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.