Something for Everyone

When I brought honeybees into Less is More this spring, I was a little concerned. What if the honeybees outcompeted all the native bees? So far, that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Don’t get me wrong, the honeybees are seemingly everywhere – there’s some serious buzzing traffic around here:



But the other pollinators are still here too. And thanks to the extra-bloomy summer, due to the extra-moist monsoon season (have I mentioned that we’ve been getting some sort of precipation every other day for over a week, including the 2″ deluge friday night the made national news?), there seem to be even more little flying critters than usual:






Keep in mind, it’s not just the plants that benefit from all the zooming pollinators. I spotted this little crab spider on a sunflower this morning and when I came back to check on him a few minutes later, he had snagged himself a hearty breakfast:




Also, for the first time, there have been a lot of wasps in residence:


I’m not sure why they are here in such large numbers this year, although I think these guys are also beneficial pollinators as well as  insect eaters. Except for the lone specimen that likes to come inside and buzz me while I’m cooking dinner, they seem to keep to themselves.

The flies, on the other hand, emerge in droves every summer, and make themselves quite a nuisance:


Fortunately, since adding the coop to the backyard, the human areas are now a lot less interesting for them. It’s one of the strange added benefits of backyard poultry.


We’re under attack!


Seemingly overnight, Less is More has been overtaken by an infestation of Green Soldier/Stink Bugs. Whence did they come? I’ve never seen them before, and now they’re everywhere – on the plants and zooming around in the air. They seem to be most taken with all the gone-to-seed brassicas. It may be time to pull them out, except for the few from which I’ll actually collect seed.


They’re In

Yesterday was the day. After all sorts of weather delays, my bee package finally arrived in New Mexico. My pick up location was a commercial apiary down in the South Valley. I do like a good field trip, so I was happy to take off the afternoon for an excursion. One thing I forgot to take into consideration, though, is that when you pick up a package of bees from a busy bee yard, there will be a lot of bees, not only inside the package, but all sorts of bonus bees will be clustered on the outside. Fortunately, those bees on the outside were mostly interested in the happenings inside the package, not, say, the human occupant of the vehicle. Anyway, after an uneventful ride home, I parked the box in the shade while I gathered my tools.


I didn’t bother spraying the bees with sugar water, so they flew around quite a bit after I opened the box to remove the feeder and queen cage. Honestly, it wasn’t the most elegant package install, but I discovered that I really enjoy working with bees.

I wired the queen cage to a top bar and inserted the candy plug where the cork stopper had been:


After the queen and a sugar water feeder were in place, I shook and poured bees into the hive.


It doesn’t take long for the bees to rediscover the queen and start working on that candy plug:


There was a lot of activity for the rest of the evening, as the left-behind bees worked their way out of the package and into the hive:


There was also a lot of exploration – the bees made short looping flights over the yard, I assume to orient themselves with the surrounds.

This morning, once the sun hit the east-facing entrance, activity resumed, but at a more ordinary level: bees arrived, danced, and left in an orderly manner:


Tomorrow I’ll open the hive again to check on progress. Hopefully they will have started to build comb, and if they haven’t freed the queen, I’ll give them an assist.

I will also start building the second hive. A few days ago I was able to assist my beekeeping mentor (there is a really active, helpful community of beekeepers here in Albuquerque) in catching a swarm. It was an easy one – the swarm was down low in a juniper shrub, so no ladders or saws needed. It was quite a bit of fun, catching a swarm, and since my mentor’s hives are pretty much full right now, if I get my second hive built quickly, I may get dibs if she gets another swarm call.

Bee Ready

The first Less is More top bar hive is complete, minus the honeybees:


I spread the work over two weekends, in between other chores, but I think it took me about half of one day to cut and assemble the box out of 1×10 and rip one 1×10  into 1-3/8″ strips for the top bars.


A second day was spent cutting and attaching the 1/2″ splines to the top bars, building the lid, assembling a follower board, painting the exterior, and brushing melted beeswax onto some of the top bars. The resulting hive is 44″ long, and accommodates 30 1 3/8″ x 18 1/2″ top bars. There’s an entrance on opposite sides of each end (one of which will be closed up before installing the package) in case I ever need to house two colonies in one box.


