Saturday, October 31, 2015

Putting It All Together

open house sign by front door

So you have stuck around until the very end! Thanks so much for caring about the bees and stopping by to read this 31 day series about getting started. This hasn't been meant to be a comprehensive tutorial about beekeeping but was more intended to give you a feel for what beekeeping is actually like and hopefully a few laughs along the way.

If you are still interested in beekeeping here are some things you can do after you get started:

Keep learning. Beekeeping is one of those things like gardening. There is always more to learn. And you can't learn it all from books. Watch and listen to your own bees. They'll teach you more than you can learn from reading.

autumn dog

Teach. Beekeepers are obsessed with sharing information and answering questions about bees. This summer when I was ready to sell my honey I held an open house and apiary tour so people could see where their honey comes from and learn about how important these tiny creatures are to us. 

apiary tour

Market. Designing labels, logos, and naming your honey operation are all fun things to do if you want to sell your honey. But you don't have to do that. Your friends and neighbors will be happy if you just give it away to them!
paper straws

Sell. If you end up with more honey than you can use you may want to sell it. Selling your honey is more fun than it sounds! It makes me super happy when people are willing to pay for my honey.  It allows you to  recover the cost of your equipment.  Who knows? You may even find yourself starting a small business!

honey display

Share. If you are a beekeeper you are going to have some funny stories to share at parties. (Or maybe that's just me.) Did I mention beekeeping is fun?

open house

Eat your own honey! Having your own hives means that you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor! A sweet reward indeed!

apples honeycomb

Branch out. In addition to your honey you are going to have beeswax to use for hand cream, lip balm, and candles. It's so much fun to try new recipes for skin care products!

honey display

soap with bee emblem

jar of honeycomb
tins of honey and white clover hand cream

jars of honey

gift basket

Thanks so much for reading this series! I hope I've answered some of your questions and inspired you in your beginning beekeeping endeavors! Good luck!

XOXO Happy beekeeping, y'all!

Friday, October 30, 2015

10 Ways to Help Save the Bees

how to help honeybees

Perhaps you have been toying with the idea of beekeeping but have decided it's not for you at least at this time in your life. You'd still love to help our important little friends, the honeybees. Good news! You don't have to take up beekeeping to do that! There are great ways to simply help bees and when I say  simple I mean simple. Here are 10 sweet ways to help honeybees:

1. Plant a garden with flowers and vegetables. 

2. Live with a few weeds in your lawn. Dandelions and clover are beautiful to bees.

3. Let a tiny corner of your property go wild.

4. Put out a bird bath or other water supply.

5. Cut back, or better yet, stop using pesticides and herbicides. 

6. Buy local honey. It encourages beekeeping and we need more beekeepers!

7. Buy organic and local fruits and vegetables.

8. If you see a swarm in the spring either leave it alone or call a beekeeper. 

9. Buy heirloom seeds. The chemical coating on many seeds is toxic to bees.   

10. Landscape with plants native to your area.

Everything that you do to help the bees and beekeepers is helping all of us. We live in a society that has attached honeybees to our food supply in such a way that now we are actually dependent on them. When you do the things on this list you can increase the quality of your life (forget weed eating that corner and go watch the game!) but you are also helping to protect the American food supply. Kind of an important thing.

And really, who doesn't want to put out a pretty birdbath and shop at the farmer's market?

The bees and I love that you want to help!

XOXO y'all!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Two Beeswax Projects: A Candle in a Teacup and Hand Cream

beeswax candle in teacup
 Besides honey the other product produced by a colony of bees is the beeswax that they create to store brood, pollen, and honey. It has a lot of uses. While I generally use the wax I end up for skin care products I finally got around to making my first candle. I decided to make it in this adorable tea cup that belonged to my mother in law.

See what the wax looks like in the hive here. 

I haven't made candles since I was about 12. Remember making them in milk cartons? Those were with paraffin wax and weren't even scented. This little project took just a few minutes. If you don't count the hundreds of hours tending bees and an hour or so rendering the wax.

Read about rendering beeswax here. 

You start by grating the beeswax into a bowl so that it will melt faster and more evenly.

I melt it in the microwave 30 seconds at a time. Don't forget that whatever you melt beeswax in will be unusable for anything else. Designate one bowl for this project. 

I stuck a wick in the bottom of the cup. You could glue it to keep it in place but mine seemed to stay secure. Just pour a little bit of wax in the bottom and let it set in place, then continue.

 Use a knife to keep the wick straight. When the wax is thoroughly melted quickly quickly pour it into the cup.

Allow the wax to harden. You will see that the color changes to a beautiful honey yellow.

You could add color and scent to candle in the melted stage but I thought it was lovely in its natural state. 

Now how about a moisturizing hand cream?

I recently received an email from a fabulous woman in my city who had a vision a few years ago for a place in an inner city neighborhood where children could have an opportunity to express themselves through art and gardening. Erin Harris began the Carpenter Art Garden and if you think one person can't make a difference check out the website: Carpenter Art Garden.  I was thrilled to get to partner with her in creating something special for her volunteers.

Everything I make contains honey or beeswax. Part of the fun of beekeeping is providing people with unique gifts from the hive.  Here's a picture of my girls creating the wax that went into this project. They represent the ultimate community and spirit of cooperation. I was thinking about that while working on this order to be given to people who also exemplify those qualities. 

