Blog Archive

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bee Venom creams from sunny Nelson, NZ

Scott Williamson the beekeeper

Last summer I had the pleasure of meeting Scott the beekeeper.  In a  fairy-tale log cabin, set in a picturesque valley just out of Nelson, Scott has been keeping bees for over 14 years. His bees are certainly lucky to be living in such a wonderful environment. After mentioning he would like to keep bees to his beekeeping dentist, Scott found a hive of bees at his front door. He explains he learnt beekeeping ‘ by killing bees, making mistakes and reading.” His hive numbers went from “one to three to ten, to one to three to ten, as you do. Making mistakes and learning on the way”.

Now Scott defines his role now as the local beekeeping “pusher”. He is the agent for Encyrods and sells bee keeping equipment out of his home. Scott is also the president of the Nelson Beekeeping club. The clubs membership is around eighty which is around one in three hobbyist beekeepers in the area. As president Scott works hard to create a club which is all inclusive and embraces all the different styles and manners in which people choose to keep their bees. As long as beekeepers are treating for varroa, inspecting for American foulbrood and keeping their bees safe the club does not judge peoples beekeeping methods. He keeps the Club meetings positive and interesting. Recently they enjoyed a mead making session.

The thing Scott loves most about his beekeeping is ‘nobody bugs you when you are with your bees‘ and the pollination of his property. His garden is full of organic fruit trees and he enjoys seeing his bees working in his flowers. At the moment he has around 8 hives and finds he gives away a lot of his honey and recently has been making mead with all the excess. ‘One of the surprising things about beekeeping is that you don’t realise that you may end up with 80 kilos of honey. What do you do with it!”. He loves the continual learning and the delightful people he meets through his beekeeping circles. Scott admits that ‘a disproportionate number of beekeepers are either dentists, pilots or Germans, there must be something to it’. Perhaps beekeeping is attractive to people who like following a defined methodology?
A new venture he is now involved with is collecting bee venom and making bee venom cream. Working with a professional colleague he has developed a skincare range called  One Natural Skincare.  Using a plate of glass which has wires across it hooked up to a computer controlled pulse device. The plate is placed in front of the hive. The bees come out of the hive, are irritated by the gentle electrical current stimulus and respond by stinging the glass. The bees are not hurt as their sting can not penetrate the glass so their stingers are not dislodged. As they sting the bees release alarm pheromones which alert more hive bees to sting the glass plate. The venom dries on the glass plate as a clear smear. This substance is scraped off and collected and added to a range of cosmetics. “ The cream is organic and as natural as you can get without being stupid” explains Scott.  You can harvest venom from bees every couple of days but Scott thinks this is a little cruel so prefers to only rile his bees up every couple of weeks. Sales are rocketing, both locally and around the country. Each of his jars of cream contain around 100 stings.
I have been using this cream for several months now and love it and the way the bees are kept. Each time I apply the cream I think of those happy Nelson bees buzzing around their private apple orchard and returning to their colourfully painted hives. I am still waiting to look like 21 again but definitely my skin is smoother and clearer! Check it out here
 Varroa was discovered in Nelson around 6 years ago. As a way of attempting to control the spread of this devastating mite every hive in the Nelson area was confiscated and taken to the North Island and any feral hives which were found were destroyed. This obviously led to a total collapse in numbers of bees in the area. Unfortunately this management did not stop the spread of Varroa through the South Island. Over the last two years there has been a huge increase in hobby beekeeping with a new generation of people keeping bees. Now the bee population is returning slowly to pre varroa levels. Scott does believe that these new beekeepers are better beekeepers as they only know how to manage bees with varroa rather than the older beekeepers who see varroa and its treatment as an imposition.
When Scott is not attending his bees or at work, he can be found in his den of antiquity, home brewing a range of life’s elixirs. Upon entering his shed I am greeted with large glass jars bubbling with all manner of brews. ‘If you are going to have hobby’s you may as well have good hobby’s” laughs Scott. He makes his own pinot, beer, mead, cider and brandy. Life is good in Nelson.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Easter Bunnies have Arrived!

Down to the anticipated time and day our baby bunnies have arrived. It was really interesting and fascinating to see the Doe prepare her nest, then go into labour and deliver her babies. She ate the placentas straight after having her babies. This is to give her nourishment but also to destroy any trace of new rabbit,s to any lurking predators.

Next time around I think I may be a rabbit as mothering is very low key. The doe only feeds her babies once a day, normally at night. Rabbit milk is apparently one of the most nutritious foods. Imagine if that was bottled and sold at your supermarket! If she is not feeding her babies the doe is resting, eating and sleeping next to her nest.

 The babies are born fur less and blind. Their eyes open at around 2 weeks and this is when they start to venue out of the nest to hop around with their mother.

We have 10 babies in total. Five black and five grey ( Blue). There is one little runt. My boys are fascinated by them and call them ‘earth worms’, as only boys would. Quinn keeps saying to me “ we are not going to eat them mummy!” My good friends girls have asked me if they can have the runt as a pet as “it won’t be very good for eating” . Have I turned into the nighbourhood monster in these children’s eyes?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Husband may be Cheating, but he is a great Dad!

