Back in Beesness

The package which replaced the first one has fared MUCH better.  On instruction from Laura (my bee dealer) I confined them in the hive for two days, and then gave them a tiny entrance starting the third day.  They have been eating their syrup like good little bees, and carrying in pollen of many colors.

I opened the top of the hive, and things look pretty good.  There were a decent number of bees on top of the frames, but they ducked inside when I smoked them.  The space where the queen cage was hanging made a little wider gap between frames, and the bees decided that it needed another row.

I looked through the frames one by one.  I removed the queen’s empty cage, and checked on the bees’ work.

The bees have been hard at work drawing comb, gathering pollen and nectar.

“Noooo… you can’t take the honey!  Noooo!!”

Unfortunately, the piece of freestanding comb was joined to two separate frames, so it came apart when I lifted them out.  I’m not sure if I should take it out, or leave it in.

All the different shades of pollen show up really nicely against the fresh new wax.

And I’m not sure if I’m seeing little eggs here, or if this is just reflections.  It’s pretty close to the right look for eggs, but I couldn’t get the camera to focus in deep enough.  For reference, what I’m looking for is like this.

This package had a bunch of these pale, golden-blond bees.  I think they may just be very young.  You can see that they’ve put up a huge amount of “honey” – I think it may be the sugar syrup that I’ve been feeding them, as it’s completely clear.

How to Get Your Rocks Off

After much calling around, visits to stone yards, and sampling of various rocks, we decided to trim our beds with four-inch chopped “Blanco” limestone. It arrived today, on a huge muscular truck with a built-in hook lift.

I was puzzling over how they would get the skids off the truck – the guy said they use a forklift. They wrapped the skids with heavy-duty straps (woven, I checked!) and lifted them down. Each skid is about a ton and a quarter, or 2500 pounds.

This is what we’re going to do with them. We’re planning to trim the flower beds all along the edges which border the sidewalk or the driveway, and the beds in front that border the lawn.

As the guys were unloading the stone, I noticed a hawk wheeling overhead. As I watched, one of our neighborhood crows came out and chased it off.  We live at the junction of Crow Creek and Five Mile Creek – it makes me happy to have crows nesting in the woods across the creek.  Hawks eat chickens.  So far as I know, crows don’t.


As part of our ongoing efforts to be the Weirdest Guys on the Block, we decided we needed yard birds.

I have had a couple of chickens once before, back when they were legal in the old neighborhood. Farmers Branch decided to crack down on them, probably on account of many roosters, and so I hadn’t had chickens again. The City of Dallas only restricts roosters, and doesn’t put any limit on chickens until you get to the point of “Commercial Agricultural Production,” so we’re good to go!

I wanted Ameraucanas for their lovely olive-to-blue eggs. If I couldn’t get Ameraucanas or another “Easter-egger,” I was going to try for black-feathered birds, which I have always found striking. I figured they’d go well with the weird garden. After calling around, I discovered that nobody had Ameraucanas in stock in any of the local shops – but finally, Randy at Aggie Feed and Chick told me that he didn’t have any in stock in the store, but he had some of his personal birds that he could sell me. Cash only, after closing time. They are black-feathered Ameraucanas. Hot damn. For twenty bucks, I could get a small flock of four, and have the best of both worlds.

I SO wish I had taken the camera to this place. It’s huge, and has the look about it of a business that was booming about thirty or forty years ago. Shelves were often half-empty, some merchandise was covered with cobwebs and dust, while other items were clearly new and fast-moving. They sell everything from garden seeds to commercial agriculture chemicals, and they specialize in poultry.

It was almost like buying drugs… or raw milk, or something else illicit and under-the-counter. We had to buy our supplies, the chick feed and pine shavings and the brooder lamp, before the store closed. Big bags of supplies were carried out to the car by a cheerful young man with the face of a country cowboy and the voice of a sweet five-year-old. Randy, who was running the register, had to wait until everyone else was gone to go out back and get our birds. As he left, disappearing into a maze of backroom storage, Chris and I looked at one another and said, “And they were never seen alive again.” Fortunately, we didn’t end up in a horror movie, but instead Randy came back with a box of bouncing little birds.

