Today is going to be all about honey. How sweet is that? Honey is a yummy treat that has lots of health benefits. But what is it really? And how is it made? What’s the best way to store it and how long will it last? All of these questions and more will be answered in today’s podcast.
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and, as always, welcome back all of you who are veteran homestead-loving regulars stopping by the FarmCast for every single episode. I appreciate you all so much. We have lots to talk about regarding the goings on around the homestead.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
Let’s start with the cows. I love our cows so much. They are definitely my favorite. Well, I love those lambs too. And the goats. And the quail. And what about the donkeys? Okay, I can’t decide on a favorite.
We tried again to put the milking moms in with the rest of the herd and the other three nursing calves. There is a video up on our Facebook page of Princess following Rosie around. And as you can imagine, Rosie came up short a couple of gallons of milk this morning. Well, it was worth a try anyway. Princess is a very resourceful young lady and will latch on anywhere that anyone will let her.
Violet is “bagging up”. That means she is approaching her delivery. We now have her in with the Rosie and Butter. They come up every day, twice a day so we can check on her more often. The rest of the crowd will come up once a day. They are getting retrained for the upcoming AI procedures. There are three. There is a hormonal implant that is done a week ahead. Then there is a hormone shot three days ahead. And then the AI implantation takes place. After all of that, we wait for three weeks to see if they come into heat again. If so, we try the implant once again. And that circle of life is continued.
This will be our second year of using artificial insemination. I hope it goes better this year. I expect it will. Experience always makes things go easier. Violet will be the only one not involved in this first round of AI as she will either not have delivered yet or will have freshened only a day or so ahead of all the prep. She will need six weeks before she is ready to start her next calf.
We lost yet another sheep, this time to a rogue dog, or so the tracks would indicate. They were much too large for a coyote. I say it was a rogue dog because we never saw another indication that it was still in the area. There was a very large lost dog that was listed on our county Facebook page the very next day. Are they connected? We will never know. The losses are devastating but we keep moving. We continue to search for a livestock guardian dog and pray the right one comes along soon.
Scott is out in the garden today putting in a whole lot of plant starts. We have been so busy with other things that the garden tasks have just been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back some more. He is out there trying to get us caught up. What a wonderful man he is as he picks up the slack that I’m leaving out there. I sprained my hand last week and it will hurt like crazy if I work it too hard. Scott has been doing lots of things to help me out. The garden work is only one of them.
I have two perennial herbs that are going in between the sections of the strawberry patch. I already have oregano and thyme out there. Today Scott is adding the rosemary and garden sage.
Other herbs plants he hopes to get in the ground are the parsley and basil. I’m raising those as annuals. Perhaps when I have an official herb garden I will plant some that will reseed each year. We shall see.
On the vegetable front. He has two flats of peppers that will fill another two raised beds. It’s a lot to accomplish in one day. Will he reach his goal? We shall see. Whatever he gets done is so appreciated.
The peppers are those lovely California Wonder bell peppers and pepperoncini. I’m going to pickle some this year. Look for those at the farmer’s market this fall.
One other garden topic is the tomatoes. I only have two flats of tomatoes left. I’m taking them to the farmer’s market this weekend. Whatever is left will be planted just behind the shelling peas along the orchard wall. Scott put up a fence for a trellis there. It is working great for the peas right now. And as they come out in the next few weeks, the tomatoes will pick up where they left off.
Still to come are the beans and crowder peas. It is so much all at once and then the maintenance of fertilizer and water is all that is needed. We already have some compost tea brewing in a couple of 55-gallon barrels. We have plenty of poo that Scott gathered and put in there, then filled the barrels with water so the tea can brew. It’s a great fertilizer.
With all that garden stuff going on, what is happening with the creamery. The answer there is “nothing”. We are still waiting on the guys who will build and install the milking stanchion setup. We have now decided to add the other option that was offered to us a few weeks ago. To recap, the quote for the stainless-steel overhead complete pipeline system was way outside of our budget. We nixed that and asked for just the milking stanchion setup. They quoted us that and then added that instead of the complete pipeline system, they could hook up our vacuum pump so we could milk into buckets and then pour them into the bulk holding tank. I kind of balked at that as well. The price quote was certainly within reason and we could swing it financially, but I didn’t see the real benefit. Now comes the part about how I injured my hand and how we are likely going to get that vacuum pump working.
