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Further Adventures in the Bee Meadow

The Bee Meadow is surrounded by flagging tape to confuse the deer and keep my over zealous neighbor's mower at bay.

Last November with the help of my friend Tim Kiphart I gleaned a medley of wildflower plants from my nursery and installed them near my bee hives.

I called the planting a “Bee Meadow”.  It was planted in part to sustain the honeybees.  I also intended to learn to appreciate and identify the native pollinators that would surely visit.

The Bee Meadow was planted on an old vegetable garden site that is full of white clover.

So far, the meadow has been quite entertaining. Earlier this spring, prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa) mingled with the clover while yellow false indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa) bloomed in the background.

Much to my surprise, about a dozen larkspur plants (Consolida ambigua) volunteered. They were remnants of the old vegetable garden where I often planted flowers amongst the veggies.

This volunteer larkspur was a pleasant surprise.

I have really been enjoying the larkspur blooms.

I have noticed that a few honeybees and bumblebees visit the blossoms when they tire of the clover.

Last week, however, on a late afternoon golf cart cruise, I spied a flash of red.  I soon realized that a young male ruby throated hummingbird was visiting the larkspur.

I have seen him two or three times now.

Of course I didn’t have my camera.

But still he was beautiful in all his olive and ruby plumage sipping nectar from a deep indigo larkspur flower.

A couple of weeks ago, I pilfered the nursery once more and with the help of my friend Steve Strong added more plants to the Bee Meadow.  The new additions include New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), rough blazing star (Liatris aspera) and various asters, rosin weeds, obedient plants, ironweeds and grasses.

I’m seeing all sorts of butterflies and interesting solitary bees as well as the usual bumblebees and honeybees.

Now that the planting is done I hope to start identifying these strange visitors.


 

 

On the Road

I'm looking forward to speaking at this Sustainable Living Conference.

I’ve got a couple of speaking gigs coming up.

For those in the Jackson, Mississippi area, my plant propagation workshop at Millsaps College in Jackson was rescheduled when I got sick with a stomach bug.  The new date is Saturday, February 12. You can find more details or register by going to the Millsaps Winter Enrichment Classes site.

The following weekend, I will speak in Hattiesburg, Mississippi at a Sustainable Living Conference.  If you’re in the Hattiesburg area, my talk will be on Saturday, February 19 at 1:00 p.m.

I love the cool campy flyer they made.  I look like a giantess in my bee suit.   I am taller than the trees and yet am dwarfed by the bean sprout!  I will speak about “Gardening with the Woods and other Sustainable Garden Ideas”.

For more information about the Sustainable Living Conference check out the Gaining Ground Sustainability Institute website.


 

Garden Gifts

This beefy larkspur rosette will burst into bloom when spring rolls around.

Today my friend Rebecca had the day off.  She decided to come spend some time with me here at the place.

We rambled around and discovered some wonderful things in the garden.

Honeybees started buzzing after the sun warmed the hives.  I’m thinking that they were foraging for water and bolting broccoli raab flowers.  We assembled a feeder and concocted bee food to help them make it through the winter.

We spotted an Eastern phoebe.  This is a new bird that I have never seen before.  Rebecca noticed some tail wagging and that confirmed the id.

The cherubic pink daphne buds were quite stunning

A handsome larkspur rosette and plump budded daffodil reminded us that spring was in the wings.

We picked designer garden salads from the veg beds.

I think it’s safe to say that we had a grand time.

I think it’s safer to say that the dogs had a grander time!


 

The Bee Meadow

The Bee Meadow plants are all arranged and Tim is ready to start putting them in the ground.

For some time now, I’ve been planning to plant a bee meadow.

I have been growing and accumulating prairie type wildflowers for this project.

I decided to plant the wildflowers in an area adjacent to my bee hives.

I know that these diverse native plants will attract all sorts of indigenous pollinators as well.

I figure that if an assortment of native bees, wasps and butterflies come to my backyard it will be easier to learn to identify them.

It’s all good.

The plan came together when my friend, Tim Kiphart, came to visit.

We spent a glorious week working on gardening projects.

The dogs were quite interested in the project.

Late Wednesday afternoon we started planting the bee meadow. We took a break to enjoy one of Richard’s delicious meals and get some sleep before finishing up around noon on Thursday.

It is an exciting project.

The plant medley included several species of asters and of false indigo (Baptisia spp.),  purple coneflower from local prairie stands (Echinacea purpurea), button snakeroot (Eryngium yuccafolium), coral bean (Erythrina herbacea), whirling butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri), false aloe (Manfreda virginica), lots and lots of bee balm (Monarda spp.), beard tongue (Penstemon spp.), prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa), mountain mint (Pycnanthemum spp.), several species of black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), wild blue sage (Salvia azurea), rosin weed (Silphium integrifolium) and several types of grasses including switch grass, big bluestem and little bluestem.

The dogs were so interested that we were inspired to define the area with flagging tape. This seems to make them think twice before running amok... so far anyway.

Most of the pots were well rooted.    Some were even busting out of the pots and look as if they are already growing.  There is rain in the forecast so our timing was perfect.

Maybe my imagination is running amok but it looks like this rosin weed rosette was already growing on Day 3.

Fall is the ideal season to plant perennial wildflower seed or plants in the south.  By the time that spring rolls around, the meadow should be full of robust rosettes ready to make a tremendous growth surge.

After the first year, the maintenance plan is to either mow or burn the Bee Meadow in late winter.

Other than that we’ll just sit back and watch it explode with color, fragrance and bugs! I’m certain that it will continue to be quite entertaining.


