Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Beekeeping Update

Honey on the comb!  Yep, that's what it looks like.  You can see that most of it has been "capped," meaning covered with beeswax, but there are a few cells uncapped, and we tasted it and it's definitely honey.  At this point it's made from sugar water we were feeding them when they first arrived, so it's not really tasty.  We care, but the bees don't; it's food that they can store for the winter.  We'll be looking for the honey they're making in the next few months, which will be from the nectar & pollen they're collecting now.  It will be a richer color & flavor (we hope)! 


Here's the Roommate, showing off a frame that is full of comb, with lots of busy bees working on it. Some are caring for newly hatched bees, some are making and storing honey, some are storing pollen, etc. Click on the photos to see them full-sized (and you can zoom in quite a bit, if you want details).  

I'll be sure and keep you updated as our first beekeeping season progresses...



Friday, May 1, 2015

Grow charts!

A quick post to share some fun info with you: Thomas Jefferson kept grow charts!  (I don't know the correct term, but I call them grow charts.)

Our third President was interested in the same things we are: eating well, fresh veggies, and when will watermelons and asparagus be available?!  

Check out the link above for the full blog post, entitled The President & the Parsnip, at the Library of Congress website.  

For comparison purposes, here's a chart from the Virginia Cooperative Extension showing the same info.  

BTW, the VCE is a great place to get lots more info about gardening, and they also have a help line if you've got a difficult question.  The Master Gardeners of NoVA also have plant clinics at the farmer's markets in Alexandria & Arlington. For example, they'll be at the Del Ray Farmer's market starting 5/3/15 and will be there every Saturday through September.    

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tales from a Beginning Gardener – Loading up on Supplies

Gloves, Check. Hoe, Check. Shovel, Check. Baseball hat and water bottle? Check check. Overalls? Check, wait just kidding I’m not really wearing overalls. Ok I’m ready for my first day of gardening! Can’t be too hard right? Let’s back up for a minute.

I went to Culinary School for the past year and a half and in that time I spent a ton of time with food. We were in class reading about food, watching videos about food, baking off food, prepping food, and then going home and dreaming about food and where it comes from. That is a lot of food time! I have always had a passion for baking and food but through my journey at Culinary school I really began to think more about where food comes from and the process people take to obtain it.
After completing school, I always set out to use the freshest, healthiest ingredients. I then had the idea that a fun and exciting way to get those fresh ingredients myself was to grow them!

I had searched community gardens in Alexandria, VA on the web and found GW Community Garden. I saw that the application submission period was already closed for 2015. I made a power fist at this point and yelled out “No!!!!! I want to plant Lima beans!” Living in a tiny apartment in Old Town with no yard is not conducive to gardening so I had hoped I would be able to join a community garden. I sent an email to GW Community Garden asking if they take volunteers as a Hail Mary attempt. I think in my email I stated, I won’t take any produce, I promise I will work really hard and I just want experience gardening. A couple of hours later I received a response, “We had a cancellation would you like to join?” I immediately accepted and then began compiling my gardening gear.

I have only been gardening for a couple of weeks; at this point I am probably the most amateur gardener of 2015. Already I have learned so much and I feel accomplished as little buds begin to appear above the dirt. I have helped fill up wheelbarrows with chips and pour it on the wire grass. I have planted some seeds and even weeded! Everyone has been so nice and helpful so far and thank goodness no one has judged my amateur questions and comments of “How do you open these seed packets?”  “What does a weed look like?” and “Please don’t tell anyone that I knocked over the wheelbarrow full of chips!” I feel very welcome and am so happy to help in this experience. Each week I learn a little more and get a tiny bit more comfortable in the garden. Perhaps so comfortable that at some point this summer I will break out my overalls, well let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s see how my first watering shift goes. Are you a beginning gardener? What are the biggest challenges you have faced thus far? Is it figuring out how many seeds to put in each row? Let me know!

Happy Gardening!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Ta-Da! Insect Hotel Finished

Would you say my influences are Frank Lloyd Wright or I.M. Pei?  Or Freecycle?

Whatever, I finished the insect hotel for our backyard yesterday. I even had some shingles left over from when we added on to our house, so hopefully the roof won't leak.  Find out more about insect hotels here

It already has occupants, the Orchard bees (Osmia) I got for free have been out there for a few weeks.  No sign of them being active yet, but I can't blame them...it got down to below freezing again last night.  

We have however provided plenty of new accommodation when those females emerge & start laying eggs.  

