Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sisyphean Struggle

Spring weeds and not using weed killer is killing me. I should have put down my mulch before the season was over last year....but did I? No. I did put in the dry creek bed through the garden, so I wasn't sitting on my laurels all winter. 

This was the garden last May -

It was full and lush, visited by many pollinators. I resisted cutting back spent foliage over the winter as the stems and seed heads are beneficial to birds and insects for food and habitat.

Here is was in June last year- 

I was very happy with how the garden filled out, looking forward to this year's growth. We visited our each of our grandchildren since we have been vaccinated. With one visit in mid-March and the other in early April I tried to attack the winter weeds in between trips. Ha! 
You can see in the photo below an abundance of winter Poa anna winter grass- all going to seed. I really thought I had knocked it back a good bit before we left for our second trip. Between the bird bath and the Magnolia you can see light green seed heads. 

For the last few days I have been pulling weeds. In the center of this garden are seedlings of last years blooms, none of which I want to disturb. Yikes.  In the photos below you see a sea of weeds. The first photo I marked the edge of the garden. Boy do I need to get busy. Seems like each night the weeds grow by leaps and bounds, my Sisyphean struggle, starting over again each day. 

In the middle of this mess is a tiny Oakleaf hydrangea, Little Honey. Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey'

My success yesterday was that I finished getting all the weeds (well mostly, am sure some will reappear this morning) out of the center of the garden where most of the blooming plants are. I had gone to a plant sale on Saturday and had some Salvia x superba 'Merleau', Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus Superior' and two different varieties of Asclepias tuberosa, the standard and 'Hello Yellow' to plant. I did have two Asclepias tuberosa in the garden but they have disappeared, late in emerging?

You can't see a small fence around this center area, it was put up to keep the dog from walking through the herbaceous plants and hopefully keep the rabbits out. The bamboo stakes in the photo above are marking some Amaryllis bulbs outside the fenced area. I stepped on them one time too many, so they needed to be marked. 
Today's job? I think this area-

Oh, did I mention that the place I get the pine straw to mulch my garden doesn't have any? Crossing my fingers for it to be in by the end of the week. My resolution is to keep a good thick bed of pine straw to retard germination of the weeds for next winter. Wish me luck!

p.s.- tick bite yesterday, yay.

©Copyright 2021 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

All A'Buzz- pt. 4 Pest Management

Gardeners may know there is a PMG (Pest Management Guide) for many pests in the garden. Working with bees ones also needs to be aware of sound pest management. There are both pests and diseases that a beekeeper needs to manage to keep a healthy hive. This post will address a few of the pests. 

One pest we have not had in our hives, for which I am quite thankful, is wax moths. Visual assessment of the hive boxes will let you know if you have these moths. Good hygiene is critical. As with any pest, letting it go for too long makes it that much more difficult to get rid of. If you have wax moths/larvae a good clean of all frames and boxes is needed.  

Hive beetles are an ongoing pest in the hive. These beetles are small black beetles, a little larger than a Sesame seed. The bees do a good job of 'cornering' the beetles in the upper parts of the hive. To assist with the corralling of said beetles, we use beetle traps. It is a long narrow reservoir with a perforated top. You fill the reservoir with mineral oil and nestle it in between two frames, in an upper box and at the outside region of the frames.  

These beetle traps remain in the hives year round, replaced when full of dead beetles. The bees don't mind these traps and from the looks of it, they move the beetles to the trap. 

The next pest I want to tell you about are Varroa mites. These mites are tiny, about the size of a poppy seed, but flat. The mites lay their eggs in with the bee larvae and once the cell of the bee larvae is capped, the mites grow along with the bee. The mites continue laying eggs inside the capped cell. Once the bee emerges from its cell, there is a large brood of mites as well. The mites weaken the bees. To test for Varroa mites you need to sacrifice about 100 bees per hive. We have a special jar contraption. It is two jars, one on top of the other, that share a lid. This lid is mesh top with a threaded screw on top and bottom. One hundred bees are gathered into the jar and the other side is filled with rubbing alcohol.  You close the jar and shake it so the alcohol is mixed with the bees. This kills both the bees and the mites. You then check the rubbing alcohol to count the number of mites per one hundred bees. You don't want more than three per hundred. 

