Cherry Harvest, New Beehive

The cherries are ready to harvest.

The cherries are ready to harvest.

It is finally time to harvest the cherries. The cherries started to change color early this week and most of them were ready to be picked by the middle of the week, but the storms that moved through Oklahoma this last week has kept me from doing anything until Saturday.

This year has been so different compared to last year.  Just about everything seems to be taking a month longer.

Once more, I have three hives on my property.

Once more, I have three hives on my property.

About two weeks ago, I found a swarm in my back yard, but  I was not able to catch it.  However, I now have three hives on my property again.  I ordered a queen to replace the queen in one hive to get less aggressive genetics, but before I was able to, they swarmed and I was unable to find the old queen.  To prevent the queen from going to waste, we set up a third hive and put the new queen in there.  We borrowed worker bees from another hive and a frame of brood to make sure the hive survives until the new queen can get to laying.

Okra, radishes, and lettuce.

Okra, radishes, and lettuce.

The garden has been making good progress over the past few weeks.  The radishes in particular have been doing quite well and have managed to completely shade out the ground, which I like because it helps cut down on the weeds in that section of the garden.  I would really like for that to be happening in more places in the garden, but so far I’ve only managed to do that here.  The okra I planted has sprouted.  My wife makes an excellent gumbo, which contains okra, so I’m looking forward to having some with okra I grew.

Peas, beans, and herbs.

Peas, beans, and herbs.

The peas I planted this year are doing much better than my attempt last year.  This year most of the plants that sprouted have flowered and have been setting pods.  I accidentally pulled up one plant with pods while weeding today, so I ate the peas in the pods and shared them with my wife.  It was the first time she has ever had peas straight out of the pod she rather liked them.  Given that she normally avoids peas, this is saying a lot.  There is nothing quite like peas straight out of the pod.  If you have never had a chance to have them, grow some peas next year or find somebody who is growing them this year.  You won’t regret the taste.

The garden is looking very green, but I can probably pack even more plants in here.

The garden is looking very green, but I can probably pack even more plants in here.

I finally have caught up with weeding the garden from when I when on my business trip early in May.  Now I just have to maintain the bed, which is a lot easier.  I don’t enjoy having to play catch up, but at least the wet weather has made the process considerably easier.

I picked up some new seeds today and planted them in the garden: green beans to fill in the places in the rows of peas where the seeds didn’t sprout and basil, oregano, and parsley.  These join the chives, thyme and mint I already have growing in the garden.  I will eventually have a wide variety of herbs in the garden.

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Pea Sprouts and Flowering Cherries

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A honey bee on a cherry blossom. When I took this picture, the whole tree was buzzing with insects.

The last chance of frost is quickly approaching.  Already, one late frost hit the peach tree pretty hard and almost all of the blossoms died before starting to set fruit.  Compared to last year, only about one in ten or twenty flowers is setting fruit.  I hope the tree will compensate by making larger fruit, but even if it doesn’t, I’ll be happy with whatever fruit I do get.  I still have several jars of canned peaches in the pantry to use.  The cherry trees and the apple tree missed that freeze and are in the process of blooming, and hopefully the soft freeze forecasted for next week does not affect fruit set.  At least this year, I know which tree is which.  Last year, I mistakenly though the cherry tree was actually an apple.

One of the first five peas that have sprouted.

One of the first five peas that have sprouted.

About a week and a half ago, I started direct planting peas and beans in the garden. So far, the results have been rather mixed.  I have had five pea plants sprout and several of the beans also sprouted.  However, the beans don’t seem to be surviving the cold night temperatures, so it is just as well that the majority of the beans to sprout yet.  I have plans to plant the beans close enough that they basically form a blanket over the garden bed.

The grape vine is starting to put on leaves.

The grape vine is starting to put on leaves.

The grape vines are just starting to put leaves on.  Last year, the grape vines had this happen almost a month earlier.  In general, this growing season seems to be taking its time to get going.  Not that I mind too much.  I just am anxious to start seeing the results of my work.  Last year, was not able to do very much with the grapes I harvested, and almost all of them went into the freezer. Because they are seeded grapes, they are not really useful for eating straight, so grape juice and wine are really the only uses for them and only the grape juice is really an option for me because I refuse to drink alcohol of any form.  The only way I could get juice out was to cook the grapes and then strain them thru cloth.  The resulting juice had oxidized and was not very good.

