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Archive for April, 2009

yellowbee

B: We love it when our little bees come home loaded with pollen. They spend all day buzzing about stuffing pollen into pouches on the tibia of their hind legs which are called corbicula, or pollen baskets. Pollen baskets! It makes me giggle every time I hear it. I think of cartoon bees with tiny little baskets attached to their legs.

Bees will only visit one type of blossom on each trip out of the hive and I’ll bet you didn’t know that you can tell which kinds of flowers they’ve collected pollen from during their hard day’s work.

You can! Take a look at the chart in this link and you might deduce where in your garden the bees have been gathering pollen.

Yet another reason to sit in front of your hive mesmerized by your hard-working beauties; brought to you by Marybeth and Barbara.

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Tomato Daydreams

MB: This is the time of year when everyone’s daydreaming about their vegetable gardens and the star of the dream is usually the tomato. Everybody has their favorite tomato — or ten. The reasons for these preferences are as numerous as the varieties of this delectable vegetable. (And don’t start with the “Is it a fruit or a vegetable?” please!). Some people favor a tomato because it ripens early, or because the flavor’s sweet, or salty, or tangy, or meaty. The list goes on and on.

The other thing that goes on and on is the debate about the “best” tomato. Passions run very high on this topic. Even so, at the risk of being the target of some overripe globes, I’ll forge ahead and add my two cents.

brandywines

Every year I spend a lot of time pouring over seed catalogs to select the tomatoes that will grace my garden beds. This year’s list consists of my all-time favorites and a few new varieties that I’ve wanted to try. I’ve also included a list of the disappointments from last year.


The 2009 VIP List (or should I say VIT — Very Important Tomatoes?)

Black Krim — a large slicing tomato
Brandywine — a slicing tomato and my Mom’s favorite
Dr. Wyche’s Yellow — a large, beautiful golden slicing tomato
Persimmon Orange — because it’s a pretty golden-orange, big, meaty and tangy
Sun Sugar — a yellow cherry tomato
Sun Gold — a sweet orange cherry tomato
Super Sweet 100 — a red cherry tomato
Sweet Gold — a yellow cherry tomato

I grew Black Krim for the first time last year and it was amazing! I’d never had a “black” tomato before and will never again be without one in my garden. I also highly recommend at least a couple of varieties of cherry tomatoes. They are vigorous plants, easy to grow and super sweet. Cherry tomatoes are like peanut M&M’s; once you start you can’t stop popping them in your mouth. Even my dogs love them and wait for me to toss them a few. Everything stops when I start eating those suckers!

The 2009 Newbies
Big Beef — a beefsteak tomato
Cherokee Purple — a slicing tomato
Chocolate Cherry — a cherry tomato
Pompeii — an Italian plum tomato Principe Borghese — a small Italian sauce tomato
Stupice — an ultra-early tomato, because I don’t want to wait a minute longer than necessary
Super Marzano — a roma-type sauce tomato

Now here’s where I may really get into trouble. Apologies if I offend anybody, but these guys really disappointed me last year so I ruthlessly crossed them off the list:
Costoluto — suffered from blossom end rot and tasted like dirt
Green Zebra — bland, blah
Marvel Stripe — didn’t impress
Red and Yellow Pear tomatoes — great taste, but suffered from too many diseases

Before I plant my tomatoes I amend the soil with lots of compost, seaweed (a benefit of living on an island), manure, and some wood ash from the wood stove. When it’s time to plant the seedlings, I bury the tomatoes deep leaving only about 3 inches of stem above ground. Then I water with a mixture of fish emulsion and a product called Stress X (a water soluble seaweed extract powder).  Ever since I’ve been using fish emulsion and Stress X on my tomatoes (and everything else) they do incredibly well. Plants love the stuff!

Mmm! All this talk of tomatoes has my mouth watering. I’m daydreaming of kicking back in the sun, having a drink, snacking on some Caprese Salad, and gazing out onto my beautiful gardens bursting with life. Sigh!

