Category Archives: Beekeeping

Sunday Self-Care: Seed catalogs

It’s the third-most wonderful time of the year.

The most wonderful time of the year is the first Saturday after Tax Day, when we put the garden in the ground.

The second-most wonderful time of the year is the day Cubs pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

But the third-most wonderful time of the year is now, when the companies that sell seeds for the garden and beekeeping equipment for the apiary start sending out catalogs, which means I can start dreaming about spring in specific detail and figuring out how many times we’re going to have to eat enchiladas or sauerkraut to save up enough cans for all the seeds I intend to start. (Tin cans with the bottoms cut out make the world’s greatest seed-starting pots/squirrel deterrents. Unfortunately, about the only products that still come in cans with identical tops and bottoms are Ro-Tel tomatoes; certain brands of sauerkraut; and most enchilada sauce. This means for about two months every winter, my grocery list revolves around my gardening needs.)

Gardening and beekeeping catalogs are my saving grace every winter. Gray skies and short days don’t do anything positive for my mental health, and after a while, I start to wonder whether I’ll ever get to put my hands in the dirt and bask in the sunshine again. When that first seed catalog lands in the mailbox, I see the first glimmer of hope.

We got catalogs this weekend from Seed Savers Exchange and Betterbee, so I’ll spend the next few months dogearing pages and circling varieties that sound promising and drawing scale diagrams of the garden while I dream of spring.

Emily

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New friends

I got to help with a cool project Saturday morning. Some volunteers from the local Islamic Center teamed up with some members of Abbey Road Christian Church — which I’ve been visiting for the last few weeks — to pull weeds and trim back perennials in the flowerbeds around the church’s labyrinth.

There has been a strong effort lately to foster better communication between members of the Muslim and Christian faith communities here in Cape, which delights me to no end. (My favorite high-school anecdotes all start with what sounds like the setup to a bad joke — “A Muslim, a Jew, and a vegan walk into a pizzeria” — and end with a bunch of kids laughing until our faces hurt while our scholar-bowl coach tried to figure out what we were up to this time.)

Anyway, between my fondness for interfaith activities and my love of labyrinths, showing up Saturday was a no-brainer, and I spent a couple of happy hours making new friends and working in a pretty garden.

Unfortunately, the project became less pleasant for three participants who encountered a colony of red paper wasps that were nesting in one of the flowerbeds. Paper wasps are usually fairly docile, but if you disturb their home, they’ll invoke the castle doctrine.

Several church members suggested using pesticides to kill the wasps, as they presented a safety issue for the volunteers as well as anyone who might come out to walk the labyrinth.

I understood their concern, but as a beekeeper, I knew I could suit up and remove the threat without harming any adult wasps, so I suggested everybody simply avoid that flowerbed while I called Ron to bring me a protective suit and gloves.

Once Ron arrived, it took about 15 minutes to suit up, find the nest and remove it. Problem solved. I brought the nest home so the pupae developing inside the sealed cells could finish maturing and hopefully hook up with a colony in my garden when they emerged. (Sadly, the larvae and eggs were doomed the minute I removed the nest from its original spot, but I’d rather lose a little brood than destroy the entire colony.)

I’m always amazed at how far I’ve come with respect to wasps.

As a kid, I didn’t know much about stinging insects, and I was terrified of them. As I grew up and learned more about pollinators, however, fear gave way to understanding, respect, and appreciation, and today, I’m not the least bit shy about running interference on their behalf when necessary.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Leafcutter bees

Left to my own devices, I would have ordered at least one nuc hive and two packages of honeybees this spring, and we’d have a yard full of pollinators tending my garden and entertaining me. Ron, however — frustrated by the departure of yet another colony of notoriously flighty Carniolan-Italian hybrids last year — decided he wasn’t spending another dime on bees this spring and would just put our names on a couple of swarm lists and wait to catch a feral colony.

No one called, so we didn’t get the opportunity to catch our own swarm, and as a direct result, my cucumber crop this year consisted of three fruits. THREE. A typical plant will produce cucumbers faster than I can put them up, but those flowers won’t pollinate themselves, and without several thousand bees living a few feet away, the blossoms just withered away without producing anything.

