Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Farm and Garden: Bees

Today we opened up the nucs and transferred them to the full size hives. I think it went really slow, because I actually felt a little more timid than I thought I would be. I was really concerned about accidently mashing bees with the frames and having chaos ensue.

We opened up the more aggressive of the two hives, and although they got a little rowdy, flew around and bumped into us a bit, they really didn't try to attack. It took them a while to settle down and go inside, but it really wasn't bad. This hive was so busy and hectic that I couldn't find the queen and one of the frames had some bumpy comb on it that reminded me of queen cells that I have seen on other frames in other people's hives. Luckily it is just misshapen comb and not the threat of swarming.

The second hive is a bit smaller and slower than the first hive, but there was lots of brood in many different stages of development and I was able to locate the queen in this hive because they were not nearly as crazy as the first group.

I'm not sure which I enjoyed better. The crazy busy rocking hive, or the one that is moving along at a steady pace that is calmer. I guess time will tell.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Farm and Garden: Bees

We finally got bees. On Saturday we drove out to Red Belly Bee Farm and picked up our first two packages of bees and brought them home with a mixture of anticipation, excitement, and a little anxiety. It has been a very long wait, but we can finally strike it off our list of things that we would like to try learning to do.

Bob packaged the nucs by stapling a piece of screen across the access hole and duct taping the top down so that they didn't bounce off on the drive home. I was very grateful that they were securely packed for the drive home, and we made it all the way back without incident.
Nathan(hesitantly) and I gently took the boxes to the back of the property where we will be placing them for now hoping that they are in a good place to take up residence.

The first box was really easy to settle in. I put on protective gear-hat, vale, and gloves-and carefully removed the staples and took of the screen. The bees slowly peeked out took a small flight around and quietly settled in for the evening.

The second box was a little bit different. I haven't had very much experience with bees, but with the little bit of exposure that I have had, I've quickly learned that a mashed bee means that there will possibly be trouble. I was optimistic though that the two smashed bees may not still cause too much excitement after a whole 40-ish minutes ride home...looking at the opening that was blocked with the screen quickly made me realize that this one was going to be a challenge. I puffed a bit of smoke hoping it would help and gently began undoing the staples. The closer I came to releasing the screen the angrier the mob seemed. I told Nathan to stand a good distance back and released the flood. They were really angry and poured out of the opening to inspect the "danger" quite a few of them surrounded my area and I calmly smoked around me in hopes of distracting them, and then carefully walked toward Nathan to gently smoke the ones that were inspecting him for possible signs of "danger".

After a few minutes they lost interest and surveyed their area and then settled in for the evening.
We didn't panic, and we didn't get stung. I counted that as an extremely amazing and encouraging first encounter with our new bees. I am sure going forward there will be stings...probably quite a few, but for today we avoided that possible tragedy and move forward into the world of Beekeeping.

So...so far so good. Yesterday and today both hives seemed to be busy as...well...bees. Tomorrow we will try to open up the hives and see what's going on inside and attempt to move them into their new residence.

Here's to continued adventure of Our Handmade and Homegrown Life.

Hope you are having a beautiful beginning to your summer.

Landscaping: New Native Plants

Matt and I went out to Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs, Mississippi. This place is amazing. They do lots of events throughout the year and there are lots of classes and opportunities to learn about and commune with nature. The event highlight of the year is in September for their humming bird festival that celebrates all types of animals, and the migration of the humming birds. Last week, we went out and picked up some native woodland species to add to our yard. I am really hoping to create a landscape haven for wildlife in our yard, and also introduce lots of species that are edibles for both our family and the wildlife that surrounds us. This also gives us the opportunity to add specific plants that will be good for our new hives of bees giving them plenty of opportunity to have close nectar sources.

There were so many different kinds of plants to choose from that it was really difficult to make choices, but this year we picked up Oak Leaf Hydrangea, which I have been wanting for many years.

Jewel Weed(Impatiens capensis) for ground cover in a damp area of the yard.  It is a common native found in areas along creeks, bottomlands, ditches, ponds and low land damp areas. It is a relative of impatients. The stems re translucent and succulent like. the flowers are bright orange and spotted and the seed pods are sensitive to touch when ripe and explode open shooting seeds out. This plant is considered an annual native to North America, not perennial, but it can be an aggressive reseeding plant and may not be welcome in some gardens. Be sure to plant in an area that you don't mind becoming over-run with these plants. It is also said to be great for skin issues, bug bites, and soothing rashes especially poison ivy. The two plants are often seen growing near each other in the wild. some other names for this plant are;  orange jewelweed, common jewelweed, spotted jewelweed, spotted touch-me-not, or orange balsam.

Woodland poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) is a native perennial  that grows well in moist woodland settings. It is happy in shade to part shade. It is also called wood poppy, celandine poppy, and poppy wort. It is valued for its bright sunny yellow flowers that have four petals that float cheerfully above the deeply lobed leaves. The seed pods are a fuzzy blue-ish green pod that add interest because of their uniqueness.

The Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) plant that is in the same family as Jack in the Pulpit. Although it can be an edible if treated properly, I prefer to have it for it's unique look in the landscape. The plant has a toxin in it that makes if unfavorable unless prepared properly, so we will just consider this a pretty ground cover. These plants are unique, they come up out of the ground with one leaf(with several leaflets) on a stem. when the plant flowers, it creates a stalk near the base of the plant that grows out of the side of the stem and the single flower grows off of it. The flowers are inside a spathe and contain both male and female flowers. The fruits form a cluster of bright orange-red berries at the end of the stem where the flower had grown. It is also known as a Dragon-root plant. It is a native perennial  species found in damp woodland areas of North America. 

Milkweed and Turks Cap for the butterflies, and hummingbirds. Turks Cap(Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is a wonderful woodland perennial to have in the landscape because not only is it a very showy plant with beautiful red flowers to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, it is also a very useful edible. The leaves can be used in the same way as spinach, steamed, boiled or as a salad leaf(young leaves are better). The flowers can be eaten as a treat off of the bush, used as a salad garnish, or made into tea. and the berries can be eaten, made into tea, or jelly. It is in the mallow family of plants and is a hibiscus relative. Some other names of this plant are Wax mallow, Red mallow, Texas mallow, Mexican apple, and Sleeping hibiscus.

I also picked up a couple of wild ginger plants to put in the front of the house where I am in the process of building a dry bed at the drip line along the front of the house in a very difficult area. Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), a member of the birthwort family was used by early settlers as a substitute for the ginger that they could no longer get. It doesn't have the same flavor as the tropical version, but in learning from the local Indians they were able to adapt it as a substitute flavor in their foods. It also had medicinal uses for the Native Americans. It is a stemless, low-growing, perennial woodland plant that prefers deep shade areas. It is a very slow growing ground cover that makes a beautiful display in areas that may otherwise look bare. It spreads by rhizomes that grow at or just under the ground surface. It has a curious bell shaped brownish red flower that blooms at the ground surface that attracts small insects such as ants and small flies as pollinators.

I am looking forward to making this plant sale a tradition to continue adding beautiful native plants and perennials to our yard.