Bees, More Bees

My inspection of the big Sam hive in my Home Yard revealed a massive population occupying three full mediums and getting honey bound or rather, egg bound. Capped brood was intermixed with nectar, though not much. Possibly whatever is brought in and processed is instantly consumed by this massive population.  The weather has been conducive to lush plant growth: rain and sunny days and the wildflowers at least are happy. But not the bees. On the rainy days they can’t fly out to get the bounty, and beekeepers are reporting the loss of the first honey crop, for starters. It’s also been hard on queen rearing. Though there are a lot of drones, and this hive had drones galore (it’s a sign of a strong colony that they are willing to support that many drones), the virgin queens can’t fly out to mate in rainy weather.

But here now was an opportunity: I found tons of swarm cells in the making, with around twelve of them occupied and being filled with royal jelly. This original Sam Comfort queen is too good to lose to a swarm, as are all her queenly off-spring (the first new queen that hatches kills off all the other ones). Time to act!

Easier said than done.

In a rush to get this fixed before cold and rainy weather was due, my option was to go in on a heat wave day. I waited till the bees started flying (not wanting everyone home – I did want to find the queen in there) and already it was too hot. Subconsciously I must have thought, “Hey, let’s not close this suit all the way!” Great idea, subconscious! Too many bees got inside and stung me in the neck and throat and in my scalp.  It’s the worst when they’re trapped in your long hair and you have to grab them with your gloves and squish them. I ran from the hive, which was wide open by then, stripped off the suit, ran inside (somehow having lost any pursuing bees), pulled the still living bees out of my hair and from my neck with tweezers, then pulled the two stingers that I could see (of the seven), popped two Benadryl, threw on the suit and gloves, ran out again and closed up the hive – during which operation they stung me twice more, in the leg (a doozy!)

Now this was truth time for me. I have bad local reactions to stings which hurt for days, so I am a very careful beekeeper who had not been stung for over two years. Who knows what my reaction would be! I lay down, watched the hives break out all over my body, then after a minute recede again as the Benadryl  kicked in. That stuff makes you sleepy, and it was so darn hot, but I kept myself awake for an hour, monitoring the swelling. Then I took a long nap. All in all it was a good experience: now I know I can handle that many stings, albeit with some medication, and that my beekeeping career can continue. And I got right back on the horse again.

On my next try it was cooler and I took care to fully zip up the darn suit. It was also a week later and I found many closed swarm cells.  I pulled two frames, each with two closed cells, and stuck each in a medium for a nuc, along with a frame of brood and a frame of honey, some drawn comb, and bees. And no queen, of course. Had I spotted her I would have done an artificial swarm (moved her), but she was not to be found. I’m sure she was still in there, though. I could spot a few eggs (not many).  I also stuck a frame of brood and a frame of honey in a small nuc box and shook in some bees (again, carefully looking for the queen).  A friend had given me an extra  Russian queen in a queen cage, and she would be their new queen.

The bees were very mellow. I love this hive, so prolific, well-organized, and friendly (except when trapped inside a suit with a human, and in her hair). I brought all these guys to our Common Yard. Here they are to the left of the two Russian hybrid packages, one of which is pulling ahead of the other. I actually pulled a frame of open brood from that 3-medium one to give to the nuc next to it.

The queen in her cage went into that cardboard nuc box. I kept that box closed up so the bees inside couldn’t get out. Released them the next day. They were feeding her but had not yet released her.

This was all from the top medium box of the Sam hive and there were still at least 6 closed swarm cells in just that box! I asked my friend Arthur, a much more experienced beek, for advice. He came over the next day – chilly, drizzly – and said, “Let’s make more nucs!” He had brought a medium queen  castle for three more nucs with one queen cell each, and one 5 frame medium nuc box which we packed to the brim. These too went to the Common Yard:

The leftovers stayed home, with one more closed queen cell and one open one. But we suspect the old queen is still in there – I’ll know for sure tomorrow when I check on them. The Queenless Roar will tell me.

So now I suddenly have twelve colonies:

  • 1 overwintered Russian, with queen (3 mediums)
  • 1 Russian hybrid package, started on 4/7, with queen (3 mediums)
  • 1 Russian hybrid package, started on 4/7, with queen (2 mediums)
  • 1 Russian hybrid package, started on 4/7, which superseded a whi;e ago – I’m waiting for the queen to lay (patience).
  • 1 Sam Comfort colony with queen Sam (probably the one in the Home Yard)
  • 1 nuc with Russian queen, not yet released.
  • 5 3-frame nucs with swarm cells
  • 1 5-frame nuc with swarm cell

We don’t expect all of those virgin queen nucs to make it.

Arthur was very impressed with these bees and proposed we breed from Sam (if we find her) or from any of her surviving daughters. More fun to come!

