Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November beehives

One of the last sunny days above 40F degrees, and the bees are busily doing their last minute winter preparations. The metal mouseguards are tacked in place on the lower entrances, to keep mice from trying to nest in the nice cozy hive during the winter. Soon I will wrap a single layer of roofing paper around the sides of the hives to provide a little extra protection from winter winds.
A quick view of the dwindling chilly vegetable garden too, with some frost hardy spinach, kale, scallions, chard, and bok choy. Only the hardy growing things remain, and the trees are now mostly bare.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

End of year solitary bee nests

Well it's November now, cold enough to take down my solitary and mason bee nesting blocks and store them in the unheated garage for the winter. There they will be protected from ice, freezing rain, winds, and mice.

My top wooden mason bee nesting block has about 10 tubes that are either partially or completely filled with cocoons and capped with mud...

The middle nesting site consists of two 'cans' of nesting tubes. As you can see, the bees really liked the lower can and filled almost all the 60 tubes with cocoons and mud. They used a few of the tubes in the upper can too, but only after the lower can was basically full. My best guess is that because the morning sun hits the lower can first in the chilly Spring mornings, the bees may have liked that warmth...

The bottom wooden block was specially made with smaller diameter tubes of 1/4"- I was experimenting to see if that would attract the smaller leafcutter bees, which I have read like slightly smaller tubes than the blue orchard bees use. I didn't see much action there this year, but I did put the box up a little late in the season.
However, late in the summer there was one single very small bee who kept coming and going there, and it managed to fill just ONE tube before it disappeared. I noticed the tube was not capped with the usual brown mud. Instead, it was capped by a strange dark black-green mash that seemed like dark green tar. It looked to be a paste made from chewed leaves or vegetation. Because it didn't appear to use any neatly cut leaf pieces, but used a paste instead, I am wondering if it is something different from a leafcutter bee.
I'll be asking around to try to figure out what kind of bee uses this capping. The bee itself was a bit hard to see when it was working- somewhat non-descript and very small and fast moving...but it did look appear to be a bee rather than a wasp. I will be watching this tube very carefully next Spring! the picture for a close up view:

In all, I started my first Spring of mason/solitary bees with six bought tubes of blue orchard mason bees....and wound up with two or perhaps three species of solitary bee cocoons, filling between 60-70 tubes.  I estimate each tube has anywhere between 3 and 5 cocoons in it, so that will be around 180 to 350 new little solitary bees emerging next Spring to populate the neighborhood!  :)  I will have to add at least one more nesting box, for sure.  I may try to get a neighbor or two involved.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Apple sauce, Halloween 2010

We made apple sauce all day on Halloween this year. We bought a full bushel of Jona Gold apples at a local orchard and set up our kitchen assembly line. Brian peeled and cored the apples on our little hand crank coring machine, and he got each big pot of apples cooking- stirring, adding about 1/2 to one cup of water, and a few dashes of cinammon.
My job was to fill the sterilized pint jars with the finished apple sauce, process the jars in the boiling canning bath for 15 minutes, then give the lids a final tightening and let cool, making sure they sealed properly. I like to hear the little metallic "ping!" of each lid as its vacuum dimple pops in while the jars cool in stacks on the kitchen table. I think of it as little temple bells ringing.
One bushel yielded 38 pints (19 quarts) of really good apple sauce. We figure if we eat an average of one pint per week (and don't give away more than a couple of jars), this will last us into next June, when fresh fruit will again be available locally.