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Spring Honey Bee Swarms

BZ Honey - 2015 Honey Bee Swarm
BZ Honey - 2015 Honey Bee Swarm
A swarm captured on March 17th, 2015.

Honey Bee Swarm in Port Lavaca, Texas, January 29th, 2015.

Yesterday, the first honey bee swarm of the year in Texas was reported in Port Lavaca.  This is early for spring swarms, but is not surprising, considering how warm our winter has been.  Swarming is the natural act of propagation for a colony of bees in the spring.  When a colony realizes it has enough bees and supplies to survive in Spring, the workers collectively begin swarm preparations.  Queen cells are built to develop the next queen for the hive and half the workers leave for a new home with the old queen and half the supply of honey.

Preventing swarms

Beekeepers have developed strategies to prevent swarms because a hive that swarms will not produce a crop of honey that year.  We inspect and manipulate our hives weekly during the swarm season to prevent swarms.  If we do see swarm preparations, we accept the division of the hive and manually create new hives rather than letting the bees fly away on their own.

If a hive issues a swarm…

Typically, they will find an object (tree limb, fence post, picnic table, etc.) to cluster for a short period while scouts look for a new cavity to call home.  They are not aggressive or defensive at this stage, because they don’t have a hive or any developing bees to protect.  Hopefully, they don’t find a cavity in a house, like in the picture above, because then they are very difficult to remove.  If a beekeeper can find a swarm while still in this clustered, looking-for-a-new-home phase, they can be shaken or brushed into a box and taken to a bee yard.

Deploying swarm traps

Honey bee swarms follow scents to look for a new home.  They can smell an area that has been used for a hive in past seasons.  We use this to our advantage by placing old hive boxes with old comb in areas where swarms have been seen in the past.  By luring a swarm into one of these boxes, we can stop them from building a home in someone’s house and create a new production hive with good overwintering genetics.  Once the swarm occupies the trap, we can take it to one of our bee yards and let them grow to a proper hive.

If you have seen honey bee swarms in your neighborhood and would like us to deploy a swarm trap in your yard, let us know in the comments below.

Our first swarm in the Houston area

On March 17th, we captured our first swarm in the Houston area.  The picture above shows the softball-sized swarm resting on a potted oak tree.  We boxed the swarm and verified a mature queen ready to create a new hive.  We look forward to see how well this colony grows this year.

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Honey as a Natural Cough Suppressant

BZ Honey - Apple blossoms in winter
BZ Honey - Apple blossoms in winter
Apple blossoms in winter

Are you looking for a natural cough suppressant?

It’s early January and we just had our first good cold snap of the year in the Houston area.  Our bees are clustered to share warmth and aren’t venturing out of the hives in the cold, but honey is still on our minds.  This time of year, cold and allergy problems usually cause coughs and honey may be the natural cough suppressant you need.

Take a spoon of honey

Growing up, anytime we had a cough, mom would tell us to take a spoon of honey or have some honey in a cup of hot tea.  If you haven’t tried this, please do.  The simplicity of a honey cough suppressant shouldn’t be underestimated.  A teaspoon of raw honey soothes and coats an irritated throat for immediate relief from a cough.  Some of our customers also tell us that they want raw honey with active enzymes and pollen to help with their allergies.  If you’re looking for something with a little more punch from the addition of ginger and lemon, try this natural cough suppressant from Nurse Barb and the National Honey Board:

Honey Cough Syrup
Ingredients:

Zest of 2 lemons = 1 ½ tablespoons
¼ cup peeled, sliced ginger or ½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup water
1 cup honey
1/2 cup lemon juice

Directions:

In a small saucepan, add lemon zest, sliced ginger and 1 cup of water. Bring mixture to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes and then strain into a heat-proof measuring cup. Rinse the saucepan out and pour in 1 cup of honey. On low heat, warm the honey, but do not allow it to boil. Add the strained lemon/ginger water and the lemon juice. Stir the mixture until it forms a thick syrup. Pour into a clean jar and seal with a lid.

Note: This can be refrigerated for up to 2 months.
• For children* ages, 1 to 5, use ½ -1 teaspoon every 2 hours
• For children* ages, 5 to 12, use 1-2 teaspoon every 2 hours
• For children* 12 and older and adults use 1 to 2 tablespoons every 4 hours

You can also add Nurse Barb’s Honey Cough Syrup to the following to help your child* stay hydrated and suppress their cough.

• Add 1 tablespoon to 4 ounces of water and pour in a Sippy cup
• Mix 1 to 2 teaspoons of Nurse Barb’s Honey Cough Syrup over sliced bananas.
• Add 1 tablespoon to ¼ cup of cream cheese and use as a spread for bread, bagels or toast.
• Add 1 to 2 tablespoons to chamomile tea to help with sleep

 

 

How do you use honey as a home remedy?

 

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We want your customer feedback!

BZ Honey - We want your feedback!

We want customer feedback about our products!

BZ Honey - We want your feedback!
We want your feedback!

Your customer feedback is important to us.  As we close out the 2014 season and prepare our hives for winter, we also need to spend some time to prepare for next year.  We will grow our business in 2015, but we also want to maintain or even improve the quality of our products and customer service.  In order to reach that goal, we need customer feedback on what we did well to earn your business and what we need to improve.

Our bees do all the work of making our honey and we just keep it pure.  So even if we can’t “improve” the actual honey, if there’s something you like about our honey from a particular yard, we’d like to know.  If you have tried honey from more than one of our bee yards, let us know about any differences that you’ve noticed.

Which packaging do you prefer, the classic Mason jar or the convenience of our plastic squeeze bottles?  Do you need more information about our “single locale” strategy?  Have we properly explained our sustainable practices? Have you tried our beeswax polish or lip balm?

Each of the products listed on our website has a “Reviews” section, similar to the one in the picture.  Please take a minute to provide some customer feedback so we can serve you better in the future.

Lastly, please let us know about our customer service.  We hope it’s easy to do business with us.  Whether it’s at the Farmer’s Market or through our website, we want to delight our customers and establish relationships to provide you with honey and beeswax products for years to come.  If there’s anything we need to know about your experience, please let us know in the comments section below.

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2014 Fall Honey Waiting List – Sign up now!

BZ Honey - Pure and robust, Cypress Dark Honey.

 

BZ Honey - 2014 Fall Honey Waiting List
2014 Fall Honey

Since we have a few customers that have asked us to notify them when we get more honey, we want to establish a fall honey waiting list process for those that want to “reserve” some and get notified when we have it bottled.  This is a non-binding list, so if you think you’ll want some, just let us know.

Please be patient with us as we try this new process this year.  We want a fair way to get our honey to the people who have been waiting for it.

Fall Honey Waiting List Process

  1. Add a comment to this post below.  You’ll need to provide a name and email address to leave a comment (this is normally required to prevent spam on our website).  Your email address will not display on the comment and we won’t spam you or give anyone else your info.
  2. In your comment, tell us which bee yard (Cypress, Tomball, or Plants for All Seasons SH249) you’d like your honey from and how much you’ll want.  If you don’t have a preference, just let us know how many pounds you want.
  3. Once the bees let us take their honey, we’ll start working our way down the list, making contact based on the email address provided when leaving the comment (so please make sure it’s an actual email address).

* Comments may require approval, so if you don’t see yours immediately, don’t stress.  We’ll get them approved and on the web.  Comments will stay on the post as a first-come-first-served list.  Depending on how much honey we get and how many people are on the list, we may limit quantities to allow more customers to get some.  We’ll try to be fair, so just give us an idea of how much you think you’ll want.

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Important Questions When Buying Local Honey

BZ Honey - Questions When Buying Local Honey

BZ Honey - Questions When Buying Local Honey

We’ve enjoyed talking to customers at Farmer’s Markets this year.  We not only get to teach people about honey and bees, but also learn what customers think about these subjects.  Often, while explaining why our honey is so good, we see frustration on our customers’ faces because they just bought some other honey and didn’t know what to ask during that purchase.

You can and should make your own observations about honey before you even begin to ask questions.  First, look at the surface of the honey in the container.  Bubbles are formed in honey during the extraction process as the honey is removed from the combs, but usually moves to surface and can be removed after resting for 24 hours.  Bubbles also form if honey is removed from the hive too early and ferments because of excess moisture.  Either way, if it has a thick layer of foam, you may want to consider other options.  If the beekeeper lacks the patience to wait for the bees to finish curing the honey or wait 24 hours for the extracted honey to settle, you’re looking at a risky purchase.

