Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Latest swarm we caught settling into their new home

Yesterday afternoon a friend called and said there was a swarm in an orange tree a few miles from me.  So I took advantage of that opportunity to re-populate one of my hives that recently disappeared.  The orange tree was full of fragrant blossoms which made it particularly pleasant.

Fortunately I was able to get these really nice honey bees between rainstorms. 

While sizing up the situation and figuring out how I was going to get the bees out of the tree, the homeowner and a bunch of his neighbors gathered to watch.  The only problem was when the homeowner walked up to me and smacked at a bee that was on my shoulder.  I told him that was the worst thing he could do.  The bees don't land on you to sting you ... well at least not unless provoked.  But I was able to educate them somewhat about bees and thanked the group for calling someone to remove the bees instead of calling an exterminator who would just kill all of them. 

I'm hoping they like their new home at The Florida Bee Farm. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pestilence, destruction with lost and found bees

To say things are busy at the Florida Bee Farm would be an understatement.  The tomato plants have been producing like mad and we canned 10 quarts of tomatoes in addition to using many of the tomatoes in recipes we like.
Washed tomatoes

canning tomatoes

But these tomato plants take a crazy amount of time every day.  I spend at least 2-3 hours a day re-staking, trimming browned leaves, looking for worms, and harvesting.  And I love doing it so don't get me wrong here.  It's relaxing.

But it's getting to the point where these tomato plants are at the end of their life.  They lost most of their leaves and I'm not sure why.  Possibly a fungus or ????  I'm pretty sure they have enough water and not too much since they are watered with a drip irrigation system.  Maybe the browning and losing of leaves is natural for tomatoes when they are fruiting.  I'm not sure.  But the latest problem has been an infestation of tomato worms which is a big problem since I'm doing this organically without pesticides.  These @#^*&^ worms burrow holes into a lot of tomatoes making them useless.  Yesterday I tossed dozens of tomatoes into the compost bin.  And I squashed a little more than a dozen worms too.  My purple cherokee tomatoes which were just starting to produce nice size fruit (which were not quite ripe) were hit hard.  Oh well, we'll just focus on the tomatoes we do harvest.  And next year we may rethink some things.

The bees are busy as ever doing what they do.  I caught a nice swarm in one of my traps but it looks like one of the hives on the stand is empty.  Maybe they're the ones in the swarm trap, not sure.

The pollinator garden in memory of Paul is doing great and loaded with flowers and milkweed.  The Monarch butterflies and honey bees are all over it. 

I think this blog may be winding down some as I just don't have the time to keep it active.  Too many things to do lately.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bye bye bees : (

Over two weeks ago I ordered some needed equipment from Mann Lake Beekeeper supply and they still haven't shipped !  This is their busy season and it looks like I'll have to wait.  But unfortunately what I was waiting for would have prevented the loss of many thousands of bees from the largest hive I had.  I was going to split the hive but looks like the bees did it for me.

Yesterday when I was getting ready to leave the Florida Bee Farm, I went over to check on the bees.  And it was an amazing site.  My busiest hive emptied out and zillions of bees were flying around in front of the hive.  It was loud too.  From about 20 feet away you could hear all the buzzing and excitement coming from the hive.  This time of year large honey bee hives make extra queens to facilitate splitting the hive.  Sometimes multiple groups will fly off to form their own colony's.  As a beekeeper, you try to prevent this by doing a split for the hive.  But in this case I was too late and off they went. 