When I finally realized what was happening, I decided enough was enough and ordered myself a leafcutter bee kit. Leafcutters are a gentle, solitary species that don’t produce honey but do pollinate at least as enthusiastically as honeybees.

The bees arrive as pupae encased in little pouches made of — you guessed it — pieces of leaves their mamas cut from lilac or rose bushes. My kit came with a little bee house consisting of a plastic PVC pipe with a cap on one end, predrilled for easy mounting to a fence or other vertical space, and a wooden block with holes drilled in it for the bees to use as nests.

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One bee had already emerged from her little cocoon when she arrived a couple of weeks ago. I peeked in the other day, and it appears the others have emerged, although I haven’t seen any of them in the garden.

I may not. There are no guarantees they’ll like my yard; these are, after all, living creatures with minds of their own. But I planted a rose bush for them before they arrived, and I’m hopeful they’ll find the foliage and flowers in my garden attractive enough to entice them to stay, raise kids, and overwinter with me.

I had a secondary motive in trying leafcutters: I have a mild allergy to bee venom that seems to have gotten worse in recent years. I still prefer A. mellifera to all other bee species, but if the day comes when traditional beekeeping is no longer a safe hobby for me, I’d like a reasonable alternative to ensure I can continue to nurture pollinators in my garden.

We’ll see whether these girls decide to stick around. I’ll keep you posted.

Emily

Convenient discovery

So we went to Buchheit this afternoon to pick up a new water dispenser for my quail. For those of you who don’t live around here: Buchheit is a small chain of feed stores with lumberyards built in. So basically the kind of place I probably shouldn’t go without adult supervision, lest I come home with, like, a couple of turkeys or a deer blind shaped like a tree stump* or some other such nonsense awesomeness.

On the way into the poultry area, Ron spotted something glorious that makes it even less likely that he will ever let me take a credit card into that building again: Buchheit now carries beekeeping equipment.

Y’all.

Y’ALL.

I BOUGHT A BEE BRUSH AT THE FEED STORE TODAY.

If you’re not a beekeeper, you’re probably thinking, “Well, hell — why wouldn’t she be able to buy a bee brush at the feed store?” But for reasons I’ve yet to ascertain, no feed store I’ve ever been in carried beekeeping equipment. Until today.

They don’t have everything we use, but they have frames, traditional wooden hive bodies, smokers, veils, cheap Tyvek suits, gloves, hive tools, interior and exterior feeders, and various other odds and ends — enough equipment for someone who’s been playing with the idea of setting up a hive to walk in and put together a nice starter kit without having to order anything online other than the bees themselves. Given our propensity for losing gloves and hive tools, the convenience of having them available locally really cannot be overstated. But the truly exciting part is what this means for the hobby: There must be a lot of beeks out there if the feed store execs think it’s worth their while to stock equipment. And if all the kids in the FFA and the 4-H Club have to walk past the beehives to get to the poultry supplies, some of them might decide to take up beekeeping next.

Whee!

Emily

*I need that deer blind. For retirement purposes. I know I said I was going to set up a hexayurt, or maybe a tipi, but a glorified Hobbit-house with thick insulation and a door that locks would be way cooler. Considering my goal for retirement is to spend more time traveling than I spend at home, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to use a deer blind as a crash pad between road trips.

Why sustainability?

I’m seeing a few new readers drop by here lately, so I think this is as good a time as any to welcome the new folks and remind longtime readers of what I’m trying to do here.

While I added the weekly Eco-Saturday and Vegan Friday features in January, the principle behind them goes back to 1975, when a young member of the back-to-the-land movement was busy burning up her Osterizer one-upping Gerber on my behalf.

For 39 years, I’ve enjoyed the perks of an environmentally responsible lifestyle without spending a fortune or sacrificing any of the creature comforts most middle-class Americans have come to expect, and I suspect if others were aware of those perks, they’d be much quicker to embrace the idea of sustainability.

In exchange for minimal to moderate effort, my family and I enjoy a host of everyday luxuries we’d never be able to afford if we had to buy them off the shelf, and we keep our ecological footprint down in the process. For instance:

Backyard beehives supply us with sweetener for our toast, pollinators for our garden, and beeswax for skin-care products.

