Saturday, August 29, 2015

How to be Sure You Are Buying Real Honey

jars of honeycomb

It's honey season. One of my favorite parts of being a beekeeper is getting to introduce people who have never had real honey, to real honey. If you haven't enjoyed all the wild goodness of raw unfiltered honey with the comb included then you haven't lived. Okay, you've lived but life sure could have been sweeter!

Actually I hated honey as a kid. It was disgusting. Yes I'm talking about that little grocery store brand with the bear that most people have eaten assuming it is honey.

It isn't.

Most of the honey at the grocery has been filtered to such a degree that all the pollen has been removed. Did you know that being able to identify the pollen is the only way to tell where the honey is from? Without it the honey could be from China, India, or anywhere. Actually China smuggles honey into the US all the time, so what's a honey loving consumer to do?

local honey for sale

Buy Local. Beekeepers are helping to protect the food supply which giant commercial farms and their practices have put in danger. Support them and your local farmers!

Get to know a beekeeper or find a reliable one at your farmers market. If you are in California you want honey from your area especially if you are using it for allergies. Eating lobster in Maine? You want a beekeeper from your neck of the woods! It is a lot of fun to try honey from different locales (who doesn't love Tupelo honey?) but the benefit for allergy sufferers comes from a local pollen source.

bees suites

When the honey is ultra-filtered and/or heated all the good stuff is removed and the flavor changes. Raw honey especially with comb contains an array of vitamins and minerals, pollen, and enzymes that are good for you. Honey is a form of sugar but instead of empty calories you are ingesting nutrients that help your body metabolize it. Plus the honey, comb, and propolis have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. There's a lot of good stuff in there!

jar of honey with comb

Buy from a reputable source.  There are amazing places to buy honey like the Savannah Bee Company. There are lots of great places online but SBC is the only one I've actually purchased from so I feel comfortable directing you to them. Plus the people there are really awesome. You might want to plan a field trip.

savannah bee company

You have figured out by now that beekeepers are cool, right? ;)

Get some bees! If you can't find a reliable source for your local honey, you can always get into beekeeping yourself. I have met so many people lately who have told me they would love to have bees. I'll be writing soon about how to get over your fear of bees if that's your issue but if you are wondering what's involved start with my post 10 Things You'll Need to Get Started in Beekeeping.

bees with pollen

So let's review: You want raw unfiltered honey. You probably won't find it at the grocery store. Look for a honey stand at your farmers market. Remember to buy local. Get to know a beekeeper or get yourself some bees! There ya go!

Easy peasy! Or...easy beesy.

Sorry. You know I can't resist.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Harvesting Honey Without an Exractor

honey super-smoker

The spring and early summer honey flow ended weeks ago. We are in the startup of the fall honey flow now. I harvested this season's honey without an extractor. Here's how to do it. First, let's review.

The bees start with empty frames. I use plastic foundation coated with wax.


 As the season goes on they build out the comb and fill it with honey. Then when the water content is around 18% they cap it off.

frame of honeycomb

When all the frames are capped you are ready for harvesting. Using an extractor means scraping off the wax cappings and placing the frames in an extractor. It is about the same amount of work for the beekeeper either way, but scraping the entire comb off into a jar makes more work for the bees.

To read how to harvest using an extractor read this. 

capped honey

You just take a tool of your choosing (I use a metal spatula) and scrape the honey comb off into a container. If you want to filter it you can just add a filter to catch the comb. For this honey harvest I put large pieces of comb in the jar and then ladled honey in to fill the jar the rest of the way up. Here are some of my favorite pics from the process.


Want more pretty pictures? Follow me on Instagram HERE. 

capped honeyframes of honey


You might have already guessed but I get pretty sticky during the process. 

jars of honey

I have the best job ever. Well, the sweetest anyway.



honey and beeswax

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How to Make a Bride's Garter from a Vintage Wedding Dress

bride's garter

My daughter and I are both celebrating anniversaries within the next couple of weeks. It made me think of one of my favorite projects ever. I hand made her garter from my mother's silk wedding dress. A little piece of nostalgia from 1956 that doubled as her something blue.

One day while talking on the phone to my mother she told me that if I still had her old wedding dress stuck in a closet somewhere it would be fine to throw it away.

"It's probably dry rotted anyway."

I dug it out of an upstairs closet, washed it and hung it out in the sun to dry. Looking at it, I had an idea. A couple in fact. I wouldn't be throwing it away, but I did cut it up. I photographed it first, for posterity's sake.

Next I cut it into different sections and thought how they might best be used. Don't be afraid to cut up something to rework it. It's much better to make use of it and share it than to keep it tucked away where it is just in the way. Cutting it up also makes it possible to share it throughout a family instead of having to decide who gets to keep it. This is also a great tip for quilts and other treasured family textiles.

I decided it would be nice to make my daughter's garter from this vintage silk taffeta, and gifts for my mother, sister, and niece as well.

 Normally, to do this you would cut a strip of fabric, fold it over and stitch together to form a tube.

 This dress however had a bow with 2 long tails ready made for this. I love it when I can save a step.

