A blog originally for keeping track of my hobby of being a Beekeeper which has evolved to include Home Brewing and even more recently to follow me and my families approach to "The Good Life". Eventually I hope to include baking recipes and stories of our flock of chickens also reporting on the success and failure at the allotments.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Dandelion Wine

Inspired by comments on one of my earlier posts I have decided to have a go at making dandelion wine. In the comments on the post I was given a recipe which I have mostly followed but with slight deviation; This was mainly due to being unable to find one of the ingredients but fingers crossed it'll be ok.

The first step I took was to collect the dandelion heads. Due to the time of year and the abundance of them on my lawn, this step didn't take too long. The recipe asks for 6 pints of dandelion heads but I only managed 3 pints, although they where packed quite tight into the pint glass so will assume I have picked enough for the recipe. If I haven't picked enough then the only downside I can see is that it won't taste as much of dandelion as it's supposed to; Having no base for comparison, due to not having tasted dandelions, I will continue with the recipe as normal.

Lawn covered in dandelions

The next step (once I had washed my pollen stained hands) was to pour boiling water (7 pints approx) over the dandelions and let them sit in a cupboard for 48 hours out of the way. At this point they started to have a not entirely pleasant smell about them.

After leaving them for 48 hours they really had a smell to them, again not pleasant. The next step was to peel 2 lemons and 1 orange, trying not to get the white pith in. The peel was placed in a large pan along with the dandelion mix and 3lbs of sugar then brought to the boil for 10 minutes (it took about 15 minutes to get to boil). After taking it off the heat I squeezed the juice from the peeled lemons and orange in and added 1 litre of red grape juice (this is where I deviated from the recipe provided; The original recipe asks for white grape juice not red). It was then left to cool.

Pan of dandelions and peel (pond water)

Upon returning from a rather unsuccessful walk, the baby cried for most of it, I carried on with the next step. I added a heaped teaspoon of pectolase and a heaped teaspoon of yeast nutrients then gave a good stir. Pectolase helps breakdown plant matter and clear the wine and nutrients are to give the yeast food to help it get going better. After I had given it a good stir I added the wine yeast and covered with cling film. It now needs to be kept covered for 4-5 days, stirring daily. After 4-5 days I will transfer the liquid into a demijohn with airlock to ferment.

Garden after dandelions were picked

When I left for work this morning it looked as though fermentation had started but only slowly at the moment.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Bee Hives Spotted

Today me and my better half went on a long walk around my local area. We had to stay to decent paths as we also had our baby in the pram being pushed by us in turns. When we set off we only intended on doing a short walk but in the end we walked 3.8 miles, with quite a lot of it being up and down steep-ish hills. While on the walk we found a house down a lane with an honesty box selling eggs and honey. As we walked further down the lane we could see the man working in one corner of his land in what looked like a vegetable plot and behind him was a large area of land. The majority of the land was for chickens and ducks but there was a little area that several Bee hives could be seen. We weren't close enough to talk to the man, or see if the hives were active but if we go for a walk in that area again and see the man I will attempt to engage him in conversation and possibly visit his hives. My better half was also interested as she is going to be getting some chickens soon though she is getting fed up with me talking about Bees!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Bumble Bees En Mass

At work over the last few days I have seen many Bumble Bees on the bushes around the building. I'm not sure what kind of bush it is but it stretches for 10 plus metres on one side of the building and even more at the other side. The Bees I saw were mainly big black and yellow Bumble Bees and brown Bumble Bees; there were also a few Honey Bees knocking about but not as many. Intrigued at what kind of Bumble Bees they were I did a quick google search for Bumble Bee identification and came across the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust or BBCT. Using the guide found at this link, I believe the Bumble's that I was seeing were mainly Common Carder Bee, or Bombus Pascuorum and the Garden Bumble Bee, or Bombus Hortorum. The vast majority of them were the Carder Bee and I believe there were several queens; I thought this due to the size of them and the presence of a few much smaller ones but with the same colour.

