Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Have the World's Best Husband!

My DH travels frequently for work, and he always makes it a point to ask me what I want him to bring back. Most of the time, the answer is, "Nothing." However, when he had to visit London last week, I knew exactly what I wanted. "Bring me some monofloral honey from Fortnum & Mason!!!"

Fortnum & Mason

He asked, "Do you have an address? Do I have to go there?"

"Well, no, but just make sure that you get something monofloral." Lots of stress on that "monofloral."

Honey selection

Of course, while attending his conference, he mentioned in various conversations that he had to run an errand for honey. Every single person responded with, "Oh, so you're going to Fortnum & Mason, yeah?" His destiny was sealed.

Shropshire honey, Welsh heather honey, and Salisbury plain honey
along with some  wildflower honey in an adorable china jar and a luxurious honey dipper from F&M
The biscuits are from Harrods, though. 

Early Saturday morning, I received an excited call from my DH, "I wish you were here! You should see this place!" Then I got a run-down on all the varieties of honey in the store. (My picks: heather, borage, and Pitcairn Island, please! Yes, the Pitcairn Island is not a monofloral, but it's from Pitcairn Island! Where else am going to get a sample?)

The Pitcairn Island honey is bottled in dark plastic :-(
Still, look how light the borage honey -- it's practically clear.

My DH wasn't able to take a tour of Fortnum & Mason's rooftop apiary. Apparently, tours have to be arranged well in advance. (It's just as well since I get nervous when my allergic husband gets too close to beehives.) F&M also sells honey from their London store location. However, one has to get on a waiting list, and it takes awhile to get the honey. "Better sign up now," my DH advised, "so you can get your honey in two or three years from now." I have no plans to get on the wait list, but no matter.

An Ogilvy's honey sampler: Balkan Linden, Zambezi Plains, Himalayan Mountains, and New Zealand Rainforest

My DH is a little bummed because he had meant to pick up some Scottish comb honey and forgot, but I'm beyond ecstatic about his selections. I'm feeling like a kid in a candy shop.

The day before his F&M excursion, my husband visited a little Italian shop in SoHo
and picked up some acacia and chestnut honey.
The man knows what I like.

I really don't know which one to try first. Perhaps a honey tasting party is in order! I did some reading on some of the monoflorals, and this is what I found:

  • Acacia: This is European sister of our black locust, and it has the same butterscotch, vanilla, and almonds finish. Pair it with Pecorino Romano or provolone and chardonnay.
  • Chestnut: "Chestnut is either a honey you'll adore or one you'll wish you'd never met." Notes of carob, wet tobacco, balsam, smoke, and leather with a bitterness that lasts on the tongue. Serve with Pecorino Romano & fresh pears or with Gorgonzola on walnut bread, arugula, and cabernet sauvignon.
  • Heather: The London Honey Company makes a distinction in their products between ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) and bell heather (Erica cinerea). However, ling heather is generally the plant referred to as heather while the Ericas (cross-leaved heather is another Erica) are called heaths.

    Ling is dark amber and opaque. It's sometimes referred to as "the Rolls Royce of honeys." It has a viscous, jelly-like texture that refuses to pour out of the jar -- even when turned upside down. It also does not crystallize. To test the purity of ling honey, scrape a line on its surface. "If the line stays on the surface, it's not mixed with other heather honeys." Pure ling also has tiny air bubbles throughout. Tasting notes indicates flavors of warm and smoky toffee, plum, blackberry, and bitter coffee with a tangy finish. It should be paired with Stilton or cheddar cheese, griddle cakes or porridge.

    Bell heather is reddish and transparent. The flavor is bitter, perfumy, and floral with hints of mint. Drambuie and Sam Adams Honey Porter beer are brewed with Scottish heather honey.

    I think my DH brought back some sort of mix since, visually, my honey has characteristics of each. 
  • Linden: Delicate, herbal, and fruity. Smells of sour milk, beeswax, and a sweet mustiness. Flavor profile includes green bananas, kiwi fruit, butterscotch pineapple, and green melon. Pair it with a butter camembert accompanied by green grapes, toasted pecans, a baguette, and chardonnay.

Now I don't want to give too much away right now, but I asked my DH to pick up an extra jar of one of the honeys (I won't say which) because I've been wanting to have a raffle. I just have to get around to figuring out how to run one and which host to use. But stay tuned... It's coming soon!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A New Queen & The Birthing of a Revolution

On Thursday, I added some syrup to the nucs and took the opportunity to check on them. Not only is all well, but Buttercup has a queen! Finally! Sadly, I left my smartphone in the house, but compared to my dark girls, she's a blond beauty.

This afternoon, I undertook an inspection of the full-sized hives. I can tell that the summer dearth has started. Very little nectar coming in. Actually, it looks like the saved nectar is starting to get eaten. Comb building has all but halted. All very normal for this time of year.

