March 2013


While the crew is catching queens in the California sunshine, I’m home in Montana preparing to exhibit at the yearly Made in Montana Marketplace.  Loading trailers, hauling honey, and standing up to talk to people for 8 hours a day really aren’t the most fun things in the world to do when approaching the 3rd trimester of pregnancy, but we’ve found that the Made in Montana show is the best one for connecting with wholesalers and retail customers, old and new.  So, off I go, honey, beeswax, and trailer in tow.

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Mama Stone/Nan at the 2011 Made in Montana Marketplace.

And luckily, I have lots of help.  My dad deals with the trailer, my father-in-law bottles honey, my mom comes with me to sell (she’s really quite good at it!), Brother Dear helps with all of the above and of course everyone pitches in to make sure that Maggie Rose is happy during all of this hustle and bustle.  After all, if the almost-two-year-old ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

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Unfortunately for everyone involved, pets aren’t allowed at the show, and these days Maggie Rose pretty much ain’t happy without her Woof-Woof, Roy.

As I’ve been gathering our wares for the fair, I’m noticing that this year’s honey crop is starting to crystallize, or harden, in the bottle, faster than in past years.  If you’re into learning about crystallization, and how to fix it, the rest of this blog is for you.  Otherwise, check back a different day!

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Three pounds of crystallized raw honey.

All honey eventually crystallizes.  This does NOT mean it is bad – honey never goes bad, it’s a supersaturated sugar that pretty much nothing can grow in.  It needs to be properly sealed to prevent fermentation, but otherwise it’s a pretty low maintenance food.

After some time though, and that time varies by the honey and its sugar-moisture-pollen content, even year to year, it will crystallize.  The “more raw” or less processed the honey is, the faster it crystallizes.

Some folks like the hard texture.  I prefer to squeeze my honey, so I re-liquefy it.  There are a number of ways to accomplish this, all involving low heat to preserve the honey’s integrity.

I fill a pot with water on the stove top, set it to low, and put the bottle of honey in the warm water.  After an hour or so, liquid honey!

My dear friend from college is a baker and she keeps her honey sitting on the range at all times – she says the warmth from her oven, which she uses daily, keeps the honey from crystallizing in the first place.

My dad wraps his crystallized honey in a heating pad: poof! Liquid honey.

My hippie pal from high school keeps her honey in her south facing kitchen window, where she says the afternoon sun keeps it liquid.

You can also turn your oven to its slowest setting (mine is 170F) and put the honey into the oven.  Depending on the size of your container, it should be liquid in 30 minutes to an hour or so.

You can microwave it, too, but if you leave the lid on, it’s likely to destroy that bottle itself.  And subjecting the honey to microwave-high heat will likely destroy the enzymes in the honey and much of it’s “raw-ness.”  When I’m down to the last inch of honey and just need a little for salad dressing or whatever, this doesn’t concern me, but we’re all about full disclosure around here.  And Real Life, too.

Some people worry about the heat and the plastic honey bottles.  We sell our honey in plastic bottles because otherwise the shipping would be so high (due to the additional weight) that no one could afford to buy it.  But once I get my 5# plastic jug, I decant it into a glass mason jar.  That way, when it crystallizes, I can subject the jar to heat without worrying about the plastic.  Not everyone worries about the plastic and since I’m not a scientist I’m not saying that you need to, but if it’s a concern for you, that’s how I deal with it.

How to keep your honey from crystallizing?  Well, you can’t, short of eating it faster than crystallization occurs.  But the temperatures most likely to cause it to harden are those in the 40Fs, so DO NOT put the honey in the refrigerator.  It doesn’t need to be refrigerated and this will only cause it to crystallize faster.

Does honey caramelize or burn?  You betcha.  Low and slow are the keys to liquefying crystallized honey.

Why does your honey from the Big Box Store never seem to crystallize, as to opposed to an actual beekeeper’s honey?  Because it’s been superheated and pushed through a diatomaceous earth filter that sucks every bit of pollen and other honey goodnesss out of it.  Does honey “need” to be superheated and filtered?  No.  So why do the big packers for Costco, Target, Wal-Mart etc heat it up and filter the daylights out of it?  Because it keeps the honey from crystallizing on the shelves, and that’s what the average consumer demands.  Do I think that superheated, superfiltered honey is just another sugar, not terribly unlike table sugar?  Yes.  Do I eat superheated, superfiltered honey?  Ugh, no.  Yuck.  Eat real honey, people.

