Category Archives: Pollinators

Pollinators and Edible Flowers Abound!

Apparently, my pollinator pathway is working like a charm. And these pictures are just the pollinators I could capture with my modest camera.

I haven’t been able to catch the hummingbirds on film – the hummingbirds that have been visiting my nasturtiums and just generally gracing me with their presence for the first time ever. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pollinators on my property. I can’t help, but have a Field of Dreams moment as I think to myself, if you build it, they will come.

And the pollinators aren’t the only ones that are benefiting from this investment in my property. Besides the eye candy I get to take in every time I walk up to my front door or walk around to the backyard, I’ve been enjoying my edible flowers in more ways than one. But you’ll have to go over to Ashley’s blog, Small Measure, to hear more about it. That’s right, I am guest blogging over on her site today and I mean it when I say that it feels like a rite of passage in my growth as a blogger. Ashley has been and continues to be one of my mentors in living a sustainable lifestyle and I am always inspired and learning from her. (Like this time or this. Oh! Remember this time?) So check out my guest post and read her blog if you don’t already! I can promise you that you won’t be disappointed. Cheers!

Coop tour success and memory lane

The coop tour was today and it went swimmingly! You should have heard me at the coffee shop this morning before the tour. I was beaming with excitement. You would have thought I had won some major award. A friend at the coffee shop asked me if it was hard to get on the tour and I really don’t think it’s that difficult if you’re an organic gardener that raises chickens within the city limits. But I really don’t care. I was thrilled to be a part of it and loved every minute. Remember, it was two years ago that I was driving around town as an attendee. The coop tour is what inspired me to take the chicken leap.

The weather was absolutely beautiful all day. My shoulders haven’t been this sun kissed in a long time. And it seemed like everything in my garden was in good form, ready to shine. The pollinator pathway I planted last year looked stunning, just how I imagined it might be for a tour. My visitors, 116 of them, were able to walk down a beautiful pathway full of lovely blooms to get to my coop. Shall we do a quick recap of how far I’ve come with this pathway?

In bloom in time for today’s tour

I’m a natural teacher so I enjoyed talking with people all day about chickens and things. To be able to open my yard up to people to help them learn about something I really value was incredibly special. It was also really satisfying to get so much positive feedback about my little urban farm. People seemed genuinely impressed by what I’ve done with my space and I was beyond flattered to see people constantly taking pictures of all my hard work. The mural that I sometimes take for granted really impressed people and most seemed shocked when they found out that I had done that too. I found the whole experience to be amazingly rewarding and validating. When talking to my neighbor this morning about how excited I was, she said, “You should be. You’re doing good work.” That just means so much to me.

And as if the day couldn’t get any better, my little Louise laid her first egg today. I kid you not! So, I think I would say that yes, today was a success. I hope your Saturday was as memorable as mine!

Beekeeping: A crash course

I got an email before going over to one of my former student’s house to finally check out her mom’s bee hive. She told me to wear long sleeves and pants that I could tuck into boots. And, oh yeah, don’t eat a banana before I come over. Apparently, the bees’ stinger or fear pheromone smells like banana.

Remember, this is my year of learning, digging deeper into this whole beekeeping fascination of mine. So if you’re reading this, hoping to get some sound beekeeping information, you should keep searching and come back and read another post.

This is a crash course. This is my feeble attempt to make sense of all this new and exciting information. After all, this was only my first experience with a live hive. Thanks, Amy! It was thrilling, a little scary at first, and then totally amazing!

I got to watch as they prepared the smoker, which calms the bees. I always knew there was a smoker involved in the whole beekeeping process, but never really thought of how it worked. First, you fill up the metal canister with dry wood pieces, some paper, and set it on fire – kind of like starting a camp fire. The little accordion looking thing on the side is squeezed to add air to the fire.

Greens were stuffed in on top of the mini camp fire. This affects the temperature of the smoke and cools it down. So cool! I guess typically, rookie beekeepers let their smokers go out while checking the hive. This is probably because they’re concentrating so hard on checking the goings on of the hive that they forget to give their little fire some air. Luckily, we made it through the hive check just fine.

The box looking things are called supers. Ok, actually, the bottom two (and somethings it’s just one larger box) are called the hive body. Those boxes are used to house the frames for the queen, the brood (bee offspring), and the food the bees eat themselves. The supers that sit above the hive body are used for honey.

Each super is filled with frames on which the bees build combs for egg laying and producing honey. Each frame was rubbed with a little bees wax to get the bees started.

This screen, which was placed on top of the hive body supers, is called a queen excluder. The holes in the screen are just big enough for the worker bees to go in and out (did I mention that all the worker bees are female??) and just small enough to keep the drones (the males) and the queen bee in. This is so that the queen only lays eggs in the bottom supers and not in the top where you’ll get honey.

A little smoker action calms the bees and gets the workers to go back down into the hive so the excluder can be removed and all the frames can be checked for healthy bee activity.

The bees are just starting to build up comb on this frame.

Oohh, even better. The comb that the bees build up is a rich amber color. Down below in the hive body, the queen uses the holes the worker bees form to lay eggs. There are different sized cells for males and females (and a carefully controlled number of each) and when the queen lays an egg, she know which type of egg she is laying in that hole! I know! Can you believe that?!

The holes get covered up, or capped, to protect the pupae or ripened honey inside of it.

Can you see the queen bee? The one in the middle of the picture above, with the white painted dot on her thorax? Apparently, when getting set up with a hive you can purchase a painted queen, one with a bit of white paint on her so that you can spot her in the midst of all the workers and drones. It’s important to be able to spot her (pun intended) because after all, a healthy queen makes for a healthy hive.

My camera still has bits of propolis on it from taking so many pictures around the hive. I think I’ll leave it on there for a while though. I kind of like that my camera smells like honey.

Speaking of bees…

There’s a documentary out right now that I’m dying to see called Vanishing of the Bees. According to the film’s website,

Vanishing of the Bees follows commercial beekeepers David Hackenberg and Dave Mendes as they strive to keep their bees healthy and fulfill pollination contracts across the U.S. The film explores the struggles they face as the two friends plead their case on Capital Hill and travel across the Pacific Ocean in the quest to protect their honeybees.

I’m not going to be able to make it to any of the screenings in Seattle (sad face). So you should go in my place and fill me in! The next showing in Seattle will be this Friday, April 22 at Central Cinema as part of the Whole Foods “Do Something Reel” film festival. It looks like lots of interesting films are being shown as part of the festival. How have I not heard of this before?

* Bee Mosaic at the Belltown P-Patch – photo by Myke Woodwell