Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Got pollen?

My yard is teeming with hummingbirds and pollinators this week, so I went outside to look more closely at why they are coming. I counted over a dozen perennial shrubs and flowers in bloom, each one covered in insects seeking either pollen (a protein source) or nectar (a carbohydrate source). Here are a few of the friends I found. Sorry I couldn't catch a hummingbird picture! Check out the purple pollen all over the head and thorax of that honey bee.

Most of these perennials are less than 3 years old, and all are less than 5 years old. It is amazing what a difference it can make to add some practically zero care (at least in my yard) shrubs and flowers to the landscape. I grow only perennials; I know I don't have the time or patience needed to buy and plant annuals each year (although they are beautiful in the gardens of others). I have had perennial flowers of some sort in bloom every day since the paperwhites started in January. That should give me a good start on beneficial insects, who thrive in environments where there are flowers blooming over long periods of time.

Speaking of patience: I think mine may have paid off. I have been relying on a combination of sloth and patience to keep me out of Dolly's hive, which was looking a little weak. Yesterday Dolly's hive had a good sized orientation flight at the front of the hive. That means the new, post swarm queen was able to mate, come home, and lay eggs, and that those new bees now have worked their way up from housekeeping and nurse bees to foragers. Maybe I will have 3 hive make it to fall. I certainly hope so.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fruit and an experimental solution

It looks like 2009 will be the year of the fruit in our yard.

For the first time this year, our young apple trees started the summer covered in apples. Last weekend I noticed that 3 apples had been ruined by the birds. I had decided not to let that happen again this year, so I purchased a package of plain brown bags, with the plan to cover the apples until they ripen. When we went out today to staple the bags over the apples, I found to my dismay that over 50 apples had been ruined by the birds in this past week. What a shame. There were apples left undamaged, so, yes, we bagged them! What a good husband I have, he helped despite being obviously self conscious when neighbors drove by! It took only 15 minutes. Our trees now look quite odd, but I am hopeful we may now get some apples to ripen. I got the idea when watching a show about fruit in Japan that was hand pollinated due to lack of bees, and then bagged to ensure quality of the valuable fruit.

Another tree covered with fruit for the first time is the tangerine. You may recall that last year the tree had its first fruit, 7 beautiful tangerines. This year it has dozens of young fruit, and I am excited about the possibility of a large harvest in early winter. Here you see the tree with the beautiful jewels on the ends of the branches.

Lastly, the fig has finished its early flush of huge fruit, and now is covered with smaller figs. It will be interesting to see if the flavor of this larger crop of smaller fruit is more intense than the extremely mild flavor of the few large fruit from earlier in the season.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I cave on the kale; figs, an inside out flower

OK, "uncle." The Russian and Italian kales would not quit this year; Come on, it's July already! So, although they were still lovely, looking like kale palm trees in the garden, I yanked them all out this weekend. Here you see the plants, the left over stalks after the leaves were removed, and the ladies in the chicken coop thrilled with any less than perfect leaves. The huge harvest would not fit in my sink, so I rinsed the leaves in a washbucket on the back porch, chopped them, and cooked them with a bit of onion and some sausage I had on hand for seasoning. They cooked down to a lovely dinner and 5 nice, meal sized bags frozen for future use.

That left me with a clean and open garden bed. I took the opportunity to add a bit more compost and some lime, as my most recent soil test had indicated lime was needed. I also added some fertilizer, and then mixed and watered it all well. Hopfully some of this lovely rain is washing through right now! I will plant some fairly short season snap beans for right now, and hope to get a harvest and then immediately pull those plants, leaving a spot for the fall garden. If they do not ripen before I plan to plant the fall crops, I will just pull them and use them as a high Nitrogen source mulch.

Look at these beautiful figs from my fig tree! The coin is a nickle, to give you a size comparison. The color inside is beautiful, though the flavor of this variety is very, very mild. This variety does a particularly good job of showing all the flower/fruit parts of the fig.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The bees and the harvest

We need rain so badly, I hope today's clouds provide a little relief.

The wind shifted and gave us a few hours break from the dog days weather, so I took the opportunity to go into the bee hives this weekend.   Dolly's hive never has picked back up after she swarmed, and I was afraid that the bees that were left could not police the brood chamber and two honey boxes, and that we would end of up a mess full of wax moths and/or hive beetles while waiting for the new queen to build the hive up again.  Sure enough, when that hive was opened we found that the two honey supers were essentially empty, just a few bees, and almost no nectar.  Below the supers, in the brood boxes, we saw a fairly good number of bees still, so I decided not to disturb the brood chamber and just to give them another week to pick up before really going in to look for a queen or eggs.  No hive beetles or moths in sight, so that was a relief.

We took those two honey supers off of Dolly, and sorted out the 8 frames that had no nectar at all.  Those went into a sealed box, and back in the chapel (my shed, with the pitched roof).  The other box we held aside while I opened up Loretta's hive.  There we found one box of capped honey, and one box almost full, but not capped.  We took the capped honey and put it over in the cart, on a bee escape to let the bees out, covered to prevent robbing.  We then added the partial box of nectar from Dolly's hive to the top of Loretta, and closed Loretta up again.  Too many bees there, and I am afraid they may swarm again, but I did not have the equipment or time (or inclination) to break up the brood box and give them more room.  Lazy beekeeping, which leads to less honey, but so far fairly healthy bees.

Now on to Grace.  This is the new swarm hive from this spring. They have been busting out the door, piling up on the front of the hive, and otherwise looking very, very healthy.  I expected a full super of honey.  I was wrong.  They had barely even drawn half of the frames of wax, and there were almost no bees up in the super.  Just below the queen excluder, however, were tens of thousands of bees, jammed into every tiny space.  So I did something I have not done before, I removed the queen excluder.  This means that, if she wants, the queen can go up into the honey super.  This is a bad thing, as it would result in brood mixed in with the honey, a real mess when it comes time to harvest.  But I had to give it a try, and see if, for some reason, that excluder was keeping those bees from using that space, and storing honey for harvest.  Many folks claim the queen won't cross over the honey below to move into the super; we will see.  I hope I don't regret the decision.

Here is a photo of some of the 22 pounds of honey we got from Loretta this weekend.  This new honey is thick and dark, completely different from the pale, pale honey we extracted earlier this season.   You see some of the pale, early honey on the left, this week's honey on the right.   The marsh and parkland here provides great nectar sources for a range of beautiful honey.

Here also is the best lunch in the world:  fresh ciabatta bread, soaked in good olive oil, with thick sliced tomatoes and fresh basil leaves.  Not much but tomatoes in the garden now, and greens.  I have some new squash plants started in a front ornamental bed, along with some pumpkins, just for fun.  I need to pull up all the kale that remains, and freeze it, so I can get a second crop of snap beans planted.  As always, I am behind in the garden, but spent plenty of time in the boat this weekend.