The Road to Honey

The bees are living the good life. 20150706_122814

At least they seem to be. It’s high summer and they’re producing well, which means it’s time to start messing with them. On our most recent trip in, the plan of action was to take stock of life in the hive and, if all was well, install a honey box.

A honey box is a slightly squatter version of the boxes the bees live in. The main difference is that it’s separated from the rest of the hive by a queen excluder, a sheet of metal mesh that the worker bees can fit through but the larger queen bee can’t. That means no eggs can be laid past it, and it can be devoted to honey. Not all beekeepers do this, but it seems a whole lot easier to me. Here’s ours: the excluder will obviously go under it when we place it on top of the hive.

Our first order of business was to pretty up one of our old honey boxes. This meant scraping away all the propolis. Propolis is a hard, waxy substance (not to be confused with wax) that bees make to cement their hive together.

20150706_122104My friend Tommy, of previous mulberry
, was visiting, so we set him to work scraping propolis off of the honey box and frames.

Poor guy. It was his birthday.

We went to the zoo afterward, though, so it was alright.

Propolis is popular as a dietary supplement and all-around healer. We saved all of our scrapings in an envelope that I put… somewhere. As soon as I find it I’ll try concocting a balm.

Once the honey box was prepped, we donned our suits. Kim always wears a full suit, and we managed to get Tommy fully outfitted. I always wear a full coat, veil, and gloves, but the rest of my outfit is a little more improvised.

20150706_123400I had already tucked my jeans into my socks when we discovered some holes worn through in a particularly bee-vulnerable area. I didn’t want to go all the way home for new pants, and I certainly didn’t want inner thigh stings. We had a roll of masking tape in with the equipment, and when needs must…

I wasn’t doing much with my dignity, anyway.

All passages to tender flesh sealed, we opened up the hive and took a look around. The bees have been producing famously. The queen is laying eggs at a good rate and the workers have started making honey. A couple of the frames were already noticeably heavy with it. With any luck they’ll take this new honey box and run with it.

20150706_125621The last few times we’ve been able to find the queen, but this time she was hiding. This isn’t particularly worrying – there are thousands of little guys crawling around in there, and you can’t let yourself get down just because you didn’t find a specific one. It’s mainly good to find her because it shows she’s active, but with all the eggs and larvae present, it’s easy to intuit.

We also know she’s doing well because we haven’t found any queen cells. These are big, peanut-shaped protrusions on the frame, and each one holds a larva that’s being fed royal jelly – the goop that gives a queen that special queen flair (and ability to lay a whole hive’s worth of eggs). One of these larva will emerge before the others and, as her first royal act, she will murder all her proto-queen sisters in the womb. Bees are rough. This can happen when the previous queen is dead or just not very good at her job, so a lack of queen cells is a nice vote of confidence from the colony as a whole.

Queen cells may also be laid in preparation for a swarm. Bees swarm when they’ve20150706_125640 filled up their hive – the existing queen leaves, taking roughly half the population with her to seek greener pastures. The remaining colony stays behind with a freshly hatched queen. Our plan, if this does happen, is to steal the new queen before the swarm and raise her up separately in her own little queen nook. This way we’ll have an extra queen in our pocket if ours suddenly dies or a neighboring beekeeper loses theirs and calls in a favor.

It’s also another interesting way to play God.

I’m cross-posting this bee update on my personal blog. Go check it out!



What to do with all that squash and kale

Hello fellow gardeners!

This is Liz, from plot #68 (with the pink and purple fence along the path). I’m the garden’s apprentice beekeeper and, unrelatedly, a freelance writer. I have a personal blog where I write about the bees and my plants and other things I get up to. You can visit it to read my latest post, a cautionary tale about how not to use your fennel. Keri and Justin asked if I’d do some writing for the Fox Point Community Garden blog, and I said yes!

I’ll post bee updates, recipes, vegetable news, and whatever’s happening! To start off, here’s a simple recipe for putting a dent in that onslaught of July vegetables. It’s tasty, easy, and was my lunch today.

Chop a clove of garlic and put it in a pan with a hefty splash of oil. I used a cast iron wok because it gets extra hot, but any non-stick pan is fine. Don’t turn your heat on just yet.

Pick out the vegetables that are taking up the most room in your kitchen. Anything that’s not too watery (like tomatoes or cucumbers) is great. 20150723_133014_HDR

I used carrot, kohlrabi (with the nice purple peel), summer squash, and the stems of Swiss chard and kale. You’ll want to cook the leafy greens for less time than these harder vegetables and stems, so keep them separate.20150723_134232_HDR

Here they are!

Once all your vegetables are chopped, turn the heat under your garlic and oil up high. After just a minute or two, the garlic should start to brown. This is your cue to add the hard vegetables. Toss them around and add more oil if you need to. I needed to.


Let these cook for five or ten minutes, tossing them frequently. The key is to cook them through without charring them too much. Just a little char is good.

Once the vegetables meet your standards, push them up on the sides of the wok or to the edges of the pan. Crack an egg into the empty space and scramble it. Then fold the egg bits in with your vegetables. If you don’t do eggs, go ahead and skip this step.

Now it’s time for sauce. I used a big splash of soy sauce, a big squirt of Sriracha, and a big daub of honey. You just want to give your vegetables some flavorful coating, not drench them, so add just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. I like to use dark soy sauce, because it gives more flavor in less volume.

Now throw your leafy greens on top and fold them in to get them good and coated in sauce. They should wilt in just a minute or two.


20150723_134842_HDRAnd that’s it! I had a good, simple lunch, and now I have some room in my crisper for the next impending harvest.

Stay tuned for a bee update! And check out my website for an old bee update!