Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Resourceful Queen Carpenter Bee!

While John was cleaning up a honey beehive a couple of weeks ago in preparation of installing our new bees this weekend, he found at the bottom of the hive body, a queen carpenter bee. The hive had died and she had been feasting on the left over honey and had neatly eaten a large section on the bottom. John brought her in to show me:

I gave her some grass and wood to crawl on, some water and some honey to sustain her for another day. 

The following day she was the unexpected guest at a native pollinator presentation I gave. I released her the following morning. 

Carpenter bees are the largest native pollinators in North America and are distinguishable from bumblebees by their shiny black abdomens. 

They are excellent pollinators because of their large size, hairy bodies and early emergence in the spring. They also are early morning risers and work later into the evening and are especially important pollinators for eggplants and tomatoes. 

Using their large powerful mandibles, they dig holes into wood to create their nests, as pictured here: 

They don't eat wood but rather nectar and pollen. If a carpenter bee seems to be flying erratically, flying into windows or your head, don't be alarmed, he probably is just chasing after a female.

Carpenter bees, like all bees, are important for pollination. 
Just think, one of every 3 bites of food come to us from pollinators. 
So, the next time you are biting into an apple, or peach, pear or plum, strawberry or kiwi, 
thank a bee

Without them, these food might not exist and/or would require pollination conducted by hand by humans, which is done now in some places like China, where bees can no longer live due to pollution and over use of pesticides.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Love Is In The Air!

Temperatures soared into the high 70's this past week with the trees blossoming, bees buzzing and birds pairing up and feverishly building nests. 

A Bird's Nest Spruce is apparently a perfect place to build a nest and a mourning dove pair have been doing exactly just that. 

With great care, a male mourning dove gathers some twigs,

flies first to the roof to check to see if the coast is clear, then flies to a chair and checks again . . .

and then finally back to the bush,  . . .

where the female will meet him and construct a flimsy nest to hold a clutch of 2 eggs. Both parents will incubate the eggs, which should hatch in 14 days.

Off in the background on the fence, more pairs are at work. 

A male house sparrow gathers some grass as the female watches and waits.

They will have a clutch of 3-6 white to green eggs, which will be incubated by both parents for 10-14 days.

And just down the fence, a Brown-headed Cowbird is strutting his stuff,

fluffing out his feathers and spreading his wings and trying to woo a mate.

He's gaining on her as she runs down the fence!

If he succeeds, she will be possibly laying an egg in the sparrow's or mourning dove's nest, 
so they better watch out!

The cowbird female may lay one egg per day for several weeks and will remove an egg from the "host" nest before laying one of her own. They are known to have laid eggs in over 220 species of birds. She may lay up to 40 or more eggs in a season.

In any case, we hopefully will be observing a lot of fledglings in the coming weeks. 

(Kaufman, Lives of Northern Birds, 1996)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

User-Friendly Deer Resistant Plant Lists

Spring is right around the corner and my eyes are now on the gardens. 

Ah, but my dear deer friends! 

What plants to plant? 

I was checking to see if Itea virginica or Virigina Sweetspire is deer proof and I found these 2 amazingly helpful lists you just have to view:

1. This first one created by Rutgers is so very user friendly:
Landscape Plants Rated for Deer Resistance

2. This site not only provides a deer resistant plant list but also helpful planting information too:
Gardening in Deer Country - Resistant List

I have my own test garden - check out a previous post from September 27, 2009.

Happy Planning!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Late Winter Beekeeper Report

After 3 years of beekeeping and even a mild winter, we lost our 3 hives. After closely examining the hives for clues of why, we have determined it was not from Chalkbrood or Foulbrood nor starvation as there was eventually plenty of honey stores.

Earlier on, after a very wet and stormy fall, we were concerned the bees didn't have enough honey stores so we gave them heavy sugar syrup into November and probably caused Chilled Brood. The hives looked strong in late July but they started to look weaker as the fall went on.

One culprit is probably mites even though we did treat for mites starting in July with Apiguard. For Nosema we used Fumagillin adding it to their heavy sugar starting October 24th.  Perhaps, this was too late considering we had snow on Oct. 29th. To address this for the coming year, we will be giving them winter patties and perhaps trying winter menthol-oil treatments, but we need to research this more.

Honestly, we are glad one of the hives died as it was very aggressive and never produced honey and we tried to re-queen with no success. The hive that produced over 100 lbs of honey last year will be very much missed though.

We have ordered 2 Italian bees packages coming from Georgia being delivered by Jim Bobb at his farm, Worcester Honey Farm on March 31st. ( Our first classes for Beekeeping were led by Jim and we have bought from him for the last 3 years and have appreciated all his advice and help along the way.

We would like to experiment with Northern bred bees this year to see if we have more success, so we ordered one package of Buckfast and one package of All American from Draper's Super Bee Apiary ( to be mailed to us in late April.

We will keep you posted.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Got Fire!

There is nothing more comforting and relaxing than a hot fire in the winter. 

After we purchased our home, we discovered that our propane fireplace appliance produced soot and was not useable. 

We researched options including vent-free, wood inserts, masonry stoves and finally, wood burning stoves. We decided on the wood burning stove option which required removal of our double sided fireplace, completed by Chris Tor of R.P.T. Fireplaces. It really opened up our room.

We then had installed a cast iron Cumberland Gap Quadra Fire wood burning stove with a fan kit from Ambler Fireplaces in Colmar.

It works well and we are still learning how to use it the more efficiently. When it is burning at its peak, it can produce 63,900 Btu/hr and burn up to 15 hours. We achieve a toasty 85 degrees in the family room and the heat radiates throughout the house, raising the temperature as much as 5 degrees. We tried burning some older damp wood - big mistake - it is very important to have dry well cured wood. We hope for warmer cozier winters and less dependence on propane.