Thursday, May 31, 2012

The sweet side

Although kale reigns supreme in my heart in vegetable terms, summer does herald that wonderful time of year when fruit takes over.

A simple handful of strawberries

To join the rasperries already ripe and the apricots coloring up on the tree. Let the wild celebration begin.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Little things

It's sometimes the little details of the garden that capture my interest, rather than the overview:

Eggs I couldn't quite identify; Eric said he may never eat sushi again when I pointed out the resemblance.
Cover crop of red clover actually sprouting. Hooray!

White flies, brown spot, AND a ripening apricot. One of three?

The cavalry arriving in the form of a nymph.

Cucumbre de Bourbonne -- so ridiculously cute as babies.

How I manage to get dirt in my teacup while garden touring is beyond me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Musical Hives

From five to three, that was today's work.

My big hive, it turns out, was all smoke and mirrors. Those bees have been busy, but their numbers are dwindling. I could tell because there were fewer bees flying, and when I got into it, there were fewer bees on the tops of the bars. No queen, no brood, no eggs. Terrific!

Terrific because I had hives with queens, so I figured I'd tear down that big one and split it between two other hives which had only one deep each.

But then I discovered that one of the three one-deep hives also had no viable queen, although many (five? six?) capped queen cells from one half comb. I cut those out and added that hive to one of the queenright ones.

And that was how, in about 45 minutes, my apiary went from three underperforming hives and two which showed promise, to three that should make a good showing. They should.

I don't know if I'm off the hook for inspections now, and can simply toss supers on top as needed, or if I'm still going to have to make like a bear and burrow through the broodnest every once in a while.

Plus, I'm still trying to coordinate the sale/pick up of that feisty hive at my friend's house. The fun never ever ends.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Happy busy

So much to do over the past week that the garden, I'm afraid, got short shrift. In between things a few chores got attended to, such as knocking down the favas and vetch, seeding the old brussels sprout bed with clover, and starting the process of finding a buyer for the hive at my friends' house.

I even forgot to water some seedlings at a critical junction, and now don't know if I'm going to get new kale any time soon.

What, you ask, could have kept me so busy that I'd neglect garden chores? Well, we had family visiting, one prom, one art show for two kids, six days of various kids' sports, culminating in a win at the state level, and for a bit we thought the youngest had chicken pox. Busy times. But lots of fun.

And yet, the garden keeps its promises. Though beset by brown spot and awash in aphids, I dare to hope that the Katy apricots will ripen instead of falling prey to disease. My mouth is pretty happy about that.

Maybe eventually we'll have quiet time to enjoy it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Couldn't wait

Even though it's almost 10pm and I'm going to practically die when the alarm goes of at o'dark-thirty tomorrow (cold fog and wind predicted, also. Brrr), I had such fun today in the apiary I had to share. Consider it a gift for Ribbit and Erin!

The story out there is that I have five hives -- two were "original," in that I meant to have them. One of those was a swarm I picked up from another person, and then augmented from my original hive, and three are swarms from my two starting hives. I had hoped to have four ongoing hives this year, but there was a total of four or five swarms (I gave some away) and that can wreak havoc on a hive's honey production.

Today I just wanted to see what the state of play was, and maybe add a super or a deep as needed to the smaller hives.

The first one, a two-week old swarm, had bees over about five frames on opening:

And they check out with a laying queen. This is foundationless comb, which I'd like to move to -- it's fresh wax, the bees decide what size to make, and it's easily cleaned up and out when it's old. Plastic foundation is difficult to clean and reuse. But it's sturdy! Inspecting just comb means I can't flip the frame over to look at the other side, but have to turn it like the pages of a book. The bees don't seem to mind, but they do get upset if you break the comb or it falls out. Ask me how I know. . .

Here's a closer look at the transition from worker brood -- see the heater cells in the capped brood? -- to bigger, larvae-filled drone cells. I'm not worried yet that this hive is producing drone brood. It can be a signal that they want to swarm, but these girls have nothing but room. I'm assuming they want to make them to propagate the hive's genetics because it's simply swarm season. It bears watching, though.

This hive is only a week old. This is the bunch of bees that swarmed the day before the chicken coop tour. I'm out of screened bottoms so this hive is sitting on an upturned homemade lid, and they have a teensy opening. Equipment limitation is only one reason to combine hives and shrink the apiary to four hives.

Although they've only had a week to work, this group has filled and capped a deep frame with honey and started drawing some new comb. See how white it is? These paddles will merge and fill the entire frame eventually.

AS I finished with each hive I made notes on the outside about what I was seeing -- was there a queen, did they have room, etc. My memory doesn't last that long -- and five hives is a lot for me to remember which one is exactly which, in terms of behavior. None were terrifically happy today, it was slightly windy and none are really what I'd call at an ideal stage, but this big hive was particularly grumpy.

As was I after tearing it completely apart only to not find any eggs or brood. Could be that it's queenless, which would make my job much easier. Could be that the queen is a newly-mated queen that got left behind last week by the swarm group. I did see two open queen cells. Either way, I have to get back in this hive in a week or so to make certain that they do or do not have a viable queen. Hard to imagine them not -- this is a busy hive. The white box is a new super I set in there as each of the other ones is nearly full. Lifting the top one up was a challenge.

I'm short on mediums right now, so I spent some time after the inspection banging some medium frames together. We'll have to fit them with starter strips or foundation (or a mix, just for experimenting) and get them on that medium sized hive. I don't want to deal with any more swarms!

Swarm box #2 is also two weeks old. Slightly less robust than the other two week old hive, though. Hives, like children and classrooms, seem to have distinct personalities. Just a few bees on the bars when opened.