If you have more than three per hundred, treatment is needed. We first used Apivar strips for treatment. It is a chemically treated piece of plastic that the bees walk on. The bees pick up the chemical and spread it around the hive to each other. These strips remain in the hive for 42 days. While the claim is that there is no significant residue in the wax, honey, pollen or propolis, we chose to keep the honey supers off the hives during this time. Click on the link to learn more. https://www.dadant.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/2011/09/Apivar-leaflet-EDITED-010413.pdf

You are to place one strip per 6- 10 frames, so about one per box. They hang from the top of the frame. I think this delayed our honey for harvesting.  We learned about another method for treating Varroa mites last year.  

We are in the bee club in our area and one of the members shared how he treats the mites. We liked his method, so it is our method as well. It is a Vaporization of Oxalic Acid. We do three treatments, one week apart, twice a year. The Oxalic Acid is a natural element, doesn't harm the bees. We can remove the honey boxes (supers), treat the hives, then replace the honey supers.

The powdered oxalic acid gets measured out, into the heating element. Specific directions can be found here. The heating element has jumper cable type clamps on the other end.  We remove the honey supers and replace the covers to the hive. Measure out the correct amount of powder, 1/4 tsp. per box. The wand end of the heating element goes in the front door of the hive and a cloth gets stuffed in around to block the hole.

Here's Charlie, suited up measuring out the powder, the jumper cable ends will get hooked to the riding lawn mower tractor battery.

Timing the application - hook the cables up for 2 1/2 minutes, disconnect the power and allow the heating element to remain in the hive for 2 more minutes. You should see smoke coming out through the seams at the top of the hive. After the allotted time, remove the heating element and seal the opening again for ten minutes to allow the smoke to permeate the entire hive. Place the heating element in a water bath to cool it before moving it on to the next hive. In the photo above you can see the honey super behind the hive. 

After the ten minutes, remove the cloth at the front door of the hive. You can see the foragers want back in! When the front door is open you can remove the top lid and inner lid, replace the honey super and you are done with that hive. Like I said above, this is done three consecutive weeks, that way getting all foragers, all newly emerged brood and all the nurse maid bees exposed to the vapor of the oxalic acid. We do this in the spring and then again in the fall.  

Will we have to continue to do Varroa mite treatments every year? I don't know, we will do the rubbing alcohol test and count the infestation. Some beekeepers don't treat for these mites, but you can risk losing a hive if they get overrun with the mites.

©Copyright 2021 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Queen Bee

and the Honeylovers. Wait, is this a bee post? No, but it mentions bees in the band's name. 

Let me back up a little bit. Last Saturday night after watching Austin City Limits debut performance of Ray Wylie Hubbard, a different show came on. Funny how that works, right? Anyhow, Charlie was asleep and the remote was on his side of the bed, so I just watched as I drifted off to sleep. It was a a show on PBS UNC called Echo Sessions. My interest was piqued by the performers for this week's show. Queen Bee and the Honeylovers. This band is from Asheville. For those who have read my blog for a while know I fell in love with Asheville when I went to my first Garden Blogger's Fling
The first two points in their favor are 
1. bees - we like bees- even if it is the name of a band.
2. Asheville- the name of the CD, I gave this band a listen. 
They are billed as a Swing Jazz band. The songs performed on this CD are original, written by Whitney Moore, the lead singer, or Whitney and Michael Gamble, James Posedel, or Steve Karla. Subject matter for this set of songs were legends of Asheville, many from Whitney's grandparents' stories. 
A few more points in their favor go to the songs themselves. 
3. One song is about Cornelia Vanderbilt, as she comes of age at the Biltmore hosting a masquerade ball. I love the Biltmore. During the Fling we toured the gardens. Charlie and I went back to tour the house. What a remarkable place. 
4. Zelda Fitzgerald- song title 'Legend of Zelda Fitzgerald' caught my ear as I listened to the show. Our neighborhood book club read a story of Zelda.  Guests on Earth  by Lee Smith, where it talked about her time in a hospital/sanitorium in Asheville. 
5. I am The Queen, appreciate other royalty.

