Honeybee Swarm

I was planning to enjoy a much needed half day off work this afternoon with a quick trip to Whole Foods and lunch at home with the husband when we noticed what looked like a crazy level of bee activity near our hive.

It turns out – our bees have swarmed. We haven’t inspected the hive yet, but I’m assuming the swarm contains only some of our bees. I hope it’s not all – I would be so sad to lose our bees before we’ve ever collected any honey.

Anyway, the swarm has now congregated in a tall tree in our backyard.

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Bee swarms love tall tree branches for temporary homes.

I immediately grabbed my bee bible – literally it’s The Beekeepers Bible (and it’s awesome) to see what we should do.

Here’s what I’ve learned about swarms:

  • Swarming it totally natural behavior, but can be prevented with some careful action by the beekkeeper.
  • Swarms are generally very docile – they have no honey or egg cells to protect.
  • Swarming occurs in spring or early summer and is usually predicated by queen cells that can be seen during an inspection. Queen cells are a bit larger than normal worker bee cells.
  • Multiple queen cells put you at risk for an afterswarm. It’s best to entinguish all but one queen cell.

Our swarm will send out scouts to look for a permenent new home, and they will then return and perform a dance to tell the hive of the location they’ve selected. This may take a few hours, or a few days.

In the meantime, we’ve posted on a few Austin area beekeeping forums to see if anyone is interested in capturing and rehoming our swarm. This is generally preferable as it ensures survival of the bees, which is not always the case when they self-select their new home.

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In case you were hoping for a close-up.

Any other tips from experienced beekeepers out there?



Potato Tower Update

Ya’ll…I think this latest gardening endeavor is actually going to be successful!

Our Yukon Gold potato vines are growing and thriving. Austin was hit with 5 straight days of rain last week and all of our plants are very grateful for the moisture.

We built this potato tower back in January and planted 10 seed potatoes, which have now developed into some very tall potato vines. I added some more straw over the weekend and continued piling up soil around the vines.

The potato tower is growing a little bit higher with new straw and soil.

Anyway – I think we’ll see some flowers soon, which means I should be able to harvest a few potatoes. I’m sooo excited. I see some potato, egg, & cheese breakfast tacos in our future.

A view from the top

I think the vines will probably begin to die back toward the end of April, or early May and we can pull up all the potatoes at that point. Until then… a few facts about Yukon Gold Potatoes:

  • This variety was developed in Canada and released to the public in 1980
  • Early marketing campaigns described them as the “the potato with the butter already in it”.
  • Unlike other potatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes can stand up to both dry heat and wet heat cooking methods, making them perfect for boiling, baking, or pan frying.

One Yukon Gold potato also contains 50% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C, and 15% of your daily requirement for Iron. Nutritious and delicous!

Putting the chickens to work

We got our chickens for the sole purpose of enjoying some fresh eggs from happy backyard chickens. I’m convinced that the nutritional differences between eggs from chickens that forage naturally versus those in a commercial factory farm setting justify the extra work that comes along with caring for chickens. All day long.

But, what if the chickens could pull their weight by doing more than just laying eggs?

Chickens naturally love scratching around in the dirt looking for delicious worms and grubs. If you can harness this energy – it can be used in a constructive manner. If left to their own devices, chickens generally become major nuisances, preferring to tear up all the mulch around your roses, fruit trees, and garden beds.

What to focus this massive amount of destructive chicken energy on? THE COMPOST!

Steven loves working outdoors, but for some reason, avoids the compost bin like the plague. Our compost bin was built over a year ago and has literally only been turned once – and that was a partial job that was interrupted by mouse. Luckily, chickens are not scared of mice like husbands.

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Chickens at work in the compost bin. Ethel is supervising.
We opened up the bin and placed a few chickens inside and they went to work immediately! I’ve never seen chickens so excited without a treat bag nearby. They found so many worms, I’m afraid our worm population may need to be replenished.

Compost Chicks
Isn’t there a song somewhere about eating worms?
Anyway – Steven is happy that his job of turning the compost bin has been reassigned. The chickens are happy to find a source of fresh worms. And the mouse…well, I’ve never actually laid eyes on it. Steven swears it’s living in our compost, but I have my doubts 😉