Posts Tagged With: beekeeping

Stella Too!

I started to study permaculture when I lived in Elkins Park, an inner suburb of Philadelphia. Permaculture was our gateway to gardens and chickens and bees. Our work on that tiny piece of land gave us joy, and it inspired connections with the people in our community. One of those people was a young neighbor. She gave one of the four hens a name: StellaLou. And, although our best chicken is no longer with us, she did make the journey to the new farm and inspire its name. “StellaLou” brings with it an association of beauty and function, of adventure, and of connection.

With our move to StellaLou Farm: more gardens, chickens, and bees…and honey…and mead! We had considered several enterprises on the land that could produce income. We thought that mead might be a good choice as a value added product for our honey, and we had been making mead for our home, family, and friends. We are focused on making mead with quality ingredients sourced from our farm and from our neighbors’ farms and apiaries. This inspires critical attention to right stewardship of the land and healthy function of the soil, the insects, and the animals, as well as the plants, shrubs and trees. It cultivates positive connections with our local communities. When we invite someone to sip a glass of our mead, we call their attention to the importance of these relationships.

And, yes! We get to do this!


Paul tasting a traditional dry mead aged in a bourbon barrel.

And a little bit of this:


Hannah and Paul toasting in the new year with a dry black currant mead.

Aside from making a good mead, starting a meadery is a challenge. While we are renovating this farm, we are also making test batches, studying the techniques and processes involved in mead making, experimenting with equipment, and preparing for what is required for licensing.

Last week, we took the opportunity to visit California and take a Continuing Mead Making course and a Business of Making Mead course. Wonderful people and beautiful location! Some of the topics that were addressed included: Fermentation, Yeast, Sensory evaluation, Honey varietals, Mead faults, Honeybee health, Sustainability, Sanitation, Ecological footprints, Regulations, Labeling, Marketing, Planning, and Designing. Our heads are spinning with all the new information we can incorporate into our mead making and our business planning. Here’s some background on the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center that puts the program together.

Hannah has been working on our new logo for “StellaLou” Farm and “Stella Too” Meadery and I can’t wait to show you. I’ll be highlighting information related to Stella Too on this site so you can follow our journey. Maybe one day soon, we’ll get to share a glass of mead with you!



Categories: Abundance, Mead | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Honey Hedge

We thought that we’d like to have a visual screen between our farm and a neighboring property. My dog, Ginkgo, watches, diligently, over HER land (her boundaries go, frustratingly, beyond ours.) She can sit near J’s office and look downslope to the southeast, south, and southwest with little obstruction to her view. She watches for any activity and will, enthusiastically, announce the presence of our neighbor, our neighbor’s car, our neighbor’s guests, the buzzards and hawks that fly over the neighbor’s house, the cats in our neighbor’s yard; and, indeed, the neighbor’s Fed Ex deliveries. It, also, means that she can catch, with her sensitive nose; the presence of any delectable contribution to the neighbor’s compost pile. Oye! I thought that a hedge might reduce her easy view (sniff?) of the territory. However, I am, particularly, interested in transforming this area of mowed grass to meadow. This hedge of shrubs and trees will be the eastern edge of that meadow. Once a bit established, additional understory perennials will be planted and, over time with work, the meadow will expand out towards the west.

I decided to begin with, what I’m calling, a honey hedge. The trees and shrubs were picked with consideration for honey bee forage, general pollinator habitat, wildlife, beauty, and form. Some plants were chosen because they could, additionally, provide edibles for us. Plant needs; moisture, light, and soil conditions, were researched and, hopefully, met. I’d like to use successful plants for propagation material. I have little experience with most of these plants and have, yet, to see how they function. Need for adjustments are expected as we grow along. Here is a schematic of the hedge. The top of the page is EAST, with NORTH to the left and SOUTH to the right.



This is a link to a chart that gives a brief description of the trees and shrubs. 

I started with laying out some flags. I had a big load of mushroom compost that was spread to visualize the shape and to mulch the area. I followed with cutting three rows with a single shank subsoiler parallel to the line of the plantings to break up compacted soil and to improve drainage. Then, I designed and marked out the plantings and ordered the plants (Cold Stream Farm and ForestFarm.) I made use of buttonbush and sumac that I had propagated myself. I mulched a portion of the plantings with cardboard and straw. It became clear that I had to protect the tiny plants when I started noticing that they were being nibbled by, I believe, bunnies. Hannah took care of cutting and placing scrap tubing and hardware cloth that we found in the barn around the plants. The following image shows just the beginning of planting. The tubes that you see in the photo are not part of the designed honey hedge. I have many new trees and shrubs planted in other areas that I hope will help our honeybees including Sourgum, American and Littleleaf Linden, Spicebush, Sourwood, BeeBee Trees, Hop Hornbeam, Pussywillow, and brambles to name a few. Now, we just have to wait until spring to see what happens next!


Categories: Beekeeping, Flora, Gardens, Shrubs, Trees | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Meeting the Bees

Last April, Michaelann invited me to join her in feeding the bees. On previous visits to the farm, I had enjoyed helping out however I could: tearing down old buildings, mulching beds in the garden, or simply splitting wood. But I had never helped with the bees before. I had no real aversion to them, but I had no real interest either. They pollinated flowers, they made honey, and they occasionally stung people. They were bees. That was that. Still, I did want to be helpful. So I accepted the invitation.

I borrowed Jerome’s gear. I put on a rough, white jacket with a ring of black mesh connecting it to a broad-brimmed hat. Over the sleeves of the jacket, I pulled on a pair of long gloves that had leathery hands caked and stained with wax and other apiological goop. In my right glove, I picked up something called a hive-tool, a small bit of metal that appeared to be half-house-key and half-hatchet. Michaelann and I grabbed a few jars of sugar syrup, and we approached the apiary.


At the first hive, Michaelann removed the lid and then slid the end of her hive tool between the inner cover and top box. She pried it open with a little force and a loud crack. I assumed the cover was sticky from wax or honey, but Michaelann explained that the bees seal small gaps in the hive with propolis, a substance that they gather from plant resins. Prior to our engaging it, there had been a soft but audible hum coming from the hive. However, with the lid and inner cover removed, the hum had become a loud, agitated buzz. I felt a pang of anxiety. I had agreed to open several boxes filled with thousands of flying, stinging insects. Was this, perhaps, a very bad idea? Over the buzzing of the hive, I heard Michaelann invite me to step closer and peer inside. So I did.

I was overwhelmed. A small cloud of honeybees flew up from the exposed combs and started circling my head. I was frightened. But nothing was stinging me. Nothing could, I remembered. Fear turned to exhilaration, to confidence, to serenity. I felt, very suddenly, as if I had been somehow realigned. I felt balanced, unusually focused, and very curious about what was going on in that hive. I lowered my head to examine it more closely. I saw the bees traversing the hive’s frames, and I became aware of the mingling smells of nectar, pollen, honey, and beeswax. I remember fixating on that smell for the entire time we spent in the apiary that morning. Michaelann left a jar of sugar syrup in the hive for the bees, closed it up, and took a few notes. We moved onto the other hives and repeated the process.


When Michaelann invited me to write something for the blog, I knew that I wanted to write about the bees. I considered other topics, but working in the apiary has become one of my favorite parts of visiting the farm. Although things are winding down for the winter, I’ll be ready to get back out there next spring!

Categories: Beekeeping | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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