July 30, 2011

VEG: Hot, hot, hot

written by Yvonne

It's hot outside. Very, very hot. Last weekend we started our outdoor stuff as early as we could and braved the heat to get some things done in the garden. Overall we've been somewhat disappointed with our summer garden so far. We just haven't had the success we did last year and are lacking some summer staples like tomatoes, herbs, hot peppers, and such. Aside from squash and cucumbers we have managed to grow one thing well; weeds. I worked on papering and pine needling the bit of ground on the side of the house we tilled up in spring, while Tom (and Olive) worked on the vegetable beds. This was the bed that housed the squash, green beans, and dill. We'd already pulled out the beans and squash so Tom set down a layer of newspaper...

and topped it with pine needles.  The newspaper will snuff out the weeds and the pine needles will be a nice mulch around our fall plants.

He did the same with the okra and tomato bed.

After sweating at least a rain barrel's worth of sweat, we moved inside to cool off. Last Christmas I gave Tom a device to use to make our own peat pots out of newspaper. Here's how it works.

Cut strips of paper 3"x10" long. Wrap three strip of paper around the wooden press.

Keep wrapping until the strips are fully around the press.

Fold the ends of the paper against the bottom of the press.

Mash the press into the form.

The form pushes the paper together so that it holds.

Newspaper pots!
Next post?  We'll see if these things actually work.

July 25, 2011

BEES: Mid-July Magic

written by Tom

So it's hot as blazes out there. The bees are permanently parked out on their front porch to catch the cool night air. Their nighttime hum is mesmerizing.

I asked Yvonne to permanently attach my boot bands to my bee suit (a pair of Dickey's coveralls she's been customizing for me). Olive was helping out, too.

It is haute couture. The beekeeping and fashion worlds have now collided. My friends at Belk and the local beekeepers group can both be proud now.

Ahhh, functional and easy to use. No more fumbling with the separate bands, trying to get a tight fight on my leggings so bees don't crawl up my sensitive legs and no more wondering, "Now where did I put those boot bands?!"

This end frame was blank two weeks ago. They'd drawn all of one side and most of another out. The summer feedings are keeping them hard at work building honeycomb.

Tight brood patterns were found this visit. I felt guilty working them in the heat, but it had been two weeks and I had work to do. The queen, though not seen, is doing well. Now she's laying drone cells (male bees, which are larger), at the bottoms of the frames in the middle of both boxes. You can see the larger bullet-sized cells to the right of this photo.

And for a closer view (cause one shot just won't do it).

Lots of tight brood patterns. I also found single eggs freshly laid in both the top and bottom boxes on this visit. This queen is all over the place and is laying, laying, laying. I think I'll keep her around over winter instead of replacing her in a couple of weeks.

This frame was only partially built out, and the queen had already laid eggs, both male and female, in the center of the frame where comb had been drawn out.

After having totally disturbed them on a hot, hot, hot July morning, it was time to give both boxes another powdered sugar dusting for mite control. One bee couldn't wait and hovered around the top of my sifter the whole time. I also added four beetle traps, even though I've only seen three small hive beetles this year. I think the blazing hot direct sun, and my Russian bees have kept the pests at bay. Still it pays to be prepared. The late summer is when the SHB really starts to pack a punch. They can ruin a hive, sliming it with secretions and larvae eating everything in sight. Not on my watch! Of course I was told to be careful, and I was, to not spill the oil in the traps. And of course I tipped one beetle trap just a little, but some oil leaked out. I quickly said a prayer in the hopes I haven't killed my queen. I seem to be doing that more and more. You just have to go with the flow and hope for the best ... hope that crunch you hear of a bee going to bee heaven isn't Her Royal Highness ... or that your next goofup doesn't doom your royalty. We'll see. Fingers are crossed.

I took a fourth honey frame away. This will make my split in two or three weeks go smoothly, thereby creating two hives. The new hive, Natasha, won't have to work as hard as hive Boris has. That's why I've been feeding them in the two months I've had them. They've drawn out 22 deep frames' worth of comb. I've reserved four for the second hive. Now I've added a honey super. I want Boris to draw out comb this year for honey supers, so that next spring they won't have to spend their time drawing out comb but instead bringing in nectar and creating honey. That way I should have honey next year. We'll see if they pay the super any attention. I added a queen excluder to keep her out of the super so she won't lay eggs up there. The screen is big enough only to allow the smaller worker bees up top.

After the super was added, I cleaned out the top feeder, which then went back in place atop it all. The hive has totally grown. Wow, look at Boris now!

For comparison's sake, here are some shots of my hive that I forgot to include, from pickup day back in May. There it sat at the far right, the only bright yellow box out there in a "nuc field", chock full of other nucleus colonies. Wayne Hansen of the Mecklenburg Beekeepers was waiting on us.

Here Libby Mack, treasurer of Meck Bees, preps the nuc box for moving.

