Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Honey Bees are Smarter than a Fifth Grader

I know I know… this blog post is slightly overdue. I promise I have an excuse; we have been super busy with the Oswego County Fair and the Oswego County Pro-Am Tournament. Despite hurricane conditions, the Pro-Am Tournament was still a success and I hope to post photos of the tournament soon on the county website! If you want to see some big fish (the kind I never seem to catch) then make sure you check out the photo gallery!

Hopefully that excuse met your standards and you will find it in your heart to forgive me. Now onto my next adventure!

I learned how to make honey!!

Now now, before you judge, I’ll have you know making honey IS indeed an adventure. Especially when I risked my precious life around swarms of killer bees! Well maybe not killer, but scary nonetheless. I blame my fear on a bad experience I had as a child. One day I was minding my own business when a bee stung me RIGHT below my eye, causing my entire eye to swell up and close shut. I remember walking around Wegman’s with my grandma and getting these stares like I had a huge growth protruding out of my face – and then I remembered I did. Luckily this time I was allowed to wear a bee protector suit - which I must say was very flattering on me. I think I’ll go buy one to wear on a night out.

Dick Drosse, member of the Oswego County Environmental Management Council, suggested the blog idea. I figured I would get some free honey out of the deal - which I did :) - so I quickly obliged! He called Alan Dixon from Snow Valley Honey Farms in Hannibal, NY, and set a tour up for us. If you’re interested in a tour, you can contact Alan at 315-593-2949. He would be glad to show you around!

Similar to the Maple Syrup blog I wrote, I will post photos and descriptions rather than bore you with long paragraphs. If you don’t know how honey is made then prepare to be amazed… and hungry! If you decide you want to try some of Snow Valley’s tasty honey, you can purchase it locally at Ontario Orchards, Bowen’s Corners General Store or straight from the source at Alan’s house at 116 Guernsey Rd, Hannibal.

You can also pick up some local honey at Hives of Howard, another local Honey Farm located on 52 Singleton Street in Oswego. Call Jim Howard at 315-591-4234. You can purchase honey at any of our county’s great farmers’ markets, which are listed below the photos.

This was the first stop on our tour. Alan Dixon, owner of Snow Valley Honey Farm, showed us where it all goes down!

Here is a view of what the room looks like with all of the equipment in it.

These are called honey supers. They are in the hives and it's where the bees put the honey. When the honey is ready, meaning the moisture content is down to 18.5%, the bees will cap it over with wax using their 4 wax glands. You'll learn more about the actual bee process a little later.

If you don't trust the bees and their measurement of moisture content, you can check with a refractometer.

In order to get the honey, you have to remove the wax. This machine is a chain flail uncapper. The chains flick the wax cappings off. Alan melts the wax down and sells it to locals who make soap, candles, etc.

Alan pulls the supers out of the uncapper...

... and sets them in this bin to let the rest of the wax drip off.

This machine is an extractor - where he places the uncapped supers and spins the honey out with centrifugal force. He does this for 15-20 minutes using different speeds. He starts slow to avoid getting air in the honey.

A close-up of the extractor.

As the honey is being spun out, it flows from a tube into another tub which heats the honey.

A close-up of the honey flowing through the tube.

There are dividers which catch more of the stubborn wax that made it past the uncapper and the extractor.

Next the heated honey goes through another tube into a final container.

This time the honey passes through a strainer, hopefully getting rid of the rest of the wax.

A close-up of the delicious ready-to-eat honey! That's a big tub of calories!

Here is Alan, filling up two containers of fresh honey for us!

Posing with our honey! (I have to find a way to be in front of the camera somehow!)

The next part of our tour was learning how go remove the supers from the hives without getting attacked by the bees. There are two options. The first is by using a blower, pictured above.

Alan chose to use the second option, which was to smoke them out. This is a little tool he uses to do just that.

He fills it with pine needles, corn cobs, dried sumac, and grass - which cools the smoke. This mixture burns slow and cool so it doesn't hurt the bees.

He gave us a demonstration before we went back to the hives.

It was finally time to go see the bees! Picture above are some of the hives in Alan's backyard.

There was NO WAY I would be going near those things without full protection!

Alan is a brave man and Dick was a smart man - He stayed behind with the camera.

Alan explained the following: There are three different types of bees: queen bee, worker bee, and drone. The Queen stays on the bottom supers and lays eggs in the cells of the honeycomb (there is only one queen in every hive). The worker bees are females; they are responsible for getting the pollen for food and the nectar to make honey. They also do all of the work removing the moisture and scouting out new places for pollen. Alan predicts he has about 60,000 worker bees per hive. The drones are the male bees whose specific task is to mate with the queen to expand the brood.

A close-up of the bees (my camera has a great zoom... I definitely did not go this close!)

The closed cells are drone eggs, the only kind of eggs worker bees can reproduce.

I risked my life for this photo.

If you look closely you'll see some bees fanning their wings right in front of the opening of the hive. The worker bees do this to create air flow to evaporate the moisture in the honey. You can also watch worker bees coming in with pollen, and bees leaving to get more pollen and scout for new places. Alan said scout bees will come back to the hive and do a dance which shows the other bees where the pollen is. (I wonder if they do the electric slide or the macarena?) Another neat thing is when new bees are hatched, they come outside of the hive and just flutter in front of it for a while. This gets them used to their hive so when they go out to work they can find their way back.

Finally Alan took us out to watch the worker bees in action. All of his bees get the nectar from local wild flowers - specifically clover, alfalfa, locust trees, etc... The prime time for bees to get the nectar to make the honey is from mid-July to mid-august and then again from September to October.

Alan showing us his bee chart.

As a treat for my coworkers I bought some bread to put the fresh honey on! It was fantastic!

Local Farmers' Markets:

Brewerton Farmers’ Market: Fort Brewerton, Thursdays, July 2 through September 3, 6 p.m.

Central Square Farmers’ Market: Goettel Community Park, Wednesdays, May through September, 3 p.m.

Fulton Farmers’ Market: Canal Landing parking lot on South Second Street, Saturdays, May 30 through October 24, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Mexico Farmers’ Market: Main Street, Mondays, June through October, 4 to 7 p.m.

Oswego Farmers’ Market: West First Street, Thursdays, May 28 through October 8, 5 to 9 p.m.

Parish Farmers’ Market: Corner of Routes 69 and 69A, Saturdays, June 6 through August 29, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Pulaski Farmers’ Market with Music in the Park: South Park, Fridays, June through September, 3 to 7 p.m. Music in the Park, 5 to 7 p.m.

Volney Farmers’ Market: Parking area of the Highway Department, Tuesdays, June through October, 5 to 8 p.m.