And We’re Back!

As far as non-timber forest products go, things have been pretty quiet up here on South Hill over the past few months, but never fear syrup, honey, and mushroom-lovers of the world; South Hill Forest Products has awoken from our annual hibernation! We are already taking on the year with a brand new batch of excited and dedicated Ithaca College students who have been busy as bees over the past week. In just seven days we have gotten the mushroom room up and running, Pink and Pohu Oyster mushroom spawn ordered, syrup-season preparations underway, and a batch of hickory syrup ready to go through a taste test.

This season is sure to be a special one (not that every single season with us isn’t). We have a new logo, some potential new products such as hickory syrup, and plans to expand upon some past experimental products such as our beeswax soap. Perhaps the most exciting news for this season, however, is the development in our maple sugaring operation. Chris Sinton, a professor in the Environmental Studies and Sciences department here at Ithaca College received a grant to research fuel efficiency for various small-scale maple syrup boiling methods. This year we will be using a brand new evaporator alongside our two boiling pans to begin testing the efficiency of the various methods.

Stay tuned; our mushrooms are just around the corner!
With love and appreciation,
Your new (and very excited) South Hill Forest Products team

Our new South Hill Forest Products Logo!

Our new South Hill Forest Products Logo!

Some of our new students getting the colonization room for our Oyster Mushrooms set up and ready to grow some mycelium!

Some of our new students getting the colonization room for our Oyster Mushrooms set up and ready to grow some mycelium!

Waxing Poetic

As you might remember, we wrote a post about our two new wax extractors last year. Well, in our ongoing quest for perfection, we think we’ve found the best extraction yet! Say hello to our new solar wax extractor!

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Built by my wonderful coworker Emily, this extractor is perfect because it doesn’t use any energy other than from the sun! And it’s so simple to make and easy to use that anyone can try it!

We grew a bit disenchanted with our industrial extractor when we tried to use it to clean some of the comb we pulled from hives that had died over the winter. Normally we would leave the wax for our new packages of bees to start with but this stuff was pretty gnarly—dark, almost black comb full of dead bees that had begun to mold. So for the health of the bees, we pulled out the worst frames and decided to try melting down the wax just to see if we could get anything useful out of it.

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1401377234497 Top: One of our nicer (but still pretty dark) combs harvested from the dead hives. Bottom: That same wax after we’d put it in the extractor for 4 days and it still wouldn’t melt.

Granted, the wax we put into the industrial extractor was not the easiest to work with but we never imagined it would take almost a week for the extractor to do any …errr… extracting. Finally we just gave up and scraped it all out of the extractor.

We did end up rendering the wax by zip-tying it into a t-shirt and putting the t-shirt into a boiling water bath. The wax melted through the shirt into the water, leaving the impurities behind. We then poured the water-wax mixture into milk cartons with the tops cut off. Overnight, the water and wax separate, leaving a bar of wax at the top.

The solar wax extractor works on the same basic principle of using heat to melt the wax through a cloth. It’s basically a solar oven with a straining device inside. Solar wax extractors are easy, low effort, energy-free and cheap to make at home!

Here’s how we made ours:

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Supplies:
1 cooler or box (this is the body of the extractor)
Milk carton or other container that will fit inside the cooler/box
Cheesecloth
Aluminum foil
Tape
Sheet of Plexiglass or glass large enough to cover top of cooler/box

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1. Line the cooler with aluminum foil. Use tape to anchor the foil down but not too much; we want the foil to be as reflective as possible to elevate the temperature inside of the extractor.

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2. Cut the top off of a milk or orange juice carton and tape cheesecloth to the top. Let the cheesecloth sag a bit into the carton so you have space to put the wax into the top.

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3. If necessary, cut your piece of glass or Plexiglass to fit the top of the cooler. You can use a glass cutter to score a line where you want the cut to be and then gently bend the material until it snaps. As you can see, our Plexiglass hangs over the edge of our cooler a bit but it works just as well.

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4. Rest your wax on the cheesecloth in the carton and place it inside of your solar extractor. Put the Plexiglass on top and find a sunny place to set the oven for a few hours as the sun does its work! We didn’t find a need to anchor the Plexiglass to the cooler as our piece was pretty heavy but if you think it will be especially windy, try holding the glass down with tape, rope or whatever you have on hand.

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5. Come back in a few hours and check on the wax. You can add more to the top and reuse the carton but once the cheesecloth gets too clogged or the carton gets too full, it’s time to switch them out.

Pretty easy, huh? And you have nice clean bars of wax after barely lifting a finger!

Can you hear the buzzzzzing?