I found these shots on my phone and regretted not putting them on the blog. While Libby was prepping my box, Wayne gave another beek advice on moving day. He also gave a lot of input throughout Bee School 2011. And, it was totally cool seeing all these nucs in a single yard.
What's even more remarkable to me is that my nuc came with five drawn frames of bees, brood and queen. And in just two months they've grown from just a few thousand bees to like a gazillion bees now. While I got a late start, due to overwhelming demand on bees and queens this spring, my girls have really worked hard and grown to an amazing strength. So much so that I'll be able to have two hives this year when I was only expecting one. The magic of bees is something else ... and always surprising.

July 20, 2011

If you garden, you'd better be friendly with your neighbors...

written by Yvonne

TYVeggiePatch has gone all veg advocate and high-tech!  Seems as though we can add a video to our blog. Who knew? (Probably everyone but me.)

Anyway, I received this story today in my weekly Organic Gardening Connect Newsletter. Click on the videos below to see the news story.  The first one is the initial story and the second is the follow up.

Oak Park Woman Faces 93-Days in Jail For Planting Vegetable Garden 



Oak Park Charges Dropped, New Charges Issued 



Side note: There is a elderly woman in our neighborhood whose vegetable garden is in her front yard. I was inspired and thought, "Gee, when I run out of room in the backyard, I am SO planting more vegetables in the front yard too." When we first moved here my neighbor told me that this woman was shunned from the neighborhood garden group back in the day, and that "no one" liked her front-yard vegetables. Then as new blood (like us) moved in, more people we accepting of it. Personally, I think grass is stupid and a waste of time and resources. Water, cut it, fertilize, repeat to infinity - and all with nothing actually produced. What a waste.

July 18, 2011

VEG: Additions and subtractions

written by Yvonne

We've added something new to our gardening equipment - a small, portable greenhouse. We looked into  indoor grow lights, but ultimately decided against it. Since winters here aren't THAT long, and we get lots of sun year round, we should be able to start seeds without having to go to the expense of indoor grow lights.

Tom started some fall seeds of broccoli and cauliflower so I popped them into the new greenhouse for a test drive. It's extremely light weight so it will be easy to move it around the yard so seeds get prime sun in different seasons.

We also purchased three more growing spirals. We like these better than tomato cages because 1. they look neat, 2. they use a stake in the center (so you can tie the middle of the plant to the stake), and 3. they store MUCH easier than tomato cages. Now, if only the tomatoes would grow...

(Sorry about the out-of-focus shot.) There is one tomato plant growing strong and five late, late starters. We are as embarrassed about not being able to grow tomatoes this year, as we were about not being able to  grow cucumbers the last two years. Incidentally to date the cucumber harvest count is 110. My theory now is we can grow EITHER cucumbers OR tomatoes, but not both at the same time.

Okra is slow going, but the the flowers are starting to appear. Haven't been able to get a picture of an open flower yet.

Not as much basil as last year, but that was planned.

This oregano looks like it's doing well, but I gotta tell ya it doesn't smell or taste like oregano. It tastes more like mint. I clipped a bunch this weekend to dry and now it doesn't smell like anything. Very disappointing. I'll be sure to note the variety and avoid it next year.

The rainbow bell peppers are doing well. We counted about 21 making their way. Look at how shiny and wax they are! This is about $5 to $6 retail value right here, my friends!

Ever been around someone who didn't respect your personal space? You know, they didn't know how to stay within their boundaries? That's squash! In the blink of an eye, it went from producing (yeah!), to producing (enough already!) to overtaking the yard. I think Tom was encouraging it so he'd have slightly less yard to mow. I thought I'd pull out the yellowing plants on the left and maybe get the part growing out of the box back in. But once I got to pullin' I just kept going and ripped the whole thing out. And look what I uncovered....

Olive! The squash that ate our dog!  (Just kidding.)

July 17, 2011

BEES: Extraction, Hernan-Style

written by Tom

My good friend Hernan invited me to join him and any of his mentees for his last honey extraction of the year. The weather was unusually cool, but I got there bright and early-ish anyway. He had two hives with honey to extract. We started with a hive that last year looked like all would be lost this year when Hernan found a swarm cell in October. Surprisingly it was one of his biggest honey producers this year. Here is Hernan with the hive after a couple honey supers had been removed. Check out all those bees!

Then Herman's mentee from Mecklenburg's Bee School 2011, Bill, showed up. Hernan wasted no time putting Bill to work.


We forced the bees down with an all-natural spray of herbs and oils on a fume pad. We spritzed the pad and put it on top of each exposed super, then waited a few minutes for the bees to retreat down a level. Then we removed each box or "super". We loaded these into a wheel barrow and capped them with cardboard to keep any extra bees out. They can smell honey a mile away, no kidding.

Here's a closer view of the hive. The bees were "bearded" out all morning while we worked. Also shown is the fume board, to the side of the hive.

Once we got the supers off, Hernan showed us his trick for removing bees that remained out of the supers. Enter the leaf blower. Fast, humane, and effective.

