Garden and Bees

I try to grow agarden every year, so it was only a matter of time before someone gave me the idea about bees. I try to grow all organic since it works better, and is less trouble and expense than using chemicals on the ground and plants. I never thought I'd beleive it, but if a hardened engineer like me can double-blind their way through a tomato test and come out organic, believe me it works. Last year I did the usual array of strawberries, squash, corn, beans, sweet peppers, nearly-toxic hot peppers, eggplant and the like. There is something to be said for digging in the dirt, but Whitman said it so I won't bother..


It all started innocently enough. Dr. Hampton, our local chiropractor was telling me about bees. He'd stopped keeping his and was going to get rid of all his bee stuff. A perfect excuse, I thought, to get a few hundred thousand stinging insects in the yard.

Here's a picture of my first two hives, which at the time were slowly filling with Sourwood honey. Sourwood (or Sorrel Tree) blooms and makes the most delicious almost clear honey. If you haven't tasted any, it's because mountain folks keep the Sourwood (Yum!) and sell the other stuff to the rubes, er, tourists that come through.

You'll notice that I'm not wearing the traditional bee veil on my head, nor do I have a smoker or other implements of bee culture. Quite simply, bees are cool. Unlike wasps, yellow jackets and other similar but unpleasant buzzing creatures with attitudes, bees seldom sting. I've very, very seldom been stung by one of my bees.

Dig this:

My girls are Italian bees that began life at Michael's Honey Farm near Blairsville, Georgia. Yup, except for a few drones they are all female. None of the girls sting unless you pinch enough to hurt or kill her. Which is to say, never if you're careful and move slowly. I wear a veil and use a little smoke just before taking honey out or disassembling the hives, or when it's cold and they're ornery (mountain-speak for bee PMS, I think). It's hard to be calm and together with bees crawling through your hair and standing on your nose. Sneezing freaks them pretty badly, but I'll skip that story for the moment.

Raw Honey and other Delights

Got an extractor (finally) which is a bit like a centrifuge but holds frames of honeycomb.  Just scratch the cappings off, and spin out the honey.  Works great unless you eat too much while bottling, which of course I did.  Raw honey tastes so much different than cooked honey (the yuck you get at the store) that I can't belive they call it the same stuff.  You can taste the fragrance of the flowers, which I can't describe.  Delicious!  Raw honey also doesn't seem hammer your blood sugar like white sugar or cooked honey.  Must be the enzymes, or some of the proteins that disappear at 110 degrees.  Packing raw, unheated honey is a hassle, and takes longer, but what a difference.  Average production was a little over 400 pounds of honey, mostly sourwood and some wild grape.

I'm considering making some Mead (honey wine) but haven't gotten around to trying it.  Sounds like fun, and I get an excuse to throw a Medieval Party. Any excuse to wear my Purple Top Hat and say things like It's Time to Get Medieval.

Varroa Mites Suck

These rotten creatures have killed almost all the wild bees in the US, which explains why you haven't seen any in a while.  Hah, think for a sec ....  Nope no bees.  Rachel Carson may have been right, but not if I can help it.  Oil of Wintergreen mixed with bees suger water feed seems to kill the mites but leave the bees.  Tried it this year, and so far no mites.  The University of West Virginia is doing some good work on this, as are others in England and elsewhere.  More after this season's experiments.  If we can control the mites naturally without drugs, we can eat raw, organic honey without drugging our bees. I'm in favor. Letcha know how it works.


OK, so I like to cook. Thai, Middle Eastern, French and, of course, Italian. Pizza has been one of my specialties since my college days and I've always wanted a wood-fired oven. So off to build one, right?



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