If the honey looks good, ask for a sample then start asking questions.  To help future customers with that situation, here are:

7 Important Questions When Buying Local Honey

  1. Are you a beekeeper?  This sounds crazy, but the honey industry has two main categories, producers and packers. Producers intuitively are those people or companies that own bees who’s hives produce the honey the sell. What’s not intuitive is the practice of packing honey.  Anyone can buy a drum of honey, fill jars, and take them to the farmer’s market.  That person doesn’t know anything about where that honey came from, so it’s always best to buy from beekeepers.
  2. Is this your honey?  Similar to the explanation above, you want to buy from someone with a vested interest in selling pure, unadulterated honey rather than someone selling a commodity.
  3. Do you blend your honey?  Most beekeepers blend their honey from all their hives to increase efficiencies in extracting and inventory.  Neither of those efficiencies benefits the customer looking for local honey.  If you’re looking for a particular varietal (clover, orange blossom, etc.) or honey from a particular area, you want only that honey, not a little of it mixed with everything else.  You certainly don’t want some of it blended with honey from the aforementioned drums.
  4. How local is your honey?  When talking about local honey, you should reference your town or a neighboring town, not your state.  There’s a big difference between Cypress, TX honey, TX honey and U.S. honey.
  5. Do you treat your hives?  Did the beekeeper put any chemicals in their hives to treat for pests and diseases?  You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but most commercial beekeepers add chemicals to their hives to control varroa mites, small hive beetles, and american foulbrood disease. Bees move honey, nectar, and pollen throughout the hive to support young bees and prepare for storage, so who knows where those chemicals end up?
  6. Do you filter your honey?  All beekeepers strain the wax cappings from their honey, but some go many steps further and use microfiltration. This makes their honey visually perfect by removing all wax, pollen, and any other impurities, but it also strips the honey of any local character.  Microfiltration also masks the origin of honey, making it easier to sell questionable honey (see items 1 and 2).
  7. Do you heat your honey?  Some honey processors will heat their honey to make it flow better through filters, tubing, fillers, and into the final containers.  Just like the saying with maple syrup, honey moves slower when cold.  Heating honey does have drawbacks.  The aroma of honey is very volatile and heat will drive off that aroma, depriving you of the floral components of good honey.  Heat also neutralizes the enzymes that bees add to honey during the curing process.

If the honey looks good, tastes good, and you get satisfactory answers to the above questions, then you’ve found some good local honey.  Enjoy!

Matt

P.S. – Our answers are:

  1. Are you a beekeeper?  Yes, we’ve kept bees since 2012.
  2. Is this your honey?  Yes, we only sell our honey.
  3. Do you blend your honey?  No, think of our honey as a single-barrel bourbon.  All of the honey in a bottle was extracted from hives in a single bee yard from a single extraction day.
  4. How local is your honey? We have hives in Cypress, Tomball, and Houston, TX and our bees can fly to the Farmer’s Markets where we sell our honey.
  5. Do you treat your hives?  No, we rely on selective breeding, integrated pest management, and strong hives to keep our bees alive.  We don’t add any chemicals to our hives and therefore, don’t add any chemicals to our honey.  We sell it to you just the way the bees make it.
  6. Do you filter your honey?  No, we only strain it to remove the beeswax from the extraction process.
  7. Do you heat your honey?  No, all of our honey processing happens at ambient room temperature, which is colder than the inside of the bee hive.
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Managing Wasps Without Insecticide

BZ Honey - Managing Wasps with a mixture of water and dish soap.

Managing Wasps in the Beeyard

We’ve seen quite a few wasps this year in the beeyard.  If given the chance, they will try to enter the hives and rob the bees of their precious supplies and they’re just not friendly enough to keep around.  In your backyard, they’re probably building nests in shrubs, under eaves, and under fence rails.  I’m managing wasps using a mixture of water and dish soap.  When sprayed on wasps and wasp nests, it usually suffocates them in a few seconds and they’re done.

This mixture allows me to spray and kill what I want and not harm anything else in the surrounding environment.  No lingering chemicals.  No harm to the bees.  No contamination of the honey.  If you have kids or pets playing in your backyard, this makes more sense than a can of chemicals.

