Rosey the Riveter

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Preventing a Swarm

Last Friday, we got into the hives for the usual bi-weekly check.  The queen has a great brood pattern and things were looking good... there were a TON of bees in there!

However, we pulled out a frame and saw Queen Cups (or Swarm Cells).  They are peanut-looking 'hotels' where the hive grows new queens as they prepare to swarm with the old.  It is not unusual to see these, except ours clearly had eggs in them. 
Many beekeepers will simply cut them off in hopes of preventing a swarm.  But usually, it doesn't much help.  We decided to be proactive and make a split... in other words, make the bees THINK they've swarmed by putting them into a new hive.

Our wonderful mentor Pam and her husband Rick came and helped us out.  First order of business was to remove all the wonky comb... and then search frame by frame for the queen, which we had never seen despite many eyes looking for her.  She is elusive.  But we knew she was there because we could see the eggs.  I think we got through about 22 of the 24 frames when Pam's experienced eye found her.
She is now marked (using a Sharpie Paint Pen).  When we returned her to the frame, I got this great shot of the bees crowding around her to pick up her pheromones.

So, mama bee was put into a new hive with some frames of worker bees and brood (eggs and larvae that will hatch out and eventually become foragers.)  The frames with the Queen Cups stayed in the original hive.  The bees there will feed them royal jelly and raise a new queen (or two or three).  When they hatch, they'll fight it out.  Winner take all.

It'll be about a month before we'll see more eggs in the old hive.  That new queen will need to be raised, and once she hatches (and fights it out, if necessary) she will take flight to get fertilized.  Once she returns to the hive and starts laying, she won't leave again (unless it's to swarm).

In the new hive (with the old queen), it will take a week or so for the worker bees to become foragers and leave the hive to collect nectar.  In the mean time, they'll be drawing out comb and taking care of the queen.  They'll have plenty of time to build up their honey stores for winter.

It's been less than 2 months since we got the original swarm of bees.  I never imagined that we'd have ANOTHER hive of free bees!  But most people I've talked to say it's easier with two hives (because you can take brood from one hive, or honey from the other, and switch them around depending on which hive needs what.)  So we intended to buy a NUC colony from a fellow Guild member when it was our turn.  Now we don't have to!
We love our old queen.  She begets very docile bees and she has a beautiful laying pattern.  So I'm excited to have a second hive with her genetics.

The comb we harvested is now in my freezer.  Sometime next week, I'll set up a solar melter which will help to separate the beeswax from the honey, and also the bee parts that came with it.  I am drying Calendula and will be infusing it with Sweet Almond Oil.  That will then be mixed with the beeswax for a healing salve.  We won't get honey til next year, but there's more to bees than honey!

Sunday, May 27, 2012


I mentioned the Pepperoncini the other day... here's a good shot of my two beauties:

Hubby has started to spread the pea gravel.  I think it's looking really good!  In the blue container, I have some sort of melon growing (yeah, I didn't label them.  I'll know what they are as soon as they fruit.  The plan is to have them trellis along the fence.)  I'm also hoping to train the grape along the fence.  We have one cluster of fruit...  mostly I planted it to trap beetles, but if we get real fruit, even better!
Roma is ripening.  We're having tacos on Wednesday, so I'm hoping the warm weather will help it along in time!  The yellow leaves?  I think I'm going to be battling leaf spot.  I don't think it's blight (fingers crossed).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It's an in-between time for the garden.  Most of the spring plants have been harvested but the summer plants are just beginning to thrive.  The days have gotten warmer... I fear the 70s are gone until fall.  The nights, too, have been staying in the high 60s (good for tomatoes and peppers, not good for broccoli.)

As such, it's a mixed bag out there.  We'll start with the good:

The potatoes are looking fantastic.  I started these in about an inch of soil and kept adding as it grew (to simulate 'hilling').
The lavender will be opening soon and ready for harvest.  I really want to make a wreath for the house, and hope I have enough.  It's a huge bush and has really taken over.  I considered digging it up, but the bees love it so it stays.