I didn’t see the benefit because we already have the portable milkers that pump the milk into a can. It’s on wheels and easy to move from cow to cow. We can do two at a time. It really works well for us. Why change? Well, because it can fail quite easily. One evening during cleanup after milking, the cover over the vacuum tank on that little machine suddenly collapsed and was sucked into the vacuum drum. Scott and a family friend worked on getting something patched together for the morning milking. They worked well past midnight.
In the morning, we tried the newly engineered vacuum tank cover. It failed within a minute or so. Rosie was maybe half way milked out. Butter was not even close. I quickly got together what we needed to hand milk the cows. Butter was done in a little over 20 minutes or so. Then we moved to the really hard one, Rosie. She was already milked out some but there was probably close to a gallon still to go. Rosie’s teats are about as big as my little finger. There is no way to get a good grasp on it. We were getting about a quarter teaspoon with each squirt. I cannot imagine how long it would take to completely milk her out. We finally decided to just let her go and make sure we had a system in place to milk her out in the evening.
The Backup Portable Milker
One other thing we tried along the way was using the other portable milker that we keep as a backup. It had been so long since we had used it that we didn’t even remember how to set it up correctly. There are lots of hoses that have to be hooked up just so or it simply won’t work. This particular milker needs to be oiled in order to function properly. Here is where I fell.
Scott turned it on and the oil shot up out of the top like a geyser, splashing on the roof of the shed and splattering everywhere. I tried to quickly jump out of the way. My foot caught on a piece of wood that we had in the ground from a couple of years ago when we had to tie one of Butter’s legs back so she wouldn’t kick the milking inflations off of her teats. My foot caught and down I went. I fell to the side and landed on the outside of my right arm and hand. Within a few minutes I felt alright. The pain subsided. I continued to do everything I had planned for the day. Basically, that was making cheese.
My Fall and Injury
Over the next few hours, the pain escalated to the point that I had to get Scott to finish the cheese while I went to the urgent care clinic. No broken bones, but a good sprain in that hand. According to the PA, it was likely my osteoarthritis causing the biggest part of the pain at that moment. He wrapped it up and I kept it wrapped up for a couple of days, but it seems like everything I do involves water. I finally gave up on the wrap and have been using pain to temper my activity. It’s an imperfect method. Usually by the end of the day my hand is throbbing. Today, the swelling is almost gone but it will still be a few more weeks before it is back to normal. Scott is picking up the slack for me. He is always there for me.
The bottom line is I can now very clearly see why we might want that vacuum pump hooked up and working, keeping the portable milker as a standby. Experience is a great teacher. And all of that to say that the creamery is currently on pause while Scott does other things and we wait on the milking stanchions and vacuum pump work to be completed.
The primer coat of paint is complete and Scott has decided on the wall coloring it will be a color that is between the color of milk and butter. Nearly white, but with some yellow tone. It’s going to be glorious.
Okay that went on longer than I anticipated. Let’s get on to the topic of honey.
We have had one single beehive in the corner of the orchard for several years. We have never worked this hive. The bees fended for themselves. We never took their honey. They kept it all. This likely would have continued for another few years except that our bees did not survive this past winter.
I asked one of the guys that sell honey at the farmer’s market what might have happened. He said that they also lost more than usual. If the bees unclump because it gets warm and then it gets cold again, they will freeze. They clump together over the winter and keep the queen bee in the center of the clump so she is warm. Throughout the winter more and more bees on the outside will die. The rest keep going and going, keeping that queen safe and warm. Again, if they unclump too early, the cold can kill them. We did have lots of warm and then freezing weather right behind it.
Once the weather got warm for a longer period of time, all sorts of bees came around that now unprotected hive to steal the honey. An active hive will have an army of bees that protect the entrance from just this sort of activity. Any bee will steal honey that they find undefended. It was an angry mob out there. Scott waited until it got dark and the bees went home. Then he pulled off the top three boxes, or supers, full of honey. We kept the boxes covered in a plastic garbage bag inside and away from the robber bees.
