Saturday, July 17, 2010

Weeds/Plants of the Meadow Series

When I first paged through“ Weeds of the Northeast”, I thought, wow, I have almost every single weed in this book in my yard. I must admit it pains me to think I have a yard of weeds, so what is a weed anyway? It is defined as an unwanted plant that crowds out cultivated plants in parks, gardens, etc. So, is a plant considered a weed when found in a meadow? Other questions to ponder regarding my "weeds" are: Is it a non-native species? and Is it invasive - hence, crowding out natives? In any case, I would like to embrace “the weeds” of the meadow and share some that have emerged since we went from lawn to meadow.
This weed pictured above is especially attractive and called Yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris Mill.) or also known as butter and eggs, Jacobs-ladder or wild snapdragon. It is sometimes cultivated as the flowers are long lasting. It creates a colony with creeping roots or rhizomes and blooms from June into the fall. Due to the shape of the flower, it is pollinated primarily by bees. Despite its beauty it is an invasive species and a non-native coming originally from Eurasia and introduced into the US in the 1600's.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bumblebees galore!

This year we seem to have a lot more bumblebees than honeybees in the garden. I have even observed bumblebees bullying honeybees from a flower. I decided to investigate further about them:

*They remove nectar using their long tongue called a glossa and store it in their crop or they will bite directly into the corolla called nectar robbing.

*Some species will leave a scent to mark that the flower has been visited – I wonder if honeybees do the same and if they can also can detect the scent left by the bumblebee.

*Once they have collected the nectar, they return to the nest and deposit it into brood cells made of wax but do not process it as honeybees so it is diluted and watery. It can only be stored for a few days unlike honey which can last indefinitely.

From this amazing site(, here is some very interesting information regarding honeystomachs:

Bumblebees gather nectar into their honeystomachs to transport it back to the nest. The honeystomach is located in the abdomen, and it is just a cuticle-lined bag with a long neck located at the mouthparts. It holds 0.06 - 0.20 ml, depending on the size of bumblebee, and when full can take up as much as 95% of the abdominal space and hold 90% of the body weight.

During foraging the bee needs energy, so she will consume some of the contents of the honeystomach. To allow her to do this there is a small valve at the end which can allow some of the nectar to pass into the bee's own digestive system. It has been estimated that a full honeystomach will give a bumblebee about 40 minutes of flying time.

Some flowers contain as little as 0.001 ml of nectar, so to fill her honeystomach the bumblebee may have to suck nectar from 60 flowers, and to find these 60 she may have to visit 100 or more. Then she will return to the nest, which may be as much as two miles away. So providing a supply of nectar for her nestmates would not be possible without the honeystomach to carry it in. A teaspoon holds about 5 ml and nectar is about half water, so to fill a teaspoon of honey a small bumblebee might need to make over 80 foraging trips, flying up to 320 miles, and sucking 80 000 flowers! Honeybees also have a honeystomach, and as they are smaller than bumblebees they would have to make even more foraging trips. Think of that next time you spread honey on your toast!”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

To Mow or Not!

After weeks of excessive heat with temperatures in the 90s and even into the 100s, the lawn has taken a beating. Usually grass will go into a dormancy period. Although we have had a couple days of rain, the grass is still quite brown and the question is whether it should be mowed or not. It has not been mowed for 3 weeks. Based on some information online, lawns should be kept long – anywhere from 3-4 inches long so the sun can not reach the roots. Ours is about 2-3 inches long so we will wait another week.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mid-Summer Bee Report , 2nd of July

With weather sunny, very dry, with low humidity and temperatures in the 90s, we extracted our second batch of honey for the year from our strong hive. Being very effective last time, we used a fume board again and removed 2 small honey supers with little fuss. The bees hadn’t created much new honey since we checked 2 weeks prior, not even new capping. We had been waiting to ensure the nectar flow was complete. We extracted happily another 50 lbs of lightly golden sweet honey, almost the exact same color as our previous batch and bottled the following day, adding my label that Sue Ann helped improve and made a pdf file for as pictured above.

Regarding the weak hive, we had killed the second queen as she too was not laying and had added the hive body to the top of the strong hive to keep mice at bay. We returned it to the original platform before we removed the honey supers keeping in mind that it only takes bees 45 minutes to realize they do not have a queen. Later in the day we added a nuc to the weak hive which we purchased from Mark Antunes and has a ton of bees and a queen that lays beautifully. To add the nuc we did the following: On top of the original hive body, we placed a queen excluder and then a sheet of newspaper with a few slates cut into it and then added a hive body we had been saving in the freezer that still had built out frames, some even filled with honey. We removed 5 frames and then added the nuc which is basically a mini hive with 5 frames of brood and a queen. We added 2 jars of light sugar water and hope we can get this hive in good shape before the winter. We returned a few days later to remove the queen excluder and newspaper and hope that they have happily become acquainted with one another.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why "von der Vogelweide"?

Ich saz ûf eime steine

und dahte bein mit beine.

dar ûf satzt ich den ellenbogen, 

ich hete in mîne hand
daz kinne und ein mîn wange.

dô dâhte ich mir vil ange, 

wie man zer werlte solte leben.
"Von der Vogelweide" has a dual meaning to me – it means literally in German “bird pasture” or “meadow of birds” which aptly describes our land here. During the Middle Ages, bird handlers would go to a Vogelweide near a castle or town and capture hawks there for falconry or for song birds to be enjoyed in the home.
As a German major in college, one of my concentrations was the Middle Ages and my favorite lyrical and political poet or Minnesänger was Walter von der Vogelweide (1170-1230). He broke the boundaries of this genre and wrote critically of the struggles between the papacy and political players of the time including Philip of Swabia, Otto IV, Innocent III and Gregory IX. He served first in Vienna and was trained by the famous singer Reinmar von Hagenau and moved on to other courts between Germany and Austria and eventually settled in Würzburg, where he served Frederick II.

For more information, see: