Thursday, February 2, 2017

Happy Imbolc

Happy Imbolc! Today, February 2 is the pagan holiday that marks the halfway point between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. It's Celtic name is St. Brigid's Day and it's Christian name is Candlemas. Candle lighting is central to the celebration of this day as we celebrate the return of the sun and the lengthening days. Here at Honey Pie Hives & Herbals we are pleased to introduce an exciting new beeswax candle - a Treasure Candle! Hidden inside a pillar candle are gem stones which can only be released by burning the candle. Our first variety is a Love candle which contains three gem stones chosen for their affinity with the heart. Light the candle with the intent to welcome love into your heart. Once you have extracted the gems you can make your own love charm with them as they are beads. Look for the Treasure Candles at the Green Barns farmers' market in Toronto and at upcoming Seedy Saturdays in Ottawa, Kingston and Picton
It's also the time of year to sign up for our Beekeeping Workshops. This hands on class is for beginners. Gavin takes you through the season with a full day class once a month from April to September. If you've ever dreamed of keeping bees this is a great way to learn. The course covers building your hive (as seen in this photo), installing your bees, maintaining the hive, harvesting honey, winterizing the hive and more. There's plenty of opportunity for asking questions and sharing stories with your fellow bee lovers. In the photo below Gavin shows the class around inside a beehive to learn to identify the three different bees in the hive - the queen, the drones and the workers. Everyone goes home to inspect their hive and see if they can find the queen.

One of my projects last year was to paint this photo board with a fantastical version of the queen bee and one of the workers. People love posing and getting their photo taken outside our farm store. I think it would be fun to paint a few more of these. Wouldn't it be great to have them around Prince Edward County at different tourist attractions? If you'd like me to paint one for you let me know - winter is the best time for projects like this.

We were very honored last fall to receive a regional Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation. This was for the technique we use for making our mead which reclaims honey that would otherwise be wasted. It was so interesting to discover all the other recipients of the award. Our friends at Pyramid Ferments got their second Premier's Award for their delicious gut shots. Congratulations Alex and Jenna! The top prize went to a shrimp farm in Campbellford, Ontario! How amazing to be able to get local shrimp.

The highlight of my year was the opportunity to go to Turin, Italy as the delegate of our local chapter of Slow Food for their event Terra Madre. Much of this event is an open air market where food producers from around the world are sampling their wares. I worked a couple of shifts in the Canada booth where we were sampling salmon from a sustainable native fishery in BC, raw milk cheese from Quebec, and maple syrup from Nova Scotia. The booths from Italy are the biggest section of the event. There were long rows of hazelnut producers, cheese makers and of course countless places to sample wine. I took some of our mead to be sampled in a workshop on mead. There were three Italian meads, a Japanese mead and ours. It was all conducted in Italian so I was a bit lost but I can tell you that our mead was most similar to the Japanese mead which was light and delicate in flavour. The Italian meads were all heavy and sweet. One of them, from Sicily was made by boiling the honey down with oranges. As we don't cook our honey the flavour was entirely different. In the picture I'm next to a pyramid of honey from all over Italy.  Slow Food promotes the preservation of food culture and small farming. It was inspiring to meet so many people from all over the world who care about the things that I care about and work in the same industry. I met a young lawyer from Argentina who is working on the international tribunal against Monsanto to hold them responsible for human rights violations, crimes against humanity and ecocide. If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the negativity in the world, I want you to know that there are people all over the planet doing wonderful positive work and you can be a part of it!

