Friday, November 9, 2012

A Burns Family Blessed Year

This year has been extraordinary for the Burns family.

Our son David, about to be a parent for the first time
and our son Seth, US Marine
It has been hectic, with a lot of work, but also some big changes to our family. Our business nearly tripled this year, and while that certainly is a blessing, also meant hiring and training new employees, some of whom are family members, and others who have become lifelong friends.(It's always a blessing to hire family members but presents unique situations of its own.) We had one daughter get married, one son become a US Marine, and another son announce a new grand baby for us on the way. (That will be 6 total!).  We have been able to take a couple of short trips to Chicago and Iowa, David got to participate in this year's EAS in Vermont, and we spent a week in beautiful San Diego, California and saw the Pacific ocean for the first time. Our family reunion was held in July in Southern Illinois, and we also held a record number of weekend classes and workshops for our business.  Customers have been great (as usual) and while most of our business is online, have been able to meet quite a few of them who venture out here to corn land to see us on our farm. We are currently building a new classroom/learning center facility here at our farm to house our classes for this coming year and getting ready to plan the holidays coming up soon (with 6 children, and (almost) 6 grandchildren, plus spouses, we can fill up a house fast!)

Our new Learning Center

We are looking at a few weeks here at the end of the year to be quiet, calm and peaceful--and then the RED ZONE time for us starts --from about mid January to July when the bee season blasts off.

I hope you find the rest of 2012 to be peaceful and relaxing.  Have fun with your family.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

No Honey Extractor? No Worries!

Honey is the world's first sweetener.  Honey made the world's first alcoholic beverage, called mead.  Honey was one of the world's first medicines, used for everything from sore throats to wounds.

So, it's been around since the beginning of time. And those folks had to learn to get the honey out of the hive without the use of modern equipment, called extractors or centrifuges. Back then, it was common that most had their own beehive and there were very few big operations where large machines would have been needed to extract honey to haul off to companies like Sue Bee.

1930's Price for Extractors
Extractors can be expensive.  The cheapest plastic ones with shipping costs can run up to $150.00. A nice American made, high quality extractor can start at around $300 before shipping.  So what can you do if you can't afford one?

One thing you can do is to borrow an extractor or rent one.  Many bee clubs have them available for their members, all you have to do is sign up for a date and sometimes put down a small deposit that you will get back if the equipment is returned in good condition.  There are also places where you can rent an extractor, or buy time in someone's honey house. You'll have to be the judge on this, because sometimes paying the rental fees aren't a good deal, so think wisely on this one.  Some areas have commercial kitchens that you can rent by the hour, and some of those kitchens may have the equipment you need.

Manual extraction is another option, sometimes called the "destruct" method.  Back in the old days, women would walk out to the beehive, open it up and take out one frame.  Upon returning to the kitchen, she would open up the cappings with a fork, suspend it above a bucket, and let it drip out.  It's a very slow method, but an effective one if you keep a frame hanging all the time.

If you have plastic foundation, another way to extract is to pull out all the honeycomb, placing it in cheesecloth suspended over a bucket (use food grade please, not paint buckets).  Squeeze the comb and allow to drip through the cheesecloth into a strainer fitted over the bucket.

If you have bees-made wax, or fitted your frames with wax foundation, you could use the method above, or you could just cut out honeycomb sections, placing directly into a tupperware container with a lid.  Some  folks will now freeze it (in case there were any other little critters in there) and use upon having been frozen for 24-48 hours.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Plants and Flowers for Bees

We are having a very busy time right now! Honey bee season is fast upon us.  The weather warmed up extra early this year which sent even more people into a beekeeping frenzy than usual and consequently swamped us.  We are grateful for our customers this year-- we tripled our business in the month of February.  We had no idea this would happen --no projections would have prepared us for that.  Perhaps a 10 percent increase in business, maybe even 20--but triple? Thank you to those of you who are now our new customers, those of you returning again, and for those of you who go out of your way to tell people about us and send more on to us.

In the middle of our busiest season, our youngest daughter Karee eloped to Montana with our IT guy Jesse, who is also one of our shop carpenters.  We've also had our shop shut down for weekends on end now so we can teach classes, vend at other classes, or be at conferences in the tri-state area. We hired four new people to help us out this year, so I won't be the only one you talk to on the phone anymore, but please make the other gals (and guys)  as happy and blessed as you have made me over the years.

This year I noticed a different pattern in the students in our classes.  Typically we get only people wanting to start beekeeping, or wondering if they can do it or have enough money.  But this year I noticed many folks who come just to learn more about this incredible creature and find out what they can do to help without becoming a beekeeper.

Here are some of the best ways you can help: 1) Try to limit or completely stop using pesticides on your lawn, gardens and flowers.  If you absolutely have to use something, try something more organic (although if it's still claiming it's a pesticide, it doesn't really matter if it's organic or not, right?) or try using a liquid late in the evening after the bees are back home that can dry before daylight.  Stop spraying those dandelions! Bees LOVE dandelions and it makes the best honey. Don't use a powder pesticide.  2) Let wild areas grow up in your yard, and stop mowing ditches and fence rows.  I know it doesn't always look that great, but bees have less and less area to forage now, and this is one thing you can do to help.  Try to persuade your farmer neighbors to leave the edges of their fields and ditches alone too.  I know it looks more tidy when they mow from the edge of their field down to the road, but think of all the wild flowers that get mowed down. 3) Advocate for the bees if you can.  You need a little bit of knowledge for this--but some ideas would be to have a showing of a movie like Vanishing of the Bees, or Nicotine Bees at your local library or school and invite the public; ask your local nature center if they would hold a bee workshop (many, many of them do) either for adults or in their children's summer camps; donate books on bees to your local library--both for adults and children and 4) plant flowers and plants that bring bees and other beneficial insects into your yard.

