Beekeeping – Swarm Collecting

Early in the spring of 2015 I watched as one of my hives swarmed and a good portion of the hive flew off with the queen. Now I wasn’t going to let a fresh swarm go to waste so I grabbed my small wooden nuc box and headed over to where the bees had landed.

swarm of bees

The bees had clumped up into the bushes in my neighbor’s back yard. After I received permission I went to investigate. I was lucky that the swarm basically clumped up at ground level. Swarms will sometimes form a clump in all kinds of places, including high up in trees or buildings.

This is the second swarm I’ve been able to capture, and with the bees so low I simply opened the top of my nuc box and then shook a good portion of the bees into the top of the box. I snagged the queen the first try.

How do you know the queen is in the box or container you’ve shaken the bees into? You’ll notice that instead of immediately leaving the rest of the bees start to march into the box.

Beekeeping Tip: If you’ve already collected your swarm and want to transfer them to your hive boxes, place a light colored sheet on the ground with the hive on top. Shake the bees gently on to the sheet. The scouts for the hive will see the dark entrance of the hive and will investigate. To make them even more interested place a couple of old frames from another hive into the box. It’ll make it smell like home.

swarm of bees entering nuc box

You can see in the photo above the bees starting their march into the nuc box. Another thing you’ll notice is several bees turning around and sticking their hind ends up in the air while fanning their wings like crazy. What the girls are doing is pushing out the pheromones the queen is emitting to let the rest of the colony know where home now resides.

Bees fanning at entrance to a nuc

It may take awhile for all the bees to march in. Just be patient, they’ll get there eventually. Once the bees are in your nuc box you can set them near your other hives. Even if the bees swarmed from one of your hives they’ll know which one they now belong in.

 

Honeybees bearding on the edge of a nuc box   Small bee nuc box between larger hives

You may also notice some of the bees clustering or “bearding” up near the entrance. That normally isn’t an issue and is just the girls settling into their new surroundings.

Enjoy your new hive!

– Jason Snell

 

Canning Green Beans

When your parents end up with far more green beans then they expected what do you do? Why pressure can them of course. This year’s harvest has been quite abundant and so it has resulted in large amounts of green beans almost every week since they came in. Since green beans are a low acid vegetable they have to be pressure canned. So out comes the good old Presto Pressure Canner.

Now I use a 23 quart pressure canner with an extra canning rack to allow for double stacking. In fact I had so many green beans I completely filled the pressure canner. Double stacking pints means 19 pints and 6 quarts of green beans!

So here is what you’ll need if you want to pressure can your own green beans

A Pressure Canner

Canning Jars – make sure to only use jars designed for canning, that spaghetti sauce jar will not work, and will most likely break

Canning Equipment – I like to use the funnel and a measuring stick

Canning/Pickling Salt

Pots and pans

Lots and lots of green beans

A good canning recipe. I like to use the Green Beans recipe found in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. All the canning recipes in that book have been tested as being safe to use as long as the directions are followed.


 

First up you want to read the manual for your pressure canner. Each pressure canner model can be different.

green beans in a bowl

Next sort through your green beans. You’ll want to snap them into a size that you like to eat and that will fit into the jars. Make sure to discard any discolored/rusted or diseased looking green beans. Only the best for you. Give them one final rinse and they’re ready to go.

rinsed green beans

After sorting the green beans add them to a large pot with water. Make sure you include enough water for your jars as well. The water in the pot is what fills the jars with the green beans.

green beans in a pot

Turn the stove on and let the beans come up to a boil. The goal here is to have them boil for about five minutes and then pack them into the jars.

Wait, you haven’t got your jars ready yet? Better do that quick while the water and beans are heating up. Whew, there done just in time.

washed canning jars

canning tools

I like to use a canning funnel, a canning measuring stick, and ladles.

Canning Tip: I like to lay a dish towel out on the counter to put my jars and tools on. It’s very helpful when whatever you canning can stain as well. Nothing like scrubbing up blackberry juice from the counter.

Now that the green beans have boiled at least five minutes it’s time to put them in the jars. If you are adding salt to your green beans put 1/2 tsp per pint or 1 tsp per quart. Leave a one inch head space to allow for expansion. If you are using Tattler Lids only tighten the metal band finger tight.

green beans in jars     green beans in jars in pressure canner     pressure canning gauge

Time to load up the pressure canner. Make sure enough water has been added to the pressure canner for the model you’re using. In the case of my pressure canner that’s three quarts.

Canning Tip: Add a tablespoon or so of vinegar to your water when canning. Aluminum pots can react to certain foods and discolor. Also, the vinegar helps prevent mineral build up on the jars and lids.

 

presto pressure canner

Once the pressure canner is loaded and the lid is on bring the temperature up and start the venting process. Air needs to be vented from the canner to allow room for the steam. Vent for at least 10 minutes. Again, check the manual for your pressure canner as the process may be different.

After the canner has vented it’s time to bring the pressure up. With my model I place a weight on the venting tube to allow pressure to increase. At sea level you want to bring the pressure up to at 10lbs. For higher elevations consult your manual to adjust for the pressure difference.