Another one of those tasks that got pushed back and pushed back and pushed back, Scott started working on getting the honey out of the comb just a few days ago. We have the honey extracted and will begin seeing what we can do about preserving the wax in the next couple of days.
So, we have lots of honey now, perhaps five gallons or so. What will we do with all of that? Let’s talk about honey.
What is honey
How about a few trivia facts to get started? The honey itself is produced from flower nectar or from honeydew secreted from other insects. The bees eat the nectar or honeydew, add some of their stomach enzymes and then regurgitate the result. It goes into the wax structure or honeycomb where they proceed to fan it with their wings causing the water to evaporate.
So what makes it sweet? Whenever you see that O S E on the end of a word, “ose,” it means a type of sugar. Honey gets its sweetness from fructose and glucose. Honey has about the same relative sweetness as sucrose which is table sugar. Those of you counting calories will want to know that one tablespoon of honey is about 46 calories.
Honey use and production have a long and varied history. There are cave paintings in Cuevas de la Arana in Spain that depict humans foraging for honey. These paintings were done at least 8,000 years ago. Large-scale meliponiculture has been practiced by the Mayans since pre-Columbian times. Meliponiculure beekeeping of stingless bees. Stingless bees are meliponines. They actually have stingers but they are small and not used for defense. There are other types of stingless bees and they can have painful and powerful bites.
Global production of honey in 2019 was 1.9 million tons. The leading producers are China (with 24% of the total), Turkey, Canada, Argentina, and Iran.
How is Honey Made
I’ll expand a little on how it is made. There is more to it than eating pollen, regurgitating and drying it. It all starts with the queen. Each hive must have a queen. She keeps the hive functioning. There can be only one.
When the hive gets too large, the queen will begin laying queen cells. Nurse bees take care of this cell by feeding the queen cells nothing but royal jelly. Other eggs only get royal jelly for the first few days.
Once the new queen hatches, the older queen leaves with a small swarm so the new, younger, stronger, queen does not kill her. If multiple queen cells hatch at once, they will fight to the death. There can be only one.
The Mating Flight
Now that the new queen is hatched, it is her job to lay eggs and keep the hive thriving. Of course, that means she has to mate before laying eggs. This is where the worker bees and drones come in. The worker bees mainly lay drone eggs. The drones are the male bees. The virgin queen bee will only mate once in her lifetime. These drone bees wait their entire life for the chance to mate with the queen. After that they are just another mouth to feed.
The queen flies high into the sky. The drone bees are hanging out waiting for their opportunity. The strongest and genetically best drones will make their way to the queen. It’s a short life though. The drone’s genitalia will be ripped free after mating leaving a hole that will ultimately lead to his death. It’s a short life filled with purpose. His life mission to continue his DNA is completed and he dies. The queen has a storage sack where the sperm is stored and utilized for the rest of her life.
The Queen Lays Eggs
The queen now returns to the hive and begins laying eggs. She lays in the cells called brood chambers. Based on the needs of the hive, the queen will determine what type of bee each egg will produce. I mentioned the queen cell earlier. It is peanut shaped. The drones are larger cells, the worker bees are smaller cells. Young worker bees are called nurse bees. They feed all the cells in which she has laid eggs.
The bees start out as larvae, they graduate to whatever their job is going to be when they mature. The drones, as mentioned above, hang around and get fed, leaving the hive during the day to hang out with other drones searching for a virgin queen in flight.
The worker bees are all female. Some gather the pollen, while others stay in the hive receiving the pollen and other things that are brought to her. The others will also help with making the honey. There are some worker bees that become nurse bees, caring for the eggs and larvae. Some, called attendants, even care for the queen.
Most bees live for about two months or less. All of this is happening very quickly.
The queen bee’s job is to lay eggs. She will lay around 1,500 eggs per day. And that’s a full-time job.
The older, scavenger bees will travel within a 5-mile radius of their hive to collect food and pollen using their proboscis like a straw. What they don’t use for their own nourishment in their first stomach goes to their second stomach. This is like a storage pouch for transferring what they collected. They return to the hive.
