Hot Process Soap Making Pt. 2

 

Okay, in Hot Process Soap Making Pt. 2, we’re going to pick up where we left off last week.  If you recall, we reviewed the necessary equipment, I gave you an overview of the process (just 4 steps!) and we began weighing our products to begin the soap making procedure.  So at this point, we’d melted our solid fats and heated our liquid fats in a crock pot.  As that was melting, we created our lye water by combining distilled water with an accurate measurement of lye…preferably outdoors….completely covered from head to toes to avoid any accidents….and well away from children and small animals that could be injured.  This resulted in a chemical reaction that stank to high heaven and doubled or tripled the water temperature in seconds.   Okay, so now our mixtures are ready, let’s move on to step 3, combining the lye water and oils.

 

Step 3.  Combining The Solutions

Now we’re going to do some crazy science and combine the cooled lye water (100 degrees) and melted oils to create yet another chemical reaction, though it will be nowhere near as dramatic as the first.  Very carefully and very slowly, pour the lye water into the crockpot containing the melted oils.  The water will sink to the bottom of the crock as it’s heavier than the oil and you’ll end up with a goopy, sludgy mess.  Totally normal.

Using a spatula, plastic whisk or a highly recommended immersion blender, begin to gently combine the oil and lye mixture.  As you stir, you’ll notice the mixture becoming opaque rather than clear.  It will also begin to thicken and resemble pudding…but keep stirring.  (With an immersion blender, this step could take less than 1 minute; with a whisk or spatula, 10 minutes or longer.)

Keep stirring and watch for a point called trace, when the soap mixture that drops from your spatula or blender holds its shape on the surface of the mixture for a few seconds before it “melts” into in the bowl.  It’s hard to explain but you’ll know it when you see it.  (Remember in the Lord of the Rings when the Ring of Power sort of lingered on top of the magma inside Mt Doom before it disappeared and was destroyed?  Yeah, it’s like that!)  Once you see trace, stop mixing.  I took a quick video to show you what trace looks like….it was always the step that unnerved me!  Pardon the length, but soap waits for no (wo)man!

Step 4. Curing The Soap

Once trace has occurred, put the lid on the crock pot and allow the soap to cook on low for approximately 1 hour.  While you don’t have to babysit the crock pot, you do need to stay close and give the soap a quick stir every 10-15 minutes.  The soap likes to…grow.  It’ll bubble up and out of your crock if you don’t keep an eye on.  It can also scorch on the bottom, so just be mindful of those facts.    Your soap will change in appearance as it’s cooking: from pudding-like to gelatinous, like Vaseline.  Again, totally normal, just keep cooking til the soap has a gloppy, mashed potato appearance.

Once the soap has cooked for an hour and has reached that mashed potato appearance, you can add any essential oils (approximately 50 drops) or natural additives.  I love peppermint leaves and oil, lavender, vanilla and brown sugar, milk and honey, ground oatmeal.  Any combination you like is fine.  After you’ve personalized your soap, spoon the mixture into your prepared molds and use a spatula to smoosh the mixture into the corners.  Give the mold a few hard taps on the work table to remove any air pockets.    Allow the soap to set for 12-24 hours til completely cooled and hardened, then remove it from the mold.  Cut the soap into bars and allow to dry for several more days on a piece of plastic canvas….no metal cooling racks, please!  I allow it to dry a week or two, as the more water that is removed by evaporation, the harder the bar will be and the longer it will last in the shower.  Once cured, store your soap in a covered plastic container.

Now the fun part:  if you plan on giving this soap as a gift, there are great options out there for creating cute, custom packaging.  For packaging soap that I plan on giving as a gift, I prefer to use 4X6 Ziplock Reclosable Bags. The 4X6 inch-sized bags will hold almost any size bar, regardless of the thickness of the bar, and the ziplock prevents the essential oils from evaporating.  For labeling, I love  brown kraft labels! Just download the template from the Avery website and you can make your labels as simple or elaborate as you want them to be!  I love the simple, rustic look, especially when the package is tied up with a bit of twine and a simple pick, but the kraft paper label can also lend itself to a minimalist look, with a modern, modern black font.  As I mentioned in Homemade Holidays, presentation is everything when it comes to a homemade gift, so wrap up a bar of homemade soap with a cotton spa cloth, a loofa sponge, a spa CD or any other accessories that will round out the package!

