Posts Tagged ‘beekeeping’

Learning to brew

When you “make” honey (after you extract the honey from the honeycomb), you are left with a sticky mess of wax and honey. I then wash this wax mixture so I can then refine the wax from the propolis and other bee related items. It feels so wasteful to then throw away this honey water (honey washings), that I tried several times to make mead. But each time, I made vinegar. I then went out and bought a bottle of mead to see the end product that I was aiming for: and I did not like it .

Oh dear.

Now what?

Then up popped an ad for a beer brewing workshop at the cornersmith picklery. Sold!

The beer brewing kit that is readily available in Australia is kind of like mixing cordial. Add substances A, B, C to water, let sit (brew) for 7 days then decant into your bottles, adding a carbonation ‘drop’ (dextrose sugar tablet) to each bottle.

The brewing method at this workshop was the next step along, where you might select the hoppiness of your brew by selecting the type of hops, and how long your brew your mixture for.

We were guided by Chris Sidwa of Batch Brewing in the method of extract brewing, which is a little more hands on than cordial brewing.

He ran through the importance of sterilisation, the difference that the type of hops makes to the flavour profile, as well as how long it is boiled and when it is added to the mixture.

Working in groups of 3, we got our 3 litres worth of water per person boiling, before adding the light malt extract, stirring to prevent the sugar burning on the bottom, or the foam exploding out of the top.

malt:

Malt

Cascade Hops:

Cascade Hops

These hops were developed by Oregon State University, and is one of the few freely available non-trademarked variety of hops. We added these at the -30 minute mark, and at the -5 minute mark. Everything is measured in terms of “time from ending the boil”.

You pack your hops into a double muslin bag, so that you can remove it from the brew when you put into the fermentation vessel.

Wrapped in muslin:

Hop bag

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble:

Brew

The process of boiling is to drive off unwanted flavours and remove bitterness. The reason the second lot of hops is added is to add the hoppy flavour back into the brew.

After adding the second lot of hops, we divided the mixture into our brew buckets, and enjoyed a small taster of Batch Brewing’s American Pale Ale, sourdough, cucumber pickles and capsicum (sweet pepper) relish.

We got to take our fermenting buckets home with us, and issued with a second set of instructions.

I didn’t think this one through:

Public transport

After carrying my brewing and decanting buckets home on the train (Luckily I didn’t have my pushbike, unlike one of the other attendees), we were instructed to add 3-4 litres of cooled boiling water and let brew for 7 days.

Recipe (makes approx 5 L):
3 litres boiling water
840 g malt after the ‘hot break’
1 x 30g hops @ -30 minutes
1 x 30g hops @ -5 minutes
Place mixture into your brew bucket.
Cool to approx 20 C
3g yeast (US-05)
3L chilled boiled water*.
Let brew for 7 days in a constant temperature environment, about 20 deg C, away from sunlight
35g dextrose into sterilised bottling bucket
Decant from brewing bucket into bottling bucket, leave yeast cake behind
Decant from bottling bucket into each bottle – gently – you don’t want the yeast to get all excited and foamy
Leave a little headroom (equivalent to your bottling wand)
Cap the bottles.

I had trouble capping the bottles with the supplied ‘hand capper’.

I left the lids on top of the bottles for a day to keep contaminants out, whilst I looked around to borrow someone else’s bench capper. I ended up buying one second hand.

Capped (L), Uncapped (R):

Capping

Considering the amount of force required to push the cap onto the bottle even with the benchtop capper, there is no way that I could have made the hand capper work. No wonder they are known as the deathstick in the industry!

Buy one bench capper, receive microbrew kit for free, BOGOF:


Bench capper


This was not my intention, to gain the equivalent of three home brew kegs in the space of 8 days! I’m going to have to try this recipe again, because instead of the second lot of chilled boiled water, I added honey washings which I had boiled (pastuerised). Note to self – if you do this, the beer may need to ferment for a longer period of time. This style of beer is called a braggot.


Braggot

A few months later, I did try my beer. I was left with 1/4 in the bottle, as the other 3/4 ended up all over the kitchen walls, floor and counter. Yep, it was still fermenting in the bottle. I was lucky it didn’t explode! The result was very tasty, but highly alcoholic.

The class was attended and paid for anonymously by A Sydney Foodie.

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Batbox conversion to Warre: the final frontier

The journey continues …

Once again I set up a warre hive box and baseboard (luckily I had a spare), hauled out the adapter board, and settled the batbox settled on top. I taped up cracks in the batbox, the joins between the batbox and adaptor board.

Now what? I got into this beekeeping game wanting only one beehive, which has already given me 30kgs of honey in their first season, and that far exceeded my (and anyone elses’) expectations. Now I’m at 2.5, shortly to become 3.

On one of the natural beekeeping online groups that I follow, I saw that someone had recently lost their hive. It was quite late in the season (autumn), and their chances of catching a swarm and it surviving the winter were very slim. In the 2015 winter, I knew of 5 late-caught swarms that had failed, generally due to the autumn storms. As an alternative I offered them the batbox 2.5 hive to re-home.

This beekeeper was less of a sook that I was, and after giving it a week with the escape board, had no compunction in pulling the batbox apart (in fact, it “fell apart” on her). Her description of the event:


There wasn’t any brood in the bat box just capped and uncapped honey and a few cells of bee bread. I harvested all the honey because that have almost 2 full boxes and starting on the third. Such a lot of work but fun. We lost about 50 bees who drowned in honey when the comb I was lifting feel breaking open into the box. I shook them onto a cloth, smoked and brushed a lot of them but finally around 7pm they had all gone in!

