Category Archives: temp

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Bread and honey

What goes better with honey than fresh homemade bread? Perhaps toast? You can buy excellent handmade bread in many places these days, but you can make your own very easily. I’m busy (aka lazy) so use a breadmaking machine for the mixing. It takes longer, but it’s less messy.

Homemade bread ...

Homemade bread …

This is the recipe I usually follow. The superscripted notes are further down the page and explain certain parts in more detail.

Day 1

Make the starter1 by mixing the following on the dough setting:

  • 225g very strong white bread flour
  • 200g water
  • ¼ teaspoon dried yeast

Once the dough cycle is complete (2-3 hours) don’t do anything at all … just leave it for 12-24 hours at room temperature2.

Day 2

Add the following to the starter and mix on the dough setting in the early evening3:

  • 275g strong bread flour (100% white or a mix of white and wholemeal4)
  • 25g rye flour
  • 1½ teaspoons of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of honey
  • ½ teaspoon of dried yeast5
  • 120g water

Once the dough cycle has finished (2-3 hours) tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, shape and place into a floured rattan proving basket6. Cover with a floured cloth or lay a piece of clingfilm over the top7. Place the dough into the fridge to rise overnight.

Day 3

Take the risen dough from the fridge and leave somewhere warm for an hour or so to get to room temperature. Preheat the oven containing a baking stone or an upturned heavy metal tray8 to 240°C.

  • Turn out the risen dough onto the stone and throw a quarter cup of water9 into the bottom of the oven. Try and do this without losing too much heat from the oven.
  • Cook for 10 minutes10 at 240°C and then reduce the heat to 160°C and cook for a further 25 minutes
  • Remove from the oven and cool on a wire tray
  • Eat11
Mouthwatering ...

Mouthwatering …


  1. This sort of wet, pre-fermented starter is more correctly called a poolish, a word unsurprisingly derived from the word Polish and widely used in French baking.
  2. I just leave it in the breadmaker. No need to do anything with it at all. During this initial period the wet dough rises and collapses again. This contributes to the rise, the crust, the flavour and the moist crumb in the final loaf.
  3. Early evening because you have to turn the dough out at the end, shape it and leave it to rise in a cool place. Don’t simply forget it or the dough will push open the lid of your breadmaker (been there, done that).
  4. The more wholemeal you use the heavier the final loaf. I usually use between 50 and 100g. You do need to use strong bread making flour; Waitrose Canadian flour is good (though not obtainable in Fife) and Amazon sell Becheldre Watermill stoneground flours.
  5. Keep the salt and the yeast separate before mixing as salt inhibits yeast. Some breadmakers  have yeast dispensers built into the lid for this reason.
  6. I use circular or rectangular Banneton proving baskets. These need to be heavily floured before use.
  7. Don’t wrap the dough tightly. It will rise a surprisingly large amount overnight at 4°C.
  8. The stone or tray does not need to be floured. Some people use a large piece of thick slate or a suitable-sized garden flagstone. These have the advantage of retaining heat when the door is opened, but the oven takes longer to get to temperature. I use a very thick upturned baking tray.
  9. The water generates a steamy atmosphere which helps generate a good crisp crust.
  10. To generate a thin and crisp crust you need a combination of high temperature and a steamy atmosphere.
  11. If it’s not eaten at the first sitting then this bread keeps pretty well and is excellent for toast, particularly once it’s a day to two old. It can also be sliced, frozen and then toasted directly.

Bread made like this is totally different to the mushy cardboard-textured white ready-sliced loaves from the supermarket and is much better even than the standard recipes for breadmaking machines. The latter are usually risen fast and end up with a rather bland texture and taste. I think the key differences that contribute to the improved flavour, texture and keeping quality are, a) a long, slow rise using a pre-ferment, and b) use of much less yeast than normal recipes.

Food photography is a skill ...

