Saturday, 3 December 2016


I've previously made a few Meads and Melomels and broadened my repertoire to include Banana Wine. This year I decided to have a go at making beer so I bought a used copy of Beers & Stouts 6th Edition (1995) by C.J.J.Berry from eBay. It's subtitled Full Instructions for all types of Beers, Stouts and Lagers. When he says all types he's really not kidding, there's even a dead rooster beer recipe in there. One thing that caught my eye was Honey Botchard. A beer strength Mead. Never heard of it? Me neither. A quick Google search shows me very few people have and the two references to it I found both mentioned Berry's recipe. It looked very simple to make too with only 5 ingredients including the water and takes about 6 weeks to reach drinkable.

I decided to give it a go and strayed from Berry's directions slightly. The recipe calls for 30g Hops, 560g Honey, 4.5 litres water, yeast and yeast nutrient. It's pretty basic but probably a good place to start and I'm sure any eager home brewers out there will be able to tweak and build on it.

I didn't know anything about hops. Not a thing. Now I know a little. But not a lot. There's a huge range of Hops and using them yields different flavours and aromas to suit different beers. I opted for one called Columbus or Tomahawk from eBay. This hop has 14.3% Alpha Acids. I don't really know what that means. Might be important though. It's described as a "high alpha variety" and is "used as a bittering hop with an intense aroma." I actually picked it because the name reminded me of the time I found a toy tomahawk on nightclub floor. At £2.25 for 25g including postage and packaged as a sort of huge tea bag  for ease of use it's an experiment with low financial risk.

For the honey I had half a 250g jar of my own set honey I'd been working through and a very granulated jar of liquid honey I'd kept back from a previous year. Doesn't matter that one was set and one was granulated liquid, they'll both melt the same.

Botchard ingredients minus yeast nutrient
First step is to boil up some water and simmer the hops for about half an hour. I used that £1.10 for 5 litres bottled water from Tesco. It's cheap, it's water, and probably has less crap in it than what comes out of my taps -Hull is riddled with lead pipes.. people don't really talk about it. I poured half the bottle into a huge saucepan I'd sterilised earlier and threw in the Tomahawk teabag, when I heard it boiling I turned the heat down then started making a 23 litre batch of beer, reracked two demijohns of Banana Wine and one demijohn of Kiwi Melomel. By the time I was more or less done I figured a half hour must have passed, although it was probably more like 90 minutes. If you really know your stuff there's a lot of complex calculations about steeping hops -how long on what temperature and so on you can do but I don't so I just left it till I'd finished doing other things. Using a sterilised spoon I whipped out the now huge tomahawk teabag -it'd  expanded a lot  in the liquid, and turned off the heat. Once the used hops were cooled I removed it from the bag and gave to my chickens but they weren't interested. I'm not too surprised really it smells pretty gross and tastes bitter as hell.

Berry says to actually simmer the honey for the same 30 minutes the hops are in but I did want to compromise the quality of the honey, I spooned the honey in along with some cold water and gave it a stir then left it to dissolve. Some mead recipes talk about boiling honey up as part of the process which I did with my first batch of mead but after a little more reading I stopped doing it and never had a problem. It does seem a bit pointless using a high quality raw honey if you're then going to ruin it by boiling, might as well use some cheap supermarket honey that's already been compromised by heating if that's your plan.

Once cooled Berry says to strain the liquid into a demijohn, I guess that must be to remove the hops, he wrote the book in 1963 so I guess compressed hop pellets prepared in teabag type things weren't the norm back then, so I decided to skip the straining. As I poured it into the demijohn I did notice some tiny particles in the bottom though. Once in the demijohn I threw in some yeast and yeast nutrient -he doesn't say how much of either so I went with a teaspoon of each, if there's not enough yeast I expect the yeast will just make more anyway, not so sure about the nutrient so I just crossed my fingers. The full demijohn didn't look very impressive to be honest, just a gallon of murky brownish water.

I appear to have made a gallon of dishwater.

Berry says to ferment it for 10 days in a warm room before bottling and leaving somewhere cool for a month. I left it in an upstairs room to stay warmish. After 10 days I was seeing about a bubble per second in the airlock and the liquid had lightened in colour to something approaching real lemonade and was starting to clear as sediment fell to the bottom of the demijohn. I topped up the water level a little with more bottled water. In total I used nearly 5 litres.