Prior to building the full size hive, I put together a 7 frame nuc box. I’m not a very good finish carpenter, so I wanted to learn any lessons on the small scale prototype, before I tackled the full size box. Fortunately, thanks to years of diy renovation work, there’s a garage full of tools that made the project go fairly smoothly. The miter saw, table saw, jig saw, drill, driver, and brad nailer were key.

I’d still like to build a second hive, in case I’m lucky enough to catch a swarm. It seems the consensus is you really need to run more than one hive at a time  so you can learn by comparing the colonies. Also, with multiple colonies, you increase the odds of surviving the winter with at least one healthy colony that can be used to repopulate the apiary, if necessary.

Anyway, after scurrying around like a fiend to complete the hive on Sunday, I learned the arrival of the bees will be delayed. Wet weather in CA will prevent the bee breeder from packaging until the end of the week. Looks like it will be 6 or 7 days until the bees reach NM.


Welcoming the Return of the Sun

After one really wet week (over 3 1/2″ of rain in 5 days, a new local record, I believe) the sun has returned and the garden is teeming with activity as everything tries to make up for lost time.

The birds,



the bees,



as well as some less desirable garden occupants,


are all out catching some rays. A week of wet gray days mean there’s a been a bit of a hiccup in the harvest – there wasn’t a whole lot of pollinating going on last week, but to make up for it, the saturated soil has fueled a massive growth spurt for most of the plants. This late-planted summer squash (I started this plant in late July, after the squash bugs had destroyed all the other squash plants) seems to have tripled in size during the wet spell.


The soil is so wet there are mushrooms popping up everywhere. The fungi are good for the soil, I hear, so they are welcome to colonize wherever they like.


Fortunately, all this wet was forecast well ahead of time, so I could plan accordingly. There’s nothing like an extended period of cloudy, rainy weather to get some cool weather plants going, so before and during the rain, I sowed seeds for fall eats like mad. Now I have turnips,


radishes, spinach, beets, chard and lettuce off to a good start. I’ve also managed to get a rather-too-thick cover of alfalfa going on a bed that I hope to convert to productive space next year.


Hopefully I can keep it all going. I have a feeling we have at least one more hot spell in store before the air cools down for Autumn.


Remember two weeks ago when I was brag gardening? Well, don’t worry, I’m being punished for that cockiness now. Those seven cucumber plants? Yeah, I’m down to one cucumber standing. They’ve been taken out, one by one, over the past ten days. Here’s the wreckage of the most recent to lose its head overnight:


And remember those giant tomatillo plants? Well, this is what was waiting for me yesterday morning when I went out to survey the garden:


I still have two giant healthy plants, but every day the garden is becoming more and more barren. I can’t figure out what’s been gnawing on the big plants – maybe a mouse? I expect birds and cutworms, but there’s some serious eating going on out there. And the cucumbers were under bird netting, so . . . ?

Anyway, I’ve bitten the bullet and started another flat of soil blocks – mostly squash and cucumbers. Meanwhile, yesterday I started pulling my hardneck garlic (which, by the way, never made scapes this year) and cleared an entire bed for more corn and beans. I decided to turn over the soil and actually dig in the compost for a change. Usually I don’t  turn over the soil because I hate disturbing the subterranean community. In this case, however, I took a good bit of pleasure in disrupting all the dirt creatures since I unearthed 5 cutworms, all of which became snacks for my feathered friends. I never realized I was so blood thirsty for revenge.


Continuation of a Theme

Continuing with the bee on flower theme, here are a few more photos. The yard has been thrumming with activity for the past few days. The opuntia are finally starting to bloom – last year they bloomed all at once with a crazy in-your-face full color show, but this year each plant sports only a few open blossoms at once. Anyway, the bees seem to be very thankful that there are finally at least a few blooms.





The Caesalpinia gilliesii (bird of paradise) is also seeing a lot of action, although the bees seem a little unsure of how to deal with those weird flowers.



Finally, I even had a bee in my bee house for a while, although it looks like she decided it didn’t suit her needs as there are no filled holes today. That’s probably for the best. The neighborhood wood peckers have learned all about the bee house and its tidy prepackaged fast food.


Happy Earth Day

The hawkmoths have arrived for the celebration. Here’s a little video clip, if you dig cool insect fun, as I do:

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