall or just business as usual, but a pile of dead bees suddenly appeared at the bottom entrance of our foundationless hive today. I wouldn’t have noticed them if we were using a solid mouse-proof entrance reducer instead of the open mouse-proofing mesh. The dead bees would have stayed piled up inside the hive all winter.

I could still see the cluster poking up through the middle of the top bars in the upper brood chamber. All three of the conventional hives look the same as they did last week, clustering high in the top brood chamber and hardly any dead bees on the bottom board.

I wonder what it all means. Probably nothing.

UPDATE (Dec. 23/11): I just took a closer look at the dead bees. About 90% of them are drones. The foundationless hive always had a large number of drones and not all of them were booted outside in the fall. This must be the last of them.

Continued in Dead Bees and High & Low Clusters.

Heated Honey Taste Test

Our last batch of honey this year was cloudy probably because it went through a commercial extractor that hadn’t been cleaned for a while. (See Cloudy Honey for a further explanation.) Apparently (because I’m not certain), commercial beekeepers clarify their honey by heating it as high as 140°F / 60°C* (a process that also delays crystallization). So it doesn’t make any difference to them if their extracted honey comes out cloudy; they just heat it. I know I’m still new at this beekeeping racket, but to my thinking, heating honey is bad news no matter how you look at it. Whether the extreme heat of pasteurization that transforms honey into plastic-flavoured grocery store goo, or the lower heat used only to clarify honey, I would think both processes either completely remove or diminish the compounds in the honey that preserve the unique floral flavours and aromas. I wonder if I’m correct in that thinking.

I don’t fault commercial beekeepers who have little choice but to meet market demands. The market for some reason demands honey that always looks clear and pretty on grocery store shelves, even if it means destroying most of the natural and beneficial properties of the honey. But given the choice, I’d pick the unprocessed honey every time. Why? Because it’s about a billion times better than honey that’s had everything that was ever good in it heated and filtered out of it. Not that every beekeeper who heats their honey is ruining their honey. 40°C, if that’s typical, doesn’t seem extreme. But 60°C does.
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mid-December Bees

(It’s a slow news day here at Mud Songs.) I know everyone has been on edge waiting for the results of the Cloudy Honey taste test. Does clarifying a jar of cloudy honey in a bowl of hot water destroy the floral flavours and aromas? Does it make the honey taste like grocery store goo? I don’t know. I haven’t done the taste test yet. But stay glued to your computer. We hope to have the results in this weekend. In the meantime, I’ll answer another question I’m sure has been on everyone’s mind: “Phillip, what are your bees up to these days?” I don’t know. But let’s find out… Okay, I just got back from taking a few pictures of the bees. Check it out:

Top entrance from a first-year hive (Dec. 16/11).

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Cloudy Honey

My first batches of honey this year were crushed and strained from foundationless honey supers in September. The honey has pleasant floral aromas and flavours and is mildly sweet, not overpowering. It’s easy to take. The honey was cloudy with bubbles when I first bottled it but quickly cleared up and took on the appearance of apple juice and still looks the same today. My last batch of honey was extracted in October using a local commercial beekeeper’s extractor. That honey was cloudy and has remained cloudy. The floral flavours and aromas are dialled down to 8 instead of 10, but are generally unaffected. It’s easy to tell what honey came from the extractor, though. Both of these photos were taken today:

Extracted honey from October 2011.

Crushed and strained honey from September 2011.

So why is the extracted honey cloudy? Well…
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What Makes Honey Taste Bland?

I’m asking because I don’t know.

I’m in New Brunswick at the moment. I picked up a jar of honey at a grocery store this morning. The honey is from a local apiary. The label on the honey jar reads “Pure liquid Canadian honey — Canada No. 1 White.” And that means… what exactly? Is the honey pasteurized or heated? Is it ultra-filtered? What does “pure liquid honey” actually mean? Whatever it is, it tastes like melted plastic to me, at least when I compare it to the raw honey from our hives.

What is it that makes grocery store honey, even “pure liquid honey,” taste more like a bottle of Elmer’s Glue than honey? Does heating the honey, whether to pasteurize or clarify it, kill all the goodness in it? Or does large-scale blending of honey from various hives through a single extractor result in a homogenous honey, a honey with a consistent — but bland — flavour?

I don’t know. But I sure do like our honey.

UPDATE (Dec. 09/11): Here are some informed responses to this post (much more informed than me anyway): Honey so bland it’s boring; So, What is Honey, Really? – Part 2; Pasteurizing honey… whatever for?; So, What is Honey, Really? – Part 3. And if you like that, you might also find this interesting: So is it honey or not?