Friday, May 27, 2011

Bee Cut Out

Roberta and Ceebs came over last night to transfer the bees from the squirrel box to my hive box. Their comb had to be cut out and tied into the frames in the hive box.

Roberta got some photos and videos of the process but here are some from this morning. As opposed to the rest of the times I've seen them this week, there are bees everywhere. They are flying around, crawling over the hive box, on the ground and on the squirrel box. We didn't finish until it was cold and dark last night so the bees basically laid where they fell. Once it warms up a little more I'm hoping they'll be able to regroup.

The door is in the back now so you can only see a few bees on this side.

They are still very interested in the squirrel box. It must still smell like home. Hopefully the queen is in the hive box and all the bees will gather there.

The video doesn't really do it justice but for every bee you can see here imagine 10 more swooping around.

Update: 6:00pm
I climbed around to the other side so I could see the door to the hive box. There were bees coming and going and some just hanging out.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Self Watering Containers

The squash seedlings seem to be doing pretty well. The one that I'm most excited about is a butternut called Betternut 401. I had high expectations for it because of the name but so far it has been a slow starter. It's the smallest one in this container.

It was the last to sprout and is smaller than all of the others. I love butternut squash soup so I'm hoping that it catches up soon. It's sharing this container with a green and a yellow zucchini.

This container has a variety of acorn squash. They are getting to the point where I can no longer postpone culling the weaker seedling. I should just buckle down and do it. They seem to have settled in well and look ready to put on a burst of growth. We've had cool, cloudy weather lately but it doesn't look like it is inhibiting them.


I went to a Backwards Beekeepers meeting yesterday and ran into Roberta who I know from the Chicken group. She's a very active Beekeeper and saver and relocator. It turns out that she had a box of bees looking for a new home and offered to bring it over this morning.

She said that it was a cutout in a squirrel box. I thought that squirrel box was a technical bee term but it turns out it was a box made for squirrels to live in that gets strapped to a tree. It hadn't occurred to me that people would want to encourage squirrels to live near them, but maybe they're less ambivalent about squirrels than I am.

The squirrel box must have looked good to the bees because they moved in. Here it is on top of my hive box. Roberta said that we should let them settle down for a while and then move the comb from the squirrel box into my hive box. Hopefully this will encourage them to stay and set up shop in my yard. We'll see how it goes.

Update: I went to check on them when I got home from work. I couldn't see anything from the front so I edged around to the left and peeked around the back to see if I could see anything. There's a hole in the squirrel box that faces the back. There were bees piled all along the edge of the hole. It might have been my imagination but it seemed like they started moving around a bit once I got there.

It's kind of hard to see so I lightened this next photo to try to emphasize the bees. It looks jammed solid. A couple bees flew out while I was taking pictures. I didn't have my suit on.

This is a picture of me running away after one flew out and hit my neck.

Update 5/24:
I got a slightly better picture tonight cuz I got home a little earlier.

All it cost me was one bee sting to the hand. I wonder how many times I'll have to learn that lesson.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Echium wildpretii Update

The Echium seedlings are starting to look more plant like. They're getting pointy little leaves more like a mature plant. There are 12 of them now.

Turkey Update

I never get enough turkey updates. Is it possible they're only 3 1/2 weeks old? Maybe.

They are starting to go through what I call the ugly stage. Chicks go through it too. It starts when they are about half feathers and half fluff. They lose their cute round proportions and start to look gangly as their necks and legs grow longer. If anything, the poults necks are even longer then the chicks, and their wings seem large and awkward. I like when they grow out of this phase. When all of their feathers come in but they are still small. They look like little miniatures of their future selves.

Alex kept defending them, saying they were still cute until one morning he got a good look.
"Oh" he said.

This is redeemingly cute though:

It's almost a Turducken pyramid. We've been getting some late rain and unseasonably cold weather. The poults are a little muddy and confused but they seem to be doing OK otherwise.

I started supplementing their diet with some scrambled egg. I couldn't find turkey starter which calls for higher protein. The hen was very excited about it and the poults gulped it down. It's a good thing their trachea and esophagus are separated otherwise they might choke themselves.

No More Bees

When I got home from work the next day the bees were gone. There were a couple stragglers trying to figure out where the rest had gone. Welcome to the club. I'm not sure why this hive decided to keep looking. One day I'll find a match.

