Sunday, June 24, 2012

That Time I Did the Splits

Yesterday morning The Other Mark and I got together at the apiary and did splits. We had been discussing for a while whether we could or  if we should even try. With the input of more experienced beekeepers we decided to go ahead and give it a try. What? You knew I was talking about beekeeping, didn’t you?

The Dane County Beekeeping Association received a grant to obtain and propagate Varroa Sensitive Hygiene Queens. In brief, these queens have been selectively bred for behavior that protects their hives from a plethora of pests and diseases greatly reducing the need for nasty chemical interventions. And they’re expensive. The grant and generous work of one of our members allowed others in the association to purchase them for much, much less so I ordered two intending to use them to requeen the two package hives we got back in May. Then, we learned at the last meeting that we could use these queens to make new hives by splitting our existing ones

Splitting a hive involves removing frames of brood, pollen and honey along with any bees on them from an existing hive and putting it into an empty hive to start a new colony. This is one of the honey frames we took from Mary, the hive we rescued from a wall. We also took a couple of frames with brood in various stages including capped, and another frame of honey and pollen.

The queen cells were brought home in a wooden block that had holes drilled to accommodate them. The queen cell hangs down from a little plastic cup. How it’s constructed I don’t know but I should read up on that. It’s doubtless an interesting process. We selected a frame that had a nice patch of brood in various stages of development…

…and just jammed the cell into the middle of it maintaining the vertical orientation.

Then, we placed the frames in their boxes and, in the case of the split we took from Margaret, positioned the hive on the last vacant stand in the apiary. The one from Mary—and this is the exciting part!—I loaded into my car and brought home to a spot I’d prepared in the back yard. Meet Ruby.

Ruby We did the splits early in the morning before the foragers had started flying for the day. When I got home and removed the screens we’d stuck on for transport they slowly, placidly began coming out to explore their new home. By mid-morning there were a good number of gentle, relaxed bees flying around the hive. I spent a good part of the day just watching them.

This is the time of year to be getting a beehive ready for winter, believe it or not, and that’s done by making sure you have a young, laying queen in residence. These queens should emerge in a few days, spend about another week maturing and then yet another week or so after that making mating flights. After that, we should start seeing eggs in the new hives. Our fallback plan, should the new and/or existing hives not be strong toward the end of summer, is to remove the old queens and combine each new hive with an old one. I’m really hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tommy Gets Buried


It’s been quite a while since I reported on Tommy’s progress so I thought it was time I tried to catch up. He’s been busy!


On May 14 Tommy was moved to his final home in the garden. Earlier I had installed stakes for all the tomato plants and sowed buckwheat as a spring cover crop. The buckwheat didn’t do so well because the weather turned cool again as soon as I planted. Still, some came up so I now know what it looks like for future reference.  Anyway, here’s how I transplant tomatoes:


Start with a sturdy plant you’ve either started from seed yourself or purchased from a local grower or friend. I’ve read that you’re actually better off with a shorter, sturdier plant than an impressively tall one. My plants got a bit taller than I would have liked because I started some of them too early and I even ended up transplanting them a couple weeks before I expected to because the weather was so nice. Thank you, Global Climate Change!



Next, I dug a hole a few inches from the stake. A deep one. Most plants you buy or grow for your vegetable or perennial garden should be planted in the ground at the same level they were at in the pot. Not so with tomatoes. If you pull off some of the bottom leaves and put the plant in the ground deeper, it will grow roots all along the buried section of stem and make for a stronger plant. Tommy was probably a good eighteen inches tall at this point so I buried about another six inches of stem.  Alternatively you can also dig a horizontal or slanted hole and lay the plant down but I like to have the initial roots deep.



I dug the hole even a little deeper than I wanted it to finally be and put a big handful of compost in the bottom. Then  I watered the hole.  That’s right, I watered the hole. Think about it. Where are Tommy’s roots going to be when he goes in there? And when he’s all good and planted how long do you think I’d have to water to get the soil down around those roots wet?


Next I gently removed Tommy from his pot and placed him in the hole.



I backfilled with the soil I removed to make the hole with out stomping, tamping , or even patting. I want rainfall and irrigation water to infiltrate down and around and into that soil and leaving it a little on the uncompressed side facilitates that, so I let it settle on its own. Halfway through the backfilling I watered again just for the heck of it.



When I’d finished returning all the soil to the hole I tried something new. Last year I had some issues with blossom end rot. It looks like a disease, but is actually caused by a deficiency in calcium uptake. It’s probably more pH related than the actual presence of nutrient in the ground but I threw some crushed oyster shell around Tommy and lightly scratched it into the soil. I don’t really expect it to help all that much, but I’ve got pounds of it on hand from my old Chinese-slipper-orchid-growing days.



Next time things get  a little kinky with young Tommy and his friends.