Another year just about to end, a new one to start and life will go on. Nothing keeps your perspective on life in check like gardening I believe. I can see the full cycle life, from beginning to end in one season. And, nothing keeps your perspective on society in check like beekeeping. As Marcus Aurelius stated in his Mediations “Thatwhich isn’t good for the beehive, can’t be good for the bees.” I witnessed one of our hives swarming repeatedly, until it was too weak to defend itself from being robbed. By the end of the season it had perished. Divide and conquer seems to work every time, in any group, any society. What else did it teach me? – what isn’t good for society as a whole, can’t be good for an individual.
I don’t mean to be pedantic. I just love to read philosophy and watch nature unfolding for fun…and I learn in the process.
I captured this summer snowflake (Queen Anne’s Lace) below and wanted to share it with you during this holiday season.
Wishing you very happy and healthy holiday season and a productive New Year, 2017. Hope your new year and new season will be even better than the last.
Thank you very much for reading this blog. I will try my best to be more consistent.
I’ve been away from blogging for six months but it’s a busy six months. Started with erecting a deer fence around the garden, which ate up most of my spring. It turns out that black, plastic net deer fencing has become an ‘IN’ thing for gardeners who have deer problems this year. It has even made the news.
The first round of fence-plastic from the ground up-can only fend off the deer. Rabbits and woodchucks immediately chewed big holes through so I added a foot and a half of chicken wire at the bottom. Then they chewed through right above the wire. I added more chicken wire up to about waist high. Bravo! Finally, we have a deer, rabbit and woodchuck free garden. No more spraying the plants and we still have plenty of flowers for bees and other pollinators.
Then our honeybees kept swarming. I split a hive for the first time to prevent one of the hives from swarming. They swarmed anyway. We managed to capture two out of three swarms.
On top of all this was catching up on cleaning, pruning, transplanting, feeding and other garden chores, plus a full time job.
I would like to express my sincere apology for being A.W.O.L. from blogging.
At the end of the growing season, I can only say that I am satisfied with the garden this year. We have plenty of flowers and vegetables and not stumps left over after being chewed off. Our bees are happy and healthy. We were also able to put up a ‘Pollinator Habitat’ sign.
As much as we would like to put up a ‘Wildlife Habitat’ sign, we couldn’t since we’ve fenced off the herbivores. Not much choice there as they can denude a yard in less than a month.
I intend now, to be a tad more prolific than I have been in the past few months. …At least until the fence is breached. Then, it’s battle stations once again. I love deer, rabbits and chucks, just not in my garden.
We got a break one day last week. The temperature has gone up to a little bit above 40ºF for a day, actually for a few hours. Then it dropped back down to below freezing again a day later. But just a few hours was enough to create activity at one of the hives.
Honeybees from hive #1, the strongest of all five hives, came out from the top entrance. Many of them flew around and did some cleaning after have been cooped up in the hive for months. Some old bees that knew it’s the end of their time have come out to die on the snow in front of the hive.
That was the only hive that became active that day, the other four hives remained quiet. I’m so glad that they survived -9ºF. I don’t know if any of the other hives still have a live cluster of bees in inside. They may try to conserve their energy and keep warm in there as a low 40ºF is not an ideal temperature to come out in, anyway. If the temperature reaches above 50ºF for a day or two and still no bee activity from these quiet hives that will mean they are gone. There is no guarantee that the one active hive will pull through either since the temperature has dropped even further, down to -11ºF the following two days. Hopefully only a few more weeks of winter to go.
But I’ll be happy if one out of five hives pulls through this harsh winter.
Not just bees took to the air that day. It was sunny as well as warm, so plenty of birds were around including a bird of prey. A Cooper’s hawk probably saw a conglomeration of fresh food coming around. I watched him chasing birds into a Barberry hedge where he got caught several times tangling his wings and feet. At one point in the afternoon he landed on the pool fence and sat there looking for anything that might move on the patio. He reminded me of a young hawk some years ago that used to wait in ambush on the woodpile on the patio, outside our kitchen window. He realized that he was in shadow on the woodpile. By the time a small bird saw him there, it was too late.
There are still a few feet of snow in the garden and the temperature remains below the freezing point. There’s no sign of spring in sight aside from a few confused American Goldfinches that have started to molt early. We chiseled a path around the house but not much else. House bound, pretty much.
Reading books and plant catalogs keep me busy in winter. With plant and seed catalogs coming in non-stop, they have been keeping me going like a kid in a candy store. With limited space, I will only add one or two new plants a year. Since I started keeping honeybees four years ago, the first reason for selecting a new plant is whether it’s good for the bees and fragrance comes in second.
This winter I found an interesting book while searching for plants for bees; Garden Plants for Honey Beesby PeterLindtner. The great thing about this book is that it provides a variety of plants that bloom month by month, starting from February. The book also provides information on the level of pollen and nectar each plant provides, from (*) as the least and (*****) as the most. So, I keep going back and forth between plant catalogs and this book to make a decision for what to add this spring.
