Welcome - Explore my Blog

I've been keeping this blog for nine years and now there are over 1200 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

Even if you find one post on the subject, I've posted a lot on basic beekeeping skills like installing bees, harvesting honey, inspecting the hive, etc. so be sure to search for more once you've found a topic of interest to you. And watch the useful videos and slide shows on the sidebar. All of them have captions. Please share posts of interest via Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a!
Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

Need help with an Atlanta area swarm? Visit Found a Swarm? Call a Beekeeper.

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Friday, January 29, 2010

The MOST Fabulous Present

On Thursday it was my friend George's birthday. He and I have known each other as professional colleagues for years. We refer back and forth and consult with each other, but beyond the professional contact, I consider George a dear friend. Well, on his birthday, he brought me a present!

I couldn't believe it - this adorable honey bee honey holder. And it's anatomically correct - all six legs are attached to the thorax (can you tell I'm studying for Master Beekeeper?).

Anyway, I came straight home and filled it with honey. I took these pictures without flash because I love how golden and glowing the bee looks, with honey in her abdomen, ready to share it with you (or anyone who comes by!)



Isn't she lovely? You lift up her wings and the stick coming out of her back is a silver scoop for delivering honey to the biscuit or whatever confection you plan to eat with honey.

Thank you, George. What a perfect and perfectly lovely gift! I feel so privileged to be remembered on George's birthday!

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Metro Atlanta Short Course in Beekeeping

Last weekend was the Metro Atlanta Short Course. We had 120 participants! There is such an increased interest in beekeeping in our country. I hope some of the 120 will actually buy bees and get started.

My job was to put together a table to show slide shows of hive inspections. So I showed up with two laptops, two different slide shows (one of the slide shows is available on this blog for you to watch), and a honeybee table cloth that my daughter gave me and a scarf, used here as table decoration that a dear friend made for me.



We had many well-qualified speakers and the participants went home with a CD of the PowerPoints of the presenters (but it didn't include my slide show on how to do a hive inspection - just a handout).

One of our best speakers (because he is such a good teacher) is Dr. Jamie Ellis. Jamie got his PhD at the University of Georgia but is now at the University of Florida. He shared many interesting bee facts with the participants. Here he is talking about how larvae occupy the cells.



At a break our participants were treated to honey ice cream. One of our members takes 6 pounds of honey to Greenwood Ice Cream which is here in Atlanta and has them create honey ice cream just for this event. It is absolutely gourmet and delicious.


In all the short course was a success.

I think our bee club still needs to work on a few things - we are a little starry eyed by the fabulous speakers we can invite, and in that way, have lost sight of a few important things.

A beekeeper leaving our course should feel confident about how to install their bees and how to open the hives for the first time, and those things are barely addressed (if at all) in our short course. But 2011 is another year and maybe we can focus on the basics for the next course.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to do a Basic Hive Inspection

I ran a table at the short course yesterday in Atlanta and had this slide show running as a continuous loop. Many participants wanted to know if they had access to this after the course, so I searched to find a way to upload PowerPoint slides.

I hope all of you will find this useful. It's a YouTube video/slide show

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Science Night at Montgomery Elementary

Tonight was Science and Technology night at Montgomery Elementary School in Atlanta. I was asked to be the beekeeper and talk about the bees. Somehow I managed to get away without a photo of my display - I took a blue nuc box, frames of wax in process and completely drawn, honey to taste, lip balm, beeswax, candles, children's books about bees and a slide show loop about inspecting a bee hive that I put together for the short course this Saturday.

I did get some cute pictures of the kids who tried on my grandson's bee veil - they thought it was just the bees knees to get to try it on (and one mother). Actually several of the parents wanted to try on the veil and asked great questions. The kids mostly wanted to taste the honey!

I had a great time. Enjoy the adorable kid pictures below.




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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bees are Flying on my Deck and at the Bee Trees!


Today I had a break at work so I went home to see about the bees. Bees were flying at all three hives and I wanted to celebrate. So far, so good, as they say. I am concerned that we will have yet another hard freeze before winter is over and that I won't be so lucky the next time.