 The next morning I Googled this band and found their website. I ordered their CD and it arrived Tuesday. This morning I did my curbside pick up for groceries, I grabbed the new CD and drove into town. What a fun CD, the music is light and jazzy- just what they advertised- Swing Jazz. Whitney's voice is reminiscent of music from the 20s and 30s, with fresh songs. I love the ties to Asheville as she is a 4th generation Asheville native. 
Their website mentions new material coming out, shows on television, like Echo Sessions, and radio interviews. Our favorite radio station, WNCW had their 'Asheville' CD on the list of listener-voted poll of top 100 albums at #41 for 2019 (I think I am late to the party with this band!!). 

Give a listen to the old standard  'Until the Real Thing Comes Along' 

All comments and thoughts are my own, no compensation for this review. Hope you like them as much as I do.

©Copyright 2021 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Watching the Water Flow

Living in on a sloped lot often brings a lot of challenges. I have already diverted water flow in a few areas. The dry creek bed in the back yard was the first, you can read about it here. I did not do that one, bigger task than I knew I could handle. 
The second was in our front yard, done with my daughter Rachel's help. You will see the change in the front yard in this post done July, 2019. Since then there was a mulch change from being hardwood mulch to pine straw. The pine straw has stayed put but needs to be refreshed. Unfortunately the dry creek bed that Rachel and I put in was in bad shape. Below photo is from the bottom of the hill, soil washed downhill into the rocks and there are winter weeds galore- no clear path for the water flow.

 I hated how bad this looked and decided it was time to fix it. Doing work like this in the winter is good because it isn't so hot, but my lovely assistant isn't visiting now. I paced myself. I looked at the overall job and put it into many days of small tasks. 

Task one- get the existing rocks out. I had some help from Liebling. She likes to sit in front of where ever you are wanting to work. 

Working on the hillside with it wet under foot isn't for sissies. My plan was to put a blue tarp down along the side of the garden area and toss the rocks to it. I decided that the larger, bowling ball sized (and up) would stay in place to keep me on track that the trench didn't move off track.

After removing all the rocks the second task was to dig out the weeds, soil, and a few plants. Again I remind you that the yard was wet and the slope is steep. I lost count of how many wheelbarrow loads I did. I just dumped them into the edge of yard, under the blue cypresses. There is a sharp drop off from the grass to under the cypress. Wanting to finish, I over loaded a few times. I had one spill out of wet clay soil into the grass- what fun. 

As you see below, wider and deeper. 

As I was digging it looked like I was digging deeper in the top part of the creek and wanted to make sure the downhill slope was consistent through the course. From the top of the creek to the bottom of the creek was about three feet difference in a run of about fifteen feet. I got out the level, some string and a couple of bamboo stakes and kept myself true to the slope.

Once I was finally satisfied with the trench, it was time for the next step- landscape fabric. Thinking that I still had some in the garage from my flagstone patio installation I moved forward. You know what was next, right? Yes, an online order to Lowe's and a curbside pickup. I was working against a clock, there was rain in the forecast and I didn't want a bigger muddy mess than I already had. 

Using the larger rocks to hold the fabric in place I got to work. Tossing the small rocks back into place wasn't going as smoothly as removing them. I got out my Gorilla Tub, a Fling swag staple in my garden.  Filling the tub and bringing them six feet to the fabric doesn't seem like hard work, but after an hour or so of bending, loading, unloading, bending to place all took a toll on my back!!

Little by little, the rocks were placed in the trench, covering the fabric along the way. 

