All posts by Gimlet

What is honey anyway?

Nectar

Nectar is the raw material for honey and is what the bees collect from flowers. It consists mainly of an aqueous solution of sugars, nitrogen compounds, minerals, organic acids, vitamins and aromatic substances. Sugars and water make up the bulk, with 1% or 2% containing the remaining ingredients.

Sugars

The three main sugars present in nectars are:

  • Sucrose;
  • Glucose;
  • Fructose.

Nectars from different flower species vary both in the concentrations of total sugars, which may be anywhere in the range of 5-80%, and in the proportions of the different sugars present. The total sugar content of a nectar can be analysed and the amounts, types and proportions of the different sugars present can be quantified; together they are known as the sugar spectrum of a nectar. Plant species and sometimes plant families can be characterised by their sugar spectra. Honeybees are quite fussy about the nectars they will gather and it is thought that they are not only influenced by the concentration of total sugar, but are also interested in aspects of the sugar spectrum of a nectar. It is thought that they prefer a mixture of sugars rather than a single type.

The rest

  • Nitrogen compounds including: amino acids e.g. proline, glutamic acid and lysine; proteins (including some enzymes and hormones of plant origin) and amides.
  • Minerals include: potassium, sulphur, calcium, chlorine and iron.
  • Honey tends to be slightly acidic. Organic acids include: acetic, butyric, gluconic, malic, succinic.
  • Vitamins include: thiamine, riboflavin, pyridoxine, nicotinic acid, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, meso-inositol and ascorbic acid or ‘vitamin C’.
  • Nectar also contains some pollen and more is added and ingested by the bees who are of course covered in the stuff. There may also be spores and microorganisms some of which are harmless and some of which are not.
  • Some nectars also contain substances that stop pollen from germinating and may also contain things that are harmful to bees or humans or both.

Nectar to Honey

J.W.White in The Hive and the HoneyBee says “to know the composition of nectar we need only to examine the contents of honey the only difference being the water content and the inversion of sucrose” if so, the converse must also apply and honey contains what nectar contains but without the water.

Honey is what bees make from nectar to store in honeycomb for use as food. Before it can be stored, the water content must be reduced to 20% or less to prevent fermentation. However, dehydration is not the only process involved in the production of honey. In addition the bees make chemical changes via the use of several interesting enzymes and here things get complicated…

Copyright © Beespoke.info, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Scottish Flummery Recipe

According to Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary of 1901 Flummery is an ‘acid jelly made from the husks of oats’ and water but it has since come to mean ‘an empty compliment or anything insipid’. A recipe for traditional Flummery seems to bear this out, with its description of a rather flaccid, glutinous dish, resembling porridge but with the oats carefully removed. Continue reading Scottish Flummery Recipe

Cooking with Honey

In the beginning there was honey…

Honey has been a sought-after commodity since ancient times. Although there were always medicinal applications, its primary use was as a sweetener for other foods, and of course for its own sweet sake. As such, it enjoyed luxury status for aeons and the hazards and pain primitive man was prepared to risk, shinning up trees and breaking into wild hives, especially before he discovered the efficacy of smoke is extraordinary. However it is easier to understand when we realise that the only real alternative sweeteners, certainly in this part of the world, were wild carrots, parsnips and get this… crab apples!

Then there was sugar… Continue reading Cooking with Honey

Sloe Wine Recipe

Sloes are good this year – just managed to pick 9lbs in less than half an hour.

Here’s a recipe for sloe wine with honey:

Ingredients

  • 3lb sloes;
  • 3.5lb honey;
  • 1 gallon of water;
  • red wine yeast;
  • yeast nutrient.

Method

  • Pick through the sloes and remove stalks, leaves etc;
  • Wash the fruit;
  • Boil the water;
  • Pour boiling water on the fruit then mash with stainless steel masher;
  • Cover and leave for 5 days stirring daily;
  • Strain off the fruit and pour the liquor over the honey, stir till dissolved;
  • Add the yeast and nutrient;
  • Cover again and leave for a week while ferment dies down a bit;
  • Pour into demijohn, fit airlock and leave till ferment is finished;
  • Siphon off the lees and leave for a year;
  • Pour it down the lavatory.

Update 30.1.14 – this wine is now fermented out, it is crystal clear rich crimson in colour and very drinkable – if a little sweet.

Copyright © Beespoke.info, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Native Bees

The Latin, or family name for the European Honeybee is Apis mellifera. The species occurs from southern Scandinavia and the British Isles south across Europe and into Africa and Eastwards all the way to the Urals mountain range which forms a boundary between Europe and Asia. Within that enormous area there is correspondingly enormous climactic variability so little wonder 28 subspecies have evolved.

