Showing posts from May, 2015

A Taste Of Honey

Last weekend when we checked the beehive, we saw that one of the combs was stuck to the bottom of the hive. We're thinking it must have fallen and then the bees reconnected it to the bar, but we had to remove it to keep them building comb in good, straight lines. So we cut it off of the box and decided to get a closer look once we closed up the hive:

The part that Kirk is cutting off is actually the bottom of the comb. The solid yellow around the side and bottom (or shorter) edge is capped brood: cells that have bee larvae inside. Sorry bees. 

Here's one hatching. Can you see her little eyes looking straight up at you? (She's dead center in the photo.) To the left is more capped brood; to the right is uncapped honey, nectar, and bee bread
Kirk cut off the brood sections because we are just not into eating bee larvae (yet). Fascinating cross section makes for an awesome biology project, though:

In each cell you can see a semi-formed baby bee. They are white, and you can …


This spring has been one of the most difficult I can remember. No rain, lots of caterpillar damage, and the loss of our barn cat have all made for some discouraging times. Dolley is also still struggling with her bare butt, which she picked clean of feathers during the long, boring winter:

She's still picking at it, so I did a little research and got a recommendation for a topical medicine to use to treat her raw, henpecked skin:

Blu-Kote is, as the name suggests, is a very deep blue. This is important because it dyes the chicken's bare skin a bluish-purple, which masks any red, open wounds. Chickens are notorious for pecking open wounds, and any blood will just make them want to keep on pecking (this is what happens during a cockfight, for example, and is the reason we had to quarantine Abigail that time she hurt her foot). This stuff stains anything it touches, but it definitely masks the redness:

Hopefully this will stop the pecking long enough to let some new feathers gro…

Good Night, Sweet Fletch

I've been avoiding this post, but there's nothing left to do but write it.
Fletch didn't come home for breakfast Saturday before last, and we haven't seen him for 10 days. We're not certain what happened to him, but it's pretty clear that he's gone. The kids and I covered the neighborhood with flyers to see if anyone picked him up, but we haven't gotten any responses.

One hard part has been not knowing what happened to him. As a (mostly) outdoor cat, we always knew his life span would be shorter than some hothouse flower kitty. He was a former stray, so his age was always a guess: he was likely between 9 and 10 years old, but he could have been older. He could have gotten sick, or could just have been older than we thought--he had been sleeping an awful lot lately. He may have trotted off to curl up under a bush somewhere to be alone at the end, as cats are wont to do.
It's always possible that he got in a fight with something bigger, or met his ma…

Under Attack

It's been a very hard week here in the garden. For one thing, we're dealing with quite an onslaught of winter moths. Have you seen lots of little inchworms hanging from silk threads this spring? They love maples, and are eating their way through the small red Norway maple in the back yard. I haven't noticed a big issue with the sugar maple or fruit trees out front, but it's probably just a matter of time. 
They've been dive bombing out of the evergreen in the back yard also, presumably in search of greener pastures:

And they've found what they're looking for:

That used to be a young cabbage transplant, and almost all of them look like this now. I'd been stumped about what was eating them for a couple weeks: it's not loopers, and the damage to the stems isn't clean like a cutworm. Well, now I know. If we had known this was coming, we'd have put down the row cover as soon as we planted them. By now it might be too late. Bt spray should also h…

Hydrangea Rehab

We've had two brutal winters in a row, and the extreme low temperatures and heavy snow brutalized the hydrangea in the perennial border:

That pile of sticks is pretty typical of how a hydrangea looks in the dead of winter, but the blooming tulips in the background make it clear that it is now May. What we should see in a healthy, happy hydrangea are lots of leaf buds:

And yes, we do have some canes that are clearly still alive. Not many, though. The great majority are definitely dead. I waited a long time to come to that determination, because hydrangeas take a while to wake up in the spring. If you prune carelessly, you can easily lose a season's flowers, so it's best to wait.  (We didn't have any flowers last year, either, and it wasn't due to overzealous pruning so much as an intensely cold winter that killed all the flower buds.)
By now it's clear that most of those canes are lost causes and can be pulled out to make room for some new growth. After a long …

