August 29, 2011

VEG: Still a slow summer

written by Yvonne

This weekend we did some indoor projects so this will be a very brief garden update. Still lots of peppers coming in.

This is the lettuce, butternut squash, and cauliflower seeds we started a few weeks ago. They come up nicely, but the collards, limas and spinach did not. We need to do some repairs on the boxes, get some dirt, and more pine needles before we plant these guys in the ground. We'll do all that during the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

I did not want to post this picture because it looks like something out of a horror film. In actuality, it was our first yummy tomato of the year.  Tom insisted I post it.

August 22, 2011

BEES: Two Queens, Two Hives and a New Approach

written by Tom

So seven days had passed since Hernan and I had installed the two new Russian queens. After a nerve-wracking week of wondering whether or not they'd been released, it was time to take a look. (The squashed bee on top of the frame is one reason for general anxiety when working the hives. One false move and you can easily kill the queen.) Here you can see the queen cage in hive Boris. The candy end had been completely eaten through. A bee is seen cleaning out remnants. The queen had been released!

In Hive Natasha the queen cage had fallen from the frames. Fortunately it landed bottom-up, and the screened bottom board caught it, too. This candy end also had been eaten through, so that queen had been released. So far, so good. I worked the hives to clean them up a bit and remove the cages.

I put the cages at the entrance so that any bees inside could find their way back out. I'd read that in a book. However I quickly discovered that remnants of Her Majesty's pheromone was enough to set off a bit of robbing, as bees from Natasha quickly flew over to see what the good smells were about. The ones who did met their demise thanks to Boris' guards. For Hive Natasha I just blew any bees out of the cage. No more robbing.

This end frame had been drawn out on one side and filled with syrup honey. There were more bees than I'd remembered in Natasha. She seems to be doing well, regardless of my worries about only seeing a bee or two at a time at her entrance.

Hive Boris' numbers also seemed to have leveled off. This original hive had many more bees on it immediately after our requeening efforts a week prior. Now the two hives seemed closer in strength, more even, though Boris still has more bees.

In the following eight days I built and readied more frames. This time I used old-fashioned crimpwire with 100% beeswax. Bees love this stuff, and take to it in no time, is what they told us in Bee School. I had to make 14 of these total, to combine with my four frames of drawn comb I'd harvested and readied a few weeks prior, to make 18 frames (nine each for each hive addition).

In these past two weeks I've become convinced that one of the most important things we can do as beekeepers is, "First, do no harm." I always prepare a mental game-plan for my inspections. Now, I'm going to do only what's necessary to achieve that and nothing more. I'm also going to learn how to read a hive without even opening it. Minimizing risks and trusting the bees to do their jobs seems to be a perfect approach to me. Less is more. Hive Boris was looking good, even stronger than before and was moderately calm.

I found a good many bees and evidence that the new queen was laying, as capped brood was found. I quickly put things back in order and moved on to Hive Natasha.

A fair number of bees greeted me in the new hive, and her demeanor was calm.

One end frame totally capped with syrup honey. They are busy laying up stores for the winter. Only one side of this frame had been drawn and used, so I flipped it when I returned it to the hive to encourage them to work the other side.

And another honey frame. Both sides full and capped. Wow, these deep frames were H-E-A-V-Y! Each hive needs to store up about 60 pounds of honey for the winter.

And a third honey frame in Natasha. Where's the brood and eggs? Uh-oh. Was this hive queenless?

On the fifth frame I found what I came looking for: capped brood. I could hear the choir of angels singing. The new queen had laid these eggs. It had been 15 days since I'd requeened. In the life cycle of the honeybee, it takes 21 days for the worker bee to go from egg to larvae to pupae to emerged bee. In that time, it takes nine days to go from new uncapped egg to a capped larvae or "brood" on the comb. It had been 15 days since the split, so all brood on those frames we put in Natasha had hatched. Only new eggs would be capped brood. Both Boris and Natasha with their new queens had capped brood. Success!!!

