Cliches aside, this really has been a busy week. Sarah has been running around the kitchen making jelly from locally harvested chokecherries and rhubarb. Our landlord has a number of chokecherry trees and kindly let us grab as many as we want. My mother grows a couple of rhubarb plants, as does one of Sarah's friends. Sarah can cook up some yummy jelly.
For my part, I've been playing around with stuff for the bees. In preparation for colder weather, I made a bunch of bee candy. Bee candy is a supplemental food for bees to help them get through winter. It is primarily carbs in the form of pure sugar. I've added pollen for additional protein. I also took the small amount of wax we have collected so far and melted and filtered it. I'll go over both of these projects below.
The Candy Man
Usually, first year hives don't produce a ton of honey. The bees spend a great deal of their energies building comb, sealing cracks and general housekeeping. However, Sarah and I are going to be robbing their larders anyway. Well, at least a little. We want to test out our extractor for Langstroth frames, and see how much honey we can get from a few combs of the top bar, as well.
Since I want to try to over-winter these bees, that means I need to be able to replace what we take. To do this, I've made bee candy following the general guidelines I've seen on a few web pages. No two recipes seem to agree, but they all generally have one thing in common - crap-loads of sugar.
Started with 12 pounds of sugar and three cups of water. In retrospect, I probably would have used less water. While I was able to get solid blocks, they did have sticky wet spots.
Added to the sugar was about half a pint of pollen granules for protein. Most of the recipes I saw called for putting a pollen patty into candy. However, while we were at the Tanana Valley State Fair this year, a vendor booth was selling jars of pollen. Always love to support Alaskan businesses.
Finally, with everything well mixed, I used bread pans as molds. This makes a rather thick candy, but I couldn't find anything thinner. In Langstroth hives, a thin board is used that fits above the supers. I have no idea how top-bars do this. My plan was to use some wood blocks to support the candy above the bottom mesh.
This is really soft when placed in the mold (and sticky!). As water evaporates, it becomes harder. Everything I read said give it 24 hours. However, with these being thicker, we gave them several days before placing them in the hive.
Ok, the bees technically made the wax, I just melted it and cleaned it. At this point, we didn't have a lot of wax, but my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to see if I could melt and clean it up.
I used a double boiler with the wax on top. It was mostly a combination of bridge comb and cross comb we pulled out of the top-bar hive.
There was rather a lot of dirt and dead bees in this. It looked pretty gross as it melted.
I wasn't exactly feeling hopeful at this point. Bees, pollen, dirt and god knows what else was floating in the melted wax. Still, the next step was filtering, so surely it would look better.
We had recently purchased a stand to hold a jelly filter, so I figured I'd give that a try here, too.
This is a pretty basic set up. Some cotton filter cloth is pinned to the stand, which is above a pot of cold water. Both wax and any residual honey pass through the filter. The wax solidifies and the honey either dissolves or sinks. Worked better than I expected.
I was impressed with how clean this came out with such a basic setup. Gone was the brown goop that was in the pan and in its place, nice yellow wax. This I remelted in a small aluminum bread mold (amazing how versatile bread molds are!)
You can see there are still a few impurities, but its way better than I was expecting for a first try. It did crack in the mold, I didn't have enough wax to make a very thick bar. I love the way this wax smells.
Sarah and I did harvest honey today and placed the bee candy. I will go over that in the next post!