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Flavorings for Homemade Cream Honey

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sure, cream honey is delicious “as is”, but if you’re already putting in the effort, why not split the batch and add some flavors?

If you’ve never heard of or made cream honey, then revert back to my recent post on Making Cream Honey, then come back here and learn how to kick it up a notch!

The following provides an overview of popular flavorings and additives for cream honey, as well as recommended amounts and online sources for purchasing these ingredients.

Freeze Dried Fruit

Photo from Nuts.com - their website offers a variety of dried, powdered organic fruits.

Nuts.com offers a variety of dried, powdered organic fruits that make great additions to cream honey. (Photo from Nuts.com)

Powdered freeze dried fruit mixes well with cream honey to add a whole new dimension of flavor.  A little goes a long way, so start with a very small amount and add as you go.  In fact, that’s good advice when adding any kind of flavor additive – you can always add more, but you can’t take it out once it’s been added.

  • Suggested Ratio: Start with 1/2 tsp per pound and go from there.  Better to add less than you think you’ll need since powdered freeze dried fruit will absorb moisture and expand, resulting in a harder product that may be difficult to spread. Use honey that has an 18% moisture content.  Higher moisture content will allow for some absorption while still producing a balanced and spreadable product.
  • Suggested Flavorings: Taste your honey and think about compatible flavors.  Darker, heavier flavored honeys might work better with darker, richer fruits, like cherries or blackberries.  Lighter, fruitier honeys might go well with brighter flavored fruits like mango, apricot, or raspberries.
  • Sources:

Flavor Oils

Lorann Oils offers a wide variety of quality flavor oils that work great in cream honey.  Shown are three of my favorites.

Flavor oils can be very strong, and some are stronger than others, so only a very small amount may be needed.  Remember, you can always add flavor, but you can’t take it out.

  • Suggested Ratio: I use about 1/4 tsp per 1 pound of honey.  However, start with 1/8 tsp, taste, and repeat until you’ve achieved a flavor level that you’re happy with.  For very strong flavors, consider using a dropper to test even smaller amounts.
  • Suggested Flavorings: All honey tastes different, so use flavors that are compatible with your honey.  Some of my favorites include:  Vanilla Nut, Blackberry, Cinnamon Roll, and Orange Cream.  Consider using food grade essential oils, like lavender, orange, geranium, or chile oil.

Stir a drop of flavoring with a tbsp. of honey to test new flavors and combinations.

  • Sources:
  • LorAnn Oils. I get all of my flavor oils from LorAnn Oils because they are top quality, food grade.  Even their essential oils are food grade.  They also have a huge selection of flavors.  Let them know you’re a beekeeper, and the folks at LorAnn Oils will provide a code to access their wholesale prices.

Ground Nuts or Nut Meal

Photo from Pecans.com - A quality online source for pecan products, including pecan meal.

Pecans.com is a quality online source for pecan products, including pecan meal.  (Photo from Pecans.com)

Nuts used for cream honey are typically ground into a meal, then mixed into the honey for even flavor and distribution.  Then some larger pieces may be mixed in for aesthetics and added crunch.  Keep in mind, this will be spread on toast or pancakes, so keep the larger pieces to a medium chop – not too fine, but not too course.

  • Suggested Ratio: Start with 1 oz. of nut meal + 1 oz nut pieces per 1 pound of honey.  Adjust as you go.
  • Suggested Nuts: Pecans are the most popular; however, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews or pistachios might also make good additions.  Again, match the nut flavor to the honey flavor.

If making your own meal, then enhance the flavor by toasting the nuts in a 350 degree oven for 5-10 minutes (watch them closely!).

Bring toasted nuts to room temperature before grinding, and be careful not to make nut butter.

  • Sources: Most honey professionals leave the nut grinding to the nut professionals.  It might be a good idea to start with purchased nut meal.  Nut meal can be ordered online from any of the following sources:

Ground Spices

Penzey's has top quality spices and a HUGE selection. (Photo from Penzeys.com)

Penzey’s has top quality spices and a HUGE selection. (Photo from Penzeys.com)

Dried, ground spices can be delicious in cream honey.  Imagine stirring cinnamon cream honey into your morning oatmeal.  Yum!

  • Suggested Ratio: Again, start very slowly when adding dried spices – maybe a pinch per pound to start, then taste and adjust from there.
  • Suggested Spices: Again, compatibility is key.  Don’t use overpowering spices in a light floral honey.  Try a very small amount of spice in a small amount of honey and taste before plunging it into the full batch.

Use only fresh, high quality spices.  Honey is too precious to skimp!

Great additions might include ginger, dried chilies, ground cinnamon, ground powdered vanilla, mint, allspice, anise…or a carefully crafted blend.

  • Sources:
    • Penzeys – Trusted name in spices and awesome selection!  I’m a huge fan.