The worker bee in the hive will use their proboscis to suck the nectar and pollen from the scavenger bee’s second stomach.
Filling the Honeycomb
The worker bees spread what they collected over an empty comb constructed by other worker bees. Once a comb is full, the honey needs to be dehydrated. Pulling the water out of the honey keeps it from spoiling. They dehydrate it by flapping their wings at just the right speed for just the right amount of time. Their instincts tell them when the honey is ready.
Capping the Honey
Next, the honey is capped. Bees create wax from their abdomen and they layout sheets of it, capping the newly filled comb. This keeps the water out. They eat it in the winter.
That’s it. The honey is made. This is where the beekeeper will come in and make the harvest. Again, we have never done this in real time. We only saved what was left when the hive died. That’s yet another learning experience for another day.
How is Honey Stored?
Honey is a staple in the kitchens of many around the globe. It is a very useful sweetener. It never goes bad and is very easy to store. Even if it starts to crystallize, it can easily be restored.
All you need to do is keep it cool and away from direct sunlight. Use a tightly sealed container. Glass or food-safe plastic are the best containers. Honey can oxidize metal.
You do not need to refrigerate honey. In fact, it will become really, really thick and harder to use when you need. You end up heating it up a little to return it to liquid.
Honey will keep for a very long time. The high concentration of sugars makes it one of the most stable natural foods available. It can have an almost indefinite shelf life if stored properly. You may notice that honey producers put a “best by” date on their products. It’s usually about two years. According to the National Honey Board, this is done for practical purposes because of the variability of honey. However, they do note that honey can be stable for decades and even centuries.
Do not be alarmed if your honey becomes cloudy during storage. This is simply the honey crystalizing. It is not an indication of deterioration. Raw honey with high pollen content will crystallize faster than commercially produced honey. Sometimes crystallization is produced on purpose by the beekeeper.
Crystalized honey can be easily re-liquified. Place the jar in a pan of hot water. Stir gently while heating. Do not overheat. Excessive heat may alter the flavor if the sugars begin to caramelize. The microwave will get too hot too quickly. Avoid at all costs.
Health benefits of Honey
There are so many but I am only touching on five today. Raw honey has been used as a folk remedy throughout history. It’s even used in some hospitals as a treatment for wounds. Many benefits are specific to raw, or unpasteurized, honey. Most of the honey you find in your grocery store is pasteurized. The high heat kills unwanted yeast, can improve the color and texture, removes crystallization and extends the shelf life. Unfortunately, many of the beneficial nutrients are also destroyed in the process.
Good Source of Antioxidants
Some types of honey have as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help to protect your body from cell damage due to free radicals left behind in chemical reactions.
Antibacterial and Antifungal Properties
Research has shown that raw honey can kill unwanted bacteria and fungus. It naturally contains hydrogen peroxide. Its effectiveness varies but is clearly more than a folk remedy for bacterial and fungal infections.
Manuka honey is used in medical settings to treat wounds because it has been found to be an effective germicide. It also aids in the regeneration of tissue. Honey used in a medical setting is inspected and sterile. Do not treat your cuts with honey from the grocery store.
Honey is sometimes used to treat diarrhea, though there is not much research confirming it. It is proven effective as a treatment for H. pylori, a common cause of stomach ulcers.
Honey is also a prebiotic, meaning it nourishes the good bacteria living in your intestines.
Soothing a Sore Throat
Hot tea with honey and lemon is a very common sore throat remedy. It’s easy to make and tastes good too. It also works as a cough suppressant. One or two teaspoonfuls, straight should do the trick.
Are There Any Risks?
There is only one risk of which I am aware. Honey should never be given to an infant under one year. I believe it is the danger of clostridium that is the problem there.
There is so much more I could share about honey but this podcast has already gone on a bit longer than usual.
That’s if for this this edition of the Peaceful Heart Farmcast. I hope you enjoyed the homestead updates. Let me know if there is anything else in particular you would like to know about what we do here. Drop me an email. I’d love to hear from you.
The animals are all doing well. I didn’t get to the quail so more on that in the next one. As I said, there is so much more I could share about honey. Let me know if you have questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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