Beekeeper Diary: Silent Bees

FullSizeRender At the start of Spring, all seemed well with our hive.  The hive had survived the winter and on a warm day we could see lots of activity outside the hive (we didn’t open the hive as we knew they had plenty of surplus honey to get them through the winter).  Our queen had been a super-egg-laying queen.  All last year she built her colony at a furious pace and we were delighted, albeit lucky, to have got such a brilliant queen from our mentor.

Shortly after our first Spring visit, we experienced two freak weather events in the space of a few weeks. The first was severe flooding around the farm, the second was a freak winter storm with heavy hail, snow and cold temperatures, which lasted only a day.  It concerned me and we checked on the hives after the flood – all was fine.  After the snow storm, the hive was quiet.  No bee activity at all, the first time we had seen this.  I called Jeff our mentor and he said not to worry too much as it was a cool evening and the bees were probably inside doing what they should have been doing – keeping inside and warm.

As it turns out, we did have problems with our hive.  On subsequent checks, it became obvious that our queen had stopped laying eggs.  Our super queen, had stopped building her colony and the bees were extremely depleted.  The reason?  It’s not clear.  Some beekeepers seem to think it may be the quality of the drones. Queens rely on one mating in the first year to last a few years, and if the drone quality is poor, she may not continue to produce eggs year after year.

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Fiorentina Spelt Pizza by Roger Saul

Is there anything better than an egg topped pizza?  I don’t think so.  As you can see from all these pictures, the Fiorentina Pizza is something that I make quite a lot.  The recipe is from the book Spelt by Roger Saul.

IMG_5333 Florentina Spelt Pizza

I first heard about spelt when I watched a farming debate on BBC Newsnight a few years ago.  Roger was talking about the work on his family farm Sharpham Park where they grow spelt.  He has led the revival of this grain in the UK and last year he brought out his beautiful Spelt cook book.

IMG_5531 Florentina Spelt Pizza

Spelt is an ancient grain and is much different to other grains.  It is easier for us to digest and contains many beneficial nutrients.  It is a hardier grain, with a husk that protects it from the elements and also protects the nutrients within.  The gluten in spelt is thought to be more ‘fragile’ and water soluble which helps us digest it and avoid bloating.  It also has a much higher protein content than normal wheat bread, so appealing for those on a low-carb diet.  Other benefits include its high fibre content, lower GI (glycaemic index) for a slower energy release and naturally occurring vitamins – it’s high in vitamin B which is essential for our bodies to convert food into energy.  Spelt is a lovely light flour and makes the crispiests pizza doughs.

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Spelt pizza with flavour base

Homemade pizzas take a little effort but are very worth it!  I’ve been making them for years ever since one of my old friends Ozzy Pete, showed me the basics and a little trick he used to add serious Spelt pizza doughflavour.  The dough its self is very simple and I now always use white spelt flour which creates the lightest, crispiest pizza doughs.

The secret to added flavour?  Once you have made the pizza dough, add a layer of fresh ingredients and oil before you add the tomato base.  Once you start to make pizza doughs, it will become second nature.  I usually make the dough in the morning before I head out to work so it’s ready to start rolling when I come home.

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Gingerbread cake

This old family favourite is a great way to treat the kids in a healthier way.  I avoid refined sugar wherever possible and this recipe uses 80g unrefined muscovado sugar and raw honey for sweetness.  I’m also a huge fan of spelt flour, and this cake is made with wholemeal spelt.  You can adapt the recipe for either a 2lb loaf tin or two 1lb loaf tins, that way you can freeze one and save for later (if it lasts that long).

spelt gingerbread cake spelt gingerbread cake

The images above are made with a 1lb loaf tin (the first one got eaten last night).  The images below are a 2lb loaf tin. Eat warm out of the oven, with a dollop of double cream, crème fraiche or yoghurt!

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Beekeeper diary: Spring time and floods

Where I live and work in Northamptonshire has been hit by high rainfall and flooding.  I checked the weather forecast yesterday and, to be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to the flood warning signs as usually they do not effect this area.  How wrong I was!  On the way to my work I pass by the village where our first hive is located and the flood plains on the road were scary. Then I arrived at work to find all access roads blocked.  Add to this I didn’t have any wellies or network coverage, the only way in to work was through the burst stream, jeans rolled up and barefoot!

