A few weeks ago, I got a big shipment in the mail.
It was super fun to check out each and every beekeeping item I had carefully chosen.
This is a large plastic entrance feeder. New bees need to bed a sugar syrup mixture for the first few weeks or so as they are getting adjusted to their new home. I think I am going to feed them until they won’t take it any more – many beekeepers advocate for feeding aggressively to help the bees become as healthy and resistant to invaders as possible.
This is my beekeeping suit. I tried it on, it doesn’t fit super well and I look pretty creepy but I think it will prevent as many stings as possible and thus give me a confidence booster as I get used to being around bees. I promise a photo of me modeling it here eventually.
This hood zips onto my suit. Only downside is I can’t wear it separately. But I like that it is all one piece and I can hopefully just hop into and zip up and be ready to go.
Here is Chris’s veil, or a veil that anyone can toss on if they want to get up close and personal. I took this with me when I went to see the two packages of bees being installed at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for my class the other week. I paired it with my new gloves with long sleeves and venting.
They don’t fit as well as I would like but will be good for starters, I think. My hands look like Mickey Mouse’s hands in them; a little bit unsettling.
A smoker, along with unpictured smoker fuel. I think working with the smoker has me more nervous than the bees themselves, for some reason. This may be an initial job for my husband, who has no fear.
This is a hive tool. It is used to pry the frames out of the boxes when the bees glue them together as well as pry the lid and cover off.
This is an IPM bottom board, or integrated pest management bottom board. There is a screen in the bottom with a foam grid that slides in an out. The screen serves to ventilate the hive and functions to prevent varroe mite, the scourge of beehives. I think the grid allows you to count the number of dead mites that drop through to count them in some way and give an indicator for when to treat with medication. I hope to never use medication, but we’ll see.
I didn’t take any photos of the hive box pieces, foundation, or frame pieces – they aren’t too interesting looking unassembled, which is how I ordered them. I spent a few hours last Saturday in front of a retro “Real World” marathon on MTV building my hive boxes on the living room floor. They are pretty much the easiest thing ever to assemble. I haven’t put together any of the frames and foundation yet – it is a bit tedious, even though I got the Duragilt foundation which is easier to assemble. (I’m a bit nervous about the type of foundation I got – I didn’t do much internet research before settling on it, so let’s hope for the best –more on this later). I also got an inner cover and a shiny aluminum lid to go on top which also aren’t pictured.
I painted them bright white, too. I accidentally bought an extra hive body – I had meant to buy just two, with a medium super. To explain what this means – a hive body is the deepest size “box” that sits at the bottom of the hive. This is where the queen lives and her brood live. The worker bees make honey here too. A “super” are subsequent boxes that get added on top of the hive bodies. These are where the honey is taken from. Even though it is unlikely I will get much honey this year – due to my late start and needing to leave all honey in the hive bodies for the bees to get through winter – I thought since I was placing such a large order I would go ahead and get a super. You never know.
My plan was to just start with two hive bodies and possibly adding the super on top, depending on how things look later in the summer. More than likely as we move into winter, I will just end up using the two hive bodies. I am glad to have the extra hive body (a third one, can’t believe I somehow ordered three of these) because next spring, when my bees are going strong, I will need to take a few frames of brood and bees and pollen out – called hive splitting – and put them in a second hive. So I’ll be mostly ready to go, minus some assembling and painting and getting a second bottom board/inner cover/top/feeder.
I also put together my grow light system that we built in the spring of 2011. Pretty slick, hmm? PVC pipe, fittings, chain link, and shop lights. I think we put it together for well under $100 and it comes apart for easy storage. Somehow it made the trip to Alabama and I even found all the pieces, including the timer for the lights and my heat mat.
Since I am using this blog as a modern garden journal (just like Thomas Jefferson did), I want to note what I started from seed this year.
I planted a variety of seeds from my Seed Savers Exchange seed collection; four types of tomato, kale, eggplant, pepper, basil, lavender (almost pointless to try to propagate but oh well), Bells of Ireland flower, Bunny Tails flower, and pansies. I did a flat of veggies and a flat of flowers, just to mix it up a bit and see what I could grow.
I have my mini-greenhouse set up in the garage, and made the mistake of taking the lid off the veggie flat mid-week last week. I think it got too cold or dry for them, and noticed yesterday that some of my basil and tomato sprouts were wilting. Grrr. I replanted them today and put the lid back on. I was trying to avoid “damping off,” or fungus that occurs when wet conditions are left for too long, and instead either froze or dried them out. I’m already feeling like a month behind with my seed starting – but hey, I’m an Iowa girl and we aren’t even dreaming of tomato seedlings at the beginning of March! I am still not used to the seasons here – mostly because it never felt like a winter that I could understand or connect to. Also, this has been the “longest winter ever” here and planting in general has been delayed.
All in all, I was proud of what I accomplished last weekend.
This weekend, I picked up lemon thyme, stevia, and chocolate mint plants from my favorite gardening place I’ve found here. They were healthy and ready to be potted. I also planted swiss chard, lettuce, Tom Thumb peas, arugula, carrots, and radishes to three of my window box planters. I left these planters out all winter and planted some greens in the very late fall. They didn’t give me too much but kept the soil loose. I mixed in some fresh soil and dragged them out front so I can keep a better eye on them and water them on my way out the door each morning. Again, this is probably considered late to be planting these spring favorites but the weather hasn’t cooperated much, and I was out of town back home a few weekends ago. So, we’ll see what we get.
One final project this weekend that I spontaneously decided to follow through with: straw bale gardening. I got the latest copy of my Acres USA magazine and there was an article about this very topic. Basically, here’s the scoop: get some straw bales. fertilize and heavily water them for a couple weeks. plant things in them. things will grow.
There’s a bit more to it than that, but here is the gardener who created this concept’s website for more information. One thing that is appealing about this method is that it is cheap – we bought three straw bales at Lowe’s for $4 a piece. It is also essentially weedless and easily manageable. You can fertilize them a variety of ways, but basically you want to get in some nitrogen. As you fertilize and water them constantly, they begin to heat up and decompose, and create a nice little warm spot for plants to thrive. At the end of the season, you can spread it out as compost as that is what you are left with. Many, many people all across the interwebs have had great success.
I checked with my buddies that are in charge of the community garden to see if they were cool with me dragging some straw bales and setting them up near my raised bed. They said “YES!” and so that’s what we did. They are wanting to do some different gardening techniques and methods at the garden so this was good timing.
I decided to use some of the incredibly rich, compost-like potting mix I picked up (Happy Frog) and scatter that on the top of the bales. The official way to do it is to use lawn fertilizer or bone meal, but I don’t have any of those things and didn’t want to run out to Lowe’s again. So I am trying it this way. I saturated the bales with about 3-4 gallons of water. I am hoping for some more rain tonight and will try to swing out there after work a couple days this week to continue to drench them.
Chris wanted me to “post on your website” his own homesteading project – deer meat smoking. He loves what people call “snack sticks” and decided to make about a thousand today with our neighbor, whose dad has a super nice smoker.
Here are some photos of him making a huge mess but having a grand time.
After several hours of stuffing casings, fiddling with the smoker, and cleaning up – we should have enough spicy, smoked deer meat to last us through the zombie apocalypse. Speaking of which, time to get back to the season finale of The Walking Dead! If they kill off any of my favorites (Daryl, Hershel, Glenn, Maggie, Rick, Carl, Carol . . . in no particular order) I will be very upset!