To add to my worry, I checked with the Farmers Almanac 2010 and found that they are predicting another hard freeze from February 8 - 11, with the freezing weather again extending all the way down to Florida.


I also stopped by Eddie's Odd Job Tree Service to check on the bee trees. Lo and behold, both trees had bees flying in and out. I was so excited, but disappointed that I didn't have my camera.

This means that both trees had viable queens going into the winter and that they at least had enough stores to make it this far. I'll stop by with baggie feeders early next week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Keith Fielder on Nectar Bearing Trees of Georgia

I love it when Keith Fielder comes to talk to our bee club. He is the 2009 Beekeeper of the Year in Georgia and a Master Beekeeper (there are only 12 Master Beekeepers in Georgia). He is passionate about keeping bees and has strong opinions about what beekeepers need to be up on to be good beekeepers.

This month at Metro Atlanta, he talked about nectar bearing plants. Knowing about the nectar bearing plants in your area helps a beekeeper be informed about where to place their hives so that the bees have maximum benefit of the nectar. Knowing the bloom cycle of plants helps the beekeeper know when to super and when to remove your supers.

His talk was so interesting that I wanted to share his main points with you.

People around Atlanta talk about privet honey as a bad honey, but Keith said that privet makes a good honey in the S Georgia region. This may have to do with temperatures as it affects the privet bloom.

The tulip poplar whose blooming period signifies the nectar flow in Atlanta is found in every county in Georgia and is one of our best nectar providers for the bees. However our nectar flow in Georgia is heralded by the bloom of the red maple. Red maple, which is often found in urban areas, is already starting to bloom in Atlanta. Red maples are often near the tulip poplars. It blooms in late January and definitely in February.

Another important early nectar bearing plant is the dandelion. When he said that, I thought of the many lawns in Atlanta where the goal is to keep the dandelion at bay. A sad thought that the bees are then deprived of dandelion nectar. Luckily my house backs up to woods and this means that there are uncut dandelions behind me. Keith said that the nectar from the dandelion helps with spring build up by providing nectar and pollen as the bees are getting started in the early spring.

Another nectar bearing plant in Georgia is the Canola - it's a rape seed, but the name was changed because of the negative connotations of the word "rape." I didn't know that Canola stood for Canada Oil Low Acid???? While we do grow canola in Georgia, actually 91% of the canola crop is grown in North Dakota. In Georgia, canola blooms in late February or early March and yields a light honey.

Much of the honey in the Atlanta area is informed by both tulip poplar, which generally blooms from April until the end of May, and blackberry which blooms during the same period. Other helpful nectar bearing plants which bloom about the same time are the clovers. White clover is a tremendous source of nectar but the red clover requires a proboscis longer than the bee's and isn't really a source for our bees at all. White clover is another plant that people often hasten to cut out of their yards.

I was surprised to hear him say that tupelo (or Ogeechee tupelo, swamp tupelo, and white tupelo) is actually found all over Georgia. I thought that tupelo was only in the Georgia area that borders Florida. I'm going to be on the watch for these trees around here this year...the black tupelo is the one that is found all over Georgia.

He also talked about holly--which has a light nectar and is great for comb honey; cliftonia (the buckwheat tree), gallberry (a relative of holly). I liked it that he talked about smooth sumac as a source of rich, dark honey. Over Christmas, I saw sumac berries on the trail in Franklin, NC that runs along the Little Tennessee River.

He also covered sourwood, which is in N Georgia in late July at elevations from 1500 - 3000 feet. Made me want to take beehives up to my mountain place which is at that elevation and has sourwood trees all over the three acres.

Cotton honey, which is not a honey I've ever tasted, Keith talked about as one would a fine wine. He said the taste of cotton honey is very complex and that you taste one thing at the beginning and that it "finishes" a different way. His enthusiasm for this honey was remarkable.