My friend, Andy, has given me an advance copy of The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, & PipsConquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human Historyby Thor Hanson. It comes with a package of pea seeds. I’m not sure I will plant them since there is no indication that the seeds are organic. The book is a fun read though. I’ve learned a lot about chili pepper. I’ve been growing a wide variety of chili peppers for years and just realized how little I know about their biology and evolution until I read this book. I also learned that the coffee plant has developed a delicate caffeine balance to repel various types of insects and at the same time lures in pollinators that ‘lined up likemorning commuters at their favorite espresso stand’. It gave me the idea to try using coffee as a natural insecticide in my garden. The book won’t be in stores until April though.
Yes, late winter is the time for me to start seedlings. Side stepped to the subject of books and lost track while I writing this post. I will have to start my tomato and chili pepper seedlings this week otherwise they will not have enough time to mature and bear fruit. I will add Japanese Shishito, a very mild pepper and Indigo Cherry Drops tomato to the vegetable list. A variety of Helleborus will be added to the flower list for early spring flowering for bees. I can hardly wait to get my hands dirty.
Yesterday I went to the Federation of Middlesex Beekeepers’ Associations annual ‘Bee Keepers’ Day‘. Each year the Middlesex associations (Ealing, Enfield, Harrow, North London, Pinner & Ruislip) take it in turn to host a day of beekeeping talks; this year the day was held in Muswell Hill, North London. Below are my notes from the first speaker.
Graham Royle, beekeeper from Cheshire. ‘Apis through the looking glass’ – a look at what we really see in the beehive.
Graham has been beekeeping since 1988 and started to study for the BBKA examinations in 1995 when he decided he wanted to know more about the bees he was keeping. His studies resulted in achieving the BBKA Master Beekeeper certificate in 2002 and the National Diploma in Beekeeping in 2004 (the highest beekeeping qualification recognised in the UK). He was also awarded the Wax Chandler’s prize in 2002. Not bad, huh?
It’s mid February and mounds of snow are piled up all over the place, the residue of blizzard ‘Nemo’. I have no idea how the bees are doing inside the hive at this point. After each snowstorm I make sure that snow or other debris doesn’t block the hive’s entrances, both upper and lower. Aside from checking the entrances I also look for:
Dead bees. Dead bees in front of the hive or on the snow nearby indicate that there are still bees, alive and well, in the hive. I’ve seen a few of them after each snowfall. I’ve never been so happy to see dead bees until this winter. One day I even saw an undertaker bee taking a body out.
Varroa mites (Varroosis). Though I don’t treat my bees for Varroa mites, I check for it weekly just to keep a record. A corrugated foam sheet is inserted under the screen bottom board to make it easier to do the count. Not many mites so far, actually way below the maximum allowed. According to Beekeeper’s Handbook by Diana Sammataro &Alphonse Avitabile, more than 50 mites a day is considered high (amount of mites divided by amount of days the sheet was under the board)
Wax residue. Tiny wax particles on the corrugated foam sheets under the bottom board is a sign that new cells were uncapped either for food or a new generation and there were some pale brown wax bits every time I checked.
That’s all I know from observation outside the hive. It seems fine, but I don’t know if they will have enough food to last until they can forage again.
One blogger, mylatinnotebook, has recommended that I feed bees fondant. Aside from leaving them a lot of honey, I also fed them a few gallons of sugar syrup before I closed the hive in autumn. But, as a newbie, I am willing to follow all recommendations I get as long as it doesn’t involve feeding them chemicals.
I made four packs of fondant over a week ago but the weather has been too cold to open the hive and feed the bees until today. The hive shouldn’t be opened for feeding if the temperature is below 40°F, or with rain or high wind. Today is 42°F, sunny with a little bit of wind so I cracked open the roof to peek in.
I took one pack of fondant out of the freezer and let it warm up a little bit. It wouldn’t stay solid. It softened to a thick syrup first and then started to stiffen up again. I couldn’t put it directly on the frames so I put it on the winter cover and fold the wax paper under to make a border. I checked the foam sheet 20 minutes later and saw some fondant on the sheet so I opened the hive again and put a plastic lid as a ring around the feeding hole to prevent more of it running out through the frames.
Opening the hive the second time, I found the bees were eating the dried fondant that dripped on the frame and some of them came up to eat on the inner cover. There were also uncapped honey frames present. I insulated the hive enough and the daytime temperature in the next couple of days will be around 40°F they should be able to come up to the inner cover.
They looked happy (as much as you can tell from a bee) and liked the fondant even though it may not have been up to ‘bee’ standards. I’ll have to practice making it, maybe with a different recipe.
There is still a month or so of winter left here but the bees have survived through hurricane ‘Sandy’, blizzard ‘Nemo’, and single digit temperatures with wind factors below 0°F, so they most likely will pull through this winter.
Let’s see how they are when I feed them next time.
Waiting for spring to come seems like forever. I should have be used to it by now, roughly three months of cold, wet weather with snow on the ground or freezing rain before I can garden outside again. But, it’s never been that easy.