But I discovered that they also have a viable queen. Lots of room, no hurry to do anything for them. You can see the results in this video. Sorry for the jerky end -- I'm not great as my own videographer. But if you like being a virtual beekeeper, this may work for you.

End result today, if you were keeping track is five hives, four laying queens, zero calm happy bees, but only one testy hive. Lots of honey being stored up by one hive, not much from anyone else. These hives have to be combined down to three, I'm thinking. Better find someone who really needs a queen.

Wishing you well

Mother's Day was also the weekend that Eric and I got married. So it's celebrating all around. This year we managed a lunch on the actual date, followed by a visit to a spectacular chocolatier:

Then we went out to dinner last night. Getting up early tomorrow morning to work out might be a challenge. Perhaps buoyed by the evening out, I was feeling pretty silly today. Kale chips for everyone!
Happy Mother's day to everyone to whom it applies. I hope if you aren't a mother, that you either have one or know one who deserves a hug. I wish I could hug mine.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Back to the scene of the other day's little excitement.

Here's the drone comb I'd cut out the other day. it's sad for the drones-to-be, but good for the hive. Two frames' worth of space opens up, the bees will draw new comb which gives them something to do (besides harassing innocent beekeepers) and the Varroa mites which might be hatching in their cells are taken away. The other day the nurse bees were all over the comb, but they had gone home to the hive by today.

But still. . . were they going to be benign as I moved closer to the hives? This hive is behind a curtain of trees, and I peeked carefully. Notice my toes-to-head suiting? I even used different gloves because they smelled differently.


The box of honey I left waiting for me.

Any bees?

And then I remembered I left my smoker by the hive. Anything else?

Are there really no bees in the box?


Sarafina was still keeping her distance, because she didn't believe me that there weren't any bees. She had seen my face.

But there weren't any bees. The honey box got settled in the car, No bees were harmed or bothered, and today I got about two gallons of honey for my buddy. A good day all around.

The real test will be replacing the box onto the hive1

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Angry bees, one pathway to my shirt and thence my face, then another round where I left the front of my hood completely unzipped -- it was a bad day in a friend's hive today.

I'm pretty discouraged.

Boot camp is going to be serious fun tomorrow -- my left thigh has a matching swelling. Maybe I'll quit beekeeping and let the feral hive do my pollination.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Know Thy Enemies

We're practically having a heat wave. I'm struggling to keep the water even on the plants, the large-leafed plants are expring more than they can take in, and the insects are pretty happy! These are some of the enemies I'm dealing with right now -- in a garden which is pretty much not bothered too much by pests. Either that or I'm not that observant. Leaf miners. This is why I plant nothing in the beet family for warm weather. Fortunately I'm not a big fan of chard any more, although I deeply appreciate its growth habits, so I don't miss it. Identifying the eggs and scratching them off is a good way to deal with them and helps to interrupt the generations that multiply.

I've mentioned the swaths of light green aphids on the apricot tree. Usually they cluster on new growth. Maybe it's more tender. The chickens like this kind of leaf too, so it's win-win.

The birds seem to be entertaining the idea that I might not be a predator when I come with gifts of spinach or apricot leaves.

Talk about dubious expressions.

The apricot appears to be dealing with the Brown Spot infection pretty well. Only a few tips are withered like this, some with fruit on them, but the rest of the fruit may -- oh please oh please -- come to ripening without developing the hideous brown gooey bruise looking spots. I can hope, at least. We had a dryish spring, but I didn't spray last fall.

Another pest of the tree is a tiny leaf-rolling caterpillar. It doesn't seem to do a lot of damage, and the chickens really enjoy eating the little boogers.

There are more, such as slugs and snails, but that's all I got while I was out there. Now I'm going to go spray the wooly aphids that the kid missed the other day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tired, tired, tired


Talking for three hours shouldn't be this tiring, but I'm wiped out. I've offered things like "Spinach and spinach" for dinner, but no one is biting. I may have to go get something. We're even out of Jack cheese for quesadillas

The kids made out with a lemonade stand, and I discovered that honey lemonade is actually pretty good.

The tour went well, I think.

Not as many people as in years past, which was nice. I think we may have crested the wave on coop tours.

Eric did an awful lot of talking for him.
It was hot and windy all day. I need to keep an eye on the plants' water needs over the next week.

About 1/3 of the garden is ready to rip out. Guess I'll plant red clover in the absence of any crop I want to put in right now.

It was nice to share the garden with a lot of new people, but now I want to lie down and go to sleep. Week 3 of boot camp starts tomorrow, and I'm sure it's going to be a challenge.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Third time's the charm

At least that's what we're hoping this year as it's the Third Annual Alameda Bicycle Chicken Coop Tour this Sunday. Anyone local is invited -- it's a lovely day out with the kids. I think mine are planning a bake sale and lemonade stand.

At my house, just a week ago we had another tour come through, so you'd think we'd be completely ready. Alas, as I did my rounds this morning, I realized I'm going to be picking up on Sunday morning. Just a few things need moving around; stuff in the bee yard, some kid-left items, etc. I had hoped to get a bale of straw to mulch some beds and fluff the coop yard. Anyone have some locally to spare?

This group of hens is slightly less amenable to visitors than others we've had. They remind me of the scene in "Holy Grail," where the knights yell, "Run away! run away!" Maybe it's that most of them are Americaunas, maybe it's because they didn't get a lot of handling.

One of the birds is unusually handsome.

For some reason, she's a soft dove-gray. Just as freaked out as the rest of them, though.

Those massed aphids (why are they black on the onions in the winter and spring-green on the apricots in spring? Bizarre) are back on the leaves. I tend to nip them off and hand them over to the crew.

The seem to like them. I wish this garden resident on the going-by snow peas

Would move over to the apricot tree.