Deeper into Natasha showed that her strength had greatly increased since she'd been started.

I took the four empty honey frames I'd spun out, and placed them in the center of Natasha's second box. This gives them a jump-start, as the queen can start laying right away in those frames. The sooner the better, so this new hive can get up to full strength before winter comes.

The still wet honey frames quickly attracted attention from below.

I also converted a beetle trap into an inside-the-hive pollen feeder. I removed every other rung on this trap with a Xacto blade. Natasha's bees immediately loved the fresh pollen gift I gave them.

I cleaned out both top feeders. I must say that the plastic two-gallon top feeder is wonderful. Hose it down to quickly clean. Any bees underneath it seem to not mind as I clean the top side. I love my plastic top feeders and so do the bees!

Fresh syrup was given to both hives and bees quickly climbed up to feed.

Boris is looking good. The numbers outside the hive have been growing.

As has little new hive Natasha. It's not a ton outside, but it's far more than the none or one bee I'd seen in the previous weeks. She's off to a great start!
I left both with gifts and a second story addition. Hopefully they'll immediately take to their new quarters, spin out the honeycomb on the pure wax foundation I'd given them and start to lay eggs and increase their numbers in time for winter. We'll see. So far, so good!

VEG: General update

written by Yvonne

(Still a little behind in updates. This really should have been posted last week but I forgot I had it ready to go.)

We are very happy with this variety of okra. Not only is the red color gorgeous, the plants aren't as huge as the variety we grew last year. I pruned the leaves on top and around the sides in order to keep the plants to their current size. (We didn't find out until after we pulled up the plants last year that it is OK to prune them back to control their size.)

I used my pressure cooker to make a black-eyed pea soup with okra. (To Rebecca - another fantastic recipe from the pressure cooker cookbook!) Then I made a recipe that used Indian spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric) okra, and onions. It was out of this world, and I'm not even that fond of okra!

Haven't cooked anything more with the peppers since the fajitas.  We did give some to a friend as a birthday gift. We forgot to put our name on the gift bag. Tom said, "I think she'll know it was from us."  :)

This is some cabbage we planted that we didn't think was going to do anything. All of a sudden, it poked up through the pine needles.

And this is the broccoli Tom had stared in peat pots. He moved the pine needles out of the way and just planted the whole pot into the bed.

We finally got to put our newspaper pots to the test. It was time to get seeds started for spinach, winter squash, cauliflower, limas....

lettuces, and collards. So far so good. They held the dirt and even when fully wet, they kept their shape.  We'll see if they last through germination and planting.  If they do, we've just saved ourselves a ton of money on buying peat pots AND we get to recycle our newspapers. Hooray!

August 11, 2011

VEG: Pepperlicious

written by Yvonne

I've been busier than normal lately so I'm a bit behind on veg posts.  After next week, things should be back to normal.

The bell peppers are FANTASTIC!  These were the first to be harvested.  I grilled them with a red onion and made fajitas. Yum, yum!

The red okra is flowering and is very pretty. I didn't realize it when I took this picture but there is a wasp, well camouflaged, sitting at the base of the flower. Do you see it?

Our one fully grown tomato plant has one tomato so far, but lots of flowers.

Tom started broccoli in peat pots a while back. They are now ready to be put in the beds. Tom swears that this time, we are going to get broccoli, not just broccoli plants.

$21 worth of bell peppers right here, my friends. FAJITAS!!

August 7, 2011

BEES: Gambling on a split

written by Tom

My two new marked Russian queens arrived on Friday, safe and sound. The ladies at the post office handed it to me with contorted facial expressions and at arm's length, laughing at themselves the whole time.

Knowing honey bees keep their hives at 94 degrees Fahrenheit, I quickly moved them into a basket for safe keeping on our screened in back porch, turning the overhead fan off.

