Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Chicken Garden Pen

Inspired by the chicken tractor we built at work to use chickens to clean out beds that had been harvested, I used some leftover fencing to wrap around hoops that were still in the ground from our low tunnels to make a temporary chicken pen.  The area was overwintered lettuce, spinach, and salad greens that had bolted and were done for the year.

There was about a 3 minute period from the hens of "I'm not sure about this" when I put the girls in.  Then I pulled up a few lettuce plants, and they got the idea pretty quick.

"hmmmmmm"
I put in four hens.  This is only good for an overcast, cool day because there is no shade cover for them.  A waterer is also a must if they are in the pen for any extended amount of time.

Salad bar
I think I'll still pull out a lot of the largest plants and throw them in the real chicken run for them to turn into compost, but I think a few days of putting some hens in here for an hour or two while I weed the garden will work out well.  I'll also add some sort of "guard" around the bottom (maybe cardboard) so they don't kick all the soil out of the bed with their vigorous scratching.

Going to town
Clearing out the bed
Below is the chicken tractor we built at Garden Dreams.

Chicken tractor

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What's Happening in the Garden This Week

Bee Balm in full bloom
Streetside flower garden
an unknown red lettuce variety I want to save seed from
Experimental squash patch planted in chicken bedding doing well
"hot sauce" pepper patch
experimental tomato bed grown on woodchips doing pretty well
the vegetable and herb garden gone wild
Blue Boy bachelor button and overwintered carrots flowering
the garden
brown marmorated stink bug eggs and nymphs

hoppy chickens
garlic curing
harvested garlic early this year due to weeks of heavy rain and concerns of rot if we left it in the ground any longer
golden raspberry standoff:  Fall Gold on left has acidity, unknown sweet variety on right
Boyne red raspberry has been very productive with good flavor.  We froze a couple quarts of berries to make jam with later

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Strawberries are Finished, Raspberries in Full Swing

golden raspberry, unknown variety
wild blackberries, Fall Gold raspberries, Boyne raspberries, Jewel strawberries

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bumblebee Impersonators and Meadow Thoughts

I'd love to have a large area that was meadow.  However, until then, I have planted a couple small swathes of meadow flowers, and plan to learn on them...in terms of weed management, annual mowing, and all that.  I have an area in the vacant lot next door that we are slowly renovating, that is seeded with native wildflowers and grasses, crimson clover, and oats, and I am having to hand weed the knotweed seedlings that are popping up in a carpet amidst my wildflowers.  

We decided to weed wack all other areas of the lot, because a carpet of knotweed was coming up, and we will cardboard and then lay wood chips on top to kill the knotweed seedlings.  We have learned from experimenting that it seems knotweed coming up from seed can be killed this way because it is not established.  Knotweed that is spreading underground from a mother plant will just laugh at this technique and come on up, even if it has to grow around cardboard and up through a foot of woodchips.  This plant can grow through concrete.  And before we can really do anything with the lot, we have to get the knotweed a little under control.  Total control is futile, however.     

Wildflower and grass patch in the vacant lot
crimson clover in the vacant lot
So, areas of the lot look barren, as they are freshly weed wacked and waiting for a deep mulch to kill any knotweed seedlings waiting to pop up.  The grass patch in the back near the shed is my little wild flower patch.  There is no real soil in this lot, its pretty much just yellow clay subsoil.  It's kind of fun to start from scratch though, and see how resilient some plants are.  

little meadow patch in our vacant lot
bee on crimson clover
hunting praying mantis
In the home garden, lots of flowers are blooming to feed and host insect life.  

dill flowering
small bee on an onion flower
small bee on bachelor button
visitor on a carrot bloom
This is very cool.   The internet says this is the syrphid fly Mallota bautias that mimics a bumble bee for protection from bird predation.  This sucker was huge, but with fly eyes and little fly legs and fly mouthparts.  Aside from all those differences, the dead giveaway is that flies only have two wings and bees have four.  But birds can't tell that from the air when they are looking for a snack I suppose. 