Since the new trench was wider and deeper, the existing rocks did not cover all the fabric. I have more rocks, a good deal more. Where might these rocks be? Why, they are in the backyard, at the bottom of the hill, in the woods.  Under the leaves, next to the tree, is a pile of rocks about five feet in diameter and almost a foot deep. 

Long story short, I made eight trips over two days walking a tub half filled with rocks back up the hill.  A little tweaking of the sides of the soil near the top of run made the slope a little less severe so the rocks could stack against the sides. Hand placing all the new rocks, filling in bare spots was another task that was harder as I progressed. Finally! All done! 

 View from the top- 

View from the bottom, next task will be to get some more pine straw bales and spread them.

A side by side before and after. Boy, I am glad that is done. Well, done is relative- will wait for a big rain to see how it functions. Another tweak or two might be needed, but not hauling rocks uphill for a while!

Time to rest! 
Stay tuned for more bee posts.

©Copyright 2021 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

Friday, January 22, 2021

All A'Buzz- Pt. 3, Feeding the Bees

Feeding the bees? Don't the bees find what they need in the environment? Well, yes and no. It depends on the season. In our mild winters, on days above 56 degrees F, the bees will forage to see what is blooming nearby. In my garden I have Edgeworthia chrysantha opening in late January and blooming through mid-March.  See the pollen sacs on the bee's hind legs? Note the color. 

I have had some Edgeworthia blooming already in past years, but this year nary an open bloom. 

Also blooming in my garden during the winter months is the Flowering Apricot, Prunus mume 'Hokkai Bungo'. Today I thought that maybe I should buy and plant a couple more of these beauties. I love the dark pink blooms and the fragrance is cinnamon! When most of the tree is in bloom the fragrance is carried a good distance on the breeze. 

Today the whole tree was buzzing with bees! It was a warm winter day in South Carolina and the bees were taking advantage of getting out and collecting some pollen. 

As spring arrives more trees bloom. We have a lot of maples in the woods that bud early and the bees love them. A favorite tree is Tulip Poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera. I usually find these spent blooms on the ground as the trees are so tall. Over the growing season we have lots of flowering plants for the bees to enjoy.

Eryngium planum 'Blue Glitter' is a favorite for many pollinators. It reseeds a bit so I have it sprinkled throughout the garden.

Agastache 'Blue Boa' is always visited. 

The photo above is a native plant that I have welcomed into the garden. Pluchea camphorata has the scent of camphor when the leaves are crushed. I leave it to spread through the garden as it is a good deer deterrent. Note the color of the pollen - not the bright yellow as in the photo below!

Look at all the bees with their pollen sacs full of bright yellow pollen. 

In addition to nectar and pollen, the bees need fresh water. We have a lake behind the house, so filling watering stations isn't an urgent issue.  Bees use water in various ways. They use it to help cool the hive by putting a thin film of water across the brood and fanning it with their wings. They also use it to control the humidity of the hive. Water aides in the digestion of their food. Clean water is important to a healthy hive. There is a birdbath in our front yard that the bees frequent. 

But what about the times of year where there isn't anything blooming? A drought? A summer dearth? Many folks rely on the stores of honey that the bees have already put up. We didn't have a lot last year or the year before that because our bee population was still growing and the honey stores weren't that full. There are a few feeders that you can use to supplement food for the bees. The one that we have settled on is in the photo below. Charlie makes the solution with water and white cane sugar, similar to hummingbird food. The ratio for bees is 1:1, different than the hummingbird ratio of 4:1. The center of this feeder is open and the bees crawl up and over the center ridge, inside the screening. They are able to collect the sugar water and return to the boxes below.  

This is a good way to make sure the bees don't starve in the summer, but what about the winter? In the best case scenario the bees have honey stores to keep them through the winter. The first year we didn't collect any honey so there was a start of food for them over the winter. The second year we only collected four or five frames of honey so there were some frames of honey. More on collecting honey in a later post.
 To supplement in the winter we don't use the sugar water as it could freeze. We make sugar cakes or sugar fondant. It isn't like bakery fondant, recipe below. We put it in the hive and check every few weeks to see that there is still some sugar cake in the box. Making sure there is water in the winter is important as the bees use it to liquify the sugar cake in order to use it.  In the photo below you see an orange plug in the wooden frame. The wooden frame with the plug is a spacer. You need to create a bit of space for the sugar cake so the lid fits snug on the hives. 

