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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mountain Rose Herbs Recipe Contest-3 in 1 Happy Herbal Body Balm

I've decided to enter a fairly new and wonderful Recipe of mine in a contest from Mountain Rose Herbs. They are giving the winners 200 dollars worth of MRH products. I could do all sorts of fun stuff with that! Here is a link to their contest info if you would like to check it out here!

This is a super easy and fun recipe I created for multiple uses. It works great as a skin moisturizer, massage oil and aromatherapy oil. I did a little research on essential oils to find a blend that suited my nose's preference as well as doubled as a stress/anxiety reliever. The essential oils can be substituted for something that you like or whatever oils you have on hand. The end product of this recipe results in a fresh, herbaly,(I made that word up) yet sweet smelling semi-soft solid (melts at body temperature) that will fit in a small container. The sweet orange oil acts as a natural mood lifter and the lavender is excellent for relaxation. There is a hint of ylang-ylang oil in this recipe which is said to be a mood enhancer/anti-depressant and creates euphoria. It is also a well known aphrodisiac so use with caution ;) You may have to beat those of the opposite sex away with sticks.

The finished product will store for 6 months or so in a cool dry spot. All the ingredients except the beeswax (optional in this recipe) were purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs-An Earth Friendly supplier of herbs, oils, teas as well as lots of other fun stuff. Feel free to experiment with this recipe- I prefer to make it in small batches so it will fit in small, on-the go-sized containers but you could double, triple etc. to make the amount you want. I like to rub it on my skin before bed to help me relax and I've also discovered its a great moisturizer for dry elbows and chins. I plan on giving some away as gifts for some friends who could use a natural pick-me-up.

2 Tbs organic cocoa butter, chopped up or grated
1 Tbs organic sweet almond oil
1 tsp organic olive oil
1 tsp organic avocado oil
1 tsp grated beeswax-this is not necessary but I used it out of pure excitement of having my own beehives this year! Adding it makes the end product a little more solid also.
5 drops organic sweet orange essential oil
5 drops lavender essential oil
1-2 drops organic ylang-ylang essential oil (strong stuff, use sparingly!)

Using a double boiler method over medium heat, melt all ingredients together. I get a large pan with a couple inches of water and place an empty mason jar in the water and melt all the ingredients in the jar. When adding the cocoa butter and beeswax you can eyeball the amount. Its hard to be exact as these ingredients are hard at room temperature. This is a really simple recipe so you don't have to be precise. Once fully melted, blend with a spoon for at least one minute. Pour into small, covered container and allow to cool fully before use.If its too soft for your taste,  melt it down again and add a little more cocoa butter and beeswax. If its too solid for your liking add more olive or avocado oil. Easy huh?

Like I said, it makes an awesome all over body moisturizer and works even better as a massage oil-if you can get someone to give you a massage ;). It literally takes five minutes to make but you can enjoy it for weeks!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lesson #6: Learn How To Make Fake Honey In Case Your Hives Fail

And then there was one. Yesterday we had to combine the failing hive with the over-achieving one. We put a layer of newspaper down on the open top of the good hive and put the queenless hive on top of that. The idea is the bees will start chewing their way through the paper while slowly getting acclimated to each other. This should keep a bee massacre from happening. Otherwise the healthy hive would see the queenless bees as a threat and kill them. We will be checking in the next few days to see how the introduction has went. Its a fairly common practice in the beekeeping world so I'm trying not to worry about it too much.

On a more positive note We've already learned how to identify and correct this kind of problem-possibly before it becomes dire. A new package of bees has been ordered to be installed in the empty hive and will be picked up at the bar in Waldo on the 28th. I apologize for not getting some more pictures up. I do not have a good camera and have to rely on other people to get the pictures.

Last night I helped Greg make dandelion preserves. He came across a recipe in the New York Times. After spending hours meticulously picking dandelion petals from the green parts, steeping them, straining them, and boiling that down further into a thick syrup, it resulted in a very pretty gold colored jelly. Guess what? It tastes very similar to honey! This is a good recipe to have on hand in case we don't get any real honey this year. It makes a great substitute. What a great way to get rid of those unsightly (personally, I think they are pretty) yellow weeds in your yard.

ps-if you read (even if its just occasionally) my blog and haven't become a follower yet, please do. You will then get email updates every time I post something new and I can keep track of how many followers I have and decide whether its enough to continue the blog. The link should be to the right of this post. Also don't forget to vote in the poll at the top:)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lesson #5 Two Hives Are Better Than One

Tonight Greg and I checked cracked open our hives to see how they were doing. We were looking for brood larvae (baby bees) stored nectar and pollen. These are signs your hives are doing well. The good news is one of the hives is doing fantastic. We saw lots of larvae, lots of stored pollen and lots of nectar. Its doing exactly what its supposed to be doing.

