Swarming Times - our local honey bees

It was action stations this morning as on my usual morning round in the garden I spotted a large swarm of honey bees in the old oak tree.

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In all probability these are from one of my two hives, which if so are indicative of a novice bee keeper having not be aware of its imminence or taken suitable preventative action. Actually I had observed that the hive from the swarm I caught in Heeley in May was going through strange times. I had seen a number of what I felt were supercedure cells being made in it. These are contructed by the female worker bees when they sense their current queen is starting to fail, that is her egg laying performace is deterioating and so threatens the future survival of the colony.

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Further than this eight days ago I had actually spotted what I assumed was a newly hatched queen and heared her “piping”. The video below has a small segment of this amazing vocal performace right at the beginning – its actually just two hoots from what was a quite prolonged and loud experience - you have to listen hard in the first two seconds!  My thought at this time was to leave well alone feeling that it was late in the year for a swarm ,the numbers of bees in this hive was not huge and that this new queen would take over in a perfect supercedure. This is a term bee keepers use for the situation where the new and old queen can actually live together for a period.  Its perfect as it reduces the gap between the old queen stopping laying and the new starting to lay new eggs.

I managed to catch the swarm by cutting down the branch to which they were attached attempting to drop this into a large cardborad box I positioned below. This did not go quite to plan with most of the branch missing the box meaning there was a lot of extra scooping to do in the undergrowth. I transferred the bees from the box into a “nuc” hive (a smaller specially designed bee hive for new colonies). Meanwhile “loose” bees were forming another smaller swarm on a branch close to the one I cut meaning another adventure up the ladder.

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I hope that I have got the queen and that the bees are happy to settle in this new home. If so there is a chance that I will increase my colony number to 3, giving more beneficial pollinators for the garden and beyond and the possibility of a local honey crop next year.

Our Meeting and Dining Venue Refurbishment Update

Work has continued over the Christmas break taking the space on the first floor of our base at 54 Staniforth Road, Sheffield, back to its bare shell.  We will soon be ready to start the re-building to create our 100 seat meeting, dining and event venue.  Excitingly we have revealed the large roof trusses and the layers of paint added over many years are being stripped away.  The natural wood below has a lovely grain and should work well with the tables we are making from re-used pallets.  See our previous post for pictures.

The next job will be to remove the old plaster from the walls so that we can add thick layers of insulation both to the walls and the roof space to ensure our guests are toasty warm but also to minimise heating inputs and their environmental impacts.

Our electricians have already been busy and have actually completed their first fix to the first floor.  Theres over a mile of cable already gone in across the electrical, lighting, fire, security, audio, data and phone cables!  Great that they still look so happy!

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So progress but still lots to do!  Although its hard to imagine at the moment we are very confident that the result will be a unique venue reflecting our values of local sourcing, sustainability and innovative cooking with brilliant care for our guests.  So still very much on track to deliver the vision.

Sheffield and Yorkshire gift hampers

Our carefully selected hampers contain delicious foods sourced within Sheffield, South Yokshire and they are ideal for Christmas presents, birthday presents or simply gifts at any time of the year.

The PJ taste Sheffield Favourites Hamper

The PJ taste Sheffield Favourites Hamper

This year we have some of our own handmade preserves as well as an artisan chocolate bar which we have made using Barry Callebaut chocolate and chillies grown by John in Killamarsh.  The jams are made with fruit grown on our own plots and made with fairttrade sugar by our chefs.  Our Sheffield Favourite hamper is priced at just £19.95 and can be simply ordered on our web site.

We have added a lovely Christmas Chutney made by Matthew at  Just Preserves  based in Chippinghouse Road in Sheffield.  Matthew shares the same ethos as us when it comes to the care with which he sources his ingredients.

We have added a lovely Christmas Chutney made by Matthew at Just Preserves based in Chippinghouse Road in Sheffield.  Matthew shares the same ethos as us when it comes to the care with which he sources his ingredients.

Ther coffee is from another Sheffield company.  Cafeology buy extremely sustainably and it is seven years since they imported their first consignment of coffee from Asoapia in Colombia, buying direct from the cooperative.  The quality of this Columbian blend suitable for filter or cafetieres is amazing.

Other favourites of ours are Sheffield Honey and Hendersons Relish which complete the Sherffield Favourites hamper.

We are excited to be including within the Premium Hamper (at just £39.95) the SHeffield Cookbook - Second Helpings.  This is a bumper tome featuring the best of the Sheffield dining out scene.

Have we found the Holly Grail - a healthy cake?

Earlier in the year we started growing some Stevia plants - Stevia is allegedly 100 times sweeter than sugar and we felt that being able to contribute to our sugar demands locally was another step to sustainability

So heres how we progressed and potentially found the answer to the age old dilemma of cake lovers everywhere - "can I justify another slice?".  Now you can as its a health food!

Stevia plants - the years growth

Stevia plants - the years growth

Worrying out potential frosts we recently decided to harvest our stevia plants and dry the leaves to make a powder we could use as a substitute sweetener.

We took a few cuttings first in the hope that we can propogate new plants which will survive the winter and provide next years crop.  There is a simple video with a good tip on using ziplock bags by Growing Herbs here.

After washing the leaves RE DRIED IN THE DEHYDRATOR

After washing the leaves RE DRIED IN THE DEHYDRATOR

After washing well the leaves went into our dehydrator and it was a simple task over the next 4 hours to achieve a fully dried product.  In the absence of a dehydrator an oven on the lowest setting with the door ajar could also do the trick or possibly a handy shelf above a radiator could come into play. 

The final part of ther process was grinding the leaves to a fine powder in a small coffee/spice grinder.  The overall yield was rather dissapointing but on tasting we realised that it is indeed very, very sweet.  The literature suggests that the Stevia powder in this form is 50-100 times sweeter than sugar.

aFTER DRYING AND GRINDING THIS IS THE YEARS CROP!! nOTE TO SELF NEED MORE LAND FOR GROWING

aFTER DRYING AND GRINDING THIS IS THE YEARS CROP!! nOTE TO SELF NEED MORE LAND FOR GROWING

Tasting the finished Stevia was an interesting experince - no more than a few grains gave a sweet kick but also a definite flavour which is not apparent in refined sugar.  So what to do with it.  A look on-line lead us to this recipe which we have adapted slightly.  We loved the taste of the finished cake - not sweet so reminiscent of a very dark chocolate given some interesting textiure from the chocolate chunks.  And light in texture too.  An interesting variation would be to separate the eggs, whipping the whites before folding in for a mousse or souffled texture.

Chocolate Brownie Cake - is this the Holly Grail of the Healthy Cake?

2 teaspoons stevia powder   
1 1/2 cup flour   
3/4 c cocoa powder   
1/2 teaspoon salt   
1/2 teaspoon baking soda   
1 cup margarine   
4 eggs   
2 teaspoons vanilla   
1 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chunks  

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease lightly 13x9" baking tin. Stir together the stevia, flour, cocoa, soda, and salt and set aside. Mix the melted butter, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add flour mixture and stir until moistened. Fold in chocolate chunks. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.

 

The finished cake - having eaten a few slices!

The finished cake - having eaten a few slices!