Into the fridge, looks like orange juice now
Moving a few shelves I put the demijohn complete with airlock into the fridge and left it overnight to drop the temperature then the next day I stirred a leaf of gelatin dissolved in bottled water by zapping it in a microwave a few times. You can buy finings but they're mostly just gelatin with a price hike although I think one the chemicals I use with my Harris Quickfine Filter for the meads is Isinglass. I gather what happens is the bits of yeast, proteins and whatever that are suspended in the liquid somehow bind to the gelatin as it sinks to the bottom of the demijohn, then you siphon the drink out leaving the sediment behind.

Berry says to siphon it into flagons which I think are the ceramic cider bottles Windy Miller in Camberwick Green used to drink his very strong homebrew cider from before passing out every week (they don't make kids programmes like they used to) but I don't think it really matters as long as you use a bottle that can contain the pressure of a carbonated drink without exploding or firing off it's closure. That rules out wine bottles but there's plenty of options still, beer bottles, cider bottles, plastic fizzy drink bottles, Champagne bottles, Prosecco bottles -they'll all do the job.

I used a bottling wand I'd removed from it's tap and attached to a regular siphon to fill the bottles. I just shoved the wand onto the end of the siphon's plastic tap. It didn't fit very well though and after it slipping out and losing drink on the floor I decided to hold the thing together whilst I used it. Next time I'll just attach a bit of hose to the wand for a better fit on the siphon tap. When it's working the wand is very easy to use and better than the Buon Vino Super Automatic Bottle Filler I've used before.

Bottled Botchard

I pressed some saved some Leffe Bottles into service and a half litre beer bottle. I could've actually filled 6 75cl bottles is there hadn't been some spillage along the way. Ooops. A note on bottles: they come in a variety of colours but brown provides the most protection from UV light for the contents, green provides less protection and clear provides none. I also gather the darker glass provide mores protection than lighter coloured glass. The proliferation of green bottles seems to be because they're cheaper and easier to make  then brown ones.

Corking Belgian Beer style bottles is a little trickier than regular wine bottles or capping beer bottles. The cork only goes half way in and then needs a metal cage attaching, they also use a wider cork than wine bottles. I watched a youtube video on how to recap belgian beer bottles then ordered champagne corks and cages and and a two lever corker online. The corker isn't really meant for wider champagne corks but it works. I had a practice run following the tutorial on an empty bottle and found the cork got pulled up a bit when removing the corker so I wound up putting them a little further into the bottle than required to compensate for that. I just used a pen to twist the wire cage tabs tight. Some labels were hastily knocked up in P-Touch Editor, printed on the thermal printer and slapped on the bottles. Almost got them straight. As these aren't for sale (no alcohol license) I didn't bother looking at legal labelling requirements.

Can see my reflection in those.
After bottling they were then left upright in an upstairs room for the remaining yeast to ferment the priming sugar an carbonate the contents. It should only take a week but as I'd used a little gelatin to clear the drink there was less yeast in the bottled Botchard than if I'd followed the original recipe so I gave it a fortnight to carbonate.

Berry recommends ageing it somewhere cool after carbonation but I was in a hurry to test it so after thirteen days I popped the smaller bottle into a fridge and left it overnight to cool. Whilst waiting I killed a little time by engraving a beer glass with my Dremmel, idle hands and all that.

In the bottle the Botchard was very clear but there was no way to tell if it was carbonated or not till it was opened. Carbonation was very successful. You probably can't tell in the photo due to condensation on the glass but the botchard came out crystal clear. Whilst it's made with hops it's still a mead rather than a beer. I think it probably qualifies as a Methyglin due to the presence of hops. The finial product is a light refreshing drink a little closer to Champagne than beer. I'm not sure of the alcohol content as I didn't bother checking the specific gravity at all during the making but I gather fermenting honey tends to ferment more completely than regular sugar so yields a higher alcohol content.

First glass of Botchard!
I can also cross glass engraving  off of my bucket list now.

I now need to put the remaining bottles someplace cool and dark to age. As they're closed with corks they need to be someplace the corks wont dry out and shrink which rules out using a fridge for long term storage. I'll probably put them in the brick outbuilding as my homegrown potatoes, onions, garlic and so on seem to last very well in there without shrivelling up. They'll need to be stored upright as the priming sugar is fermented in the bottle so as with any live beer there should be a little sediment in the bottom of the bottle.

So there we have it. An extremely easy drink to make and another reason to buy Honey, if you needed one. I think you could probably use a single pound jar of honey for a one gallon batch. Now to think about scaling up the recipe for a five gallon batch...

