Sunday, July 16, 2017

You Can Help The Bees

These days bees seem to be in the news a lot. People often ask what they can do to help the bees, and one way to do so is to provide them with water during the summer. If you want to go even further, you can make a simple sugar syrup to fee the bees during the dearth (when most sources of nectar are not flowing.)

You can add either liquid to any number of containers: a plain plastic plate with some rocks in it, a bucket with some corks, or a chicken waterer with some pebbles. The important part is to a) ensure the bees have good footing so they don't drown, and b) if you're feeding sugar syrup, to do it right, and change it before it gets moldy.

A small bucket with corks for the bees to perch on,
and a handkerchief for them to suck water out of,
works very well (they won't roll the corks, don't worry.)

Making sugar syrup for bees is easy. You use a ratio of 1 part granulated white sugar (nothing else please, not honey, not corn syrup, not brown sugar) to 2 parts water.

I use an electric teakettle to boil the water (recommended to remove anything that might make the syrup mold faster), pour it over the sugar, stir, and let cool.

A simple plastic plate with some rocks for the bees to perch on.

Another great way to help bees and other pollinators is to plant wildflowers and trees in your yard which provide nectar for them. A long list of these for plants in North America can be found on Wikipedia here.

It's also really easy to sow white clover in your lawn. It doesn't get too tall (cuts down on mowing) and is a good source of nectar for the bees throughout much of the summer.

Even the simplest of things, like a bucket of water with some corks, can a great help. Just remember to change it regularly and keep it clean. And thanks! The bees appreciate it.

Even a chicken waterer with some pebbles works.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Splitting a Bee Hive

Earlier this week I was invited to help a local friend "make a split" of one of her beehives. Beekeepers do this to keep strong hives from swarming and to ensure the bees have enough space to grow.

Bees reproduce by swarming. In nature and in apiaries, sooner or later a strong hive of bees will run out of room, and will feel the urge to swarm. A swarm generally has the old queen with it, who will accompany a large group of foragers and nurse bees to a new location a scout finds for them.

The hive left behind will have newly laid eggs, from which they will hatch a new queen. Every egg laid by a queen bee has the potential to be a queen, it is the nurse bees who decide when to create a new one, either to supersede a queen which doesn't live up to their standards, or to replace one that has been injured or has died.
A strong hive booming with bees

Making a split allows a hive to grow without going through the swarming process. Beekeepers who are paying attention in the spring know that splitting a hive will both a) give the bees the space they need and b) give them yet another free hive of bees!

It's a pretty simple process, but you do have to pay attention. The way my friend N does it is to start by inspecting a hive to ensure it's healthy and has a booming population.

She leaves the queen behind in the original hive body, and moves four frames of new eggs, brood, and nurse bees to a new hive. It's important to ensure you have newly laid eggs, as the bees need one under three days old to convert to a queen, which they do by feeding the developing larva royal jelly and making the cell large enough to hold the larger queen body.
Choose four frames with
newly laid eggs and brood

Once she moves the four frames, N uses sliding dividers in the hive to close the frames up, which ensures the bees don't have too much space to try to keep warm, which can be problematic. Brood needs to be kept warm, and if the bees have to protect too much space as they're doing so, the brood might suffer and the new queen not hatch.

In a week or so N will check the new split to ensure they've made a new queen, and take other steps if they haven't. Simple and effective, making splits is a skill every beekeeper should know how to do.

A finished split

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Planning a Garden

My friend Ame runs a wonderful non-profit, Fox Run Environmental Education Center not far from me, and she recently posted a blog entry which goosed me into making plans for our expanded garden this year.

I had done some research over the past several years, and found some very useful garden planning software at which I decided to start using this past week. I really like the functionality of this software, although the interface is a wee bit slow at times, but that may be my internet connection and not them, hard to say for sure.

I like that I can choose a number of different shapes in which to organize the plants, from square raised beds to round containers, and even triangles for fancy herb garden plots.

I decided to keep it simple for the herb garden this year, as it will be new. I made two raised beds, and two containers. One raised bed will need rich, loamy soil, the other a more dry, sandy environment. And in one of the containers I am going to attempt to grow Rosemary, which is apparently hard to do successfully, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained right?

This is a screen shot from the GrowVeg software.

One of the features of this software I like the best is the ability to create a Plant List, which shows the entire list of plants you're planning to use, as well as sowing and harvesting times (both indoor and outdoor sowing for those plants which need it.

There are a number of other features which I've only begun to explore, but these two alone have saved me a lot of time/effort.

It is a subscription service, and costs $29 a year. I will note, because it wasn't clearly mentioned on the website, that you can only create a total of five plans per year for that price, which honestly seems a bit low (I was able to negotiate an additional five with their support staff, but don't know if they'll do that for everyone, so don't get your hopes up.)

All in all, it's worth the price if you aren't a pen and paper kind of person (which I am not) and it's definitely worth a look-see.

And fwiw, those of you planning to grow onions this year, get them sown into the inside flats, it's time! (Thanks to Vicky Tewes of Thistlehair Farm for reminding me.)