Friday, February 12, 2016

February 2016

 I guess I've been using our Honey Pie Facebook and Instagram pages instead of this blog to share photos and info for the last couple of years.  I decided it would be nice to get back to writing a bit more so lets see what has happened at Honey Pie Hives & Herbals since 2014.
We've added a few more varieties of mead to our selection. Since we already make and sell herbal teas which are popular we decided it would be interesting to use these teas to flavour our mead. There is a tradition in mead making of adding herbs to the fermentation and the resulting mead is called metheglin. Interestingly, the word comes from the same root as the word amethyst. The word meth means drunken and people used to believe that wearing amethyst could prevent you from getting drunk while drinking. Pictured here on either side of our Wildflower Mead are, on the left Picnic Mead, made from our Tea Party Tea containing wild sumac berries, elderflowers and red clover blossoms and, on the right, Lovers' Mead made from our Lovers' Tea containing ginger, basil, ginseng, saw palmetto berries, damiana and horny goat weed. It's a sweeter mead and very complex in flavour while the Picnic Mead is dryer and has a delicate flavour.
 Starting last spring in 2015, we built a stone patio outside our farm store. It was a lot of work but I love it so much! Here it is at the end of the season once the flower bed at the back had grown in nicely. We've got a few tables and chairs set up for customers to relax and taste the mead. We get a lot of cyclists who like to have a place to eat their lunch as well. We didn't serve any prepared food on the patio last summer but this year we plan to offer pie and scones to have with cups of herbal tea. Eventually we'll offer mead by the glass but we're not there yet.
 This sign has been out on the road at the end of our long lane to help get the idea across. I'm in the process of painting a bigger one for this year. We're on a curve in the road that makes it a bit too easy to drive right past our sign without noticing it. I'm also painting a few signs to put out a bit before our lane to give people more notice that it's coming up. I love the gold paint for the mead chalice - it looks like the holy grail.
 We took part in Taste - Community Grown in September as well as the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in June last year. We were so excited to be able to sample our mead at these big food and wine events in the County! This is Gavin pouring mead at Taste. It's great to be able to offer something new for people to sample. Many people have never tasted mead before so we love to explain how it's made and the history of mead.
 Our sunflowers were giant last summer and the bees loved them as usual. Here are a couple of big ones with our warre hive. As I mentioned before, it's an experiment to see how well the bees do in a top bar hive. So far they've stayed alive for two winters which is great. Since we only have one warre hive it's not a very scientific study. We have 100 langstroth hives which are the industry standard. Over the last three winters we've lost an average of 50% of our hives each year. We've rebuilt our numbers each spring through splitting existing hives and buying new bees. This loss is consistent with provincial average losses and is the reason the Ontario government has decided to phase out a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids for agricultural use. Studies have established a link between these chemicals and the weakening of honey bee health leading to high winter losses.
 Here is a pic of my honey man working the bees during one of his beekeeping workshops. He isn't wearing gloves here because he's just observing the bees and checking on the queen to see if she's laying eggs. It's possible to work slowly and carefully and avoid squishing bees. It's much easier to be careful when not wearing gloves.
 Gavin took a selfie at Niagara Falls in August 2015 while at the Eastern Apicultural Society Conference at the University of Guelph. He went on a bus tour to Niagara Falls with a group from the conference. He was invited to give a talk about mead making at the conference which went over very well.
This is a beehive carved from the trunk of a tree. Gavin saw this on a farm tour during the EAS conference. I'd love to have something like this at our place. I have been thinking for awhile now that I want to have more outdoor art along the theme of bees and honey and flowers. If anyone has any ideas they'd like to propose don't hesitate to contact me!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mead is here at last!

Finally! The news we've all been waiting for - the mead is ready for sale!! Here it is in all it's farmy, old timey glory. The back label reads, 'Mead is a traditional wine made from honey, long ago considered the drink of Kings and Queens. Enjoy the delicate, complex floral bouquet of our Wildflower Mead with meals or on its own. Handcrafted in small batches on our family farm in Prince Edward County.' You can buy it at our farm store at 705 County Rd. 24 or through our website.

This beautiful basket of flowers is bee balm or monarda. It is also called bergamot and Oswego tea. Talk about the herb with a thousand names! We call it bee balm of course. Is has the flavour of earl grey tea which is why the pioneers called it bergamot. Bergamot is actually a citrus fruit from Italy which is used to give earl grey tea it's distinctive flavour. We use bee balm in our Femininitea, a herbal tea for female complaints - good for PMS and menstrual cramps. We've had lots of great feedback about how well this tea works - it really helps if you have someone to make it for you as remembering to take it when you need it is the biggest challenge.

We caught a lot of swarms of bees this summer and finally managed to get one into our Warre hive. This is a top bar hive that a friend made for us. We use the standard Langstroth hive which is designed for honey production. The Warre hive is an experiment we are conducting to see if the survival of the bees is improved. There are many who claim this is a better way to keep bees but it seems that there would be less honey production. We will see how they overwinter.

This is the Warre hive later in the summer. It's well established and overflowing with bees. We added two more boxes and the peaked roof. The colour is closer to the actual blue we used to paint the hive in this photo. Looking good bees!

