Beau July 20th, 2010
A few days ago the chickens were hanging out in the shade with temperatures in the coop over 100 degrees. And then rain, sweet rain. And then more rain. Two days ago I began to write, “a passing storm and raging winds, and then a gentle breeze, drizzle and clouds. Just what the garden needs, and a respite from the heat…”
I saw this early before dawn… it was quiet and a beautiful orange light was all around. I just had to walk further.
Then I saw this, slowly building to the southwest…
The clouds billowed upward and outward, forming a classic thunderstorm, with the rumble of thunder in the distance.
Soon it became this…
The barn swallows have another nest full of three more fledglings, and a dry perch to watch the rain pour over the gutters. Methinks there’s a clog somewhere down the line… I cleaned the gutters out not long ago, yet heavy rain pours over.
So yesterday it was another huge storm of wind, rain and hail, and then today more heavy rain! The clouds are nice in terms of cooling things off, but we’ve had quite enough water for the time being thank you very much.
I remember years ago being surprised to realize that a lot of folks have not experienced heavy thunderstorms before. Of course that’s what I’ve always remembered about Missouri summers. Brief storms with thunder, lightning, showers and blessedly cooling weather. Then back to the humid and hot.
With a little cooler daytime temperatures we seized the opportunity to catch up on weeding and pruning.
This was a shrub rose gone wild that I’ve been meaning to cut out for weeks. It had several more branches just like this one, spreading out more than twenty feet in all directions! It’ll come back unless I put something on the stump to kill it. And the flowers? Inconspicuous little white things. I’m not sure where this rose came from, but it doesn’t have a place here anymore.
The young boy is really a great help around the place. Now I understand why farmers of old had such big families…
Later the boy enjoyed a break with his Shiba. Although that little dog likes to think he owns everything around here… he’s a funny little guy, and a good watch dog. He lets us know when anything out of the ordinary happens or someone comes down the gravel drive. They are cute together…
Here’s a picture of the shiba when he was a puppy… A few years ago I described how he adopted us from a little Japanese pet store in 2002. We call him Kuma, which is short for Kuma no nuigurumi or Teddy Bear in Japanese.
This week it was also time to check on the bees. I’ve got just three hives and a small nuc (nucleus hive) going. Earlier in the spring I had a hive with a drone-laying queen, and she eventually disappeared. Before the hive was queenless too long I solved that problem with the help of another local beekeeper.
We combined that hive with a nuc and a new queen, using a screened divider between them for a week. That gave the failing hive time to become acquainted with the new queen and other bees, and then after removing the screened divider, the hive became one, joining forces to work together. Since that time they’ve steadily increased their population and look great now.
Alas I have another hive with a failing queen. This hive started out strong, but then simply languished. I have found no disease or other external problems, but the queen is simply not laying enough eggs to keep the population strong. I will probably order a new queen to replace her soon, and allow the bees to strengthen the hive before winter.
With all the beekeeping challenges this is not a year for gathering much honey. That’s okay because I’m really trying to build them up going into winter. But that middle hive is very strong and may yield a small super of honey, so we’ll see. Here’s a picture of bees fanning at the top opening on the inner cover.
One reason they fan their wings is as a signal for other bees, blowing scent pheromones from a hive entrance or other location so their hive mates know where to go. But they also fan to cool and circulate the air through the hive on hot days . Most importantly, the bees will fan to increase the evaporative cooling effects within the hive to remove moisture from the nectar/honey stored within.
After the bees gather nectar from flowers, it is carried in their honey stomach back to the hive, then often passed to another worker bee to process and store within the hive. During this process the nectar is converted to various sugars by enzymatic action and deposited into the waxy cells within the hive. But it is very runny and full of moisture at this point… not even close to being honey yet. Beekeepers call honey which is too runny green. It doesn’t really become honey until the moisture level is lowered to about 17%-18%. Then the bees put a waxy cap on the cell and the honey is stored until needed as food.
Because the bees have lowered the water content of the honey, it is very hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb water moisture from the air. Good quality honey has a very low water content which is one of the reasons it can be stored almost indefinitely without spoiling. If you’ve ever had honey ferment at home, it’s either because the container wasn’t sealed tightly over time and it absorbed a lot of moisture, or it was too green or allowed to sit open before it was purchased and fermented later. Of course you could always make mead or use it for baking! Runny honey just needs to be used a little more quickly.
Everything else is coming along too. I harvested around 15 pounds of tomatoes and cucumbers out of the garden this morning. I think pickles are in our future… and tomato sauce! Seems like the tomatoes are ripening all at once, and I need them to keep going.
Last week I found this lucky titmouse enjoying a feast on a ripened sunflower.
I also planted more squash, and some beets in the garden- hoping they mature in time for a good harvest. It was the perfect time too with all the rain. I also planted collard greens which supposedly improve in taste after the first frost. I don’t know about that, but I enjoy them when cooked and mixed with seasoning. Does anybody have good ideas for how to use collard greens in the kitchen? Well I love greens, but I never made them very often. Maybe in soup?
The sun is back out this afternoon… 96 degrees and hot! Hard to motivate anyone to do anything, even myself it seems. One small step…