If you need some real honey, head on over to www.glaciercountyhoney.com — but we’re not shipping Thurs-Sat, as we’re headed to the aforementioned Made in Montana Marketplace!  If you’re in Great Falls, stop by and see us at the Civic Center on Saturday, from 9-4.  We’ve got what you need to be naturally sweet.

2013.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.

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As modern beekeepers with employees and mortgages to pay and babies and dogs to feed, we can’t just manage our bees to make a decent honey crop and call it good.  Under that scenario, we’d be writing this from debtors’ prison!  Instead, we seize opportunities that sometimes present themselves over the course of the year to make a few extra bucks.  In years that our hives are strong and healthy enough to handle what is called “shaking,” we shake extra bees from our colonies and sell them by the pound to other beekeepers who are trying to build up the strength of their own hives.

This is one of those years, and so Honeydew, Darling-Brother-in-Law, Keith, and Neil are as busy as, well … you get the idea … down in springy California, shaking bees for sale.  Here’s a few shots of the process that DBIL sent to keep me in the loop near Babb, Montana, where snows still blanket the ground and the wind was howling in a tortured fashion last night.

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Neil, smoking bees.  Did you know that the reason smoke calms the bees is that the bees are gluttons?  When they smell the smoke and think that their hives are on fire, they don’t evacuate.  Instead, they stuff their bellies so full with honey that they become lethargic, as though they’d just eaten Thanksgiving dinner at Big Mama’s house, and they loll about on their smoky couches.  There’s your fun fact for the day.

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When a beekeepers orders bees-by-the-pound, he or she generally provides his own “bulk bee boxes.”  We fill them with “shake bees” – this picture is the screened top of such a box.

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Here’s a panoramic view of such bulk bee boxes.

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It’s warm in California, and our colonies are strong and healthy enough to be hanging out in front of the entrances to their hives – we are feeling very grateful, as the current state of commercial beekeeping is not so rosy for many for our colleagues.

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Honeydew and Keith, discussing the next course of action for shaking bees in a holding yard.

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Honeydew.

I miss him.

Has any beekeeper ever looked more handsome in Wranglers and collared shirts?

Too much information, you say?  Or was that, “Steve Park” I heard instead?

Huh.

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Good work, Honeydew and crew.  Shake-shake-shake!

2013.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All photo credits to Travis Looney.  All rights reserved.

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Divide Mountain Lookout- I don’t think she has many winters left

A guest post from Brother Dear:


The snow HISSED with every jab of the ice ax. I don’t recall ever hearing that particular spectrum of sound from metal-on-snow before. Unlike the constant scraping and whining of cross-country skis, this sound was much quieter- more of a sensation- like when you bite into something just a little too cold and your teeth want to curl back into your throat.

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The hiss was not terribly threatening, as it started near the crest of the ridge as the slim percentages of an avalanche crept to zero. It merely signaled a change in the snow’s composition- this new stuff was harder packed than the miserable wet-goose-down slopes of the previous hour. The first leg of the ascent of Divide’s shoulder required crampons, the ice ax, and quite a bit of digging side to side across the mountain just to find a place where it was possible to gain a little traction uphill. There was a lot more snow than I had expected and it was so deep, steep, and soft that going straight up the ridge proved impossible at points thanks to snow and tree wells, drifts, and hidden rock faces.

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Looking up the Ridge- luckily you can avoid a lot of this, and much worse cornices on the shoulder simply by staying low

Looking up at the point where the shoulder met the main ridge was disheartening. I was already feeling the strain just from gaining a few hundred feet of elevation from my parked snowmobile down below. Cornices overhung nearly every inch of the approach within my vision- and the sun continued to heat up the surface of the already spongy snow. Luckily, I knew from past climbs of Divide (dozens in the summer time, and a half dozen always-different attempts in the winter) that if I could swing north and hit the ridge fairly low then I would have at least a marginally clean shot at the top.

Actually the top ended up being covered with rock-hard drifted in ice

Actually the top ended up being covered with rock-hard drifted in ice

That’s when the snow started to hiss. It caught me off guard enough to write a blog post about it for my sister, so it must have been important, right?