I know there are folks who don't feed their bees and the bees do fine. We don't want our bees to starve so making sure there is supplemental food available is easy enough for us to do. Ask five beekeepers what they do to feed their bees and you will get five answers. None are wrong as long as the bees don't die.

Bee Fondant Sugar Cake

1part water to 4 parts sugar
1/4 tsp. vinegar for each pound of sugar
1/4 tsp. salt 

Bring to a boil and boil for three minutes covered. Remove lid and bring up to 234 degrees. Take off heat and let it cool to 200 degrees. Once it has reached 200 use a whisk or immersion blender until it turns cloudy white. Pour it on parchment paper in a pie plate or other heat proof container to cool. Once cool it can be placed on the hive. If you are not going to use it right away, a plastic bag in the freezer will keep it in good shape until you are ready for it. 

Stay tuned for more bee posts. 

©Copyright 2021 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

Monday, January 11, 2021

All A'Buzz- Pt. 2, More Equipment

There are some pieces of equipment that are in the 'nice to have' category and other items that are in the 'you really ought to have this' category. The item in the first photo is a nice to have item. A bee brush, a long soft bristled brush. We use it to sweep the bees away gently as we go about whatever it is that we need to do. You don't want to swat at the bees and get them excited (or angry). Gently sweeping them off the frame is a good way to get to business. Do you need a brush?  I put this one in the 'nice to have' group. Can you go about working the hives without one? Yes. 

This next photo shows both a queen excluder that was mentioned in the previous post and a smoker. Some people don't use an excluder, but we want to make sure that brood isn't laid in the honey supers. Can you do without? Yes, but it might be messy when it is time to extract honey. 

A smoker is used to calm the bees when you open the hive. I have not heard of anyone who does not use a smoker. It is in the 'you really ought to have' category. The smoke interrupts the alarm signal the bees send out that there is an intruder. You don't need a lot of smoke, but you also don't want the smoker to go out while you are doing something and need another puff. We use pine straw in the smoker, it produces a cool smoke, is readily available, and stays lit for a good while. We pump the bellows a few times at the front opening and also puff some smoke at the top as each box is opened.

Seen below is the inner lid. It is part of the hive box structure. It is placed on top of the hive box then the outer lid that has some sort of weather protection on the inner lid. On top of the outer lid you should place a large rock or brick to keep the lids in place. 

Not easily seen in the photo below but used each and every time we go into the hives- a hive tool. It is a flat metal tool that has a hook on one end and a chiseled edge on the other end. It falls into the 'you really ought to have' category. The chiseled end helps pry the boxes apart. Bees produce something called propolis. It is a resin type substance that the bees use to seal their frames and boxes together. There are some health benefits and propolis is something that some people save and use. I know no more about that but I can tell you it seals those hives tight. If you don't have a hive tool, it will be very hard to get the boxes apart and the frames out. The hooked end is good for assisting in lifting the frames out. 

In all the these photos you see Charlie's hands in leather gloves. I put gloves in the 'you really ought to have' category though there are people who work their hives with no protective gear on at all. More power to them. We don our protective gear spring, summer, and fall. Depending on what we are doing in the winter, we may or may not wear our gear. Winter time the bees are generally more docile and slow moving. 

I am including this photo below as a strong suggestion that one should wear good fitting gear. I had a veil that fitted over a garden hat. I thought it was a good enough fit. HAH!! Those little ladies got inside the veil. 

