Lovely spring for gardening

We have been very fortunate that our mild winter, coupled with a mild spring have resulted in early harvests. I can’t decide if this bodes well or ill for the overall harvest. For a while we were getting 1/2″ to 1″ rain every week, which is perfect. It would seriously be six days of sun and one day of rain; in my gardening memory I don’t remember a spring like this.

I’ve been picking alpine strawberries for almost 2 months now:

Red Wonder: super intense strawberry flavor.

Yellow Wonder: these are ripe when they are fuller, the skin is a creamy off-white and the seeds have darkened. Also, the berry almost falls off the stem when you go to pick it. They have the most wonderful tropical, pineapple flavor.

Bumblebee on asparagus flowers

Sugar snap peas: this picture was taken a month ago, the plants have easily quadrupled in size.

Sugar snap pea flower

Bee using my moist potting soil to collect water. “Dirty” water also carries salts and minerals necessary for the bees. See her extended proboscis? Click to embiggen.

I’ve picked a quart and a half of blueberries, here are a few:

This is just to show you scale regarding the strawberries. They are small but mighty flavorful! The blueberries are incredible. I expect to pick another quart tomorrow.

Mr. Fox longing for the chickens.

“I wish I could get in there!” He was there for over 30 minutes. He actually laid down and just stared at them for most of the time. He eventually got up and left…I thought, only to circle back around and stare some more. The chickens were on high alert.

Baby meyer lemons!

Beautiful poppies, the bees love them.

We’ve picked several quarts of sugar snap peas, about a dozen rogue potatoes, a cabbage, some broccoli (which was amazingly delicious), black raspberries, a few red raspberries and we just pulled the garlic yesterday. The problem with this early harvest is the plants that only produce one crop: they’re producing it one or more months earlier and once that harvest is done, it’s done. I can think of a few off the top of my head: blueberries, ALL tree fruits, June-bearing strawberries (all DONE in MAY!!!). I’m sure there are more. Normally you wait until July and August to have peaches and nectarines, but this year we should have them in the next week or two. So once those months roll around, I wonder what there will be? The one good thing for us regarding this mild spring is that we’ve actually been able to harvest heads of broccoli, usually the spring is just too warm for broccoli and it bolts before we can even harvest any heads. We shall see what this summer will bring, it will be 97 degrees F on Wednesday and Thursday. Summer in Maryland…hot and muggy, yay.

New traps

Well, I set out the new hornet and wasp traps on Sunday. I checked them yesterday to make sure no bees were attracted to them. I was so fed up with the yellow jackets eating my raspberries last year, we hardly got any for us. I don’t know what I’m going to do if they come back. I hope I at least make a dent in their population. I don’t know if I set them out too late this year to catch the wasp and hornet queens.

Just a refresher for the recipe (from beesource):
2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
Half a cup of white vinegar
And 3 or 4 piece’s of banana skin (about an inch in length)

I don’t use the sugar and water. Rather, for the traps I buy regular soda (not diet) and use that as my 2 cups of sugar and water. I then add vinegar until it smells “vinegary” and toss in the chopped banana skin. Leave the bottles for a few days inside to “stew”.  Cut ~1″ hole at the side on top of the bottle. Use clear bottles so you can see all the dead bodies 🙂

Happy Bees and more hornet trapping

Day 5 of treatment and the girls were out in force today. It was wonderfully sunny and very windy. I was really worried about Melissa: yesterday I popped the lid to see if any bees were in the empty hive top feeder, no bees! Not even humming. So I knocked on the hive, quite vigorously, and still nothing.

So I was very relieved to see lots of bees from both hives out and about today. They were finding pollen, not tons but something at least.

My husband and a friend were brewing beer today and while they were sitting on our patio,  hornets flew around them. One flew onto my husband’s beer glass!! Though it walked into the glass, it flew out before it fell. I found three hornets struggling in my freshly-made traps, hopefully those included the two flying around the patio.

That old trap from the beginning of September was still trapping hornets. Check this out:

I had to stuff the entrance to make sure they didn’t get out. Unreal that this trap is still working almost 2 months later. The only thing I would change is to make it bigger!!

I can feed the bees starting Monday (day 7 of Varroa treatment), I can’t wait to do a hive inspection. I only hope the weather cooperates!

Wasp and Hornet Update

You should have seen me Wednesday. I went out to refill the bees’ sugar syrup and a hornet was buzzing around there. As I watched it another one came and they locked onto each other and started grappling! They flew behind the hives and landed in this depression, I grabbed a wooden board we had lying around there and I wacked them with it! Their buzzing got very loud but they were still holding onto each other, I wacked them again and could see them twitching. I got a small rock and set it on top of them to keep them from moving. I thought better of it and added a bigger rock 🙂

I got my son’s bug collection container and scooped them in there veeeery carefully. Then I stuck them in the freezer still twitching. Friday I brought them to work for my co-worker’s daughter who is collecting bugs for a science project. I warned her not to touch the abdomen because the hornets can still sting even when dead. She was quite thrilled.

