Using The WHOLE Orange!

recipe for orange peel and chocolate candy

We had the most marvelous navel orange tree at our home in the valley.  We planted the tree soon after we moved in and enjoyed it’s wonderful, healthful fruit ever since. That is, until we had to leave it behind when we sold our home so that we could move up to our new homestead.

We eat oranges for dessert with dark chocolate…

A bite of orange.  A bite of chocolate.  Repeat.  Good thing mandarins are just as good this way, because we were able to move our potted mandarin up to our new homestead.

How to candy orange peelA while ago I followed a recipe for candied orange peels that I found in a wonderful book called 1/4 acre farm. They were absolutely devine!  The orange peels ended up with a wonderful chewy texture and were beautifully translucent.  Really, you have to try this!  I was so proud of the fact that we were actually using the whole orange!

But then I made those candied orange peels again yesterday, and when the candy was done, I kept thinking about how good they smelled and how my fingers got so slippery when I was scraping the pith from the orange peel oil.

Orange oil.

Wait…      ORANGE OIL!

I wondered – if I saved the water that the orange peels were gently boiled in, would there be any orange oil floating on the top when it cooled down?  I had to try it, which meant I had to make another batch of candied orange peels.  Ah Shucks.  😉

But, instead of dumping the water the peels were boiled in (the orange peels are boiled in water 3 times), I saved it all in a large pan.  When the water has cooled enough to handle, I used a funnel and poured the water into a large glass bottle, like these…

Brewing Fermented Sweet Tea

I bought the front two, clear bottles at IKEA. The darker bottle in the rear was purchased at a craft brewery nearby.  Just flipping the bale and slowly decanting the water seemed to work just fine.

When filled to the brim, I inverted the bottle, and carefully placed it upside down into the refrigerator.  Why?  Oil and water separate – especially when chilled.  After a few hours of chilling, I slowly (very slowly), without inverting the bottle, let the water trickle out of the bottom.  My thought was that oil generally floats, so if I let the water out of the bottom, the oil would be left on the top.  I stopped decanting the water when there was about an inch or so left in the bottle.  Then I poured in more water and followed the same procedure. Once I had done this with all the boiled water, I could definitely see a sheen of oil on the top of the water.

Yes indeedy, I had orange peel oil!

I poured the oil with the last bit of water into another smaller amber colored bottle for storage.  Since this bottle had a dropper, I got rid of more of the water by sucking out from under the oil layer – remember, oil floats!  This is what I ended up with before sucking all of the water out from underneath:

How to make your own orange oil

can you see it… right there in the middle of the jar? Orange Oil! Wahoo!

I know if I had a small distiller, I would be able to get a lot more oil out of the orange peel, and I also need to experiment with different methods of extracting the oil.  I am also going to see if it makes a difference whether I separate the water and oil when it is still hot, or let it get cold first. Then, I want to see if I can do the same thing with our lemon and mandarin trees!

What will I do with my orange soap made from turkey fatoil? Make orange scented soap!  Or my version of lip balm! Or orange scented beeswax candles!  Or…  well…  you get the picture.  

The best part?  I KNOW this is organic oil because the peels came from my tree which we do not spray! We already miss that tree, since right now is the time the oranges are beginning to ripen. Hopefully, someday, if we can build a walipini, we will again be able to plant another orange tree.

Have you extracted oil from orange peels?  Do you have a better method you would like to share?

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Preparing our beehive for winter

Hmmm…

We noticed the hive is starting to list to one side. And also a bit forward.  Why?

Honey!  Lots of honey!

Honey is very heavy, and a successful hive will (of course) have lots of it. Honey is bee food and the colony will need it to get through the winter. That is one reason we decided not to do a fall harvest.  We want to make sure the bees will have enough food to get them through the cold winter months when there isn’t much blooming.

Winterizing our top bar hive

Lots of honey – capped and uncapped. We have bar after bar that looks much like this one.