I am loving these little sunflowers called "Ring of Fire".  They are about 3' tall and have MULTIPLE blooms on each stem, unlike most sunflowers.  I will definitely be saving these seeds and planting more of them next year.
Mortgage Lifter Tomato looking beautiful.
 I believe these are 'Old Virginia' tomatoes.  I have never seen any non-cherry that grow like this, all on the same cluster
The marigolds and nasturtiums are doing well.  Both of them came from the plant swap the VaUHL had in March.
Roma Tomato, turning pink!
 Garlic I planted in the fall... needs to dry in the sun for a few days.  There's lots more to harvest.

Mammoth sunflowers growing crazy.
The melon that sprouted in the comport pile is HUGE.  And there are blossoms.  The real test will be if it actually sets fruit, or not.  Most store-bought cantaloupes are hybrids and IF they are fertile, will not set the same fruit.  So this is going to be a surprise one way or another.  I'm going to be sad if it doesn't produce, because it's so beautiful.  Next year, I'm purposely planting the melons in the compost.  They like to have warm roots.
I caught a honey-bee on the Calendula.  This will soon be harvested and dried, for use in healing salve.  Calendula is an amazing herbal remedy.  It ought to be grown in every garden, and next year I'll add more.  I probably have 16 plants, plan to at least double that amount next year.  They winter-sowed really easily, so that's what I'll be doing again.
 Homestead Verbena is completely taking over.  This bloomed all winter, but it wasn't this big!
 Bronze fennel and wormwood are both thriving.
 The surprise lily we found growing in the hedge.
I tried really hard not to buy any annuals, but I fell i love with these African Daisies (or Gazania).  They are absolutely stunning.
Lemons!  It takes about 10 months for them to mature, but these are doing well.  I want enough to be able to make marmalades and dried zest, since buying organic lemons is so expensive (they are about a buck a piece.)

Now for the bad:
It's just been too hot for the broccoli.  Most of it never headed up, and immediately just flowered.  I am leaving them, because the bees love the flowers, but I am disappointed in the few heads I've harvested.  I think the fall is the best time to grow them, and I plan to stagger my sowings so I can have them through the winter.

Despite my best efforts, the cabbage moths worms have really had a party.  I tried Diamataceous Earth but that didn't help.  I tried a homemade garlic-cayenne spray which seems to deter the moths from landing (and laying) but only for a day or two and only if it doesn't rain.  I was also concerned about ending up with cabbage that tasted like cayenne, so decided I needed to find something else.  I have BT that I'm going to put on, but it's been so rainy I haven't had the chance.  In the mean time, I sprinkled the plants with sprigs of thyme, because I read that works well.  We'll see,
This parsley monster was a little baby when I paid a buck for it at the Fall plant sale.  It went strong all winter long, and I harvested a bunch... both to dry and to feed the caterpillars.  But the weather is growing warm and it's going to bolt.

And, to keep it real, here we have the ugly:

The peas are tired and worn.  There are some monster pods on there that I am allowing to dry out in hopes of saving them for seed.  As soon as they do, I'm yanking the plants.  I will grow more in the fall.

Hubby has laid down all the weed-block in the walkways.  Luckily, this is an ugly that won't last long, because he just went and bought pea gravel this morning.  He's sick of mowing and weed wacking in there, so we are hoping this will be a good solution. 

I forgot to take a picture of the pepperoncinis... they are really doing well, too.  Truth be told, I much prefer the fall and spring gardens but we'll see what comes of the peppers and tomatoes and melons and corn.  I'm sure the blight and beetles are not so far away...

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Abby came home from school on Friday all excited because the chrysalis that we'd taken in to her classroom finally produced a butterfly.  I was excited for her but kind of sad I didn't get to see it.
Well, this afternoon while Stephen was eating lunch, he noticed a butterfly emerging in one of our Butterfly Keepers.  It was very cool!  For the first hour or so, it's wings were floppy.  But then it started crawling and the kids took turns holding it.
Joanna loves creepy-crawlies of all kinds, so this didn't bother her a bit (she willingly removes cabbage worms that even I think are disgusting.)  At this point, we could tell it was a boy.  Females have much more blue on their wings.  We named him Elmer, because at one point the chrysalis fell off the branch it had attached to, and I had to glue it back on.
Abby despises bugs of any kind, so I was shocked that she wanted to hold him.  I love this picture of her, she was absolutely enthralled.
After another few hours, we decided to take him out and let him go.  It didn't take long for him to fly off, and I felt like a little kid watching him go.  He flew all over, and Joanna chased him.
When he landed on one of the bushes, he crawled onto her hand.
One last pose and he was off.  Hopefully there will be more soon!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bar Mops!

