honeyed ginger

Devoted readers may remember that in the early days of spring I prepared gingered honey. Quite inadvertently, I stumbled upon something finer still.

honey-gingers.jpg

Accidental candied ginger! Ah, the honey infused the ginger just as ardently as the ginger infused the honey, and sugared it over, without syrups, completely raw. Oh, the gorgeous stuff!

honeyed ginger with chocolates

Naturally one must introduce honeyed ginger to dark chocolate. My loved ones are now wondering why I didn’t share (blushes) and so I must hurry to make another very large batch. I should think it will be ready for winter, will you try this too? A wide-mouth mason jar should be about right for extracting the ginger, and the honey left is an excellent medicinal. Now, do check back soon, as I have something else gingery and rather exciting to show you.

gingered honey

Have you escaped the springtime sore throat going around? Each of us caught it, one after the other. You might like to keep this quick traditional medicinal recipe mixed up nearby, just in case. Seeing as we were just talking about honey! Raw honey is a fine remedy for sore throats. Sometimes I mix it with lemon, or submerge elderflowers in it. This time, I gingered it.

gingeredhoney.2s.jpg

Extraordinarily basic, this. Chop ginger root roughly, small enough to fit into whatever sterile jar or bottle you have available. Pour raw honey to cover it. Now and then you might give it a turn. I just leave it out, securely capped, for my children to enjoy turning, they’ll accomplish the same work of infusing ginger throughout the honey.

gingeredhoney.1s.jpg

I like a dollop of gingered honey in a cupful of water hot from the kettle, perhaps with a squeeze of lemon. Woolly socks, a good book, a long rest, and I’m ready for spring days out. Do you have a favourite medicinal that you make and use each year?

beekeeping lessons

Lessons, lectures on beekeeping are just what I’ve been longing for, since admiring natural beekeeping in Sussex last spring and observing my dear friend’s hive in Vancouver last autumn. Lucky us, to hear of a talk on keeping bees, from our local beekeeper, at our local ecology center! Our tall girl accompanied me, and is equally enthralled and eager to host a hive. I’ve just got to tell you everything.

beekeeping

We had a look at the ubiquitous Langstroth hive, a beehive built with removable frames and ‘bee-space’ between each frame. The worker bees have ‘drawn out’ honeycomb on this frame, and capped off the cells with more wax. This frame was extraordinarily heavy, it was so laden with honey. The scent is entirely intoxicating.

I was amazed to hear that a honeybee queen begins life no differently from a worker bee (80-90% of the hive, and female) or a drone (male), but is placed in a larger cell and fed royal jelly, a high-protein superfood that enables her to develop ovaries. She goes out to find where the local drones are hanging out, mates with them, and is ready to lay 1500 eggs a day for the rest of her life. Her life should be about 5 years, but our ecologically stressed state has shortened most queen’s lives to about 2.

I’m not sure how I’ve lived so long without knowing the lifecycle of a bee. The babies are born, tucked into cells and fed jelly by nurse bees, and cocoon there for just over a week. They emerge, clean their cells for the next generation, and begin to work as nurse bees. They’ve not yet developed stingers or enzymes for creating all the amazing beeproducts they’ll make later. They might get promoted to be an attendant to the queen, to feed her, care for her complete toilette; or become a fanner bee, whose wings fan the nectar til it is less than 18% moisture, and ready to be capped off and stored as honey. As the bees develop they might become a water carrier or a guard bee at the entrance to the hive. From there the bees take little practice flights, have you seen them doing this? Circling back to the hive til they are ready to begin foraging, which they might do for two weeks of their little two-month lives.

bee nursery & honeycomb

You can see a bit of the nursery, which would surround the queen, and the cells where the young are capped off. Around it the bees store pollen, fermenting with an enzyme they mix with it – their high protein food, preserved in honey; around bee pollen they store more honey. In a wild hive, this is formed in that familiar winnie-the-pooh egg shape; in the framed hive a similar structure can be encouraged. The hive is built with a cover and a roof, with ventilation, and the frames can be built with a ‘comb’ already on it, or the bees can form their own from scratch. This takes a lot of work, particularly if a hive is started from scratch rather than from a nucleas colony. The honey may even provide some of the insulation needed for winter, and I was pleased to hear our master beekeeper’s opinion that in the first year, no honey ought to be removed from the hive, to help the bees overwinter in their best possible health and nutrition; and in future years, to take outer frames cautiously. The idea of giving bees sugar water seems counterintuitive on so many levels, particularly given the crisis bees currently face.