At full pressure start the timer. For pints 20 minutes and for quarts 25 minutes.

Now that the timer has beeped, you did set a timer right? It’s time to allow the pressure canner to cool. Opening the canner at this point would be very dangerous, and in fact, depending on the design, may be impossible if it has a pressure lock. Let the canner cool and once cooled pop the lid open.

Canning Tip: I use a pair of silicon gloves to open the canner since they are water proof and won’t get soaked by the steam. Also, open the lid away from you to allow steam to vent safely in the opposite direction.

Use a jar lifter and lift the jars out one at a time. Place each jar on a kitchen towel to allow it to cool. If tattler lids are being used remember to tighten the metal bands fully on each jar to ensure a proper seal.

canned green beans

Now you have home canned green beans that are far tastier then the cans of green beans from the store. Remember to save at least some for that green bean casserole at Thanksgiving!

– Jason Snell

Homemade Fruit Vinegar

Ever look at the selection of vinegars in the store and found them a bit… lacking?

Well now you can do something about it. Surprisingly, homemade vinegar is very easy to make, and delicious too!

I started off following the directions from this site rural-revolution.com to make my own homemade vinegar. The main thing I was looking for was the ratio of sugar to water and the timing of how long to let the vinegar sit before it was ready.

So what do you need to make your very own vinegar?

Empty glass jars

Rubber bands

Thin cloth

Water

Sugar

Fruit scraps or whole fruit


To start this whole process off you’ll want to make sure your jars are sanitized. The entire process for making vinegar works off of beneficial bacteria. You want to make sure the jars are thoroughly cleaned before using them. This includes making sure all soap or other cleaners, such as bleach, are fully washed out.

Next I used quart canning jars. There were two reasons I used canning jars. One, we have lots of them and they’re a convenient size. Two, glass is non-reactive. Going into a little science here, you’re going to take a sugar, convert it to alcohol, and then into a vinegar. This means metals such as aluminum will have negative reactions to the acid being produced.

empty quart jar

For each quart jar use 1/4 cup of sugar. If you’re using a gallon sized container just scale it up to 1 cup per gallon of water.

Next add in your fruit scraps. I made two kinds of vinegar from leftover fruit scraps. Pineapple vinegar, and pomegranate vinegar. Make sure none of the fruit you’re using has been eaten on, or you will be introducing bad bacteria to your batch.

Cover the container with a thin cloth and secure with a rubber band or other restraint. The cloth allows the vinegar solution to vent as the bacteria go to work converting all the sugars into alcohol. This also draws out flavor from the fruit. This process can take a couple weeks to several weeks. Just sit the container in a cool dry area and let it be.

Once the fermentation process has completed, after letting it sit for a few weeks, open your container and drain out the fruit, keeping the liquid.

Congratulations, you’ve now made alcohol, but I wouldn’t drink it. You’ve passed the sugar water solution, and made it to the alcohol stage, next up vinegar. Yep, those busy little bacteria aren’t done yet. Place your liquid back into your jars and cover with the cloth again.

pomengrante vinegar

Now let the solution sit for a few weeks up to a few months. This allows the acidification to occur and will produce a nice tangy vinegar.

Preservation Tip: You’ll notice a kind of gel like scum floating in your vinegar solution. This is referred to as the “mother”, and is actually what is helping your fruit water convert into vinegar. Leave it in there and don’t worry about it. Nature will take its course.

So now you’ve waited and waited and are finally ready to open up you jars and see what’s inside. Would you look at that, your very own homemade vinegar. Lets see what it looks like.

pomengrante vinegar pineaple vinegar

As you can see above, the pomegranate vinegar turned a nice purple as it processed. The pineapple vinegar actually has a slight yellow tint to it.


At this point you could place your vinegar into the fridge and start using it for all kinds of things. A nice marinade for some steak, or for making a homemade vinaigrette dressing. If you want to make it last a bit longer you can also can it.

Preservation Tip: Now homemade vinegar is untested and may not be very acidic. While the vinegar in the store is tested to ensure it’s strong enough to can. If you can this you do so at your own risk. Alternatively you can also test the pH of the vinegar to determine if it’s acidic enough to can. If unsure and you still want to can your vinegar, consider pressure canning it as you would for any low acid item.

I tested my vinegar and it came well within the safe limits for water bath canning.

preparing to can vinegar

I strained my vinegar to remove the mother, or gel like substance, and heated it to a boil.

boiling vinegar

After that I placed it into the water bath canner for 20 minutes. I live at a slightly higher altitude close to 3,000 ft. If you are higher than that you will want to adjust the canning time.

 

canning vinegar

When it was completed you can see how it turned out.

pineaple vinegar

I used Tattler Lids to reduce the amount of metal contact the vinegar would have.

There you have it. Homemade vinegar with only a few steps, and several weeks of waiting. You can make vinegar out of any fruit, so try it with apples, peaches, pears, grapes, or even something exotic like dragonfruit. The sky is the limit and you’ll have learned a fun new skill.