A Couple Dependable Recipes

Okay, now that we’re finished, I want to share a couple recipes that I’ve used numerous times and have found pretty much fail-proof.  These are plain as can be, nothing fancy and you should be able to find all the oils right at your grocery store.  The one I demonstrated today is courtesy of the Prairie Homestead and makes a small batch of perhaps 6 bars:

  • 10 oz olive oil
  • 20 oz coconut oil
  • 9 oz distilled water
  • 4.78 oz 100% pure lye
  • Essential oils for scent (optional)

 

The second recipe is Rachel’s Tried and True Soap posted at Millersoap.com.  This recipe makes an enormous batch of soap, I can’t even guess how many!

48 oz Crisco (3# can)
21 oz soybean/olive/grapeseed/canola oil or a blend
18 oz coconut oil
28 oz cold water
12 oz  pure lye

So who is brave enough to try their hand at homemade soap?!  If you love the idea of homemade soap, but are still a little leery about making it yourself, perhaps you’d like to visit my Etsy shop to purchase some of the soap you watched being made?

 

Shared to the SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop

Maple Syrup Making 101

I’m so excited to share this post in the Building Skills category!  I know September seems terribly early to begin thinking about making maple syrup as the season doesn’t begin til late winter or early spring, but there’s absolutely a method to my madness, sweet friends.  If you’re inclined to try to make maple syrup for fun or profit, I want to give you plenty of time to do your research and gather your supplies.  It’s not a hard skill, but it does take time to find what you need and NOW is the season to mark the trees, while you can easily identify the tree by its leaves.  In February, all those naked trees begin to look alike.  So humor me and let’s talk about making some maple syrup next February or March!

We began making maple syrup as a hobby approximately 10 years ago, with 5 maple trees and an old box stove set up in the backyard.

It had never occurred to me that those 5 trees could provide anything for us but shade until a friend mentioned it off-handedly.  I thought it was a mystical, complex procedure that the average individual couldn’t do….but how wrong I was!  Admittedly, it’s quite time consuming, but it’s a very simple process of gathering the sap and boiling it to a syrupy consistency—and then boiling it a little longer if you want actual maple sugar.  People have been tapping trees to make syrup for untold generations with the most rudimentary of materials and that skill is even easier to practice now with those materials being available for online purchase and free 2-day shipping!  So let’s demystify the process and get you on the road to making your own maple syrup.

 

 

Identify Trees and Watch The Weather

To begin the process, you need to watch your local weather patterns.  You’re looking for a pattern of days that are consistently above freezing and nights that drop into the 20’s.  In our area, that typically happens in late February or early March, but it can happen as early as January and as late as April.  Just watch the weather with that general pattern in mind.  While you’re watching and waiting, pick out the trees that can be tapped.  You need trees that are at least 12 inches in diameter.  Any kind of maple tree can be tapped for sap, but sugar maples have the highest sugar content and make the best syrup.

 

Basic maple syrup tap
10 Maple Syrup Tree Tapping Kit – 10 Taps + 2-Foot Drop Lines + Includes Sap Filter + Instructions

Collect The Equipment

For tapping the trees, you need a drill, a drill bit, a hammer and splines and/or tubing.

For collecting the sap:  Food safe buckets, clean juice or milk jugs or collection bags.

