Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time to put out the mason bee cocoons

Yesterday, I put my 6 tubes of cocoons out in the lower mason bee box, alongside the two 'cans' of nesting tubes, inside the box for protection.
Tomorrow will be in the mid 50'sF, followed by about 9 more days predicted in the high 50's through the 70's (!!) Surely it will be hatching time if the cocoons I bought are alive.
If not, then I will have to wait and hope for the wild local solitary bees to find my boxes. I have high hopes.

My two boxes are right on the back porch near the kitchen door, and several visitors have already been examining them and asking about them-

First, Jim the mailman who delivers our mail to the kitchen porch. Jim loves to photograph flowers close up, and he also got a kick out of delivering my composting worms last year for my worm bin, so naturally he loved hearing about the new little bee condos.
Then, the milkman who delivers our milk in glass bottles every week to the milk box on the porch there. I caught him peering right into the boxes this morning trying to see what the heck was in there. lol! He loved my explanation and seemed fascinated.
Also, the lady who comes to cut my husband's hair every 6 weeks or so. She runs a 4H club, and she actually got all the kids to do a worm composting bin project last year after she was inspired by my worm bin. Today I told her maybe their next 4H project will have to be native bee nesting boxes. She seemed mighty interested. ;)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

First plantings of the year

Lettuce seedlings from my garden, last year (2009)

Tomorrow night will be that last deep freeze- predicted about 18F. After that, I don't think there will be any more nights colder than 25F degrees or so. So today I got out in the new vegetable garden and began some modest direct seeding of some of the cold weather loving Springs veggies.
I used a garden fork to do some deep soil loosening to a depth of about eight inches, then I sprinkled some organic fertilizer and hoed that in, then made furrows and began to plant a few small rows of this and that. My method will be to practice succession planting of seeds directly in the ground- one or two 3 foot rows of any particular thing, and then planting more short rows as the season progresses. This gives a more constant supply than simply planting one or two main patches at a time, of say beets or carrots. Greens do especially well with seeding small amounts more often.

Today I began with a couple of short 3 foot rows each of:
Chatenay carrots
Winter red Russian kale
White Russian kale
Rouge d'hiver lettuce
Nevada Batavian lettuce
Japanese bunching onions
Springer spinach
Gigante inverno spinach

Later on I'll plant Swiss chard, leeks, chioggia and bull's blood beets, some other lettuces, bok choy, radishes, and purple kohlrabi. Then I'll wait a couple more weeks before planting seeds of veggies that respond better to slightly warmer temperatures.

I learned from experience that I should sprinkle the seeds more carefully and slowly, really one seed at a time along the furrow. Last year I had to thin out way too many seedlings of lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, ..it was a sad lesson to pinch out those poor adorable extra seedlings and basically waste precious seed. Now I will only plant a few things on any given day, preparing the soil and planting the seed with more care and precision.

This weekend I will also put out my blue orchard mason bee cocoons into the nesting boxes. I can't wait to see if they hatch out in a week or two!

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Today I was out in this rare warm sunny Spring day, doing the last of garden cleanup. I will be planting seed of the cold-loving chard, kale, carrots, beets, radishes, and spinach in another week or so- finally!
Honeybees were flying about, their gentle humming very mesmerizing in the sun while I turned the dark garden soil with my hoe, picking out last year's remaining dried stumps of kohlrabi and leeks.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mason Bee nesting boxes are up

Today Brian helped me get the two new nesting boxes up for our native pollinating bees- the blue orchard mason bees.

The upper box is a solid block of wood drilled with long tunnels, in which the mason bee female will lay her series of cocoon chambers in sequence, separating each cocoon with a little wall of mud ('bee masonry' if you will). All the tunnels are lined with parchment paper which will discourage the accumulation of mites, fungus and such. The paper liners get replaced every Spring.
The lower box contains two 'cans' which are filled with cardboard nesting tubes, each of which is also lined with parchment paper.
The boxes are facing SE to catch the morning sun, and I installed chicken wire guards to keep woodpeckers from trying to get to the bee larvae in the nesting tubes.

It's still too early to put out the actual mason bee cocoons I have hibernating in tubes in the refrigerator alongside the cucumbers and alfalfa sprouts in the vegetable drawer. Another big cold snap is in the forecast for next week, so I'll likely put the cocoons out right after that. I hope the boxes will also attract some of the mason bees I have seen foraging in my garden in past years. I know there are some nearby somewhere. Between watching for local native mason bees and getting new honeybees, it should be an interesting season!
In the photos, you can see a few purple crocus blooming on the lawn, but that's about the only thing blooming yet.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Gardens and bees....

Even though there is snow on the ground and it's in the 20's F at night, I'm still getting excited about Spring almost here. I see in the forecast that daytime highs are now going to be in the 40's and 50's rather than the 30's and 40's. Big difference!

My food gardening plans include planting a few dozen blueberry and raspberry bushes, in addition to being able to utilize the big new veggie garden for a whole season for the first time starting this Spring. My last post detailed the seeds I received in the mail.

My Compost bin of eisenia foetida composting earthworms are doing just fine in my basement. Their metabolism has slowed down during the cool basement winter temps, but as Spring progresses the basement will be warmer and they will speed up again with the kitchen scraps, eggshells, and cardboard/paper roughage I feed them. There are several thousand worms of different developmental stages in the bin, working various of the three tray levels. I have a couple of gallons at least of pure castings already waiting to add to the garden, and more is in the works from the hard working little worms.

My honeybee plans for the new year are to rev up to between 2 and 4 hives, depending on how things go. I did order some new bees in the mail, and of course I worry about them in transit, but things usually go smoothly. I also will be attending bee club meetings and/or a short 'bee school' course, both offered by local beekeepers.
Those mail order honeybees will not arrive until first week of May. But there is plenty to do in the meantime, inspecting and cleaning up my current hive and building new frames and settin gup the additional new empty hives in preparation.
I also plan to set out a 'swarm bait' small hive box, with used comb, bee pheromones, and lemongrass oil- all of which are irresistable to swarm scout bees out looking for a new home to move into.

The other thing I have looked into and ordered are nesting supplies, houses, and some cocoons of our local native bees- the blue orchard mason bee. Honeybees are actually European imports. Our U.S. native bee pollinators are solitary small bees who do not maintain a hive society, do not sting, and do not make honey. But they do pollinate trees and gardens like mad, are beneficial to our planet in many ways, and are cute as a button as well. What a great little bee to encourage and keep in your garden or yard, especially for those who are not able to keep honeybee hives where they live.
I know they are in my area, because I saw some on my flowers during the past two summers. I plan on providing ideal nesting tube houses, water, and a source of nest-building mud for the little blue mason bees to thrive on so they hang around my house and garden. Learn more about providing nesting and housing environments for solitary native bees: HERE. I ordered mason bee supplies and houses from HERE, and HERE.

Here is a mason nesting box i bought from Dave's bees...it came complete with paper tube liners all set up for the first year:
And go HERE to watch Dave's video in case you'd like to build a mason bee nesting box yourself!

We should all consider providing for our beneficial insects and other wild animal friends who are struggling. I ordered a bat house as well, which we will attach to the eaves of the house.

More cool links to sites about solitary native bees and mason bees:
Pollinator paradise
Solitary Bees
Crown Bees
Dave's Bees
Bee Species photo collection
Jean-Henri Fabre's The Mason Bees
Wings In Flight
Native Bees info
French solitary bee blog
xerces society