The second hive is sucking-big. The number of bees is a lot lower and there is virtually no stored pollen. Worse-no larvae. This most likely means we've lost the queen in that hive and it will need to be replaced. We are still deciding what to do. I can't stop wondering what we did wrong. Did our little queen bee not measure up? Was she released too early and killed by the workers? Did she just decide she didn't like the interior decorating in the hive and take off? Who knows.

We don't have much time to figure out what to do. If you lose the egg-laying queen the hive doesn't have very long before it starts to decline and you can't save it. At this point I am really glad we paid the extra cash to get a second hive. It would have been really hard to have recognized the queen problem without having another healthy hive to compare it to. Its also nice to know that if the second hive isn't savable we won't have a total loss of honey this year.

Early on in the project I claimed ownership of the healthy hive (before it was healthy, I might add for my defense) and teased that I would train them to steal honey from Greg's hive. I shouldn't have run my mouth. Today Greg said he thinks I've coerced his bees into my hive or have found some way to sabotage his hive. I'm not sure he was joking. Is it my fault that my hive provided a more welcoming and nurturing environment than his?

I think the sooner we learn how not to get discouraged and to handle these types of set backs the better. We are probably going to walk around like we've just lost our puppies for the next few days. We were so hoping for a smooth first year and only three weeks in we have our first hurdle to jump.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lesson #4: The Sooner You Accept That You Will Always Feel Sticky, The Better

On March 31, 2010 I became an official beekeeper. I wish I had a very dramatic story for you all but installing the bees into our hives was really the easiest part of this whole endeavor. After bringing home 20,000 bees in the back of my car (50 or so escaped and flew around freely as I drove the last 10 miles home) we installed the bees that evening. It was definitely a family affair. My intimidate family was there to watch, including my sister Sara and her husband Vic. Their new baby, Trevor stayed inside with Grandma. Sara had her very expensive, very nice camera with her and I have her to thank for the awesome pictures.

My beekeeping partner and I had been preparing for this day for weeks. We went to workshops, read books, watched videos online and had frequent and long conversations about how this day would play out. Based on everything that has happened so far, I expected that the bee installation would result in at least a trip to the emergency room. But this did not happen much to my relief!

We put on our bee suits, grabbed the packages, sprayed them down with sugar water so the bees couldn't fly away and just dumped them in. We hung the queen cage in the hive and closed them up. That was it. We kind of just stood there for a while shrugging and wondering if we missed anything but we didn't. That was it. I don't know why everyone isn't a beekeeper. It was really that simple. Well maybe people avoid beekeeping because of the thousands of stinging insects or maybe the fortune it costs to buy the materials. Okay, I don't know why a MORE people aren't beekeepers. If you get the chance, check out Sara's pictures of the installation on my facebook page.

Over the past two weeks Greg and I have been making sure they have sugar syrup in the feeders. They use sugar syrup in place of nectar until the flowers get going in the spring. we have to drive out to our little bee yard and check almost every day. So far my guesstimate is that we've gone through almost 4, 5lb bags of sugar keeping them fed which is a lot more than I've expected. I am going to have to consider buying those huge 50 lb bags that collect dust on the bottom of the grocery store shelves. Now I know why people buy them. I've also discovered that sugar syrup always finds its way out of the containers I put them in. Over the weekend, I had a 1/2 gallon jug of syrup mysteriously spill all over the back of my new Rogue. (I've had it less than a year and bought it with 4 miles on it.) I was pretty upset. How did that happen when I twisted the cap as tightly as I could to make sure it wouldn't leak? I also wonder how sugar syrup winds up all over my counters when I know I didn't spill any. I also manage to get sugar syrup on my clothes, on my hands and in my hair when I am making it and when I am refilling the feeders no matter how careful I am. I suppose I must chalk it up to one of the mysteries of beekeeping.

On Thuesday (and I am calling it Thuesday because my days are running together and I cant remember whether it was Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday) we fired up one of the smokers and checked to see if the queens were released from their cages. They were! This means she is either crawling around the hive making baby bees or that the worker bees have rejected and eaten her. Not confusing at all, right? However, our bees have been busy collecting pollen on the warmer days we've had and so far by the looks of things everything is going well. They are so fun to watch! I could stand out there for hours just watching them fly in and out of the hives with the different colors of pollen they are finding. Just yesterday I considered getting a folding lounge chair and hang out with them for a while. I found out that if I stand close to the hives for too long they start to get irritated. I can tell that they are irritated when they start flying around my face. I think this is there way of cursing me out. I also realized if I'm not careful I am going to turn in to that crazy insect-loving, wacko lady that people don't let their children hang out with.

