Making a Woolly Board

Having just spent what felt like weeks waiting for a sweater to dry after blocking in a cold, damp house, I decided there must be a better way than drying them flat - especially when they need a bit of stretching in particular direction.

Making Bochet

I discovered an unusual alternative in mead-making a while ago, and had to give it a try: Bochet.

Bochet, or Burnt mead as it is otherwise known, is a type of mead where the honey is cooked for an extended period before mead-making begins, so that the sugars in the honey caramelise and completely change the flavour and colour of the mead. Having spent years perfecting the mead-making process so as to never heat up the honey and lose the aromatic compounds held within, this was an interesting challenge!

I’d had a go at making bochet last year, but ‘chickened out’ of really making it any stronger than a slightly reddish colour. Saying that, it had interesting toffee-like flavours and a strong, honey liqueur aftertaste - enough that I wanted another go.

Part of the aim of the process is to change the sugars to make them less fermentable, and result in more toffee/caramel flavours at a lower alcohol percentage, rather than fermenting out the sugars to a drier final mead.

This time I decided I might as well have a go at making the process slightly more scientific, and record some data for prosperity. I fitted a digital thermometer, and tried to take pictures at the traditional candy-making temperatures for comparison.

I started with 2.8kg to aim for 2 (UK) gallons of bochet. I put it in a large pan (I knew from last time it has a tendency to froth up) and turned up the heat to a strong simmer.

After around 15 minutes it was very frothy, and had reached 117C - but the colour was unchanged:

Bochet 117C

I stirred it a little bit, but mostly left it and went off to find my sugar candying temperature chart.

When I came back it was around 129C (soft crack), and starting to darken:

Bochet 129C

and continued to change in colour and texture (134C):

Bochet 134C

By hard crack (144C) it was much darker, and definitely getting a lot gooeyer:

Bochet 144C

and by 150C it was well on the way to a final rich colour:

Bochet 150C

I topped out at 155C, as it wasn’t getting any darker, but was starting to get more of a smell (and a bit of a taste) of burnt sugar. I also really liked the very dark red/brown colour here:

Bochet 155C

I then added a few litres of water to stop it cooking, and dissolve the sugar so it didn’t set to the pan, and was amazed by the sudden darkening!

Bochet Water Added

The whole boiling process was just shy of an hour at this point.

The taste of the liquid was difficult to describe - akin to cinder or treacle toffee, with a honey aftertaste, and not as sweet as you might expect.

I split it into the demijohns, and topped up with water to fill them. I then added yeast at 35C (Lalvin 71B - one of my favourites for mead-making) and started the nutrient addition (I used 2.5 tsp tronozymol per gallon here).

Bochet in the Demijohn

Close-up inspection shows that the pollen grains in the honey seem to have formed tiny crystals, with threaded tails, that float around the must - not sure this picture does them justice though!

Bochet Pollen Grains

Fermentation was well underway the next morning, and I hope to be able to sample this in a year’s time!

I hope to be able to report back on it then!

Missed a swarm

Possible the worst timing today, when I went to visit the apiary.

I’d had word that one of the nucs I’d brought on from Yasmin was very busy, so went to see about upgrading them to a full hive. When I got there, the apiary was roaring with the classic “there’s a swarm somewhere” noise. Rushing over, I found bees pouring out of the nuc, and as I went to block up the entrance til I could get everything in place, I saw the queen (which I’d marked previously) rush out the door and take flight.

Of course, their favourite resting place is 25ft up in a sycamore, so no chance of getting them down. I’ve set up a bait hive in the apiary, but I’m not expecting them to fall for it when the whole world awaits!

Swarms from nucs often don’t leave any queen cells behind, and this was no exception. There are eggs, but until I know how many bees are left once it calms down, I won’t know if it’s worth trying to save or not.

The moral of the story - don’t assume that a nuc won’t build up fast enough to swarm in a summer - especially not when it’s around 25C and gloriously sunny for a week!

The day didn’t look like it was going to get much better after that - the other nuc is queenless, with laying workers, so they’ll be getting ditched. Plus working in a beesuit in direct sunlight in 28C is never fun! However all is not lost.