Beekeeper diarys; beekeeping; uk beekeepingHere you can see the farm’s tractor blocking the road and how deep the flood waters got. On my way back home I wanted to check on ours and our mentor’s hives.  However, the road into the village was completely under water for about a third of a mile.  The pictures below show scenes of the road and an adjacent field completely submerged in water.  I was forced to turn back and naturally worried about the hives which are located on the other side of the village.  I called Jeff our mentor to alert him to the floods in the village.  Bee hives are vulnerable to all kinds threats.   Varroa mite is a parasite that causes huge devastation to hives as the parasite feeds from the larvae and impacts the bees growth.  Habitat loss is another major impact on bee populations and farmers in the UK introduce wildflower margins to help provide nectar rich habitat in addition to the crops they grown. Jeff has lost hives to rats and floods in the past too.

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Carrot and ginger stem soup

This soup has become a family favourite.  I first started making it when I did the Drop Zone Diet by nutritionist and biochemist Jeannette Jackson. It never fails to make me happy when I’m preparing it, there is something so uplifting about peeling, chopping, smelling all those fresh vegetables as they go in the pot.  What’s more, my kids absolutely love this, so it’s great to hear them ask for seconds!

IMG_6589 Carrot and ginger stem soup

Jeannette’s philosophy is all about getting back in touch with cooking good, natural food.  I met Jeannette at a time in my life (over two and a half years ago) when I was relying too much on convenient, processed and high sugar foods.  I was suffering from terrible energy dips and a figure to match!  Jeannette’s programme promises that you will lose 14lb in 14 days. Now the prospect of that I found quite scary as I didn’t think of myself as a ‘dieter’ and I didn’t think I was overweight (I was).  What I loved about Jeannette’s programme were the menu’s – all foods I loved including fresh fish, courgettes, avocados, smoothies.

Carrot and ginger stem soupIt was a little stretch for me to try some of the recipes but here I am, still making some of the delicious recipes from the Drop Zone Diet. PS – I did lose 14lb in 14 days and I’ve kept it off ever since and I enjoy good food everyday.  Thanks to Jeannette for giving me the confidence to put myself first and get back in touch with cooking great food.  Recipe reproduced with kind permission by Jeannette, the author of the Drop Zone Diet x.


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Noaty breakfast bowl

Do you want to start your day with a feeling of utter pleasure and contentment? Then this is the breakfast for you!  It is so divine and satisfying, it will keep your tummy happy all day (well at least till your next meal!) and give you a feeling of fullness.

IMG_6570 FullSizeRender

I like to keep my meals nice and simple, and the names of them too, but this little bowl of loveliness can be called so many things! So I’ve decided to call it “Noaty breakfast” as it’s based on a bed of oats with mixed nuts and, for me, the topping of cashew butter makes this.  I also add either a drizzle of local honey, or my own homemade honey jam – yum, yum, yum…. yes it’s heaven!

You can also make this as a breakfast on the go.  Add all the ingredients into a jar, pop on a lid and take to work.  It will keep well in a fridge overnight too so you can make it in advance.

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Sweet potato and carrot soup

Oh so good!  My kids really love this super smooth, delicately sweet soup.  It contains 5 nutrient-dense vegetables in one dish, so helping them to get well on their way to 5 a day! This recipe takes about 10 minutes to prepare, it can then sit on the stove to cool before blending.  For this recipe, I added boiled water which makes it quicker.

I like to make my soups in advance, so it’s ready to be heated when the kids come home hungry from school. Serve it up with some fresh rolls, sourdough or oven baked bruschetta! Yum 🙂

IMG_6654 Sweet potato and carrot soup

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Homemade chocolate granola

This chocolate granola is oh so easy to make using only 4 ingredients!  I have this thing for jumbo oats, but normal size ones are just as great.  The cocoa I use is Green and Blacks, which is virtually sugar-free, but once combined with this recipe creates a satisfying chocolate experience!  With the addition of fresh orange chunks, it will satisfy those cravings for that famous brand of chocolate orange we have all grown to love! The chocolate granola goes equally well with banana or nectarines.  Serve with yoghurt or simply with milk on it’s own.

Homemade chocolate granola  Chocolate orange granola

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