Last Thursday I went to do a cut out with a few other people from the Backwards Beekeepers. Even though it was hard, sweaty work it was fascinating. I learned a lot.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


So I put my name on the "Needs Bees" list with Backwards Beekeepers and I already got two calls from people in the group. One call was to assist with a cut out of a 5 year old hive tomorrow morning (I guess I'll find out what that means tomorrow), and the other call was to see if I wanted a swarm that was all boxed up and ready to go.

I drove down to Redondo Beach on my lunch hour to pick up the box.

The bees were buzzing a little but seemed pretty calm. I don't know how many bees are in there but the box was fairly heavy.

The guy who have me the bees said to set on top of my hive boxes with hole facing down so that the bees would have to move through the hive box to exit. That way they could experience how cozy and perfect it would be for their new home. He said to do it at night so the bees would wake up calm in the morning and not be agitated when they discovered the hive box.

By the time I got home from work it was already getting dark so I got to work making the box more hospitable. I wrapped string around some of the frames to give the bees more places to grab on to in the hive so they wouldn't have to be on top of each other. This is something I saw Marc do on his flikr stream. I also brushed some honey around on the inside to encourage the bees to stay.

I put on my bees suit but the bees never left the box and barely stirred while I opened the hole in their box and set it on top of my hive box.

I even tucked my pants into my socks.

In the morning I ran up the hill to see what was going on. Not much. Like my house, the hive box is in the shade in the morning so it's cool.

I went up a couple hours later after it had warmed up a bit and there were a couple bees flying around.

There also seemed to be more activity in the cardboard box. You can see some of the bees clinging to the screen.

I guess it will take them awhile to figure out that the front door is at the bottom. I wish I could be there today to see what they do.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Echium wildpretii Update

It's been about a week since my last update and I'm a little disappointed that there hasn't been more action here.

The seedlings that have sprouted seem to be doing OK and are growing but there haven't been any new ones coming up. So far only 6 out of 60 have sprouted. If I only get 6 plants I'll be happy but if I got 60 plants I would be 10 times happier :)

Update: 5/11/11
I'm 3.3% happier. I found two more seedlings this morning.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Last weekend I got the final coat of paint on the bee box and this weekend I was hoping to get it positioned somewhere up on the hill. I needed to have some kind of base that would be sturdy but also impregnable to ants. Apparently ants can do a number on bees so a lot of people have legs that can be set inside containers that hold something to prevent the ants from crossing.

Azalea and Marc and Max have very slick pipes that screw into the base of box. They look great and can be adjusted to make the box level, but when is saw how much they cost (almost $24 for all the pieces) and after spending so much for my SWCs I decided I needed to find another solution.

I scavenged around the yard and found a couple 2x4s that were long enough to do something with. I made a frame that was 16"x 6' with a couple cross braces in the middle. I figure I can fit at least two hives on here or maybe three. I always thought that bees were territorial and needed to be separated but they seem to do OK closer together. This way I don't have to build a base for each hive.

I had some leftover rebar from building the stairs.

So I drilled holes in the bottom of the base and pounded the legs in with a hammer

The whole contraption seems pretty solid. I could stand on it. I hope that I'm heavier than a couple bee hives.

This is my finger. I just thought it was a pretty color orange.

I found a place on the hill that is fairly out of the way but also easy to access.

I should have known any work on the hill would require digging.

I finally managed to get it level and firmly in place.

Now all I need is the bees.

Turkey Update

The turkeys are growing fast. They are much more rambunctious and run around a lot. The slates seem much more inquisitive and assertive than the royal palms, which seem almost demure.

I've noticed some differences between the poults and a chick. The poults seem to want to eat out of the hen's mouth. The hen makes her standard cluck to call them over when there's food and then taps at the ground to show them where it is. The poults focus on her beak and peck at that to get the food. A chick would peck at the ground. I've heard that turkey hens raise their poults much longer than a hen would. Maybe they feed them right from their mouths too. It doesn't seem to cause these poults any problems. They still peck the ground and eat out of the feeder. It just surprised me a little.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Self Watering Containers

I finally got all of the supplies together to make some self watering containers. I actually got the bins a year or so ago but it took me a while to gather everything else. I'm using instructions from a guy named Josh that patterned his after commercially available containers.

