Saturday, May 31, 2014

End of May Garden

Spring is progressing! We have been blessed with a mix of raining days mixed with warm sunny days. I have not started to water the garden/grass beyond a couple of watering buckets on the newly planted seedlings planted in the garden and some hose applied nitrogen and Revive to the grass.
I've been holding off planting too much in the main garden because I have been waiting the results of a soil analysis. I have since gotten the results and have ordered the correct nutrients to re-mineralize the garden soil. I'll write a separate post on that topic soon.
Here are pictures of the garden.

The large green mass is the hairy vetch. In the foreground there are weeds growing. This is another reason I want to wait another week to plant. I'll rototill these again, the last time was about a month ago, mixing in the fertilizer and compost you see piled to the right.

Here's a close-up of the vetch flowers. The bumble bees seem to like these more than the honey bees.
The garlic is doing well here is a shot of the garlic patch.

The large leaved (weeds) plants in the foreground is borage. I'll let this grow because the honey bees love their flowers.

The above shows the radish, just to the right of the rightmost tee post, see row marketer sticks in foreground. The outside row markers are beets (beetroot) that need to be weeded. I have lots of bindweed throughout the garden. This is another example of why I want to delay planting, allowing me another run at disrupting these weeds as well as getting more nutrients into the soil for the veggies to better compete.
Here is a shot of the seedlings you can gage their growth since the last post.

Else where in the yard and around the neighborhood flowers are booming.
White clover


Russian olive tree

Locust tree blooms

Sweet yellow clover

And I guess I have to show my projects for next year. Our lawn,soil, is obviously compacted. I will have to aerate the lawn this fall as the black medic, small yellow pom pom flowers, is taking over.
black medic and bindweed flowers

Monday, May 12, 2014

Snow today gone today

It snowed all day yesterday, May 11. This morning it was still snowing. It was really wet snow. Here is a picture from this morning just before 7am.

The lilacs flanking the garden just started blooming. Here is a picture from almost 12 hours later (Monday 6pm).

Just a trace of snow left on the picnic table.
The hairy vetch got squished down but it will pop back up within a day or two.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Spring Garden

Our gardening is getting started. I've posted several posts about the bees because there is not much in terms of planting that can happen in Colorado before Mother's day. Here is a few pictures from yesterday May 10th.

The garlic is obvious with globe alliums to their right (front side of the garden). Further back is a growing patch of hairy vetch. In the foreground with the two green and white "t" posts laying on in the dirt are a couple of rows of beets (beetroot) and a row of radish. They were planted a week earlier and have a bit of compost over the top to keep them moist.

Here is a better shot of the hairy vetch. There is a few crimson clover blossoms in the very front. The vetch will flower in a couple of weeks. The bumble bees really like the nectar from these flowers. After it has flowered for a while I will rip the vines out and use the vines as mulch for the tomatoes that will be planted here. The hairy vetch mulch keeps the soil cooler and prevents all the moisture from evaporating. I'll leave the soil undisturbed (vs tilling) to leave as much of the hairy vetch root system in place. It fixes nitrogen and this should breakdown into the soil feeding the microbes and thus the tomatoes. There is some vetch mulch in the previous picture around the globe allium, it drys very fine.
This planting is an example of cover cropping. I planted this hairy vetch in early August with oats and some fava bean seeds. These were all left over seeds and just hand broadcasted and raked in slightly. The oats were the first to grow, and take over. See November post . The hairy vetch barley grew last fall while the oats grew almost 2 feet tall. The oats died during the winter and the vetch came back to life earlier this spring. The decomposing biomass is supposed to be really good for the soil, and an additional benefit is the early season green.
To the right of the vetch is one of my new favorites, that I have written about, hyssop. It is starting to green from the bottom up. I need to clean the dead twigs out and weed around these. The rock wall seems to warm the soil at the front edge of the garden. Its really popular with the weeds. This year I've already weeded in front of the Hyssop 3 times. The three worst offenders are: crab grass, bind weed, and Canadian thistles. I've planted some hyssop seeds for more plants this year (see below).

Above is a picture from today, Mother's Day. Its all covered by snow. Its expected to get cold tonight and tomorrow 24 degrees F. Then after Tuesday, we should be done with the freezing weather. The forecast for next weekend is 85F.
I've got the seedlings started in jiffy peat pellets.