Some final notes:

  • Consider combining flavors, like vanilla pecan, or dried peach w/ cinnamon.
  • If you add too much of any flavor type, just add more honey to balance it out.
  • When selling cream honey products, remember to include ALL ingredients on the labels, and consider adding an allergen warning if nuts are added.
  • Properly processed cream honey can be stored at room temperature. However, it will break down at higher temperatures.  Especially on hot days, consider keeping it in a cooler location (i.e. basement or pantry).
  • If you have plain cream honey on hand, you can add flavoring by simply whipping it with a blender and adding your flavors.  Store the cream honey in a cool (ideally 58 degree) location to allow it to reset.
  • Take copious notes and write down your recipes!  Note what works, what doesn’t work, additives to honey ratios, and the processes used to make the cream honey recipes.  That way every batch will be perfect and consistent.

I hope this info gets you excited enough to experiment with making your own cream honey!  It’s delicious, a fun science project to make with kids, and a unique homemade gift for friends and family.

Thanks for visiting, and do share your recipes and pics!

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Do Bees Hibernate?

January 31, 2016 (Sunday)

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Temperatures got up to a whopping 54 degrees today!  After weeks of freezing temperatures and a 3ft snowfall, I finally had the chance to check on my girls and restock their candy supply. 54 degrees is still somewhat cold for the bees.  I certainly wouldn’t start pulling out frames and breaking apart boxes until the temps are at least in the 60’s.  Below 50 degrees, the bees begin to cluster.  Bees need to cluster in the cold because that’s how they generate heat and stay warm.

What Bees Do During the Wintertime

People often ask me if the bees are hibernating.  Well, bees don’t really hibernate.  Yes, they collect food to prepare for the winter, and yes, they stay in their hives during temperatures below 50 degrees.  Once the temps drop into the 40s or lower, the bees cluster around the queen and they use their wings to generate heat.  The larger the cluster, the more heat they can generate and the better chance they have of surviving the winter, as long as there’s enough food in the hive to keep them from starving.  Bees don’t sleep.  They work around the clock…each one has a role and a purpose.

Opening the hives in temperatures below 50 degrees risks breaking the cluster.  Best not to disturb the bees in the cold.  When the cluster is broken, or when bees get separated from the cluster in the cold, they can freeze.  So my rule of thumb is, if I see the bees out and about, then it’s ok for me to open the tops of the hives and add candy.

Checking on the Girls

I schlepped up to the hives to find them flying in full force, and judging by the blanket of bees atop the blanket of snow, they’ve been super busy cleaning house.  This is a good thing.  They clean all the dead bees and debris out of the hives whenever possible.  This helps prevent disease and keeps the colony healthy.  They’ve also been busy taking orientation flights (another term for much needed potty break), and bringing in pollen.  Yep, the little buggers found pollen in this desolate white land.  Gotta love their spunk!  It was a happy sight, indeed.

RIP Green Hive

I’d been anticipating the demise of Green Hive since the last time I’d checked on them.  Lots of bees were flying in and around the hive.  I also noticed some bees fighting at the bottom entrance (shown below).  A sign that Green Hive was being robbed by the other bees.

I opened the top and sure enough, the other bees were robbing the remaining candy and honey, and Green Hive’s cluster stared up from between the frames in a dead, frozen state (shown below).  Not one of my prouder moments as a beekeeper since I decided to take them into winter with two boxes rather than combining them with a stronger hive.  Another lesson learned…

Freezing temperatures are best for preserving dead hives since parasites won’t infest the hives as long as the temperatures are freezing.  Once things start to warm up in March, I’ll clean it up and get it ready to take in a new split colony in the spring, along with Blue Hive.

Recycled Swarm Trap

As I walked around the garden I noticed that the swarm trap that had been left up since last spring, has been claimed by some other form of wildlife.  I suspect squirrels.  They chewed large holes in both sides, and another hole that appears to be stuffed with garbage – plastic, paper, and who knows what else (shown below).  Well, if it couldn’t house a swarm, then I’m glad something else found a good use for it.  We’ll build another one in a few months and hope that it catches more swarms than this one did.

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After this weekend, we’re all back in cabin fever mode.  Hope it won’t be too long again before we get another reprieve.  Stay warm everyone and let’s hope Mr. Groundhog doesn’t see his shadow.  Early spring would bee nice :o)

 

 

Ready for Spring

January 25, 2016 (Monday)

Hives in snow

It’s been an uneventful winter up til now.  Mother nature just hit us with a good 3 feet of snow this past weekend.  I know that’s not a big deal for some of you northern folks, but for us Marylanders, that’s a butt load of snow!

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How are the bees?  To bee honest, I won’t really know until the temperatures rise so I open the hives and add candy.  I’m hoping they have enough bees to stay warm and enough food to keep them going.  As I cleared snow off the hives, I did notice some dead bees in front of the entrances.   One or two flew out to see what was going on.  That’s always a good sign.