We had the pleasure of attending a medieval reenactment this summer. We had just discovered the world of larping (Live Action Role Playing) through our 10 year old son and then got to see it in action with knights in armour and ladies drinking from goblets. It was done so thoughtfully and with so much attention to detail. I was entranced by the canvas tents and wooden furniture.  

There were lots of children in costume too. We really wished we had some costumes to wear. Better start planning for next summer right away! I want a green dress and a tent.

These people definitely need mead! The elegant woman in the red dress looks like she already has a mead in hand.
This summer has been a difficult one for my family. We lost my mother Patty Woodyard after a brief battle with  pancreatic cancer in June. This photo was taken the last time I saw her up and outdoors - on Mothers' Day. My mother was well known for many things, her generosity, her hospitality, her creativity, her love for her family and for those who came to visit her, her thankful book. She asked everyone who was in the house every evening to tell her three things they were thankful for and she wrote them down in her book. She left behind so many books spanning years of gratitude. I can still hear her asking me, "What are you thankful for this day?"Today I am thankful for my wonderful mother, my whole family, and my beautiful home.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Springtime and things are green

 When we bought our farm in 2002 we fell in love with it on first sight. There was a small mature hardwood forest, a pond, hay fields and some areas that were starting to go wild. There was a definite lack of evergreen trees though - except for junipers.  We have added to the fields that were already going wild as well as thickening up our tree lines. We have planted hundreds of tree seedlings that we bought from Quinte Conservation over the years. Varieties include, white pine, jack pine, spruce, birch, butternut, black cherry, nanny berry, tamarack, viburnum, cedar. It has been so exciting to watch the trees grow. Our goal is to always be contributing to the diversity of species on the land. It has been an ongoing project for us to 'rewild' our property. We like to plant things that are native to our area and would possibly have grown here before the land was cleared for farming. The first picture is of ramps or wild leeks that I planted in our woods last year. They seem to have taken to their new home very well. We won't harvest any for a few years to allow them to establish.

 This photo of a jack pine was taken in early spring and shows how most of the field has grown up in junipers but we've added in a few other evergreens. It's hard to say how old this tree is.
 We have been working on making some new display beds for herbs in our garden. They'll be used for harvesting and drying herbs for our herbal teas and seasoning too. We're even making name tags for the herbs so people can go on a self guided tour of the garden. Emily was our wwoofer (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) for the month of May. She did most of the hard work of preparing the beds. Since Hazel thought everything Emily did was awesome she even spent a few minutes helping! Thanks Emily!
The blue and white truck is my new herb dryer/greenhouse. It's a work in progress but I finally have someone working on it for me since I don't seem to have enough time to do it myself. More details and photos once it's done.

We have been very fortunate to get a lot of great press this spring. Food and Drink magazine featured us on their coveted inside back page. This involved us driving in to Toronto and bringing several costumes for them to choose from and getting a lot of makeup done. It was fun to see how it all happens. I got the job of holding the bountiful basket of goodies which weighed a ton while my honey man stood there with his hands in his pockets! Every few minutes I'd have to put the basket down on a nearby stand. Honey is heavy!

The question everyone asks us is 'when is the mead coming?'. We keep saying soon but we really do think it should be ready to sell from our farm store in the next couple of weeks. We have a couple of things left to do but the permit is in place and the labels are approved. I'll make another post all about the mead once it's ready. In the meantime here's the label design for our first variety Wildflower Mead which is a traditional style mead made from honey, water and yeast. I've designed five different mead labels over the last few months and am so happy they're finished and I'm out in the garden!

Here's our best family portrait yet- taken by my sister on a recent visit to Ottawa. The tulip festival was on and we made the most of it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Welcome 2014!

Here's a little review of what we've been up to since the last time I wrote something.  Last year was a big one for us with our farm store opening.  This year will be even bigger as we are about to get a permit to sell our mead (honey wine) from the farm!  We don't have any photos of the mead yet as I'm still working on the label designs.  The photo at the top is of our hives ready for winter. 