Ray decided to run down to the local box store, buy some lumber and screws, and shore up the hive.  We figure screws would be a bit less disruptive to the hive than hammering in some nails.  Knowing this, when we build our next (second) top bar hive this winter in anticipation of buying another package of worker bees and a queen this spring, we will make the stand a bit more sturdy.  Of course, when you think about it, we are lucky to have such a problem!

Getting a Kenyan Top Bar Hive ready for winter

Boards were screwed into all four sides, to help shore up our Kenyan Top Bar Beehive, and stop it from listing to one side. Since we used screws and not nails, the bees didn’t seem to be disturbed at all!

Liz, a homesteader in Australia and author of “Eight Acres“, has featured our beekeeping journey on her blog today with a question and answer post!  You can read about why Ray and I decided to keep bees and our reasons for choosing to use a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive over at eightacres dot blogspot dot com.  See you there!

Last month we had quite a scare with the hive.  We noticed a lot of activity around the hive with bees landing on and crawling all over the roof of the hive, along with a lot of loud buzzing.  At first we thought it was just the drones again.  Those guys make a lot of noise when they take their afternoon stroll around the neighborhood, but after a while we started to realize that the commotion had nothing to do with the drones.

Our hive was under attack!

How did we know?  I was watching the entrance of the hive and suddenly was witness to a death wrestle – three bees all wrestling in a ball, falling off the entrance ledge to the ground in front of the hive.  When the match was over, one bee was left on the ground, obviously mortally wounded, another flew to a nearby plant, also with mortal wounds. It became obvious, once we realized what was happening, that the bees crawling on the roof and sides of the hive were not our bees, and they were looking for another entrance into the hive. Our hive was under attack from another colony of honey bees!  To make matters worse, there were several yellow jackets flying just above ground level under the hive!

All summer long, we had been battling the yellow jackets.  We had seen several unfortunate honeybees taken away by yellow jackets, and so we set up traps all over the homestead to reduce their numbers.  We were successful in keeping the yellow jacket population low with both store-bought and home-made traps, but it was not our intention to kill all of them.  Though they are a menace, they kept the bugs and caterpillars in our garden to a minimum.  Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good.

But, we never thought we would have problems with another colony of honeybees!

The entrance to our top bar hive was already reduced, due to the attacks by yellow jackets, so we weren’t sure exactly what to do.  I ran to my laptop and did a quick google search and found that the first thing to do was to reduce the size of the hive entrance even more, so that only one bee at a time could squeeze through the hive opening.  If that didn’t work, we could throw a wet sheet over the hive that would confuse the attacking bees and help to isolate the hive for a day or so, until the attackers gave up.

So, Ray reduced the entrance.  We did see a few more wrestling matches and were thinking that we should start preparing a sheet, but then the loud angry buzzing stopped, the guard bees retreated into the hive, and the whole attack seemed to be over.

Preparing Top Bar Hive for Winter

The reduced entrance into the beehive – just big enough for one bee. It’s probably warmer inside also, which is just fine for the winter!

Whew!

And the yellow jackets?  After the honeybee attack was over, the yellow jackets left also! Apparently the yellow jackets were attracted by the loud buzzing and somehow knew that there was going to be “fresh meat” to eat.  Strange how mother nature works, but I never did see a yellow jacket actually attack a bee or the hive.  They only seemed to go after the bees that were already dying on the ground in front and under the hive. Easy pickin’s. Once everything was said and done, there was no evidence of the carnage that took place!

After reading about how two separate hives can literally kill each other off – by stinging each other until their numbers are so low that neither hive can survive the winter – I had nightmares for the next few nights!  

Apparently the attackers were feral bees.  Our homestead is basically in a forest and the few neighbors that we have, do not have beehives.  Bees will fly up to four miles to forage, but I really don’t think anyone within four miles of us has a beehive!  That is why I assume these were feral bees. Which makes me wonder where their hive is!  From what I have read, feral bees can be the strongest bees to have because they are acclimated to the area and have overcome some of the problems modern-day beekeepers have with mites, fungi and such!  Maybe we should think about finding and capturing the hive… or not. The attacking colony must not have produced as much honey as ours, or they wouldn’t risk losing their entire colony to rob another.  Food for thought.

