The bees are flying!

This time of year I’m answering lots of questions about how the bees did over the winter. The answer:  overall, from what I’ve been hearing from other beekeepers, the mild was winter was good for Alberta bees. At our apiaries we had very, very few losses- less than 3%! The bees have already been collecting pollen for a couple of weeks now and we’re going to unwrap them soon. We’re looking forward to a great year of healthy bees and honey production. I’m excited to be able to offer our dandelion honey in late June; we’ve been sold out of it since December but people still ask for it every week. And by July we’ll have our much-loved wildflower too.  This summer, there will also be a new face at our stall: Becky, my sister, will be working the stall while Dan and myself are out with the bees. So say Hi to her when you see her!

One more update from the beeyards: unfortunately, I have a skunk eating bees out of my apiary.  We’ll be trapping it this weekend. Skunks can be big pests around beehives. They scratch at the front of the hive and when the bees come out to defend themselves they get caught in the skunk’s fur. The skunk then picks them out and eats them, slowly de-populating the whole hive this way. So we have decided the suspiciously rotund skunk marauding the bee yard has to be relocated somewhere else before it becomes a skunk family.

Robbing Bees

The work is finally wrapping up for the season! I’ve fed my bees sugar syrup to get them through the winter but with the warm weather they’re out flying around, robbing anything with even a trace of sugar or honey on it. In the fall, there are lots of worker bees who want to collect nectar but there is no nectar for them to collect. Instead, they steal honey or sugar from anywhere they can get it. That means they’re sneaking into my extracting room to take honey from the honey boxes I’ve taken off their hive. Once in there, they get disoriented and can’t get out again.  They’ve been clustering on the top of my window overnight and in the morning I knock them into a bucket and take them out. I’ve only had to do it twice, but even that is too much. Robbing bees spread diseases and once they get robbing they are more likely to rob out neighbouring hives, which can devastate that hive’s ability to overwinter. So next year the top item I need is a 100% bee-proof extracting room.

On another note, thanks to the folks who came out and helped harvest potatoes! I have lots of beautiful potatoes available now, so contact me if you would like to stock up on your winter supply. I’m selling them unwashed to maximize storage life (but they’re just dusty rather than dirty so they’ll be easy to wash), and I would prefer to sell in 25 lb or larger quantities but I can do smaller as well. So contact me if you’re interested.

And I’m still selling honey at Salisbury Farmer’s Market. On October 6th the market moves inside the greenhouse for the winter and I’m looking forward to see how the indoor market compares to being outside!

I’m also still working on the little cabin… I spoiled myself by buying a beautiful soapstone stove to heat it over the winter. And I managed to get my paws on some 1″ limestone flooring to use as my hearth! I’m really excited to install it and I’ll post photos once it’s in.

Long awaited update

Between the weeding and the planting and the harvesting I’ve been keeping pretty busy. A big thanks to everyone who came out to my weeding party a couple weeks ago- the field is still mostly clear of weeds and the clover is growing up and I’m sleeping much better at night now!

Minus the hail early in the season and the extremely late planting date, it’s been a perfect summer. With all the rain I haven’t had to water at all and in the last week almost everything I’ve planted is now ready to harvest! My favorite vegetable to grow, harvest and eat is squash. Here is a picture of one of my harvests. I love squash because it grows quickly and smothers the weeds while allowing an early understory of lettuce. The harvesting is pleasant and I don’t need to get my hands wet processing it. It can be stored at room temperature and cooked all sorts of different ways, from BBQed to fried to stuffed, in stews and soups, or simply eaten raw when young. It can also be shredded and frozen for the winter or used in baking. The yellow ones are patty pan squash, which I’ve been stuffing with tofu, mushrooms, breadcrumbs and cheese. Delicious!

A few weeks ago I invested in a scythe. The plan was to use it to cut the grass as I moved my chicken tractor around but instead I’ve been using it to hack down the thistle groves in the pastures. It’s very pleasant work so long as I don’t look up and see how much more there is to do! While I’m scything the calves try to make friends with Hawthorne the dog, but she’s too much of a chicken and runs away every time they get to within ten feet of her. And when she yowls and runs the calves spook too, and then they spend the next ten minutes creeping closer to each other again.

And a long overdue update on my honey bees. I have two hives, one of which is always referred to as the strong hive, and the other as the weak hive. As I mentioned previously, I just garnered about 30 lbs of honey from the strong hive. My mother came out to help extract it and many of you reading this have probably already tasted it.

