Bee Update!

Since it's officially a very happy spring here in Seattle (we're in the 60s and sunny today!), I thought it was just the right time for an update on how our bees are doing. We (by which I mean, my husband Kyle - I'm just the official picture snapper) did a hive check a few weeks ago... Bee hive check...and our bees appear to be super happy and healthy! Because we didn't do a big honey harvest last year (they swarmed last year and we wanted them to have as little stress as possible during the winter), there's still a whole lot of it left over from last year - all of the dark stuff in this picture is pure honey!

Man in bee suit holding frame of honeyWe decided we could take just a little for ourselves, so we extracted a frame's worth with our super professional technique of using the bee scraper to scoop what was on the frame into a strainer.

Frame of honey being extracted by handPro tip: anything you use in the honey extracting process will then be unusable for anything else, so if you're considering this, I'd recommend picking up some old secondhand stuff. Learn from our mistake!

When we started extracting it, we saw that the honey had been in there long enough to turn super dark!

Very dark honey being extractedLook at the difference between that and the very first extraction we did early last year:

Very light "new" honeyYou would think they came from two different hives, but it's just the difference between "new" honey, and honey that's been stored for a while. It also has a lot to do with what the bees have been eating. I'm so curious about what went into our honey, but it will have to remain a mystery!

After the extraction, we decided to try refining our wax for the first time. I really thought it was going to be easy, despite the number of things we'd read that assured us it was not. I'm sad to report that we were wrong and everyone else was right...this is a really involved process. We decided to go with a method we'd read about where you put all the wax in old socks (which act as a filter) and then put them in a slow cooker with water for several hours.

Extracting wax in socks in a crock potThe idea is that the wax will melt out of the socks and rise to the top of the crock pot, and then once you turn off the heat, it will harden at the top and be easy to pick out. I'd classify this as mostly successful, but Kyle had to fashion a little tool that would hold the sock down - we found that without some pressure, most of the wax didn't come out of the socks. The amount in the pot is about six frames worth, and this is the amount of wax we got at the end:

orange beeswax after being refinedI finally understand why beeswax candles are so expensive! This is a whole lot of work for not much wax. You can see that ours has an orange color to it; this is because we were using some older wax, and wax that had been part of brood comb (where the baby bees hatch). The wax from these sources is darker, and turns out finished product that is orange or golden in color rather than the pale, nearly white stuff we're used to seeing. It was fun to see how it came out though, and we have a nice little brick of wax to do something with (we can't agree on what yet!).

And, lest you think it's all smooth sailing, I'd like to remind everyone that safety gear (like that lovely bee suit up at the beginning) is really important when dealing with bees. If you forget it, you may end up looking like this...

Man having allergic reaction of eye from bee sting...when one of those lovely ladies gets annoyed at you and stings you in the eyebrow! For the record, he's fine now - a couple of days of medications and he was all better, but take this as a warning and always wear your gear!

Bottle Hummingbird Feeder

We went to the Northwest Flower and Garden show a couple of weeks ago and picked up a very cool little stopper: stopper for hummingbird feeder

This was one of those things I didn't know I'd been looking for, as I had the perfect bottle to turn into a hummingbird feeder just hanging out at home - reinforcing my belief that I should save all things for later repurposing!

How to hang the bottle was a bit of a challenge, but I thought wrapping wire around would be the best, and prettiest, way. I ordered some 16 gauge copper, got out some pliers and wire cutters (we have giant ones but smaller jewelry cutters would definitely work if you decided to try this) and got to work.

Empty glass bottle, copper wire, pliers, wire cutters

I first tried just winding the copper wire around the bottle, but the wire kept stretching and letting the bottle fall out, so I eventually decided on kind of hybrid braiding/wrapping method, very similar to how I made the hanging planter from a while ago. I just used the bottle as my form, and then wrapped all the loose wires together at the top to form a handle. I ended up with a very pretty holder that can be slipped off when it's time to refill or clean:

Copper Hummingbird feeder holder for a bottle

When I hung it outside, I bent the top handle a bit to give the bottle an angle (a suggestion from my husband to make it a little easier for the birds to get the food). Our house came with little hooks under the eaves, but it could easily be hung with a hook screw.

Copper wrapped bottle hummingbird feeder

In a happy accident, it matches the copper roof on our regular bird feeder (currently filled with black sunflower seeds and very popular with our local finches), and I think it will still be really pretty when it starts to weather and oxidize. We haven't had any visitors yet, but I'm hoping the warmer weather will encourage some little hummers to investigate!