I can’t remember the last time I bought parsley, sage, rosemary or basil, and the mint I planted last spring has given me a virtually inexhaustible supply of peppermint tea. Meanwhile, between the cayenne plants and the cucumbers, I may never have to buy hot sauce or pickles again; I’m still harvesting arugula from under the frost blanket; and Ron just took three bushels of black walnuts to Martin Walnut Tree Farm to have them shelled last week.

In the past year or so, I’ve discovered the advantages of making my own yogurt, soap and beer. At this moment, I’ve got two gallons of nutbrown ale carbonating in the basement next to a finished batch of hard cider pressed from locally grown apples. While everybody else is drinking pasteurized, mass-produced swill, we’re enjoying freshly brewed craft beer for the same money.

Not everything we do for the environment is luxurious, of course, but most of it saves money, and very little of it requires any significant investment of time, money or effort.

To learn more about how you can save money and enjoy the satisfaction of a more sustainable lifestyle, search the Eco-Saturday and Vegan Friday category here on the blog, or hop over to my Pinterest board and start exploring the possibilities.

Emily

 

 

 

Eco-Saturday: Protecting pollinators

pondfloatiesweb

Here’s a quick, super-easy project for anyone who owns a pond, pool or other water source.

Pollinators will see backyard ponds and pools as ideal spots to stop for a drink, especially as the weather warms up. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a safe spot for them to land, they’ll drown.

If you have a backyard pond, your best bet is to toss a water lily or maybe some water lettuce or water hyacinth in there. (Be careful with water hyacinth and water lettuce, as they are invasive species that can wreak havoc if they get into waterways in some areas. They’re OK for small, ornamental ponds that aren’t connected to any streams, creeks or rivers, but I wouldn’t use them in low-lying areas where floodwaters could carry them into local waterways. They do have the advantage of being relatively cheap and spreading quickly, however, which makes them a good choice for shading ornamental ponds to prevent algae bloom.)

If your plants haven’t started growing well yet — or if your water source is a pool rather than a pond — you can recycle wine corks, plastic lids or polystyrene cups into landing pads for pollinators. I cut the bottoms out of polystyrene coffee cups and tossed them into the pond this spring before my plants took hold. They weren’t pretty, but they did the job and kept my bees safe until I got a good assortment of plants.

If you don’t have a pond or pool but would like to provide a safe place for bees, wasps and butterflies to grab a sip of water, cover the bottom of a shallow dish with pebbles and pour just enough water in it to reach the tops of the pebbles so critters can get a drink without drowning.

Emily

Don’t blink.

I spent a happy Saturday geeking it up in the garden. I got a few practical things done — most notably, Ron and I inspected the hives this morning, and after he left for work this afternoon, I reconfigured my irrigation system and planted a few tomatoes to replace some of the seedlings that didn’t make it — but this was my major project for the day:

tardisangel
Eat your heart out, Amelia Pond.
tardisbirdfeeder
Ready for birdseed. Or, alternately, a tealight. I think we know which way I’ll end up going with that.
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Sleeping angel, or Weeping Angel playing opossum? I’ve got the mermaid keeping an eye on her just in case.

After I finished my work, I made a big cranberry-peach-banana smoothie and sat next to the pond, which has tons of toad eggs in it. They seem to be growing. I imagine we’ll have tadpoles by next weekend. The duckweed seems to be increasing a bit, too, and the fish have gotten braver — they play in the shallow areas now, provided I don’t get too close.

songonknee
Songdog decided he needed some quality time with Mommy while Riggy was busy sniffing the quail pen.

Notes from our hive inspection: The bees seem to be settling in. The Carnie hybrids built a lot of burr comb that had to be scraped off — much to my regret, as it was full of brood — and the Buckfasts are drawing out comb and packing in great stores of pollen, although the queen hasn’t laid any eggs yet. It’s still early for them. We’ll check again next weekend and see how they’re doing. The girls are bringing in a lot of bright red pollen, which is interesting.

Hope your Saturday was full of satisfying projects and friendly dogs, wherever you are.

Emily