We were walking in our woods in the fall and were so excited to find this tree covered in reishi mushrooms! This medicinal fungus (ganoderma lucidum) is used in traditional Chinese medicine as an anti cancer treatment. It is said to stop the growth of tumors. This is a woody type of mushroom with a shiny red surface, in the polypore family. The ones growing on our tree were past their prime and not usable but the fact that they are there is encouraging. We will have to check back in the coming year for new growth.
 We did the One of a Kind Christmas show again this year.  It was a great success and we had fun with our fellow crafters.  I made this bear for our booth to help get the conversation started with people about what's happening with the bees. People are concerned and so are we.  I think it's important to remember that this isn't an isolated event. The use of pesticides has been going on since World War II and people have documented the damage they have done to the ecosystem from frogs to birds to humans.  The class of chemicals that people are upset about now are called neonicotinoids. They are considered more serious than other pesticides because they don't break down in the environment. They have been found to kill large numbers of honey bees as well as cause secondary poisoning such as interruption of egg laying.  These chemicals are used on field crops like corn and soybeans but also on plants that are sold to gardeners for home use.  You may have gone to a garden centre to buy flowers to attract bees and brought home the very thing that poisons them.   If you'd like to sign a petition to save the bees, the Ontario Beekeepers have one here.

During the big ice storm this tree fell on some of our hives. One of them was destroyed and the lids of two others were damaged. The weather has been very cold for the bees but the blanket of snow on the lids helps insulate them. You can see in the photo that the hives have a black covering on the sides. This is a bubble wrap insulation jacket that we put on for the winter. Honey bees, like all insects, cannot move when the temperature drops below 10 degrees C. They stay inside the hive and generate heat by buzzing.  Their mission is to make sure the queen survives the winter so they form a ball around her and keep her in the centre. When the bees on the outside edges of the cluster get cold, they burrow in towards the centre to warm up.
We took so many beautiful photos of the ice covering everything.  I like how this one on the pine branches looks like ice flowers.

Our 7 year old daughter, Hazel, decided to make her own lip balm to sell.  It's pink and sparkly and cupcake flavoured! We used vanilla and cinnamon essential oils for the flavour. She drew the cupcake for the label herself.  We're putting a portion of the profits in her education savings account.

Here's a photo of Gavin and his beekeeping class last summer. He's offering the class again this year for the third year. We offer a discount for those who sign up for the class by Feb. 15.  Click here for more details and here for the Facebook page.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The summertime buzz...

This summer has been a big one so far here at Honey Pie world headquarters.  We opened our new farm store which meant a lot of farm beautification.  We finally finished the outside of our basement which is where our workshop and store are.  It was exposed insulated concrete forms for a few too many years.  This photo shows what it looked like with only the last bit of exposed wall.  It's near the porch and is white with vertical black stripes.  We parged the walls with two coats of lime cement plaster.  This is the first coat.  Next I painted a sign to let people know where we are.  No more being a secret location for us.  It was very exciting the day we actually installed the sign at the end of our lane.  My honey man
sat on top of our van to attach it to the posts.  People keep telling us our sign is too small and they drive right by so we've added a couple of flags to it.  I think I'll make the whole thing bigger one day but for now it's going to have to be enough.  It's been fascinating to see how many people find us anyway.  
We are very touched by the concern that our visitors show for the situation with the bees.  The question on everyone's lips is, "What's happening with the bees?"  We wish we could answer this question but it's a complicated situation.  There has been a lot of media attention on the bees this year and we struggle to keep up with all the information that is out there.  We know that GMOs are not a good thing for bees.  Neither are pesticides.  In Europe there has been a two year ban on neonicotinoid chemicals in order to see if the bees recover.  My feeling is that this isn't long enough to see a full recovery.  If you support the ban of neonicotinoids here's a petition to sign.  Here's another one from Elizabeth May.  We have suffered unusually high winter losses this past year and Gavin has worked very hard to build our hive numbers up again.  We don't know exactly where our bees go but we are careful to position them on farms that are not using GMOs or pesticides.  We can only hope that the bees find enough flowers nearby and don't have to venture into dangerous territory. 

We went to my sister's wedding in Vermont this summer and had a great time with our family.  On an excursion to Brattleboro one day I found this amazing product called Fire Cider.  I love the label art!  It's apple cider vinegar with ginger, horseradish, chilies, garlic and I think some other stuff infused into it.  You take a shot in a glass of water when you're feeling a cold coming on.  If that doesn't chase away a cold I don't know what will!  Vermont has a long tradition of using apple cider vinegar to treat colds and all sorts of ailments.  I didn't buy it because I decided to try making some myself.  I've been using apple cider vinegar in this way for years but never thought of infusing all these other herbs into it.  It's funny because I've been making drinking shrubs for a local restaurant - Agrarian Speakeasy in Bloomfield this year.  I soak fruit, herbs or veggies in vinegar and sugar to make a sweet and tart syrup for cocktails.  The most popular one is rhubarb and ginger in apple cider vinegar.

