Wannabees Thinking About Honey Bees

A bee swarm is a thing of beauty
My honey bottles
My honey bottles

Ummmm…..that’s sooo good! I hear that phrase over and over when someone tastes my home-grown honey for the first time. Their face lights up and a look of delight transforms them when they dip their fingers into the sticky sunshine. Most people are used to the purchased plastic bear of generic clover honey (sometimes adulterated) available at the local grocery store. For me it was a taste of local honey which began my revelatory journey towards keeping bees over 20 years ago.

Pulling out a perfect frame of honey
Pulling out a perfect frame of honey

Attending a local beekeeping club classes set me on the right path, with loads of information on bee biology, choosing the right equipment, and lots of help setting up my first two hives. There are free on-line courses available and excellent books on the subject, but I found that personal hands-on help was the most valuable. For ‘Wannabees’ who have sat on the fence for years, and pored over glossy bee catalogs, my bee journey might help you take the first steps. But be warned, you have to order bees now, for the spring. Most bee suppliers are sold out of bees by early March.

You can order bees by mail
You can order bees by mail
One of my newly installed nucs last spring
One of my newly installed nucs last spring

Cost   

What does it cost to get into beekeeping? Costs can be steep the first year, as you are paying for equipment, plus your bees. But then it levels off. At a major retailer of bee equipment, you can pick up beginner kits for a complete setup for around $400 which includes tools, hive bodies, and equipment. That doesn’t include the most important part though – your bees. Bees could run you anywhere from $130 to $200 per colony, depending upon colony size. So, we are talking about $500 per hive and I suggest that you start with two. You are more flexible with two (a stronger one could help a weaker one) and you won’t be devastated if one doesn’t make it through the winter. The total cost just doubled but the advantage it gives you the first year is worth it.

I recommend that you start with at least 2 hives
I recommend that you start with at least 2 hives; the tall one has supers on top for excess honey; the shorter one isn’t as strong

Factor in buying large amounts of granulated sugar to make up sugar syrup for feeding. When floral nectar is in short supply or unavailable, like early spring or late fall, bees draw on their honey stores in the hive. During these times, it is important to feed your colonies because when stored honey in the hive is gone, the colony will starve.

Time

I use entrance feeders
Entrance feeders full of sugar water

Your first spring of beekeeping will suck up the most time. Everything is new, you panic over nothing, and you are driven to open your colonies a little too frequently. You will be installing new packages of bees, hovering worriedly over your new babies, and feeding them sugar syrup every day to get them going. See my post on Installing Packages or Nucs of Bees or Honeybee Nuc 101.

Beeswax that I have poured into molds
Beeswax that I have poured into molds; Go to my post on Beeswax Sachets

Leveling off in the summer, your time is more likely to be spent observing and peeking into your hives, and adding extra boxes as the colony grows. If you are using disease medications (I do it organically), you are spending time applying chemical controls.

Inspecting an open beehive
Inspecting an open beehive

Extraction of your long-awaited honey surplus will take a full day in the late summer. It involves removing bees and boxes, uncapping honey from frames, spinning the honey out, and the most time consuming of all-cleanup of a sticky mess. See my post on Spinning Honey  or Beeswax-Honeybee Gift.

 

Straining raw honey
Straining raw honey

A few hours is involved in Fall and Winter, wrapping your hives for winter, and feeding more sugar syrup. I am using a new product for wrapping called, Bee Cozy which streamlines the winter process greatly. Over the entire year of beekeeping, I estimate that I spend at least 30 – 40 hours tending to them.

Bee Cosy on hive
I love using the Bee Cozy, which is insulated,  in the winter
Setting up hives in the spring
Setting up hives in the spring

The wonder of the symbiotic relationship of flowers, bees, and nature continue to fascinate me and make it worth my time. When my bees visit my year round greenhouse in Maryland on a mild winter day, I am amazed! Amazed that they can zoom in on one orange tree that is blossoming from several thousand feet away in the dead of winter. And the unexpected events that happen (like swarming) causes me to marvel at honeybee behavior and never get bored with it.

A bee swarm is a thing of beauty
A bee swarm is a thing of beauty

My bee journey took me other places too-like becoming interested in all pollinators and how our native pollinators as well as the imported honey bee are in decline and need our assistance to survive. I learned what plants were beneficial to pollinators and established a meadow around my bee hives to supplement their foraging diet. See my post Grow These For the Bees Garden Plan.A meadow surrounds my beehives

I still love opening my bee hives -thrilling to the sight of their collected honey full of nectar and pollen foraged from close by. Smearing honey on my toast in the morning has given me a new appreciation for all their hard work; To produce 1 pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited. I savor the flavor!

After extracting, the hives go crazy
After extracting, the hives go crazy

So, if you are still thinking about it after reading about the cost and time, look up your local beekeeping club and get started!