For boiling the sap into syrup: – a roasting pan on an outdoor woodstove, a turkey fryer, a kettle over a campfire, or a larger, purchased evaporator are all acceptable.  For our first several seasons, we used an old woodstove we picked up at a yard sale for $20. Topped with a stainless steel chafing pan, it was an effective, inexpensive evaporator.  Turkey fryers DO work well, but be aware that propane tanks are costly to refill.  A word of warning for you:  DO NOT even consider boiling sap indoors.  You’ll end up with a sticky layer of steam all over your walls and enough moisture in the air to peel the wallpaper right off the walls.  Seriously.

 

 

 

Tap The Trees

Tap the trees in the early spring, as daytime temperatures rise above freezing. Drill a hole the size of your spout, at a slight incline. We find it most effective to tap the S/SE side of the tree.  Tap the spout into the hole firmly, hang the bucket, and put the cover on to keep out debris.   I’ve read that people insert plastic tubing directly into the taphole and run the tubing into a bucket on the ground, though I’ve never tried it.  We’ve always used a maple syrup spline with plastic tubing ran into a food-safe bucket with a lid.

 

Gather The Sap

Sap is perishable so you need to treat it like a perishable food:  either refrigerate it or use it immediately.  Weather-permitting, place your buckets or jugs in a snowbank on the north side of your house and the sap will keep quite well for a long time.  Be sure to filter the sap through a colander or tea towel before boiling it to remove any bugs or debris.

 

 

Boil The Sap

Boil the sap until it reaches seven degrees above the boiling point of water or until it runs off a spoon in a sheet.   I do the spoon-and-taste method…the consistency quickly changes from watery to thick and syrupy so pay close attention.  If/when your syrup begins to foam and threatens to overflow the pan, a few drips of milk in the pan will reduce the foaming.  Boiling is the longest part of the process, so be sure that you have plenty of fuel to keep your fire going.  And never, ever leave your sap unattended.  There was this incident once when I was boiling sap down in the garage over a propane cooker…and it boiled over…and oh Lardy does that stuff burn!  There was smoke just a-rolling out of the garage.  It was both embarrassing and reassuring when neighbors came over because they thought the house was on fire.  I gave them syrup as a thank you gift.

 

 

Filter and Bottle the Syrup

After your syrup has reached the proper consistency, filter it again to remove any ‘niter’, that’s these weird grainy bits of minerals that can cause your syrup to look cloudy.  Ladle the syrup into Mason jars, cap them and water-bath them for 10 minutes to ensure a good seal.  Many places don’t water-bath their syrup, but I think it’s foolish to take chances on a product you’ve worked so long and hard on, right?!  Store in a cool, dark place and refrigerate after opening.

Now, you do have one other option:  if you choose, you can continue to simmer the syrup over low heat and you’ll end up with a product that looks very much like brown sugar.  Maple sugar IS delish, just be careful as it burns very, very easily!  Once it’s finished, you can use maple sugar as a sweetening just as you’d use brown or coconut sugar.

So that’s it, my friends.  It’s a simple project, though it takes a good, long time to finish it.  That said, with real maple syrup running $15/qt or higher in a GOOD season, it can prove to be a real money-making possibility for your homestead.  We’ve given ½ pint jars of maple syrup for Christmas gifts and they’re always received well, so let me encourage you to try your hand at it next February! Til next time!

Felting Wool Made Simple

 

 

As much as it pains me to say it….winter is coming.  I am a total fan of hot weather and 16+ hours of daylight…I blame it on the time I lived on the coast and a faulty thyroid….but winter and I just don’t jive.  But nonetheless, cold weather is on the way, so I want to share a fun little skill with you to help you prepare for the {{{brrr shiver shiver}}}.  I learned about felting wool when my children were very small and we couldn’t find accessories that would keep them toasty.  They loved playing in the snow, but even with the best quality gloves we could find, they’d come in with frozen fingers and ears and that just hurts a mama’s heart, you know?  So I did some research and found that felted wool would make mittens and hats FAR superior to anything I could find in a department or discount store.  AND it was a cheap, easy and quick project, which were huge bonuses for me!  Here’s what you do.

 

Felting wool begins with second-hand, quality fibers.

