Springtime Honey Cake And Baby Honey Bee!

honey-cake-md110802_vert

This photo and recipe are reprinted courtesy of my favorite Domestic Goddess Martha Stewart!

The cake recipe is Italian in origin, perfectly sweet and tender, just like my brand new Italiano Grandson Benjamin (“Umberto!”) Michael Aquilino, born Sunday March 30, 2014!

Benjamin Bunny

Baby Honey Bee Benjamin!

In honor of Baby Ben I’ll be posting honey cake recipes this week. Here is Martha’s — it’s delicioso!!

 

INGREDIENTS

(Serves 10)

FIRST GLAZE

  • 1 large lemon, zested into strips
  • 3 sprigs sage
  • 3/4 cup honey

CAKE

  • Unsalted butter, room temperature, for pan
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed finely chopped fresh sage
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

FINAL GLAZE

  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Sugared Sage, for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. STEP 1

    First glaze: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat.

  2. STEP 2

    Cake: Butter and flour an 8-inch hexagonal (or round or square) cake pan. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and sage. Beat eggs and brown sugar on medium-high until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in honey, milk, oil, and zest. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in 2 batches; beat until just combined.

  3. STEP 3

    Spread batter in pan. Bake until golden and a toothpick comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven; poke holes with toothpick all over cake. Remove zest strips and sage from first glaze; brush over top. Let cool completely in pan.

  4. STEP 4

    Final glaze: Whisk together honey, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon juice. Remove cake from pan and brush final glaze over top; continue until all is used. Garnish with sugared sage. Cut into wedges with a serrated knife, wiping knife between cuts; serve.

 

Beautiful Beekeeping – If It Isn’t Broken…

About a decade ago I started beekeeping.  I followed the instructions in Beekeeping for Dummies and used wired wax foundation. Everything worked beautifully.

Wired Wax Foundation

Wired Wax Foundation

My bees loved the wax foundation. The colony built up quickly. It was easy to extract the honey.  So why didn’t I leave well enough alone?

The answer is I’m kind of lazy. Wax frames are very labor intensive. I have to assemble the wooden frames (using a hammer and nails!) and carefully fit the delicate wax inside it without tearing it. Pre-assembled plastic frames are much easier to use.

Pre-assembled Plastic Foundation

Pre-assembled Plastic Foundation

Last year I noticed that my hive with plastic frames wasn’t building up as quickly as my old hive had. Of course, I blamed it on my bees.

This year was worse!  My new bees completely refused to build comb on the plastic frames and built inside the roof top feeders instead!!   I spent Tuesday afternoon cleaning burr comb out of the feeders and replacing plastic frames with wax ones…

Feeders full of burr comb...

Feeders full of burr comb…

The good news is that I’m pretty sure my bees are okay, no thanks to me.

I’ve heard that some bees prefer the plastic frames, but not mine. From now on, I’m going to stick with what works. If it isn’t broken, I’m not going to try to fix it!

July In The Hive – More About Hive Splits

Example of Bee Hive Split (Not My Hives…)

Ordinarily, I would be giving you routine advice about maintaining your hives in July – do bi-weekly inspections, add honey supers as needed, be on the lookout for honey robbers, and harvest your honey when appropriate.  (Remember bees need at least 60 pounds of honey – two shallow supers – for their own consumption during the winter.)

But my July was anything but ordinary. I lost a hive of Italian bees and discovered I had a Buckfast hive that was overcrowded. As a result I did a hive split to make two hives out of one.

There are a number of reasons to do a hive split, the most common being 1.) to get more hives and 2.) to prevent swarms. I split my boiling Buckfast hive for both of those reasons.

When I first thought of doing a split, I wondered whether it was too late in the season. Typically, splits are done in May or early June after the original hive has had time to build up. I was nearing the middle of July.

Was it too late to do a split?

I checked The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush. According to Michael, you can do a split as late as August, provided you have a good honey flow into the fall.

So I went ahead and did the split on July 12. So far, so good!

I’m going to do an inspection today, and I’ll report back on the status of the new hive later.

The Queen Is In Residence

Statue of Boadicea near Westminster in London

It was looking like it might rain, so I went ahead and installed the Queen in her new home.

To ensure that Boadicea‘s new subjects accept her, I am using an indirect method of release into the new hive.

There is a white plug of candy in one of the three circular holes in the Queen cage.

White Candy Plug

The Queen and her attendants will eat through the candy over the next few days and escape from the cage. This will give her subjects time to get acquainted with her and accept her as their monarch.

I am smearing wax and honey from the hive on the cage so that Boadicea will pick up the scent of the hive.

Smearing Wax And Honey On The Cage

I am also poking a hole in the candy plug to make it easier for the Queen and her attendants to escape. I’m careful not to stab any bees in the process!

Poking A Hole In The Candy Plug

Finally, I added two small nails to hold the cage in place between the brood frames.

