Tag Archives: bees

Snow Day

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Here’s a rare thing… snow on the Farm! Our little town of Auburn is known for being “above the fog, below the snow”… but, once in a while, Mother Nature ignores our silly human sloganeering and sends a genuinely white Weather Event our way! The very occasional nature of such storms makes them extra-special, as everything familiar is frosted in ice and magically transformed overnight.

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Here’s the Harvest Party field, where we were celebrating on a warm end-of-summer afternoon, barely a couple of months ago! The tipi canvas is packed away for winter, and the chicken coop is snug and warm in the distance.

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And now, to the chicken house, where some of the more adventurous birds are outside — pecking for scratch in the snow and vying for a warmer foothold on the coop’s little ramp.

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This was quite a persimmon year — there are still plenty on the trees, even though we’ve eaten persimmons, dried persimmons, frozen them, given them away… this variety gets sweeter and softer after a frost, and the wild birds are enjoying what’s left on the tree!

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Nobody is home in this bluebird house; it sits under a cozy blanket of snow, waiting for Spring. It was built by Ron Brown, a longtime family friend, and founder of the “Bluebird Chain” — a series of more than 5,000 thousand numbered bluebird boxes that he built and distributed in the area to provide habitat for the Western Bluebird. (There’s a sweet article about Mr. Brown here.)

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The bees are warm and snug, too, in their field…

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…but a closer look reveals minute tracks in the snow in front of the hive: marauding Scrub Jays, who like to stand in front of the entrance, tap on it, and snack on the guard bees that venture out to see what’s going on. You’d think they would find plenty else to eat, what with the juicy persimmons and a whole hillside of glowing red wild Toyon berries… but bees are a nice source of protein, and the hive is such a convenient dispenser! And you do have to admire the birds’ ingenuity… nonetheless, we cover the hive fronts with wire fencing to deter the jays.

And speaking of wildlife… I love the way the snow keeps a record of all the feet that pass by — it’s a reminder of just how many creatures, great and small, call this place home.

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Filed under around the farm, beekeeping, chickens, Winter

Honey Harvest — Part 2

We’ve spent the last few days extracting and bottling our honey harvest — all 300 pounds of it! Here’s how we get it out of the comb and into the jar…

First: getting ready. The labels are stamped, the extractor set up, the supers of honey stacked and ready to go. Ahh, everything looks so nice and neat and non-sticky… but that won’t last for long!

We begin by “uncapping” the combs, so the honey can run out. To do this, you use a heated knife to slice through the wax covers that seal the cells. The knife needs to be just hot enough to cut easily through the wax, but not to burn the honey.

An uncapped comb of luminous blackberry honey, ready to extract:

Next, the frames of comb and honey go into the extractor, which works kind of like a washing machine on the “spin” cycle. This extractor can hold four frames of honey at once, and is powered by elbow grease!

As the basket spins, the honey is pulled out of the comb by centrifugal force; then it collects in the bottom of the tank, where it runs out into a bowl or bucket. With this extractor, you spin the honey out of one side of the comb, turn the frames, and then repeat for the other side. Multiply that by 10 frames per super, 14 supers total… whew!

When the honey comes out of the extractor, it’s full of bits of wax from the uncapped combs. We pour it through a stainless-steel mesh small enough to catch  the wax flecks, but nowhere near so fine as to filter out the tiny grains of pollen in the honey — the good stuff!

It takes a good day’s work to get through all those frames… and the honey-extracting process does seem to attract an audience! Family and friends drift in until the little honey house is cozily crowded.

And, finally, into the jar it goes. Ready for the farmer’s market!

You can see all the action in this swell video Mikail made of the day’s work:

(We’ll be at the Foothill Farmer’s Markets in the next week or so — or drop us a note if you’d like to pick up a jar!)

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Filed under around the farm, beekeeping, farmer's market, homestead how-to, honey, summer