For all of you that are wondering about the state of the traps, here are the results:

Yellow jackets and European hornets caught using a homemade trap.

A month later, the traps are still catching hornets, which are a type of wasp. I was going to drain this one, to show you that this has 2x as many as the above trap, but I saw one hornet actually struggling in this trap so I left it alone. I’m replacing these traps this week:

More!!

Strange critter-Update!

Does anyone know what the heck this is??

It’s about an inch and a half long, not including the antennae. Lordy, it was creepy looking.

Hornet and wasp update. I’ve caught at least 20 hornets in my home made traps!!! And the yellow jackets are completely uncountable. Fan-flipping-tastic.

CREEPY CRITTER UPDATE: It’s a Wheel Bug and a predator of plant pests. Gotta love Google.

Holy Hornets Batman!

As you know, I have had personal experience with hornets, and it was NOT pleasant. In my quest to destroy the yellow jackets eating my raspberries and the hornets eating my bees and stinging me, I made a homemade trap. In the span of a 20’x20′ area, I have 5 traps. Three are store-bought, 2 are homemade. It took about a week and a half for the homemade trap to catch anything, but when it did..it did. Check this out!

Yeah baby! See those dead suckers? Hornets and yellow jackets. Woo HOO!

Wait until you see this one, there are so many, you can’t even count them:

This is right next to the store-bought one. They both have caught lots of wasps, but only this one caught the hornets too. Score!

The recipe is from beesource.com and calls for:
2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
Half a cup of white vinegar
And 3 or 4 piece’s of banana skin (about an inch in length)

I used soda for the sugar and water, decided I wasn’t wasting sugar on these pests. Soda attracted wasps when I was a kid and apparently, it still does. 🙂

I never saw hornets here until I had bees. As they said in Field of Dreams…”build it and they will come.” This is also the case for garden pests…”grow it and they will come.”

I hate yellow jackets!

After battling cucumber beetles, squash bugs, Japanese beetles, and whatever white thing was destroying my kale and collards, I thought “At least my raspberries will be okay for the Fall.”

Do you think my raspberries were okay? Well if you guessed “No” you would be correct! Why else would I be writing like this???? How many things can eat raspberries? What is your first guess? Maybe birds, right? That would be my first guess. But NO! Birds are NOT the problem. Let me keep the suspense from eating at you. IT….is…..THIS:

El Bastard!!

And this!

LOOK! He's EATING MY RASPBERRIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, what do I do?? I Google (that’s a verb now, right? I say all the time, “Google it!”) Anyway, I get traps from HD (big orange box store) and place one IN the raspberry patch and one about 15′ away from it. Which do you think works better? They are the SAME trap (using pheromones)…drum roll please…the one FURTHER away works! Not a single wasp is caught IN the raspberry patch.

Don't look at the picture wasp, look just beyond it and you'll see the dead ones floating. There were 7 the first day, 13 the next and even more today.

So what can I conclude? 1. There is a nest somewhere. 2. The nest may be closer to the trap hanging on the tree. 3. The smell of ripening fruit is MORE powerful than sex pheromones.

What else can I do? Naturally, to make my life easier, I make some homemade sweet traps using soda (which I had to buy since we don’t drink it) and vinegar (apparently it attracts wasps but keeps honeybees away, makes sense to me). I remember shooing away yellow jackets when drinking soda in the summer, I hope this works!

Next spring I am supposed to put out traps to catch the Queen apparently. Why do I always learn about these things when it’s too late?

This seems to have been the post of questions, I ask questions and then I answer them. I was very frustrated and seriously ready to kill all the raspberry plants. Out of a cluster of 10 ripe berries, about 8 would be destroyed from the center outward. Even worse the wasps apparently rip out and eat the center before moving on to another berry; they may come back to it if nothing else is ripe enough but they’ll just eat the middle of all the fruits. I’ve watched them to figure out their strategy and caught them by hand (wearing gloves of course) and tossed them into my soapy water graveyard. I’ll share a picture of it next time, very satisfying. The stink bugs have also been all over the raspberries but I was ready for them, I was not ready for the wasps!

Emerging Bees and Monster Squash

It was hot today but certainly not as hot as it has been. It was in the mid-90’s when we did the hive inspections. I also went around and took some pictures of our garden. We have had a devil of a time with squash bugs, those things have completely decimated our cucumbers, zucchini and tried to take down our winter squash. Our zucchini plant put out only a few squash before it died, overnight! You have to be so careful, one day the plant is fine, the next the leaves have completely wilted and turned brown. After that there is no hope.