The steam juicer I used to make fruit juice.  This is the same style of juicer that my wife's grandmother used.

The steam juicer I used to make fruit juice. This is the same style of juicer that my wife’s grandmother used.

About a week ago, I got a steam juicer in and was able to easily turn the grapes into very good tasting grape juice, along with the peach peals and apple peelings and cores.  The juices will probably need to be mixed to get a good final product, particularly with the peach as it is quite tart, but overall, they taste quite good.  The grapes in particular were quite good because the juicer keeps the grapes from oxidizing and giving the juice an off taste.

Not Much Happens in Winter with a Garden

I haven’t written a post in over two months, which is not something I should be doing.  Big gaps are a large annoyance with other people’s blogs and I am positive that they are following this blog don’t like it.  It is just that sometimes there is not really that much to write about, or I’m not looking hard enough at what I am doing and then writing about it.  Probably the latter.  So, time to make up some lost ground with giant post that covers the past two months…

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Sad, dead tomato plants.

Shortly after the first frost of the year, the second frost came in and killed all the remaining tender plants.  There is nothing I can do but rip them up and throw them in the compost pile.  I might be able to get row covers for next year, but it is not very high on the list of things to buy.

Elephant garlic emerged in late October.

Elephant garlic emerged in late October.

I got a bit of a surprise when the elephant garlic I thought was dead decided to emerge from the ground.  Only half of the plants actually survived, the others are truly dead.

I also decided to plant some standard garlic I picked up at a farmer’s market stand.  As of my last check, 18 plants are still alive and growing very slowly in the winter sun.

The shelled and unshelled pecans.

The shelled and unshelled pecans.

The main thing that has been consuming my time is pecans.  Picking them up off the ground and then shelling them.  There are just so many of them and they are all rather small that it takes a long time to get anywhere.  It takes me about ten to twelve hours of cracking to fill up a quart jar with shelled pecans.  So far, I have managed to fill just over five quarts, two of which have already been eaten.

I had both mine and my wife’s family over at my house this year for Thanksgiving, which was both nice and very hectic.  Some of the pecans  were made into a very good pecan pie and the pumpkin that decided to grow out of the compost pile was used in making pumpkin pie.

Old bee frames I found in the attic.

Old bee frames I found in the attic.

While digging around in the attic to get the Christmas lights down, I came across very interesting two things: several boxes filled with glass jars and parts of bee frames.  I can only guess that one of the previous owners of the house was also a beekeeper and left some parts here at one point.  The frames clearly look old, but I have no clue as to how old.  I have a few frames in my hives that look as old and need to be replaced with new ones, so these could be fairly recent.

Next Bean Harvest Getting Close

Some of the pinto beans nearing harvest.

Things have been very slow around here lately.  The plants are doing basically what they do: grow very slowly. The pinto beans have filled out very nicely and one of the two fall plantings is getting close to harvesting.  I should be able to harvest sometime in the next few weeks.  I think I will be getting considerably more beans than the harvest earlier this year.  The beans were planted much closer than previously.  I like how this turned out enough that I will intend to do this from now on.  I have a few more patches of beans growing in the garden that are probably  a month behind these.  If this winter is anything like last, things will be very mild and I should be fine, but there is always the chance of a surprise frost from mid October on.

Jars of apple sauce and dried apple chips.

I finally managed to get the apples finished last week.  I ended up turning the remainder into apple sauce and canning it.  Doing everything manually takes a lot of work.  I was only able to make about two or three quarts in a given evening and it left me quite exhausted.  Things like this remind me how much I have been spoiled with food so far.

Chives gone to seed. I’m hoping to collect these seeds for next year.

It is about the time of year to start thinking about the next year.  There is still a huge list of things that need to get done.  Finishing up the harvest, planting fall garlic, adding compost and manure to the garden before putting it to bed for the winter.  I plan on planting lots of pinto beans next year, but I am also thinking of trying a few more things.

A honeybee on a cluster of flowers.  This flower I got from my grandparents.

I want to try planting a small plot of buckwheat.  This should give me something like a grain and also provide a good nectar source for the bees in the spring and fall when they really need it.  But first, I want to get a separate garden plot for it because buckwheat has a tendency to drop some seed before it can be harvested.