The weak hive has been a problem all summer, with the drone layer early in the season. I did not do the new queen’s introduction properly and the bees balled up around her. I was told that she might die because of the poor introduction and sadly, that now seems to be the case. I just finished checking the hives a few minutes ago and the weak hive has empty brood cells with no eggs so something has happened to their queen. They are in the process of superceding, though, so thankfully I’m not going to have to introduce a new queen this time. Bees can raise their own queens when something happens to their queen by feeding more royal jelly to normal larvae. There are about six queen cells on the face of several frames. They look like they will hatch any day now and I can hear a pipping sound when I open the hive. The pipping sounds like a cross between baby chicken peeps and a cricket. According to what I’ve read, virgin queens pip shortly before and after emerging and before they mate. I should have taken photos and perhaps I will open the hives again to do so, so you can see the queen cells and maybe hear the pipping.

Here is a photo of my chickens eating ant larvae off of a 2X4 that was flipped over for them. They ate all the larvae within a few minutes and provided a stunning display of chicken beak dexterity in doing so. The poor ants were packing up their larvae and hauling off as fast as they could but they didn’t stand a chance. The chickens will be laying any day now. In fact, I think they may be already but I haven’t found their nesting spot yet. And did I mention that Harvey is a rooster? He started crowing a couple weeks ago and confirmed my growing suspicions. He’s the black-and-white one in the photo.

Those are all my updates for now; I’ll take some more photos to share soon.

Cow manure!

In all the drama of my honey bees and chickens, I almost forgot about the vegetables! Vegetables are the main reason why The Beanstalk has a website so I figured I’d better plant some. My tractor was in the shop for almost a month and it delayed my planting. So did the heaps of rain we got all spring. Like most areas around Edmonton, the soil I’m growing with has a lot of clay in it. This is good in that it sucks up and retains water in an amazing manner, but after heavy rains it takes a while for it to dry out enough for me to till without ruining the soil structure. But the soil has dried out and I’ve planted all the tasty veggies now, and now I have a bit of time to update this website.

But wait, emerging seedlings aren’t the most interesting photos subjects. Instead, let me tell you about the diversity of animals around my compost piles. There are the wasps and frogs around my lawn clipping and leaf compost pile. There’s the dog and yellow-bellied sapsucker woodpecker obsessed with my horse manure/mushroon compost. The dog I can understand. But the woodpecker? There must be something interesting in there.

But the most biologically diverse compost is the cow manure. I picked the cow manure up from the pastures (yes, I felt very peasant-like doing this) so we’re not talking cow manure/feedlot slurry here, we’re talking about a dried, almost peat-like cow manure that’s been self-composting out in the fields for a year. There are lots of larvae of various insects living in it, and a tiger salamander! It didn’t like having it’s photo taken very much, but here it is.

It's about the best photo I managed to get.

I don’t know if I collected the salamander when I collected the cow pies or if (s)he made it there alone, but the compost pile is now being watered consistently to make sure the salamander, rather than the manure, doesn’t dry out. The western-tailed blues have also been near constant visitors to the cow manure pile as well.

Western tailed blue

Although not related to compost biodiversity, the other discovery was bats in the old garage doors! I’ve been hearing scritch-scritch-scruffles up there for a couple days, but I didn’t have the courage to climb up there and stare the noise maker in the face until a few days ago. And what did I have staring back at me but beady little eyes and leather wings! I’ve seen bats flying at night of course, but hunched up during the day in a garage door is another experience entirely. These bats are very tiny, two and a half inches or three inches at most. They might need to have a real bat house made for them because rain falls down into the garage doors and bats probably don’t like rain very much. I credit them to keeping the mosquito population low around my field.

I’ll post photos of the vegetables when they look a bit more interesting!

Fenugreek as cover crop

I’m growing plenty of arugula, fennel, and fenugreek this summer, so start looking up recipes! Fenugreek is the experiment. Apparently its maple syrup-like flavour lends itself to being used in maple syrup substitutes. It also has many other medicinal properties in addition to being a spice in curries. I’m growing it mostly as a cover crop but I will be harvesting some as well. There is some thought that fenugreek may be an ideal cover crop because it is an annual that will not become a weed problem, only needs to be cut once at the end of the season, and has a high nitrogen content.  Being a legume from the Mediterranean, it is supposed to do quite well in the prairie provinces where lack of moisture and moderately hot conditions are similar to its native land. Or at least that’s my understanding- we’ll see what happens this summer!

Native Pollinators

In the last three days the trees have blossomed and all the native pollinators are buzzing around. I’m amazed at their diversity; I’ve never paid attention before to all the varieties of wasps and bees! The native pollinators far outnumber my honey bees right now. I’m feeding my bees “nector” and “pollen” in the hive to make sure they don’t starve and so it appears they aren’t out foraging as much as they could be. They’ve already drawn out almost all the foundation I gave them and are busy tending to their larvae. By next week there should be baby bees emerging! I’m hoping the wild pollinators and the honey bees are able to coexist without competition.