Now I am ready to go!

It was great to hear the loud buzzing of the new colony as I removed the top super. The bees seemed interested in the new Queen and quickly surrounded the cage.

I was happy to see that the bees had already made progress in drawing out the empty frames. On one frame I saw the beginnings of a Queen Cell.

Now I will wait a week and check on the progress of the Queen.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

Tomorrow, the extraction of honey from the old hive!

Doing The Split

I have two hives, one in my front garden and one in my back garden.

My Front Garden Hive

I have Buckfast bees in my back garden, and it’s a very established hive.

It’s also a very tall hive. There are two deeps, a medium and two honey supers.

In the past, when the bees needed more room, I just slapped on another super or two. If I keep on going on the same way, pretty soon I’m going to need a ladder.

But the Buckies seem to love it! They haven’t shown any signs of swarming, and they’ve been very productive.

The hive at the White House is tall, so I figured it was okay.

White House Bees

In my front garden, I used to have Italian bees. This was their first year, and they didn’t make it. It was very sad.

So I decided to split the Buckfast hive. I’ve never done a split before. There’s something intimidating about the concept.

I also have a confession to make. My Buckfast bees are so healthy and happy, I leave them alone for the most part. I’m of the “if they’re okay, don’t mess with them” school of beekeeping.

But my empty hive was making me sad. So I took out my copy of  The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush and started reading up.

I decided to do what Michael calls “a walk away split.”  Basically, you do a split without giving the new hive a Queen. Then you walk away and let them sort things out. After four weeks you check to see if you have a laying Queen.

When I opened the Buckfast hive this morning, I realized it was a good thing I was doing a split. The hive was absolutely to the rafters with bees and honey!  They need fewer bees and honey and more room to expand.

Honey extraction was going to have to wait until tomorrow though. Today, I had to find at least ten frames of brood and honey to form the core of the new hive.

I found it in the medium super, which was perfect because the new hive has all medium boxes.

I carefully placed the 10 frames in the new hive boxes, and gave the bees six more empty frames to build on. Then I shut up the hive and crossed my fingers. Split accomplished!

But I still have the problem of not enough room in the original hive.

Tonight I’ll be building frames. LOTS of frames!

And tomorrow I’ll be removing at least half of the honey frames for extraction. I’ll replace them with empty frames, and the bees will have plenty of time to make more honey before fall.

If this works, I may never buy another package of bees again!!

Arrivederci, Italian Bees…

Italian honey bees bearding outside the hive e...

Italian honey bees bearding outside the hive entrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I must have had a premonition when I posted about “bee on bee” crime.  I wuz robbed!!

I’m leaving town this afternoon for the weekend, and I went out to check the hives.  My Buckies were flying wildly, but my Italians were strangely silent. Worse than silent. Nowhere to be seen.

Fearing the worst, I opened the hive.  It had been stripped clean of honey and brood.  The only things left were a few sniggering wax moth larvae.  They and the denuded frames went straight into the dumpster.

FAILURE!!

My Italian bees had always seemed a bit too fragile and beautiful for their own good. I didn’t have to smoke them before inspections. They followed me around while I gardened, gentle and curious.

In retrospect, what I thought was aggressive grooming behavior at the entrance to their hive was actually my Buckies subduing their unwelcome adopted siblings. Even though the two hives were nowhere near each other, apparently the Buckies could sense the competition, and were having none of it.

I will have to revise my thinking on robbing situations. They don’t all look like “The Attack of the Killer Bees From Outer Space.”

No, this one at worst looked like “bearding” due to heat. It was a nearly bloodless coup. It probably started the day I installed the package of Italians and fed them that tasty sugar syrup.

So what now?  I called the nearest breeder, but they’re out of packages for the season.

But my Buckie hive is huge!

So I’m going to try an even split.  My first ever!!  If my Buckies don’t want competition, let’s see how they do with creating a second hive by themselves.

More later…

D

Are Defensive Bees Healthier?

Warning!  This is a totally unscientific proposition!

I’m wondering whether defensive bees are healthier than gentler strains.

This is based on my own (limited) experience.

I have two hives:  One very established Buckfast hive and one new Italian hive.

The Buckfast bees are defensive.  No question about it.  I treat them with respect.

But they are incredibly healthy.  I’ve had the same hive for four years, and it is bigger and stronger than ever.  I’ve never seen any evidence of disease.

On the other hand, my Italian bees are sweethearts.  I don’t even bother to smoke them for inspections. But they seem frail somehow.

I’ve seen larvae dumped on their landing board, and the colony isn’t building up as quickly as I’d hoped.  I’ve seen evidence of Varroa mites.

I’m considering taking a frame of Buckfast brood and putting it in the Italian hive.  Maybe the Italian hive will become more defensive.  But maybe that’s what it needs to survive.

I’d be interested to hear what others think about this!!