It was raining cats and dogs Friday. Bees don't much care for cats or dogs. So once a break occurred in the seven-inch deluge, Yvonne and I quickly erected her10x10 tent above the hive. My friend and mentor Hernan showed up to help me requeen Hive Boris and make the split, creating hive Natasha. First order of business? Going over a checklist of actions so we'll be synchronized.

We had to put the four valuable frames of comb back in storage for safe keeping. We'll be using this once Natasha gets strong enough to start on a second box.

Then our work began. Hernan didn't want to smoke the bees until the very end, or until needed. I made sure to have some syrup in a spray bottle nearby if things got out of hand. They did, and the spray came in handy, let me tell you!

I began inspecting each frame from the top box of Boris, looking for the queen. We first have to remove her before adding in the new queen. We did this inspection while creating hive Natasha, inspecting and moving one frame at a time from Boris' top box into Natasha. Hernan re-inspected the frames as I handed them to him, in case my beek eyes missed the queen.

Cloud of bees were everywhere, wondering what we were up to.

One bee crawled up my right arm under my glove and gave me my second sting for the season. For some strange reason I found myself elated, again, at the sensation, just a couple minutes after. Unfortunately, Hernan got stung in a MUCH more unmentionable place. I don't think he finds these Russian girls as friendly as I do. "What's another stripe for the tiger?" he said in English, as we both laughed at our distress. I got him to translate it to Spanish (it sounded better). Having earned our extra stripes, Hernan spotted the queen on the next-to last frame of the top box. Her mark had completely worn off. My beek eyes didn't see her, but Hernan's trained eyes had no trouble seeing her. He quickly caught her in a queen cage, and moved her to the side.

We removed all beetle traps while inside the hive. The beetle jails had caught a few of the pests in each of the traps, so I'm definitely a believer in these little contraptions. I also kept reassuring the clouds of angry bees that we had a larger, benevolent purpose at hand. I don't think they quite believed me.

The queen catcher with the "old" queen was quickly surrounded by lots of her former ladies in waiting. Her pheromone call was unmistakable for them. The old queen was still laying well, but she'd increased the number of drone brood she was laying in recent weeks and was putting them in the center of the frames.
I decided to take action and requeen for further insurance of successful overwintering and a strong hive next spring that's less susceptible to swarming. I gave the old girl to Hernan, who has another first-year mentee with a hive that has tragically gone queenless.

Hernan shows me how to easily place the new queen in her cage at the hive's center. We simply mushed the frames together to hold the caged queen in place.

He removed the end, exposing the bee candy end. The queen and the few workers with her eat this from the inside to stay alive and healthy. The hive also will spend the next week eating through this candy end to free the queen. The whole time they will be getting used to her pheromone and accepting her as their leader. They'll even pass water through the cage's bars to her, once they've accepted her.

They wasted no time surrounded the new queen, shown at left center with the candy end pointing up.

Now it was time for the next queen to go in. One eager lady already was on the queen cage, smelling out the new ruler.

And again she was surrounded by the hive in no time, with worker bees covering her queen cage and candy end, just off center at right of the photo.

A lot of the bees from Natasha seemed to go back over to their former location at hive Boris in the hours after. Hernan said this was normal. But we put a ton of capped brood in Natasha from Boris' second box, as well as one frame from Boris' bottom that was chock full of brood. As these bees emerge in the coming days they'll know only Natasha's queen as their leader.

Now it's time to feed simple syrup to both hives, and otherwise leave them alone for a week. We'll check in on them next weekend to make sure they released the queens (and if not we'll help them along). Fingers and toes are crossed. In just two and a half months I'd gone from a small nuc of four frames of bees to two deeps of 18 frames crawling with bees. The clock is ticking, with autumn on its way. I'm confident, especially with four frames of drawn comb to give to hive Natasha when the time is right, that both hives will fill out to a second deep box each with plenty of bees and food stores for the winter. It's a gamble, but I feel good about it. We'll see. What will bee will bee, after all.