Shortly after that I bought my jacket with an attached hood. To me this is a 'you really ought to have' category. You see my gloves, they go up to above the elbow.  I also wear rubber boots that I tuck my pants into. Charlie does not, he has some straps that Velcro around his ankles to close the pant leg. You sure don't want to have a bee fly up your pantleg. I had some white cotton scrubs that I wear when I am gardening. Wearing white helps see ticks, I am a tick magnet! These white scrubs are big enough that I can pull them on over my shorts or jeans. A couple layers of pants keeps the bee's stinger away from your leg. 

Is this warm in the summer in South Carolina? Of course it is. We aren't out at the hives for long, but wearing this protective gear keeps us from getting stung. 
Stay tuned for more bee posts. 

©Copyright 2021 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

Friday, January 8, 2021

All A'Buzz -Pt. 1, A New Hobby

Some of you know that we, my husband Charlie and I, are now keeping beehives. Charlie started this venture in 2019 by taking the class on beekeeping in our area. I thought it would be just his hobby but I have been enjoying learning about the bees and helping take care of them. 

Toward the end of his class hives were ordered.

The common wisdom was to have at least two hives, as you can compare and evaluate each alone and against the other. If one is doing poorly but the other is fine, it is hive specific. So we got two. Placement was another decision to be made. We didn't want them near the front door or driveway because of foot traffic. Areas in the yard where our irrigation hits are also not a good idea. Rainfall is okay but sideways watering isn't the best. Our property includes a septic drainage field of a half acre, across the street from our one acre property. No one walks on the septic field and we only cut it once or twice a year, so the bees would be unbothered by mowing.

Hives should be elevated off the ground and level. Each hive is decorated a little differently so the bees know which is their home. In the photo above you see a level, cinderblocks and the hives. You can also see our house in the distance. The opening for the hives should face south. Good air circulation and sunshine are important for a healthy hive. There's a lot more to beekeeping than just getting honey!

The new bees have arrived - picked them up beginning of April. Timing for setting up a new hive is important- you need to know when the nectar flows start in your area and what is in bloom. Much of my gardening choices are for pollinators and hummingbirds. Well, bees need to have blooms that aren't long and tubular. Their flower shape is shallower or disc shaped. Gosh, I guess that means I need to get more plants!! I do want to do my part in helping our bees. The queen, brood and nurse bees were purchased from one of the bee club folks. They arrive in a special box called a Nuc box, short for nucleus, used to hive a small colony of bees.  In the photo below you see the Nuc boxes on top of the hives that will soon be home.

You can also see the foliage of some of the daffodils I planted a few years ago. There is plenty in the drain field to bloom throughout the season. There are some Rudbeckia planted by the birds, lots and lots of Asters of various species and plenty of Goldenrod to bloom through the fall. We are surrounded on three sides by forest and back up to the lake for fresh water drinking. The bees should be very happy. 

After allowing for the bees to settle in, we checked on them every so often. More eggs were laid, new bees were born.

You see an active frame, full of bees above. Photo below is capped brood and the white open cells are bee larva stage before getting capped- it goes from egg to larva to pupa to bee. A healthy growing hive. 

Some frames will have honey and brood but most of the honey stores are in another box. You can see the difference between the brood cells above honey cells below. Do you see the difference in color? 

When it comes to harvesting honey you don't want to take a frame of honey unless it is at least 80% capped. That which is not capped is not the correct water percentage to honey. Bees process the nectar from high water percentage down to under 18.6% water, then it is capped. 

One piece of the equipment that we use is called a queen excluder. The queen is larger than the worker bees and therefore cannot move through the excluder. The workers store the honey in honey supers- a box above the brood chamber. The queen is busy in the brood chamber laying eggs while the workers store most the nectar in the honey supers.

So here the hives sit, in our open drain field. Note the heavy brick on the top of each hive. We have raccoons, Opossum and other wildlife that we want to keep from opening our hives. If we were in an area with bear activity we would have more safe guards in place. 

Stay tuned for more updates about our venture into beekeeping. I will direct all questions to the resident beekeeping class graduate, I am but an assistant with a camera.

©Copyright 2021 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.