Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A farm morning

Mondays and Wednesdays at work are my early days to accomodate one of the labs.  I was up early this morning, and with time to kill before getting to the train station, I decided to get a few tasks done around the house and yard.  This also led to examining the beehive a bit, and thinking more about what changed. 

This is also a bit of an update on garden work done last weekend.  The potato bush was cut down!  While we tend to be of the "don't kill plants" mentality, the potato bush violated our basic needs for plants.  Can we eat it?  Does it smell nice?  Can we use it?  Does it help?   While I have seen a bee sipping water from a drop on a leaf, the bees weren't super fond of it.  With the mold problem, we're also concerned that the overbearing bush was creating decreased ventilation and excess shade.  That corner has always been a bit damp.  Right now, any help we can give the hive is desireable.  

I've been thinking a lot about the bees, and what went wrong.  The trouble here is that it's not a clean experiment.  There are just too many variables, one being that we are new to beekeeping and just don't have the years of experience to know our bums from our elbows.  I'm reminded of tales of hubris.  After having several months of Urania the Wonder Hive, I thought nothing could go wrong. 

Alarm bells did go off back in December when I went to check the mite board, and found the inner cover and honey super lifted off easily.  No hive tool required easy.  This was unlike the bees - they seemed to love propolis and all of it's stickyness passionately.  I knew opening the hive was risky then with our cool and damp weather, so I think the feeling that I may be doing more harm than good overwhelmed me.  

January was a wet month, and February has followed suit.  I'm grateful for the rain, but I don't think it helped the bees cleanse, clean up, or air out the hive. 

With the potato bush gone, I was able to see the front of the hive.  It's covered with bee poop.  One of the things we think may have harmed the health of the colony was the powdered sugar mite treatments.  I feel awful about this.  Powdered sugar has indigestible starch, and our bees really didn't have a mite problem.  What can I say?  I was following the advice from the Guild.  We will not be doing this treatment again. 

So was it the weather?  Did the hive swarm?  Was there some illness?  Was this "CCD"?  Was it the powdered sugar?  We don't know.  It appears the queen is still with the colony.  The bees are acting defensive once we open the brood boxes up, and there are no drones.  There are no signs of egg laying workers.  There is also very little hive activity from what we could see.  Getting this photo a few months ago would have brought out the guard bees.  Now all is quiet around the entrance.  

As we see it, we have a few options.  Weather cooperating, open up the two brood boxes, and remove as many moldy frames as possible.  Condense Urania down to one brood box with as many clean (and drawn) frames as possible.  Replace the moldy hive stand, mite board drawer, etc etc.  A more radical option is to replace the entire hive, including new frames.  We are considering ordering a new package of bees and basically starting over.  As heart breaking as this is, at least the timing is good. 

Who would have thought a thousand insects would occupy a place in the heart?  

Enough, I'm depressing myself.  On to better news.  We got a lot of weeding done, transplanted some of the flower garden, and started to move strawberries around to fix the drip irrigation system. 

(to compare - before 1 and 2.   A huge thing was getting the lavendar transplanted and off the sidewalk!  Poor thing had been bullied by the lemon geranium.)  I love the ever-evolving look of the garden.  

We filled two green bins with oxalis, the potato bush, and other leaves and debris.  

This morning I took out the recycling for curbside pick up and took the kitchen compost back for the worms.  I noticed the water fountain, filled from the rain, had some swimmers in it.  I went over and dumped out the water, trying to avoid my shoes.  I've considered getting mosquito fish, but the fountain is usually left empty to avoid the racoons using it for a wash.  I was considering alternatives when a pair of hummingbirds darted out from the overhanging butterfly bush and chirpped loudly.  It was a good reminder that there's a whole eco system in the yard.  

(that industrial bucket?  It holds the birdseed, and yes, the raccoons have already gnawed through one lid.)  

Oooh!  Thanks to Lifehacker and University of Nebraska at Lincoln, my bird feeder has been squirrel free!  I mix a tiny bit of hot sauce with the bird seed.  Birds can not detect capsaicin, but squirrels can.  Thankfully the grey squirrels in my neighborhood don't have a longing for hot sunflower seeds. 

After feeding the birds, I took a look at the fruits and veg.  The sugar snap peas are blooming away, and we have a few peas growing.  The fava beans also have a few tiny pods on them.  (many thinks to the bumble bees!)  We've slowly been eating and sharing our turnips.  The carrots are growing well, but are still small.  The arugula took over the lettuce patch and bolted.  

I remembered this handy graph of planting and germination times, and it's amusing me today.  The runner beans died in the frost, the turnips never appeared.  The cabbage is growing slowly, and I'm wondering if that "Dec 1" meant next Dec 1.  The spinach also did not germinate.  

Finally - watch this space!  ;)  This is the planned location for a garden box.  The goal is to put tomatoes and basil in it for the spring.  We'll also be removing the lemon grass and transplanting it to another part of the garden.  I'm excited to have a proper place for the tomatoes that can use the existing drip system and prevent the tomato plants from bullying the rest of the garden.  

My lunch time is about up.  Good to remember the fullness and life in the garden. 


  1. Your garden is looking lovely. Sorry about the hive loss. It is hard because we care about those bees so much. Don't give up. We're new at this hobby and its a difficult time for the bees. Together we'll figure it out.

  2. Thank you, Barbara. I found comfort in your words. I've appreciated what I've learned from your blog. I'm so grateful to the bee community!