Top 12 Garden Trends for 2014

An array of catalogs
An array of catalogs

What’s Brewing in the Garden

I don’t need to read tea leaves or get out my crystal ball to figure out what is trending in the horticulture world, just a glossy stack of 2014 seed catalogs cascading off my bookshelf. While the wind is howling and there is talk of polar vortex, I brew up a cup of hot tea, gather my reading material, and snuggle in. Here is a lowdown on what is new, what is hot, and what people are really thinking about when they plan ahead, and order their seeds for the upcoming growing season.

1. Grafted Vegetable Plants

The difference between a grafted and a straight tomato
The difference between a grafted and a straight tomato

Grafted plants are relatively new, but I have only seen grafted tomato plants. A grafted plant simply means the top part of a separate plant(scion) is attached to the root system of another plant(the rootstock). The rootstock contributes vigor and disease resistance while the scion is chosen for flavor and quality. To see my review of grafted tomatoes go to Grafted Tomatoes, What’s Next?

Ann array of grated plants seen at the recent Mid-Atlantic Nurserymans Show in Baltimore
Ann array of grafted plants seen at the recent Mid-Atlantic Nurserymans Show in Baltimore

Now, you can choose from grafted double tomatoes (2 varieties on one plant), cucumber, peppers, watermelon, and eggplants, which are available from Territorial Seed Company. Another new development that is top-secret(you heard it from me!!) is the tomato plant that grows potatoes. That’s right- The plant grows tomatoes on top and potatoes underneath. Weird is right, but it makes perfect sense. The name that is being batted around for this oddity is “ketchup and fries”! Look for this in 2015.

2. Not Using GMO Seeds

Genetically Modified seeds are a no no. Virtually every catalog assured the grower that they renounced the very idea of selling them! For example from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange “we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants”. Consequently, heirlooms, which are open pollinated, are huge! Also prevalent are organic seeds. Heirlooms and organics dominate the catalogs, and some seed companies such as Landreth Seeds, sell them exclusively. Several companies such as Sow True Seed state that they are signatories to the Safe Seed Pledge, put out by the Council for Responsible Genetics. I see this as a sign that consumers have lost their faith in big agro-businesses and want to go back to basics and something simpler.

3. Planting Raised, Stackable Beds, and Container Bags 

Stackable planters from Territorial Seeds
Stackable planters from Territorial Seeds

Raised beds and stackables are everywhere. Sow True Seed’s sells bag beds, smart pots, elevated garden planters, and a raised bed garden system. The stackables are new; think of wooden crates with a fiberglass screen bottom with cedar supports to contain soil. You can stack one on top of each other, or interlock in a customized configuration to fit your space.

Another option are the big bag beds which are soft sided containers, some as wide as 50 inches to grow edibles and flowers. The one pictured below, located on my patio in winter, is a favorite of mine. It won’t crack in winter like pottery would, and the sides are breathable for good air access. They are supposed to last about 7 years.

Big Bag Bed
Big Bag Bed

4. Bee Gardening

Save the Bees Seeds
Save the Bees Seeds

Bees have been in the news for the past couple of years and people are concerned about their disappearance, wanting to do something about it. The easiest solution is to plant a bee-friendly garden, using native plants. Native plants continue to be a hot topic in gardening worlds.

Botanical Interests, is selling “Save the Bees” seeds which includes annuals, biennials and perennials.  They claim that, “The variety of colorful blooms in this mix provides plentiful food for many of the over 4000 species of bees that live in the U.S., and are waiting to visit your garden!” for $4.99.

If a variety is the least bit attractive to bees, the seed or plant company will trumpet those benefits, even when some are questionable.

To take it a step further, mason bee houses are popping up for the first time in main stream seed catalogs, and you can even buy the  larvae cocoons on line if you want to jump start your local population.

5. Planting for Health Benefits/Foraging

Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes

When I was ordering my tomato seeds, I noticed in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog, that they had a chart titled “Our 2013 Nutritional Study on Tomatoes”. The chart rated 10 tomato varieties in order according to their nutrient values as was performed by a certified lab in California. I was surprised to see the wide differences between the varieties in levels of vitamins, acidity, and lycopene (flavonoid antioxidant). Generally the black and purple tomatoes surpass significantly all other color tomatoes. That is why I ordered the variety “Black Krim” which topped the list as best overall. I was following a trend which I see is in full swing, gardening for nutritional benefits as well as tasting good.

Black Krim tomato
Black Krim tomato

People are looking at health benefits when cultivating all edibles and growing lots of greens for smoothies or “groothies”. Kale is ubiquitous.

Foraging for edibles is an off-shoot of this interest with a ground swell locavore movement. Driving this movement is self-sufficiency, getting in touch with nature, free food, and seasonal eating. Eat your dandelions!

6. Herbs-Medicinal and Culinary

Lavender Phenomenal
Lavender Phenomenal

People are making their lifestyle choices with wellness in mind. Bergamot, chamomile, and comfrey are three herbs that are leading this trend of healthy choices and habits. Easy to grow in containers, windowsills, and just about anywhere – herbs, both medicinal and culinary are the next hot edible.