These are week-old Ameraucana chicks. He picked out the ones likely to be roosters, so that we could eliminate them from consideration; we just want laying hens. There were three that were clearly black, and one that he said might be blue, or might be “smutty” – a blue-black. For these birds, “blue” is a grayish color, which is fine for us too – we have a blue Sheltie-mix dog. Chris was very excited about the blue chick, so Randy went in back and got us one more – he said that he’d throw it in, and it was surely going to have the blue coloration.

They’re known for being a bright and curious breed, and I hope they do well in our backyard. We’re going to set up an “ark” style chicken coop, with a small run for their exercise and scratching room.

This is Myrtle; she’s the one that might be blue, or might be smutty.

We haven’t seriously considered names for the three black chicks. With a little work, you can distinguish one from the other – but they’re very similar. I’m thinking maybe we’ll see how their personalities sort out, first.

Chicks change amazingly fast; I already need to take new pictures. I took these pictures and started this post as a draft on Tuesday, but didn’t get to post it until Thursday – they’re already different. I’ll try for new photos (and pictures of their new brooder box, which Chris made!) this weekend.

This sweet-faced baby is the bonus blue chick.

Chris instantly named her “Freebird.”

Garden Update

The garden continues to thrive. I’ve been drenching the soil every two weeks with an aerated compost tea (thank you Chris for the bubbler!) with molasses and fish emulsion, and so far the only insect treatment we’ve used is BT. BT makes me really nervous – it’s effective specifically against lepidopteran larvae, like cabbage worms, squash borers… and silkworms. I give myself a Silkwood shower if I get the stuff anywhere near me, before I feed the Tiny Masters, and it’s never allowed near the mulberry.

It was finally time to harvest some of the Shanghai bok choi. It was really good. The mustard is getting to the steaming-greens stage; we’ve been eating it as salad so far, but the flavor is getting a little hot.

The tomatoes are just going nuts. The big one on the right is one of the Better Boy plants that my Dad gave us that he started from seed. The one on the left is the only purchased plant in the whole garden – a grape tomato, because we love to eat those in salads.

The grape already has flowers and a couple of tiny set fruit. The Better Boys don’t have open flowers yet, but lots of buds. We’ve disbudded the first branching on one bed worth, because I read that can help strengthen the plant and improve overall yield; we’ll see what we get.

The purple orach, also called Mountain Spinach is growing well, and entirely purple. It really does taste remarkably like spinach, and what a color on the salad plate!

There are a lot of after-last-danger-of-frost things sprouting:

We planted three varieties of zucchini – golden, globe, and standard. I’m not sure what the tiny winged things are, but they don’t seem to be causing any damage I can see, so I haven’t taken any action against them yet. They’re much slimmer than aphids.

You can see pole beans sprouting in the back of Bed #1 at the top of the post; these are bush beans. We’ve got four varieties, whose names escape me at the moment, and I can’t see all the tags. Italian bush, Kentucky Wonder, and two more.

I planted a lot of basil in the cells of the cinder blocks; they don’t need a huge amount of root room, and they’ll make a good friend for the tomatoes. These are “Queen of Siam”; I alternated cells between this one and “Finissimo Verde a Palla” dwarf globe. The intended effect is decorative, but we’ll see what actually ends up happening.

“Merlot” loose leaf lettuce. I’m hoping that if I can keep planting fresh salad greens, we’ll have salad at least into early summer. I’m not holding out hope that tender greens will thrive here in the heat of our Texas summers; it’s just too hot.

“Black Pearl” ornamental pepper. These are going to go in the Wicked Garden – they’re SO dark in the foliage, with purple flowers and pearly dark purple fruits that redden when ripe.

Bee’n and Gone.

