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Strawberry Fields – Not Quite Forever

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Last fall I planted about 75 Chandler June bearing plants……they began producing at the beginning with a “beauty” on February 14th, scored a few points by giving the first Berry to my bride…….yeah, almost June bearing LOL. Half of the new plantings were in plastic covered raised beds, about a quarter in version #4 of my strawberry tower and the remainder in a strawberry specific pottery vessel. The link included goes back into the history of my efforts with strawberry towers. The three inch diameter towers have been mothballed for a couple of years. Fall of 2019 I snagged a piece of heavy wall 6 inch pipe…..it was challenging to build the pockets.

Not perfect and the thick pipe wall created challenges making the pockets. I will need to write a separate post with details!

https://bishopsbackyardfarm.com/2014/01/18/strawberry-towers-forever-v-3-1/

Surprisingly this has been my most successful use of the pottery style planter for strawberries. Previous years were sparse.

My raised bed planting under the plastic sheet have been disappointing. The biggest source of my disappointment is with my poor choice of plastic covering. In fact, it was much more than disappointing, it was a bonehead mistake. Yes, in my haste, I grabbed the wrong material, didn’t read the label, installed it and planted all the berry plants before I realized my mistake. I will remedy the error at the end of picking season.

One of my 4’ X 24’ raised beds has been fallow for two years due to my laziness. Lazy no more! By the coming weekend it will be reframed and planted. Most likely candidates will be cucumbers and pole beans. I am growing potatoes in pots again this year and will place them strategically around the beds. The sugar snap peas went in late but I should be able to harvest before the Houston heat lays them low. Carrots and beets also went in late but …….. life goes on.

Bees will be keeping me busier as the summer approaches. It looks like it could be a very bountiful year. I sure wish I hadn’t wrecked my truck. Turns out it is too expensive to repair so I have to jump through the hoops to get the check and shop for another. I think I said it before……. life goes on.

FYI- gardening is a pretty good social distancing tool or activity. Frame building for the beehives also works well.

TTFN

Bishop

February Going, Going, Almost Gone.

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2020 is a leap year and we only have 3 days remaining in February. I have sugar snap peas up 2-3 inches, one round of carrots planted, two varieties of beets planted (February is considered a marginal time to plant), potatoes planted and strawberries are ripening. I have some Romaine lettuce seeds in trays in the house to germinate as well as some lettuce cutoffs that are growing leaves. My Meyer Lemon tree is loaded with blooms and it should be a good year.

In the bee world things are looking good. It was a mild winter and 15 of my 16 hives have survived but March can still be a tough month. Five hives were overflowing with bees so I added supers last weekend. Probably four more hives are needing supers very soon. I have 4 new swarm traps baited and set and 4 of my older swarm boxes out. Seven more swarm traps awaiting paint and locations to hang them.

An open air colony that seems to be surviving our mild winter pretty well.

I am putting together a plan to rescue this open air colony but ……. it poses a few logistical issues, 15-18 feet high and 10-12 feet away from the trunk. I promise to document the adventure. In the mean time I will hang a swarm trap to entice them, not likely, but worth a try. The rescue…. may require ladders and a long reach chain saw.

One of the new swarm traps on the oak tree in my yard.

A bit of boredom set in today so I thought I would attempt an Instapot sourdough bread recipe. Ideally I needed one with a yogurt setting, mine doesn’t, so I improvised.

After 25 minutes with the top in place.
This is after 8 minutes with the top off. Good texture and close to a real sourdough flavor.

TTFN

Bishop

Benadryl and Bees

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My buddy John and I went out to see the bees today, hitting 4 of the 6 apiary locations. That represents 12 of my 16 hives. John had all my gear loaded in his vehicle because I bashed my truck up pretty badly a few days ago. Long story but fortunately the other driver and were just beat up and bruised.

Simple tasks for today, feeding some sugar water and refilling the pollen sub feeders. My gear today, short pants, long sleeve T-shirt, veiled for most of the stops and for one apiary I did don my gloves….one of the colonies of the three at this location can be frisky. John was not geared up so he smartly stood a very safe distance away. Well, I easily filled the pollen sub feeder here, added sugar water to the two docile colonies and then….. lastly the hot colony.

First, I needed to add a sugar water feeder to this hot one…. a board man style external feeder. In order to do so I needed to remove the restrictor at the entrance in order to add the feeder. That agitated them as it was pretty well propolized into place…..a handful of guard bees herded me away and for some reason went after my black walking boot……Achilles injury and sure enough 3 or 4 stings……I walked off and circled back around to place a restricter guard in place and again agitated the girls. Two more ankle stings and one up the pant leg of my shorts…..not too far up but did lodge a stinger in my thigh.

Benadryl and bees……the Benadryl is carried in my disabled truck…..not in John’s vehicle. The ankle stings were through the sock so it was easy to deal with the stingers left behind. The one in the thigh…..well after walking back to the truck, stripping off the boot and fishing a few more bees down in the boot out, I got around to the thigh. Pulled out my pocket knife and scraped the stinger out….the pulsing venom bag attached had emptied its load…..the thigh is well filled with bee venom.