Today I spent $47.59 on organic ingredients for making lip balm and body butter with the copious amounts of beeswax and honey I hope to get later this summer. I am really excited about it! Next week (if the weather is warm and less windy) Greg and I will open up the hives and check to see if our queens are laying eggs. If not, we will have to scramble and get replacement queens right away. I'm pretty optimistic though. All signs currently point to happy, busy little bees!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lesson #3: Wear Lots Of Layers When Picking Up Your Bees

We ordered our bee packages several weeks ago from a small business called Waldo Bees. Greg said when he placed his order over the phone the guy had a really low voice. So logically I came to the conclusion that he was a pirate. Who wouldn't? I was also told we would be meeting the pirate in the parking lot of a bar in Waldo to pick up our bee packages. Thus, this is where the pirate and the bar come into play. Anyway per the usual we got a little lost on the way there because it just wouldn't be a real road trip if we didn't. It didn't take long to find the bar after we figured out the right direction we should be going in. There were several pickup trucks parked there along with a good sized trailer and stacks add stacks of bee packages lined up next to it. I guess we were in the right place.

We had to give each other a little pep talk before we got out of the car. "We can do this, no problem. Its gonna be awesome." There was no turning back after we put two crates of 10,000 bees(3lbs of bees in each box to give you a better idea)in the back of my car. Greg went up and talked to the guy holding the clipboard. You always know who is in charge by who is holding the clipboard. It was the pirate guy with the really low voice. Only he really didn't look much like a pirate to be honest. It would have been a much more exciting story if he had so I was a little disappointed but one thing I did find fairly hilarious about him was the odd contrast of his tattered and dirty bib overalls with his blue tooth headset he was wearing. He was obviously way more technologically advanced than I am despite the fact that he looked like a farmer- the 1900's era farmer, not the 2000's era kind. Shame on me for stereotyping. Lesson learned.

The pirate checked his clipboard and yelled something about being "all paid up" and "two packages" to another guy who was removing the bee packages from the trailer. He had lots of facial hair and was all decked out in camo. Do the bees have a harder time stinging you if you are wearing camo? The guy picked up two packages and followed us to my car. We opened the tailgate and he sat the boxes right on the floor. This is where Greg and I got our very first look at the packages of bees up close and shared a terrified look. It wasn't the thousands of bees crawling around inside the box that frightened us (although it would probably freak out any normal person) it was the 100 or so bees crawling around on the OUTSIDE OF THE BOXES that had us worried. Seriously, there were a whole bunch of bees just hanging on to the outside of the boxes that the camo guy sat in my car. Fun. When Greg tried to put the packages in a box and close the flaps, the guy said "I wouldn't do that if I were you." I barely listened to anything else the guy said to Greg but he certainly didn't offer any useful information about what we SHOULD do. All I managed to hear(I was too busy freaking out) was him explaining that they need lots of air and cool temperatures during transportation. There are so many bees crammed into a little box that they can overheat. I really don't know why the camo guy didn't acknowledge the fact or make any effort to knock or brush off the rogue bees before plopping them down in my car and I don't know why we didn't try to brush them off ourselves or question him about how to keep them confined. I guess we didn't want to look like we didn't know what we were doing. We didn't want to look like we were worried about a hundred loose bees flying around in our car while we are driving 75 miles per hour down the highway. Beekeepers are cool like that.

As soon as the guy walked away we moved the boxes into a couple extra cardboard boxes and closed the flaps. Our game plan was to drive fast, keep the ac on full blast and hope to hell we make it home before they found a way out and came looking for us. It got so chilly in the car that my hands started to go numb, Greg was shivering uncontrollably and we both could see our breaths. We made it about half way home when I heard a buzz and looked through my mirror in time to see a little black shadow pop out of one of the boxes. It was just one bee. We could handle one little bee loose in the car. I started getting the creepy crawlies. I even imagined I was feeling a bee crawling around on my foot. Unfortunately, by the time I had dropped Greg off at his place that one little rogue bee had turned into four or five. Some were just crawling around on the windows and some were airborne. And by the time I got half-way to my parent's place where we were storing them until that evening, there were about twenty bees flying around in my car. Miraculously, I managed to get home without getting stung once! When I got out of the car I found that there were a lot more bee escape artists than I originally thought. First, the imaginary bee crawling around on my foot turned out to be a real one. Second, There were about 20 or thirty bees crawling around the floor and the outside of the cardboard box. And I managed accomplished all of this before 9:30 in the morning!

I got the packaged bees in the garage(don't worry only 30 more or so would get loose in the garage throughout the day)and spent the next twenty minutes trying to get the rogue bees out of my vehicle. On my way to work in the afternoon more bees turned up in my car. I even had one fly out of my purse as I was walking through the parking lot. All in all, a pretty uneventful day. In defense of the bees, it was really amazing how docile they were. I was able to brush some of them out with my bare hands. Luckily for me this was probably partially due to the fact that the inside my car was 35 degrees, which kept them sluggish, but also (hopefully) because we picked a really gentle breed of bee to work with-Italians. There are a variety of breeds of honey bee that you can buy and the Italians are popular for this reason.

My next blog will have some pictures and will be about installing the bees in the hives. Ironically, this is probably going to be the least dramatic story I've posted yet. Stay tuned! If you read my blog and haven't become a follower yet please do. You can get email updates each time I post a new blog. I will also try to get some recipes using honey every once in a while. That should be fun.