Food photography is a skill …

Although it might take 48 hours from start to finish, it’s time well spent. The actual work involved is very limited – a few minutes to weigh the ingredients out on days one and two, a couple of minutes to shape the loaf and the time it takes to put it in the oven. The only critical timings are for cooking and the times indicated above are what works in my electric fan oven.


The recipe above is similar in quantities, but with additional steps, to the Pain de Campagne recipe in Bread Machines and Beyond by Jennie Shapter (now out of print). There are a wealth of excellent books on making bread, most of which are beautifully illustrated as well as being filled with inspirational recipes. I can recommend these for starters:

Of these, Bertinet’s Crust and the book by Ken Forkish are both primarily about sourdoughs which involve keeping a live starter, a process that involves a bit more of a commitment than the recipe above. I’ll post something about sourdoughs sometime in the future.

I’ve just realised that – other than the half teaspoonful added – there’s no mention of honey on the page. Suffice to say this bread is excellent with honey or, as toast, with honey marmalade.

Happy baking 😉

Spot the queen part 3

In beekeeping courses you’re always taught to look carefully at the underside of the queen excluder (QE) when removing it incase the queen is there. If she’s not you can then gently place it to one side and start the inspection.

It sometimes also pays to look at the top of the QE …

Queen above the QE

Queen above the QE

I inspected this colony last Sunday and my notes said something like “beautifully calm, behaving queenright but looking queenless … frame of eggs?”. The colony was on a single brood with a QE and one super, topped with a perspex crownboard. The ‘frame of eggs’ comment indicated I thought it would be wise to add a frame of eggs to the colony – if they were queenright they’d simply raise them as worker brood. However, if they were queenless they’d use them to raise queen cells.

I was running out of time and anyway wanted eggs from a colony in a different apiary. If the colony were going to raise a new queen I wanted it to come from better stock. Alternatively, I’d wait and provide them with one of a recent batch of mated queens once they had laid up a good frame or two to demonstrate their quality. I closed them up and made a mental note to deal with the colony later in the week.

If they behave queenright, perhaps they are …

I peeked through the perspex crownboard this afternoon while visiting the apiary and saw a distinctive looking bee walking about on the underside of the crownboard. Despite being upside down it was clear, even with a very brief view, that it was a small, dark queen. She was walking calmly about the super and wasn’t being hassled by the workers.

I strongly suspected that she was a virgin that had either wiggled through the QE – perhaps it’s damaged or she was particularly small at emergence – and then got trapped. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely, I’d inadvertently placed a brood frame near the super during a previous inspection and she’d walked across. This colony is in the bee shed and space is a bit cramped during inspections.

I know from my notes that the colony had an unsealed queen cell in it a couple of weeks ago so – weather permitting – there should still be sufficient time to get her mated before she’s too old. I removed the super, located her on the QE, gently lifted her off and placed her in the brood box. She wandered quietly down between the brood frames and the bees didn’t seem at all perturbed.

Fingers crossed …

Drifting in honeybees

During previous research on deformed wing virus (DWV) biology and its transmission by Varroa I’ve moved known Varroa-free colonies (sourced from a region of the UK which the mite has yet to reach and maintained totally mite-free) into apiaries in the countryside. Within 2-3 weeks Varroa was detectable in sealed brood, showing that mite infestation occurs very readily. I know other researchers who have made very similar observations. Where do these mites come from?

They’re not all ‘your’ bees

The obvious source would be the phoretic mites transported on workers ‘drifting’ from nearby infested colonies, or on drones which are known to travel quite long distances and may be accepted by almost any colony. If you want to see how frequent this is try marking a few dozen drones with a dab of paint. To avoid confusion use the colour used to mark queens next year. There are unlikely to be 4+ year old queens in the apiary and the drones will all perish before the end of the current season. Over the next few days and weeks the drones will appear in adjacent colonies, and some will likely leave the apiary and be accepted in your neighbours colonies.

How to encourage drifting ...