Friday, 25 November 2016

Tomorrow: Vintage Makery Do

Where else would you go on a cold November afternoon?
It's the Vintage Makery Do 2016 Winter Craft Fair tomorrow. 1-3pm Saturday, 26th November, at St Ninian's Church, Chanterlands Avenue, Hull. I'll be bringing along a lot of local honey as well as propolis products and a few other things.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Flying Visit(or)

I was relaxing at home this evening when I heard a loud banging and buzzing above me. Looking up I could see something large and going by the way the light was being moved with each crash fairly heavy was flying about below the ceiling rose. Given the noise I thought maybe it was a drone but the shape looked a bit off and it was moving very fast. Eventually it went behind a picture (Dali's "the Elephants, 1948, in case you were wondering) so I used my phone camera to sneak a look. I could only see the silhouette but it was clearly something cleaning it's antenna. I figured it was probably a wasp as I've seen them doing the same thing so often. Definitely looked a bit big though. I pulled in a bee jacket and some rubber gloves then removed the picture (it's a print, not an original -I don't sell quite that much honey yet). Before I got a good luck it took flight and went into the light shade. I tried knocking it out but only succeeded in damaging the paper globe. Doh. To get a better look I decided to  stick my phone in there with her.

Vespula Vulgaris in my now to be replaced lightshade
That was her. A Common Wasp , Vespula Vulgaris. She looks a bit on the chubby to me though. I can't be sure but I think she may have be a Queen who'd been woken up early from hibernation by the heating. It took a while to catch her and my light shade is a goner but I managed to get her into an old honey jar and take a couple of photos for posterity.

Those wings look longer than her body

Head shot
I then took the jar lid off and flicked her into the back garden. I think she may have been a bit dehydrated as once in the jar she wasn't doing much apart from staying still and posing for photos.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Mouseguard time

Cold, dark and windy days.

Now the temperature's dropping and nights are unpleasantly cold mice will be looking for someplace warm to shelter and despite the presence of a few thousand stinging insects a beehive is a perfect place for them. It's warm and full of food after all. If a mouse gets into a hive it can cause a lot of damage eating comb, depleting stores, crapping in the hive, eating bees, whatever, it's never good news. I gather the bees at Pearson Park Wildlife Garden were lost to bees which is a shame because it's actually very easy to avoid by attaching a mouseguard to the hive keeping the critters out. A mouseguard is basically a metal cover for the hive entrance with hole that are too small for a mouse to get it's head through. Typically this is a strip of metal with holes drilled in. Other options are entrance reducers with nails at intervals forming bars too close for a mouse to get through or metal mesh with holes too small for anything furry.

One of my early home made mouseguards, still in use.

In my first season I made my own mouseguards from wooden batons, an aluminium strip and some nails. I still use them on the floors they fit. Unfortunately when I started beekeeping I didn't realise that whilst there's a standard specification for hive components, hive floors seem to vary a lot depending where you get them so my home made mouseguards only fit specific hive floors. Luckily commercially produced mouse guards are actually very cheap and I got a few from an eBay seller a while back.They're usually a metal strip with a couple of rows of 8mm holes for the bees and some smaller holes for nails or drawing pins. Ideally you then pin it to the hive for winter. It's not hi-tech but it works.

Typical mouseguard pinned across a hive entrance
This year it occurred to me that putting drawing pins into the hive body and hive floor every winter is going to reduce the working life of the wood so I decided to try a different approach using nails permanently attached to the floor that I could then wire the mouseguard onto.

Mouseguard wired to a couple of Gimp Pins at either end of the entrance
Simple stuff but it works. Well on some hives anyway. On hives with a landing board like the one in the second photo above I couldn't do this and the mouseguard had to be pinned to the brood box. I've attached little landing boards to most of my hive floors so wound up having to pin guard to the broodboxes. My idea with the gimp pins and wire I only actually managed to do with two of my eight hives and I think three  used my old home made guards. Next year I might try to give it a little thought in advance. Putting nails into the floor of an occupied hive isn't really much fun and at one point a contingent of workers came buzzing out to see me off on the hive above, but over Summer I'll think about doing it on unused floors and with any new floors before they go under the hives.

I've read that mice can actually chew their way through the wood if they really want to get into a hive but a metal guard on the entrance should stop them just wandering in. You also need to make sure you fit them before the mice are in the boxes otherwise you're just trapping them in your hives..

