This is Fireweed honey:
Virtually translucent Fireweed Honey from Logy Bay, Newfoundland.
There’s a big difference between Fireweed and regular Wildflower honey. Take a look:
Honey-for-humans, which includes harvesting the honey, tasting it, baking with it, etc. Actually, anything to do with honey.
Here’s a video of me extracting some honey outdoors, something I wouldn’t recommend to anyone new at this beekeeping foolishness. (Cut down from a 15-minute video.) The video works as a review of the Maxant 3100p extractor which cost me $1400 (Canadian) after taxes and shipping a few years ago. Spoiler alert: The 9-frame extractor does the job, but the legs that come with were not my friends. The base of the extractor had to be bolted down to something unmovable and secured to operate properly and safely — at least for me.
So I pulled out my honey extractor and used it to whip some honey out of about six or seven medium frames. The honey wasn’t completely cured. That is, it wasn’t completely capped and some of the nectar was still floating around fancy and loose and therefore, technically, it wasn’t honey. But it was (and is) technically delicious, so who cares? Not me. I don’t sell it for public consumption, but I eat it all the time and so do my friends. It’s probably not a bad honey for making mead.
Here’s a 15-minute video that shows how the whole thing played out:
I stole some comb honey from my bees for the first time in about three years.
The bees quickly drew out and filled the comb soon after local fireweed came into bloom, which makes me think it’s mostly fireweed honey. Pure fireweed honey is virtually colourless. It almost looks like it’s made from sugar syrup. I’ve only tasted it once in Newfoundland from hives set up in Logy Bay. I’ve tasted other honey in Newfoundland that claims to be fireweed, but the colour and taste of it makes me think it’s a mix. A pure varietal honey in Newfoundland, with wild flowers growing everywhere, seems unlikely.
I often make crushed & strained silky liquid honey and let the bees clean up the crushed comb afterwards. Digging through my archives, I found some footage that shows how I do it.
I talk about all kinds of things in this video, most of which would take up too much space to reiterate here. But here’s basic rundown of the whole thing:
The best liquid honey in my book is the stuff that’s been filtered through beeswax like I do in this video. It might look gross, but it’s exquisite.
I ate some honey that’s been frozen in my freezer since 2011. It tasted like summer.
The only honey I tasted before learning to become a beekeeper was the usual pasteurized junk sold in grocery stores. Now that I have access to raw honey made by honey bees that I know up close and personal, it’s a whole other world of appreciation. In my household of two, we consume about 4 litres of honey every year. Here’s what it looks like when I stick it in the freezer, with an extra jar thrown in because why not?
I extracted about 13 kg / 30 pounds or about 11 litres of honey from one of my hive’s today. Here’s a clip of the honey being strained:
Straining today's #honey harvest.
Via: https://t.co/swD7SbsR3v#Newfoundland #NLbees #beekeeping pic.twitter.com/SE2Eil8Auy
— Mud Songs Beekeeping (@MudSongsBeek) September 25, 2016
Considering that this was a rebuilding year for me and honey was not a priority, 13 kg is more than enough to make me happy. I’ll easily have enough to keep myself in honey until this time next year.
One more time, but in slow motion!
When I kept my bees in Logy Bay and Portugal Cove, I used to get light honey in the spring and dark honey in the fall. This honey is not dark. Judging from what I’ve seen in bloom in my area of Flatrock, I would guess it’s made mostly from Fireweed and Clover nectar, both of which produce a light honey. It doesn’t have the creamy opaque appearance of Goldenrod honey, nor any of the darkness of Japanese Knotweed honey. I look forward to next year when, hopefully, most of my colonies will come into spring at full strength instead of slowly building up over the summer like they had to do this year.
I plan (that is, I hope) to extract two medium supers full of honey this weekend. But first I need to remove the bees from the honey supers. I do that by placing an escape board beneath the honey supers. Some people call them bee escape boards, but it’s obvious that we’re talking about bees here, so I just call them escape boards. Here’s a video I recorded today that demonstrates how it works:
The bees pass down through a hole in the board (usually at night when they want to be closer to the warmth of the cluster), then through a maze covered by a mesh that leads to the brood chamber. The maze is so massively complicated that the bees are unable to find their way back through it. Within a few days most or all of the bees (in theory) will have “escaped” from the honey super so that humans can easily remove it without bothering anyone.
