In the tub with my honey

I’m not really sure who this will disturb more, the people who enjoy my honey or the people who get in my hot tub. Either way, I’m feeling pretty clever.

Here’s the problem: properly extracted and stored honey will never go bad (they’ve found edible honey in millenia-old Egyptian tombs), but it does crystallize, because the sugars are supersaturated in the water, so the little flecks of pollen and other natural goodness in the honey causes it to precipitate. Again, it doesn’t make it go bad, but it does make it hard to use, as you have to scoop it rather than drizzle it.

So what to do? Heating it will reliquify it, but you need to be careful, as part of the magic of raw honey is in the enzymes and proteins that will break down if it’s heated too much (I haven’t found any solid numbers, but 120° F seems to be a reasonable upper limit). Also, as you get into higher temperatures, you carmelize the sugars and change the flavor.

Thus, my usual strategy has been to take my jars of crystallized honey and give them a slow, warm bath on the stove. Effective, but not efficient: to ensure that I don’t accidentally pasteurize or carmelize the honey, it can take 4 or 5 hours on low heat, and with only one small stove top, that can mean days to get through dozens of jars.

But wait! I’ve got a hot tub in my back yard. And it’s set to 104° F! Let’s see how it worked:

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Brilliant, just brilliant!

PS Why doesn’t store-bought honey crystallize as quickly? Likely higher moisture content (i.e., it’s been diluted with water).

Yard Rent Jugs

In a previous post, I asked what the standard arrangement is when a beekeeper sets his hive on someone else’s property: do you pay rent? how much? Or ought the property owner being paying for the pollination.

The consistent response I heard was that beekeepers generally won’t pay money to put their hives on someone else’s property. If the hives are being placed to pollinate an orchard, then it’s the orchard owner renting the bees, and if it’s just hives looking for a place to settle, it’s just neighbors being friendly.

One interesting tidbit came from Lou of the Gotham City Beekeepers, who said:

A landowner with crops or a garden most often welcomes the bees without expectations of being paid. Beekeepers always get paid for short-term placements of hives for specific blooms, rarely for long-term placements. Regardless of expectations, “yard rent” is often paid (or gifts are made in lieu or rent) with 5-pound containers of honey. If you Google for “yard rent jug” you will find that a specific class of low-cost large container exists for this specific purpose.

I did Google “yard rent jug” and found that a 3 – 5 lbs jug (a couple of quarts or so) is apparently the standard unit for renting land. Who knew?

Legalize Beekeeping!

I got an interesting note from Lou of the Gotham City Beekeepers today:

You may not have known, or even cared, but beekeeping is illegal in NYC.

This became a problem for a number of different efforts to raise veggies in various community gardens and urban farming experiments. Suddenly, beekeepers were in demand, but we were considered to be slightly less socially acceptable than skateboarders.

There is now a bill before the NYC City Council to legalize it, so we (a formerly somewhat low-profile set of people) have filed a non-profit registration, formed a Co-Op, and put up a web site:

I didn’t know it, and I find it amazing, if not surprising. Apparently, bees in New York are considered “dangerous animals, naturally inclined to do harm or capable of inflicting harm”. (If you gives you any perspective on the ridiculously of this claim, my hives are about 10′ from my deck, where I regularly have dozens of people over for bbq’s. Haven’t had a guest stung yet.)

So visit their web site and sign their petition. They’re also offering free classes on rooftop beekeeping, underway now (not sure if it’s too late to sign up).

Who pays whom what?

I got this question from a reader the other day:

I have someone that is interested in putting bee hives on my property, what would be the norm for compensation for such an arrangement? Are there any concerns I should be made aware of? I would really appreciate any info you could give me.

My answer was:

I’m actually not sure. I’m a hobbyist beekeeper with just a couple hives in my yard. I know that some farmers pay beekeepers to park their hives near their crops for pollination purposes, and I know smaller beekepers will prevail on friendly neighbors to let them park their hives on their property, sometimes in token exchange for some honey, but I’m not sure what the standard arrangement is. Just know that beekeeping isn’t big money, and if it costs you nothing, best not to try to make it cost someone else a lot.

What’s the real answer?

Cold. Snap!

In the last post, The Culling Winter, I reported that one of my hives didn’t make it, and I puzzled about the reason. The comment section was unanimous in its conclusion: a weak hive plus the cold snap starved the hive. Even the simple two inches from the cluster to the remaining supplies was too much in the frigid conditions. Linda’s description had a bit of poetry to it, I thought it worth repeating:

They all then die together in a very democratic way, each getting shares of the very last of the honey available to them until the supplies in those cells are completely gone and then they die, head down in the cell and tongues out to get the last lick.

Sic transit gloria apis.

The Culling Winter

Like the many of the rest of the northern states, we got more than our fair share of snow this past December. Seattle, which ordinarily might get one two days of snow all winter, often amounting to less than an inch, accumulated got what seemed like a foot or more (but that’s with fisherman’s eyes, no doubt).

Hive Mind Beekeeping Hive Mind Beekeeping Hive Mind Beekeeping

In any case, this time of year I often get the question “what do your bees do over the winter,” to which I invariably reply “smoke cigarettes and play cards.”

Less flippantly and more generally speaking, the answer is that they’re hunkered down in a bunch in the center of the hive, keeping each other warm and living off the honey and pollen they spent the year collecting (minus the honey and pollen we collect, that is.) Cold weather isn’t such a problem for them, they survive in much colder climes than Seattle.

Less flippantly and more specifically to my hives, they die.

Half of them, anyway. That is, this past Sunday was balmy and bright, perfect day for mowing the shaggy patch of grass we call lawn and cracking open the hives to see how they were getting on. Upon removing the top inner cover of Hive 1 (aka Shady Hive), I heard the faint annoyed buzz of my girls rousing themselves from below, and a few came out to object to my leaving the door open and letting in a breeze. I shut the top and left well enough alone.

The opening of Hive 2 (aka Sunny Hive), on the other hand, was a more somber affair. Huddled at the top was a cluster of bees, same as I imagine were huddled down lower in Shady Hive, except that the Sunny Hive bees lacked a certain vitality.

In other words, they were dead.

Dead Bees Dead bees Dead Bees

It wasn’t hunger that did them in, as there were clearly honey stores all around them, and there were enough of them that I doubt it was the cold, but I’m not sure what else to pin it on. You can see in the top set of pictures that Sunny Hive (on the right) does have more dead bees out front during the snow, but inside they seemed in good physical shape, piled one atop the other and burrowed into empty cells. Good physical shape, ya know, aside from their deadness.

Could be mites, of course, but I didn’t see any direct signs.

One interesting note was that I clearly made a mistake in the hole I drilled in the bottom of the hive for ventilation. The idea was to create airflow that would keep moisture from building up. My mistake, it seems, was putting screen on the bottom and top of the hole. It ended up creating a closed area for detritus to build up in, which it did and eventually plugged the hole. Take a peek:


My plan is to replace the whole bottom board with a screened bottom for mite control next Spring anyway, but were I to try this method again, I’d put the screen only on the inside of the hive, not the outside as well.