Monday, 7 November 2016

Setting and Bottling

With the year's honey crop extracted and sat in buckets it wasn't quite time to kick back and relax. The honey bottling and half the crop needed turning into set honey too. The easiest way to make set honey is to add existing set honey to your liquid honey and mix it. I'd saved a few jars of last year's set honey for that very purpose.

Mixing set and liquid honey

After warming the set honey a little I added four jars to a bucket of liquid honey and stirred it with a honey creamer -a huge corkscrew type thing that you attach to a drill. It takes a while for the honey to mix properly. In the photo above the set honey's just been added and you can see it's very different in colour from the liquid honey that was already in the bucket. basically you keep stirring till it's all  the same colour. Once mixed it goes into jars and I gave it a week in the fridge to finish setting. Doesn't need to be in a fridge really just somewhere not warm. The first batch of set honey was then used to turn a few more buckets of liquid honey into set honey.

As last year I decided to do two sizes of honey jar, 454g jars which is the traditional 1lb honey jar and some smaller 250g jars. The 1lb jars came from Freeman & Harding just like every other year. The 250g jars I ordered via eBay from Compak South Ltd who were selling 96 jars for £26.48 which is a pretty good deal. Unfortunately when they arrived two jars were smashed in the box and two had faults in the glass rendering them unusable and Compak South didn't respond to emails. Eventually eBay offered a refund if I returned the jars but by then I'd used most of them so it wasn't feasible to. As a result I left them some negative feedback and a review on Trust Pilot. Looking at their feedback I can see I'm not the only person to have had a similar experience with them. Shame really as I've bought from them previously.

I'm no glazing expert but one of these doesn't look quite right to me.

Bottling honey is a simple process. Just pop a scales under the honey gate, sit a jar on it, zero the scales and pour out the honey till you hit the desired weight then close the gate and remove the jar. Inevitable this leads to a slight over filling of each jar but better to be over than under. Here's a quick video of some freshly mixed set honey going into a 250g jar, whilst I listen to The Rumjacks.

..and that's how it goes into the jar.

I've fitted honey gates to most of my small honey buckets but hadn't got round to fitting them on the larger buckets yet so I had to decant some from the buckets without gates into those that had. This led to some spillage as I'd actually left pen the gate on the bucket I was pouring it into. Ooops. Luckily I had my buckets standing in some great big plastic Garland Trays which meant clear up wasn't a problem, on the downside they're not food grade plastic so the spilt honey couldn't be used.

There were over 200 jars in total. Like last year I printed my own labels on a Brother QL-570 thermal label printer. I got it on sale a year or two ago and never looked back. Being a thermal printer there's no ink involved and it has a built in cutter so you can make labels any size from a continuous roll. I'd been thinking of making a jig to put jars in to line the labels up but in the end I just used a spare frame top bar to line them up doing a few at a time. I pulled out about 80KG of honey from the hives. After spillage and minus a few jars there's about 73KG left to sell on.

2016 Honey Crop

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Wet Storage

With the honey crop extracted the supers need to be stored over winter. I used a couple to house feeders but most of them went to the out apiary for storage.

Behold: The sticking power of propolis
You can store supers dry or wet. This refers to whether they still have residual honey in the combs (wet) or if the bees have picked them clean (dry). What you choose is up to you but the advantage of storing them wet is waxmoth don't like honey whereas the advantage of storing them dry is they're less messy to handle although the honey may attract other pests. Obviously you can't sterilised wax honeycomb with a blowtorch. The usual method is to use acetic acid fumes. You pop a plate with a pad soaked in acetic acid at the top to the stack then close them up. The acetic acid evaporates killing pretty much anything living in the supers.

Acetic acid pad
I stacked up 16 supers in two lots of eight under a lean to I'd attached to one side of my shed. The hive roofs on each stack protrudes from under the lean to a bit so I used plastic shopfitting material I pulled from a skip to direct rain away.

Won't open these for a few months.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Reviving the Burco

Since it's purchase for low sum if £11 at the 2012 Beverley Beekeepers Auction my Burco boiler has served me well. I had intended to use it to boil frames and render wax but never got round to those things, instead it's been used to make up gallons of syrup to feed in the preparation for Winter, blanch a huge crop of sweetcorn cobs and make gallons of sterilising fluid. This year it died unfortunately.

Using a multimeter and very little know how I was able to identify the element was the problem. Wasn't exactly rocket science, there's only two components in these boilers -the element and the thermostat/switch unit thing. I don't really know ho old the unit is but it's probably knocking on a bit as Burco have altered the design slightly over the years and I'm sure the element has had a few knocks from the drill powered paint stirrer I use to mix syrup so it's probably done well to last this long. When I took a closer look at the contacts below the element I could see some molten plastic. That's rarely a good sign.