 

This works on any insect, so feel free to try it on ants, aphids, and stink bugs, also.

 

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Crystallized Honey? Yes, it’s Still Honey, Honey.

BZ Honey - Whether you re-liquefy it, or spread it on toast, this crystallized honey won't ever go bad.

What to do with that crystallized honey?

At this weekend’s Locavore Farmer’s Market, one customer asked me what to do with some crystallized honey in his pantry.  We usually get this question at least once per market, so it’s a good discussion point to post on our website.  I have two answers to the question, but first I want to address a very important point.

Properly cured honey doesn’t spoil.  Ever.

BZ Honey - Whether you re-liquefy it, or spread it on toast, this honey won't ever go bad.
Whether you re-liquefy it, or spread it on toast, this honey won’t ever go bad.

When bees are foraging for nectar, they bring it back to their hives and store it in their wax honeycombs.  Then, they work a miracle of nature that is fascinating follow.  They will pack the nectar away and begin curing it through evaporation.  Over time, the moisture content in the nectar reduces, leaving a supersaturated solution of glucose and fructose (plus all the other trace elements that give honey it’s particular character).

Once the moisture content is reduced to below 18%, the bees recognize that and cap the honey with more wax.  This sealed nectar is now considered honey and will never spoil.  Ever.  Because of the reduced moisture content, nothing that wants to ferment or live in honey can survive.  As long as you buy honey from a reputable beekeeper who waits for the bees to fully cure their honey, you can rest assured that your honey will not go bad in your pantry.

However, the supersaturated nature of honey means that eventually, your honey will crystallize.  Unfortunately, raw honey that has not been filtered or heated, will crystallize faster than ultra-processed honey.  Why?  Those pollen grains that exist in unfiltered raw honey provide a starting point for crystallization.  However, that’s a small price to pay for natural goodness, because there are two solutions.

Re-liquefy your crystallized honey

Crystallized honey re-liquefies easily by placing the entire container of honey in a saucepan of warm (not boiling) water.  Just leave it in the water bath until the honey returns to it’s original liquid state and it will stay there for another period of time while you continue to consume it.  Do not microwave your honey!  The intense heat generated by microwaves can scorch the high sugar content in honey, creating unwanted compounds and darkening the color.

Accept the crystallized honey and use it as is

If you’re using honey in your coffee or tea, just leave it in a crystallized state and use it that way.  Scoop out a spoonful and let the hot liquid in your cup dissolve the honey, just as it would dissolve sugar.  If you’re eating honey with your toast, spread away!  Crystallized honey won’t drip off your toast and make a mess.

Either way, it’s still honey and it’s still good.  When you need some more, just find us at a local farmer’s market, order some from us, or get in touch to buy some more.  Enjoy!

Matt

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We Started with Two Hives

BZ Honey - Matt and Kelly, after installing their first two hives of bees.

We started with two hives…

BZ Honey - Matt and Kelly, after installing their first two hives of bees.
Matt and Kelly, after installing their first two hives of bees.

On April 7th, 2012, we picked up our first two hives of bees.  My family had kept bees for years, but it was Kelly’s dad that gave us the inspiration to put hives on his vegetable farm.  At that time, we made the decision to use good management techniques and not chemicals to keep our bees healthy and our honey pure.  It turns out that the best minimum number of hives to have at any location is two hives, which allows us to compare the hives for problems and have back-up resources if we need them.

We now have 20+ hives in yards across Cypress, Houston, and Tomball, TX.  We believe we’re the only beekeepers in this area selling true local honey in the towns where the bees forage for nectar. We can guarantee that we’d have the “local-est” honey at the farmer’s markets where we sell, since we sell at markets that our bees can reach. We don’t buy honey from distributors and we don’t blend our honey, so we can offer a truly local product. We don’t put any chemicals in our hives, we don’t heat our honey, and we don’t filter it.  We’re still growing, but our mission hasn’t changed since those first two hives:  Provide true, raw, local honey.

If you haven’t tried our honey, give us a call, find us at your local farmer’s market, or buy some online.  We’re sure you’ll love it!

 

Matt

BZ Beekeeper