Thursday, December 24, 2015

Beeladee: Christmas Eve with the Queen!

We've had quite warm temperatures this week leading up to Christmas. A couple of days have been in the low 80s! My garden and bees are loving it!

A significant cold front is forecast for this weekend. I planned a quick hive inspection to check food stores on the brood comb needed for the bees survive this cold snap.

I have been concerned about my hive since it went into winter with a very low population. ( Brood Break or New Queen ) Fortunately not many bees have been lost during our slight freezes.

I opened the hive with the sole intention of a quick check, not a thorough inspection. I did not want to break the propolis on each bar causing the bees to have to expend extra energy to reseal the bars against the cold. I moved the bars at first four at a time and, when I started seeing activity, two at a time. As I casually glanced over one frame, there she was... my golden queen! I was so excited since I haven't seen her in quite a while. I usually console myself with the fact that seeing evidence of a queen is just as good as seeing the queen, but I know that I'd much rather see the queen any old day! After all, she is special, she is THE QUEEN!

I carefully noted the presence of syrup. The rosemary is blooming and the bees have been quite busy. They did eat most of the capped honey they had stored going into the fall. If this cold snap continues too long, I'll supplement, but right now, there is enough syrup for them to cap.

Catching sight of the queen was an early Christmas present. It makes me smile! Long live the queen!

I centered the queen so she would be easy to spot in this shot!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Knitwit: Baby Hats!

To keep my hands busy, I usually knit on Sunday mornings during home church. I have knitted a variety of items over the years such as hats, scarves, cushion covers and socks.

A few months ago, I took stock of the various leftover yarn in my stash. None was enough for anything big. After considering several projects, I decided I would knit baby hats for one of the local hospitals. I contacted a friend who works with babies in a neonatal unit and she said the hospital would love to give them out to new parents!

Over the past few months I have knitted several baby hats in a variety of sizes. No two are exactly alike, since I make them up as I go along. The only constant is the needle size (8 double points) and a multiple of four stitches for each hat. A multiple of four lends itself to a many patterns and is an easy number to decrease.  

I have knitted for nearly 40 years now and enjoy it as much now as when I first learned!

Baby Hats (most are knitted, but a couple are crocheted)!


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Beeladee: Brood Break or New Queen?

Week 1: The Worry!

I have been noticing that my bees were not finishing out or building new comb this entire season. I have been monitoring through the hive's observation window, but decided a full inspection was needed.

When I inspect, I take out several bars to the left, slide bars over, and inspect the frames as I put the bars back in place. I started with the 1st bar to the far right. I saw some capped honey, syrup and pollen. This was the pattern for several bars. The ratio of these differed, but the make-up was about the same. I did find 2 empty queen cells on one of the empty bars. After 11 bars, I knew something was wrong. All I found was empty wax. There was no brood!

I have only kept bees for 3 years, so my life experience is not as great as others. So far I had never had an inspection like this. I posted on several beekeeping social media groups. A few people mentioned a period called a brood break. I also thought that my old queen might have left, died, or been usurped by a yet unmated new queen. This might be the slump period between queens.

In the end, I decided not to buy a new queen. There weren't any available in the local websites. It was late in the season and a new queen might not be able to build a strong enough hive to make it through the winter anyway. If the hive failed, I would take what honey I could, freeze the wax bars that were intact, and seal the empty hive for the winter. The bars of full comb would make an inviting environment for a new package of bees or a swarm next spring!

Week 3: The Serendipity!

I went into the hive with thoughts of what I had seen last inspection. As I slid the bars over (three at a time) I noticed there were not any more bees than two weeks ago, maybe even less. I did notice that the bars became heavier as I worked across the hive. There were also lots of bees with pollen baskets full of yellow pollen.

I started at the far right as usual. The bees had not continued to build out the comb, but were filling it with nectar. There was even some capped honey at the top. The next bar had more nectar, pollen and capped honey. They continued to increase as I worked to the left!

Then I joyously found three bars full of capped worker brood and larvae! After the brood area, there were several bars with capped honey and uncapped nectar as well as lots of pollen.

Given the great laying pattern, I think I have a new queen! I'm so glad I didn't lose the hive. Now I'll wait to see if they can build up their numbers enough to make it through the winter!