We replanted a new zucchini plant a couple of weeks ago and since the demise of the 1st one we have been very diligent about patrolling the remaining squash plants. We use masking tape to pull off the eggs we find under the leaves and just by doing this a few times a week, we’ve prevented the hatching of at least (and trust me, I am NOT exaggerating) several hundred squash bugs. I would guess close to a thousand since the clusters are about a dozen eggs each and we each find at least ten or more each time we patrol. Even better is finding the pairs of bugs while they’re mating–I seriously enjoy squishing them even if they smell like stink bugs.

We only have 6 squash plants, can you imagine what you would have to do if you were a farmer growing these for market? We asked Gregg, one of the farmers we buy from, what he does about squash bugs, he said “Suffer.”

What’s effective to kill them (Permethrin) also kills bees. So you’re supposed to spray the plant in the evening after bees have gone home. I had no idea how much bees liked squash flowers. We planted Sakata’s Sweet and Petit Gris de Rennes melons and there are bees CONSTANTLY on those flowers in addition to the winter squash. What I’ve noticed is that bumblebees seem to be out later that honeybees, so you still have to wait to spray until it’s close to dark. So I’ve only sprayed a few times but the greatest control has been from the repeated patrolling of the plant.

This is the result, a healthy squash plant that takes a long time to patrol for squash bugs:

Monster Squash--it spreads out at least 30 feet in each direction. And there are 4 of them.

Squash fruit:

There are at least 13 of these--each one is a foot to 18" long at least.

Sakata’s Sweet and Petit Gris de Rennes:

I think this is Sakata's Sweet

These are wonderfully small melons- one to 2 pounds each. Just right for a small family.To avoid jinxing the plant, I’ll refrain from making comments about squash bugs and these melons.

On my way to take more bee pictures I came upon a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on our Joe-Pye weed.

Drinking nectar on Joe-Pye Weed

This is too cool, I can’t believe I got this picture!

Onto the hives:

Melissa

  •      Set-up: One deep
  •      Number of frames being worked: 5
  •      Queen spotted: yes
  •      Frames of brood:3 with 2 having small areas (larvae present)
  •      Type of brood: eggs, larvae, capped
  •      Frames of bees: 4 without the foragers
  •      Food: Quart jar was empty, added a new one. Same pollen patty.

Overall Impression: Same as last week with a little more brood. All of the open areas had larvae or eggs in them. No stores and they didn’t seem to be building out much of the frames that were next to them. Those were plastic frames, so I moved a wax frame closer to the brood hoping they would build it out.

Plan: Keep moving frames closer to them and encouraging them to build them out. Keep feeding. I may ask Peter if I can take a couple of frames of brood and bees from his parent hive but I just don’t know.

Can you see the bee on the left toward the bottom? You see its head coming out of a cell but not the body...she has just cut her brood capping and is crawling her way out. It's a new bee!

This frame has a few bees just starting to cut the capping:

Look just to the right and left of the center. Some more bees being "born."

Demeter

  •      Set-up: Two deeps, one is built out
  •      Number of frames being worked: 8.5/9
  •      Queen spotted: yes
  •      Frames of brood:4 with large areas
  •      Type of brood: eggs, larvae, capped
  •      Frames of bees: 7 without the foragers
  •      Food: Hive top was empty on one side due to the slope. Added more and a polllen patty.

Overall impression: Still doing well, I want them to build out more frames and store more. Saw something interesting in one of the brood frames: they had honey among the larvae. I couldn’t figure out if it was honey going into the brood cells or brood going into the honey cells (as they use the honey or move it, it opens more room for the queen to lay). Since I wanted them to start moving into the top box and the bottom one was at least 80% built out, I moved a frame of brood up into the top deep. I hope it wasn’t a mistake!

Plan: Keep feeding. I’ll check on the pollen patty in a few days. Keep moving frames if necessary. I may ask Peter if I can take a few frames of honey since he won’t be harvesting.

This picture does not portray the sheer volume of bees in this hive. It's still a growing nuc but substabtially stronger than Melissa.

Building out the 5.1mm foundation:

I’m not sure if they were festooning or not:

Queen Penelope:

Much better marking job the 2nd time around

Though I like the size of the top hive feeder (holds 2 gallons) I don’t like having to move so many things to check on them and it doesn’t provide any space for a pollen patty. I prefer the quart jars at this point but once the population gets big enough I may come to appreciate the hive top feeders more!

I have some more neat pictures but I’ll save them for the next post.