Something's melted there. Probably not a good sign.
I hadn't noticed the dead spider till I loaded the photo for cropping.
Removing the element proved tricky. It's held together by 3 screws, two came out easily enough but the one nearest the molten plastic was going nowhere. Eventually I got out the Dremmel and using a cut off disc simply cut the screw beneath the head going through the plastic housing too -it's all part of the element so it'll all get replaced anyway.

Cutting out the stuck screw
The original element had had a little stud to hold a washplate that kept anything in the boiler from direct contact with the element. After some Google searches it appears Burco dropped that feature a long time ago and nobody seems to make replacement elements with them on now. I gather people used to use these boilers for washing clothes and cooking back in the day but as washing machines have become more available and people cook less it's probably become a redundant feature.

Original Burco element with stud for Washplate
The washplate
The 1 9/16" hole Burco adopted seems to have become something of a standard size for boiler elements so it turns out there's plenty of replacement elements out on the market. However actually getting one proved a little tricky. The first eBay seller I tried to buy one from simply didn't post the item. I think they tried to rip me off really but I got a refund from eBay. The second one I tried to purchase had shown an element with the same shape as the original Burco element but the one that arrived was a cheap unbranded knockoff with an element that less surface area than the original. Who'd've thought the appliance spare parts market was such a dodgy place?

Cheap no name knock off element on the left, original element on the right
The original element is about 135cm long, the knockoff about 95cm
I contacted the seller who claimed it was a like for like replacement, but gave me a refund after I pointed out the element they sent me had far less surface area and also no CE logo or anything else to suggest compliance to any relevant electrical safety standards. I'm pretty sure the original element was 3Kw and this one is stamped 2.5Kw however as it's eventually turned out to be free I'll go ahead and use it. I'd be a little wary of leaving one of these cheap elements running for long unchecked but I usually use my boiler outdoors anyway.

Whilst there were no instructions with the replacement it was easy enough to fit. It had a red hard plastic washer which I left in place to go between the element and the boiler floor, a large black rubber washer and a big nut. I figured the rubber washer was probably supposed to go between the nut and boiler floor above it. I tightened it all by hand and a quick test filling showed it was watertight. I haven't got a clue what the red wire included with it was for so I've not used it.

Whilst the contacts were different to the original and not marked I figured polarity wouldn't matter so  hooked up live and neutral. Actually the contacts seemed dangerously close together so using two pairs of pliers I bent them away from each other. Don't want the thing arcing after all. There was a screw contact for ground so I just cut the end of the connector off, jammed it in and tightened the screw.

The new element contacts after I'd bent them away from each other
The new knock off element in place
When I originally got the boiler it was missing one of its three rubber feet so for four years I've been sticking a bit of wood under it. Whilst it was out of commission I figured I may as well replace that too. At 25mm tall and 20mm in diameter nobody seems to sell them so I decided to replace all three with the closest I could find. I managed to find some the same diameter that were slightly shorter SwanFlight a company that sells flight cases and flight case parts. The existing feet use counter sunk 25mm screws and with a little checking against a screw thread gauge I figured they were metric 0.8 pitch so ordered a bag of 25mm M5 bolts  from eBay for just over a pound. May as well replace the old screws with new as well.

New bolts and boiler feet, the old two are at the top
New feet fitted with no help from Toby.
The Burco sticker was long gone but as it has some info about power and model number I printed a new one copying the info from an eBay advert for the same boiler. I stuck one on the side and another underneath and a third underneath and on the inside in case wear and tear loses me the other two.
At some point I'd tried to clean the aluminium lid with something that'd stained it leaving a darkened area that nothing since had ever shifted. The  only thing for it was to sand it. A bit of work with some 400, 800 and then 2000 grit wet and dry paper improved things considerably.
I was back to a working Burco. :) 

One working Burco Boiler
Actually with all the faffing about with the first eBay seller wasting my time I couldn't wait any longer to get sugar syrup made and into the bee feeders so between this boiler dying and being resurrected I'd had to buy a replacement boiler. They're pricey things but I found a 6 gallon Burco on Gumtree for thirty quid. So at the mo I've got two working boilers and the capacity to make up 10 gallons of syrup at a time. As well as making syrup and boiling frames they can also be used for brewing beer.. there's a thought.