Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Building Colonies and Pollinating the Prairie Fire.

Bees, bees, bees.

The buzzing hive has been building up to a nice healthy colony over the last month of having them installed at the homestead.

We finally got a chance to take a thorough look at what was going on inside our hive and figured we would share in our learning experience.

First step is a few puffs of smoke at the entrance and then another one on the top of the hive to calm the bees down and also disorient them for a moment. Most times I forgo the use of smoke but being new to the hobby I use smoke when I plan on pulling frames and analyzing the productivity of the hive.

After removing the top box that houses our feeder it was time to pull all the frames and see what the ladies have been up to as of late. 

 Every frame had drawn comb and the inside 6 frames had a good amount of capped brood.
Brood is essentially the term for baby bees. They start out as an empty cell where the workers collect pollen and fill the cell, then the queen comes along and lays an egg that hatches into larva, the bees feed the larva into its pupa stage, when they reach that stage they cap the cell for the final stage of development and eventually a mature bee chews its way out and joins the hive !

Here is an up close image of a decent frame that has several stories to tell.

After seeing what I was pretty much expecting after a few quick checks ins over the last few weeks I was glad I had gotten 8 new frames made the evening before because this hive is ready for another box. The typical set up of a hive is two deeps, which is the taller size boxes. In these boxes you let the hive manage their population with the cycles of the larva and pupa. The hive will clean out cells after they hatch and get them ready for the queen to come back around. The typical life span of a honey bee is 5-7 weeks for the workers and 2-5 years for the queen. Though most beekeepers recommend requeening your hive every two years. Anyhow with the first deep filling up with brood it was time to add a second level and fill it with wax foundation frames so the hive can continue to grow and flourish into a pollinating and honey making machine !

After adding the second deep I placed the top cover back on and gave them back their sugar water feeder to help keep the wax production at a maximum as they draw comb out in the new deep.

Because I only had two deeps and they are now full of frames I used my two medium deep or honey supers as some people call them to hide the feeder on top of the deeps. This method seems to be working quite well as the hungry workers come up the top cover and feed without any mess or intruders being able to gain access. Typical sugar water robbers are bees from other hives, ants and predatory insects like wasps and yellowjackets that can reek havoc on any hive, especially one that is still in its building stage. 

After reassembling the hive I spread some newspaper around its perimeter and laid some cedar mulch on top of the newspaper around the base of the hive to keep the weeds from getting too ambitious. Normally I would just use my lawnmower or weedwacker in this area but something tells me the bees may get a little grumpy if I tried that method. Cedar mulch is also a natural ant and beetle deterrent so if it works out the way I planned it, then I have accomplished two goals with one action ! Always a plus with a long to do list. 

Another adjustment I made to the hive was to switch the entrance reducer from the smallest notch which is about 2" long to the medium notch which you can see in the picture that is closer to 4" across. Once the hive builds up to full strength I will remove the reducer completely but for now it helps them regulate who is coming and going from the hive a little easier. Its amazing how just watching the entrance of the hive for a few minutes every evening you can see the complex relationships a hive can have. The movements and actions of each bee are so interrelated and understood. I wish sometimes people could act more like these complex systems that bees, ants and many other species follow instead of only coming together in times of great peril or catastrophe. Instead we spend much of our time arguing over money and politics and who is doing what in the name of this or that religion. Yes, I digress but it does give you a glimpse into the lessons and knowledge that nature can teach us if we slow down a bit and put in a little extra effort 
in our daily lives.

On that note I leave you with a collection of pictures I snapped while studying the habits of my pollinators as they gorge on the vibrant blossoms of our Prairie Fire Crab Apple tree in our front yard. It lies only about 20 yards from the hive and has been bustling with activity since it bloomed a week or so ago !

Till next check in where I will be talking about our expanding garden beds, some landscape work and many more projects that are underway here at the Localrootz Homestead.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Sprung projects and sprouting beds.

So it would not be spring in Maine without an abrupt weather event to humble us early garden go getters. This year it was a sunny 62˙ day followed by a 26˙morning with a blanket of 2 or so inches of snow ! 

The garlic looked a little confused but I knew it was tough enough to handle natures odd method of watering. 

About two weeks later, we are really sizing up nicely ! 

A groundhogs view... I did find what appeared to be some deer nibbles on a couple of the outer stalks of garlic, but it appears the information that deer and most garden munching animals do not like garlic is true because the culprit has yet to take another bite since the original test nibbles ! Time will tell. 

An eye catching birch tree being overtaken by a good case of birch brackett fungus that I stumbled upon during a landscape assessment session.

With Spring now in full swing and Summer creeping up it was time to tackle the long list of projects. First on the agenda was clearing a large portion of the overwhelming brambles that have overtaken the area between our raised bed gardens and the shed. Its a prick of a job, that required some leather gloves and a little fire to burn the cane trimmings. I did some research and apparently well pruned canes produce far superior fruit in a greater abundance. From my observations they have not been pruned in many years and have spread rapidly. I decided to spend a day or two pruning the majority of the runners and to leave the largest and healthiest canes that are growing along the edge of our lawn and the soon to be orchard section of the homestead. The idea is that over the next few years of pruning and training the canes,  I hope to create a living fence line with the spiny thorns that will deter some animals from waltzing over into the orchard and the idea of a few buckets of blackberries will never be a disappointment either.