Time for my Benadryl! I have plenty at home!

The remains two stops went smoothly, in fact, I didn’t bother gearing up at all…..I know the girls in these 6 colonies and they are sweet hearts. Bought lunch for John as a thank you. Then home for Benadryl. I am entering season 7 and am much wiser……my big learning during my first season was a tremendous lesson and Benadryl wouldnt have helped. See hospital photos below.

70 to 80 stings in the head and face…..hard lesson that I have made sure won’t be repeated!
My Homer Simpson look!
Boardman style – an external feeder on a top bar hive.

The bee activity is looking very strong for all of my hives excepting only 1….. if that holds I will be in great shape for the spring nectar flow.

TTFN

Bishop

Meyer Lemon Jelly and Other Tidbits

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As I promised in the last post, I am reporting back on the tasting feedback and impressions…..

Visually most folks thought it looked like light spring honey, see below.

One comment…..”tastes like key lime”…..I can second that!

” I like the jelly but was expecting a more pronounced lemon flavor”……FYI Meyer Lemons really aren’t a lemon.

And so on….”good, nice, tasty, can I take a jar?”

I am going to pronounce it a success and will do another batch this rainy weekend. I will likely jar up a bigger number of sample size jars for give aways. I will also resurrect the jam recipe, much like a marmalade. I will post that recipe if it comes to fruition.

Tidbits

Bees….16 hives and, knock on wood…..they all seem to be doing well. With the mild November and December the bees have been active. I have not seen pollen coming in for the last 3 or more weeks. I decided to put out feeders with pollen substitute. Based on the first one placed the bees are doing a happy dance. In less than 24 hours they had zeroed in and were loading up. See slomo video below.

I love watching the slomo images. The iPhone is pretty awesome.

The charity trap out appears to have been a success. All the bees are out of the shed where they had made a home and now reside in my half size top bar box. The big unknown is – how big is the colony? I started feeding sugar syrup two weeks ago and they sucked it all down. I added pollen substitute yesterday. During the cold snap on Monday I will lock them in and bring them home to fatten them up.

The garden is bare except for the Meyer Lemon tree and 70 new strawberry plants that are developing nicely. Plans for beets and sugar snap peas for planting in late February are underway. I need to refurbish the timbers on one of the 4 X 25 foot raised beds.

Another relatively tedious project will be to rebuild my tandem 4 X 4 X 4 compost bins.

I was gifted a bat house for Christmas figuring I could put it up high on my large oak tree…….guess what, not recommended. So, I need to come up with plan B! Maybe I can build an owl house and put it up in the oak tree.

TTFN

Bishop

Bee Rescue – Giving Back

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I am in the midst of a trap out for a woman that can’t afford to pay the usual $400.00 to do a cut out. My wife made the connection with the woman and I was reluctant because I don’t want any part of the work and effort to do a cut out. I hemmed and hawed for a week, then asked for a photo…….good news, the location seemed to lend itself to a simple trap out. My biggest concern is Fall……once out I will need to baby the bees for them to make it through the winter.

The location- in the wall of an out of service cold box with wood clad external sides. Apparently a knot in the wood rotted out and left a very nice 1 inch diameter hole. The flat surface of the cold box simplifies the process. First build the escape cone.

Start with 1/8 inch(#8 hardware cloth), create a cone with an exit hole a little larger than than a pencil thickness. I drilled a 2 5/8 inch hole in a thin piece of plywood, sized so 6 or 7 inches of the cone protruded through. Trimmed the fat end to create wings, covered the wings with duct tape and secured with staples.

The bees were foraging and calm when I installed the cone.

The wire cone and small escape hole is not well seen by the bees complex eyes.after escaping to forage they return and are locked out. They mill around, they smell their hive and scramble trying to find a way back in. Sometimes there are other access holes and they will find a way back in. Fortunately, I got lucky….just a single entry hole.

Now I need to make them comfortable. I have a short topbar box needing bees and it has 4 bars of drawn comb, some old heavily propolized bars and a packet of queen scent. Today was day three and the escapees have found a home. I just hope that the weather holds long enough to starve out the queen. Workers are bringing pollen in and I will add a feeder shortly.

Love watching the girls work and drawing in more recruits. If the weather was warmer I would be tempted to bring this box a bar of eggs and brood. I really need to get the queen to recognize that no resources are coming in and choose to leave. I will give her a little time and may poke another hole to pump some smoke into the cavity to encourage her to leave.

Update….. 8 days later and the bees have found some rotted out wood at the base of the old cold box back around the backside. I have sealed up the area but will have to wait for flying weather after our cold snap to gauge my success. Looking for something north of 50-55 degrees F to check it out.

TTFN

Bishop

Washboarding – Strange Bee Behavior

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May 22nd of this year, 2019, I observed the bees in one of my swarm traps exhibiting this unusual behavior. The experts don’t have a definitive answer for the behavior. Click on the link.

https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=7586

I have seen it 3 or 4 times with my hives over the past 6 years. One common observation on my part is that I see it exclusively in the afternoon on warm days. I really to log the activity to see if there are some commonalities. The washboarding activity really is fascinating to watch. Below is the slomo video I took that afternoon.