I don't often see bees on plants like daffodils, tulips, roses or lilies, but early plants they love include boxwood, dandelions, clover, borage and many budding and flowering trees.  Mid summer plants and flowers include mint, catnip, flowering herbs, cilantro, and of course vegetables flowering in your garden.  I also let some items in my garden flower that typically we eat before it flowers--like the lettuce for example, just so the bees will use some of it.  Late in the year, my bees love my cosmos, sunflowers, lavender, sage, coneflowers and seedum.

You can help even if you don't want to be a beekeeper!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Are Your Bees Hungry?

A winter cluster of bees

Winter in the north can be any extreme.  We can experience temperatures of around 0 for days at a time; or several days of 50 degree weather.  The snow can be very deep, or barely nothing at all.  

Here in Central Illinois we have experienced a bizarre winter.  Now, I realize I have a lot to do with that.  Last August I got my motorcycle license, and after getting it so late in the year, I realized that I wouldn't be able to ride for very long before putting my bike up for winter.  So I wished and prayed and kept my fingers crossed for a mild winter, and I got it! I have been out on my bike a number of time in December and January, and today --February 18--the temperature has hit around 50 degrees again.

All of this to say that this kind of weather does strange things to the nature around us too.  Trees or plants blooming too early can be cut down as we get a freeze, which is still likely in the next month or so. The honeybees are out looking for something to devour and not finding a thing.  Which leads them to eat an abundance of what they have on hand--honey!

A warm winter can lead to honeybee starvation far quicker than a very cold winter.  In the coldest of winters, bees will cluster in a ball to stay warm, using very little resources and needing very little food.  They use those rare, occasional days of warmer temperatures to fly out to defecate and hunt for their honey.  But with the weather being so warm, and for so often, they are going through their storages quickly.

Or for some, those bees didn't have enough to start off the winter.  Some beekeepers, mostly out of a lack of skill or knowledge, will take off too much honey.  Or, anticipating a late fall nectar flow, will take off all the honey in the deep summer, and then realize because of weather conditions, that fall flow didn't happen, leaving the bees short on stores for the winter. 

Bees then need to be fed.  Because we have asked these bees to live in our yard, in our boxes, in our environment, in our weather, I believe we have the responsibility to help them out.

One of the easiest things you could do is make sugar patties--a sort of a "fondant".  Some companies have now started selling these, but they are very simple and cheap to make--I wouldn't suggest putting your money into purchasing them and paying shipping when it is so easy.  Simply take 2 cups of powdered cane sugar (beet sugar is  a GMO, cane sugar is not--the package has to say CANE) and combine with 1 ounce of water.  Roll into a ball and flatten out and lay on top of the frames where the bees are (obviously don't put it three supers up away from the cluster).  I also add 1/2 cap full of Honey B Healthy and 1 - 2 tablespoons of pollen/pollen powder.  If you only have pollen patties, just cut a small section and press into the sugar patty. 

Easy peasey as my youngest says.  Now, go feed those bees. :-) We also sell a candy board at if you are interested.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Milk and Honey Soap

Getting ready for a class on making soap, I was digging out a few recipes today and came across one for milled soaps.

Milled soaps are easy! It's just a fancy way of saying "grate whatever soap you have laying around the house and melt it down."  But milled soap sounds so much more romantic. It is also sometimes called "rebatching".

I have made the old-fashioned lye soaps and while it can be fun to create with different oils and fragrances, it can be a little tricky working with the lye.  If you'd rather not be quite so adventurous, and scared of highly toxic chemicals,  you could go to your local hobby store and buy cubes of "melt and pour" soaps which you just melt down and pour into molds.  Pretty, but not overly crafty, but a nice way to spend an afternoon.

In making the milled soaps, you start off with any kind of traditional soap and grate it.  Some use leftovers bits they have been saving, others buy a specific brand of soap.  Some will make lye soaps, and then grate them down.  Whichever way you choose, for this first recipe, you need about 12 ounces of a grated soap and 9 ounces of water.  Melt the soap in the water, adding 1/4 c instant powered milk and 1/4 c honey.  Stir until thick before pouring into molds, or the honey may sink to the bottom of the molds (which could give it kind of a cool look). Options to include may be up to 1 T of ground toasted oatmeal, food coloring, or essential oils of your choice.  Let the soaps cool and cure, or place in the freezer, before taking out of molds.

Milk and Honey Soap
12 oz of basic soap, grated
9 oz water
1/4 c instant powdered milk
1/4 c honey
Instructions: Melt together the 12 oz of basic soap and 9 oz of water.  Add the milk and honey, stirring until fairly thick.  Put into molds and allow to cure.

Hope you all are enjoying a wonderful new year.  The beekeeping season is right around the corner, and I can't wait!