How to encourage drifting …

Beekeepers are usually aware that colonies at the ends of rows often ‘accumulate’ bees that have drifted when returning to the hive. In shared association apiaries some crafty beekeepers will site their colonies at the ends of rows to take advantage of the ‘generosity’ of other colonies. However, many beekeepers probably do not appreciate the extent to which drifting occurs. Pfeiffer and Crailsheim (1998) report that 13-42% of the population of a colony are ‘alien’ i.e. have drifted from adjacent hives, depending upon the time of season. Remember that drifting occurs in both directions simultaneously, so the overall numbers of bees in a colony may not be adversely affected (or boosted). In other studies Sekulja and colleagues (2014) showed that ~1% of marked bees drifted between colonies over a three day observation window. Interestingly, American foulbrood (AFB) infected bees drifted slightly more than uninfected bees. Spread of foulbroods during drifting is one reason the bee inspectors check nearby apiaries when there is an outbreak. These studies were all on workers where drifting primarily occurs during orientation flights before the bees become foragers. Drones drift two to three times more than workers (Free, 1958).

The likelihood of drifting must be closely related to the separation of hives and apiaries. Although workers will forage up to 2-3 miles from the hive I suspect the proportion of bees that drift this distance is extremely small. However, unless you’re very isolated I expect there are other apiaries within a mile or so of your own. Drones are known to fly up to about five miles to reach drone congregation areas for queen mating and are accepted by all colonies. I’ve regularly found drones appearing in (relatively) isolated mini-nucs. I’m not aware of studies that have formally tested drifting between apiaries (though it is reported in passing in the Sekulja et al., 2014 paper cited above).

Consequences of drifting

So, your hives probably contain workers and drones from other nearby colonies, and you can only really be sure that they’re all “your” bees if you live – as the sole beekeeper – on an isolated island. Not only does your neighbour generously exchange bees with you, he or she also kindly shares the phoretic mites those bees are carrying, the viral payload the bees and mites are infected with and – if you’re really unlucky – the Paenibacillus larvae spores responsible for causing AFB infection (and vice versa of course).

There are lessons here that should inform the way we conduct our integrated pest management to maintain healthy colonies. 

This post provides background information for an article (“Viruses and Varroa: Using our current controls more effectively” by David Evans, Fiona Highet and Alan Bowman) in the December 2015 issue of Scottish Beekeeper, the monthly magazine for members of the Scottish Beekeepers Association.

More later …


Moving colonies #1

There’s something magical about being in the apiary late on a calm summer evening. I’ve been busy moving nucs from mating sites to local apiaries prior to moving them North. It’s been so warm that the bees have been flying late into the evening – until at least 9.30pm – so it’s not possible to close up the colonies until the majority of the stragglers return from the fields. By then the sun is down and a full moon is rising over the woods. The honey production colonies are busy humming away with the bees frantically fanning to evaporate excess water off the nectar prior to capping the cells. Near the hives the air is thick with the smell of blackberry or clover, and the syrupy smell of honeysuckle wafts from the hedgerows. Without a breath of wind it’s possible to hear every rustle in the undergrowth … if you wait long enough to stop breathing heavily from the physical exertion of hefting boxes around.

Late evening in the apiary

Late evening in the apiary

These moves are short distances so require no preparation of the colony other than a foam plug in the entrance and a secure strap. Long distance moves, where there’s a possibility of the colonies overheating, requires more preparation – with travel screens, good ventilation and, if the weather is particularly hot, making the trip overnight.

Early season pollen

Colonies should be bringing in good amounts of pollen by now to help raise the all-important early season brood. The willows near one of my apiaries are buzzing with foraging honey and bumblebees during the warmest part of the day. I’ve also given a few colonies an additional boost of dried pollen simply spooned onto a piece of card. They soon find this and the majority use it up quickly.

Oddly a few colonies ignore it completely … in previous years it’s not clear whether this is related to colony strength, laying rate of the queen or the amount of pollen already stored (or something else entirely).