Once you have your tube of fabric you take a piece of elastic shorter than your tube and begin working it through. Tweezers and patience are useful for this task. It is also helpful to pin a safety pin to the end going through so you can determine the end of the elastic. Pinning the other end to the opening will keep you from pulling it through accidentally. The tube/elastic ratio is going to depend on how gathered you want the garter to be. I wanted something that would mimic the bride's dress, so I needed just a soft gather. My elastic was about 2/3 of the tube length.

Sew both ends of elastic together when you are finished. Then fold over the fabric and neatly stitch the two tube ends together.

 This is what you have. At this point you could add any embellishment you like, fabric flowers, bows, lace, beading, etc. I wanted something simple and elegant. I used blue embroidery floss to hand stitch a heart (there's her something "blue") and cream floss to work the date. Simple. Pretty. Meaningful.

I made the throw away garter (which--have you noticed?-- no man is ever trying really hard to catch) from the lace of my own wedding dress. Nothing about synthetic fabrics says "heirloom".

I also saved some lace from the dress to give to my sister, niece, and mother in glass pendants. They were perfect gifts to commemorate the event. This summer when my niece and nephew visited I gave them both pieces of fabric and lace from their grandmother's dress to make their own heirlooms in the future.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Open House Follow Up & Pics

open house sign by front door

Friday night I was having a little meltdown. You know, when the thing you thought was a good idea seems terrifying and you text a friend to say "What was I thinking?" A house full of people makes an introvert nervous. And the cleaning. Don't even get me started. But I was keen to share my love of the bees and the amazing honey they make with friends so I put on my big girl extrovert panties (I do own some) and muddled through.

apiary tour

I needn't have worried. Friends came. People asked questions. The honey sold. That fantastic thing happened where people you know also end up knowing each other somehow making everything so much

beekeeping photo booth

I set up a little photo booth for the kids to dress up like beekeepers and have pics made by parents. The whole thing was pretty adorable. The sign is an old window my son brought home one day from a dumpster. I'd never been so proud. Some things are not meant to be thrown away. Old windows among them. And is chalkboard paint seriously not just the best thing ever invented? 

child beekeeper
child beekeeper

Taking after her mother, my daughter never met a photo booth she didn't like.


Around here we can't have anyone over without our dogs thinking the party is for them. Thanks to Janelle Meliton for capturing these shots amid the chaos. She has her own business caring for pets and is the only person we trust our babies to when we're away!

 Okay so chalk board paint and paper straws are the best things ever. I'm crazy about how colorful and festive the straws look! I had several test labels that I'd tested on card stock before printing them up on adhesive paper. I was wondering how I could use them and used the hole know just to see...if they'd fit on the straws and they did! I'm not sure what it says about me that some of my best ideas are the result of accidents. 

paper straws

Okay, chalk board paint, paper straws and mason jars.

mason jars drying

lemonade mason jar paper straw
mason jars with lemonade paper straws

The lemonade was a hit. Everyone loves a glass that looks happy and you know what mason jars say to guests? Relax. You are practically at home.

open house

When people got too hot I did take them inside and feed them. Not personally, of course, but there was food out. I tried to go with things that we wouldn't have if it weren't for bees like watermelon and almonds. I really never know what to do about food. About 15 minutes before anyone arrives for anything I am asking myself --What do people eat? I don't even know! But you know what they eat? Apples and honeycomb. It's pretty much all you'd ever need. If you've ever been to the Savannah Bee Company you'll know this already.

apples honeycomb

Entire conversations were built around the question--What do you like better? Spring honey? Or fall?

apples and honeycomb

Hanging around food and chatting was fun but everyone wanted to know where the honey was and when they could buy it. So we headed over to the guest cottage that I am using for a work space. An extra kitchen where no dogs are ever allowed is a luxury. I have a post coming up about it soon but you can catch a glimpse of it in these photos of the honey, soap, and hand cream on display.

honey display

honey display

soap with bee emblem

jar of honeycomb
tins of honey and white clover hand cream

jars of honey

gift basket

After receiving an order for 10 jars later in the day from someone who'd seen it on Instagram, I was done. The girls are currently working on the fall collection. If you missed the sale on Saturday make sure to like the Pen & Hive Facebook Page  to keep up with all the honey updates. If production is good this fall I have something fun in store for pre-Christmas shopping.

Remember you can always order soap and hand cream. I'll be introducing some new goodies soon! 

Stay tuned for what's next!

* Animal photos courtesy of Janelle Meliton. Instagram photos by Nathan Brasfield.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Open House Sneak Peek


Just a couple of days left to get ready for the open house on Saturday! Everyone is really excited about the honey but I have been experimenting and have a couple of other things to offer. I've tried a couple of hand cream recipes that I really like. I'll be letting people sample them this weekend. On site product testing!

beeswax hand cream

The one I committed to is something I whipped up because I wanted to have a hand cream made from the clover that the bees use for the honey. I infused olive oil with white clover blossoms. Remember making clover chains as a kid? Everything about them says summer to me!

I'm pretty in love with how the label turned out.

packaging for hand cream

Of course we all know who the star of the show really is, Honey.

jar of honey