Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Next time, chemicals

From the other side of ninety pounds of honey, I can laugh. [WARNING: if you're severely spider-phobic, you may want to skip the latter part of this post.}
The day I pulled the supers off of the hives, so many days ago, I had done many things to make the bees find elsewhere more congenial.
Those things seemed to work well.

So I yanked boxes off, added empty ones so the bees wouldn't feel crowded, and made shorter hives. Let me tell you, there are few things as fun as lifting 40-60 pound boxes awkwardly off of a high hive while standing on a makeshift stepstool. Fun times.

This was the heavy deep box. I expected it to yield a LOT of honey.

Just as a final measure, I did more almond extract and banging of the boxes, trying to send all of the bees back to their hive.

Once all boxes were in and stacked, though, it quickly became apparent that my efforts had been. . . partial. This looks like only a few bees, doesn't it? Imagine about 1,000 times more, and that is what my kitchen looked like.

In fact, it looked something like a bad horror movie. I had intended to strip down in order to harvest the honey, because it's so nastily sticky. Didn't take long for me to think not only should I put more clothes on, I should fully suit up again. I started with the cup-and-card method of trapping them and taking them out. Quickly, the futility of that approach became apparent. Then every window except one in the kitchen got darkened with towels, then I cracked one open, thinking the bees would clear the area. Surely they only wanted to go back into the hive? I decided to read and give them some space.

A half hour later, I checked back. Not only were my windows still black with bees, more bees were flying in from the outside, driven to the sweet smell of honey! The boxes were fairly boiling. Yipes!!

Some trial and error led to a fairly effective shoving them th3rough a cracked open window technique, and after another hour or so I could tell that there were fewer bees in the kitchen. I did have a tiny bit of help with bee removal:

Okay, okay, enough Big Spider. Here's a sleepy puppy to look at:

Taz is actually no help during honey harvests because she likes to lick the extractor and generally be underfoot. So does Mikey, come to think of it. They're really troublesome.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the kitchen was pretty much bee-free. Denise had come over and provided moral support and helpful advice during the latter half of the adventure. The last step (before ordering take-out for dinner for exhausted me) was taping the space in this window so the Evil Bee Cluster couldn't get inside:

The next morning, they were still there, but colder! I was finally, finally able to scrape them into a cup and fling them into the entrance to their hive.

I still haven't removed the tape, though.

And that is how it took me four days to get ready to extract honey. So far, it's only been three days of actual extraction.

The electric hot knife, not the fancy kind with a thermostat, but the cheap kind that gets so hot it cooks honey into a smoking mass and has to be unplugged right in the middle of uncapping a frame, did in fact speed up the works. It takes off more honey but then the stainless steel strainer doesn't get clogged with tiny bits of scratched-off wax the way it does if I use the cappings scratcher instead.

Plus, it makes these cool bits of wax sculpture.

I ran out of jars at 39 pounds. There's another five gallon bucket full and ready for jarring, but a drive out to the bee store is in order first.

I'm going to buy a fume board and some bee-go too.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The ins and outs of bees

It's time. The honey supers must get harvested so that the bees have room to put their harvest. Make sense? Well, it would if you knew that wax is approximately ten times more "expensive" for bees to make than honey, and that they prefer to draw out storage cells in wax during the spring build-up. While they will in the summer, most of their happy energy is in foraging right now.

So, in a delicious bit of beekeeping irony, it's necessary to steal the honey so they can store the honey.

Plus, it's fun to see the early/late differences in honey's color, aroma, and flavor.

In preparation for this day, I went into the hives last week and placed a board with a bee escape, a one-way valve, under the full honey boxes, after placing some boxes without fully-drawn comb on the frames so they would still have some room above the brood nests. In one case, this made a terrific bee tower that I had to jury-rig a climbing platform next to it. Remember, the full boxes are at least 30 pounds, and the big one might be more!

But when I went out this morning to get the presumably unoccupied boxes off of the big hive (the little hive was emptier yesterday), many, many little bee faces were at the top. The thinking with the escapes is that the bees move down at night, and then can't get up again. This works, maybe, in climates where bees need to cluster at night? It does not work so well here.

And I have no chemical "go-away" smell to put on the hives. Almond extract on a pad works, but not very fast for me. Perhaps if it weren't organic, but imitation, they'd move away from it. I kind of wish I had a small blower, because that seems pretty benign, but escapes is what I was working with. I'm loath to do the shaking thing, where I pull each frame, shake it, and place it in a covered empty box. It's okay for small harvests, and I shook two of the little hive frames, but it's disruptive and tiring. I'm not in a screaming hurry, just want to get these frames harvested and back on the hives in a day or so.