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Bringing pollen back to the hive.

Bringing pollen back to the hive.

After leaving the honeybees alone for a few days to let them get settled in, I opened the hive on Friday all suited up and nervous.

Smoking the bees prior to opening the hive.

Smoking the bees prior to opening the hive.

I checked the cage that had held the Queen and, to my immense relief, it was empty. Yea! They released her!

Burr comb on the empty Queen's cage.

Burr comb on the empty Queen's cage.

Burr comb is random, wild comb that the bees build in between two frames where it shouldn’t be. I had to carefully pull out the empty Queen cage because it would have caused all kinds of headaches later on when I tried to remove it from the frames it would have been stuck to.

The middle 4 frames had comb, and some pollen as far as I could tell. I think I spotted the Queen on the middle frame. I should have checked for eggs and larvae, but I was so excited to see her that I kind of forgot. Then I thought, “What if she falls off?” So I freaked out and put the frame back too soon. (No wonder my husband’s pet name for me is “Freak.”) I promise I will get better at this bee stuff!

A word of advice, pack your smoker! I ran out of fuel and those girls knew it, they were all lined up, heads peeping out between the frames, eyeing me. When the smoke tapered off they started really swirling around me. Time to go!

One of my girls gathering pollen from the pussy willows.

One of my girls gathering pollen from the pussy willows.

Saturday was beautiful, warm, and the bees were happily bringing home the pollen. I searched the property to find where they were getting the deep yellow-orange pollen I saw on their bodies and I believe it was from the pussy willows down by the swamp. Last year I had bad thoughts about those trees, but now anything the bees like, I like. The bees have changed my mind on a few things around here. I guess the Queen does rule!

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B: In even the smallest gardens, amazing things happen all the time. Last week we had one of those perfect gardening days here in Southern California — blue skies, warm, wispy breezes. Gardening on days like this brings about a kind of meditative state, a peculiar slowing down of time that creates focused alertness. In these moments I am suddenly aware of small things that I might not have otherwise noticed. As I was cleaning a bed near the brick wall that separates my house from the street, I looked up to see this amazing sight. Anybody want to guess what was going on here?

Lizard love!

Lizard love!

Our lovely Towhees made their appearance. A pair returns to my garden every year to nest. My bird book says that these birds are shy. Not this pair! They were intensely curious as they followed me, running along the top of the wooden fence. I heard their little feet clickety-clicking as they ran. Later in the evening one of them perched on my patio chair and watched our Jack Russell Terrier, Emmie, as she watched them. Bold little things!

And what are you having for lunch?

And what are you having for lunch?

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MB: Wow! The last two days have been a jumble of excitement and nervousness. Even though I obsessively watched videos and read my books and websites over and over, I was still afraid I would do something wrong, like forget what to do in the middle of putting the bees in the hive. It felt kind of like those dreams you have about studying for a test in college, but then forgetting everything on test day — oh wait, that actually happened. You know what I’m talking about, same feeling. But mostly I was excited that the bees were finally here and I would finally be a beekeeper!

When I picked up the bees on Saturday night I was mesmerized, there were so many and they were one big ball of energy. They were all huddled up, clinging to each other, and their queen, making a lovely, low thrumming sound. There were even a few bees outside the cage who must have been left behind when the cage was nailed shut, but they held onto the outside of the screen the whole way to Block Island.  As we drove home, I held the cage in my lap. Oh! I love my bees already!

They spent the night in the workshop next to my seedlings. I thought the grow mat that was under the seedlings would give off some warmth, which it must have because they moved closer to that side of the cage.

This is how they were shipped.

This is how they were shipped.

On Sunday morning we were lucky to have an invitation to watch an experienced Island beekeeper install his bees into his new hives. It’s always good to get a visual and some great tips from someone who’s done it before. That said, it did not prevent me from making a small, but critical mistake when I went home to install my bees.