If not, it’s because 5 out of our 6 bee hives didn’t make it through the winter 😦  This past season was one of the worst on record for beekeepers all over the area, and the success of our apiary on South Hill was no exception.  All three of our Langstroth and two of our top bar colonies died, but the last top bar seems to be feisty as ever and we have high hopes that they will keep going strong into the summer!

We attended a “dead-out clinic” sponsored by the Finger Lakes Beekeepers Club on April 19 to try to deduce the cause of death for each of our hives.  We suspect ours were stressed due to a heavy Varroa mite population in combination with extremely low temperatures and lots of ice and snow.

But the good news is we have EIGHT packages of bees heading our way in the next few weeks!  Sam Comfort, owner of Anarchy Apiaries, is providing us with our new bees this spring and we are excited to make the trip to the Hudson Valley to bring ’em home.  We’ll keep you updated when we begin installations!

Another Successful Open House!

Two weekends ago the South Hill team completed yet another successful open house. With free pancakes, a log splitting demonstration, 2 roaring fires, a live sap boil, live music, and weather in the mid 70s- who could say no!?

Throughout the 4 hour long event we saw several hundred people, and nearly sold out of all of our products that were for sale including our own maple syrup and soap! Stay tuned for pictures from the event that will be uploaded on the website shortly…

 

Stay tuned,

Your NTFP team

Bees in the Winter

Although bee season won’t really start until April, it’s never too early to get amped up about some of the coolest little critters on the planet! I’m talking, of course, about beeeeeeees.  Though the hives in our apiary may seem deathly quiet, the bees in each colony are, as we speak, clustered in massive, living “balls” and living off their honey stores, vibrating their bodies to keep themselves warm.  Since it’s been bitterly cold recently, we plan on taking a stethoscope down to the hives sometime soon to check up on our brave little patients–opening the hives during winter is a no-no, because the colony will lose the heat they’ve worked so hard to generate, but rumor is you can hear the vibrations of the mass of bees through the sides of the hives.  Check back soon for an update on what we hear!

 

If you’re a fellow bee enthusiast, read on for a bee candy recipe you can experiment with while you wait for the snow to melt…

Bee Keeping Tips/Techniques

Last winter was abnormally warm, and our bees started to become active and buzz around too early. This worried us because they wouldn’t have enough food (since the flowers did not bloom yet). Although bees save honey in their honey stores, we wanted to make sure that they had enough food so members of our class made bee candy. For more information on bee candy, look at the recipe below (made by our very own, Hannah Whitehead):

Stovetop Candy Recipe

1. Heat one pint (1/2 liter) of water to boiling in a large pot on stove.

2. Stir in as much sugar as can be dissolved. This will be about 5 pounds (2 Kg). More sugar is better.

3. Boil without a cover, stirring it near continuous until the mixture reaches 234 degrees F. It takes a while.

4. Pour into a mold made of cardboard or a container lined with waxed paper or butcher’s paper. The candy will harden as it cools. The candy will become brittle, and can be slipped on top of frames where the bees will consume it. Or pour it into an inner cover without the vent hole (use duct tape to cover the hole). Use the inner cover upside down with the candy in the  brood chamber.

What’s new on the Hill

After a few months of hibernation we are back with a new group of worker bees. We had our first team meeting learning what has to be done to get things going again. Our starting week has seen the preparation of the lab, testing the equipment, and cleaning and sterilizing the mushroom room. The ‘shroom room. The ‘shroom. Get ready, in the next couple weeks we will be spawning the oyster mushrooms. We’ll keep you updated!

Maple Syrup vs. White Sugar

          If you’re looking for a delicious way to use South Hill Forest Products syrup,  try using it to replace processed white sugar in things like coffee, tea, or baked goods. In recent studies it has been found that maple syrup is a healthy alternative to processed white sugar. A report in the January 2009 issue of the “Journal of the American Dietetic Association stated that maple syrup has a higher antioxidant content than processed pure sugar. It has also been shown that pure maple syrup contains healthy minerals such as calcium, sodium, copper and potassium while processed white sugar tends to lack them. To replace white sugar with South Hill Forest Product Syrup try the recipe below!

Maple Latte Recipe

 Ingredients:

  • 1 serving of coffee
  • 1-2 teaspoons of pure maple syrup (Grade A light or medium)
  • Milk

Directions:

Pour the cup of freshly brewed espresso into a mug, stirring in the maple syrup. Then, lightly spoon in steamed milk.

Sweet Tip: If you have a regular coffee maker at home without a milk steamer, we recommend lightly scalding ¼ of milk in a small pot. When ready, remove the pot from the stove and lightly froth the milk with a milk frother.