When plant and seed catalogs start to fill up my mailbox that’s when I start getting itchy. Seeing new plants I want to put in the garden and looking outside for good spots to put them makes me feel helpless. I want so much to be out weeding, pruning and digging in the garden, but it’s beyond my control. In years past, I would spend time down in the basement among the tropical plants, some of whom still flower in winter, as consolation.
With a beehive sitting out in the garden for the first time this year, I go outside more in winter. I schedule a check on the hive once a week to make sure they are fine: no dead bees blocking the entrance, no woodpecker holes, no raccoon or skunk break-in evidence. I would check on it more often than once a week if the weather were more erratic to make sure that no snow blocked either main or top entrances and nothing was blown off the hive. What can I say, they are part of our family now like the other wildlife in our garden. The ones that are willing to co-exist and share with others are welcome and we try to treat them all well. I’m not going to mention the ones that are not well behaved like the house sparrows, etc.
On my last trip out to check on the hive, I also saw other signs of life here and there. Green! I’m not talking about pine trees, yews (Taxus) and rhododendrons, but little greens that cling to the ground or on the trees. Snowdrops (Galanthus) have pushed their little tips above the melting snow. Ferns stay fresh, and lichen and mosses look crisp. We had single digit temperatures outside a couple of days ago, but there is no sign of frost burn or wilting on them now at all.
It’s a different kind of beauty, a different kind of toughness. One hundred million years of nature nurtured.
This is my first winter as a beekeeper. I’m trying my best to help my bees survive through the winter. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about wintering the hive, especially, when it comes to insulating the hive. One apiarist suggested that it’s not necessary to insulate the hive in winter since it will confuse the bees and make them take more stored food than they usually do if they are left alone. Another suggested that insulating the hive is a good idea because the bees will not have to work too hard to keep the temperature warm inside the hive. Since they don’t have to work their wings that hard, they will take less food.
The same goes for treating the bees for Varroa mites; some folks recommended doing it but some did not. Just keeping the bees healthy and well fed is enough. Healthy bees and a clean hive will be able to fight all and will produce a stronger next generation.
I try to get as much information on beekeeping as possible, conflicting or not, then pick and choose to use what makes sense for my hive. I don’t treat my hive for mites since they were pretty healthy when I last checked before closing the hive for the winter. They were well fed as well. I also think that there are not very many hives in this area; the population is not as condensed which makes it harder for parasites and diseases to transmit from hive to hive.
I decided to insulate the hive since I know how harsh winter can be in my neighborhood. The bees I started the hive with also came from the south, Georgia, and they are Italian bees which don’t usually do well in a very cold winter. I put 2″ of insulation foam board on four sides and the roof, left open just the main entrance, upper entrance and a small ventilation hole on top.
After almost a week of frigid temperatures, with daytime temperatures hovering around 3° F-5° F and a wind chill factor that took it down to -5° F at times, I’m very glad I insulated my hive. There are some dead bees on the ground in front of the hive and some in the snow further away. I guess the ones on the snow are the bees that flew out to die so they won’t burden the undertaker bees who have to push the dead out of the hive.
The temperature was up to 45° F today and the sun came out once in a while. I checked to see whether everything was still intact with the hive. To my surprise, a couple of bees flew out. I checked the foam board under the hive for mites and there were very few of them.
One thing that may work for the benefit of my hive is that the queen was born in our garden. From what I’ve read, the hive will most likely survive the winter if the queen was born here, not brought in from radically different zone. The original Italian-Georgian queen I started the hive with flew away with half the hive when they swarmed back in July.
They are doing alright so far. Hopefully, they will survive the winter and build a strong hive this coming spring.
This year will be my second year as a beekeeper and hopefully I will do a better job than my freshman year. At this moment I just hope the bees survive this roller coaster winter. I know there are still some bees in the hive since I’ve seen dead bees on fresh snow all the time. I would consider it a small but vital victory if I have a new generation of bees born into and multiplying in our garden, as short as life is for them.
Well, since I can’t do much of anything outside or help the bees in any way I’ll just search through a pile of catalogs for plants that are good for bees that I can add to the garden. It just dawned on me that there are many other ways to provide pollen and nectar for bees than just growing plants I find in catalogs. While cataloging photographs I’ve been taken either in our garden or while on vacation, I’ve found some simple facts that I’ve overlooked regarding plants for bees.
There are water plants that bees love, like Waterlilies (Nymphaea) and Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera).
Letting some weeds flower. Bees forage on weeds such as Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), White Clover (Trifolium repens), Goldenrod (Salidago canadensis) and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). Weeds to us but food to them.
Let leafy vegetables flower. Vegetables that we seldom allow to flower because we eat their leaves, like Arugula (Eruca sativa), Broccoli Raab (Brassica rapa), Bok choi (Brassica rapa) and Mizuna (or Japanese greens). Last season I couldn’t pick them fast enough so they flowered and the bees were all over them.
I’ve been letting Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace grow for many years because I like their flowers. I think I’ll have to make friends with the Dandelions. Then add more of a Sedum I just found in a catalog (so far) for fall foraging.
Here are little happy bees on some plants mentioned above; the 1st three are from vacation on the other side of the planet: