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Rainy Days in the Garden

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A slow gentle two inches of rain over the past couple of days and the garden is happy.

Little by little I have completed the raised bed in the fallow section of my garden. I had 88 feet of 2X10 boards inherited from my neighbor a couple of years ago. I immediately used 56 feet to replace the rotted boards on one 24’X4’ raised bed to the right in the photo below, but was a little short to do the fallow bed of the same size. So…….the remainder languished for a future date on my procrastinating and ever growing list of what I should or could be doing. Social isolation got my gardening project going. My list of possibles is still huge, nonetheless.

Looking down the length of the resurrected bed looking toward the Meyer Lemon tree.

The new bed was begging for something to be planted so I stuck a 4 pole planting for some pole beans, Blue Lake. I used to set the poles up teepee style but the growing vines became very congested at the congregation point making bean pods difficult to find, let alone pick them. At the top of the 4 poles I used the circular wire portion of a damaged tomato cage. Looks a bit goofy but I will experiment a little more ……. I will put two more sets in and should have it figured out soon.

Four uprights from crepe myrtle prunings’, a couple of handfuls potting soil and two soaked seeds……..they germinate quicker if I soak them.
A bit messy in the background but you can see the top two rounds of the old tomato cage.
The butt end of the celery I planted a few weeks ago is looking good.
The romaine lettuce is also doing well. I have three of these cut end plants almost ready to pluck leaves from.
I have 8 pots where I planted seed potatoes. I placed an inch or two of soil in the bottom and continue to add as the plant grows. I will mound it up eventually.
I also poked some seed potatoes deep into my compost pile. These are two of the 6 that are developing nicely
My muscadine grape vine has really burst out after a “long winter sleep”……we really did have a winter but it was pretty durn mild.

Not much new to report on the bees, scouts are still visiting but no takers yet. Finished off another swarm trap to hang soon. I’m seeing more and more reports of other keepers in the area having great luck. I will poke my head into a few hives this weekend to get a feel for how well the girls are doing.

TTFN

Bishop

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

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

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

Tree Top Bees

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I am in the middle of trying to coerce some bees to leave a tree so the tree crew can remove it. The homeowner is pretty sure they are the same bees that have live in the soffit by the front door for more than 4 years. She claims that they left two months ago, formed up on the dead tree in her backyard and found a squirrel hole to their liking.

My job starting today, Wednesday May 8th, is to force them out, known as a forced abscond in the Bee World. I have until the end of day on the 12th to get them out…..otherwise the bees will be dispatched and the tree removed. So here is my set up up, I hung a box on the tree above their entrance. If bees are forced out they typically move up. I use smoke with a little Tea Tree oil added to irritate them enough to move. I was unsuccessful today in trying to add another hole in the tree to help get smoke up into the brood chamber. I have a bit buried in the trunk and need to get it out. Ugh!!!

This is a 16 foot ladder so you can get some perspective. I hung a baited swarm trap box 18-24 inches above the exit the bees are using.

The arrow indicates the exit. I have attempted to drill a hole to the left side of the hole. That is where the bit is stuck and I’ll need to extract it or try a little different spot.

We, John and I spent the better part of two hours pumping smoke into the hole. On a positive note, the bees do not appear to have a back door. The bees finally found the box and inspecting it much like scout bees do before selecting a home for a swarm. We shut down after about three hours on location and prior to leaving, we sprayed a little bee quick, an almond scented spray that bees detest, around the opening. It appears it may be deterring bees from returning but bees are sporadically exiting. That’s a good thing!

Pumping smoke spiked with Tea Tree Oil as an irritant for the bees. The bees are behaving nicely but up in that position I decided to play it safe and gear up.

We sought out a beer and sandwich before the storms were expected. There seems to be a lot of activity in the box hanging in tree…..a real good thing. I plan on making use of the window of time between the storms Thursday morning to attack again, get the bit retrieved, smoke again and hopefully they move. Wish us luck.

TTFN

Bishop

I’ll Bee Quick

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The swarm I caught in my “Goo” friend John’s yard needed to be moved before his mother’s visit from Rhode Island. Bees make her very nervous and the visit will be more comfortable without a hive in the backyard. I had recently lost a hive at a nearby apiary so I had a perfect place to move them.

A small problem though, the move was less than two miles and sometimes a short move like that allows the bees to return to the old location. The rule of thumb is move them 6 feet or 6 miles. Six feet allows them to find the box in a short period of time and a 6 mile move creates disorientation relative to the sun. At 6 miles they will orient themselves to the new home relative to the sun. Two miles could be a problem…..

I locked the bees in the swarm box by closing the entrance with a wad of burlap. I left them locked up the best part of two days. I also covered the entrance with some leafy branches before releasing them forcing the bees to reorient themselves due to the confusion of the branches…it worked well. Now I wanted to move them into a full size box.

My usual assistant John, was out of town for a wedding. Luckily my daughter Ashleigh was visiting from Denver and had expressed interest in the bees. She was a good help and she decided to try a time lapse video of the installation process. It went very smooth, the bees were placid and I barely broke a sweat. The video worked well.

After finishing up here we stopped by a single hive I have in a friends backyard. This is a strong and busy hive. Ashleigh didn’t know it but she posed for a Bishop’s Bees And Honey promotional photo op. I caught her shooting a slomo of the bees coming and going.

I brought her back to the house, got her bags packed, put her on the plane and sent her back to Denver. It was a busy day. We had a great visit, just wish she could visit more often. Just gotta make the most of every visit!

TTFN

Bishop

Busy as a Bee

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I feel fortunate, as a beekeeper I am able to witness bee behavior not seen by very many people. Bees love a tidy home and go to great lengths to ensure that it is so. I have been lucky enough to have caught 4 swarms this year. I have a few more baited up and I have my fingers crossed for more.

So, what do you bait them with you might ask? Here is what I do;

Make a box that holds 5 or 6 deep frames – with at least 19L of volume. Yes, I do use the metric system sometimes. – 1160 cubic inches…like two big block engines.

Use a deep frame with brood comb or secure some brood comb with rubber bands. I have 4 to five frames with wax foundation of partially drawn comb

Add a smidgeon of lemon grass oil, a squirt of Swarm Commander and sometimes a envelope of queen scent.

Secure to a tree or elevate the box on a ladder.

Hope the scout bees love your box and go back and recruit more scouts – hopefully they all agree and move in!

This is what moving in day looks like. It really doesn’t take a day once they have all agreed and the queen steps inside.

About an hour later most of the bees had moved in. It was just amazing to watch them climbing up and over the lip and into the box.

Move in day is almost complete.

Now I mentioned earlier that they like a tidy house. In this box was a big chunk of brood comb secured with rubber bands. A couple of days ago I stopped by to see how they were doing……they had apparently secured the brood comb and cut the rubber band loose. Look closely at the opening.

The next day. Look closely inside the entrance for the other pieces of rubber band being extracted. They are amazing!

This isn’t the first time I have witnessed this type of behavior. A couple of years ago my “Goo” friend John helped me cut a colony out of a downed tree. We rescued 6 or 7 frames of comb by securing them with rubber bands. The video below shows a pile of rubber band below the hive and an interesting look at an undertaker bee hauling out a dead bee. It is so cool to see the free fall of the two bees, one dead and one very much alive.

 

Isn’t that just too cool? The division of labor in a hive is also amazing but I won’t bore you with the details but if interested just ask Google, Siri or Alexa.

I moved the captured swarm out of John’s yard and over to my nearby apiary. Left them locked in for two days because the move was just a two miles. I also shrouded the front of the hive with a bunch of branches to force them into orientation flights. Sure enough, once unlocked they did their figure 8 dance facing the hive.

I baited another box and hoisted it up into the tree where I caught a strong one last year. When it comes to swarms, lightning does strike twice, actually many times. I know beekeepers that catch multiple swarms every year in the same stop!