I see the weed commonly known as Queen Anne’s Lace growing abundantly along the sides of roads and in country fields where I live, and I’ve always wondered if honey bees are attracted to its nectar.
A little bit of online research tells me nope, they’re not too keen on it. I also read on a couple of beekeeping forums that when the bees do get desperate enough to collect nectar from Queen Anne’s Lace (also known as wild carrot), the resulting honey takes on a distinct aroma of body odour.
I can’t confirm this from my own experience. Nevertheless, I’ll file this one under Stuff That’s Good To Know.
In my experience, it’s important to constantly feed the bees during the first year (in Newfoundland), but it’s also important to stop feeding them at a certain point in the spring the following year so they don’t swarm. When I find drone comb gunking up the bottom of the frames in the spring, that’s my cue that the colony could potentially swarm. Queens can’t mate without drones. The first swarms usually coincide with the flight of the first drones.
If the bees have two or three solid frames of honey in every box — enough to prevent them from starving — and drone comb is present, then I stop feeding. I don’t feed my bees if they have enough honey on their own anyway, and unless it’s a weak colony, I don’t usually feed past May 31st either because there’s usually enough natural nectar sources available by then (in my local climate), especially in the city of St. John’s that is heavily populated by maple trees. I also check my hives at least every two weeks until the end of June to make sure the queen has room to lay. Most beekeeping (beyond feeding) can be summed up with that one sentence: Make sure the queen has room to lay.
The following is probably the most detailed video of a hive inspection that I’ve posted since the dawn of Mud Songs. For everyone who couldn’t attend the informal beekeeping workshop I had planned to put on today, this video shows what you missed (or would have missed if I’d gone ahead with the workshop). It’s a 24-minute video, which is longer than my usual videos because I left in the all the parts with me yammering on about what I’m doing — exactly the kind of yammering I’d do if I was giving a workshop.
I noticed some honey or sugar syrup on the bottom board of one of my hives this morning.
I’ve seen this before. It usually happens in the winter when open honey comb contracts in the cold and then expands in the sudden heat of a warm spell and drips out of the cells. That’s all that’s happening. The first time I saw this, I thought a mouse got in the hive and chewed open some honey comb, which is not unheard of. But there’s no way a mouse could get through my quarter-inch mesh.
Fireweed, or Chamerion angustifolium, is a honey bee friendly flower that blossoms usually by the first week of August on the island of Newfoundland. (Click images for a better view.)
Some parts of the island see Fireweed before others.
June 2019 Introduction: I have read several accounts of honey bees making an early spring honey from Red Maple blossoms, usually on the west coast of North America. I don’t see many of those trees where I live on the east coast of Newfoundland, but regular maple trees, whatever you want to call them, are abundant in urban areas of the island. This post was written on the assumption if honey bees collect Red Maple nectar, they must be able to collection nectar from regular maples trees too.
The city of St. John’s may be one of the best places to keep honey bees on the island of Newfoundland because it’s full of maple trees and a large variety of flowering plants that offer honey bees a bonanza of nectar and pollen from June well into October. Walk around the city today and you will see flowering maple trees everywhere with little flowers that look like this.
I took that photo on my cell phone and I know it’s not the greatest, but if St. John’s had more beekeepers, honey bees would be all over those flowers — and honey made from maple nectar is spectacular.
The quantity, diversity and consistency of honey bee forage makes the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland, an excellent place to keep bees. (Just make sure your neighbours don’t mind.)
March 6th, 2016: I found this photo from 2011 that shows flowers on a maple tree, the kind of flowers that hang down in long bunch. The bees supposedly go for these too.
Not the greatest photo but good enough.
May 27th, 2016: The maple tree flowers show up as early as May. Nice.
Something To Keep In Mind: Plastic buckets from the hardware store contain BFA, a substance that is generally not good for humans. I doubt much BFA would get into the honey in this process because the honey isn’t stored in the plastic. It mostly just passes through the plastic funnels and sits in the plastic bucket for less than a day. But still, stainless steel or food-grade plastic buckets are preferable. Honey meant for public consumption should not come in contact with non-food-grade plastic.