Biochar and KNF Side-by-Side Trial

Cross-post from the Transition Wayland website

Today we started the carbon/biochar and Korean Natural Farming inputs trial at our plot in the Community Gardens. Andrea and Kaat divided two beds in half. All halves received biochar (“pre-loaded” with compost – never apply pure biochar by itself!) and straw. Two of those halves (one in each bed) received the first Korean Natural Farming inputs.

According to Wikipedia, Korean natural farming (KNF) takes advantage of indigenous microorganisms (IMO) (bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa) to produce fertile soils that yield high output without the use of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or industrial fertilizers. A result is improvement in soil health, improving loaminess, tilth and structure, and attracting large numbers of earthworms. This practice has spread to over 30 countries, and is used by individuals and commercial farms.

In Wayland, the main student and advocate of KNF is Kaat,who has studied the techniques, makes the inputs herself (this is fundamental to KNF: all inputs can be made at home from “indigenous” materials), and is in the second year of applying them. Last year she saw great improvement, especially in her berry bushes and fruit trees, but of course that is anecdotal. She is for that reason very curious about this side by side trial.

The first inputs, which aim to load the soil with the right organisms, were Kaat’s home-made Fish Amino Acids (FAA) and Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB), and EM-1 (not home-made and not traditionally a KNF input, but entirely in line with KNF).

The first seedlings (hardened-off broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Tom Thumb lettuce, arugula and pac choi will receive more FAA, as well as Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) and Oriental Herb Nutrient (OHN) once they’re over the transplant shock.

The idea of the trial arose when NOFA Mass invited farmers and gardeners to participate in biochar/no biochar trials. According to NOFA Mass, for centuries, biochar has been used throughout the world as a natural and easily-obtained soil amendment that builds microbial communities and long-term fertility in soils. Created through a process known as pyrolysis, biochar adds stable carbon to the soil, functioning to sequester atmospheric carbon, retain moisture, sweeten soil, and build rich habitat for microbes, nematodes, and fungi that aid in plant nutrient availability.  (More here).

All those sounded good to the Transition Wayland Community Gardens group. They accepted the invitation and worked with NOFA to fine-tune the experiments. One group will test biochar / no biochar in the two established raspberry beds. Kaat and Andrea wanted to try annual veggies, but they decided to take it one step further. They asked, what if the biochar – also called “condominiums for your micro-organisms” – doesn’t work so well, or even at all, if there are no micro-organisms? You can build it, but what if they dont come? So let’s see what happens if you add the char and the micro-organisms. A good way to do that is through KNF.

Keep an eye on this space to see!

More Shrooms, for Drying and Storing

The mild, intermittent rains are bringing ever more Garden Giants, popping up all over the wood chip yard. I went down with two boxes and harvested all the best looking ones, wine-red caps (hence its other name: Wine  Cap), nicely concave, the annulus (or ring/skirt) still high up under the cap. I came away with 4.5 lbs.

I cut the butts off and placed those on more wet cardboard, then washed away the dirt, stuck leaves, and annoying little flies and set them to dry on the racks. Tomorrow I hope to put them out on the porch with a fan on them to dry them thoroughly, so they’ll keep. I ended up with 3 lbs 9 oz. Let’s see how much they weigh after drying.

The previous batch was delish sauteed with onions, garlic, chives, pepper, salt, and a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end.

If you’re wondering what that pale mushroom is doing in my collection, it too is a Wine Cap, only a little older. They grow more convex, loose their wine-red color, “grow out of” their annulus, as it were, which drops off. The remains of the annnulus and the grey gills still give it away as a Stropharia, though. Check out the very young mushroom, with the annulus still tightly held inside the buttoned-up cap.



This morning I went hunting for tops of vigorously growing plants for more FPJ, and there they were, the season’s first flush of Stropharia rugoso annulata, aka the wine cap. Hundreds of shrooms all over the “fungal garden”. I plucked them, careful to keep the butts and some mycelium intact, cut the butts off and put them in between layers of wet cardboard with some wood shavings for propagating. After washing the mushrooms, I sliced them up and put them to dry in the sunlight and to boost their vitamin D.

Shroom omelet and mint tea for brunch!

Mushroom Cultivation Workshop

What a day. Pouring rain for the first part of the mushroom cultivation workshop at Allandale Farm with NOFA-Mass Dan Bensonoff. Good for the fungi, and because it was pretty balmy, not harmful too humans. I am ready to start growing some mushrooms other than Garden Giant.  After that, potting up tomatoes, and sowing squash and zucchini (indoors, in peat pots).

Shiitake on oak, 1 inch deep holes
Shiitake on oak, plunger action
Shiitake on oak: sealing with wax
Elm Oyster on wood shavings
Oyster in totem | lady in pink jacket wearing Dan’s mushroom hat