Chris and I drove to Austin, got the package of bees, and brought them home. It was a really pretty six-hour round trip through the hill country in wildflower season. The Weavers, who sold Chris the bees that he gave me for Christmas (this was a time-delay Christmas present… hive and kit, and a certificate for bees in spring!) were delightful, pleasant, funny, and kind. My friend Cliff came over and helped me hive the bees, and everything seemed to be going swimmingly that Sunday night. Bees settled into the hive and appeared to be setting up house-keeping; the hive was guarded, the sugar-water in the feeder was slowly but steadily going down.

Then, Monday, I was working in the garden and there was a CLOUD of bees. You couldn’t look up and NOT see bees. Probably all ten thousand of them were in the air. Chris was a little freaked out. Then, the bees all hit the hive, and marched orderly back in. Best guess is, that they were trying to swarm, but couldn’t because the queen was still caged.

Tuesday, everything looked normal. Then some time late Tuesday or early Wednesday, they apparently tried the fly-off again, and succeeded.

The hive still looked normal… but I realized that there were no guards; the bees were too few around the hive entrance. I finally decided to just look – and the hive was empty.

The Queen was gone. Her wings had been clipped, but apparently not enough – I’m pretty sure she left with the swarm. No corpse to be found.

They had started drawing comb:

and they made one perfect little beard of free comb:

The reason we still appeared to have bees in the hive after they absconded, was that neighborhood bees were coming to rob the sweet sugar syrup. After I took away the syrup, they were gone in a day.

On a brighter note, the Weavers are sending a new package by mail. So I get to delight my mailman and office-mates with a box full o’ bees!

We’re having a salad like this three or four days a week – baby spinach, spring greens (Mizuna mustard, red lettuce, arugula, baby endive) and radishes.

And, apropos of nothing, a giant millipede:

If You Can’t Bee Tough…

Look tough.

I saw this bumblebee flying around the garden. Except, kind of like the SpiderAnt – it wasn’t moving quite right. It didn’t land heavily on flowers, secure in its huge sting-y power… it hovered delicately, sipping nectar. Like the HUMMINGBIRD MOTH that it is! Busted!

Chris planting irises.

The sheet mulching is pretty much done; we’re looking for the right stone for edging, and we need to get plants in the ground. It’s starting to heat up here; lots of things wilt by mid-day, because their pots of soil aren’t big enough.

Herb bed. We’ve got several kinds of mint, lemon balm, two oreganos, sage, chives, dill, tarragon, thyme… a little bit of everything. It’s still a little experimental – it’s shady much of the day, but with bright, sun-dappled shade, so we’ll see if herbs like it.

What’s That Bug?

If nobody here ID’s it, I’ll actually post it to What’s That Bug… but I figure someone in my LJ friends might know!

We live by a creek.  It didn’t seem to like being out on the concrete; it ran and hid in the mulch as quickly as it could.  It’s about an inch long, and sturdily built; it has a very unusual combination of features: wasp-like glossy black wings, muscular thick body, big head.  Back of the abdomen almost reminds me of a moth.

ETA: The first shot, with the contrast blown out. This is NOT a moth.

Another edit: the folks at ID’d it… it’s a Rove Beetle, something in genus Platydracus. They’re an insectivore, so I’m glad I left it be!

What the Cat Dragged In

We have three cats.  One of them, Greysie, is a voracious killer.  She’s very deceptive… fluffy, sweet, affectionate… but she brings down everything from large grasshoppers to full-size turtle-doves.

I moved a kitchen towel that had fallen on the floor, and SURPRISE, it’s a snake!

These tiny snakes, called DeKay snakes, are common in much of Texas.  They live on little bugs, and I’ve never seen one offer to bite a person.  People tell me, “Oh, she’s hunting for you, she’s bringing you a present!”  No, she’s bringing things into the house, where she can play with them longer.

He’s a small one; I’ve seen smaller, but they get about twice this size when full-grown. He kept trying to hide between my fingers.