Flannel Jammies Farm

...praising God on our 1/5 acre of suburbia

Saturday, June 24, 2017

a May visit to the State Arboretum of Virginia...

Yes, this post is a tad late.

In May, we drove to Maryland for the annual Sheep & Wool Festival.  My daughter and I spent a drizzly day walking, eating, caressing all the wool, and making friends with so many sheepses!  It was such a treat!

On the way back to the coastal plain of Virginia, we took the long, meandering route and quite unexpectedly discovered the State Arboretum!  It's a sprawling and wonderfully green place, occupying the central 172 acres of the Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, Virginia.  The afternoon was spent exploring and learning and walking and sniffing... even our precious Carolina dog, Scarlett, had a blast, leaping through the grassy expanse!

I cannot recommend this destination highly enough.  It's a must see, especially for garden gurus, mountain dreamers, pollinator protectors, tree huggers, and just about anyone in need of a quiet space to refresh their soul.  I could tell you all about it, but how about a virtual tour?

...wondered if there was a message here...

Scarlett leaping through the grass

The scene driving out of the Arboretum... pure bliss!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

bees, bees, bees under February trees...

Virginia is a bit confused.  Several days in February have been in the 70-degree range and a couple days even dipped a toe or two into the 80's.  Leaves are popping out everywhere; sources tell us leafing is about 3 weeks ahead of schedule this year.  Our forsythia and lilacs are alive with colorful blossoms.  And the honey bees.....

We lost colonies of bees this Winter...  the weather was weird and harsh at times and it followed a Summer and Autumn that had us distracted with many things.  We donned our suites and took a quick peek at our bees in mid-February.  One top-bar hive was bursting with bees and brood (babies) and stores of honey and pollen.

After waiting two weeks and observing more and more bees, larger and larger traffic jams at the hive entrance, and workers backfilling empty brood comb with early pollen and nectar abundance, we considered an early split to try to prevent swarming as the hive became densely overpopulated.

We lit the smoker and grabbed our suits on a particularly beautiful day.  We went carefully through the hive, noting population, stores, and crazy comb building, and removed some wonky cross comb.  (See that "W" marked on one of the bars?  That was our guide, saying, "Here's that wonky comb!")

There was brood in all stages in every place available, and new nearly-white comb was under construction.

The one thing we could NOT find, after nearly an hour of squinting, was Queen Mum.  We have not marked our Queens since our first season, finding the practice too high-stress for us and for the Queen herself.  We looked and looked, but she was having none of it on this day, escaping our gaze on every bar of comb we inspected.  IF we wanted to split the hive, it would be necessary to find the Queen and move her, bars of brood in all stages and food supplies, and lots of workers to a second top-bar hive, leaving eggs and brood and the Queen cups we noted in the existing hive for the workers to raise a new Queen.  *sigh*  We decided to close the hive and check again for Queen Mum another day.

Just a couple of days later, on yet another gorgeous day, we ventured into the hive again.  This time the inspection was quicker, more fluid, as we'd already noted where the brood chamber was within the hive, and loosed all the bars from their winter-propolized state of "stuck-to-it-ed-ness".  One bar, then another, then another, and then I exclaimed, "I've got her!"

She was moving quickly across the comb, regal and beautiful and filled with life!  We carefully moved the frame to the new hive and stopped just long enough to take some photos.  See if you can find Queen Mum in the photos below.  Other things of interest in these photos are drones hatching out, with their fat bodies and large eyes and workers cleaning out vacated cells in the comb.

We've made a split, and now one colony is two.  The Queen will continue to lay eggs, just as prolifically as before, in her new home.  A new Queen will be reared and emerge to embark on her mating flight, and hopefully return to the mother colony to fill it with new life.  We've added our own organically grown lemongrass to a third hive, a sweet-smelling lure to welcome nearby swarming bees in search of new digs.  We will watch in wonder (and just a little anxiety) how the Great Bee brings these things to pass.