Back in the garden, I decided not to wear my bee suit or gloves. I was very organized and things were running smoothly until that moment when I realized that the bees were a bit more active than they should have been. I put the queen in the hive and began to empty the cage full of bees into the hive. (See the step-by-step pictures below.) Quite a few bees started to buzz around and some landed on me. They didn’t sting or even seem aggressive, there was just a lot of them flying around. When one landed on my cheek, I thought, “Oh boy, my face is going to look great if this girl decides to go for it!”  To my surprise, I wasn’t scared of them crawling all over me, but I was a little freaked out that I had spent too much time getting them in the hive. It was at this point that I realized that I had not sprayed enough sugar syrup on my little bees and I decided that it would be best to put on the bee suit. Doing that helped me concentrate on getting the job done.

It was a little overwhelming having bees crawling all over me and waiting to get my first sting, while trying to concentrate on getting the hive back together. Adding to the stress was the presence of my sister Pam (Yes, another sister!) who I’d asked to take pictures. She is deathly afraid of bees, but trusted me when I promised her that the bees would not be flying around that much, nor would they come near her. Oops!

She was a trooper, though. She toughed it out and took great pictures with a steady hand. That’s a primo example of sister love! Thank god she didn’t get stung! It would have been another family story told too many times!

The real lesson here is that I should have SOAKED the bees with sugar syrup, not just mist them a few times as I did. The syrup makes it hard for them to fly around and they are focused on cleaning themselves and their sisters, distracting them from what is happening. I strongly recommend giving those girls a good heavy spraying a few times. Believe me, this a must!

Something you should know about me is that I’m a worry wart and if something is in my care, I take it very seriously. All day long I kept going outside and to see if the bees that had lingered inside the cage had made their way into the hive. I worried that something had gone dreadfully wrong. It was a bit of a relief to see a few of the bees lined up at the entrance of the hive with their butts in the air. It looked funny, but I believe it meant they were releasing a pheromone that tells all the other bees that a safe home had been found and to come on in!  Towards dusk the bees seemed to be calm and almost all of them were inside the hive. I put my ear up to the box and it was humming — a very good sign.

It’s Monday morning. The sun is rising and, praise be, it’s shining on the beehive. On the other hand, there’s ice in the birdbath and it is very windy! Don’t you love April in the Northeast! Hopefully, the bees will get warm enough to want to explore their new surroundings and start building a happy and healthy colony!

Many thanks to all those who have helped me with this wonderful journey into beekeeping!

Things I needed to get started.

Things I needed to get started.

Taking the top off the bee's cage.

Taking the top off the bees' cage.

Taking the top of the cage off reveals the can of sugar syrup that kept the bees fed during their journey and the little box that contains the queen. You can’t quite see it, it’s on the far side of the can.

Punching a hole in the candy plug.

Punching a hole in the candy plug.

Beekeepers use a very ingenious method of keeping the queen, and a few attendants, in her little cage during the trip to the new hive — they insert a little candy plug in the end of the box. I poked a small hole in the plug before I put it into the hive. The worker bees will chew through it and release her.

Positioning the queen's cage in the hive box.

Positioning the queen's cage in the hive box.

I removed several of the foundation frames and hung the queen’s cage in between two of them. I’ll remove the cage in a few days after everyone’s settled in.

Spraying the girls with sugar syrup.

Spraying the girls with sugar syrup.

Here’s where I ran into trouble — though I didn’t know it quite yet. I sprayed the girls with sugar syrup for the second time, but I didn’t use enough. I should have sprayed a LOT more than I did. Note that I’m not wearing my bee suit or my gloves. That won’t last long!

Removing the feeding can.

Removing the feeding can.

Here I’m removing the feeding can. The bees are still pretty mellow, though you can see that they’re eager to get out of the cage. They’re wondering where their queen went.

Pouring the bees into the hive.

Pouring the bees into the hive.

The bees are supposed to kind of pour into the hive. They need a little encouragement. A shake or two should do it.

Bees are flying everywhere!

Bees are flying everywhere!