Batbox bees, rehomed

Phew. Glad that’s over. From this family of bees, I’ve had the original batbox colony (this lot), the inadvertant hive split from when I first tried to convert the batbox to warre, and <a href="http://” target=”_blank”>the swarm from when I was too lazy to actually do any thing about them. Aww, I’m getting the warm fuzzies.

Bat box conversion to Warre

I meant to write about this last week (a year ago). Then… the bees actually swarmed, putting my conversion plans off for a little bit. Then life happened, and this post is gathering dust.

In the warre beekeeping system, you “nadir” by adding extra space in the form of extra warre boxes below the currently occupied beehive box. This mimics what bees do in the wild: they find a tree hollow, and start building a home and the comb by connecting it to the top of the hollow of the tree, and building the comb downwards. This contrasts with the langstroth style in which the beekeeper “supers”, by adding the extra boxes on top of the existing occupied beehive box. So a langstroth style beekeeper makes the bees go upwards, and the warre style beekeeper lets the bees go downwards.

Here’s the bat box:

batbox

As you can see, the roof is hinged, and it slopes. The floor is flat, but the back of the bat box sticks out a bit, so it is not flush with the rest of the floor. This helps with mounting the batbox on a tree (or a post), but is not so good for me. The batbox itself is actually a smaller footprint than the warre box.

My original thought had been to nadir the batbox: that is, stick the smaller footprint batbox on top of a warre box, and let the bees move downwards. But the screws holding the floor up look like they had been painted in.

Then the second thought had been to super the batbox; supposedly this would be easier because there is already a removable lid. But then this would create more challenges, because I would need to work out some way to “hold up” the larger warre box. Would I then be creating yet another rod for my back by first asking the bees to move upwards, and then a month or two later asking them to move downwards? I also had a another problem with how to create a new “temporary” entrance, in between the batbox and the new warre box, once the bees had moved upstairs, but in such a way that I could use the one way bee escape.

So it’s back to the downward path we go.

We unscrewed and then levered off the base of the batbox. It was actually surprisingly easy. I made an adapter board by getting some marine grade plywood, painting one coat of white paint over it, and then drilling two access holes with a circle drill bit.

We then placed the the batbox atop this adaptor board, and then atop a warre beehive and a baseboard. I taped up the circular entrance to force the girls to use the entry downstairs.

Batbox to warre conversion

It took me a week to work out that they were so attached to upstairs, they were using this attachment screwhole as an entry. That got tapped up too, and finally they were using the proper downstairs entrance.

About six weeks later, I put in the excluder between the adaptor board and the warre box. By now, Queenie should be downstairs and laying in the new white honeycomb. The next day, I pulled off the batbox, put it to oneside, and put on a quilt box and gabled roof.

Hurray, we are now at 100% Warre!

100% Warre

Being the lazy something or other, I left the bat box hanging around in the backyard for the next week, rather than tossing it out like any other sensible person.

This was a sight that I didn’t want to see:

New tenants?

Oh dear. Either a swarm has moved into this nice, recently up for lease batbox home, or brood which was left behind has started to hatch.

I can’t just throw these girls into the bin to make the problem ‘go away’ (for me) and cause a headache for the garbageman. They’re my little fighters!

What would you have done?

Checking on a beehive

One of my friends who had moved to the blue mountains had started keeping bees. The swarm had been captured by a ‘mad uncle’, and delivered in the boot of a car by a nervous relative. Six months later, it appears that the hive had been established and settled in, so it was time to crack open the boxes and check on their progress.

On the first weekend chosen, it was hammering down with rain. Not good bee inspecting conditions.

The next weekend was gorgeous. Lovely, sunny and warm. Perfect!

Those beekeepers who have been keeping for a while have a full white overall suit with a netted box around the head. You can also just wear the jacket with the netted box – but then you have the vulnerable gap around your middle.

First you need to light the pine needles in the smoker box. This is quite hard to do, so a gas powered torch like thing with a sustained flame is the way to go:

Starting up the smoker

You smoke around the entry point to quieten the guard bees down. You need to release the strapping metal tape from its clamp and then use your ‘hive tool’ to separate the give boxes from each other. Apparently the bees use propolis to glue the seams of the boxes together and keep the warmth in.

We were looking to see if the bees had started to ‘move down’ from one box to another and if there was plenty of honey: some for us to thieve, some for the bees over winter.

This is the top box:

honeycomb top box

You can see the bees have started to build honeycomb on top of the hivebox and the frames that have been set up for them. This needs to be ‘cleaned up’ as part of the maintenance.

Here are the resident beekeepers checking in the status of a frame:

honeycomb frame

I couldn’t get too close because although I had a veil, I had dark clothing on. Did you know that deep in their DNA, bees don’t like dark coloured figures because it reminds them of a black bear stealing their honey?

It all looked good, so we put a new hive box at the bottom, and stacked the existing boxes on top. The bees had started to build honey comb atop of the cover sheet and underneath the lid of the top box, so this was was cleaned off and put away for safe keeping.

Everything was out back together again, and we left out the honeycomb wax that we had scraped off next to the hive. Perhaps when they calmed down the bees could use it as an input for the next set of honeycomb.

I, beehive

We had to retreat inside to taste the fruits of their labours. Otherwise, they would come investigating that sweet smell.

Here is the honeycomb, pooh bear:

Honeycomb

It was an incredibly sweet explosion of sherbet in your mouth. Almost too sweet.

I’m now a thinking that I to would like some honeybees in my garden. I wonder if someone nearby has a hive, because I certainly have a lot of bees buzzing around my basil. Perhaps I can use an empty hive and some kind of ‘lure’ to attract them. Hmm.