I didn't do a thorough check, but Austeja is starting to build drone comb, which is a sign of a healthy hive to me. Saw eggs and larvae, so I closed up.

Hippolyte & Peach
Hippolyte and Peach don't seem to have any honey bars in back, but it's hard to tell what they have since I didn't really get to look at them.

I never thought I'd say this, but I actively dislike these bees. These are my open-mated packages from GA, and they are the meanest, nastiest, most hateful furies I've ever seen. Even the bees I had my first-year weren't this bad. They were a little defensive at first (head bumping) because they'd suffered a few bear attacks right before I'd gotten them, but they settled down after a few weeks. These Georgia bees must have some AHB genetics or something. As soon as I pull out the first bar, they swarm out en masse directly at my head. There are no warning bumps, either. Stinging commences straightaway.

Hippolyte. Starting some comb behind the divider board.

Today, it was so bad I actually had to go back to the house and suit up, which almost ticked me off more than the vicious attacks since it was almost 90 F outside. I usually don't wear more than a veil, but I truly need the whole shebang with them. I barely took a look at them. I got two bars into Hippolyte, and not even a single bar into Peach. I still got zapped four times.

Some double comb on a bar

I've had it. These queens are getting dethroned. I just haven't quite decided yet how to proceed with my revolt. Here are the options I'm considering.

  1. I could requeen them now. However, I don't see this as a real viable plan since I'd have to comb through the hive to find the queens and then I'd have to keep messing about with them until I know they have a new mother. The idea of repeated interactions with them sends shivers down my spine.
  2. Leave them alone until the last brood emerges at the end of fall. Then shake them out to die & take the honey. It sounds horrible, but that's what people used to do with skeps every year. My only concern is that they might join other colonies without adding any resources to them. In other words, will I make the bread bigger without adding any more butter?
  3. Let their numbers dwindle a bit until the fall flow starts. Shake all the bees out and let them beg their way into the other hives. Distribute brood to the other hives in order to boost their workforce. The down side of this plan is that the thought of all those hellions in the air at once terrifies me. On the other hand, it should give the other hives a huge bump for that final nectar flow.
  4. Hope winter kills them. If not, make splits & raise queens using brood from my other hives. If they survive, it will be an easy way to start a lot of new hives. However, this plan has a con, too, which is that if they die, they die after consuming a lot of honey.

I know one should never say never, but truly, if I can avoid it, I will NEVER buy a Southern package again.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Headaches Begone with Switchel!

Yesterday afternoon, a friend of mine stopped and shared something new with me -- switchel. I'd never really heard of it before, and she mentioned that it was great for headaches. Intrigued, I had to do some research on this.

CideRoad is the brand my friend brought over.
Honestly, I didn't love it. I thought it a little bland.
More ginger would've been nice.

Going way back in history, Hippocrates prescribed something called oxymel -- vinegar mixed with honey. It was used as a remedy for various ailments on its own, but it was also used as a pleasant-tasting carrier for not-so-pleasant medicinal herbs.

The Vermont Switchel Company

Switchel kind of takes oxymel and turns it into a refreshing beverage. Switchel, which is thought to have originated in the Caribbean, had become a popular summer drink in the American colonies by the 17th century. In the 19th century, it was nicknamed haymaker's punch because it was served to thirsty farmers during the summer hay harvest. Prior to the discovery of electrolyes and the advent of blue sports drinks, switchel fit the bill for replacing minerals lost through sweating.

Superior Switchel

The ingredients for switchel are quite simple -- water, ginger, apple cider vinegar, and a sweetener (e.g., honey, molasses, brown sugar, or maple syrup). Except for the water, all of the ingredients contain potassium to assist with rehydration. The ginger itself is an important ingredient, too. Apparently, it "warms the stomach," making it possible for a person to drink more fluid than if he/she were drinking plain cold water alone.

Up Mountain Switchel

I did some more digging, and it seems that, to my friend's point about the headaches, ginger is a popular home remedy for headaches. Lucky me, I had a chance to test out her claim the same day.

Last night, I came down with a massive, head-splitting pain. After suffering miserably for a couple of hours, I made myself a glass of switchel. I didn't use a recipe but just mixed:

  • A glass of water
  • 1 Tbsp fire cider (apple cider vinegar that's been steeped in herbs)
  • Some honey
  • About a Tbsp of ginger 
Lo and behold, within 15-20 minutes I did indeed feel human again. I actually felt fairly well!

Fire Tonic No9 is the fire cider brand I used.
There's a big dispute about the product bearing the name Fire Cider,
but that's a different story.

I realize this post is only loosely related to bees or honey, since honey is just an ingredient in switchel (and not even the main ingredient or a necessary one since it can be replaced by another sweetener). However, the pain relief came so quickly that I wanted to share this since it might be helpful to a lot of people. In particular, I have some people in mind who limit their use of pain killers due to kidney conditions, and I think they could benefit from this easy, fast, healthful alternative.