Saturday, August 29, 2015

What's Happening on the Homestead this Week?

The nights have been cool, with very slim chances of much rain in sight.  It has been a very dry summer.  A crispness of approaching fall is in the air in the evenings.  The bees are making knotweed honey and I can smell it's rich aroma when I pass by the hives.

German Butterball potatoes with carrots and parsnips from our friends' garden
Long Island Cheese pumpkin
Tromboncino squash.  I liked picking these as small squash and using like zucchini
Boston Marrow squash
Hot Peppers: Maule's Red Hot, Burgarian Carrot, Trinadad Spice, Habanero, Criolla Sella, Golden Cayenne
Dried chile powders

Hops harvest (variety unknown)
Hops
Hops on drying screens

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What is Happening this Week on the Homestead?

Criolla Sella hot peppers
Bulgarian Carrot, Golden Cayenne, Red Habanero, and Aji Colorado peppers

Sungold and Juliet tomatoes and Cayenne peppers
My beloved Juliet tomato
Juliet!
Chickens weeding
Chicken "Stay Out" fence
Blue Lobelia and Elephant Head amaranth

Chickens with hives, hop vine shade tower and coop in background
Chicken harvesting elderberries
Bees and chickens
Elephant head amaranth
Summer garden
Boneset wildflower

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fall Bees

Bees, bees, everywhere.  Small solitary bees and bumblebees have been crowding the flowers we have planted throughout the yard.  In terms of honeybees, it's time for fall management and preparations for winter.  What I'm doing now for late summer/fall management...

1) Checking honey stores.  I leave 20 frames of honey on each hive (100 lbs).  This honey is already in place so anything they gather that is extra from the fall flow (dark rich goldenrod, knotweed, and boneset honey!) I can harvest if desired.  I harvested spring honey earlier in the year from 2 of my 4 hives and got about 125 lbs, which is pretty good since they were splits, which generally make less honey than hives that are not split.  

2) Temperature management.  It is still really hot so on days reaching 90 degrees I give temporary shade.  The hives also have screened bottoms and upper entrances, which help them ventilate the hive.

2 hives with temporary shade cover with proof that chickens and bees can coexist.   

3.  Keeping an eye on Varroa destructor, parasite of the honeybee.  Long story short, humans moved the European honeybee to North America during the 1600s. Hives were kept for honey and swarming bees integrated into ecosystems around the country.  In the 1980s Varroa destructor was accidentally moved from Asia where it coexists in a balanced way with its host, the Asian honeybee, Apis cerana, to North America, where it wreaked havoc on the European honeybee, Apis mellifera.  Commercial beekeepers dumped chemicals into the hive, the mites developed resistance, and they are still a problem to this day.  

The beekeeper always has an eye on the mite count.  I'll never forget hearing the mite described in the first beekeeping class I took: "Imagine a mite the size of a dinner plate, attached to your shoulder, sucking your blood, weakening you, and transmitting viruses to you."  That is how big they are in proportion to a bee's body size.  A parasite doesn't want to kill it's host, but that is how the story is going right now.  Things are out of wack for the mite and the bee.  The complexities of this relationship deserve further writings, so I'll stop there for now on that subject.  

Varroa destructor



"Sticky Board" for monitoring mites.  Coat with oil and slide under the hive.  
I primarily monitor mites with sticky boards.  Since the bottom of my hives are screened, mites regularly fall off the bees and out of the hive.  Doing a passive count over 48 hours and dividing by 2 to see how many mites drop in 24 hours is a way to get an idea of the mite load in your hive.  Other methods are more accurate such as taking a measured sample of bees and either shaking them ino a jar of alcohol (which kills them) or powdered sugar (which doesn't) and then counting the mites that fall off them.  These techniques are called doing an ether roll or a sugar roll.  Sticky boards just give you a general idea of how many mites are likely in the hive.  Mite populations spike this time of year, so I need to keep an eye on them to make sure I am sending the bees into winter without too many mites.  

If I feel that I need to do something about the mites due to the number I observe, my treatment of choice is MAQS, or Mite Away Quick Strips, a product that utilizes formic acid in high concentrations.  Formic acid occurs naturally in honey, though in the concentration in these strips, it can be hard on the bees.  The temperature restrictions say you can use it when daytime temps are at a maximum of 85 degrees F, though I don't think I would use it over about 75 degrees.  I would like to experiment with Oxalic acid and Hopguard now that those treatments are legal in the US.  

Chemical treatments are still available, and commercial beekeepers generally rotate between different chemical treatments to minimize mite resistance.  A sad side effect of these chemicals (besides effects on the bees) is that the global beeswax supply is now contaminated with a myriad of chemical miticides.  

Mites love brood, so making splits is an effective way to break the reproductive cycle of the mites.  One of the splits doesn't have a queen, so there is no brood for awhile while a new queen is reared.  I have had lower mite numbers since I regularly make splits.   

4) Adding honey supers for the fall flow.  The main nectar flows around here are knotweed, goldenrod, and some other fall blooming wildflowers.  Yay for dark, delicious fall honey.

My dad making some honey supers with me
Supers with frames...still need 3 more frames!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Onions!!!!!!

Onion harvest 2015
Onions and shallots (hanging) curing on front porch

Mature Zebrune shallots from Seed Savers Exchange
Small onions will be saved for next year's planting

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Herbal Oils

My plan is to make some salves from my beeswax and herbal oils made from garden herbs.  The first batch of oils seems to have come out well.  I covered dried herbs in mason jars with olive oil and then kept in a warm windowsill for a month, with a night spent in the dehydrator set to 100 degrees.  

L to R: calendula, chamomile, yarrow, and comfrey oils

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer Lettuce

We love lettuce.... especially a crisp romaine.  The fancier salad mixes turn up their noses at humble little romaine, telling her to go play with iceberg.  But on a hot summer day, nothing is as refreshing as that crisp crunch.   Romaine can take the heat, when those dainty salad mixes just wilt into lettuce mush.

Jericho has proven itself as a great summer lettuce with good heat resistance.  It hasn't gotten bitter or shot up a flower stalk.  Ideally, I'd plant patches of it once a month for continuous lettuce in quantities that we could manage eating.  In reality, I have gotten 2 successions planted (one in April, one in late June from transplants) so that's pretty good.  I harvest it as a young head and let it regrow.  It also grows well in the cool spring or fall.

Jericho romaine
Jericho

Gazing out at the summer lettuce patch


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