Friday, June 24, 2016

A Portable Observation Hive

Last week, I received such a wonderfully extravagant gift that I have to share it. My friend Bill built me a portable observation hive that I can take to the various talks I give to school kids. 

My plan is to pop a bar in just before a talk (one with the queen, of course), and then put her back when I'm done.

He asked whether I wanted it to hold one bar or two. Two bars would provide the ability to show different kinds of comb. But one bar would be more stable in transit.

Instead of a door, it has latches at the top that allow a portion of the top to be removed. The pane of plexiglass on that side of the hive can be pulled out in order to put a bar in.

The plexiglass extends into the roof so that it is completely bee-tight when closed.
The groove in the piece that opens fits right over the plexiglass.
A closer look
Long "feet" make the base extremely stable.

There are plenty of ventilation holes, too. If the weather is chilly, I can pop some corks in a few holes from the outside.

Ventilation is closed with screen on the inside.

Bill is a fantastic woodworker, and the hive is as beautiful as it is functional. I was thinking that it would even be a showstopping way to serve comb honey at a brunch or for dessert. Just pop a bar of honeycomb in with maybe a shallow dish underneath to catch drips & let everyone slice off their own honey.

I'm encouraging Bill to take orders, and he promises me he's amenable to the idea. I'd definitely recommend his work to anyone.

Anyway, I had to share. I love it so much -- can't wait to use it for the first time!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Jun Kombucha (Honey Kombucha)

When my husband and I got married years ago, I took a class on making naturally fermented pickles, and made zillions of them. The problem, though, was that nobody was ever home to eat all that stuff and I was running out of room in the fridge, so I gave it up. A few months ago, though, I started taking it up again by making kombucha.

Kombucha -- fermented tea -- is made with tea and sugar and undergoes an anaerobic fermention process. A scoby (which is an acronym of "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast") creates a biofilm over the tea, which prevents air from entering the liquid and causes natural carbonation. Yeast converts sugar in the tea to alcohol, and bacteria converts the alcohol into acids (essentially, it creates a vinegar). Sugar (opposed to other sweeteners) is used to make kombucha because it's much easier to control its pH that way.

On paper, I realize this beverage sounds completely unappetizing. (Biofilm? Yeast? Bacteria? Really?) In fact, my DH looked pretty skeptical when I offered him a glass, but now he's just as hooked as I am because it's really quite nice. Even my dog likes it. Bubbly and tangy, it reminds me of stone fruit and apple cider vinegar.

So anyway, I've been making this for a while using a continuous brew method, which I like because of the minimal cleanup, and we've been enjoying it every day. However, I recently read about something called jun kombucha. It was described as "the champagne of kombuchas." Also, instead of using sugar, jun is made with green tea and honey! Well, hot diggity! I had to try it!

It's important to note that one cannot use a regular kombucha scoby and starter tea to make jun as it requires different yeast/bacteria to process the honey. Jun scobys also work better at lower temperatures, which might be a good thing since a lot of windows make my kitchen a bit chilly in the winter.

Although I grew my own kombucha scoby, jun scobys are reported to be much more difficult and fickle, so I bought one instead. You can pay as much as $45 online for a jun scoby & starter tea, but I found a much less expensive one on Amazon. Even with shipping, it came out to only about $10. Etsy seems to have some jun scobys for sale as well.

Here are my scoby, starter tea, and instructions

Making jun kombucha is pretty easy -- just mix some green tea, honey & starter tea and add the scoby. The hardest part is waiting for the fermentation process to complete.

Green tea brewing

Green tea is cool. Honey goes in next.
Brewing a new pot for me in the background.

Add jun scoby & starter tea
Avoid transferring undesirable bacteria to jun scoby
by making sure everything it touches is clean.
Couldn't find a rubber band, so I used a long balloon to tie my kombucha!

After letting it ferment the prescribed number of days, I bottled it and let it carbonate a few more days until it was ready to drink.

A bubbly glass of jun, ready to drink

The color of it was positively lovely, and it had loads of bubbles. But the smell was... not entirely off-putting. I could smell the honey, but it wasn't the tangy, vinegary smell of regular kombucha. The actual tasting, though, was something of a Lou and Andy moment. Lou and Andy are two of my favorite characters from a sketch comedy show called Little Britain. Essentially, Andy constantly insists on having things that Lou knows he'll hate -- like an ice cream cone with just the cone and no ice cream. Despite Lou's valiant attempts to dissuade him, Andy always gets his way and always ends complaining, "I don't like it." It's a highly predictable gag, but it still cracks me up. Anyway, I'm having a very Andy moment. I don't like it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Queen Status

Sorry for the lack of photos. I wasn't in the mood to take pictures. Today's bare-bones notes are more for my record-keeping than for readers.

HTML Tables
ColonySpotted Queen? Eggs? Other
Elsa No, but she is queenright Yes Completely full, but still refuses to swarm.
Removed 2 bars of nectar and gave them to another colony to ripen
Austeja No, I suspect she is queenless. The bees were extremely agitated and runny.

Gave her 2 bars of capped swarm cells from Bubblegum. 
No Expect queen to emerge June 27. Should be laying by July 7 (+/- 5 days)
Hippolyte June 11, there were new eggs and larvae. Between then and now, they threw a swarm and made more swarm cells. Population has been greatly reduced which is a good thing since they're a lot less b*tchy now.

Cut out all the swarm cells and combined with Bubblegum, who had capped swarm cells.

I couldn't find Bubblegum's queen. Not entirely sure if she swarmed or not. 
No If they let one of those swarm cells emerge, I can expect a queen to emerge June 27. Should be laying by July 7 (+/- 5 days)
Buttercup Spotted queen.  No Expecting her to lay by June 22 (+/- 5 days)
Peach Did not see queen. I suspect this one may be queenless as well. Bees were a little runny in this one, too.  No Expecting her to lay by June 22 (+/- 5 days)
Celestia Did not see queen. No Expecting her to lay by June 22 (+/- 5 days)

Not having eggs in so many hives all at once is nervewracking for me. I can't help but think of a character in that disturbing film Pink Flamingoes -- she's a grown woman who sits around in a baby's playpen all day yelling for eggs. The highlight of her life is a visit from the guy who delivers eggs. At the present moment, I totally get that feeling. "In here, Mr. Eggman! Help! Help! Here I am!" Oh boy. Beekeeping really has made me twisted.