Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I Hate Bugs

Well, except bees.  But it seems these days that every time you turn around some new pest has materialized out of the blue.  Or out of Asia.  Or Australia.  Or somewhere.  My blueberries had the best crop I've ever had this year.  The early picking was great, with only a few berries showing some signs of disease (probably anthracnose) and then the usual onslaught from the Japanese beetles.
Japanese beetles on raspberry plants

Although they're still out in pretty good numbers, they are starting their seasonal decline and aren't being quite the pest they were.  Then, I began to notice some very soft berries and discovered small holes in the berries that oozed juice when slightly squeezed. Opening them up, I discovered a small white grub.  A little research led me to an insect I had never heard of before:  blueberry maggot.  So, I pretty much abandoned the blueberries for this year, deciding I would severely trim them back, remove all dropped berries and mulch around the plants and do dormant spraying when there was little chance of harming the bees, like in March.  Then I got a note from my daughter, Jessica, who happens to be an entomologist.  She indicated it could very well be a relatively new pest in this area, the spotted wing drosophila, which is a small fruit fly.  On her suggestion, I've put a number of berries in a jar and will see what emerges.  Most likely they are maggots from drosophila, as we began inspecting our red raspberries, which are just not coming into their second half season.  Sure enough, in berries that had a watery appearance inside the cap when picked I found little maggots.  I even saw little fruit flies flying around the berries.  The problem with red raspberries is the bees are all over the blossoms of this second half of the season, so any type of insecticide is out of the question at this time.  This may be a serious problem, as, unlike many fruit flies that attack already damaged fruit, the female of the drosophila has a specialized mouthpart that allows her to cut into healthy fruit and deposit her eggs.  Blueberries, raspberries and even grapes are subject to attack.  (Updated Note:  I got the wrong end of the female--she has a specialized ovipositor, or egg laying organ, on her abdomen that has a double row of serrated teeth she uses to cut into the fruit to deposit her eggs.)
To read about them in Iowa, visit spotted wing drosophila.
Honey bee on our raspberry blossoms
So, while not directly affecting our bees, this new insect, if it indeed turns out to be drosophila, can just about ruin our fruit crops, which would be a huge loss.
It was a beautiful day out, though, and so on a brighter note here are a couple other shots I took.  
These cherry tomatoes are Baby Girls.  Though not super sweet, they don't tend to split open, are very vigorous, firm but juicy.  Great in salads!

Bumble bees really love these Mexican sunflowers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fall Treatment

I finished treating the hives this morning.  It was a bit cool (71 degrees) and overcast, and the bees were a bit testy.  It seems there is always at least one who takes her guarding very seriously and has to get in my face to let me know it.  No stings, but a couple tried in my shirt.  This is the final treatment I will do with hopguard, and will switch next year to Apivar.  I did put a sheet below the screen in the bottom board of hive #2, my most vigorous hive, and after 3 days there were very few mites on the sticky sheet, fewer than 50 after more than 3 days.  I'll be happy with that anytime.

 The hives all look good.  You may not be able to see in the photo above, but each hive has a top box full of capped honey, quite heavy.  This plus additional honey below should be adequate stores for the winter.  Also, each hive is still producing brood. Pulling a frame from hive #1, I saw the queen down in the box on the side of another frame. This is the first I've seen her since introducing her earlier this spring.

In the honey supers, we will get another two full boxes to harvest as a minimum.  We still have the goldenrod plus clover is still going pretty strong.
Other plants are thriving as well, as you can see in the photo with Kathy above and the incredible sunflower plant near our black raspberries.  I plant a number of varieties of sunflower, but even my mammoths can't compare with this gem.  The goldfinches will love it and I need to make sure I get plenty of seeds from it to plant next year.  Don't know if the bees like it, but it's very impressive nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

( How to ) Mind Your Beeswax

I decided to go ahead today and process the beeswax we harvested with our first honey extraction.  It was a warm day outside but nice and cool in the barn, so I thought working in there would be a good idea.  The wax comes from the cappings on the honey from the two medium supers we extracted a few weeks ago.  After thoroughly washing the cappings, I laid them out on layers of newspaper on a sheet of plywood, turning them every time I went into the barn for the next couple of days and changing the newspaper daily.  After a few days, the wax was dry and crumbly and only mildly sticky, as wax should be.

I process the wax in a double boiler.  Beeswax has a melting point of around 145 degrees F (about 63 C.), so you don't want direct heat.  In fact, about 185 degrees will discolor the wax and you won't get the nice, creamy yellow color.  I put a few inches of water in the bottom pan and set it on the burner to heat up.  In this whole process, my water never got to the boiling point and the wax was all melted.  If you do get to the boiling point, all you need is a low simmer.  You want to avoid having water get into your wax, which will cause it to lose its nice creamy consistency.

I use old t-shirts to strain the wax.  As you will see, the wax appears dark when I heat it (though not burned as if I were to overheat it), with many impurities (dirt, bee parts, grass, etc.) and I need to filter those out.  When the wax is all melted, I pour a small bit at a time onto the t-shirt which you can either lay on the container or use a rubber band to secure it.  I use cottage cheese or similar type container because they release the wax easily when cooled.  I move the wax around on top of the shirt, allowing as much as possible to drain through while still hot.  Some wax will remain on the shirt, but you can recover much of that later after it has cooled by simply scraping it with a flat knife.
 Here the wax is about half melted.  Notice how much darker the melted wax appears. It also really shrinks in volume as it melts but I'll still get a nice chunk of wax from this.
Here I have poured wax onto the shirt and the hot, clean wax is dripping through.  If I have more than will filter through this spot, I'll scrape the rest back into the pan to reheat.  Then I move the shirt to a new spot.  You do go through old t-shirts this way!
 I poured some of the clean wax into a mold while it was still warm.  These make nice little wax cakes to give to friends.  The rest cools and solidifies in the bottom of the container and is easily emptied out after it is cool.  The other chunks I'll save until I make more wax cakes or some candles another day.  See how clean and pretty the new, filtered wax is!  (Smells great, too.)