Yasmin has 2 supers on, and is working the upper one now, and the lime might well be out in a week or so. She’s also thinking of swarming again - eggs in some queen cups, so I’ll be splitting again to make another hive.

Amelia is also getting busy, so I decided to take out 5 frames (2 x honey, 2 x capped brood and 1 x eggs) and make up a new nuc - hopefully I can bring on another colony from her, and have some queen cells spare for emergencies. Not the ‘planned’ QC raising that I’d hoped for with the Hopkins method, but beggars can’t be choosers!

So, 2 busy hives, a split due, and a nuc in progress… we might hit 4 hives for winter after all - if I get them all assembled, that is!

Queen Rearing using the Hopkins Method

I’ve been looking into experimenting with queen rearing for a while, but haven’t got much further than splitting hives during swarm season, and being selective about which queen cells I leave and which I knock down.

However, I’ve always fancied trying to raise queen cells to get better quality queens, and so looked into ways of doing this which were simple, and didn’t involve anything too fancy, good eyesight or a steady hand.

I read about the Hopkins method of queen rearing, and what struck me was the simplicity of the system - so much so that I’m getting round to trying it this year.

Simply put, you take a frame of eggs/larvae from the hive you want to breed from, scrape away the comb to leave a few single cells remaining, spaced apart, and put this frame horizontally on top of a queenless ‘breeder’ colony. The horizontal aspect allows the bees to draw down large, well-spaced queen cells, rather than building cells on the face of a vertical frame, which can sometimes be smaller, or hindered by the surrounding cells.

You can then cut out any queen cells once they’re capped over, and use them in other hives, nucs or even mini-nucs.

Some important points:

Coming along nicely

A lovely couple of weeks of nice weather has really spurred things along!

A short visit on Monday gave me an update on the state of things, and an opportunity to inspect the hives which are looking great after a new coat of linseed oil.

The nucs left after splitting Yasmin have hatched, but no laying queens yet so I’ll give them another week or 2.

Yawning is coming on well and starting to work a super and build play cells, so another swarm might be on the cards!

Finally Amelia is actually laying! 3 frames of capped brood means she’s not lost after all. I might even get a chance to breed from her.

Now to.just work on building all the new.frames and brood boxes for my expansion plans…

Apiary Reckoning

Extremely late this year, but the weather finally got good enough to go and do a full inspection of all my hives.

Both hives and the nuc had flying bees - however my poly hive (Amelia) appears to be all bees and no brood/larvae/queen. there are signs of supersedure, including an empty, hatched queen cell, but no indicator as to whether this happened in the last week or 2, or at the very end of last year. I suspect the latter. There’s lots of stores, but no pollen either, which isn’t a good sign.

I’ve reduced this down to a single hive from a double, and will leave it alone for a week - this lineage’s queens tend to be late layers, but I don’t hold out much hope. Will merge them or clear them out next week if nothing changes.

The nuc has gone from packed with bees when I put a feeder/pollen on a few weeks ago, to a small cluster of brood on a single frame and 2-3 frames of bees - sign that a queen is/was present - though I couldn’t find her. The bottom of the nuc was full of dead bees (half an inch deep!) which makes me think they got started, then the cold got them.

I’ve moved them into the top box from the poly, just to give them a cleaner space, and filled out the remaining spaces with honey-filled frames from poly since they were low on stores. I’ll check them again in a week to see if the brood patch has grown any, otherwise this is also a merger.

Last but not least, Yasmin has actually come out strong from the winter, and has covered 7 frames with brood, 1 with pollen (80% coverage!) and 3 frames of stores, with tons more coming in now the blossoms are out. There was also a couple of queen cells, 2 with eggs, so I’ll need to artificially swarm this colony soon. Looks like it’ll be worth splitting into 2 nucs since I’m lower on bees than I thought I’d be - which means my expansion plans might go more slowly than I’d hoped.

In all 3 hives the pollen patties had been pretty much ignored, so this is something I know not to bother with in future years - even ones with a dearth of flowers!

No sign of spring...

Despite it being well into April, there’s still no real sign of spring approaching… though at least the snow has now gone and the temperatures overnight no longer dipping too far below freezing.