TTFN

Bishop

Another Hiatus – Ended

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It has been too long between posts so I wanted to let all y’all know that I am still kicking and busy. Well, for a couple of weeks I was busy relaxing in Los Osos California “braving” the chilly 52 degree F mornings as my garden and friends back in Houston were sweltering. Damn, I had to put long sleeves on, slept with the window open under a comforter….wow, I could get used to this. All good things are subject to change….I had to pack up and return to Houston.

Upon my return my cucumbers had succumbed to the heat and the white flies, yes, I knew it would happen. A couple of the tomato plants had also passed away…RIP….But they were making way for an August planting to provide good veggies into the Fall. I will replant!

Cucumbers are going int first. I will load the bed up with compost and plant a couple of varieties. The English cukes did really well this year so more of them and then a bunch of Straight 8 variety. The local honeybees love visiting my Cukes!

JBD_1032

August appears to about normal in term of temperature and maybe a bit more damp than normal so it should be good.

With my tomatoes, I may try an heirloom or two. Get them established while it is warm and hopefully enjoy the cooler temperatures going into the fall. Pink Brandywine and Cherokee Purple will be high on the list.

TTFN

Bishop

Because She Loves Tomatoes

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She didn’t grow up loving tomatoes! She had only been exposed to those from the supermarket. Here is a little info that may influence where YOU but tomatoes in the future;

I worked at a produce warehouse in Bakersfield California….we received produce by the truckloads and placed them into the appropriate storage room. We would then load trucks for the local stores 5 nights per week with the produce items they had ordered. The tomatoes we received were not any where near red when they arrive but 3 days later they were red and headed to the shelves at the local markets. What was magic about the 3 days?

Answer: A room with controlled temperature, humidity and a big dose of ethylene gas. The tomatoes went into the room hard, firm( the hard and firm part is to help in transit) and with some evidence of a pink at the stem attachment, three days later, very red but still hard and firm tomatoes were sent out to the markets. It is no wonder that she didn’t like them!

Along about 1982 she married me…..lucky for me and I suppose lucky for her too as I introduced her to “worldly” things like vine ripened tomatoes! She couldn’t believe how flavorful they could be. Her first taste of an Heirloom tomato, a Brandywine to be exact, blew her mind. Her comment was that it tasted like a perfect tomato with a dash of salt…..but no salt was added. Unfortunately I struggle to grow Brandywine tomatoes here in Houston but Bakersfield was perfect for them.

On the patio near the house I keep a determinate variety of tomato for her pleasure. She can keep a daily eye on it and removes the ripening tomatoes before her friends, the damn squirrels, can get to them…..I have proposed a solution for the squirrels but she won’t acquiesce.

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The patio plant sans ripe tomatoes….they have been removed before tempting the squirrels.

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One of her favorite combinations – vine ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion(not shown) No ethylene gas room used in the ripening of this tomato…..unharmed in the natural process!

Recipe…..

Whatever ratio of chopped tomatoes and quarter slice cucumbers that you desire. Chopped red onion to flavor and mix with a 50/50 mix of an Italian dressing and Ranch dressing. Let marinate for a bit…..she usually can’t wait, still taste heavenly! I will sometimes add fresh ground black pepper to my bowl.

The Sweet Million cherry tomatoes are kicking in and they can also be used….usually just cut in half.

I have a couple of Roma Tomato plants that are loaded up with green tomatoes and lots of blossoms.

Bee stuff for a moment. I extracted a couple of supers last week and put them out in the garden for the local bees, not my bees, to clean up before returning to their respective hives. They do a great job and helps the local feral bee populations.

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I hope you have access to vine ripened tomatoes….if not try a Farmers market but be picky. If you spot produce boxes behind the tables ask questions about the source!!!!! A gentle squeeze test will also indicate whether the are vine ripened or coerced into turning red…..not ripe but just beautiful red!

For you Hun;

“Don’t tell me it’s not worth trying for
You can’t tell me it’s not worth dying for
You know it’s true
Everything i do, i do it for you”

(“(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” is a song by Canadian singer and songwriter Bryan Adams. Written by Adams, Michael Kamen and Robert John “Mutt” Lange,)

TTFN

Bishop

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