 

First, you need to find 100% wool or wool/angora/cashmere blend sweaters and blankets.  No rayon, acrylic or cotton or other blends;  you need animal fibers that will shrink under heat and agitation.  Believe it or not, you CAN find them very inexpensively, especially wool, at yard sales and second-hand stores, often for as little as a couple dollars.  Buy the biggest sizes you can find because you’ll be shocked at how much they shrink up (think 60% or more.)

 

Next, you are going to throw that beautiful wool sweater or blanket in the washer on the hottest/longest cycle available with a small amount of detergent and no softener.  I know.  Our mamas and home-ec teachers are rolling over in their collective graves right now, but just do it, my friends!  In fact, do it several times if you’d like.  After a long, hot soak and an agitating wash, you should notice a difference in the size and texture of your fabric.  Now throw it in the dryer, on the hottest, longest setting and let it dry.  When you pull it out, it should be *substantially* smaller.  It should also feel thicker and denser, for lack of a better word.  If it isn’t, repeat the process one more time and that should do it!

Now, begin cutting the sweater into the largest, workable pieces of fabric you can.  Cut the sleeves off at the shoulder and at the inner arm seam (**see the tip on mittens before you cut the inner arm seam).  Cut the sides and shoulders of the body of the sweater.  Remove any tags, labels, buttons.  What you should notice is that the wool, while it may be fuzzy, doesn’t fray like a sweater typically frays.  Instead of individual threads, you should have one solid piece of fabric.  That’s one of the beautiful things about felting wool…it doesn’t ravel.  No matter how you tug, cut, poke or pull, it won’t fray like a woolen sweater or blanket made from animal fiber.

To make mittens, simply trace your child’s hand or a mitten onto the fabric (X4), leaving 1/4-1/2 inch seam allowance all the way around.  Cut out carefully, match up the pairs, pin them together, then using either a sewing machine or by hand, stitch the pieces together with a sturdy thread, tie it off and you’re finished.  (**Whenever possible, I used the wrist of the sweater for the wrist of the mittens because they made for a nice finished edge that would tuck right up inside my children’s coats without any bulkiness or gaping.)  To make a hat, trace a hat shape (X2) onto the body of the sweater, using the waistband as the banding of the hat if possible, leaving 1/4-1/2 inch seam allowance.  Cut out both pieces, line them up and pin them, then sew them together using a heavy thread.  If you’re feeling particularly crafty, add a cute pompom, an applique, a button or ribbon or whatever you like to dress it up.  Or wear it plain.  Either way works.

The fantastic thing about felted wool is that it turns moisture and is super warm without feeling itchy or bulky, so when I bundled my kids up in their wool accessories, they’d come in hours later with warm, dry, pink hands and ears instead of soaked mittens and numb fingers.  Using the same procedure, we’ve made slippers, earwarmers, scarves and a dozen other cold weather items.  In fact, I have a thick wool sweater set aside this year—for a “jacket” for our German short-haired pointer, who LOVES to play outside, but can’t stand the cold!  (She must’ve taken that after her Mama.)  Felting wool is also a great way to reuse or upcycle quality fibers that are perhaps out of date or just a little too itchy to wear/use as intended.  Ma Ingalls would absolutely approve of felting wool to keep the children warm!  Give it a try and tell me what you think!  Til next time—

 

Foraging – Jerusalem Artichokes

In my humble opinion, and in the collective humble opinion of a thousand generations before me, foraging is an important skill to learn.  Being able to recognize plant life has meant the difference between life and death for ages untold but it’s something that we’ve gotten away from in the past 100 years as medicine advanced and modern supermarkets began popping up in every neighborhood.  Now we don’t have to scavenge for food or concoct homemade remedies, but there’s still much value to be had in the skill of foraging.  During lean times, being able to forage can mean much-needed food for hungry tummies and homemade medicines for illness.  During good times, it’s a fun family activity—who doesn’t enjoy gathering wild blueberries for pancakes?!  It connects you with nature, seasons and events.  It can be a boon to your household economy, especially when you’re able to make a profit from the items you foraged…for instance, in our area wild morelles can go for more than $50/lb on Craigslist.  That’s insane!