Week 5: The Confirmation!

Today we had beautiful weather. Thought I'd give the hive another check. There were significantly more bees, many with pollen sacks loaded down with bright yellow and, in a few cases, bright orange pollen. One of the frames had spotty capped larva. I believe this was the last bar to hatch brood. The next few bars had uncapped larvae. I only saw one pupa, so I think the next cycle is just starting. There were several frames of uncapped nectar and capped honey, as well as pollen everywhere! I think it looks like the numbers will build up just in time for winter!

Pollen baskets full of pollen

Busy at the entrance

Larvae, capped brood, and pollen

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Grapes Galore!

This year's unusual amount of rain made it possible for an abundant amount of wild grapes! My daughter picked 1/2 a bushel for wine. A week later I went back and picked 4 more pounds of grapes for juice!

For complete directions to make your own grape juice, read the blog post Grape Juice 101.

Rinsing grapes in the sink

Stems removed

Sterilizing jars and getting boiling water ready
Unprocessed front jars and processed back jars

Processed juice will set in the closet for 6 weeks

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Frugal Gardener

As a rule, I am a very frugal (sometimes ridiculously so according to friends and family!) That same trait carries over to my garden.

If something comes up on its own, I either leave it or move it to a more suitable area. In order to do this, I've had to become aware of how plants look when they first emerge.

The result is that I get lots of free plants. I have noticed when they sprout on their own, the plants are much hardier. I delight in these small surprises!

Dill growing just outside the raised bed

Amaranth (I think)

Squash or pumpkin? Guess I'll find out soon

Transplanted tomato plants that came up next to the peppers

Purslane everywhere

Ornamental pumpkin transplanted from compost pile
Ornamental pumpkin

Various squash and pumpkins growing in my compost pile
Mystery squash from compost pile

Pumpkin from compost pile

Zucchini from compost pile

Marigolds coming up from dropped seed heads

Fennel growing next to the original plant


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spring Garden....Barely!

It has been a very unusual spring in Texas. Here at home we have had over 10 inches of rain in May! Because of the rain (and a 4-week ear infection) part of my garden was planted in April and is coming along well and part of it was just planted on May 10th! Since I garden for pleasure, I have decided enjoy whatever I get this year! Next year will be another chance at an early garden.

Some of my garden was planted, part of it wintered over from last year, and here and there are plants that came up on their own! They are special surprises that will be revealed in their own time!

Flame acanthus, unknown squash or pumpkin, thyme

Various squash getting a late start

Rock rose

Pumpkins! (Note the unexpected pumpkin patch in the background. 
These came up in the compost pile!)

Sage and basil (the wintered-over arugula has gone to seed in the background)

Tomatillos and cucumber

A swallowtail caterpillar! I remove them from the fennel and place them on the dill that comes up year after year in this spot.

2nd season of fennel that wintered over, tomatoes and borage in the background

Beans and artichokes

Various peppers


I enjoy going out to my garden several times during the day. It is my happy place!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Beeladee: Hive Inspection 5/2/15

Rainy weather, sickness, and being busy at school have delayed my latest hive inspection. This delay made me nervous since I wasn't too comfortable with what I saw during my last inspection (Beeladee: Spring Inspection 4/14/15) I took advantage of the beautiful weather today to open my hive.

I usually move bars from right to left and begin a detailed inspection as I replace them. As I started sliding empty bars and entered into the comb area, I was a bit alarmed. The comb was nearly empty of bees! As I continued to pry and slide the bars across, removing propolis and allowing it to drop to the bottom of the hive to be reused, I saw more and more bees. They were docile and appeared quite young, with unfrayed wings.

I finished sliding the bars apart and moved to the far right to begin my inspection. I gradually began to see some pupae, more larvae and some capped brood. There was increasing evidence of a strong queen and I decided that my hive had requeened itself! I did not see the new queen herself but felt confident of her presence. While I took notes, I smoked and moved the bars back in place with the feeling that the hive was recovering well.

Although there was pollen and syrup, there was no capped honey, which probably contributed to the calmness of the bees. I gave the hive some of last fall's comb from the freezer to give them a boost. I also moved some of the old dark comb toward the far left and culled out a couple of bars of old comb. I moved the newer comb to the right and dispersed the partially built out bars throughout the hive.

