The Season of Doing

It’s been some time since I’ve sat down to write, but so much has changed since I last did, and I’m sitting down now with lots of updates to share.

Our garden is now in full swing – housing lots of different heirloom varieties, from flashy butter gem lettuce to dragon tongue beans – and many colourful and funky tomatoes in between.

Also our best year yet for strawberry picking!

When I spend time in the garden, admiring heirlooms so full of their own uniqueness, I am reminded of an Emergence Magazine podcast, Reeseeding the Food System with Rowen White, where she discusses the intimacies endowed in a single seed and the felt connection tying us to the land and the history built upon it.

Growing plants from seed, especially when it comes to varieties that have been around long since the age of our ancestors, feels in some way, like I’m paying hommage to our history, and the food that has fed us since time immemorial.

“Each one of us descends from people who have been in
an intimate and reciprocal relationship with plants and seeds since the dawning of time.

Rowen White, Sierra Seeds

Though, it didn’t take long before we realized we had a digger on our hands – Winnie, our now much larger puppy – finding her often nose-deep in with my freshly sown seeds. So, it wasn’t long after we expanded our garden beds, that we realized we ought to put a fence around the gardens.

Pushing a few things down on the list, off we went, digging 28 holes for the fence posts. Luckily for us, we had been collecting materials ever since we moved in, with enough logs for every post.

In and amongst the time we spent digging, we continued to keep up with all of our many side projects. One of which, bee-ing the new hive we had built!

With intentions in early spring to maintain just one hive, we’ve since decided to have two. Being recommended to us by the president of our local beekeeping association (BKA), he shared with us the advantages of having more than one at any given time. Giving us the ability to use the hives to help each other out.

Additionally, this year there had been an outstanding number of colonies lost. Roughly only 30% of hives made it through this past winter in our area, resulting in replacement costs going up dramatically. So, with hope of bettering our odds going into winter, we’re hoping we get the pleasure of seeing at least one community of them again, come spring.

Both hives up and running – the new horizontal in front, the inherited Langstroth in the back.

As you may have read in one of my previous blog posts, we decided to build our own horizontal hive this year. Thanks to recommendations from Michael Bush at Bush Farms and insights from Dr. Leo Sharaskin’s designs, we built a thick-walled cedar hive. We even put out a swarm trap or bait hive (after finding ourselves down the YouTube rabbit hole of Dr. Leo’s videos), in hopes of catching a swarm (a small colony of bees in search of finding a new home). Though, with losses as mentioned, we soon realized there may not be any bees to re-home!

So, we are now utilizing both the new hive and our old Langstroth. Both of which can be seen above, the photo taken shortly thereafter the nucs were introduced to their new homes. For those new to the term “nuc” – it simply refers to a nucleus colony, a small grouping of honeybees and a queen, seperated from larger colony.

Since we had previously lost two hives over winter, we were hopeful that this new design and modifications might help better the odds for our honeybees. As opposed to the traditional Langstroth hive, with an entrance spanning the width of the front, our horizontal hive (will refer to it as HH for short), only has one entrance in the top left corner of the side facing South. This hole is much smaller than in most hives, measuring 3/8x 1.5″ in size. In theory, our hope is that the smaller entrance helps the bees better defend the entrance from wax moths and other invaders.

We also decided to try out foundationless frames, hearing that this may help deter varroa mites (these little buggers are the culprits behind our two lost colonies). Meaning simply, removing the plastic backing that usually fits within the frame, prompting the bees to build comb from scratch. According to some conversations we’ve had with experienced beekeeper’s, the size of honeycomb on the plastic foundation is slightly larger than the comb they’d build on their own, closer in size to drone comb (built for male fertile honeybees), which is the more ideal condition for varroa mites to lay their eggs.

However, it’s worth noting that frames with foundation are still recommended to be placed inbetween each frame without, to encourage them to build vertically. We made the mistake of putting a super of foundationless frames above the brood boxes on our Langstroth hive, which the bees utilized to build comb horizontally instead, in a cylindrical fashion. Some problems of similar nature arose in our horizontal hive, whereby the bees built deeper combs than normal, skipping an empty frame, building off of alternating frames.

All this to say – we’re experimenting, sharing our updates with our local BKA, as the only other person in neck of the woods to try a HH, had some unlucky run ins aswell. Resulting in them having to tilt the hive ever-so-slightly, with the entrance facing downcast. For reasons I can’t quite remember.

As you can see, the bees are building comb from scratch, which starts out white, getting darker over time.

But with that being said, watching the bees draw their own comb from scratch is nothing short of beautiful. It begins a pristine white, only darkening after time, whereby brood (all forms of honeybee, from egg to adult) is continuously laid.

Additionally, the last problem we’ve found, is condensation forming on the hive’s top board. Which according to Michael, is nothing new.

At all times and all weather bees are trying to get rid of moisture. To make nectar into honey. To cool the hive. To get rid of metabolic water in the winter. Moisture is a constant issue.

Michael Bush, Bush Farms
You can see the condensation on the bottom left-hand side of the lid.

Lastly, I’ve been really excited with the new – though built completely using repurposed materials – compost we’ve built. And when I say we, I large in part mean Brandon, as I only assisted building a small portion, he the rest.

Thanks to all of the scrap materials we had been collecting (most of which from the old rickety barn that was torn down next door), we were able to build a big enough compost for more than just our household organic waste. Where I’ve since been able to implement a compost program at TWR.

It was only recently that I had turned over the first batch of cafe compost, and boy was it alive! I picked up several handfuls, with amazement to see how much it moved in my hands, by creatures both seen and unseen.

Recently bagged compost. Now another thing we can barter with!

I’m sure there’s loads more that I’m missing – but that’s it for now, friends!

Feel free to throw any questions or comments below, I’d love to hear about your adventures and experiments too!

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