A beautiful weekend at last, after what has felt like a really cool and wet summer. Jeff, our mentor and experienced beekeeper, had indicated that his hives on the farm where ours is, has been producing very little. He also said that ours is the best hive on the site, which means we have a fantastic queen bee, busy laying eggs and producing a growing colony of workers to forage for honey. Despite this, we are unlikely to get any honey this season, so the job today was simply to check the super and try out our new smoker! The ‘super’ is the box that sits on top of the hive and where the bees produce honey. If the super had some honey, Jeff advised that we swap the super and brood box around, thus preparing the bees for autumn and winter and giving them honey to feed on.
We were due to visit the hive this evening, but it was fairly cool so we decided to leave the bees as they would likely not welcome the intrusion as they prepared to cosy up for the night. Jeff invited us to his house instead as he wanted to show us how he extracts his honey and the process of ‘bottling’ or putting it into jars. I was so impressed with Jeff’s set up. He has invested in a sparkly new extractor this year, so it was great to see how the honey is extracted from the frames and a few tips that he gave us that only an experienced beekeeper would know (e.g. he gently heats the frames to remove some of the caps). Jeff has a 5 star rating from the Food Standards Agency and a really neat extraction and storage room. He also showed us how to make up our frames that we have bought, apparently we need some special type of pins, and they have to be put in a particular way. A job for over the winter.
Spring onions is a classic accompaniment to potato salad, however, more and more I am experimenting in my cooking and replacing classics with new fresh ingredients. Here the radishes work brilliantly if you are looking for an alternative to onion. I also use an additive free mayonnaise from the farm where I work (Farrington’s Mellow Yellow). It’s made with cold pressed rapeseed oil, a healthier oil that is ideal in mayonnaise as it emulsifies really well, plus it tastes good and has a fabulous yellow colour [just like homemade mayonnaise].
This has become a regular treat cake, and it’s way more healthier than your average chocolate cake but just as delicious. My daughter Mia wanted to make a Mud Cake by a well known bakery and I thought my eyes were deceiving me when I read that it required 1.4kg of reined sugar for the cake! That’s the equivalent of 28 teaspoons per slice, whereas this version only uses 100g of unrefined muscavdo sugar and 3 over ripe bananas for sweetness for the entire cake, so only 2 teaspoons of sugar per slice, not 28!! It’s so light and moist and just as nice with or without the added chocolate.
It’s adapted from a Nigella recipe, although I’ve made it even healthier by using wholemeal spelt flour (so light you won’t even realise your eating wholemeal, here I use Dove’s wholemeal spelt). I also use cold pressed rapeseed oil from the farm where I work, Farrington’s Mellow Yellow, rather than simply vegetable oil. Cold pressed rapeseed oil is the best quality oil and healthier, with the lowest saturated fat and rich in Omega 3 as well as Vitamin E. You can also add good quality dark chocolate chunks, but this is only optional and the cake is delicious with or without them (I usually buy Green & Blacks dark chocolate buttons or 85% cocoa chocolate).
A recent forage for wild blackberries left me with a dilemma, what do I make? Blackberry muffins was suggested on my instagram account and I thought, brilliant, I will tweak my blueberry ginger muffin recipe! What a delightful batch of muffins it made. I added more fruit this time [100g of blackberries as opposed to 40g of blueberries] giving me a bonus extra muffin! I made 11 in total as the quantity lends itself to 10 or 11 good size muffins and you can tweak the quantities to create more or less.
So this is the aim. To have a healthy hive, with bees that thrive. Our bees live on the other side of this hedge, with fields of wildflowers in front of the hive. As you can see, the farmer has been busy. We left our bees for a couple of weeks as it is a young hive and it’s been raining a lot so they needed some time and sunshine to fill up on nectare. To be honest, I visited the bees today with Jeff, our mentor, with a little trepidation. Mike & I were worried about our hive as we didn’t see the queen last time and the wasps have been a real problem this year. Thankfully everything is ok with our bees but the wasps are a problem generally for honey bees and have wiped out an entire NUC (a small box for young bees) next to our hive, killing all the nursery bees who are too young to defend themselves.
When I make it for friends or parties, people cannot get enough of it. The balsamic vinegar dressing tenderises the tomato & onion to create a melt-in-the-mouth salad.
You could also add mozzarella or goats cheese, but it’s truly delicious with these 3 main ingredients.
I’ve tried a few coleslaw ideas, but this is classic recipe from the BBC Good Food website is fantastic, healthy & will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge.
I’ve tweaked the recipe slightly, changing the quantities to my preference & using a good quality mayonnaise I think makes all the difference!
A glorious Sunday, after a long period of very wet weather here in the UK. We’ve been on holiday in Norfolk for a week and before we left, Mike visited the hives with Jeff to place a ‘super’ on top of our brood box as our bees are thriving and expanding quickly. As we were still waiting for our new hive, Jeff has loaned one of his brood boxes and supers (the super is an additional section that sits on the first section called the brood box).
We suspected, given the weather, that the bees would not have been too busy. Jeff has said that his hives located near to us are not generating a lot of honey, whereas other hives located elsewhere in the county are doing really well and seem to be enjoying the flowering borage. For us, our expectation from what we have read, is that we will not generate much honey this year.
While we were away our new hive arrived, so today we installed it. Jeff was busy with his grandchildren and Mike and I felt confident enough to move the hive into place. We borrowed Jeff’s smoker and hive tool as we are yet to buy ours.
On arrival at the farm, we met Tim the farmer who is in full harvest mode and today, he said, catching up on a few jobs in between ‘combining’. I introduced myself and he said, “oh you are the bee people!”