I can't help thinking that the bees were excited to head out and move into their new home wherever it is.  It's nature and you just have to go with it.  The video I took with my phone didn't capture the big ball of bees in the tree very well but you can kind of make them out.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Mrs. Chippy's plant world and edible landscape design

Debra from Mrs. Chippy's plant world
 Last week I took an incredible road trip to visit Debra from Mrs. Chippy's plant world and edible landscape design in St. Petersburg.  She had a large diverse collection of beautiful tropical edible plants throughout her entire property.   No wonder, she's a master gardener and practices natural organic permaculture gardening principles.  This tropical paradise was loaded with honey bees feasting on all her flowering plants.  The bee in the sunflower image below was completely covered  in pollen.  I wish I had a better camera to show the mess she was making.
honey bee completely covered with pollen

Debra sells red wriggler worms and was able to set me up with a nice worm casting / compost system.  With this system the worms will make super food for your plants and provide a powerful compost that makes the best compost tea.  Plus the worms multiply.  More worms = more compost.
Getting up close and personal with my compost

I had purchased her worms through the Indian Rocks co-op but incorrectly placed them into my compost pile which I later found out was a very bad idea.  Thinking it through, I quickly realized the mistake and dumped my two compost bins and manually went through all the compost looking for worms.  Since it was the next day, three hours of sifting only yielded about 20 worms or so.  They blend in so well.   Debra was a great help and quickly set me on the right track to raising worms correctly.

In addition to learning about many exotic plants I traded honey for plenty of cuttings and plants to bring back to The Florida Bee Farm.  It was a blast learning from an expert.    Here's a few pictures of Mrs. Chippy's plant world.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Double rain barrel capacity and pests in the compost pile

The Florida Bee Farm has about 8 watering zones and each takes a good amount of water.  Up until now, our 275 gallon rain barrel system would run dry after only a couple runs. Plus the water recovery intake (the system that takes the rain from the gutters into the barrels) would lose water during heavy rain because it was undersized.  Not a problem on one of those days where it rains all day but quick heavy downpours would lose a high percentage of water.
New rainbarrel container (left) and new water intake system (top)

So this week the rain barrel system was revamped and water capacity increased to over 500 gallons.  Friends of our son were moving and had a giant bait tank container ... around 250 gallons I believe, that they needed to get rid of.  So it didn't cost us a penny.  All it needed was a coat of dark paint to keep algae from forming inside the tank.   This should supply enough water for most of the Bee Farm's needs.  While modifying the plumbing to accommodate the large tank I decided to completely redo the water intake system so it would branch out and feed into two tanks instead of one to accommodate heavy rainstorms. All the tanks are linked so this will be much more efficient. 
freshly planted seeds

It was graduation week for a lot of the little seedlings in the nursery and a new class of future seedlings was added to the greenhouse.  It's fun to keep adding plants to the Bee Farm and experiment with different seeds.  I get some of our seeds from the Safety Harbor library which has a free seed program.

In other news, don't wander too close to the compost pile. (click play below)

pests in the compost pile

Monday, March 7, 2016

Protector of the Blueberries

As the blueberries ripen a big concern around the garden is losing them to birds.  Someone told us that they heard birds can wipe out a blueberry patch in a short period of time.  Besides running fishing line above the plants which would be very time consuming, we came up with the idea of putting a fake owl overlooking the blueberries to discourage curious birds.  I just hope it doesn't deter the band of little birds that are always hopping around between my plants munching on the bugs.  These little birds really do a nice job and are a joy to watch as they go about their business.
See if you can spot the Owl scarecrow in this picture

The Florida Bee Farm's irrigation system has completely failed as the water pump needs to be replaced.  This water pump has been nothing but trouble and recently is overheating and stopping.  When your goal is consistent reliable water to the plants, a pump that randomly shuts down is not an option.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Blueberries and Bees

Lately there's plenty of activity at The Florida Bee Farm around the blueberry plants.  And there's many different types of bees buzzing around the blueberry flowers.  Bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees from our apiary and a couple bee types I wasn't sure of.  While watching a large Carpenter bee on a bud I noticed a couple smaller bees buzzing the Carpenter bee and even bumping into it a few times.  There was plenty of blueberries to go around so not sure what the bee anger was all about. 

Some of the smaller blueberry plants even have unripe blueberries already.  It looks like we'll have a nice harvest of blueberries this year with over 20 mature plants.

Carpenter bee enjoying the blueberry buds

Blueberries formation