The only issue with the Freecycle process is that there is a very good possibility that all the wood has been treated so that it won't rot.  Which means that it's not good for insects!  Which is why all furnishings inside (but not the structure) are made of scraps, logs, bamboo, pine cones, etc. from our yard and general scavenging in the neighborhood.  All of which is natural, and most of which is rotting.  

I am totally hoping to see all sorts of creepy crawlies & smaller mammalia back there soon (providing plenty of food for my beloved birds)!

Do you have an insect hotel?  I'd love to see photos!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Happy Spring!



The garden at the start of our first work session
Spring has sprung! And with that, the GW Community Garden has welcomed its latest group of members. Some members are veterans from previous years, and some of us (myself included) are new to the garden. It goes without saying that we all welcome spring with open arms and we're ready to get our hands dirty.

Paul, our youngest member of the work session, 
was especially helpful with weeding and turning over the beds!
GWCG was in hibernation mode throughout the winter, so it needed some TLC heading into the new season. Before we can start planting for spring, the first task was to get the garden back in shape with our first work session, which occurred last Saturday. The Del Ray area had beautiful weather leading up to the session, making for the perfect conditions—the soil wasn’t frozen or soggy and the sun was shining. 

Here are some of the jobs we tackled to get the garden in shape:  
  • Put down landscape fabric on the paths between the beds to fight the wiregrass and define the paths
  • Spread bark mulch for paths between the beds
  • Weeding...LOTS of weeding
  • Turned over the beds (we even found a few carrots, beets, and daikon radishes from last season!)
  • Trash removal and general cleanup
  • Redefined the current beds and marked a couple of new beds for extra growing space

The garden looked great at the end of our work session
Our next two work days will be Sunday, March 22 and Sunday, March 28. We’ll be spreading wood chips and planting cold weather greens, including kale, lettuce, and chard. The garden is in great shape for the season, and we excited to see all that it produces. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dude, We Bought a Hive!

Here is a photo of the Roommate, who had just finished putting together a hive.  It's a Warré hive, and we got it from BeeThinking, but they sell all 3 types of hives.  Warré beekeepers will tell you that it's a better hive because it lets bees build comb & stores the way they want to, but really we chose this one because it's made of 1" thick cedar & it's pretty!  Oh, and those are little windows you can see on each of 2 of the hive boxes.  (So, pretty-ness & snoopy-ness won out!)  

We have been trying to prepare our backyard to have plenty of blooming flowers for our new tenants.  I've been using Wildflower.org (The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center) because you can search their database of native plants by state, height, bloom time, bloom color, plant type, etc.  So I wanted stuff that blooms later (after July/August), because that's when bees start running out of food & unfortunately it's when bees need it most, because they are trying to make enough stores for the winter.  

I also did some searching for bulbs that bees like on the open web (because I planted lots of bulbs this past year).

We have also begun construction on our insect hotel. It will be especially hospitable to Mason bees (more about them here); my big worry is having enough flowers around to keep them all fed.  

If you'd like to know more about natural beekeeping, see The Practical Beekeeper

If you want to know about modifying Warré hives, so they have standard size combs, check out BioBees.  They also provide a link to the full-text PDF of Warré's tome on his style of beekeeping.  

We have ordered our 3 lb. package of bees (about 20,000!) from Virginia Beekeeping Supply, but they won't arrive until late March.  We also recommend the class we took from Jerry at VBS.  However, it won't be his fault if it all comes to naught. Follow this blog to see what happens next!  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Insect Hotels! Who Knew?

If you saw my post from last May, you know I'm interested in birds.  One way to increase birds in your yard is to provide lots of cover for both birds & insects, which birds eat.  We do have some brush & lots of rotting wood around, which help to create a natural habitat.  In other words, neat yards are unnatural and may look nice to us, but they are quite critter-unfriendly.  

As a gardener, you probably want bugs for birds to eat & more native bees to pollinate your yard, meaning you'll need to provide housing (i.e., cover) for those bugs.  What to do?  Well, one way is to build an insect hotel

We have already started one, and we'll keep you posted as it goes along.  But I thought you'd enjoy some photos of absolutely lovely & amazing insect hotels (apparently they're quite a thing in Europe). Sunset magazine refers to them as yard art; they have some nice photos of tiny insect hotels (more like insect inns).  

Also, at the bottom of this post you'll see some links to "how to" pages.







Online how to guides: 
1. Permaculture.org's How To page
2. BBC Wildlife provides a downloadable PDF
3. Pacific Horticulture magazine provides one, too

Note that all have great photos, too.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's Raining, It's Pouring, I'm Inside Adoring...