As I finished up my notes, took a couple of parting pictures and closed up, I felt that this hive was once again on the right track. I will wait a couple of weeks before inspecting again.

This is comb from last fall. It fell during an inspection. Since it was uncapped, we could not eat it. I put it in the freezer to replace in the hive as needed. I lay comb, pollen patties, etc. on an old cutting board that spans the hive body. This helps keep these food supplies from attracting ants and robber bees.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Beeladee: Spring Inspection 4/14/15

I went into my hive in March for a quick inspection. The hive was still full of bees, but the queen was laying in a very spotty pattern. The brood was spread over several combs instead of in a tight cluster. I also noticed several dark combs that needed to be culled out.

I went back in for a more complete inspection on April 14th. I saw larvae, capped brood and a few pupae, although they were quite sparse. I did not find the queen, but saw there were several very young larvae, so she had to be present.

During the past two inspections I noticed empty queen cells. Each time I crushed them so in future inspections, I could distinguish whether there were new queen cells or the same ones I had already noted. I am hoping the hive will requeen itself. I would think that most any queen would be better than the one that is there!

Both times I inspected I noticed one very small black beetle. I panicked thinking it might be small hive beetles. After reading up on this, I think the beetles I found were much too small to be small hive beetles. I will keep a close watch for more in future inspections.

I also saw a wax moth larva in the last inspection. This is a sign I need to get that old, dark wax out, as that is what the wax moths are after.

During the last inspection I spread the new comb throughout the hive and started moving the dark comb to the back. I will wait until all the brood are hatched, then remove the dark comb. 

I will need to open the hive at least once a week for the next few weeks until I see evidence of a stable queen. If the hive will not requeen itself, then I will order a new queen. I would prefer a wild queen for genetic diversity. My last two queens have come from swarming and natural requeening.

For a description of my note taking process see Beeladee: Hive Inspection 5/3/14

Photo by Bethany Henderson

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Spending the Night with Darla

Darla was one of my best friends when I was in elementary school. She lived down the street within easy walking distance. Even though we were both from the other side of the tracks, literally, we lived very different lives. I was an only child living with my parents and grandmother, and she was the youngest of a large family, most of whom had grown up and left home. We spend countless hours together. My favorite times were when she would ask me to spend the night!

I don't remember spending the night in the summer, although I must have. What I remember was the winter. Once it was time to go to bed, we'd both put on our flannel nightgowns and take turns standing in front of the Dearborn gas heater. If you lifted the bottom of your gown slightly, it would fill with warm air and billow out! We took turns savoring the warmth, each shivering as soon as we backed away for the other to have a turn.

Once we finished the heater ritual, we would trot off to bed. Since Darla's mom was a quilter, there were several quilts on Darla's bed. I was not used to sleeping under quilts so they felt very heavy to me. Sometimes they seemed so heavy that it was hard to move! To get warm, I would pull my knees and legs up into my gown and put my face under the covers until I just had to come up for cold, fresh air.

After stories and giggles (and maybe a scolding or two) we'd fall asleep. Since Darla had a gas heater in her house, the air was moist. Condensation would form on the windows. If the night was cold enough, we'd wake to intricate frost patterns and ice on the inside of the windows!

In the morning we'd jump out of bed and run to the heater again, gowns billowing each in her turn! Mrs. Chapman always cooked up a hearty breakfast with eggs and biscuits! We would hurriedly eat and start our day of play.

I have lots of memories of fun with Darla such as using an axe head to hack down a poor little cedar tree to use for Christmas, putting empty cans in the street and then admiring them once a car drove over and flattened them, getting chased by cows in the field behind Darla's house, and walking barefoot all over the neighborhood until we developed thick callouses on our feet! But something about the sensory experiences of spending the night makes it stand out in my memory. What a blessing to be able to relive small moments in our lives time and time again! The details may become clouded but the feelings and sensations remain. I often remember these nights hunkering down under the blankets with Darla when our Texas weather turns icy! Sweet nostalgia!

One of Mrs. Chapman's quilts given to me for my birthday!