All sorts of goodies that you can read about this summer. I don't have grow lights for these indoors except for a 2x2 ft florescent fixture above our clothes dryer. Its not really strong enough to prevent the seedlings from getting long and stringy. I bring the whole lot of them out on warmer days. On days that I have to work I leave them on the north side of the house where they don't get direct sunlight but it is brighter than the washroom. This location also keep these tender "babies" from getting cooked.

When I get home I move them to a direct sun location. I always keep them prop'ed open to let the heat escape. Almost forgot them outside last night! The piece of cement is to help keep the lid grounded in case of high winds.

Here is one of the hive splits (picture from yesterday). The queen should have hatched Friday or Saturday (yesterday) and should be ready for her mating flights later this week when it warms up. You can see the entrance is mostly closed up. This is to limit access to robbers from other hives. A smaller entrance is easier for them to defend. I haven't seen any robbing going on and the quart of sugar water has almost been ignored. This quart was filled two weeks ago. Last year my bees drank a quart of 1:1 sugar/water every two days. There has been a really great apple bloom going on so I'm sure they are getting better nectar. With the snow and cold temps we'll see how long the cup of sugar water lasts.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dead queens

Dead queens are good and bad.
We've had issues with yellow jackets buzzing too close to us in our driveway. We have a pine tree that attracts pine scale (a sap sucking insect). The scale exudes honeydew that the yellow jacket adore. I've gotten stung waving my hands at them trying to shoo them away from me when getting into my truck. This is the second year in a row that I have baited traps for yellow jackets in the early spring.
The theory goes that all of them are queens in the early spring. Only the queen Western Yellow Jackets over winter, all the rest of the castes (drones and workers) die the previous fall.
Here are five dead queens. They are all larger than the workers that come later in the season.

By eliminating the queens in the early season I can stop them from each forming colonies that develop into dozens or hundreds of yellow jackets. That is what I call "good" dead queens.
Now for the "bad".
I have been keeping honey bees and decided to increase my number of colonies. The bees actually do the deciding. When "they" decide to increase the number of colonies it is called swarming. This happens in the spring when there is plenty of forage (flowers) for both the mother colony and for the swarm that leaves the mother colony. The swarm is comprised of the queen and approximately half of the workers in the "mother" hive. Prior to leaving the the queen (and workers) start a new queen. She is laid just like a worker bee, as a fertilized egg but is fed an enriched diet of royal jelly. The workers create an enlarged cell for the queens to develop in. They are larger than the worker bees thus need the larger cell to develop correctly. Here is a picture of a queen cell (on the right), it is said these cells look like peanuts. The queen is pupating inside.

Here is a close up of queen cells. These are formed usually in the spring and an indication of the possibility of impending swarming.

Sorry for the rotation on the images, queen cells always face downward. The two queen cups are the starts of enlarged cells. There is also a couple of bees in the shot with groovy colored pollen (red and light yellow).
Both of these queen cells were empty (no egg).
There can be only one queen bee in a hive. I opened my new nuc, (short for nucleus hive) and saw 5 queen cells fully capped.
The first queen to hatch destroys the other queens while they are still in their cells. The problem with this is that only one survives and in my case that was a queen with a malformed wing. The issue is that queens fly off to mate in the week after emerging from their cells (and after killing any rivals). With a malformed wing this queen will never mate and therefore will never lay fertilized eggs.
Here she is:
 See the drone with the big eyes at 3 o'clock.
Here is a closeup of the queen.

You can see one of her left wings is shriveled or chewed. I did what I had to and pinched her dead! Within a minute I could tell the whole nuc hive knew because their tone changed from a calm hum to a load buzz!
It takes several weeks for a freshly laid egg to develop into a queen bee. Killing a queen without a ready replacement sets back any new egg laying by about a month. Since all the eggs in this hive came from my other hives and since they are all past the point where the workers could change those larvae's diet to one of 100% royal jelly, I had to transfer some freshly laid eggs from one of the other hives so that this hive could start from scratch. So I will wait for the new batch of queens to emerge and do battle.
Eggs were placed into this hive on April 26th. I peaked in on May 3rd and saw they had drawn out and capped 3 or more queen cells. The worker bees probably selected eggs that had just turned into larvae (day 4 after being laid as eggs). This means that the new queens should emerge today or tomorrow (16-17 days after being laid). This might make a neat video, a true battle royal! It will take a couple more days before the new queen goes on her mating flights assuming the winner survives the melee.
Here's a shot of one of the main sources of food for the bees has been for the past few weeks.