Kenyan Top Bar Beehive

Our first snow of the season!

In the meantine, winter is finally starting to poke it’s head around here.  We got a decent snowfall last weekend and may get some more tomorrow.  We usually don’t get a lot of snow here on the homestead, but this being an el nino year, we just might get buried! There isn’t much more we need to do to take care of the hive for the winter.  Since the entrance is so small already, we decided against placing hardware cloth on it to exclude mice.  And since we didn’t harvest any honey, there should be plenty in the hive to get the girls through until springtime.  Our preference is to let the hive live as naturally as possible, so we will only add sugar water toward the end of winter (before the nectar flow) if an inspection reveals they need more food to survive. We did stack a few rows of firewood in front of the hive to give it a little bit of a windbreak, and we still have a bit more cordwood to split and stack, so the “windbreak” will get just a bit higher (not too high to exclude sunlight) and a few rows thicker. Since this firewood will not be cured in time to use it this winter, the bees can enjoy the windbreak until next winter.

The last few mornings I have noticed one, two or even three dead bees on the entrance board to the hive.  I assume this is natural as bees have a fairly short lifespan.  The workers clean house by removing their dead sisters from the hive.  Normally they would carry them off at least a few feet from the entrance, but since it is so cold they are reluctant to fly and instead are just kicking the bodies out to the front doorstep.  At least, that’s what I assume is happening.  There are no other signs of trouble and it is now too cold to open the hive to see what’s going on inside.

Now it’s just time to let the girls be on their own through the winter.  We sure hope we have done a good job of keeping our first hive strong, but our final results won’t be known until next spring.

So, come on winter!  We are as prepared as we think we should be with regard to our top bar beehive.  Of course, it seems everything else around the homestead is in total chaos, but then that’s another story.

Stay tuned!

Don’t forget to visit Liz on her blog, “Eight Acres”, for more information about beekeeping!

 

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Top Bar Beehive Update

Last spring Ray and I built a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive and installed a package of worker bees and a queen.  Through the spring and summer, we have been reading up on how to

top bar bee hive installation

Here is Ray checking to see that the queen has been released from her cage. Yes! She was free!

take care of our bees (who knew you are supposed to rotate the top bars around?) and we think we have kept them well fed and happy.  Our favorite book, which we refer to often, is “Top Bar Beekeeping” by Les Crowder.

All summer we have been on the lookout for native and purchased flowering plants that the bees would like, and avoiding plants that are poisonous to bees, such as azaleas and rhododendron.  Unfortunately, there are quite a few buckeye trees around, but there are none on our property.  The Buckeye tree pollen is mildly poisonous to adult honeybees, but it causes fatal wing deformity in the brood.  There isn’t anything we can do about the trees surrounding our property because they are  indigenous to our area, but what we can do is cultivate lots of safe and healthy plants for our bees.  We found a beautiful flowering plant by the side of the road that was completely covered with honeybees, butterflies and bumblebees.  Our son, Matthew, is a Forester and identified it as a  medicinal plant (for humans) called Yerba Santa!  We gathered some of the seed from the plant and hope they will germinate this coming spring so we can plant them in near the beehive.

We also planted a bush called Euonymus japonicus.  We had one at our valley home that was absolutely mauled every spring and summer by honeybees.  We planted the bush about 15 feet behind the hive so the bees will have a short commute.  We also planted two lemon balm plants (Melissa officinalis) because we read somewhere that if you plant lemon balm near a beehive, the bees will never leave.  After all, Melissa means “honeybee” in the Greek language! Even if that’s a wive’s tale, that’s okay, because I found that a sprig of lemon balm, a sprig of basil and a few stevia leaves in a gallon of water makes a wonderfully refreshing drink.  We also planted a pot with spearmint.

