May 15, 2011

To Bee or not to Bee?

Okay, so that title is a tad obvious and somewhat cheesy, but it was late when I was writing this.

I did my annual mason bee house keeping a little late this year, but things were looking pretty good despite the neglect. We seem to have had quite a few new masons setting up residence, probably twice as many larvae as I put out last year. We'll be in good shape if we can double our numbers every year.

The house also contained dozens of what I'm assuming are wild bee larvae. They look similar to those of the mason bees, but there's a lot more pollen packed in there with them. I'm happy to know that our house is being put to good use by these unexpected guests, especially considering the ongoing struggle that bees have been facing in recent years.

Freshly washed mason bee cocoons, with a couple of the guest larvae on the left.

I wasn't quite sure how to treat these guys, not knowing whether they'd tolerate the kind of bath that I give to the mason bee larvae, so I experimented with washing a couple, and opted to leave the others where they were.

After a good scrub, the babies went from their bath and into the fridge until the outside temperatures warmed up a bit. I put them out into the house a few weeks ago as soon as I noticed that my fruit trees were starting to get flower buds on them. I went out the other day to see whether this year's batch of pollinators had started to hatch, and this guy tumbled out.

It looked like he had only just emerged from his cocoon, somewhat later than the rest of his siblings.

The wild bee cocoons were still intact, but it's possible that they just take longer to mature. There were still a couple of mason bees left to go as well.

On another note (although still bee related), I think I mentioned that I occasionally fill in for my mom and step-dad at their B&B when they go away. I've never considered myself much of a people person (too shy for my own good most of the time), let alone someone who's overly fond of tourists (working as a waitress in a resort town, as well as a hotel front desk clerk while I was in university, pretty much took care of that), but I have to say that their guests are something else entirely. Maybe it's the funky, East Van neighborhood that the B&B is located in, but the clientele they attract is an amazing bunch. They're always so friendly and relaxed that I come away feeling like I've made great new friends.

When I was there inn keeping in March, there was a young couple visiting from Tennessee who my mom was convinced that I'd hit it off with (they were into bee keeping and were soon to be getting chickens - kindred spirits!). Of course she was right, as mothers (especially mine) tend to be. Aside from being a really sweet couple, he and Adrienne turned out to be a wealth of information. Jay let me pick his brain about all things "bee" over the course of several days, and gave me a long list of books and information to fill in the gaps before he left. He's one of those people that seems to just love what he does, and it's infectious. They have been in the bee business for about 4 years, and are doing it without chemicals. They raise bees, breed queens, capture swarms, and rescue beehives in danger. In addition to selling honey, they also make lip balms which they sell in their Etsy shop.

Jay has been kind enough to let me share the link to a post he did recently called 10 Tips I wish some old guy had told me when I started beekeeping. I think it's a great starting point for those of us who are interested in setting up hives of our own. He hasn't been blogging for long but the information contained in his blog is useful and the photos are gorgeous. Please pop over and check out the Williams Honey Farm, and be sure to take the time to say hello, we need to encourage him to continue sharing his wisdom with us!

There's a chance that we might get him to agree to an occasional guest post, so if there's something in particular that you'd like you know about, leave your suggestions in the comments.

May 13, 2011

May 06, 2011

Pumpkin Seeds, Chickens, and Bees (Oh My!)

It's been busy around here with at least some garden prep and planting happening daily. In addition to the vegetable garden, I'm trying to set up a cutting garden, hoping to grow enough to provide flowers for my mom's bed and breakfast, in addition to our eggs.

The potatoes are in, the early tomatoes are tucked away under their tunnel, and I started dozens of squash plants this week (I try to start them on May 1st every year). We've had a cooler than normal spring, so hopefully it's not going to prove too early this year. Fingers crossed that the weather warms up in the next few weeks!

One squash variety that I tried for the first time last year was the Kakai pumpkin. While I usually grow pumpkins for their tasty flesh, I have always found their seeds to be a delicious by-product.

I started buying pepitas (hulless pumpkin seeds) a couple of years ago to add to my favorite salad. The only thing I don't like about them is they're quite expensive to buy, and the thought of shelling thousands of homegrown pumpkin seeds myself was a bit daunting, so I was happy to find a variety that would produce them naturally.

After separating the seeds from the pulp, all I did was rinse them well and spread them out to dry. We have them on our salad almost daily, and I truly believe that their abundant health benefits have helped keep me flu-free this winter. I know there are a couple of other varieties of pumpkin that produce this type of seed (Snackface or Snack Jack for example), and I'd be interested in hearing about your experience if you've grown them.

The chickens who were suffering after last month's eagle attack have both recovered fully, and are back living with the general population. Pippin (the one that the eagle actually grabbed) has a slightly misshapen skull and a wicked case of bed-head, but she's regaining her strength and seems able to see out of both eyes again.

I'll be back soon with an update on the mason bees, and to introduce you to my new friend, Jay, who's an expert on raising honey bees without chemicals. I'm hoping he'll teach me everything I need to know to set up my own hives in the coming year.

See you then!


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