New this year is a Health Canada ban on citronella in bug spray.  We think this is junk science but are forced to comply.  We've made a new recipe using lavender, cedar, eucalyptus and lemongrass.  It smells great and it works!

We have a brand new tea called Lavender Tea.  I've had a lot of requests for a tea with lavender in it so I came up with this formula which I think is delicious.  I've been enjoying it iced.  It's made with lavender, oat straw, lemon verbena, and mallow.  Oat straw is very tasty and high in calcium.


 We've been harvesting honey a lot although it looks like we won't have as much honey this year as we had hoped.  This is a frame of capped honey just about to be uncapped and spun in the extractor.  The lavender honey harvest is in and on the shelves at our farm store, the Brickworks and Green Barns farmers markets in Toronto and at the Prince Edward County Lavender Farm.
We even have a new parking sign - things are getting so official around here.  In this photo you can see the finished parging on the basement.  It looks like it's always been there now. 

 I'm still photographing bees but I don't limit myself to honey bees now. This is a beautiful bumble bee snuggling into a foxglove flower.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring at Last!

What a long slow spring it's been.  Our bees have been buzzing around the few flowers that are out looking for anything they can find.  This is a photo of a bumble bee in a trout lily.  We feel a bit like the bees as we bundle up and sit outside in the sun even though we're shivering.  The first bonfire of the year was just what we needed to toast us up.  We've been thinking a lot about a healthy alternative to marshmallows.  It's so much fun to roast something over a fire but the GMO corn syrup isn't one of our favorite things to ingest.  I did plant some marshmallow in the garden last year so maybe I can try making my own from the actual plant.  Here's what I found when looking for recipes.
I started teaching workshops this year.  Click here to go to our Facebook page with a list of all the workshops.  I've scheduled one a month from spring until fall.  The first one was a soap making one in April and it was lots of fun.  We made mint soap.  My next workshop is May 5 – Wild Crafting for medicine and food – What to eat and what to avoid. Learn which wild plants are ‘choice’ delicacies and which are just for looking at. We’ll discuss how best to preserve the plants and try out some recipes like wild pesto and nettle soup. I'll teach how to make tinctures, oil infusions and how best to dry herbs. We'll work with using field guides to identify plants. 
I've signed the kids up for a herb course this year that's called Herb Fairies.  It's by the lovely folks at Learning Herbs.  We bought their board game Wildcraft for the kids for Christmas and it's really inspired all of us to learn more about the plants that grow wild all around us and are useful in so many ways.  This is a picture of the first herb fairy from the course - Stellaria.  That's the Latin name for the common weed Chickweed.  They get an illustrated ebook about a different herb fairy each month.  There are activities and recipes and colouring sheets.  It's been very exciting for all of us.

My solar herb dryer project got put on hold over the winter but I am ready to go with all the parts for the greenhouse now.  I'm building a small greenhouse off of this old blue and white food truck.  The idea is to dry the herbs on wire racks in the truck box and use the greenhouse to heat it up in there.  Air flow is key when drying herbs so I'm making vents from the greenhouse into the truck and installing roof fans on the truck to draw the hot humid air out.  I'm hoping to not have to use any electricity to power the fans but rely on the convection action of hot air rising to turn the fans.  My original idea was to use recycled windows to build the greenhouse but I was worried about the truck shifting over time and cracking the glass.  I decided it would be safer and quicker to build a plastic hoop house instead.  It may not look as nice but I'm planning to make it work.
The big news this year is the opening of our new Farm Store!!! 
We plan to open June 1 and keep the store open until the end of October.  We'll be open 9-5 Wednesday - Sunday.  We're working hard to beautify the place in time.  We'll celebrate with a Grand Opening on Sunday June 9.  This will be a day long tea party with honey tasting, home made scones, garden tours and more. Since I don't have a photo of what our farm store will look like, I'll give you this photo of our booth at the Wychwood Green Barns farmers' market.  We'll still be at the Brickworks and Green Barns farmers' markets each Saturday year round.