Copper wrapped hummingbird feeder

Early (tiny) Honey Harvest!

Last weekend while we were doing a hive inspection (and by "we" I mean that my husband did all the hard work while I stayed a safe distance away supervising), we noticed that we have a ton of capped honey already. We've had a very warm spring here in Seattle, so our bees started to feed early and they've had a lot to choose from. The hive has increased substantially in population since we got them in April and they have been very busy, so we decided it might be okay to have a little taste of our very own honey (normal honey harvest is at the end of August around here). We started out with a little less than half a frame of capped comb:

man holding honeycomb

Since we didn't have that much, we bypassed the extractor and just scraped it down with a hive tool. I took a video because it's kind of hard to describe - the sound isn't that important, but I think it shows the process pretty well.

[embed]http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sHbMhvf0JE[/embed]

Once the the honey had mostly dripped into the bottom bowl, it was time to wring out what was left from the honeycomb. My most important word of advice on this step is that the gloves are absolutely necessary! This is a very sticky process, as you can imagine, and it will take you about a million hand washings to get clean again if you skip the gloves.

man extracting honey

We just used regular old loose weave washcloths to do this step, because none of the stores near us had cheesecloth, and I think it actually worked fairly well. After this filtering, we did one more before funneling it into the jar, just to make sure we really got all the stuff out.

close up of honey being extracted

We weren't sure what color our honey would be, since we have so many different kinds of food around here, but it ended up being a very pretty light gold color. I was a little nervous about what it was going to taste like - what if we ended up with terrible honey after all this work? I shouldn't have worried, because it's amazing! Of course, we may be just slightly biased, but it's sweet without having a funny aftertaste like you sometimes get with store bought, while at the same time not sweet enough to give you a tummy ache. I'm going to use it to make granola this week and I think it's going to be delicious! We can't wait to see how much we get during the real harvest at the end of the summer...and as quickly as this jar is going, we'll be ready for it!

Freshly extracted honey in a mason jar

Chicken Update 2!

It's been a while since I posted a chicken update, and I know you're all dying to know how they are, so I thought it was about time for some pictures. Our ladies are 7 months old next week, and they've all officially started laying. IMG_3845

Cleo, the Ameraucana, lays the tealy/green eggs. Here she is, caught in the act:

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She has the prettiest feather coloring, but is definitely the most skittish of the three. She was the first to start laying, at right about six months.

Bea, the Rhode Island Red, was the second to start laying. Hers are the light pink (yes, pink!) eggs. She's having  little drink right here; chickens drink by taking up a bit of water, then tilting their heads back and moving their beaks to get the water down their throats.

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Addie, the Buff Orpington, was the runt of the litter and the last to start laying, but is making up for lost time. She's now the fluffiest, and the most vocal after she lays.

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They're not shy about letting me know if I'm taking too long to let them out in the coop, and they'll squawk and peck at the door until I open it. Then it's on to say good morning to the bunny! They do this every morning - cruise right by the coop, give her a little sniff and coo, and then continue on to checking the yard for anything new.

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We've been getting the garden ready for new planting, so there's lots of turned soil in the yard right now, and their new favorite activity is digging holes and hunting for worms.

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Right now it's working in our favor; they're helping turn the soil and fertilizing away, so I should have very nice planting dirt. Once we actually put things in, though, we'll have to put up netting to keep them out of the beds. We've already learned the lesson the hard way, as they totally destroyed a raspberry bush we put in.

I never expected to have so much fun raising chickens, but they are incredibly entertaining and surprisingly sweet. They're very attached to me, so whenever I'm in the yard, they follow me around, and recently Bea and Addie have started letting us pick them up. In fact, most times I go outside, if I don't pick Bea up or at least pet her to say hello, she will holler at me until I give in!

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They do a funny thing that I've been calling "getting ready for liftoff" where when they see you coming, they squat low to the ground and stick their wings out a bit, then let you pet them or pick them up. I thought it was just a weird thing our chickens did, but after some googling, I found out that this is actually a really common behavior. Apparently, once hens start laying, they start the squatting thing as a submissive behavior - basically telling you you're the boss (normally they would be doing this for a rooster, but we don't have one, so they'll do it for whoever they see as the leader of their flock).

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The only problem we have now is that we're now getting a dozen or more eggs in a week, which is way more than we can possibly hope to eat!