bumblebee mimic Mallota bautias
bumblebee mimic Mallota bautias
Another small meadow patch I have is along a fenceline, and it is starting to bloom and buzz with life.  
fenceline meadow patch
fence meadow patch blooming
bee
bumblebee on butterfly weed
bumblebee on butterfly weed
I ordered some reed and cardboard tubes for mason and leafcutter bee nests from Crown Bees months ago and have finally put a house together with them.  Though it would have been better to get this nest up earlier this year, it is now finally up.  You can house the tubes in an old coffee can, pipe, or bucket, and face the house south or southeast in full sun.  Lots of different size holes are good so individual females can pick their favorite fit.  

mason and leafcutter bee house
mason and leafcutter bee house
Next up, finding a good location for my bat house!  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Visitors in the Garden

I really like keeping an eye out for all the insects and bugs in the garden.  Some of the things I have seen recently, include the larvae of a small parasitic wasp that targets cabbage worms, building their little cocoons.  The wasp is called Cotesia glomerata.  

Cotesia glomerata cocoons near a parasitized Imported Cabbage Worm

Cotesia glomerata larvae spinning their cocoons

Last year I noticed solitary bees were digging out tunnels in last year's dead raspberry canes and nesting in there, so I leave the canes alone until they vacate the nest the following year.

Solitary bee nesting in a dead raspberry cane
I'm always glad to see a few aphids here and there, because all the beneficial insects such as ladybug and lacewing larvae need a food source.  If my garden was completely aphid free, I think the adult lacewings and ladybugs would move on and find another place to lay eggs.  By not using sprays and planting lots of food and host plants (cilantro, dill, fennel, alyssum, parsley), the beneficial insect population explodes pretty quickly and keeps things in balance.

Ladybug larva on chamomile
And spotted this morning, a pretty little butterfly taking a rest.  After some googling, I think this is a Silver-Spotted Skipper.

Butterfly on apple tree

Monday, June 22, 2015

Beekeeping Equipment

Besides the hives and bees, what do you need to keep bees?  Everyone has their own beekeeping must-haves.  Here are some of the things I've found to be important to me over the years.

1. Something to hold your tools.  Sometimes I use berry baskets with handles or 3 gallon buckets.  The cat's pajamas is this beekeeping box Jason made me that doubles as a little stool.
A beekeeper's toolbox
2.  A smoker and fuel.  Don't mess around with the smaller smokers, just get a big one that holds more fuel and won't burn out as quickly.  Smokers are used on bees to mask alarm pheremones when working in the hive.  The way I learned beekeeping, you smoke the hive entrance and then each box you are working on briefly before opening to foil the guard bees.  When you smoke bees, even if it is lightly, you hear a buzzing roar and a mad dash around inside the hive.  You want to wait a minute or two to open after you smoke.  Presumably they may busy themselves eating honey in case they have to abandon the hive because it is on fire, and therefore they do not pay much attention to the beekeeper.  I always use a light touch with smoke since that is the effect it has on bees.

On advice from fellow beekeeper Danielle, I tried recently not smoking the bees at all, and just smoking my jacket and hive tool.  They seemed calm and receptive to no smoke, so I'll continue trying that.  However, a very light suggestion of smoke is good for moving them off of lips of the boxes as you are putting them back together so you don't crush bees.  Even if I go smoke-free, I'll have a smoker lit in case I need it.

Smoker with fuel

3.  Hive tool.  Sooooo essential.  Bees glue everything together and morter up any cracks where light is getting in the hive with antimicrobial plant resin that they collect called propolis.  This stuff is like sticky glue, and so you need your hive tool to pry apart frames and boxes (gently!) and clean propolis off surfaces from time to time.  My bees are very good at sanitizing their hive, so they use a loooot of propolis.  I love the J hook on the end of the tool; perfect for lifting frames out of the box to take a look.  

J hook hive tool
4.  Screens.  Pictured are a ventilated inner cover and a double screen for making splits over a mother hive, but I rarely use them for their intended purposes.  They are great when harvesting honey to keep bees out of the honey supers once you take them off the hive, or even as using for bottom boards or inner covers for splits made without the proper equipment.

