Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lavender Harvest

They say lavender has calming properties in addition to many other therapeutic uses. Harvesting lavender in and of itself was therapeutic. Deciding which buds to harvest, which to leave a little longer,  fingers scented from oils released from delicate wands, whorls of purple and blue in compact buds... it is an enjoyable, grounding activity.

As we have only a few plants, there won't be much to play with and make fun things like skin toner, lavender water, lavender pillows or sachets. This batch will be used for culinary purposes.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Treasure Hunt

The benefit of having free range hens versus keeping them in a chicken run is probably obvious to most. Healthier chickens, more nutritious eggs, and fertilized pasture are the most obvious. There is a down side however, if you see it that way. For the past 3 days egg production has seemingly come to a halt, with only a couple of eggs each day in the usual places. The usual places are probably most unusual as we have let them pick their favorite nesting spot: some lay in the coop, some in the shed, and some in the garage.

Hidden Nest

The Hidden Entry

Blackberry Ensconced Quince
After combing the place several times and coming up empty, the local raven flock became suspect number one in the egg disappearance. No eggs in any of the nooks or crannies I could think of. This afternoon however, after watching "les girls" toddle off toward the tall grasses near the quince bush that has become ensnarled by blackberry vines, it dawned on me where the eggs had to be. Sure enough, a hidden cache of one dozen eggs lay in a nice little divot scratched out by the hens. On hands and knees, reaching deep into the brambles, my hand alighted on the very cool smooth surface of an egg.

Their choice of spots for a nest is impeccable. Not only is it completely invisible to the human (or raven) eye, the quince bush provides the element of refrigeration that has kept the eggs fresh until I could find them. I am thankful to have hens that can free range, carefully choose their nesting spots, and provide me with an entertaining Saturday afternoon treasure hunt.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Honeybee Varroa Mite Inspection

The hive ladies got their very first powdered sugar dusting today. This technique is used to detect the presence of the veracious ferocious Varroa destructor, or varroa mite. The sugar knocks the mites off the backs of the bees and onto the bottom board. Removing and examining the bottom board gives a clue as to a hive's mite load.
Sugar Honeybees

Apparently these mites are omnipresent; all hives will eventually come up with them. It's early yet to expect to see many of them, but I'm pleased to report these ladies have come up with a clean bill of health. No detectable signs of mites!
Varroa mite hitching a ride on the back of a honeybee
Photo from
The varroa mite parasite attaches itself to the honeybee and, like a leech, sucks on the bees hemolymph (blood). This weakens the bees and additionally makes them susceptible to viruses. It is thought that this mite is a key ingredient in Colony Collapse Disorder, the syndrome that is virtually killing off our bees.

How Much is Too Much Bee Business?

Yesterday our original, twice-swarmed hive saw a flurry of activity at the front of the hive. Bees landing on the front face, many bees hanging out at the entrance, bees seeming to not have a work agenda, like being heavily-laden with honey and coming in for a slow landing, or the pollen-legged type bringing flower protein to the colony. It looked as though there may be some robbing going on. There were even some bees much larger than I'm use to seeing coming and going. What is going on? My initial guess was that they were being robbed. And since our smallest weakest hive seemed to be experiencing the same activity lately and had around 15 or so dead bees on the landing, it seemed a plausible explanation.

Hive Covered With Wet Sheet
Launching into action, I swiftly reduced the entrance to the smallest possible size, and placed a wet sheet over the hive to deter any foreign subversive activity. Apparently the "home bees" are still able to find their way in while others are not. Within the hour crazy bee activity had ceased and the weather had turned back to normal Humboldt summer weather, cold and wet. So, I removed the sheet.

Was my assessment correct? There weren't dead bees all over and I couldn't really distinguish any fighting activity at the entrance. Was it just that we were experiencing a moment of nice weather for a change and even the drones decided they could come out for a quick look for those virgin queens some 60 feet above our heads? Such good weather that the activity was heavily increased from the norm? The big bees I saw, in retrospect were most likely our own drones since drones are probably not robbers...they're lovers, not fighters.

Oh the angst of an ignorant newbee keeper.

Life Before The Garden Cart?

I don't recall how I got much done before having a garden cart on hand to transport everything from bales of alfalfa to multiple bags of soil amendments to wine barrels. This barrel would have remained put under an imposing echium plant that was ensconcing it medusa-style. But Barbarella, our Barred Rock and Barney, our club-footed Rhode Islander were instrumental in the removal. They picked out all the bugs while I heave-hoed the soil and together we were able to remove much of the weight in the barrel before it was leveraged onto the cart for the transport. In this picture they are seen in their roles as transportation engineers.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Migratory Hive Covers: WTF?

Hive inspection yesterday didn't go well. Besides the disappointment of finding queen cups in two hives, both hives with migratory covers were all damp inside, a condition not to the bee's liking. I suppose the ultimate meaning of migratory covers is that it will lead to your bees migrating away from your hive. Lovely. Where was the warning label for that? There are warning labels for everything else, even things more intuitive. You know, like the ones on silica packets (do not eat this) or on Alice in Wonderland's little bottles (Drink Me).

Migratory covers are for big-time beekeepers, which we are not. It enables them to stack their hives side to side for transportation to big-time orchards, which we do not do. Guess we're going to have to invest in more telescoping covers for our beautiful but damp, soggy, windy, cloudy, cold Humboldt summer.