Gardening for the Bees

When our hives got opened the other week we sadly found no signs of life.bees  The jury is still out on whether or not this was the result of a normal winter die off or if there were other things at play.  Since 2006 it’s estimated  that more than three billion honey bees have died in the United States, and billions more world wide.  These deaths are somewhat mysterious and have been termed, colony collapse disorder.  While there is no definite known cause research points to the heavy use of pesticides and the loss of biodiversity as some of the major players.  Why does this matter?

  • Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination
  • About 1/3 of the foods we depend on  require pollination (apples, almonds, tomatoes, blueberries, coffee and many many more)
  • USDA says this die off is threatening 100 different commercial crops that depend on pollination
  • This threat to crops could result in a ten-fold increase in food prices

This is not a doomsday notice though.  There are plenty of things that you can do to help from planting a bee friendly garden, to having your own hives,  and of course, taking care of your yard in an organic, pesticide free manner.  Creating a garden that will attract and feed honeybees is a fun and simple thing to do, whether it’s in your backyard or in containers, here are a few things to consider:

  • Plan so you have things blooming all season
  • Plant native plants and flowers, at least mixed in
  • Avoid overly hybridized plants as they don’t provide much pollen to feed the bees
  • Have a clean water source available
  • Plant flowers around your fruit and nut trees to bring in bees and other pollinators

Adding to the biodiversity in your landscape and gardening in an sustainable manner will help the honeybees, as well as help your yard be bountiful and toxin free.  Of course, keeping some of these small fuzzy friends is a great contribution as well.  You can learn more, get products and take classes at some of our local shops: Keep it Simple Farm and The Bees Neez.

 

Farm Tour: Days of Snow

When nearby Seattle anxiously awaits snowfall, chances are we already have a nice blanket covering our little farm.  This year has been full of new snow adventures and I thought I’d share some pictures of what is happening here with this years massive snow dump.  Total accumulation has been approx 15″ over the past several days.

This is what our driveway looks like - notice the small tree hanging on the power lines

as you keep coming down the drive.. there is another tree that we have our eyes on. I just hope it doesn't get windy!

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Wordless Wednesday – My Helpers

Startin 'em young

mmm.. our first frames of honey.....

Virtual Homestead & Garden Tour

Recently I went on a garden tour extravaganza and was totally inspired! Stay tuned for several blog posts on that event…  But one thing that I kept thinking is that I could never have my home on an actual tour- think of all the stress of making things just right so complete strangers can take pictures of it!  I mean, really..would you not judge me for leaving weeds that stand taller than you? or letting my greens bolt (hey its for the bees and seeds), would you step in chicken shit? Probably! So, when I saw that NW Edible Life was doing a Nosy Neighbor Virtual Homestead & Garden Tour – I thought how brilliant! We can share pictures and be inspired by what everyone else is doing, without the stress of making everything perfect! So why not include my little homestead?
For some background and for specific details on my place check out the article written by Valerie Easton earlier this spring in the Seattle Times A sustainable Northwest garden of Eatin’ and Eden. Older photos are here & you can meet the animals here.  I’ve incorporated edibles (mostly perennial) into all of the landscaping but grow specific annual edibles in a rabbit-proof area.  We harvest rain water, use solar power for hot water, and just recently I started driving an electric car all in an effort to live more sustainably.  My dream would be that someday we live self sufficiently, but for now we are a lo0nng way off and have a lot of work ahead.
One advantage about our location is that we have a lot of space, but on the other hand it takes time to develop and manage.  In ten years we’ve barely cultivated half of the space that we want to.  One disadvantage is that we work in the green industry which means during the growing season our work week can be 60+hours and our garden can get a bit neglected.
Goals for the future: build a root cellar, a PV solar system, get dairy goats and have time to milk them,  then move to a farm in the San Juans and live completely off the grid.  Ha! I can dream right?
Now for some photos:

 

 

Finding my Queen Bee

I tend to worry.. sometimes a lot.  I think its the Mom in me and I can’t help it.  The honey bees were a concern a few weeks ago because after doing several hive inspections  the queen bee was no where to be found.  I was stressed about it, and thought maybe she died, or the colony swarmed, but the numbers of bees was certainly growing.
Luckily, we did eventually find her and it was a huge relief – I even squealed a little and did a bit of a happy dance which pissed off some guard bees. But I did learn what to look for in case this happened again. Forgive my photography skills while in a hood and working with gloves on…

there's the big Mama bee!! the white dot on her back makes it easy to find her

Things I learned:
  • Don’t squeal and act like an idiot near the beehive
  • I need to consider  investing in a queen excluder…
  • Don’t use the smoker – it tends to make her hide
But most importantly:
  • Look for the eggs and various stages of larva development (the eggs look like tiny grains of rice, the larvae look like little tiny worms that grow and are eventually capped off):
  • look very closely at the bottom of the comb...

    more babies!

     

Our Beginning with Bees

Pollen covered Bee
This amazing photo courtesy of PDPhoto.org
After a year of humming and hawing about getting bees I’ve finally decided to take the plunge!  Last spring I went through a WSU extension certification course on bee keeping and wasn’t sure that I wanted to take on a new hobby at the time.  I passed the exam and received a nice certificate (and cute bee patch might I add) but still didn’t feel very confident… I think I was too worried I’d hurt them or they’d hurt me.  After doing some more research and talking to more beekeepers I realized I needed to get experience and one way to do that was to just get started.   So, we went out to the local aviary supplier and got some good information and a brand new hive!  We need to paint the exterior of the boxes (pics to come), then get the foundation/frames and our Italian bees (+ a marked Queen)!  In the meantime I will be reading up on the little critters and getting our site ready.
A few things I’ve learned:
-Don’t wear fragrance or use fragrant soaps around bees – they love it, especially flower scents!
-My localized reaction (painful swelling) from stings could have been due to my Ibuprofen use from playing roller derby.
-Due to contamination issues in beeswax (from chemicals, grrrrr…) we will be using wood frames with plastic foundation for the bees to draw their combs on.  If you use too much plastic they will use their propolis and expressively glue everything together… which could be good for candle makers.
-I need to join my beekeepers association.. but apparently all beekeepers have different opinions and the only way they will agree on something is when they find that another beekeeper is wrong!
Links I’ve found that I will probably be referring to:
Beekeeper Resources WSU
Beekeepers Calendar – NWDBA
What’s Blooming (plant list) – NWDBA
Beekeeping tips for beginners, -MU Extension
If you keep bees, please feel free to suggest more links that are helpful to you!