As a result I’ve been unable to do any proper hive inspections, other than a few short visits to the apiary to tidy the shed, sort out some equipment, and on one occasion see enough bees flying to know that the hives are (or perhaps were?) still hanging in there!

While it can be a bad idea to feed the bees syrup or pollen substitute early in the spring, and encourage brood rearing when there is still a risk of cold weather, it now seems likely that without a supplementary feed there won’t be any brood or adult bees left to forage when spring does get going.

As a result I’m feeding both spring syrup (1:1) and pollen substitute this week. I’ve not had a need to use pollen substitute before, given the prevalence of nearby sources, including gorse, witch hazel, willow and crocus - but this year none of these are yet in flower.

Pollen substitute is easy to make - it’s a simple protein and fat supplement, bound together with thick sugar syrup to both help form patties, and prevent fermentation. The recipe can be fairly variable, but the usual recipe is as follows:

3 parts Soya Flour
1 part Brewer’s Yeast (inactivated)
1 part Dried Skimmed Milk Powder

Pollen Substitute

For every 500g of dry powder, add 1 litre of 2:1 syrup - which is make with approximately 1kg of sugar and 500ml of water. Mix together well to remove any big lumps while the syrup is still warm, and then leave to cool for an hour or two and allow the flours to absorb the liquid. Shape into rounds and flatten out between pieces of greaseproof paper. It is easiest to divide it up into approximately 100g pieces.

Apply the patties direct to the top bars of the hive, leaving the top piece of paper on to prevent drying out.

Different source recommend different amounts - however expect to have to feed your bees between 250g and 1kg of supplement, depending on the scarcity of pollen and the demand of the colony.

Once you start feeding pollen, you will need to continue doing so as the bees will rely on it until natural pollen sources are available. However, try not to feed pollen substitute for too long a period, as it is a stop-gap, rather than a complete replacement for the pollen, which is more nutritious for the bees. It is also advisable to feed the bees sugar syrup at this time as well, as honey stores will be running low.

SSL Support in the Logstash tcp input plugin

I recently added ssl support to the logstash tcp input plugin, and it has now been accepted into the main code. I’ve seen a few people asking for instructions on how to use it, so I thought I’d write up my notes. Hopefully I will be adding ssl support to the output plugin too in the near future, which should ‘close the loop’.

Note - this was mostly a braindump straight from my head, without testing all of the configuration options, commands etc listed below. As a result there may be some errors - if so, please do flag them up and I’ll try to get it fixed ASAP!

Spring Hive Inspections

Having left it a bit late this year (in part waiting for a delayed order of oxalic acid from Thornes) I decided to finally grab a gap in the wind and rain to get up to the apiary to inspect my hives.

First off was the wee nuc which I decided to overwinter, as it got going too late in the year to sell. I had expected this one to have failed, but it was fairly lively, and didn’t seem short on supplies. Added a spot of fondant any way - with a bit of luck and not too much cold it will make it through.

Willow is a single hive, and doing well - again a good number of quite lively bees and reasonable amounts of stores - but put on 2 fondant blocks any way - they’re more of an Italian strain, so tend to build up rapidly coming out of winter, and ran low on stores in March last year.

Finally, Yasmin - a double hive as an experiment this year. Having popped off the cover, there was no sign of life, so I expected the worst. However, pulling out a frame from the top box and I could see a tight-knit, quiet colony sitting by the entrance in the bottom box. Furthermore, the top box was completely full of untouched stores, and the whole hive was very heavy to heft (and it’s polystyrene!) Any colony that forms tight balls over winter, is happy in the bottom of a hive on a day when it’s hovering just above freezing with rain threatening, and hasn’t touched half of its stores is a good wee colony to keep an eye on and, cross fingers, one to breed on when the spring comes along.

All in all, 2.5 for 2.5, so I’m quietly confident (weather permitting) that I might be starting off well in 2013… touch wood!

HA Virtualisation with Pacemaker and Ceph

I’ve recently begun playing with ceph’s rbd pool as a way to provide network block devices for libvirt guests managed through Pacemaker, having had success with drbd and iscsi. This post should be considered notes of my ongoing experiments, and not a hard-and-fast ‘howto’ for this concept. Nevertheless, it might be useful to someone!