Getting To Know You

Our new chicks aren't so little anymore. They're a month old now, and most of their feathers have come in. They are getting to that awkward phase for sure:

From left to right are Rachel, Louisa Catherine (the black one pecking at the ground), and Lizzy.  
Today was nice and warm, so we took the opportunity to let them have their first day outside. They are in the chicken run, and they were definitely interested in scratching, taking dust baths, and exploring every inch of their interesting new space. This kept them from pecking at each other, which has gotten a little intense over the past few days--when you hear a wrestling match and find Lizzy's feathers in Rachel's mouth, you know it's time for them to move out.
You can't just throw strange chickens into and existing flock, though. That pecking order stuff is for real, and the little ones could actually be in danger from our grown chickens protecting their turf. To get everyone accustomed to each other, Kir…

Fresh From The Hive: Beeswax And Bee Bread

On Monday when we did our weekly maintenance check of the hive, we had to remove some small pieces of comb that weren't positioned properly on the bar:

Some, like the one above, had a bit of honey in them. Other pieces had big bee larvae, and still others had just tiny, new eggs. It's hard to take pictures once the bees get mad about you messing with their babies, but I'll try harder in the future. 
Different pieces of comb also showed some variation in the color of the beeswax:

The white is brand new wax, and it's quite soft and fragile--you can see it's all crushed around the edges from our hands, despite pretty careful handling. The larger one is more golden. Wax color depends a lot on what kinds of pollen the bees are foraging for--it gets mixed in when they produce the wax. 
We also had a bit of bee bread in the large piece. You can see two pieces here on the edge of the comb, which has been partially torn away:

Bee bread is pollen mixed with a bit of honey a…

Bee Hive Update: Drawing Comb

Yesterday Anita from Beverly Bees came by to check our hive. We suited up and got to work. 
If you remember, we have a top bar hive. It's basically a big trapezoidal box with bars running across the top. The bees build honeycomb to hang from each bar. Our job is to check each bar to make sure they are building their comb nice and straight. We started from the back:

You can tell by the pure white color of the beeswax comb that this is brand new, and it's still quite soft. Kirk easily spotted the queen on this one, though she crawled around to the back by the time I snapped the picture. The bees are building this to fill the box, and the queen is laying eggs in each little hole.
Further down the line of bars, toward the hive entrance, there are completed combs that are much sturdier, which allows us to flip them upside down:

This comb is nice and straight, and you can see that it has taken on the shape of the box. The part that looks solid yellow is where the bees have capped o…

The Merry Month Of May

We chased the bees and plucked the flowers In the merry, merry month of May. ~Stephen Foster
I haven't written in some time because it's been pretty lean around here.
Sure, it seems like April is springtime and that gardens would be up and running, but that's true only up to a point. You can plant out a lot of things in April and get plenty of work done, but in April all the winter stores are gone (with the exception of parsnips, that is), but nothing is big enough to eat yet.
Our cold, snowy winter and very dry spring have made this April even leaner than usual. 
But now it is well and truly May, and now that we have food to eat and flowers to enjoy, we're all smiles (tinged with sighs of relief) that spring has finally arrived. Here are scenes from our merriest month in the garden.

Tulips in the cutting garden have suddenly bloomed, and we have a bounty this spring since I refurbished the bulb bed in the cutting garden last fall

I love sunset colors for flowers, and…

Rose Trellises

We've been meaning to do this for quite some time, and this weekend Kirk finished making trellises for the climbing roses in the perennial border:

Kirk bought a few cedar boards and ripped them down into 1.5-inch strips. He cut dadoes into the crosspieces to attach them, and each trellis is hung on the house using a custom bracket cut on the jigsaw from pressure-treated pine (painted white to match the house trim):

It was much trickier to prune and train the roses, since our climbers are very thorny, but we managed to do it without too much bloodshed:

We had a lot of die-back on our rose canes this winter since they were crushed under the weight of so much snow for so long. That might actually be good for us, since we'll have a chance to train pliable, new canes instead of dealing with old, woody ones.
This is just one set of trellises; there are others on the other corner of the porch. I'm excited to see the roses leaf out and bloom so we can see that red color rising ab…