Fascinating…..these creatures are so fascinating. I can spend literally hours just watching them come and go.

TTFN

Bishop

Bee Swarms – A Model of Consensus Building

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First, it may be beneficial to understand why bees swarm. If you consider the colony to be an organism, it like any organism, must reproduce to ensure its survival. If left to their own devices, a beehive/colony will almost certainly swarm. Typically there is a prime swarm, the existing queen and up to 60% of the colony gorge up on honey and leave looking for a suitable nest. Sometimes colonies will divide themselves more than once. This inborn behavior, to swarm and reproduce, is both a bane and a positive event for beekeepers.

The positive;

Beekeepers keep an eye on the colony in early spring looking for signs of an impending swarm. Evidence includes an increase in the number of drones, male bees, being produced. The next piece of evidence is the building of queen cells in preparation of the queen leaving. The colony will need a new queen to replace the departing grand dame. The colony may make a dozen or more queens, only first to emerge will survive and mate. Side note…she may not even survive a mating flight…..she could become a tasty morsel.

The bane;

The bees swarm on there own leaving behind a much smaller population that may not build up quick enough to put away enough honey to harvest.

This reproduction discussion is cursory…..it is a lot more detailed and fascinating than this space provides. What prompted this post was observing bee behavior around my swarm trap boxes. I have three swarm trap boxes in my backyard and if the timing is right I see a lot of what is described in the large paragraph I plucked from Wikipedia. It begins with a few scout bees finding potential nest site.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarming_(honey_bee)#Nest_site_selection

“Nest site selection

The scout bees are the most experienced foragers in the cluster. An individual scout returning to the cluster promotes a location she has found. She uses the waggle dance to indicate direction, distance, and quality to others in the cluster. The more excited she is about her findings the more excitedly she dances. If she can convince other scouts to check out the location she found, they may take off, check out the proposed site, and may choose to promote the site further upon their return. Several different sites may be promoted by different scouts at first. After several hours and sometimes days, slowly a favorite location emerges from this decision making process. In order for a decision to be made in a relatively short amount of time (the swarm can only survive for about three days on the honey on which they gorged themselves before leaving the hive), a decision will often be made when somewhere around 80% of the scouts have agreed upon a single location, and/or when there is a quorum of 20-30 scouts present at a potential nest site. When that happens, the whole cluster takes off and flies to it. A swarm may fly a kilometer or more to the scouted location, with the scouts guiding the rest of the bees by quickly flying overhead in the proper direction. This collective decision making process is remarkably successful in identifying the most suitable new nest site and keeping the swarm intact. A good nest site has to be large enough to accommodate the swarm (minimum 15 liters in volume, preferably ≈40 liters), has to be well protected from the elements, have a small entrance (approximately 12.5 cm squared) located at the bottom of the cavity, receive a certain amount of warmth from the sun and not be infested with ants. In addition to these criteria, nest sites with abandoned honeycombs are preferred, as this allows the bees to better conserve their resources.

Today I witnessed what I suspect were the final two nest sites in the selection process. There were 20 -30 bees running in and out of two of the swarm traps located in my backyard. Being an eternal optimist, I thought I was about to pick up two swarms.

 

This white box is larger in volume than the brown box I will show you next. Both boxes a baited with queen scent and have at least two fully drawn frames of old brood comb.

 

This video was taken a few minutes after I shot the white box, showing a significant increase in action.

An hour or so later I realized that I was not lucky enough to snag two swarms in my backyard. Dang!!!!!

 

They are moving in and claiming the brown box. It is much smaller than the white box but has had the advantage of capturing two previous swarms. That scent left by previous bees is a strong attractant.

I am not giving up on the nice white box, there are still a few “lookie lu’s” checking it out but the consensus? A smaller box with the familiar scent of a home was the swarms choice!

As a bonus, I have a swarm trap in my backyard that will be moved within the next few days. Today, as the new swarm moved in, this box was exhibiting a curious activity called “washboarding”. Lots of theories of why, but it remains a bit of a mystery. I thought I would share the video with all y’all. I shot it in slomo but it starts full speed and ends full speed. It is just fascinating to watch them. FYI, it was very warm and humid!

When the old queen leaves during a primary swarm, she already has a few miles on her. A queens productivity declines steadily, forcing many commercial keepers to replace her every year to maintain peak production. If you are lucky enough to capture a primary swarm, you have a queen on the decline. The queen really does not rule the hive, the workers do! It is very likely that the swarm will create “supercedure ” cells and replace her!

“Supersedure cells are often begun after the eggs are laid. The bees, knowing they need to replace the queen, begin feeding royal jelly to a young larva they have selected. They build a supersedure cell around this larva (or several larvae) and it hangs down from the face of the comb. Swarm cells, however, are built in preparation for swarming and are not intended to replace the queen, but to raise a second queen. This way, there will be a queen for the part that swarms and a queen for the part that stays.”

From; https://honeybeesuite.com/is-it-a-swarm-cell-or-a-supersedure-cell/

 

TTFN

Bishop

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