This picture was taken 4/20. The apple bloom is past its peak as of today. Approximately two weeks prior to the apples, the crab apples were really strong as well. That made for four weeks of solid prolific food for the bees. This time of year there is lots of food for the bees. We do have some possible freezing weather in a couple of days, but fingers crossed, it wont kill any of the blossoms.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why do we steal

To get sweet stuff, Honey!

I pulled these honey frames out of my hives yesterday. Then crushed and strained them.
I'll bottle the honey once it has had a chance to separate from the wax. There is about a gallon of honey here.
I'm also trying to split my hives so that I can move a couple of hives to another location. When split into a new hive without a queen, the worker bees will select a young larvae and feed it royal jelly. 21 days later out pops a queen. There are plenty of drones, male bees, in my hives so I'm sure its time. Here is a photo of my new hive.

I dumped a bunch of bees from the other two hives into this one, its really stuffed full of bees, I'd say 4-5 lbs of bees. Some of the bees were returning to their old hives, but I'm sure there will still be plenty inside. There is also honey, pollen and freshly laid worker bee eggs.
While looking in the other hives I found the queen laying eggs on one of the combs, so I moved her to another frame and took the frame with the new eggs. I've been getting really good at spotting the queen. Last year I had some difficulty locating the queens in each of my hives (1 per hive), but this year it seems pretty easy.
While looking through the strong hive I saw a swarm cell. Swarm cells are built by the worker bees during the spring, usually. They are larger cells, generally located at the edges or bottom of the comb(s). This is where they typically raise another queen. Once the existing queen lays an egg into the queen cell. She (old queen) will depart with half of the worker bees to start a new bee colony somewhere else. Obviously I don't want to loose half a hive. So I will keep an eye on this cell and make another split if it looks like they are getting ready to depart.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Its still too cold to start gardening, back and forth between snow, rain, and 60-70's. I've been following and identifying the local bloom watching what pollens the bees are bringing home to eat.
Its been warm enough to open the hives and check how things are progressing. I did this on March 16th. One hive is really strong, the other not so strong.This was apparent just watching the traffic at the front of the hives. My guess is that there was a 20:1 difference in traffic strong hive to weak hive. Upon opening the weaker hive it had a small population with the majority of the bees only 2 combs vs 8 combs in the more populous hive. I added a pollen patty to each hive at this time. Pollen is used by the nurse bees to make bee bread which they eat and feed to the larvae. Pollen patties are manufactured pollen substitutes. these help the bees build up their populations sooner especially when it is too cold to gather natural pollen.
I was shocked to see the difference in the two hives and with it getting dark I was worried that keeping the hives open for too long for fear of chilling the bees. The next warm day was Wednesday, March 19 so I took a long lunch from work and came home for a quick hive manipulation. I removed two combs from the populous top bar hive that had lots of emerging bees on each comb and transferred those into the weaker hive to boost their numbers. It when really well and things are picking up in the weaker hive. I did also see both queens. Here is a shot of one of them:

She's center right. Here is a close-up:
Most of the bees around her are really young. You can tell because their faces look fuzzier than the older bees. I think the older ones are the one that appears to be climbing over the queen and the one pointed up real close to the queen's tail.
Most of the others look like they have smaller eyes and more face fuzz.
The brownish comb that the queen is standing on is capped workers they are anywhere from 8 to 21 days after being laid as eggs. You can see in the above picture there aren't a lot of capped workers as evidence by all the open (uncapped) cells. The hive needs to keep plenty of bees to warm these capped bee (larvae), so with low numbers of emerged bees the queen will limit how many eggs she lays when the temperatures are still cold. This because when it gets cold the bees huddle together to stay warm. The colder it gets the tighter they huddle. If their cluster gets too small to cover some capped larvae, those larvae freeze. The other interesting fact is that this comb has no stored honey or pollen. There is plenty of honey in this hive towards the back, probably 50 lbs. When its cold the honey will freeze and the bees need to warm it up to move it from where it is frozen. This takes a lot of energy. The bees have been busy collecting water to help them liquefy their stored honey and make bee bread (pollen).
Here is a saucer that I fill with water for the bees to access. I'd rather they drink in my yard than on of my neighbors.