 

Honey Harvest

Here I am holding a frame full of honey.

As I sit at the keyboard, I realize that my arms are sticking to the desk.

That’s because we harvested honey today.

We took one super (box of honey) off the Queen Elizabeth hive this morning.

For most of the day, I’ve been straining and processing it.

Since we only have two hives, we decided not to get an extractor just yet.  That meant that I had to scrape the honey and wax off each frame and dump it through a filter before bottling.

An extractor slings the honey off the frame.  I used Plan B which involved placing the frames in a couple of stock pots and just letting gravity do the work.  Very slow but cost effective!

Still life with Honey Harvest and Bee Veil

We ended up with enough honey to make a batch of mead and to keep us in granola for the next few months – about one and 3/4 gallons.

That’s not too shabby since we got such a late start with beekeeping this year.

The girls began to forage as the spring flowers waned and the summer flowers were just cranking up.  The ever popular tulip poplar produced an abundance of nectar and got my hives off to a good start.

Bottling summer nectar seems like an appropriate thing to do here in the last days of summer.

I am thankful to my girls for their hard work and to Queen Elizabeth who inspired them.

But… most of all, I am thankful for my flowers.


 

More Adventures with the Queens

Queen Elizabeth was so full of bees that we added a second brood box. Queen Latifah is prospering also but was not quite ready to move into a high rise.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I got two new beehives about a month ago.

Richard and I decided to give them names for ease of communication and also just for fun.

We christened the more vigorous hive Queen Elizabeth in honor of Richard’s Mother, Libby Lowery.    She  kindly helped us assemble the bee brood boxes and frames on her recent visit.

Richard named the second hive Queen Latifah.   The real Queen Latifah is the only American Queen that he could think of.

Yesterday when I made my weekly inspection,  I cracked the lid on Queen Elizabeth first.

The box was teeming with eggs, larva and adults.  The bees had begun to build honeycomb on eight of the ten frames inside.  This indicated that the original brood box was becoming crowded and it was time to add a second brood chamber.

We added another brood box and now Queen Elizabeth lives in a multi-level bee palace.  When that box is full we will add more boxes (called supers) devoted solely to honey production for us.  It’s about time to dust off the mead recipes -Yip!!

Looking down into one of the hives I'm amazed at the activity. They are busy as bees!

Then I moved on to pop the hood on the Queen Latifah hive.

There was much activity but, as expected, QL was not as active as QE.  I quickly determined that Queen Latifah was not quite ready to move to the next level.

As I bumbled around checking things out, I apparently annoyed one of the girls.  She responded by stinging me on the arm.

I suppose I should have expected it of Queen Latifah.  She does speak her mind.   And if someone was poking their nose into my hive, I might get kind of bent.  In fact, I might even sting them like there was no tomorrow.

I’m not gonna lie.  It hurt.  I cussed like a sailor.

I had been expecting my first sting.  I’ve been certain it would happen every time in the last month that I’ve opened a bee box.

Everybody and their brother warned me about anaphylactic shock when they heard that I had taken up beekeeping.  After so many admonishments, I was a little nervous.

Now that it’s all over – the first sting and all – I’m kind of relieved.  I didn’t exactly welcome the stinging but I did survive it.  It wasn’t that bad.  Now I can move on.

So Queen Elizabeth and Queen Latifah led me past two milestones in my life as a beekeeper.    I’m counting on them to continue to guide me along the way.


 

Adventures With Bees

Here are my two new beehives sitting next to an ignored clover field.

So I decided to get a couple of bee hives.

Spring is a busy time for me so I didn’t get things in place until the last minute.  I finally decided exactly where the bees were going to go last Wednesday.  I sited them next to our old vegetable garden because it is grown up in white clover.

On Thursday after working at my consulting job all day, I rushed home and rubbed a blister on my hand trying to get the supporting concrete blocks and 4″X4″s level.  Then around dusk I headed off to Philadelphia (Mississippi not Pennsylvania) to pick up my bees.

I brought the bees home in the trunk of my car.  The brood chamber with its top and bottom were duct taped together and the back seat was folded down with access to the trunk.

Tulip poplar flowers occur so high in the canopy that I rarely see them until they fall to Earth.

The only scary moment was when the slow driving car in front of me suddenly slammed on brakes and, of course, I had to do the same.

I expected bees to come pouring out of the trunk at any minute.  But all was well, and it was a good thing that Grandpa and I did not hit any of the five deer.

On Friday morning, I un-taped the entrance, etc. early and then studied the foraging bees during the day.

Late in the evening, I finally decided to believe my eyes and I admitted that the bees were not working the clover patch at all.  So what was their destination when they left the hive?  I looked up at the sky and realized the the tulip poplar overhead was loaded with flowers!

Here are three of our big tulip poplars along the creek near the bee hives.

I did a bit of research last night and learned that each flower on a tulip poplar can produce a teaspoon of nectar.  We estimate that along the creek and drainage area on our land, we have at least 10 tulip poplars that are 80 feet tall or larger.  I can’t even imagine how many flowers are on those 10 trees.  Not to mention all the young 40 footers!

Tulip poplars are not considered to be the best wildlife trees but they do have some benefits.  They host the Easter Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar and also that  of the tuliptree silk moth.   Nectar feeding birds (like ruby throated hummingbirds) sip from tulip poplar flowers.  Squirrels and some songbirds feast on the seeds during winter.  I’m sure their abundant nectar attracts native pollinators as well as my exotic honeybees.

I am happy that these stately magnolia cousins grace my land.  Now I have one more reason to love them!


 

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