Once free of bees (well, mostly) we hurried the supers into the garage and closed the door to keep the bees out. Here Hernan shows us a "wet frame", which is a frame full of honey that hasn't been capped yet.

Next was a quick lesson on how to use the hot knife to remove capping's of wax on a frame above the uncapping tank (which catches the wax and honey that drips out).

What the hot knife didn't get, a small scratching tool took care of.

Then Bill and I switched off on uncapping duties.

Next the frames were loaded into the extractor, and then were spun out. The centrifugal force slings the honey out of the frames of uncapped comb.

Slow and steady on the extractor, and soon the liquid gold was flowing.

Soon a constant stream was pouring, and eventually Hernan extracted another 70 pounds or so of honey.

After the few hours of work, we took the frames and supers back to the hives. Hernan placed them eight feet or so from the hives. In no time the bees got to work, sucking up every drop of honey available, doing our cleaning for us. Hernan sent Bill and I home with a fresh jar of honey we just extracted. It is soooooo good!
Now I know what's in store for me extraction-time next year when Boris and Natasha bring home the gold!

July 15, 2011


written by Tom

Our crepe myrtles were in full bloom all of June and the first two weeks of July. Not much left of the blooms after super high temps and summer storms. I caught one of my girls at work a couple weeks ago. How do I know it's from my hive? Well ... a beekeeper knows, is all. :)

And another view. I just love our crepe myrtles. So many people commit "crepe murder" each spring, as my good friend Jane calls it, and whack their trees to pitiful states. Those who did so this year didn't have even a smattering of flowers, while ours put on a royal show. When I was not feeding the bees the last week of June and first week of July, honeybees were all over these beautiful trees. Last year they only attracted bumblebees and beetles, so that's how I know these girls are from hive Boris. :)

I restarted feeding on last inspection, July 4. In that first week hive Boris drank up six gallons of syrup in seven days. WOW, they were hungry. The first gallon and a third went down overnight, I'm not exaggerating, that quick! This week they slowed down a little, having drunk three gallons in five days. Today's big question: "Is Boris queenless?" I'd seen supercedure cells of various sizes in the bottom box last visit. I was greeted by more bees up top than I'd ever seen. They were very defensive, not a good sign. The weather was 71 degrees. They'd drawn out one of the empty frames on the end, and the frame next to it was also completed. Beautiful!

On the second frame in of the top box, from the West side, I spotted the queen, and gently returned her and the tons of bees and capped brood back into the box. Still the bees were unusually defensive. I decided to only inspect the top box, having seen her majesty in action. Lots of capped syrup honey and brood on freshly drawn comb.

Every single frame in the top box was completely drawn. I'm assuming the story was the same in the bottom box. Since I use a nine-frame configuration instead of 10, the frames seem to be drawn out in two stages: to an even and moderate depth, then additionally deep to accomodate the extra room I've given them. This frame is in stage two, with the bees going right to left (West to East), top to bottom.

I was delighted with what I was seeing this week. A complete turn-around from what I'd expected. But still they were REALLY defensive, more than I'd ever experienced. I wonder if my queen is getting worn out and they would like a new one? I was very calm, but still experienced a couple moments of streaks of panic, as my hands and veil were full of angry defensive bees. I smoked them, and was glad to have on a pair of new goatskin gloves.

Tons of bees and food storage on each and every frame. Also noted was pollen on each frame. A few drone cells at the bottom of a couple of frames, but not too many. I think the queen might be in fine shape, and Boris was unusually defensive due to the oddly cool and overcast weather.

Even the end frames, one of which was completely blank with only fresh foundation just 14 days ago, had been drawn out. The feeding worked and Boris still had its reigning monarch! This frame was the most beautiful I'd seen this visit. It was one of my new frames, that had been drawn, and chock full of food storage and capped brood, with a little pollen around it.

I quickly spotted two honey frames, which were the two end frames on the East side of the box that were not drawn out just two weeks ago. I removed those, to keep aside for the split I will make in a month to create hive Natasha. Again Boris was given two fresh frames on the East side. Even though I was only working the top box, so as not to disturb and possibly harm the queen, I'd gotten more than what I'd hoped for with two more completely drawn frames. That makes three so far reserved for Natasha. That hive will be off to a major jump-start. Again I dusted the top box, even with the queen, using a flour sifter and powdered sugar for tracheal and varroa mite control.

Into the freezer they went for at least 48 hours to kill anything that might be lurking. I replaced the feeder, gave them another gallon of syrup, and left the work box that still had a ball of bees in it near the front entrance so they could find their way back inside the hive.

So far I have learned that beekeeping is all about surprises. It is a miracle of nature, and an unpredictable one at that. Hive Boris is doing extremely well. I'm concerned at their defensiveness, and it's making me think about possibly requeening Boris when I make the split for Natasha. Still, I'm amazed at how well Her Royal Highness is doing, so I'm going to think about it, listen to my mentors and read some more books. We'll see how the hive is doing in a week!