What do you do when you have a goat and a box full of dress ups? 
You visit kindy as the Billy Goats Gruff of course! My husband Chris doesn’t need to be asked twice to dress up in a costume and Quinn our 4 year old was very keen to take Frankie to Kindy to show his friends our new milk producing pet.

Chris changed into his ensemble and followed us to Kindy in his car as he needed to rush away to a board meeting soon afterwards.. Quinn, Frankie and I went in my car. Frankie was very happy to hop into the back seat and ride shotgun. Quinn had suggested that we just walk her to Kindergarten but the thought of walking with a goat along the footpath, passing high school kids, commuters and mums doing school drop offs just didn’t appeal to me somehow. Havelock North is a small place and I know I would never live that one down!!

The scary Troll
I think the Billy Goat wins this fight!
Quinn , the proud goat handler
Once at kindy, complete with the scary Troll, Quinn proudly showed his little friends how we milk her. It was amazing how so many kids did not realise that goats made milk and you could even drink it!! The Troll of course frightened some of the girls and had to take his mask off at times.

Frankie had a great morning at Kindy. She nibbled on the bushes and was hand fed the choicest grape leaves by the kids. Quinn beamed with pride thinking it was so normal to have a pet goat in urban Havelock North and the Troll luckily got to his board meeting on time. Lets just hope he changed beforehand!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Husband is Cheating on Me, Now I Am Sowing My Wild Oats

I have no concern with growing ample vegetables for our experiment but I am concerned about three growing boys and their constant need for sustained energy foods. Also I know they will turn their noses up at veges for breakfast and even though they love eggs, served every morning may become a bit of a drag.

I have had the idea for planting a cereal of some sort to help us in our carbohydrate quest. Growing wheat really is not a practical option as you need to grow a whole field to make your returns of any use and wheat also does not grow well here in Hawkes Bay. All of New Zealand’s wheat fields are found in the South Island around Canterbury. To be practical I need a grain which I can process myself without the need for expensive milling machinery and will grow well in my garden.

We all love porridge for breakfast. I think it is called oatmeal or grits in the States. I have now planted around 3 sq metres of garden in a hull-less oat seed I bought from Koanga Gardens.

Unfortunately after carefully following all sowing instructions and carefully tending the germinating seed I had a very poor germination rate. A lot of the seed was snaffled up by “mice with wings” (sparrows). This is even after I laboriously covered the whole area with what I thought was bird proof netting!

The oats look beautiful growing, they now have developed seed heads and in the wind they whisper to each other. I have planted them close together as they are wind pollinated.
Oats growing in the garden
I am not sure of the next process but I am guessing I need to wait until most of the seed heads have turned a tawny gold and then cut them down on a sunny dry day. Because this variety is hull less I am spared one specialised task of getting the hull off the seed. I intend to bash the seed heads on the inside of a bucket to collect the oat seeds. Then it is a matter of rolling the oats. You can buy special home mills which will do this but I am hoping to improvise by using my home pasta maker. I hope that by pouring the oats through the roller I may be able to crush the seeds flat so they resemble rolled oats.

I figure if it all turns out to be a disaster I can feed the oat plants and seed heads to my goats and rabbits. I have to admit the plant looks stunning in the garden and would be an attractive option on any balcony to grow in a pot for some screening whilst adding impact.

Will keep you informed of the progress! Any advice gratefully received

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Someone Has An Axe To Grind

Somebody has reported me to the authorities. It seems that someone read my blog or facebook entry on the day I gave the owners of Hawthorne café some of my honey. Tom who owns Hawthornes have always supported my mad attempts with self-sufficiency and allows me to collect their used coffee grounds each week from the café. They are always offering me free coffees. I give them fresh produce including the odd jar of honey as a thank you.

Anyway someone has reported me to MAF ( Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries)  because they believe I am breaking the law by trading my honey, as bartering is a form of trading. Maybe they were concerned that Hawthorne was on-selling it in the café? Any local knows that Hawthorne are coffee roasters and all the food they sell is sourced from other commercial kitchens. They do not even have facilities to cook food. How could one small 250ml pot of honey given to friend who shares it with his family and happens to own a café potentially get me in trouble? Has the world gone mad? I have in the past been given pots of honey from beekeeping clubs for giving my time at beekeeping field days. I don’t believe any law has been broken then or now.

In New Zealand you are only permitted to sell your honey if regulations under the Food Act 1981 or the Tutin Honey Standard are followed. I know about this as I have written a web page on it here.

( interestingly when I made this  video above about Tutin honey I had this irrate email from an organic honey producer and seller demanding that I take the video off you tube immediately. She stated that she did'nt want potential customers knowing about this risk. Thats great - lets just keep the consumer in the dark! Obviously I refused) I follow the suggested safe guards to protect anyone from honey poisoning with my urban honey. Donating or bartering honey is a form of trade and is also subject to regulation under the Food Act 1981. This does not mean that you can't give honey to friends and family members.