I recently crushed and strained about 6 litres of liquid honey (about 1.6 US gallons) from a medium honey super. I followed what some called the 3-bucket method (a method I stole from the Backwards Beekeepers), which I’ve demonstrated before, except I didn’t do it properly the first time. This time I did it right and it worked perfectly. The process is explained with labelled photos below. Basically you pour the crushed comb honey into a bucket with holes it, which drains into a bucket with a paint strainer on it. Then you bottle your honey.
This probably isn’t a bad method for hobbyist beekeepers with a small number of hives. Comb honey is the best, but for liquid honey, crush-and-strained in my experience tastes and feels better than extracted honey. The fact that the honey strains through the beeswax, much of flavour of the wax — which is a huge component of natural honey — isn’t lost like it would be with extracted honey.
July 25th, 2015: I also posted a video called Cutting and Bottling Honey that’s had over 4 million views even though it shows me making a few mistakes in the 3-bucket method.
I thought I’d put a quick spotlight on something I’ve only mentioned in passing before (and that allows me to recycle some old videos): Decapping honey frames with a heat gun instead of a decapping knife.
I’ve used a heat gun instead of a decapping knife for three seasons now and I love it because:
1) It’s cheap as dirt. An electric decapping knife goes for about $150 before taxes and shipping. I paid $30 for my heat gun.
2) It’s quick and easy to use and it doesn’t leave behind any kind of mess. An electric decapping knife requires careful attention so you don’t burn yourself or the honey, and although it may be a little quicker to use once you get used to it, it makes a mess. You’re left with honey and wax to clean up afterwards. Some people don’t mind all that left over wax. They use it make a variety of creams and cosmetic products. But I don’t.
Here’s an example of why I go out of my way not to mix honey from different hives.
The honey on the right was taken from one hive, and it tastes heathery. The honey on the left was taken from another hive, and it has a more earthy flavour. Both were harvested on the same day. The two hives are about 2 metres apart (7 feet), but the bees from each hive favoured different nectar sources, which resulted in slightly different honey from each hive.
The favouring of specific pollen and nectar sources is called floral fidelity. The bees find an abundant nectar source and they stick with it instead of wasting time jumping from one type of flower to another.
That’s why you’ll often see a flowering tree loaded down with honey bees while at the same time not a single bee goes anywhere near your beautiful Forget-Me-Nots. The results of floral fidelity are lost in most large beekeeping operations that have to blend all their honeys together. Not me.
I posted some photos a couple days ago of what is probably the thickest combs of honey I’ve ever seen in any of my hives. Here’s the video:
It’s not the most instructive video, but if it sparks the imagination of anyone curious about honey bees or beekeeping, that’s good enough for me. If I can instruct at the same time, well, that’s a bonus. The 1:50 mark in the video, for instance, shows how the bees begin to build comb by festooning. My explanation in the video isn’t the most articulate. I’m so used to beekeeping alone in silence, I felt awkward talking. Festooning is not a well-defined phenomena anyway, so my bumbling explanation kind of fits.
Now here are some things this situation has me wondering about…
June 2019 Introduction and a few fun facts: I got more honey out of this hive than any single hive I’ve ever had. This hive was set up in a wooded area under a big ole spruce tree where it got maybe three hours of sunlight a day, about two hours in the morning and one hour in the late afternoon. The rest of the time it was in the shade. Many people believe that honey bee colonies do better when their hives are in full sunlight, and they probably do, but a colony with a healthy robust queen under any conditions can put up a pretty good fight. To anyone who has been discouraged from getting into beekeeping because they can’t keep their hives in full sunlight, don’t.
The bees in one of my hives are making the thickest combs of honey I’ve ever seen.
I usually put 10 frames in a honey super, but I had to knock that down to 8 frames just to make room for the ridiculously thick honey comb these bees are building.
Here’s what happened in one of my hives this year when I installed a honey super without a queen excluder:
The queen laid eggs throughout most of the honey frames. A full shallow super full of comb honey ruined.
Here’s a cell phone video of me pouring some honey that I extracted using my home made honey extractor.