natural honeycomb and propolis

The propolis, those reddish markings on the frame, is an amazing bee substance, anti-bacterial, medicinal, another superfood. Bees use propolis to seal off any gaps, and will even surround and mummify an intruder with it, to protect themselves from disease. This frame of honeycomb is naturally built – and you can see that a couple of nectar flows are present, probably a darker plant like blackberry, and a lighter plant might have produced the lighter honey. Honeycombs shaped like this always put me in mind of Aganetha Dyck’s amazing sculptural, environmental work with bees.

beekeeping5s.jpg

Liane told us fascinating things about bee communication. The openings in this natural comb are communication holes, built by the bees to allow them to move between frames. Bees dance to create vibrations that echo through the hive, and describe a source of nectar. If a couple of flows appear, the bees will send out scouts to check each source nectar, and listen to scout’s descriptions when they return – then ‘vote’ on which nectar source to pursue! In this way you’ll get dandelion honey, blackberry honey… the bees agree upon where to forage! What’s more, the flight path determines much of what the bees will choose – if there are great flowers behind the hive, the bees might ignore it. They’re more likely to pursue flowers in a u-shape in front of the hive. Liane spoke about positioning the hive so that the flight path isn’t careening right into a busy area; placing the hive to receive strong morning sun to warm the hive; raising the hive to keep creatures from easily getting at the bees – there are good reasons that we think of hives in trees!

extracted honeycomb

Can you see the way a knife sliced the caps off, to extract the honey? I only dream of this. I’m delighted with how much we’ve learned – there’s much more to tell you, but I will save it for our next adventure in beekeeping. We’d like to visit Liane and her hives, and it would be very sweet to daydream over her wonderful supplies over at Homesteader’s Emporium. We’ll be watching for more workshops, too. Look out for your own local beekeeping lessons, club, mentors, suppliers and workshops. Post them in the comments if you like! I shall go daydream about beehives now.

beekeeping

Early in October, when autumn was convinced it was summer, we visited my dear friend Sarah and her children in the city. In her beautiful kitchen I stumbled upon the most beautiful and unexpected object.

honey frame

A frame from their beehive, thoroughly sculpted with honeycomb, heavy with honey. I had no idea Sarah kept a hive in the garden! I fell over. Such an astonishing, amazing thing. How much would I love to do this! Like keeping chickens, beekeeping takes some studying, a well-designed structure, a good spot in the garden and a bit of bravery – and learning from watching someone else helps so much. Now I have a beekeeping friend to watch, with keen interest.

honeycomb

I’ve admired the hives on Old Plawhatch Farm near our old cottage in Sussex, and listened to a fascinating talk there by the Natural Beekeeping Trust. Sarah and I talked about how she’s caring for the bees, instinctively following principles I’ve become so interested in. What if the hive isn’t opened often, so it stays warmer, the way the bees need it? What if honey is only taken when the hive is particularly heavy, so the bees have their natural food through winter?

<beehive

The hive strikes me as an unimaginable treasure. The intoxicating scent of beeswax, and so many wonderful uses for the beautiful stuff; the exquisite particularity of flavours of a local honey, and its extraordinary healing benefits; the tremendous contribution a beehive imparts to the health of the neighbourhood’s flora; the utter delight of watching the grace and beauty of bees at work. I love it, I am completely inspired. Thank you, Sarah.

hazelnuts

What elation to gather the hazelnuts before the squirrels made off with the entire harvest. We felt a bit smug, having just outsmarted bears who make off with plums, too.

hazelnuts

What a pleasure to shuck them, sitting on the back step with the children, like shucking corn both in word and in action. Albeit with enough repetition to cause a couple of blisters.

hazelnuts, hulled

What a delight to set them in a basket to dry in a warm room, and watch the pale green deepen to that hazelnut brown.

And what a disappointment to find them all empty, not a single nutmeat amongst them. All our plans for hazelnut torte, or honeynuts! Dashed. Back to buying cobnuts at the shops. The hazels were recruited for an autumn display, beautiful but slightly unfortunate, like an ornamental cherry in spring. Do you gather nuts from local trees before the creatures take them all? What do you do with them?