But a word of warning from me to you:  don’t be foolish as you’re learning the skill of foraging.  Many fruits, nuts, berries and flowers are obvious and easily distinguishable from any other plant, black raspberries for example…but do be cautious as some plants have evil twins that are deceptively similar to harmless plants.  Foraging for mushrooms and berries shouldn’t be undertaken lightly as the results can be deadly, so when you first begin to learn this skill, there are a few simple rules that you need to bear in mind at all times.

  1.  No guesswork allowed.  Only forage for plants that you KNOW are safe.  If you are not absolutely certain that you recognize a plant, walk away.  Books can be helpful in the field, but first-hand experience is king so call your local extension office or DNR to find experts in the field.
  2. Forage in areas you’re familiar with—and with permission.  Farmers don’t like trespassers in their fields any more than you like them in your backyard, so get permission first.  And be careful of foraging in areas that may have been treated with pesticides and herbicides.  Yuck.
  3. Familiarize yourself with how to prepare the foraged items.  You can only eat the berries of some wild edibles, the roots of others,  as the leaves are poisonous.  (See pokeweed or rhubarb.)  Educate yourself!
  4. Don’t gorge yourself.  If it’s your first time trying a new wild edible, try a small amount and wait to see if you have any kind of allergic reaction.  Pineapple weed, for instance, makes a beautiful flowery tea—unless you’re allergic to it’s cousins chamomile and daisies, at which point you may find you have a reaction to pineapple weed too!

So I want to show you a wild edible that is easy to recognize though most people don’t know what it is!  Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are an invasive weed here in Ohio that grow wild in poor soil.  You frequently see them growing in ditches, along fencerows, at the edges of fields…and at 7 feet tall (or taller) they stand head and shoulders above all the other wild flowers.   They’re a cousin to sunflowers, as evidenced by the color, smell and fuzzy stems, so if you have allergies to sunflowers, you’ll want to avoid them.   As you can see from the picture below, they don’t grow single flowers on individual stalks like sunflowers do; spindly twigs branch off the main stem several feet above the ground and each twig will have 1-2 flowers.  They’re beautiful in cut flower arrangements and the bees love them, but that’s not what makes Jerusalem artichokes so valuable to foragers.  It’s the roots.

Jerusalem artichokes have very nutritious tuber-like roots that very closely resemble gingerroots in appearance.  They grow just below the surface of the ground, so no intensive digging is required.  They have a mild, nutty flavor that reminds me of a water chestnut and can be used in a hundred different ways, both cooked and fresh.  In olden times, they were left in the ground over winter and dug up in February or March, just as the winter’s store of food was running out, but now they’re considered a delicacy in many circles.  So what do you do with them now that you recognize them?

Foraging for Jerusalem artichoke roots

Jerusalem artichokes can be roasted like root veggies with olive oil and herbs.  Pan-fried in butter.  Simmered in soup.  Mashed like potatoes.  Or served in a million other ways.   Nutritionally, they’re worth the bother.  They’re much lower in carbs than potatoes, but full of fiber and vitamin C.

Now you know what they look like, know where to find them and know what to do with them.  What’s stopping you?!  Keep your eyes open for some Jerusalem artichokes and tell me what you think about them!  Til next time!

Requisite Skills For the Inquiring Mind

 

I LOVE learning heirloom skills.

Baking from scratch is a time-honored skill.