Several interesting points he made:
  • Some beekeepers mark their frames to know when the honey is capped and to be able to remove the frame at that point, knowing that they can say, "This is XXXX honey."
  • It takes a lot of anything to impact the taste of honey - so if you have a little anise hyssop as I do in my garden, there's hardly enough to change the honey flavor (although my daughter swears she can taste the anise flavor in my honey)
  • Jasmine and lantana can poison bees. Honey from mountain laurel can poison beekeepers.
I can't wait to hear him again this weekend when he presents at the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Short Course at the Botanical Garden in Atlanta.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Death threat and the bee hives

Finally the temperature has risen to 52; I am actually at home being Grandma to my grandson Dylan; and the bees are flying - but only from two hives. Before lunch I noticed that the bees are having a veritable party in front of Mellona (the center hive) and are pretty enthusiastic in front of Aristaeus2.

But Bermuda, my original bee hive which, if it survives this winter, will be entering its fifth year, is painfully quiet. I watch the entrance like a hawk, but no bees appear. An occasional bee hesitates around the entrance the way a hive robber does, but no normal entering and exiting is happening.

I felt deflated at lunch, thinking my bees, my original hive, had now bitten the dust. Recognizing that bees were out and about, before Dylan and I went to lunch I made up three sugar syrup baggies (being optimistic) and left them to cool while we went to Dylan's favorite place: Chik-Fil-A.



When Dylan went to nap, I opened up the hives. I opened Bermuda first, feeling a sinking in the pit of my stomach.

Joy! Joy! Joy! Under the hive cover in the top box were the bees. They were tightly clustered around two frames in the top box. I think their numbers have diminished considerably, but they were there! And they were alive.

I immediately gave them a bag of 2:1 sugar syrup. It's still too early in Atlanta to feed them 1:1, according to Jennifer Berry's article in Bee Culture this month.



I then opened Mellona and was sad to find dead bees in the sugar syrup which was crystallized. I don't understand this but feel very sad about it. This hive is doing fine, despite the bee kill in the baggie. There are lots of bees somewhere in a lower box on the hive. I didn't explore since it was clear that they are alive and doing fine. I just wanted to put in a baggie and shut the hive back up.



After feeding all three hives, I looked at the leaves in front of Mellona. I pushed the leaves aside and saw the piles of dead bodies. Over the winter many bees die in the hives and the mortician bees can't carry the bodies away from the hive. They appeared to have simply swept these bodies out of the hive.


So for the moment the good news is that my bees are all alive - all three hives.

That can turn on a dime, with the exigencies of the weather, and more sudden cold snaps after a few warm days may kill one of my hives yet.


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Thursday, January 14, 2010

My bee hives in the snow last Friday ago

If we get snow in Atlanta, it rarely sticks. The major snows here in the 30 years I've lived here are mostly in March and late February....a freakish cold snap as spring is beginning.

Out of character for Atlanta, we had a major snow last Friday. It wasn't deep but it did have a layer of ice under it - which in Atlanta as humid as we are - stops traffic.

Here's what my hives looked like. My friend Diana told me that she knew her hives were alive through the snow because a heated area melted on the tops of her hives (due to the heat generated by the bees inside). My hives didn't accumulate that much snow and what was there didn't melt in any unique or significant way. (Can you tell I'm jealous of Diana's photo opp - and BTW, she didn't take a picture of it!)



Obviously there's no flying from these hives. The temperature remained in the teens and 20s all week, so I worried about my bees. It's around this time of year that the bees sometimes get fooled by Mother Nature. They have experienced some warmer days; the red maple is actually already blooming; and they start thinking spring is here when it isn't. So hives that have made it through the winter until now may suddenly be dead of starvation.



I'm too scared to put my ear to the side of the hive. I wish I were brave enough but I don't want to find out that a hive has died.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Joke's on Me!



I was placing an order with Brushy Mountain in November for something that cost about $10. The shipping was a little over $8 so I wondered if I could add a few things without affecting the shipping much, assuming that was the base shipping charge. Sure enough, I found about seven small items that I wanted and my shipping only went up to $8.45! So when I was planning to spend about $10, I ended up with about a $60 order! Talk about spending to save!