Whoa! I think we’re in trouble. Sound the alarm. Bees flying around — way too many!! Get the suit!!!

Safe inside the bee suit.

Safe inside the bee suit.

Pouring out the rest of the bees.

Pouring out the rest of the bees.

A closer look at the bees in the frames.

A closer look at the bees in the frames.

Even though some of the bees were flying around, it’s pretty amazing how all they really want to do is get in the hive to be with the queen.

Replacing the frames.

Replacing the frames — very carefully.

Positioning the feeding pan.

Positioning the feeding pan.

The bees need to be fed sugar syrup until the nectar begins to flow and that won’t happen until the weather warms up.

Pouring in the syrup.

Pouring in the syrup.

Putting on an empty super and the hive top.

Putting on an empty super and the hive top.

Some bees remain in the cage.

Some bees remain in the cage.

Not all of the bees wanted to leave the cage. The only thing I could do at this point was to place it close to the hive opening and hope that they would find their way into the hive.

Bees gather at the hive opening.

Bees gather at the hive opening.

And there you have it.  The next step is to do nothing. I’ll need to leave them alone for a few days to get acclimated, to get settled in and to build out the combs so their queen can begin laying eggs. Life in the hive begins!

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B: Remember yesterday when Mary Beth said that barring unforeseen circumstances we would have bees today? Well, we have unforeseen circumstances — sort of. Actually it was an assumption that got us, as they often do. We assumed that they’d be coming by mail, but the bees are being picked up tomorrow by an Island beekeeper from a trusted source.

So, with just a bit of luck and good weather Mary Beth will have the bees late tomorrow and be placing them in the hive on Sunday. And good thing too. The waiting is getting to all of us. The excitement of the arrival of the honey bees is even having an effect on Ray who sings Lucinda Williams’ “Honey Bee” whenever he sees Mary Beth or calls her on the phone. (Is there anything as sweet as a singing husband?)

Just a side note for those of you not living on an island. To “pick them up tomorrow” means you have to get up early in the morning, drive your car to the dock, load it onto the ferry boat and ride for an hour across 12 miles of hopefully calm ocean to Point Judith. Then you drive to the pick up, while throwing in a few errands for good measure. Later in the afternoon you arrive back at the dock to drive the car onto the ferry for the return trip — straining as you look over your shoulder, and the groceries piled high behind you, while backing the car into a VERY small space on the lower deck. It’s kind of a lovely ritual really. You get to meet with your neighbors and catch up on Island news. No one’s in a hurry, rushing off to do this and that — just riding the boat together across the sea to the other side.

Turns out the delay is for the best anyway. We had other things demanding our attention this morning. Today we sadly said goodbye to sweet Magee, our late father’s Lab. The years got the better of her and we had to let her go this morning. We will miss her.

Sweet Magee at the beach - her favorite place to chase sticks.

Sweet Magee at the beach - her favorite place to chase sticks.

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quincebud

MB: Before I give you an update, I thought this picture of almost-blossoming quince buds would cheer you up. Spring really is here, it’s just been a little hard to believe.

hivestand

Ray made a slatted bottom board and a hive stand. So now the hive really is ready for its new residents.

I just finished making a batch of sugar syrup for the bees. They’ll need to eat it when they first get here. I had five pounds of sugar for the first week and thought that’d be fine, but I just found out they can consume up to ten pounds in the first week. I don’t remember reading that in the books — and it wouldn’t be the first time some important piece of information was missing. Thank heavens I’m such a freak and keep reading everything on the web! I only hope that there’s nothing else I’m missing.

In the meantime, I had to order more sugar on Peapod so I can make another batch of syrup. The mix is a 1:1 ratio of water to sugar and add 1 teaspoon of Honey B Healthy for every quart of syrup. I wonder how much more I’ll need. I guess it’ll depend on what is blooming and if it ever warms up here.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the bees should arrive tomorrow. And if you think writing that didn’t set off a swarm of butterflies in my stomach, you’ve got another think coming!

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