Since finding BBCT's site I have become a member which costs £16 per year. I'm looking forward to getting my welcome pack. The welcome pack includes a chart for identifying Bumble Bees, a pin badge, a car sticker and a packet of Bee friendly seeds, along with a newsletter. If anyone fancies joining or more info on Bumble's then the link is here.

The BBCT site also gives a helpful guide on what flowers to plant to help Bees. This is a breakdown of the list and I have (painstakingly) added wikipedia links to all the different plants mentioned in the guide

This is a picture of the bush that they were feasting on. It was taken on my phone so isn't very good quality and I didn't even try to take any pictures of the Bees (mainly because I'd have had to get very close and would have looked a fool if anyone looked out of the window at work and also they were too busy and moving about a lot). I have done a bit of research on google and believe this bush is a species of cotoneaster or pyracantha although I could be completely wrong. At some point I may try to get a cutting for my own garden.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Still Waiting

As the title suggests, I am still waiting to get my Bees. The course that I will be attending is getting ever nearer and there will be a chance to purchase Bees there. I am strongly considering buying some elsewhere as this will guarantee I get them this year as the course describes having very limited numbers of nucs available. Due to the amount of time I've been researching and preparing I would be so gutted if I didn't get going this year.

There is still much preparation needed in my Dad's allotment; the allotment committee require a 6' fence erecting around the apiary, however this will only require a days work as my Dad has already got the fence, it just needs putting in place. We plan on planting Bee friendly flowers around the apiary site to brighten it up a bit and make the Bees feel more at home.

Over the last few days I have received a couple of emails; one from Wakefield Beekeepers Association and another from DEFRA advising of European Foul Brood (or EFB) been found in a hive within 5km of me. Though this is bad news, I am glad that they have contacted me, although it won't affect me just yet (again back to the lack of Bees). I plan on adding EFB to my pests and diseases section but for the mean time I will say that it's a disease that Bees can get that effects the brood, potentially causing massive damage to the colony. There is another similar disease that is more nasty called American Foul Brood (or AFB) and I will also put this on my pests and diseases page. The American equivalent is more severe but not as common in the UK as far as I'm aware.

Recently I acquired a few more pieces of equipment from someone my sister knows who has unfortunately had to stop Beekeeping due to an allergy. The equipment I have received is mostly unused, such as frames and supers. I also got some packs of unopened wax foundation but as these had been in the garage a while had turned brittle and unusable in a hive. Not wanting to waste this wax I decided to melt it down; I used a large tall tuperware in a pan of hot water and added the foundation into the tuperware until all the wax was melted. I then let it cool and set so I can use it at a later date. There is more equipment they have available for me to purchase but I will have to wait to payday to afford any more.

My second batch of mead is going to be bottled in the next couple of days. In one of the demijohns I have added something to stop fermentation then added more honey to make it sweeter. As mentioned in one of my previous posts, my second batch didn't turn out as planned, being that I added far too little honey. This is why I'm experimenting a little with this one by adding extra honey after fermentation. As I have 4 demijohns with this batch I will probably experiment further with it by adding fruit juice to two of the other demijohns and leaving one with no additives.

Going back to my very first batch of mead, (the JAO mead) I have all but finished this off now. I tried, in vain, to store some to age, but as it was "hidden" in plain sight ended up getting opened and is now almost finished. This first batch was very sucessful and everyone who tried it agrees. There is another batch of this recipe brewing at the moment, but with slight difference being that I added a little lemon juice. Hopefully this won't change it too much. I think next time I do a large batch I will stick to the tried and tested JAO mead.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Bumble Bee on Dandelion

Over the weekend I helped my Dad in his allotment. In one of his greenhouses there are an array of weeds growing on the floor including dandelions. I managed to get a shot of this busy character while she was foraging on this flower head. I am quite impressed with this picture as it was taken with my phone that only has a 3 mega pixel camera. I will have to start taking my partners camera out in the future as that takes much better photos. In my own garden my pear tree is just starting to blossom, so hopefully will be visited by some Bees in the next few days.