In the order, I got this magnetic bumper sticker pictured above. For a long time I tried to keep my professional life and my beekeeping life separate, but some newspaper articles got written about me and I won enough honey awards that googling me pulled up my beekeeping life as well as my professional life.

So why not put a "Proud to be a beekeeper" bumper sticker on my car?

I'll tell you why not.

My Subaru is apparently plastic on the rear so nothing but the license plate is metal for the magnet to stick to! I could put it on the driver's side door but that was about it. Somehow the driver's side door didn't appeal to me - I wanted people to know that they were following a beekeeper.

So where did I put the sticker?

On my refrigerator where it remains happily reminding me that the joke is on me.
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Saturday, January 09, 2010

What You Need to Get Started in Beekeeping

My brother Barry wants to be a beekeeper and I promised him a list of the basics he would need. I decided to post it here for any of you who are curious to get started.

Here's the list - then you'll find descriptions of my thoughts behind it. This is my list and how I would do it if I were starting this year. There are all kinds of points of view and mine is not the only one. I am particularly biased about some beekeeping issues, as you who follow this blog already know!
Basics:
Good beekeeping book
Protective clothing: A bee suit (or long sleeved shirt, pants) and gloves
Hive equipment:
10 medium 8 frame hive boxes
80 frames to fit the medium boxes
Sheets of wax foundation for the frames
2 Telescoping covers for 8 frame equipment
2 inner covers or 2 ventilated inner covers for 8 frame equipment
2 screened bottom boards for 8 frame equipment
2 slatted racks for 8 frame equpiment

A smoker and something to use to light it (lighter, matches, whatever)

A hive tool (preferably 2 - they're cheap)
That will get you started. The descriptive list below includes some description and explanation as well as some extras to add to the basic list above.
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The basics for the beekeeper (the elaborated list):
A good beekeeping book for beginners:
Here are some suggestions:

First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith Delaplane
Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston
Natural Beekeeping by Ross Conrad


Protective Clothing:
A Bee suit – if not a bee suit plan to wear long pants, long sleeved shirt and a bee veil
Bee suit thoughts: It's hot inside a bee suit. You need one that you can stand to wear in the heat. The head gear is often a problem for me. My original suit is from Dadant and comes with a hard hat and veil. The hard hat is regulated by a head band that I hate because it never fits right and slips down over my eyes all the time.

The ventilated suit from Golden Bee (504-456-8805) is great in hot southern weather. I don't like the veil particularly – it relies on a headband to keep it centered and that doesn't work well for me, but the suit is cool (all ventilated material) and I can manage the head part. Also the mesh of the veil is painted white which is great for bees not bothering you but hard for someone else to see your face inside the suit. (Matters to me because I wear it for teaching inspections).
A similar suit is made by UltraBreeze although their website says that at the moment they are not taking orders.
I love a hooded jacket that I have from Mann Lake that is great to throw on for a quick visit to the hives or to use when I'm not doing a full on inspection.
Gloves - Many beekeepers work without gloves, but I don't like being stung on my hands – it's inconvenient.
Gloves present their own problems. Most beekeeping gloves are big, making it awkward to grasp things in the hive well. When you order gloves, talk to the company from whom you are ordering to understand how their gloves are sized. If I am using leather gloves, I like the ones I FINALLY got from Dadant that are XXS and do fit.
However, I take pictures all the time I am in the hives and now prefer nitrile gloves because they allow me more dexterity. I have been stung through them (they are used by surgeons and are not supposed to be penetrable by a knife, but leave it to the bees!)
Glove possibilities: Dadant has these
My favorite nitrile gloves are 8 mil blue ones from Gemplers I'm not doing surgery so I reuse them (!) and the box of 50 lasts about 1 ½ bee seasons
Miscellaneous clothing items that I take with me to the beeyard:
A bandana (there are about 100 uses for the bandana in the world – several in the beeyard – if only to wipe your brow – but I use it to keep my Dadant helmet from slipping),
A lanyard that I hook my camera on around my neck,
I always wear tennis shoes and socks – the only time I have been stung on my foot by a bee was when I stepped on a dying bee in my house
Basic equipment needs:

Hive Woodenware

Enough for two hives – you should start with two hives – this way you have something to compare to when one hive seems off in some way. You also can kill one hive with over zealousness and let the other survive more on its own!
Most beginning beekeepers start with a deep and a medium box for brood and shallows for honey. This is the old way and if you are starting with nuc hives, unless you've made special arrangements, the nuc will be in a deep nuc box.
However, for switching frames back and forth between boxes and for many other advantages (weight when lifting, etc), I would encourage everyone to do all of their boxes as medium boxes. For two hives you need a minimum of 3 medium boxes per hive and probably a couple of extras for each hive in the event that your bees get going well enough to produce honey the first year. I would also encourage 8 frame boxes – much easier to lift and manage
This means you need 10 medium eight-frame boxes. I would order based on shipping prices for your area. Shipping costs can be as much as the cost of the equipment you are ordering. I like to order from Brushy Mountain Beekeeping because the shipping to Atlanta is less than most of the other companies, but I order from Betterbee which is in New York and Dadant which has a warehouse in Florida. There are many good bee companies and you may be able to find a local supplier from whom to get your equipment.

Here are 10 medium eight-frame boxes from Brushy Mountain.
Like I said, you can order them from any bee company. These come unassembled – you nail or screw them together – keep the sides right side up and the inside on the inside! They should be painted which is a good thing to do while you wait for your bees – the Oops cart at Home Depot is a good source of paint. I paint all of mine the same color and keep a large gallon of paint available to do so. There's a post on my blog showing how to assemble them.

Frames for the 10 boxes:
Each box takes eight frames. These also come unassembled. You'll need 80 frames. I don't use foundation at all any more, but starting out, you'll want to use foundation – wax, not plastic. There's a video/slide show on my blog about how to assemble frames. These frames have a groove in the bottom for the wax foundation and a wedge at the top to nail it into the frame.

Foundation for the frames – I would stick to pure wax. Brushy Mountain offers this. It's less expensive than Dadant for the same thing and if you are ordering your equipment from them, it all ships with one shipping charge. But you can get foundation from any bee company. People will tell you to use plastic, but I've now thrown out all of my plastic. The bees don't like it and wax is natural in the hive. In the end, you'll probably switch to foundationless, anyway, and let the bees build their own.
Each hive needs a telescoping cover and an inner cover. You're going to be using 8 frame equipment, so be sure the inner cover and telescoping cover are for 8 frame equipment. Here is a telescoping cover and an inner cover.

Brushy Mountain (and others) make an English garden hive top – which is pretty to look at but not practical for an inspection – feel free to get it instead of the telescoping cover, if you would like. My friend Julia likes (and I want to order) the ventilated inner cover – great for the hot summers in the South. If you ordered it, you would not need the inner cover.

You'll also need a screened bottom board.

Ventilation is the issue in the heat of the summer. The screened bottom board helps with this as well as Varroa mite control. The ventilated inner cover would help as well.

I keep slatted racks (a place for the bees to hang out rather than waste their energy fanning the hive) on all of my hives. Brushy Mountain doesn't make them for 8 frame equipment. Betterbee does.

Smoker:
This is an essential piece of beekeeping equipment and you'll use it a lot. Here's a basic one from Brushy Mountain. I rarely use mine except to let the bees know I'm coming by puffing one puff at the door. I don't think it's worth buying one of the fancier ones unless you plan to have so many hives that you'll need to relight it a lot.

Propane lighter: Available at any hardware store (I can't find a picture, but I put one in everyone's stocking for Christmas – cheap and useful)

Hive Tool Another essential piece of beekeeping equipment – buy two so you can always lay your hands on one of them.