Who has so much time on their hands to contact MAF about me? Why haven’t they used the blogs reply function or facebooks reply function to ask me about this face to face. I don’t believe it is anyone of the 335 people who follow my facebook  page and my blog. All these people have only ever given me lots of support and shared many great tips and advice. Obviously there is someone else who has a bit of a grudge who perhaps has a little too much time on their hands.

I have my suspects. I am involved with a Charitable Trust called Save Our Bees. This Trust is all about informing the public about how important bees are and how their numbers are declining worldwide. The Trust also supports and advises backyard beekeepers who want to do their bit for bees and keep a hive in their garden, particularly people who choose to keep bees in a Top Bar hive.  Many commercial beekeepers are against these sorts of hives as they don’t think they can be checked for diseases. This is absolute rubbish and I have on numerous occasions invited concerned beekeepers to my garden to show them how easy it is. None have accepted. Am I really that frightening?

The NBA and Management Agency recently even made and printed this broad statement that "Top Bar hives are against the ‘spirit’ of the Act" which protects bees and beekeeping in New Zealand. They are insisting that Top Bar Hives become mini Langstroths hives and have a frame build around each comb. This is even after MAF  (who luckily make the laws)  have made a statement that they see no issue as long as the bees in a Top Bar Hive can be checked for disease. The key consideration is that they can be checked.

When I started beekeeping I was very naive. I thought all beekeepers where predominantly lovely bearded gentleman who took on the persona of a bumblebee and had a deep empathy for bees. Unfortunately I don’t believe this is always the case. Don’t get me wrong I know of several hobbyist beekeepers who are just like this. I believe many commercial and semi commercial beekeepers are self-serving, patch protecting members of large cooperate organisations who are making huge money out of honey rather than having any thought for our poor overworked honey bee. I believe they feel threatened by the growth in backyard beekeeping, especially if these newbies are keeping their bees in anything other than a Langstroth hive.

Why can’t we all work together to help the bee. It is so counterproductive to have this 'them and us' situation. Backyard hobbyist have a unique position to be the guardians of bees protecting numbers when New Zealand encounters a collapse of colony numbers as many overseas countries are already experiencing.

Late last year when I was over in New York learning from hobby beekeepers I asked them if they experienced the same sort of negativity. They seemed very surprised and said ‘no, we are all working together to help breed and keep resilient healthy bees”. What’s wrong here?

 Anyway getting back to the phone call I received today. The authorities were  concerned that perhaps I was bartering pots of the stuff which was being used in the food sold at the café. After an explanation of who it was for they were very supportive and stated there was no problem with gifting honey to friends and family. They even wished me well with my experiment with living off the land.   Unfortunately it appears there are some evil spirited people out there in the cyberspace realm with too much time on their hands and an axe to grind. I hope she/he/they get a life. Perhaps as a tax payer I should invoice them for the time they have wasted these Government agencies with this complaint.

Honey- the new form of contraband?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From this, to this to this.....

Japanese quail are born after around 16 days of incubation. Because these quail have been domesticated for so many years they rarely go broody and sit on their eggs. A incubator is required to hatch the eggs.

When the quail hatch they are the size of a large bumble bee. they tot ta around on unsteady legs. I feed them chick crumbles. It is important to keep them warm in a brooder and ensure that they can't drown in their water bowl. I use a jar lid with pebbles in it. Keep them in the brooder for the first three weeks. By this time they are fully fledged and can be moved outside into a small hutch if the weather is warm.

The quail are mature in six weeks. The hens will start laying in 7-8 weeks. The male has a dark ring of feathers around his head. It looks like a headband from the 70's.  The male also makes a thrilling call. It is best to house one male to about 4-5 females. Don't keep males together as they will fight. They require a high protein diet of around 20% to lay well. they don't require a lot of space. I keep mine on  my balcony in a modified rabbit run. The hens will lay an egg most days.

Killing is never fun but it is easy with a quail .I use garden shears to cut off their head. Plucking only takes a few minutes. It is best to do this when the body is still warm as the feathers come out easier. Gut and rest the bird in a salt brine solution in the fridge for 24 hours before eating.

Quail is a delicacy.  The flesh tastes like sweet chicken. I cook ours in our Targine with a tomato based sauce. enjoy. Thank you quail.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Out Foraging for Wild Blackberries

This afternoon, making good use of the early Autumn sunshine, a gaggle of family and friends have come foraging for some wild blackberries. I have been keeping my eyes on this thick blackberry hedge throughout summer. Watching as the flowers are buzzed by bees turning them into green, then red and finally dark purple sweet berries.

With a handful of willing workers it doesn't take us long to pick enough berries to make a blackberry and apple crumble. The  apples for the crumble are picked from our trees we recently planted on our council verge .How local is that!

After licking his plate clean Edwin promptly asks "can we go and pick some more tomorrow". I think foraging is great. You get fresh local food. The kids learn how food grows. And we all get to learn about the seasons and harvesting fresh food.
You can tell who has done the most picking
by the state of their hands.
The end result. Blackberry and apple crumble.- there wasn't any leftovers!