January is the time for clustering and keeping warm.  February and March is the time when they begin to produce more bees in preparation for spring, so keeping them fed and well ventilated during that time will be key to a strong start come spring.  Pollen patties are also on my to-do list.

As we were snowed in, I made a nice 10 lb batch of candy for the girls.  And we can’t forget the birds either, so I melted some tallow that had been rendered for soaps and mixed in some bird seed to make suet cakes.  Next week we cold crash and bottle a 10 gallon batch of blueberry mead, which will go on to age indefinitely.  We’re staying busy with indoor activities, but definitely looking forward to spring.   Hope everyone’s bees are doing well.  Stay safe and warm.

Candy and suet

 

DIY Powdered Sugar for Sugar Rolls

September 13, 2015

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Sugar rolls sound more like a sweet breakfast treat rather than a mite preventative for bees. I’ve said time and again that I will not treat for mites, at least not with chemicals. I did it once, never again. But I’m not against using natural, organic practices, like sugar rolls, or fogging with mineral oil. I don’t have a garden fogger yet (note to hubster…it’s on my Amazon holiday wishlist!), but I do have plenty of sugar, so I decided to attempt my first sugar rolls to help manage/reduce mites in the hives.

What’s a Sugar Roll?

Sugar rolls are a very common, natural, chemical free mite management method used by many, many beekeepers. I question whether there’s any real scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness, but then again, a million flies can’t be wrong. There’s a reason so many beekeepers do it.

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The process involves shaking a thick layer of powdered sugar across the top frames of each box (1 cup per deep box. 1/2 to 2/3 cup per medium box), then lightly brushing back and forth across the tops of the frames to push the sugar down between the frames (this is the “roll”), covering the bees in sugar.

This does two things…

  • The sugar creates a slippery surface on the bees that will cause the mites to lose their grip and fall down out of the hive through the screened bottom board; and
  • The bees clean themselves and each other profusely, consuming the sugar, picking off the mites and dropping them out of the hive though the screened bottom board.

Sugar rolls don’t destroy the mite populations like chemicals do, but when performed on a scheduled basis (e.g. every month or two), they help keep the mite populations manageable by the bees and the beekeeper. No harm comes to the bees…they like sugar. Just bee gentle with brush when rolling. Also use a shaker that distributes the sugar lightly and evenly. I have a Pampered Chef sugar shaker that holds about 1 cup of sugar and works bee-utifully. I had the large container of powdered sugar open and handy as I worked, and I just reloaded my shaker between boxes.

Pure Homemade Powdered Sugar, Minus the Cornstarch

The hardest part was finding powdered sugar that doesn’t contain cornstarch. Cornstarch is bad for the bees, and I quickly discovered that virtually every bag of powdered sugar sold in stores contains cornstarch…even the more expensive Dominos brand. So I decided to make my own powdered sugar.

Nothing but the best for my bees – pure, homemade powdered sugar is actually super easy to make in a really good blender. We have a Ninja blender, which includes the smaller shake containers that attach directly onto the blender. I found that the large blender container didn’t work so well at pulverizing the sugar into powder, but the small containers and processors works great!

I added about ¾ cups of granulated sugar to each shake container and blended for about 30-45 seconds, til I could see the sugar change in consistency – it becomes more condensed and powdery in the blender.

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Voila…powdered sugar, minus the cornstarch. Save leftovers in airtight containers for future sugar rolls or, dare I say it….holiday baking.   So long summer, hello fall…

Bees are Springing to Life!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

We had a wonderfully warm high 50’s day and the bees were crazy!!!  I started into winter with 5 hives, and had one that died out and 4 that appear to bee thriving.  I couldn’t bee more excited!

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So now that spring is in the air and the bees know it, what’s a beekeeper to do?  Well, spring is all about getting those girls up and running ASAP.  They’ve been clustered all winter, so they have some catching up to do!  They’ve been feeding on sugar cakes, and they likely have plenty of pollen stored up, but to bee safe I whipped up a batch of my gourmet pollen patties.

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When temps are consistently in the 50’s, then I’ll put some jars of syrup on the hives and that will really get the queens laying so they can get their numbers up.  The more bees, the more nectar and pollen can be brought into the hive when things begin to bloom, and the more honey they’ll produce.

Remember those swarms last year?  Well, that’s what overwintered hives do when they run out of room and don’t have enough ventilation.  This year, I plan to stay on top of things and make sure they have both.  I also intend to plant several swarm traps around the yard, and we need to figure out where we can put more hives.  Yee gads, more hives you say?  Now you sound like my husband.  You’ve gotta put ’em somewhere when you catch ’em.  Of course, I’ve heard other beekeepers say they’ve had more success catching other people’s swarms than their own when using swarm traps.  Hey, that’s ok too.  My swarms are probably happily residing in someone else’s hive.