Both hives have plenty of honey. I expect the dandelions to be in full bloom within a month. The dandelions flowers are a great dependable source of nectar and pollen, that is followed by fruit trees weather permitting. Last year a late April deep freeze (17 degrees) killed all the fruit tree blossoms before they could open. So I made a judgement call that I could take some honey from the weaker hive (they still have plenty after my plunder). Here is what I helped myself to:

It was about a gallon after straining.
So here are some pictures of blooms from our neighborhood:

Not sure what these are but this house has a nice fence row of them. It was too cold for the bees this day so I didn't see any of them out this morning (April 5th).
Here is a bar from the more populous hive. These raised cells, often called bullet shaped,  indicate that there are drone larvae (males) capped inside.

The drone's cells, approx 30 on the left, are larger diameter as well as dome capped. The orange colored cells in the center of this comb are filled, partially, with pollen. Both of these items, pollen and drones indicate that this hive is confident that they can make it through the spring till the next bloom. The drones don't do any work in the hive and if the hive, with a good laying queen, was struggling they wouldn't be raising drones. The weak hive had no drones being raised. That means that this stronger hive has a high probability of passing its genetic code, via the drones, to unmated queens in the neighborhood. There are many more drone cells in this hive, I would guess 200. I used this picture because the other pictures I took with drone cell had lots of bees covering the cells.
Here is a picture of the queen from the strong hive, center right:

The bees with their heads in the cells are feeding larvae. The older/larger larvae can be seen in the upper left of the image, they are curled. They will soon be capped by the workers, at which time those capped larvae will spin cocoons and pupate.
Here is a close up of the larvae:

And here are the eggs, they are at the edge of my vision and look like tiny grains of rice:

 Thats all for now. I'll find out what those flowers are and be back with more very soon!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pollen Identification

It was a warm sunny day yesterday and the bees were bringing in lots of pollen. Can anyone help identify where this pollen comes from?
I would guess the pollen is from a tree blossom but not sure. The only trees that seem to be in bloom are the maples.

I did see my first dandelion flower yesterday, but only one, here it is:

I also saw this crocus flower:

Here is the garlic I spoke of in my last post:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Early Pollen Source

I took a walk this evening just before dark and saw these maple blooms. In my last post I mentioned that I saw the bees bringing in pollen that I believed was from maple. Here is some more evidence. These pictures are from the same tree a few hundred feet from our house.

You can see the stamen (white) and anthers (yellow-brown tips). The pollen is found on the anthers

It is early March and it freezes every night. Yesterday we got a couple of inches of snow. This and the previous snow started as rain then changed to snow. It still accumulates and freezes hard over night. It is not uncommon for us to get very deep spring snows. Still not much gardening to be done.

I did see garlic poking through the soil yesterday to the right of the tomato baskets. So it will soon be time to get the early stuff planted!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

First flowers of the year

We were out walking yesterday and spotted our first flowers of the year. After a few minutes of internet searching I discovered the its name. It is Erodium cicutarium, redstem filaree.
Thanks MU see link:University of Missouri Extension

I found several of these plants near our home. This picture was taken on February 22, 2014 in our neighborhood in Boulder County, Colorado. I saw many plants flowering in southern exposed undisturbed (weedy) soil (clay). We are having a normal winter with snow on the ground weekly, either from larger snows (+5 inches) that take several days to melt, or smaller (<2 inches) that melt the following 24 hrs.
I didn't see any honey bees on the flowers, although I did see many bees flying in and out of my hives. The temperature is low, for bees, at about 55F.

I believe this is pollen coming into the hive.

I think this is maple pollen. My wife says she saw bees on a maple tree in our neighborhood. Below is a picture of the flower buds. I didn't see any bees on this tree, nor did I see any open flower buds on this tree but there must be somewhere on the canopy or on other trees.

Here is a link to Wikipedia that I use to help identify individual pollens.
Spring fever has officially started.