Sunday, June 27, 2010

The end of June

Well it's just about the end of June now, Summer is here. The vegetable garden is bursting full. Here, the bee's borage is stealing the scene at the front of the middle bed, a three foot high constellation of pure twilight colored flowers, looking like blue shooting stars cascading from stems of furry pink...

Hard to believe that this previous photo was from May 13th, a mere six weeks or so ago:
Everything except the tomatoes was grown from seed planted directly in the ground.

Back to today... A view from the far end of the garden. Along the left rear bed are tomatoes, cucumbers, and sunflowers all supported by stakes.
Today after breakfast I spent a couple hours pulling out some patches of lettuce, radish, and spinach that were way past their prime and just beginning to get tough and bitter. Into the compost bin it all went (a giant wheelbarrow packed full), and I hoed up the spaces and planted various new seed. It was rejuvenating in a spiritual sort of way.
Years ago I never could have brought myself to yank all those greens out if any of it was still remotely edible. But I've changed my ways...I'm ruthless now! Of course knowing that it gets composted and thus cycled back in again makes it seem less awful. The reward is the joy I get from planting tiny new seeds with my bare hands...tucking them tenderly into the soil like tiny babies, gently patting a fine coverlet of soil over them.

I have small green tomatoes growing now, sunflower heads forming, tiny 1/2" baby cucumbers on the vines. I am getting to know some of the lettuce varieties better, so I know what I will plant more of next year and which types I won't repeat. Definitely more purple kohlrabi next year!

This was yesterday's dinner...
Adding little fresh chevre or mozzarella is the final touch along with the dressing:

The honeybees continue to expand their population and stores, so I added the first medium honey supers on top of each hive a few days ago. I am for the first time using foundationless frames in the new supers, and hopefully the bees will soon begin to draw all their own comb in the new frames, using just the popsicle stick guides I glued in along the tops as a base to start comb building from. We shall see!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My garden after a misty rain

I went out into my vegetable garden to take a few photos right after a morning rain. There was a beautiful intensity to the light, and everything was wet and sparkling. Click on any picture to see it bigger.

Purple kohlrabi.

I took a picture of this tiny yellow fly. It wasn't until I looked at the photo close up that I saw that it had pink eyes.

This is the beginning of a sunflower bud.

Variegated nasturtium leaves.

Kale leaves with rain drops.

One of my honeybees on a calendula blossom.

A ghostly dew-covered spiderweb on speckled lettuce.

This beautiful emerald green visitor comes by regularly. I think it is a small bee species, but I'm not quite sure yet.

My borage is starting to bloom. Twilight blue stars covered in diamonds.
I planted borage for the bees, so far it is attracting bumblebees.

'Divina butterhead' lettuce.

'Bull's Blood' beets.

'Quatre Saisons' French lettuce.

A purple finch made a nest right in a hanging basket of lobelia on our kitchen porch.
Sadly, when the eggs were only about a week old the nest was robbed and completely empty, and the mother finch had left. I suspect bluejays.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Checking bee pupae for mites

Ok some might find this a little gross or even heartless, but it's for the overall good of the bees.

My honeybees came from a 'natural minded' beekeeper who doesn't treat with pesticides for mite control or antibiotics for disease control. They seem pretty healthy and I've had them about six weeks. But one of the biggest problems honeybees face these days is varroa mites. Just about all hives in the U.S. have them now, or else they get them from nearby hives, so it's good to periodically get an idea of just how many mites there are amongst your hive population. Monitoring mite levels can give you a warning when something is going wrong and give you time to correct it in various ways.

To check for my hives' mite load, I first put a frame of specifically sized drone (male bee) foundation in each of my two hives. Varroa mites particularly target the larger drone cells in which to breed, attaching themselves to the drone larvae and pupae, sucking on them while the pupae develops in the capped cell, and emerging already attached to the adult drone bee. The affected drone bee is weakened and sometimes deformed by the mites, and the mite reproductive cycle continues.

Yesterday I removed the two 'mite bait' frames of capped drone brood from my hives, put them in the freezer overnight to quickly kill the larvae and whatever mites might be there, then I thawed the frames today to examine them.
I was delighted to find almost no mites at all on the drone larvae and pupae. I pulled about 30 dead drone pupae from their cells, and among the 30 I found only one lone varroa mite.

In this picture you can see the capped drone brood still on the frame in the background, and on the paper towel a few grub-like drone be larvae, and some immature developing drone bee pupae with darkening eyes. I removed the single little red mite I found on one pupae and placed it on the paper towel to the right in the photo so you could see it. It looks like a shiny little reddish-brown bead with tiny legs.

When these varroa mites run rampant they can destroy a whole hive of bees. But if their population remains modest the bees have little trouble living with them.
My drone pupae examination was very encouraging! I needn't worry about combating mites at the moment. I put the thawed drone frames back in the hives where they had been. The worker bees will quickly clean out the dead pupae, repair the comb, and the queen will lay new drone eggs in it. I will now let the bees raise the next couple of batches of drones in peace. I'll probably check the mite levels again in about 6 weeks.

If there had been a lot of mites, I would start more regularly pulling and freezing those drone frames when they are capped, since that is where the varroa mite concentrates its breeding activity. Some beekeepers use this mite 'bait frame' method to keep mite populations under control instead of using miticide/pesticide applied inside the hive to kill the mites. I would much rather freeze some drone pupae than apply pesticides to my hives. The bees do raise additional drones on the edges of 'regular' brood frames anyway, so there will always be some drones in the hive to mate with nearby queens.
But for now, I can relax... my bees are doing well on their own.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vegetable garden...June 1, 2010

A few photos of my vegetable garden on June 1st. (click on any picture to see a larger view) We have been eating an abundance of various lettuces and salad greens. The colors and textures are so beautiful on a cloudy morning...

A general view of the garden. Tomatoes and cucumber vines are staked all along the right side bed.

Borage in the foreground. Bees love the little star-like blue flowers. Veronica is blooming in the background.

Speckled trout back lettuce

Purple kohlrabi

Black seeded Simpson, and Red Deer Tongue in the foreground.

Front to back: Swiss chard, Red deer tongue, Black seeded Simpson, and scallions.

Spinach and cilantro.

French Breakfast radishes.

Pickling cucumbers.

Red deer tongue and Quatre Saisons lettuce.

From top left corner down: Bull's Blood beets, then lettuces romaine Tin-Tin, Speckled Troutback, Red deer tongue, and Quatre Saisons lettuce. (green lettuces on the right are unknown volunteers from last year.)

Nasturtium, worth growing just to look at the leaves.

Rouge Grenoble lettuce.

On the left, Buttercrunch lettuce.

One of my honeybees on the Veronica.

A Tri-colored bumblebee on Veronica blossoms.