Each year is a new start with gardening, and I feel like I have learned a lot in my first year.  Maybe by the third or fourth year I might start getting good yields from the garden and I can start being more adventurous with my plantings.  I enjoy trying to make the future into the present.

The Dead Hive Cleanup

Wax moths quickly invaded the dead hive.

Today, David came by to help tear down the dead hive.  When I last checked the hive, I found zero brood, larva, and eggs, so it was only a matter of time before the hive was dead.  I sealed the hive up so that the other hives wouldn’t be able to rob the honey and contract European Foul Brood.  Today we finally were able to pull the hive apart and start sterilizing the hive body parts for reuse.  The first step of this was getting all the wax out of the frames.  When we did this, we found lots of wax moth larva on the wax.

Baking a bee box.

After clearing off the wax, we sprayed everything down with a bleach solution to kill any bacteria on the parts.  European Foul Brood is caused by a bacteria that eats the larva from the inside out and it is not something I want getting into my other hives.  After that, we also put the parts into the oven for thirty minutes at 275°F (135°C) to kill off any bacteria that survived the bleach treatment and to further clean things up.  I’m just finishing things up as I write this post.

Looking in the top of the blue hive.

We also inspected the other hives to see how they were holding up to the drought and to check for any European Foul Brood.  In all three other hives, we found a few dead larva, but at this point, we are not sure if it is EFB or starvation that is the primary cause.  Unlike the hive that died, the remaining ones are doing alright.  As a precaution, we are administering antibiotics to the three hives and putting on hive feeders either until winter or the drought breaks, whichever comes first.  The surviving swarm was very aggressive today, causing myself to get stung four times today and David to get stung seven times.  Because this is not the first time this hive has been aggressive, we are planning to requeen the hive in the spring with a more docile version.

One of the Hives is Doomed

The hive in healthier days.

This morning, I went out to dust the struggling hive again.  Before I did it, I did a full inspection of the hive.  Turns out that The hive is already dead and just taking a while to die completely.  There is no sign of a queen in the hive.  No eggs.  No larva.  No capped brood.  I’m not too happy about this setback.  The silver lining on this all, however, is that because this was a swarm, I am not out any significant money because of this.  Pretty much just what the foundation cost.  I’m going to end up melting down all the wax in this hive as I don’t want the European Foul Brood to get into any of the other hives by accident.

Honey Harvest!

The results of the honey harvest, minus one quart given away by the time I took this picture.

I finally have my first honey harvest.  My brother-in-law, David, came over today to help with the harvest.  I had hoped that the Green hive would have filled out the super, but did not.  We ended up taking only five frames out that super.  We got two more super frames out of one of the swarm hives, one from the White hive, and two deep frames from the Blue hive.  So far, the honey harvest it seven quarts and one pint of honey.

Tangential extractor in the kitchen just after being built and before the tarp was put down.

The whole process was very messy.  Even with a tarp covering most of the kitchen floor, we still got honey all over the place. I’m still not sure what was the messiest part of the process, flipping the frames over or uncapping the frames.  Both ended up putting a lot of honey on the floor where we could step in it and track it around the room.  I still have honey all over my clothes from the work.  At least I didn’t have to spin the extractor by hand as it used an electric drill to spin. I’m sure I could have done the extraction by hand, but it would have taken at least twice as long as it did and likely much longer when I tired.

Capping wax and the several pieces of comb that came off because I ran the extractor too fast.

After all the honey we could easily get had been bottled, we took all the equipment outside and set it down near the hives, where it will stay for the next day or two so the bees can clean it up.  All the frames that had been extracted have been returned to the bee hives. Once the bees have cleaned up the equipment, I will start running the wax thru the solar wax melter I built earlier this year.  If the small amount of wax put in the melter today is any indication, the wax should go thru very quickly.  This is good because this time, I have a lot more wax than I have had previously.  Because the deep frames were too large to fit in the extractor, they had to be extracted using crush and strain, which leaves a lot of wax.

Bad laying pattern and dead larvae…

Unfortunately, today wasn’t all good news.  While pulling out some frames from the White hive, we discovered all is not well in the brood nest.  Several cells housed dead larvae and after consulting online sources, it looks like it may be European Foulbrood.  We have already ordered some terramycin, which will be given to the hive as soon as it arrives.  I’m just glad it is not American Foulbrood.  If that were the case, I would have to burn the hive.