While I was busy pruning away at the canes, another project was also underway. This project had a couple of steps the first being my job. Acquire a barrel with some nice aesthetics. I chose this old wine barrel from a local source and with a few simple tools I converted this barrel into a rain barrel.

Part two of the rain barrel project required some outsourcing. After getting a few estimates we chose a reputable company called the Gutter People to install some aluminum gutters with the idea of keeping water away from our foundation. The added bonus of the project was the addition of a rain barrel system for the homesteads watering needs. 

After grading the front portion of the house and laying a couple feet of weedblocker down then covering with a few hundred pounds of drainage rock the initial part of the project is finished.

The barrel works great to water the garden... initially Im just using a hose to troubleshoot the flow of water from the barrel. Eventually I plan on laying an underground polytube to move the water from the barrel to the raised beds, but for now Im happy with the results and the use of a hose will help me fine tune the correct path for the upcoming underground irrigation system.

All the pressure is directly from gravity, here you can see a nice stream of clean rainwater flowing from the barrel.

I was surprised that I was even able to get a bit of hand watering done using my garden sprayer, but honestly the best scenario is going to be utilizing a soaker hose. I plan on moving forward with the underground system in the next couple weeks and will update the process better when all the pieces fall into place !

Another growth update, the purple passion asparagus bed that was planted 3-4 weeks ago is popping up with asparagus spears at a rapid pace. This year it is best to just let the spears fern out and establish a strong root system. Its tough leaving it alone but the idea of having a well established asparagus bed for years and years to come helps quell the urge ! 

Tulips are blooming.

The salad greens bed is starting to germinate and fill in...

Plenty of peas are reaching for the warm afternoon sun... with 77 pea plants we should have plenty of shell peas and sugar snaps for the fourth of july !

With the evening temps still lingering in the mid 30˙s Ive been keeping a couple layers of row cover over the beds to help them along as temperature warm and the plants size up.

The bees are doing well and its been great to see them soaking up the local pollen around the homestead. 

Pictured above is a bit of excess comb that was built up around the feeder after a stretch of rainy weather along with the empty queen cage. The queen has been laying eggs and the workers have been busy drawing new comb and capping the brood to establish a full fledge colony. Ive been doing a weekly inspection and am always amazed at just how much work these little guys can accomplish.
Stay tuned for a thoroughly documented hive inspection as the temperature warm up and the bees get more comfortable with me poking around.

Here is a shot of the hive sipping some sugar water solution on a rainy cool morning. The sugar water provides a nice food source for the colony while they get themselves established. As the landscape blossoms and pollen becomes more abundant  I will be removing the food source and letting them rely on their own foraging skills to keep the hive well fed.

Another new project that I started last weekend after attending a workshop up the road in Norway at the Center for Ecology-Based Economy or CEBE is a shittake log. The class was specifically about how to inoculate logs with mushroom spores. Above you'll see my take home example of a shittake log. The basic principal is you drill multiple holes in a "host" log.  Shittakes grow best on oak. Inside the holes you force a sawdust mixture of shittake spawn into the freshly fallen oak log. After inoculating all the holes you simply cover the inoculated holes with beeswax and wait. A typical shittake log can take up to a year to fruit but once you see mushrooms you can expect a good supply for up to six years ! I have always been intrigued by the world of fungus and this class stoked that inner flame. With the abundance of mushrooms that pop up around the homestead I foresee much more fungus related projects in my future including a hefty dose of research and classes on foraging !

In fact immediately following the workshop I met up with a friend of mine who is also an arborist  and we dropped a few maples.  The reason behind dropping them were many. One reason was to open up some sun space to create a small area for fruit trees and also to free up more growing space for the soon to be tomato beds. If the tomato beds do well in their new location this year, then I will be constructing a greenhouse in that location next year... at least that is the plan for now ! The other reason was simply to restock the firewood supply for next winter... and with my new found knowledge of mushroom inoculation I wouldn't be surprised if I found myself acquiring a small batch of oyster mushroom spawn and inoculating another round of maple logs from these recently dropped trees ! More on this project in coming weeks.

So thats whats been happening over at the Localrootz Homestead ! Im anticipating a very productive weekend coming up and will update you as I get more accomplished.

Upcoming Project List
Establish and Construct Tomato Beds
Buck and Process Maples for Firewood, Mushroom Cultivation and Chipping
Finish Trimming Brambles
Complete Underground Irrigation Project
Construct Rock Wall Raised Beds in Front of House
Inoculate more logs with Mushroom Spores
Construct Rock Wall Herb Garden

Well Im sure Im forgetting some things but that ought to keep me busy for the next couple weekends and weeknights. Stay tuned...

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