The comb melts down and needs to be rendered before using it in projects. Read my post about how I do that here: How to Render Beeswax.

 Here's the recipe I used for the one time batch I designed especially for her event. I mixed up a little over a half gallon to create 35 2 oz. tins.

Ingredients:  3  C. coconut oil
                      1 1/4  C. olive oil
                      1 1/4  C. almond oil
                      1 1/4  C.  cocoa butter
                      1  C. shea butter
                      1/8  C. beeswax
                      1/8  C. honey
                       approx. 16 drops lavender essential oil

Melt all the oils and wax together in the microwave a few seconds (about 15-45) at a time. Stirring in between. This was a large batch for me, so it took a while. Then I carefully ladled the concoction into these tins. I am so in love with the purity of this process and how beautiful it looks and how it changes as it cools. 

Okay, I am kind of obsessed. See how it started out looking like oil?

Then the gloss fades just a bit...

Within minutes it solidifies and turns a creamy pale yellow, the color of the beeswax. I am seriously excited by this!

I wanted to create a special label for this order. Most of us aren't even aware of how much work in our cities gets done by volunteers! There is an iconic purple house associated with the Art Garden so I used purple and named it The Garden. Volunteers work super hard so lavender seemed like the perfect calming scent to add and it related to the purple in the label. The tag line I used for this scent was "for helping hands." I wanted the volunteers to know this gift was created from start to finish with them in mind. 

Punching out the labels might be my favorite part of this whole process. There is something very satisfying about creating perfect circles.

I was thrilled with how this turned out. I received an email that evening after the event saying that everyone loved their gifts. I did a little happy dance in the Pen & Hive kitchen! I am always super excited to create things that bring people happiness and make them feel loved!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Easy Makeup Remover and Moisturizer in One

Yesterday we covered how to render beeswax on this series. Now that you have it you get to use it for all kinds of super cool stuff! The most common are skin care and candle making. I whip up small batches of moisturizers for myself all the time and thought some of you might enjoy them too. If you are interested in making your own, Pinterest is full of recipes and DIY tips from people who spend a lot of time figuring out new scents and consistencies, weights and measures. I started with a couple of basic recipes and adjusted them until I got something I was happy with. You can absolutely do that so don't be afraid to experiment!

 I'm generally mixing up things that say "one part to two parts" or something but I already see a scale in my future. Lots of ingredients are measured in weight.

 In this photo you can see the bees building out the honeycomb to store both honey and brood. By the way that big clunky bee in the middle is a drone. This beeswax or comb is what I'm using in my skin care products. Besides adding a thickness and stabilizing qualities it is considered to be antibacterial giving things a longer shelf life and slightly anti-inflammatory which is a nifty quality in anything we are going to put on our skin. 

 Here's a picture of pure rendered beeswax from my backyard apiary. Read about how I do that in the post, Rendering Beeswax.

The wax is grated and melted then blended with oils to create countless lotions and creams. These are all quite simple to make in your own kitchen. If you don't have your own bee hives it's really easy to find some beeswax online.

 The Bedtime Cleanser is a combination of castor oil, jojoba oil, and beeswax. The oils make a lovely cleanser on their own if you want to mix them up in the palm of your hand in the evening but the addition of beeswax makes it thicker and easier to use. Since it's for use at bedtime I added lavender essential oil which makes it perfect as part of an evening ritual. Massage it into skin to remove make up then rest a warm washcloth on your face for a couple of minutes. Pat off excess oil.

What remains on your skin provides enough moisturizer for the night, at least by my standards, and doesn't feel greasy or heavy.

It's all perfectly simple.

If you are interested in trying out some recipes of your own check Pinterest. If you don't feel comfortable playing without rules there are tons of sites for weights and measures as well as a feast of recipes for your skin.

Let me know what you try and how you like it!

XOXO y'all!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to Render Beeswax

rendering beeswax

It only took me six months to get around to it. That's because all the websites I visited to learn about how to do it equated the danger level of melting  beeswax to cooking meth. So yesterday while my husband was out of town I figured if I burned the place down I'd be the only one here.

It's a pretty simple process. In this pic you can see the honeycomb as it is after the bees clean it up (after I process the honey I put the comb back out near the hive and the bees collect all the honey I missed and take it into the hive to store for winter) during harvesting season. 

I've crumbled some to help it melt faster.

 The pot was full when I started. It took about 30 minutes over low heat for me to melt it down. When completely melted the pot was about 1/4 full.

There are a few dead bees and some debris mixed in so after it's melted you strain it through cheesecloth. Make sure to use something you only intend to use for beeswax after this. It will be impossible to clean.

Collect your containers to pour the strained wax into.

I heated the bowl I was going to use for straining in the oven first, to keep the wax from hardening so quickly.

Once you've strained it, remove the cheesecloth, and pour it ASAP into the containers. Even though I heated the bowl you can see how much had hardened in the ten seconds it was in there.

I threw the used cheesecloth into the pot while it was still on the burner to mop up the excess wax. I'll use this for a firestarter in the fireplace.

I thought it was kind of funny that the imprint on the wax discs was the recycling symbol from the bottom of the containers. This is my favorite recycling project ever.
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Monday, October 26, 2015

How to Know You Are Getting Authentic Local 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.