Dear Ole Sis climbed that giant peak in the background with me and several stalwart friends in the summer of 2012

Dear Ole Sis climbed that giant peak in the background with me and several stalwart friends in the summer of 2012

Anyways, there is a more detailed account of getting up Divide in the winter from last year’s post which details the travails Natalee and I faced while climbing up to the Lookout for a photoshoot featuring the Midwest’s finest microbrewery: Indeed Brewing Company. Everybody in and around Minnesota needs to keep helping them expand (currently DOUBLING capacity, no doubt thanks to using such high quality ingredients as Glacier County Honey in their ales) by patronizing their truly high-class establishment. Seriously, top drawer stuff.

Indeed Brewing Co.

Indeed Brewing Co.

Enjoy these pictures of the rest of the ascent. Please note that I do not recommend attempting to climb Divide Mountain alone in the winter time or any time. If for some odd reason you do attempt such a thing please inform friends of your plans and whereabouts and remember that Divide is one of very few peaks in the area from which you will have access to a cell phone signal for most of the route- let folks know what you’re doing!

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I turned around just 50 yards from the summit- the snow got so hard and steep that I could barely kick steps in. Better to have a friend around for that sort of adventure.

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Headed back down the mountain towards the lookout- duck lake is behind the lookout and a bit to the right

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Many thanks to my Aunt Margaret (Sissy) for the fantastic tasting cups. I Intended to enjoy a sample on the summit, but still a nice view half-way up and this dry-hopped pale ale sure hit the spot!

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Putting one more year on the Lookout’s wall for Howard.

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From the Lookout to the Summit

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Looking at the Ascent- with some local horses showing the way

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Up The White Valley: Red Eagle on the left (south), Going-to-the-Sun to the right (north)

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Just below the summit- usually the snow is all blown away up here! Next year I’ll get ‘er done…with Neil Hawks

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From Just Below The Summit- Looking South Towards the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Rocky Mountain Front

I hope ya’ll enjoyed my self-indulgent photo-fest!

Photo Credits to Sanford Stone. Life-saving credits to the Williams Family- thanks for being my support team, Ashley!

And just like that, almond pollination season has come to a close. The crew started moving our bees out of the almond orchards over the weekend, and Darling Brother-in-Law sent me a few beautiful pictures of the task:

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Almonds in peak bloom last for just a few days, and then drop their blossoms. Harvest won’t come until fall.

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Now that the bees are on their way back to the holding yards, requeening, splitting, and shaking season takes off in earnest. This coming Sunday, the first queen cells will go out! About wo months later, all 1500ish colonies will be as ready as they’re going to be for honey production in Montana, and all critters great and small will come back to Montana.

Maggie Rose and I are counting down the days.

2013. Glacier County Honey Co. All photo credits to Travis Looney. All Rights Reserved.

We’ve partnered up with the Liquid Planet, an awesome specialty beverage and gift store in downtown Missoula, and the Community Food Agriculture Coalition of Missoula County, to bring you this month’s specialty drink: the Missoula Mate!

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A mate is a traditional South American drink made from steeping the dried leaves of yerba mate. In this case, it’s blended with milk and pure, raw, 100% natural Glacier County Honey. Dee-lish.

During March, $1 from each drink supports the Community Food Agriculture Coalition.

Sweet sipping for a good cause? And you can now pick up our honey stix, 1# and 1/2# containers of honey at Liquid Planet, too …

Cheers!

2013. Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

Honeydew and the crew are breaking strong, healthy hives into queen nucs today, in preparation for requeening season. The first graft will be tomorrow, with endless gratitude to Steve Park and Jim Libbee for so facilitating.

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If you’re curious about all this talk of requeening, grafting, and what not, check out these posts I did last year: Requeening, Part I and Requeening, Part II.

That’s Keith, Darling-Brother-in-Law, and my father-in-law, Bob Fullerton of Chief Mountain Honey fame. He’s been beekeeping for about 40 years now, and I think he knows a thing or two. Honeydew is enjoying having a full crew, plus Neil, not pictured, this year. I am not enjoying not being part of the crew, but am grateful for the chance to gestate another beekeeper. We could never have too much skilled labor around here!

2013. Glacier County Honey Co. All Rights Reserved.

Well, it’s not quite the same as the almond bloom pictures we posted last week, but … this year, there’s not a 20 foot drift in sight! Wahoo!

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We did get a little spring blizzard yesterday that Brother Dear had the pleasure of driving through:

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But that’ll melt off quick.

This time of year, I hang onto the maxim that every drop of moisture will be a drop of honey, come August. Spring is just around the corner!

2012. Glacier County Honey Co. All photo credits to Sanford Stone. All Rights Reserved.

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