Several weeks ago, I found some great fabric online that I needed to have.  So I bought it, despite paying through the nose for it.

My original intent was to make napkins, but they would have been pricey since I can only get 4 out of a square yard.

And then I saw THIS POST and new what my new fabric was destined to become!  New towels for the new kitchen.  I found some towels at TJ Maxx and Marshalls that matched, so a new project was born.

These were super easy.  The process is very similar to making napkins (fold the corners, iron, and sew).  Total cost per towel, including the expensive fabric, is about $2.  They are going to be fabulous gifts!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Lessons Learned

Now that the garden is going full-speed ahead, I've decided to do a 'Lessons Learned' post about winter-sowing, planning, planting, and all the other various tid-bits that I don't want to forget when it comes time for future gardens.

As you know, I winter-sowed a ton of plants.  Some results were better than others:

The Echinacea is finally taking off.  Took long enough!!!
The Dill is holding its own... I wasn't sure it was going to make it through the transplanting, but it did.  But it's still much smaller than the one I bought from the Master Gardener Sale.
The Sunflowers are doing fantastic!  In a few days, the first one will be out.  However, these are "Mammoth" so they are supposed to be 10' tall!

The broccoli is doing really well.  We'll be eating it pretty soon!  Definitely plan to winter sow more of them next year!

The cabbage is also flourishing (as are the cabbage moths!).  I have been dusting with Diamotaceous Earth but just can't get over the number of moths I see laying eggs on my poor plants!  I also like that the peas I planted near the broccoli are much easier to pick, because the broccoli serve as supports.  Definitely need to keep that in mind for the future.

I also need to remember to plant more beneficials, like zinnias and marigold, nasturtiums and Calendula.  The garden is looking VERY green but it would be nice to have some beautiful colors in there.  Not to mention that Calendula is so useful for its medicinal properties.
The melons I planted by seed are maybe 2" tall.  And then there are these guys that popped up in the compost pile.  I am really hoping they will produce fruit, but am not holding my breath, since they came from a store-bought cantaloupe.  I suspect that after this year, we may not be growing any more melons, as they just take up way too much space.  I'd rather have fresh cukes.

I am realizing that I did not plant nearly enough carrots.  I will probably triple the amount in the fall.  I planted 2 squares every 2 weeks.  Next spring I need to do at least 4 squares every 2 weeks.  Most of the ones I planted were Chantenay Red Core and Danvers Half Long.  The white ones I planted didn't do too well. 
See the peas on the bottom right?  Flopped over.  They need broccoli to support them.  

I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of tomato and pepper plants at the Master Gardener Sale.  Lots of Heirlooms.  Plus, they were only $2 each.  So I won't even bother trying to grow them myself anymore.

I think I planted a good amount of lettuce, as it'll last us for a couple of weeks until it starts getting too hot and then it'll bolt.  Next year, I plant it even earlier.

And this is the monster lavender that is taking up so much room.  The bees love it (well, after it flowers, anyway) which is the only reason it's staying.  For now, anyway.  I need to trim it way back in the fall if I can figure out how.
This is the monster sage AFTER I hacked off a ton of stems.  I had been snipping leaves off to dehydrate them, but it quickly took over and was crowding out the thyme.  So I decided that I needed to harvest branches instead of leaves.  I cut it WAY back this spring but it just wants to grow!  I don't even use sage much.  I just keep it so that I can have the dehydrated leaves as a Christmas gift for my sister-in-law, who uses a ton of it and is not lucky enough to be able to harvest it fresh year-round.

I decided to try some potatoes this year, just because they were sprouting in my pantry.  I started them in about 2" of soil and just kept adding to it as the plants grow.  They are beautiful, so I'm just waiting for the beetles to find them.  I hope we get some spuds, they taste so much better than the grocery store kind!
This is my lemon verbena that I got from the Master Gardener sale (along with horehound, which I'm excited about!)  They had a lot of herbs, too, which means I will not be winter-sowing any of them again.  The lemon balm I did this past winter is still little and not nearly as nice as the stuff they were selling.

I guess a general rule of thumb is that if I only need one plant, just buy it.  If I'm going to plant a bunch of them, winter-sow them.