I’m not sure when exactly it all started, but I’d guess early adulthood.  I wasn’t a club kid, didn’t care for playing pool or bar hopping, but I loved spending my time canning jam, trying my hand at a new quilt pattern, baking bread or crocheting.  Yeah, my Friday nights were wildWild, I tell you.  It all accelerated in 2004 when Angus was born and I left the job force and became a stay at home mom.  While I loved having a baby and staying home to care for him, it was a huge transition going from working as an instructor at a loud, boisterous, upbeat gym to the intermittent silence and screaming of stay at home mommyhood.  When I felt isolated from the rest of the world, sewing, baking or painting kept my hands and mind busy and kept me sane.   These skills also became my “income”, my contribution to the household economy;  I provided the fruits and veggies for the majority of the year, made soap in the garage, made quilted baby bedding out of the scrap bag, refurbished old furniture on a dime.  I cannot tell you how greatly being skill in heirloom practices improved our quality of life and kept this mama sane.  ills

 

 

Unfortunately, the handing down of these skills have stopped.  I personally believe the downhill slide began in the mid-40’s to early 50’s, when women left the home in large numbers to work and our nation began experiencing relative prosperity following the War.  Women were no longer at home to teach the skills the daughters so desperately needed to learn.  And there was no need to make do when you could buy new!    And so now, we no longer know how to sew on a button, turn berries and sugar into jam, make fat and lye into soap, weave a chair seat or crochet a hat.  That may sound harsh; s’il vous plait, pardonnez-mois.  This is by no means an indictment of the Greatest Generation, God bless them, their accomplishments were incredible.   But, in large, they stopped teaching us.  Their knowledge died with them instead of being handed down like an old family relic.  Now, it’s up to our generation, to both learn AND pass down wisdom our great grandparents took for granted.  It’s a doubly difficult task, but I’m determined to do it and I hope you are as well.   So let’s figure out our game plan.

 

 

Over the next few months, I plan on doing a series specifically on heirloom skills.  Each week, I’ll choose a skill, such as sewing, knitting, maple-sugaring or baking and we’ll expound on it.  I’ll research useful links for you, try my hand at videos and try to provide you with a working knowledge for each skill.  You’ll not come away an expert by any stretch, but you’ll know enough to begin moving your feet forward.   My hope is to create in you a desire to learn what you never had a desire to learn before.  I want you to become curious enough that you’re willing to further pursue it and become successful at it, whatever it happens to be.

I’m passionate about continued learning, but I think sometimes folks get stuck on what they think that means:  college courses.  Oh my sweet friends, continued learning is anything that keeps your mind awake and your heart on fire!  Whatever that is!  Be it mundane or impractical.  The moment we become satisfied that we’ve learned enough, done enough, grown enough….we die.  Let’s never stop learning!   Til next time—

 

 

Gimme A Bee!

Each year, we try to learn and/or perfect a new skill that will benefit our little farm and the past 12 months, we’ve spent our time learning bee keeping.  I didn’t know I wanted to become a beekeeper until we bought our farm and found some defunct bee boxes out behind the old peacock coop.  I happened to see “robber” bees cleaning the supers of the old wax, though at the time, I didn’t know that.  All I knew was that I had bee hives and there were bees and man-alive was I excited!  Well, there’s a world of difference between having some old supers and a few robber bees and having an apiary.  World of difference!  We ended up putting beekeeping on the back burner til the summer of 2016, when a friend called in a slight panic asking if I’d like swarm of honeybees that had moved into a barrel on her back porch.  That was the start of a long, expensive learning process which we’re still in LOL.  There’s no way I can give you a detailed description of beekeeping in one short post.  That would take a book.  But I’d like to give you an overview of what we’ve learned in the past year.  Let’s talk Bees, Equipment and Process.

 

Bees – What I’ve learned is that bees are far more complex than I ever imagined.  Their behavior is fascinating and if you ever have the opportunity to see the inner workings of a hive, take advantage of that opportunity!  So everyone knows there’s a queen bee in the hive who lays eggs (brood), drones whose entire purpose is to mate with the queen and worker bees that gather pollen and turn it into honey that will become food for the brood.  Simple.  Except that it’s not.  They communicate through pheromones which is why, when you swat a bee, a million other bees come to see what the problem is.  It’s how they let the rest of the hive know there’s an intruder in the hive box.  It’s how they figure out they need a new queen or that it’s time to swarm and find a new home.  Pheromones are talk-text-and-data rolled into one convenient package.