Helpful Things to Have that aren't Essential:

Frame Rack: Very helpful – especially if you are looking for the queen, trying to see the differences in the bees, taking photos – I obviously love mine, but everyone doesn’t use them.
Frame Grip I've always relied on my hands – I don't want to inadvertently squash bees – but I'm putting it on this list because almost every other beekeeper I know uses this. I just never got comfortable with it.
Bee Brush I use this a lot – especially when harvesting honey since I remove one frame at a time from the hive. If you are going for crush and strain honey, then this is essential.
Harvest Equipment (Hopefully you'll have a harvest!):
This is all I need for harvesting and filtering honey. I also use a sharp knife and some basic kitchen equipment. You'll also need jars, but that is your preference. What kind of honey your produce dictates what type of jar you use. You are going to be able to cut comb (the foundation you are ordering will allow crush and strain as well as cut comb honey) or produce chunk honey (comb in a jar of honey)
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OK, I think that is what is needed (at least what I would need) to start beekeeping. This is my list and others out there will want to add or suggest other things. There are other items that you will find useful – a sifter from the kitchen for powdered sugar and a few other things that I carry in my bee basket, but you'll come up with what works for you.
You'll notice that I didn't put any medication or feeding systems on this list. I don't use any medications or poison of any kind in my hives. I also tend to feed with Ziploc baggies inside the hives. A Boardman feeder may be useful for water for the bees, but there are other ways to provide water. I also didn't put an entrance reducer – not going to be necessary in the hot South but would be in other parts of the country.
Note: I did this post in Word's blog post section and uploaded it from Word....never again. The margins are awful - many apologies!





Thursday, January 07, 2010

Beekeeping Conference in Palm Beach, Florida

I'll be one of the presenters at the Southeast Organic Beekeepers Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida. I think it will be fun. Lots of hands on opportunities and lots of time to interact with other beekeepers.

If you're in the area, please sign up and come.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Desperate for (about) the bees

It's deathly cold in Atlanta. I woke up to 17 degree temperature this morning and tonight it's supposed to go down to 15. I both want to and don't want to go put my ear against the hives to see if there's any stirring inside.

This is a rough time for the bees, but at least we are not in Nebraska or Kansas or Alaska. But it is certainly COLD......I would not want to bee a bee or for that matter a homeless person, a bird in a tree or any creature who has to be outside tonight.

And the bad news is that this is going to continue throughout the weekend.

Like the weather guy said in the paper today: in the South when we have these cold patches, usually it only lasts for a day or two and then it's back up in the 50s.
BRRRRRRRRRRR

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Making Tea Lights

At the Metro Beekeeper Holiday party, I asked my friend and fellow beekeeper, Jason, about making tea lights. Jason makes lots of them and provides them for the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers short course (coming up on January 23). Jason told me that if I tried making tea lights, I would wish for a mold that he has.

I tried with the 100 tea light forms that I had ordered from Brushy Mountain. Like Jason warned me, it was a messy and less than perfect process. I did end up with tea lights to attach to all the Christmas presents I gave this year and to use as stocking stuffers in the stockings I fill for my adult children.

I set all the molds in an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet. Waxed paper would have done as well as a liner. I didn't want to be scraping wax off of the cookie sheet when I wanted to use it later actually to bake cookies!

I set the mold forms up with a wick in the center of each. I melted the wax in the top of a double boiler that I purchased on EBay just for bee product production. Then I poured the melted wax into a plastic measuring cup with a pouring lip and poured wax into each of the molds. You can see on the photo where I over-poured the wax, resulting in wax on the aluminum foil liner as well as creating something that had to be removed from the exterior of the form before giving the present away. What a mess!



The wicks didn't want to stay in the center or to stand up straight.



It is a gratifying way to use wax, however. The little lights pour up quickly. The candles actually burn beautifully and well. Beeswax has a longer burning life than other types of wax so for tiny lights, they last for a long time.



Here they are as they come close to the end of the solidifying stage.



We used a collection of tealights in the center of our Christmas Eve dinner table. Our dinner started at around 8 and didn't end until after 11 and the tealights started going out in the middle of dessert. I was amazed that they lasted that long.


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