Top Bar Beekeeping

You can see the spearmint on the left in the pot and the lemon balm in the planter on the right. The two bushes in green pots behind the beehive are pomegranates.

Of course, next spring there will also be all our fruit and nut trees in bloom, along with the lavender and jasmine we have planted here and there around our new homestead.  We hope to have happy, well fed bees that won’t need much supplemental feeding in the future.

We enjoy showing our bees to our family and friends also.  When my sister visited our homestead, it was time to check on the bees and rotate any top bars that might need, well, rotating!

Ray raised up one of the top bars that had new comb with ripe and raw honey, to show my sister Deana. Now I think she wants a beehive too!

Ray raised up one of the top bars that had new comb with ripe and raw honey, to show my dearest sister Deana.

I let her put on my bee outfit and enjoyed watching her reaction as Ray lifted some of the bars for her to see the comb, brood, workers and (of course) the honey! I was truly surprised how brave she was. There she was, right in front of the hive, and she had no fear!  I will admit, however, that sometimes the wonder of it all erases fear.  Our grandchildren were a bit more timid, however, and chose to observe the hive at a fair distance. 🙂

It’s amazing how lucky we have been with our bees.  After reading other blogs about honeybees and several books on backyard beekeeping, it seems we have done a lot of things right, but an equal number of things wrong!  When we first installed our bees, we basically sat back and watched them fly in and out of their hive entrance, and after our second inspection to verify that the queen was laying eggs and comb was being made, we thought our work was pretty much done.  Then we read in Les Crowder’s book that you have to check the hive every other week to make sure the bees weren’t cross-combing.  Cross-combing?  What’s that?

Cross combing is when the bees don’t make straight, vertical comb.  It’s when the comb is rounded or crooked and runs into the next comb.  It’s when your bees have run amuck.

Kenyan top bar beekeeping

Wow! This comb is straight and absolutely full of brood and honey!

After reading this we ran to our hive (well, maybe we didn’t actually run) to pull out some of the top bars and find out if our bees were behaving poorly.  Nope.  Thank goodness, our bees all passed Geometry 101 and their comb was straight, vertical and perfectly shaped. Every single one!  Wahoo!  Of course, that is what lead us to do a bit more reading on what else we were supposed to be doing.

Hmmm…  Chapter 5 in “Top Bar Beekeeping” by Les Crowder… apparently if the bees think their home is too small, they will swarm in the early spring. Not a total disaster (not all of the workers leave, and usually a new queen has been coronated), but swarming is something most beekeepers like to avoid because the colony that is left after a swarm is usually small and weak.  However it is possible for the hive to build back up, especially if there are still brood in the combs, the new queen is laying, and there is enough honey for back-up.  But, again, it’s not what a beekeeper wants.

How do you avoid a swarm?  Apparently you have to make sure the bees think they have plenty of room left in the hive for expansion.  You do this by moving some of the top bars around, putting empty top bars between full ones, and making sure there are always a few empty top bars in the back.

Fresh, new beeswax with just a bit of unripe honey. Isn't it beautiful?

Fresh, new beeswax with just a bit of unripe honey. Isn’t it beautiful?

So, that’s what we did.  We moved some of the bars around, in a pattern suggested in Les Crowder’s book.  But, while moving the bars around, Ray noticed that one bar had come apart and the weight of the honey in the comb had made it drop to the floor of the hive.

Darn.  Shoot.  Bad luck.  Well, I guess all we could do was harvest that one.

Of course, I’m being facetious here.  We were actually more than happy to get a sample of our honey!  Besides, our Beekeeper and Master Gardner friend, Kim, said we should harvest some honey.  Why?  “Because”, she explained, “it’s like deadheading a rosebush. If you keep clipping off the spent roses, the plant will continue to make more roses.  So if you harvest some honey, the bees will be stimulated to make more honey!”

Okay!

Harvesting honey from a top bar beehive

Here is the honey dripping from the crushed honeycomb through the paint strainer into the ice cream bucket. High tech harvest!