Screened inner cover and double screen
5.  Protection:  a veil.  Some people don't use a veil.  They go into the hive with regular clothes.  I don't feel comfortable with that.  I always try to be gentle and calm with the bees, but I would never want to risk getting stung in the face and eyes, which can be dangerous, if I were to make some terrible mistake like kicking over a bee box I had on the ground, or having a bee accidentally fly into my face on her way into the hive.  Bees can sense carbon dioxide and they know that the mouth is a good place to target if they feel threatened.  So, for me, at least a veil is a requirement for going into a beehive.  Respect the sting.

You want to be able to move though and not to keel over from heat exhaustion, so suiting up from head to toe has not been necessary either.  A veiled jacket, pants, and shoes are sufficient for me.  I've done shorts too on shorter inspections.  The case against shorts is that bees crawl.  If they land on your legs they might just talk a walk right up your leg to...well, you get the idea.  

Jacket with veil
6.  Gloves.  These are optional.  I like to use them if I know I need to do something in the hive that might make the girls a little grumpy, or if the weather is windy or rain is in the air and they might be a bit grumpy that you are opening them up on such a day.  Otherwise, bare hands are much easier because I feel less clumsy in the hive and I can maneuver in there easier.  Thin gardening gloves are good...thick beekeeping gloves are very hard to work in.  

gloves

7.  Inspection log.  This is where I keep notes of important things (and dates!) :  mite counts, mite treatments, amount of stores, any signs of disease or health issues, honey flows, honey harvests, weather, swarms, etc.

Notebook
8.  A way to harvest honey.  Guess what?  The bees are in there with the honey.  If you want to harvest any of it, you have to get them out of the honey supers.  I always leave each hive with 100 lbs of honey for winter.  I harvest what is extra, and sometimes I leave them extra over the 100 lbs.  There are many ways to get bees out of the honey supers, some of which I have tried and some which I have not.  Bee blowers and bee escapes are ways I have not tried.  Brushing them off the frames I have tried and I found it very disruptive and agitating to them and me.

I like using a fume board and spray.  The fume board has a cotton pad inside.  I spray 15 sprays of Natural Honey Harvester (oil of almond) which they hate the smell of.  Then I place the board in place of the hive cover on top of the hive for about 5 minutes on a warm day, and the bees are driven down into the hive to get away from the smell they find offensive.  There are other chemicals that you can use on a fume board that the bees do not like that are not as safe to use.  The Natural Honey Harvester does not seem to rile them up, and it makes it fairly easy to take off the supers.  If there are still a few bees left, I gently brush them off the frames with my fingers.  Of course then you need to own or borrow an extractor to get the honey out of the frames and jars to bottle it up.

One of my favorite things is giving the honey supers back to the bees after extraction.  They are still wet with a bit of honey and when you put them on, the bees seem to purr and run onto the frames with their tongues out (proboscises out if you want to get technical) to clean up what is left.

Fume board
9.  Mouse guard.  I put this on the hives in September, when rodents start looking for a warm place to overwinter.  Yep, they think the body heat from bees is real nice...and lots of wax to chew on too!  So, best to keep them out.  

mouse guard
10.  Frame holder and towels.  Ok, these two things are not essential but I find them very useful.  The frame holder slips onto the outside of the box you are working and if you remove a frame, you can hang it here to hold it securely.  You can also lean the frame again the hive, but then you risk it falling over, or you kicking it, plus if there are lots of bees on it, they often march in a line onto the outside of the hive and then you have a big bunch of bees hanging out on the outside of the hive when you would rather they just stay on the frame, which the frame holder helps them do.  

The dish towel is for covering the bees that you have opened up but are not looking at right now.  The hive is dark.  The bees like it that way.  When you crack open the hive and start poking around, they are very tolerant and let you do your thing, but it seems polite to "draw the shades" for them as much as possible.  Seems to keep them calm.  

Frame holders and dish towel
11.  Queen marker.  That's right, it is a paint pen for painting a dot on your queen's back, once you catch her in that little cage.  A marked queen is waaaay easier to find if you need to find her than just another unmarked bee in a hive of 50,000 other bees.  I make a lot of splits and allow the bees to requeen themselves instead of buying marked queens and putting them in the hive, so I like to have this on hand in case I spot a new queen.  

Queen marker
My stuff!