This afternoon, I had An Idea. Since there were so many bees at the top, perhaps a top escape was called for. No time like the present:

The "valve" is two copper flaps on each end, arranged in a "V" shape, so the bees enter the wide end and push their way out, but can't get back in. Something about the smell of this box is keeping the top very interesting to the "outside" bees.

Here you can just see a bee struggling out, doing the back stroke. She's behind the shiny wing of the already-out bee. Later this afternoon, I'm going to peek again under that cover and see how well the one-wayness is working.

And it might just be my imagination, but the tomatoes look as though they've shot up a few inches after the heavy pruning. Might have been just what they wanted.

Preparing the kitchen as though it's a harvest night is probably another good idea. Even if the boxes don't fully clear, it will be ready for them tomorrow. And if they aren't clear by tomorrow, well, I'm going to shake them.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What ails the beans?

Last week, I noticed some bean leaves appeared to have been sprayed with metallic paint. At least, that's the first thing that popped into my head. They looked a little like these bronzed leaves:

And here are some unhappy looking pole bean leaves.

After doing some research, I fear that it's mosaic virus, because they're primarily saved seeds. But maybe it's a nutritional deficiency? Who knows? I'm such a lackadaisical gardener that it could be almost anything.

But all is not grim, disease-and-fungus-related news here at this Sicilian Sister's house. Look! Baby baby cucumbers. These are the kind that Trader Joe's sells in little boxes for lots of money. They make excellent snacks, being fully ripe at about five inches.

And this year's experiment: black popcorn. I've seen many tassels, but not much flying pollen, so I'm just at the finger-crossing state.

And finally, what do you think the plural noun should be for summer squash? An enthusiasm? An overwhelm? Pick 'em young, at any rate!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Low-down, dirty rotten. . .

I had put off a chore until today -- it wasn't the garden's fault that it was really hot when I finally got to it.

The blight or virus or wilt or whatever had gotten worse in the tomatoes, and I was going to do a thorough removal of all affected foilage in hopes of slowing down its advance.

The plants are bushy and compact -- it was challenging getting under there to pull off the branches, but there were some compensations. Look! Baby tomatoes. If I get this stuff under control, maybe there will be some for sauce.

It took me two shifts, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, to work both sides of the long bed. What was once a dense tomato hedge is now a slightly less-dense tomato hedge. I ended up with a full trash bag of diseased plant tissue. That got put in the landfill bin, not the municipal compost, because I don't want to spread it around any more.

While I was looking down anyhow, I spotted a pretty vigorous invasion of Bermuda grass along the fence. That bed will need weed barrier if it's going to go perennial asparagus any time soon.

Perhaps tomorrow will feature "Bean Mosaic Virus or Sunburn: You Decide" for entertainment. There's never a dull day in the garden. Discouraging, hot, hard work, yes, but not dull. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Up up and away

If I wait a few more weeks, maybe there would be a goose and some golden eggs at the top of these? The Rattlesnake pole beans are shorter, but these saved Italian Fagioli Stregoni are heading for the sky.

The bush beans are already bearing. I may, despite my commitment to dry beans, have to eat some green.

Also, in high-altitude gardening, the asparagus is over my head. (I'm not at all pregnant; I was trying to cover my nice skirt up with an apron so I wouldn't get dirt on it.)

There are exciting things happening close to the ground, too. It's a good time in the garden.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Animals, beans and apricots

Fred is doing very well. He has developed a pretty avid liking for opiate painkillers. . . and today is his last round of heavy drugs. Wonder how coming off them will be. Maybe we'll have to find a kitty support group?

Sarafina says his cone and rear end remind her of Monsters, Inc.

He might be less amused. Only seven or eight more days, Fred!

The beans I saved are flowering with two different colors. I don't yet know if this is natural variation or if there was some outcrossing. I didn't do any kind of seed isolation last year. Guess like child rearing, the proof will be long-term.

The chickens who used to run screaming from us now crowd the wire demanding something, anything, every time we're out there.

But despite the suggestive rock, no eggs yet.

When the apricots get near ripe and it's a little breezy, they end up all over the ground. Although they bruise when this happens, they're incredibly sweet, sweeter than picked. I'll put up with it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Only bad news

The top of one San Marzano tomato was looking wilted, although there was no lack of water.

And there it was.

Is it some other early blight? Is it the dreaded late blight, brought to my attention by Pam Pierce?

Whatever it is, some of my tomatoes have it and perhaps severely pruning any stem showing its effects will help and I'll get a crop, and perhaps not. We often get something bothering tomatoes here, and only sometimes does it wipe out entire crops.

In other really unpleasant news, our deeply beloved cat Fred was probably attacked by a human on Saturday night, based on his tail injuries. We find out tomorrow if he gets to keep any of his tail, and whether or not surgery to remove it will give him relief from what seems to be intolerable pain. Until then, we have Schedule II narcotics and a cat carrier.

Tomato diseases seem like a very small problem, indeed.