My mom had given me some nice ice cream buckets, which I assumed were food grade, so we used a paint strainer and the bucket to separate the honey from the comb.  I had to crush the comb a bit while it was in the paint strainer, but I was lucky that this comb only had raw and ripe honey, no brood.  I would have felt bad if there was brood in it, but apparently there usually is, so I will have to get used to sacrificing a few brood to be able to harvest honey.

Since this comb had raw, unripe honey in it (honey that hasn’t been capped yet and therefore has more water in it), I knew we had to use it right away.  Honey that hasn’t been capped is likely to ferment, which wouldn’t be so bad, because fermented honey is Mead!  Although we do plan to make our own Mead next year, we decided to use our fresh honey instead drizzled on biscuits, French toast, waffles…

I may be prejudiced, but I think our honey was the best tasting ever!  It was dark and fairly thick, and Master Gardner Kim informed us that it probably was cedar honey, which made sense!  We have cedar trees on and around our homestead, and the dark color with a slight hint of “forest” in the honey led us to believe she was probably right.  Although we harvested only one small comb, we got about ¾ pint of honey.  It didn’t last very long 😉

Natural beekeeping

This is our first harvest of beautiful golden, tasty honey. I can’t wait to harvest more next year!

During our observations of the hive, we have noticed the bees coming in with various colors of pollen.  For a while in June, they all carried heavy bags of yellow pollen.  A few weeks later the pollen was a darker orange.  In August, we noticed the bees carrying an almost pure white pollen!

Then, it happened.  While watching the bees coming and going from their hive entrance, observing the color of the pollen they were bringing in, I guess I got too close.  I got stung.  On my eyebrow.

Since I haven’t been stung by a honeybee in years, I didn’t know what my reaction was going to be.  So, I ran into the trailer (screaming like a little girl) and took a Benadryl, an aspirin and put an ice pack on the sting.  The truth is, it hurt.  A lot!  After about an hour, however, I knew I was probably not allergic to bee stings (I was still alive), and the pain started to fade from there.  I think the anxiety of a possible allergic reaction may have exaggerated the pain.  But the next morning, when I looked in the mirror, I saw quite a site!  The entire area around my eye – the eyelid, my cheekbones, the inside of my nose and my crow’s feet – were all a bright pink color.  Not just bright pink… iridescent bright pink!  It looked like a four year old put some hot pink eyeshadow on me in the middle of the night!  Disco Fever anyone? Every time Ray looked at me for the next couple of days, until the color faded, he would chuckle.  So did I.  It was really quite funny.

Keeping Bees Naturally

Aspirin, Benadryl and an ice pack – recommended remedy for bee stings.

Up until I got the bee sting, I was becoming more and more comfortable around the bees.  That’s probably why I got stung.  I had become too complacent.  I was foolishly standing less than two feet from the entrance to the hive without any protective gear on and no smoke.  Also, I was aware that the hive had successfully fended off a few attacks by yellow jackets, and so were probably at high intruder alert.  That bee sting was totally my own fault.  Too bad a bee had to give her life because of my stupidity.  Lesson learned.

So where are we now?  It’s autumn here on the homestead and the days and nights are getting cooler. The bees are still coming and going, bringing back pollen and a deep reddish brackish color of pollen, which I actually think may be propolis.  Propolis is used by the bees as a sort of glue to help shore up any holes in the hive, preparing for the winter cold.

We will probably open the hive only one or two more times before winter actually sets in.  We plan to give them some sugar water during the winter just in case they didn’t get enough honey to last through until the first honey flow in the spring.  So, there isn’t much more we can do at this point but wish them luck and pray that they make it through the winter.0001

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My Garden Thief!

Who stole my sunflowers?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren't they?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren’t they?

I had six beautiful large heads of sunflowers growing in my orchard.  The bees were enjoying them, I was enjoying them, and I had the perfect recipe lined up to use the seeds. Then, one night, the largest sunflower disappeared.