The good news today is that the National Agricultural Library has provided many of its historical files to the Biodiversity Heritage Library.  (Read the announcement here.) 

Why am I recommending you head on over & adore, too?  Well, here are a few watercolors that are now available, for free, on the web, thanks to the high-quality digital scans. See if you agree! 

There are also scanned documents, including historic USDA documents on organic farming (many from before 1942), and a Manual of Gardening for Bengal & Upper India, 1864 (no pictures, unfortunately).  

(It's dry inside by my computer, not so much outside, though our ark is coming right along.) 




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

More on Backyard Bees

Besides deciding we need honey bees in our backyard (the jury is still out, though we are
Credit
continuing to research this project), we also became interested in Mason bees, after reading DIY Del Ray's post on building a Mason bee hive.  My online research led me to Bee Diverse, which has lots of choices, including this Highrise, which comes with easy-to-clean inter-locking wooden tubes.  (The problem if you don't clean out the tubes is that mites take over, not good for the bees.)


Then I was asked if there would be a conflict having both types of bees in our yard. According to a publication from the Extension service at Washington State University, the answer is an emphatic "no!"  Obviously if you don't have many flowers at all, there might not be enough food for all the bees.  But having a bountiful yard (which we are working towards) and a regular water supply (more on that below) should be enough for both sets of pollinators.  

After attending a few lectures & talking with other beekeepers, we've discovered that the months of August-November present a problem because there aren't as many flowers, so not enough food for honeybees (there are many schools of thought on what to feed them instead, but honey is best).  I've been using the Wildflower.org Native Plant Database to find appropriate flowers to fill in this gap.  After selecting Virginia for my state and part-shade for the area, it's also possible to select the months you want the plant to flower in! (You can even
Swamp Leatherflower
select the color, but I don't think the bees care.)  I am trying to find a source for purchasing Clematis Crispa/Swamp Leatherflower, but native plants are sometimes hard to get ahold of, even at native plant sales!  


In terms of water for bees, that is a real problem in our area.  We have 3 bowls which we keep filled for the squirrels & birds.  But mosquitoes are such a problem that we try to empty them out (or let them go dry each week) so there's not a regular supply of standing water, which mosquitoes love.  According to this webpage, if the top of the water is moving, mosquitoes won't lay eggs (a reason to have a drip system).  Also, bees will drown if there's nothing floating in the water, so corks & sticks are recommended!  And apparently they don't like nice, clean water--they like it a bit dirty.  So, we have to work on getting more corks and figuring out a way to ensure water year-round for them.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How Sweet It Is: Bees!

We were lucky to be part of DIY Del Ray's first Urban Farm Tour last Saturday morning. 
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Though we know we probably won't get much to grow in our ever-shady yard, we were inspired by our neighbors' mini- & maxi-farms.  Additionally, we have begun to check into beekeeping, after seeing two separate homes with hives on the tour.  


Beekeeping starts in the spring, so we're using our time until then to do some research before we commit $500+ for the start-up costs.  Also, you don't get any honey the first year (the bees need it for themselves).  So if we start keeping bees in April 2015, we won't see any 'free' honey until August or September of 2016.  A long-term investment, and not exactly cheap, so we've been doing some reading & thinking about it.  Some of the resources we've been checking out are listed below. 

A couple of books from the public library:
Keeping Honey Bees, Sanford & Bonney, 2010
Keeping Bees, Vivian, 1986

We're taking a class in January (beginning bee-keeping) in Remington, at Virginia Beekeeping Supply. That's an in-person class, but there are online classes, and classes a little closer to home listed here.

There's also a local chapter of the Beekeeper's Association for NoVa.  

Finally, the best part is looking at all the lovely hive choices!  A quick search will retrieve many, but here are a few that have enticed us so far.  

Bee Thinking, in Portland, OR - I'm especially partial to their copper-roofed Warre hives!
Valley Bee Supply, a little closer to home in Fishersville, VA
Dadant claims to be the oldest & largest supplier in the US

Of course it's not as easy and buying a cool-looking hive & finding a good spot in your yard.  If you'd like to get a sense of what else you'll need (like a nuc), check out Richmond Honey Bee, which has an unbelievable amount of information and you can easily spend hours reading through all his posts & learning.    

The Fairmont, in downtown DC, has 3 hives for honey and a new "hotel" for non-honey-making (but expert pollinating) bees.  Read all about it in this Post article

We still haven't committed to this enterprise, but if we do, we'll keep you posted!