After the glaciers of the last ice age began to retreat northwards some 12.5 thousand years ago, they left behind barren scoured rock but soon plants began to colonise and with the plants came animals including insects and including little A.mellifera. These intrepid first bees were those which could tolerate colder weather, shorter summers and much more rain than the majority. Some of the pioneer characteristics were already present as natural variability within the species  – they would have been hairier, thriftier and perhaps larger. As these bees continued to move northwards these features and others would have been further honed by the weather and the landscape as conditions became harsher. In addition, others would have occurred by natural mutations and if they conferred an advantage they would have persisted and indeed these too would have become further refined. These adaptations would have served to isolate these bees and the isolation would have led to even more deviation from the parent species.

Eventually the features of these bees became so distinct that they became indentifiable as a subspecies – Apis mellifera mellifera. Along with the visible features were behavioral characteristics which allowed them to interact more effectively with their surroundings. As this process continued over the next 12 thousand years the whetstone of evolution created for A.m.mellifera a behavioral and morphological ecotype which was as ecologically effective as it was possible to be. These features were to the bees like an organised bundle of razor sharp tools – all the right tools – but loosely bundled so that they could be dispersed with cross breeding, which is less than ideal. But then mother nature didn’t bargain for the beekeeper.

Imagine a carpenter as an evolved ecotype! The best carpenters would be those born with all the right tools while the bad ones would go extinct. Imagine then a brilliantly evolved carpenter interbreeding with a car mechanic/plasterer hybrid. Instead of the required set of razor sharp chisels, the resulting hybrids arrive with – say, a ring spanner, 2 chisels, a car jack and 6 assorted plasterer’s trowels and a saw.

But go back to the carefully evolved carpenters, not the hybrids. Within that multitude of correctly tooled-up individuals would be the full spectrum of ability – from the genius to the fool. It’s the same with bees – the native bee is an ecologically tooled-up cohort and within the full spectrum of ‘ability’ is all the variability we need to breed from. Native stocks will breed true. Native bee bred with Native bee will beget native bees all equipped as they should be and not with some mixed bag of swarm triggers picked up in… Germany, drone congregation instincts from… the Alps and wintering behaviour from… where… Italy?

Doesn’t make sense does it? No wonder crossed bees are cross bees.

Great article by John Dews here http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/thebestbee.html

Copyright © Beespoke.info, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Honey and Blackcurrant Wine Recipe

Mead flavoured with fruit is known as Melomel. I’ve got 6 blackcurrant bushes in my garden; I planted them in 2004 as cuttings. Each year now, in July I make between 10 and 30 gallons of wine from the currants they give me. Instead of sugar I use some horrible honey I bought in haste – I’m drinking my mistake. If you’re out there Frank – you know who you are – cheers!

If you have a wine hydrometer, you won’t need me to tell you how to use it and you can be more precise about how much honey you want to add.

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 3lb blackcurrants
  • 3.5lb honey
  • 1 gallon water
  • Red wine yeast and nutrient
  • Pectic enzyme

 Method

  • Mash the fruit in food grade plastic bucket. Do not use metal – I use a plastic bottle full of water as a pestle;
  • Boil honey and water in a large pan, remove scum and pour still boiling over the fruit;
  • Cover with a cloth;
  • When cooled to blood heat add pectic enzyme as per instructions on container and leave for a day;
  • Next day add the wine yeast and yeast nutrient, stir and cover;
  • Keep covered in a warm place, stirring once per day, for 5 days;
  • Strain into a demi-john, fit airlock and leave till it stops fermenting and wine clears;
  • Syphon off sediment into a clean jar;
  • Drink it.

Cheers!

Copyright © Beespoke.info, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Things to do in October

October is the last month for the beekeeper to ready his or her bees for the winter. The ivy will be coming to an end soon and the bees need to have enough stores on board to carry them through the winter. As the temperatures begin to fall, they spend more of their time clustered and feeding syrup is no longer an option.  Any hives that are still light could be bolstered with some frames of stores from elsewhere.

A rock on the roof might keep the roof on in a gale but if the stand is toppled the hive will burst asunder and the bees will be exposed to the weather so rope or strap your hives if possible.

They say a mouse has the ability to flatten its head and can pass though any holes bigger than the thickness of a pencil so any entrances thicker than that will need mouseguards. A mouseguard is a strip of metal perforated with bee-sized holes which can be pinned over the entrance to prevent mouse invasions. Mice can destroy a hive of bees in the winter.

Copyright © Beespoke.info, 2014. All Rights Reserved.