The sound and video quality isn’t the best and it’s not smoothly edited. It’s also a little repetitive, but it demonstrates a cheap and simple method of filtering honey and you’ll hear me blather on a bit about the difference between blended honey and single-colony honey. Anyone who appreciates single malt scotch over blended scotch will know what I mean.
May 2019 Postscript: I’ve since deleted the post that demonstrates how I made my DIY honey extractor because it’s not a good design and I don’t want to lead anyone down a path of frustration. I made it from a blue food-grade plastic barrel that I purchased for $25 off Kijiji, some large food-grade plastic cutting boards that I cut into odd shapes, a stainless steal metal rod, some stainless steel bolts and screws, some 2×4 lumber, a cheap honey gate I bought off Amazon and an old electric powered drill which functioned as the motor for the extractor. Total cost was about $100. It was fine for small batches of honey, but it would never work in any convenient way for more than two honey supers of honey, and even that wasn’t easy. I’ve since tossed that extractor.
I had more jars of crystallized honey than I could eat or give away, so I gave it to the bees and they loved it.
They cleaned out every bit of honey from the jars. I eventually surrounded the inner cover hole with five or six jars of crystallized honey all at once and it worked perfectly as a spring feeding.
I began stealing honey from my bees, a little bit at a time, beginning in July. Almost half the honey was in comb form, all natural and beautiful. The rest was extracted liquid honey in jar form, not exactly natural or nearly as pretty, but it’ll do. The last batch of honey was extracted today — the jar on the left in the photo. Compare it to the jar on the right that was extracted a month ago.
Judging from its golden appearance and its flavour (almost sickly sweet and pungent), I’d say the honey extracted today is mostly Goldenrod honey. The honey extracted a month ago is darker and the flavour is rich and earthy. Although it doesn’t qualify as a dark honey, I think much of the nectar for that honey may have been collected from Black Huckleberries that seem plentiful out in the country where the bees are now.
I didn’t have time to observe the bees this year, so I’m just guessing. It’s fun to wonder, though. Every batch of honey this year was different.
I made a 4-frame extractor with a friend of mine. I’m not posting the plans for it because it’s a prototype and the design has some flaws that need to be corrected first. But it works and is easily worth the $120 I spent on it. Here’s a demo video of its maiden voyage:
By the way, the heating gun method of uncapping the honey works great. No fuss, no muss and way cheaper than an uncapping knife.
There’s not much to see here, but here’s the deal: I recently added three mated queens to some of my hives and splits. Here’s a quick video of me checking to see if a queen was released from her cage. The video ends with me looking at some foundationless frames in a honey super.
Here’s a semi-short story about the requeening. Part 1: The candy plug in one of my queen cages was rock solid and the bees hadn’t eaten through it five days later when I checked on it, not even close. Part 2: I’ve been told that the attendant bees should be removed from the queen cage before the cage is installed. Supposedly in the commotion of being introduced, the attendant bees can get over excited and inadvertently sting or harm the queen. I’ve also been told not to worry about the attendant bees and just leave them in the cage with the queen. So that’s what I did and everything turned out fine.
I took a brief peek at one of my monster hives with honey supers on it yesterday and found several frames well on their way to being filled with honey. I know some experienced beekeepers discourage new beekeepers from going foundationless in their honey supers because the chances of the bees making a solid crop of comb honey aren’t great, but I can’t help myself. I love it when the bees build natural comb like this:
My honey supers have a combination of foundationless frames, frames of drawn comb from last year (with and without foundation), and frames with untouched foundation.
Apparently the bees are attracted to the smell of drawn comb. That gets them to work in the honey supers more eagerly. I put foundationless frames between the frames of drawn comb because the bees are generally compelled to fill in empty space. My methods may not maximize honey production, but the maximizing approach can take the fun out of beekeeping. That’s not my game. And it’s hard to argue with results like this:
I decided to pull a frame of honey yesterday from a monster hive that’s out of control.
The honey has a hint of maple and a distinct wild flower aroma compared to the more delicately balanced honey I harvested in the city last year. I’ve tasted some wild flower honeys that were almost pungent, not particularly pleasant or elegant. I’m glad that’s not the case here.
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:
So why is the extracted honey cloudy? Well…