Monthly Archives: May 2013

Apple Maggot Control Bags: Love and Hate

If you have never looked at your lovingly dwarfed apple tree bursting with fruitlets and thought “Crap. That’s a lot of fruit. Too bad the blight skipped this year.” you have never applied apple maggot control bags. Think tiny pantyhose that must be tied on to each and every fruitlet in order to prevent all manner of winged creatures from using my hard won fruit as a nursery. Might be kind of cute, right? A tree wearing stockings!

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No way, man. Indeed they are almost as unattractive as the name implies. Limp, wrinkly apple maggot control bags all over my sweet little fruit trees.

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That tree is embarrassed.

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They do improve slightly when the contents swell.

I ordered 3 bags of these beauties, 144 count each. I am done with 2 bags and perhaps 60% done with the job. How is that possible?? I have tiny trees, and only 5 are apples or pears of fruit bearing age. This process is mostly satisfying, kind of overwhelming. With Baby R being a primary focus around here these days, every minute with both hands free is precious. I keep reminding myself that it is absolutely worth it to spend an extra 20 seconds on each fruit to ensure a generally worm free harvest. It is! Also, I feel like I’m wrapping myself hundreds of presents, not to be opened until late summer/ fall.

I hope my canning jars like presents, too.

Are You My Bee?

Now that I have two hives of my own, I have begun paying much closer attention to the bees that service my garden. I know there is really no way to know if the bees I am seeing are my bees, but I was surprised to find how many bees are certainly not my bees at all.

This gal could be my bee:

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This one, not so much:

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Not this hunk of a bee:

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Or this one:

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But this one might be mine:

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And hopefully her:

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First Beehive Inpection: Nailed It.

Ok, really I have very little way of knowing how the inspection went in terms of actual beekeeping accomplishment. I can tell you that I loved it, I wasn’t scared and I can’t stop thinking about the whole experience. It’s a delightful thing to replay in my mind when I’m trying to fall back asleep after feeding Baby R in the middle of the night. I did indeed see proof that both of my queens are working hard making baby bees (brood in all stages of development) and there was no gross evidence of disease or massive problems of the magnitude that a brand new beekeeper like me might recognize.

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So, until the bees learn to type and correct me, I think that’s nailing it.

In both hives the girls had drawn comb on all the frames and had brood in most frames, so I went ahead and put another medium body on each. Using starter strips worked out well- no wonky comb building as of yet.

My resident photographer was out earning a living, so no photos from within the hive exist yet. However, I did stakeout the lavender bush.

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The folks at Beekind say that generally one should only inspect the hives every two weeks. Even this frequency of inspection for inspection’s sake can be hard on the bees, but apparently it’s a pretty good balance between the new beekeeper’s need to learn and the bees’ tolerance for invasions of the hive. This is a perfect fit for a new mom who has far more time to daydream and plan than to actually do anything productive. So far, so good!

The Bees Are In!

Three generations of our family helped get the homestead ready for our newest arrivals. Here they are completing one of the hive stands.

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This is what a box of 10,000 bees looks like! Within that mass lies the queen, protected by a small cage until the new colony becomes familiar with her. The silver disk is the top of a can of sugar syrup that sustains the bees until they are able to forage again.

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Here is one of our hives just before the bee release. I am primarily using starter strips, small straight strips attached to the top of each frame to get the bees started building combs in the right place and orientation, but have included one full frame of foundation in order to have an easy place to attach the queen initially. Once you remove the queen from the package you use a rubber band to hold her cage onto the foundation and frame. Most methods of installing packages of bees involve dumping the bees out of the box after the queen is removed and placed in the hive. Yes, the first act of many a new beekeeper is shaking a roiling mass of stinging insects out of a box! Sorta nuts. After viewing many a YouTube video of this procedure and feeling less and less brave all the time, I was happy to find the technique taught by the brilliant folks at Beekind up in Sebastopol, California. You install the queen and then simply place the box of bees in the hive and let them crawl out to be with her in their own. At least it looked simple when I watched it done by the guy who had done thousands of package installations before. My own reenactment of the deed was far less graceful. Fortunately, it did get the job done.

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That’s me in a beesuit! I think I look super cool, very beekeeperly. If I was a real beekeeper, however, it seems I would do this procedure in something that displayed an aggressive level of nonchalance- perhaps cutoff jean shorts and a bikini top. This is what I have gleaned from my months of internet research on the art of beekeeping. These boxes of bees are without a home to defend and therefore very docile, I know. Knowing this is great, but I also needed to keep my hand shaking to a level where I still had some semblance of fine motor skills. The bee handler that drops the queen cage into the box of bees while attempting to remove the cage from the package must then insert her hand into the mass of bees to retrieve it. No thank you!

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When I went to remove the package boxes and reconfigure the hives after 3 days I felt a little more sure of myself. After opening the first hive and pulling out my first frame of bees most of the nerves dissolved into absolute wonder. The bees were busily engaged in the festooning (how fantastic is that word??) behavior that helps them to make honeycomb. The comb itself was barely visible beneath the moving surface of bees linked together by their tiny bee claws, but the glimpses I got were breathtaking. The comb was pure white and perfectly formed. Such a miraculous design!

Two weeks after installation I will check again to see if my queens are settled in and getting down to the business of building colonies. Knowing how easy it is to fail completely at this hobby, I am trying not to get too attached to the outcome of this first attempt. It’s tough, though. I am already so smitten.