Temps will be in the 40’s and 50’s this week, with a chance of snow on Thursday.  Ugh!!  Just when we thought it was over!  That’s always a bad thing when temps are warmer, then sudden cold sets in and the bees aren’t ready for it.  Just shows that we’re not out of the woods quite yet.  Regardless, I’ll bee cleaning frames and adding top boxes with jars of sugar syrup so the girls can get themselves juiced up.

Would love to hear how everyone else’s hives are doing and their strategies for pushing into spring!  All the best for happy spring hives!

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Who’s Still Buzzing?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The temps hit mid-forties this weekend.  In the middle of February, you take any opportunity to check on the girls and make sure they have plenty of food.  My last check was disappointing.  Mint hive was the only one that showed any significant activity, and yellow hive had died.  I since made a sugar cake, just incase, and upon tapping on the hives a few times over the past week or two, I was relieved to hear some signs of life.  But I wasn’t sure of their current states until today…

Pink Hive – This is what you want to see when you lift the cover… 

Pink Hive - looking good!

Mint Green Hive – A smaller cluster, but still going.  

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Green Hive – Small, tight cluster – looking good.

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Blue Hive – I could see how they were doing before I even lifted the lid. 

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Blue hive –  strong on the inside too!  

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Yay, four hives still going.  As happy as I was to see them, they weren’t happy at all to see me.  Mean little buggers.  I love my bees, but they really need to learn to be more gracious to the beekeeper who feeds them!

I’m never too optimistic for fear of jinxing them.  Anything can happen at any time, and we still have another solid month and half of cold weather (6 weeks at least if you listen to Mr. Groundhog).  They say March timeframe is one of the riskiest – that’s often when hives start to become active and can easily starve if they don’t have enough stores.  I’ll keep another sugar cake in reserve, just for added insurance.   As for why yellow hive died out – that’s a good question – who knows, mites, starvation.  I need to pull the boxes apart and inspect further, but if I’m not mistaken, that’s the only hive that never had a Texas queen.  My Texas bees are hardy and they seemed to thrive in the cold weather last year.  So this year I’ll try to split more hives from my Texas girls.  We really need to work on their temperaments though.

Here’s to wishing away the winter blahs and hoping for an early spring!

Sugar Cakes for Winter Feeding

Saturday, February 7, 2015

I took advantage of a recent snow day to make sugar cakes for the bees.  This is my second winter, so I’ve only made candy, which requires boiling and stirring and timing and thermometers and some messy clean-up.  Sugar cakes, on the other hand, are super simple to make and they provide a nice hefty block of food that will last at least a month or two in the hives.  It’s good insurance during these harsh cold months.

Here’s my recipe…

BooBee Sugar Cakes

Ingredients

  • 1 – 5 lb bag white granulated sugar
  • 7 oz. bottled or distilled water
  • 1 tsp Honey B Healthy or similar natural supplement and other additives as desired (lemon juice, cinnamon, etc.)
  • Two 9×13 baking pans or one double large aluminum baking pan from the store works well too, and reduces clean-up.
  • Parchment paper for lining the pan (optional)

Note:  You can also increase the water slightly and add some pollen to this mixture as well.  I just add pollen patties to the hive. 

Instructions

1.  Measure out your ingredients.

If you use the large bags of sugar like me, then a kitchen scale that weighs up to 10 lbs or more is handy.  Also handy is a kitchen helper who can offer an extra set of eyes to make sure your measurements are extra precise.

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2.  Add the water and Honey B Healthy to the sugar.

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3.  Begin stirring with a spatula or spoon, then just use your hands to work it into an even dough.

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4. If preferred, you can line your baking pan(s) in parchment paper so it can be easily transferred into the hives without falling apart.  The mixture will dry and becomes quite solid, so I don’t bother using a liner.

5.  Pour the sugar dough into the pan, spread it out evenly, and press it down tightly.

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6.  Use a knife to score and section off the cake before it dries.  I cut mine into 4 large pieces.  I’ll insert one block per hive.

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7.  Take your finished pan of sugar cakes and place it in a warm, dry room for at least 2 days until it dries out and hardens.

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8. Dig out the blocks and allow to dry a bit more.  Since the bottom doesn’t get air, it may still bee a bit moist.  Again, if you use parchment to line the bottom of the pan before pouring the sugar, then you can pull them right up and place the blocks into the hive.  But if you don’t line the bottom, then its a good idea to flip the block and allow the bottoms to dry, as well.

My pieces broke in some places, but for the most part, they are large, easy to handle chunks that will be savored and appreciated by the bees as they continue to survive a few more weeks of winter.  Now we wait for a nice 40-50-something degree day so I can quickly pop these into the hives.  Always good to bee prepared!

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