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!