The goal with a self watering container is to create a reservoir in the bottom of the container so that you don't have to water as frequently. In the hot summer I have to water the vegetables every day so this could be a great time saver. I also like that I can put them wherever I want. Right now I'm limited to the raised bed and some things take up a lot more space than they do dirt so it seems a little inefficient. I figured I could put the squash in these and if they start getting really big I can just move the containers apart. I can't do that in the raised bed.

Josh used pond baskets to create a wick from the reservoir but I couldn't find those so I used these containers from the fridge. I probably should have cleaned them out a long time ago anyways.

I also got some PVC pipe and a couple more bins.

It was only after I got home from the store that I read Josh's note that he no longer uses pvc. I guess that makes sense but I was unwilling to let anything interrupt my momentum after it took me a year to get started. Luckily he recommended some substitutions, one of which was copper pipe.

It just so happens that I had a pile of copper pipe. Not because I did any un-permitted plumbing work or anything. : /

I found three pieces that where long enough. I just needed to trim some bends off of one.

So I got to cutting and drilling and nipping. The reservoir is created by cannibalizing one of the bins. You cut off the bottom few inches and that gets flipped over and wedged into the bottom of another.

The yogurt container are filled with dirt and sit in the reservoir to draw water up to the plants above.

The pipe goes down into the reservoir so you can fill it from the top. I notched the bottom so the water could flow out easily.

To fill the containers I used a mixture of litter from the chicken coop, a commercial water control potting mix and perlite.

Here you can see the reservoir as it's covered with dirt.

I cut holes in the lid for the plants and added dirt until it came right to the top. I'm hoping that this will hold in more moisture.

I have a funnel but even with the smaller diameter copper pipe it's easy to fill.

There's a small drain hole at the bottom to keep it from getting too soggy.

I moved my precious baby squash into the containers. I know I'm supposed to weed out the weak seedling and leave the strong one to grow but it's hard for me to do. I convinced myself that I should wait to see how they adjust to their new circumstance and then make the decision.

I realized that most of my squash is winter squash so I pick up a green zucchini at the store. I also planted twice as many of the Golden Glory which is a yellow zucchini. Some of the seedlings already have little baby flowers on them. I think the first flowers are male so it will still take awhile before they start to grow fruit.

One of the reasons I'm trying these containers is that I'd like to have a little more diversity in my growing space. With only one bed I tend to have a Summer season and a Winter season where I let everything grow until it's done and ready to be pulled out. This doesn't feel very efficient and it leaves me with many months where things are just growing in and not producing. Ideally I'd like to have more overlap so that there are always mature vegetables in the garden.

I'll have to plan much better and start my seedlings earlier. I was reading another blog where someone was already picking their first harvest of tomatoes. I just planted mine, and although I had wanted to put them in their own SFC I ended up putting them in the raised bed where they can fight for space with the giant Swiss Chard.

I'd like to make better use of this space. It makes me happy to see all of my potted plants but I think it would make me just as happy to see a bunch of vegetables growing. I could move my patio furniture over to the shadier part of the yard and build a couple more beds here. I'd love to cut out the concrete and have more dirt to work with.

Everything takes time and money though. Speaking of which, after adding up the cost for the bins, the perlite, and the potting mix, the SWCs ended up costing me $24 each. That kind of sounds like a lot to me. The commercial ones sell for about $50 dollars. I guess the final verdict won't be in until I see how well things grow in them. I'm a little concerned about how these will hold up in the sun. When I lived in Vegas, anything vinyl or plastic that sat in the sun got brittle and cracked after awhile. If these things cracked I would be pissed. Maybe I should make little shade cozies for them until the squash leaves shade them.

It would be great if I could have ten of these that could always be in rotation. That adds up fast though and would take a lot of dirt and time. Just like they cost more than I would have expected they also took me longer to make than I predicted. Between buying supplies, hauling and mixing dirt, cutting and assembling, and planting the seedlings it probably took me 6 hours to get these done. I would have had to do some of that work even if I just bought them but $50 is sounding more and more reasonable.

Erik and Kelly at Root Simple have a version of these made out of 5 gallon buckets. I guess if I could get 20 buckets for free it might be worth it. They would also be a nice size for growing tomatoes, peppers, and other bushy things. Maybe I'll start making the rounds of donut shops to see if they have any extra strawberry filling buckets.