Harrumph…  🙁

Well, I never…

Do you see something missing here?

Hmmmm…   something seems to be missing.

Do you see how it looks like the top of the stalk has been chewed off?  That was the first piece of evidence I saw.

who stole my sunflowers 4Then, throughout the orchard in no less than six separate spots, I found piles of cracked seeds. Strange that the thief would move from spot to spot to eat the seeds, but then (of course) there may have been more than one culprit!

It’s a real shame because I have a really neat recipe I couldn’t wait to try out using the sunflower seeds.  I was going to use the honey from my beehive, with ground almond flour from my almond trees, along with chopped toasted almonds, dehydrated apricots and cherries from my orchard.

I was going to use egg whites from my neighbor’s chickens (we will be getting ours next year) and some pine nuts from, well, pine trees!  We are surrounded by Sugar Pines and if we can get to the cones before the squirrels do, the nuts are mighty fine!

I found this recipe many years ago when our homestead was just a dream.   I didn’t write down the name of the book, so I can’t give credit to anyone.  Sorry.  Then, in my shortsightedness I didn’t write down specific amounts either – just ingredients.  What was I thinking? So, this recipe will have to end up as another one of my experiments. Apparently, however, the base of the bar was to be made with frothy egg whites into which almond flour is folded, then poured into the base of a rimmed cookie sheet and baked  for some amount of time. I would assume about 8-10 minutes – just to get it to set.  A mixture of chopped dried fruits, seeds (my missing sunflower seeds), chopped nuts and honey is spread on the base, then baked for another amount of time until done.

Doesn’t that sound good?  The best part is that I will be able to produce every single ingredient called for in these delicious (I think) and nutritious bars!  I may even add pumpkin seeds to the mix.  For a different variety, wouldn’t dried apple and pear chunks be good with toasted walnuts?  Maybe even acorn flour!  Yum.  I can’t wait to try this, but alas, I have no sunflower seeds.

Speaking of squirrels…who stole my sunflowers 8

I think this may have been our thief.  We have lots of them in our trees.  In fact, our neighbor lady (who recently moved) fed them!  I know this isn’t a great picture, but the silly things won’t stay still for a photo!  😉

 

However, this may have been the culprit…

Steller's Jay

Did this Steller’s Jay eat my sunflowers?

The Blue Jays have been hanging around a lot lately.  We have had a terrible drought here in California and it seems our bee waterer may be one of the only sources of water around for all the forest critters to slake their thirst. Sometimes they go through more than a gallon of water every day!

Nonetheless, I would assume the bird would have just landed on the stalk, eaten the seeds and dropped the shells below the plant.  Besides, chewing the entire seed head off the stalk would have been difficult for a Steller’s Jay. Since there are no shells directly below the plant, and Jays don’t have teeth, I don’t think the culprit was the Jay.

Yeah - right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

Yeah – right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

The evidence speaks for itself –

Mr and Mrs Squirrel enjoy sunflower seeds!

I am glad that right now I don’t have to feed myself and my family completely on what my dear hubby and I grow and raise here on our fledgling homestead. I would like to be food self-sufficient soon, however, and if TEOTWAWKI happens (as many people think it will) we will need to protect our food sources more carefully.  So, the squirrels gave us a valuable lesson today. (Um – thank you?)  We need to protect our permanent garden much better than we have protected the temporary garden we have set up in our orchard.

If we plan to be self-sufficient when it comes to fruits and vegetables, nuts and herbs, we must build our permanent vegetable garden like a fortress and reinforce our orchard!  The garden will have metal fencing at least 7 feet high (so my tall hubby Ray can walk upright in the garden) with a metal roof (chicken wire?) over the top, and at least 1 foot deep into the ground to prevent tunneling critters.  This should keep out the squirrels and Jays.  It sounds like a lot of work, but I believe at this point it will be an absolute necessity!

Especially after we found jack rabbits in our compost pile!

How do you keep critters out of your vegetables?

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