Only recently I’ve learned that beehives can have personalities, for lack of a better word.  There are nice, laid-back bees and there are mean bees.  Praise God, we have nice bees.  They don’t want any conflict; they just want to be left alone down in the cozy recesses of their hive box.  A friend of ours has mean bees, who chase him for hundreds of yards before they turn and return to their hive.  I’m not sure if it’s different breeds of bees or if we just got lucky with our friendly, wild swarm.  Either way, Praise God again!

 

 Equipment – I’m not going to lie to you; getting started in beekeeping is expensive.  Initial expenditures can easily range in the $1000-1500 range.  Thankfully, the vast majority are one-time purchases.  Of course, you need a hive box (a base, brood box, supers with frames, inner lid and outer lid), bee suits (don’t skimp here!), small tools such as brushes, hive tools and a smoker, plus equipment to harvest the honey (an extractor, filters, honey buckets with spouts, Mason jars) and the bees themselves.  Most of the equipment can be found at local farm stores such as Rural King, on Amazon or from reputable companies like Dadant.  To make set-up simpler, I’d suggest buying a package that comes with everything you need initially.  Typically, packages include a suit, a smoker, a complete hive box, a hive tool and a manual to get you started.  They run in the $150-400 range, depending on the brand you go with and the ‘extras’ you opt for.  It’s probably cheaper to shop around and buy pieces individually, but it’s pretty convenient when you don’t really know what you’re doing to just buy the package.
Deluxe Beehive Starter Kit – Premium Bee Hives for Beginners and Pros and All the Beekeeping Supplies You Need, 8 Frames

From the bee hive to the pantry

Process – Bees spend all spring, summer and fall working like, well, busy little bees gathering pollen to create honey.  When cold weather comes around, they ‘hibernate’ and use the honey they made to sustain them through cold weather.  When we collect honey, we have 2 goals in mind:  1) to leave enough to sustain the bees through winter and 2) to gather early enough in the season to allow the bees plenty of time to regroup and refill their hives.  If you take it all, your bees WILL starve to death.  Some people collect in spring and fall, we collect mid-summer.  To begin the process, you suit up (WELL), taping any zipper gaps, gaps in elastic bands and where pants meet boots.  Trust me.  They’re clever little buggers and they WILL figure out how to get into your suit given a chance.  After gathering your supplies, you carefully smoke the entrance to the hive, which interrupts the pheromones/communication in the hive.  The bees panic and begin to gorge themselves on honey in case they need to leave the hive permanently.  That’s when you remove the outer and inner covers and then carefully pull out full frames with capped cells, brushing off the bees and placing the frame in a tote with a tight-fitting lid.  You repeat until you’ve removed many/most of the full frames.  Replace the full frames with clean, empty frames, replace the lids and take the goods inside….as messy and sticky as working with honey may be, there’s no way you could process it outdoors.  *See robber bees in the first paragraph 🙂  Once inside and unsuited, you uncap the cells on the frames with either a knife or another uncapping tool, place the frames in an extractor and spin it to remove the honey.  The honey will need filtered to remove any squished bees or bits of wax, but otherwise the process is complete.  With the help of 50K bees, you just made raw honey.

After a rainy, cold summer that greatly impacted production, we harvested 2 pints of honey.  See that honey jar?  That’s what a $500 jar of honey looks like LOL.  I was hoping for a few quarts for our first harvest, but we didn’t get skunked entirely.  If things go well, we’ll be adding a second hive next weekend and hopefully 2018 will be a good season for us with plenty of honey to sell.  Wish us the best as we collect a wild swarm that moved into a friend’s summer kitchen!  I’ll try to get pictures for you of the process, but I can’t promise anything.  Working with bees is a sticky, gooey mess at best, but it’s proving itself to be a tasty one!  Til next time, my sweet friends!