The herb section in all my catalogs has grown over the years. From Park Seed you can buy a pollinator herb mixture of borage, chives, sage, basil, lemon mint, catnip, sweet marjoram, oregano, and creeping thyme. Varieties of herbs have exploded and the hybridizers have been busy, especially with Lavenders. Phenomenal Lavender is a new variety which has been trumpeted, that will thrive in hot humid summers, which I endure here in the mid-Atlantic. I grew this variety for the first time last year and liked it because the flowers branched off the main stem to produce more flowers all summer long. The jury is still out until I see how it over-winters.

7. Growing Exotic and Unusual Vegetables

Dinosaur Kale
Dinosaur Kale

Remember earlier, I said back to basics? Well, forget that!! Because I definitely see a trend to growing unique and gourmet vegetables that are nutritious as well as easy to grow. Just check out Park Seed‘s gourmet edibles which include Kale Lacinato(Dinosaur Kale), Cucumber Crystal White Pickler, Rainbow Blend Tomato, Chiogga Beet, Pepper Petite Color Blend, and Brussels Sprouts Bitesize. I attempted to order Dinosaur Kale from several companies, but it was sold out wherever I tried! I will be growing these black tomatoes that I saw in Quebec last summer. Because of their black color, supposedly the nutrient content of these should be off the charts.

Black Tomatoes
Black Tomatoes

8. Themed Seed Samplers

Renee’s Garden Seeds increases their themed seed collections every year, such as the Basil Lovers Bonanza, Fabulous and Unusual Annuals, or Collection of Collections, which is all twelve of the themed garden seeds together for $155! Landreth Seeds has the most unique collections, with one called the African American Heritage Collection. See my review of Landreth Seeds at Art of the Seed. Botanical Interests has over 30 collections and has pulled out all the stops in naming them. I am going to try “Salsa Ole Seed Collection”, and the “Weird and Wonderful Seed Collection”. The collections at Botanical Interests can only be purchased on line.

9. Growing Small/Rooftops

Rooftop garden in Quebec
Rooftop garden in Quebec

Rooftop gardening for vegetables by definition should be small and compact. The adjectives used in describing these plants are mini, tiny, dwarf, and compact. Vegetables and flowers are being downsized to fit into peoples lifestyles and space limitations, and are sprouting up on rooftops all over America. Determinate plants are popular as they do not vine and outgrow their space, and the smaller varieties have exploded in number. Container sized blueberries and raspberries are selling out everywhere as they are so easy to grow. See my Blueberry Bonanza post. Berries in general are enjoying a resurgence of popularity. Ever-bearing strawberries, ones that produce sporadically throughout the growing season, are very popular. For my post on strawberries, go to Jam Session.

Garden Sox container with a bearing strawberry
Garden Sox container with a bearing strawberry

10. Growing “Super Foods

Goji Berries
Goji Berries

This trend is an off-shoot of growing food for health benefits, but primarily so-called super foods such as berries, kiwis, quinoa, beets, and greens, fall into this category. Goji Berries are still trendy, and blueberries are being hybridized into unrecognizable colors, such as lemonade pink or peach sorbet.

A newly released berry from Proven Winners is called Sugar Mountain Blue Haskap. Sugar Mountain is a honeysuckle variety or Lonicera, but not the invasive kind. Haskaps look like elongated, oversized blueberries that growers claim is easier to grow than blueberries. They also contain high levels of antioxidants and three times the amount of vitamin C.  Haskaps can be eaten fresh or dried, or cooked into pies, just like blueberries. For a post on another superfood, Okra, go to Okra-Superfood Superstar.

Blue Haskap berry
Blue Haskap berry

 11. Fermentation

Fermentation is huge! Enjoying a resurgence are plants that can be fermented such as hops for beer, grapes for wine, cabbage for kimchi,  kombucha, and relishes. Go to Pickle Time to see how easy it is to make pickles. Beer gardens are becoming popular, with people growing different varieties of hops to try their hand at brewing.  If you are interested in kombucha, which is a fermented tea, and new to me, go to  http://www.foodrenegade.com/how-to-brew-kombucha-double-fermentation-method/.

Mixing unique cocktails with different hand-made liquors like Elderflower or infusing vodkas with fruit is hitting the scene. Plants and liquor-a marriage made in heaven! Read The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart for recipes and inspiration

Drunken Botanist
Drunken Botanist

12. Sprouts & Micro Greens

Do you notice a trend here? Edibles aren’t new on the gardening scene, they are just taking over the gardening world. Sprouting set-ups are “sprouting” all over and every time you walk into a gardening supply store, you are knocking into one.

Sprouting seeds and microgreens from Botanical Interests
Sprouting seeds and microgreens from Botanical Interests

Micro greens are an “offshoot” of the sprouting scene and you have probably seen them on restaurant menus, garnishing sandwiches, salads and soups. Micro greens are juvenile vegetable seedlings that are between 7 and 14 days old that grow in soil. Sprouts are seeds that germinate in water and are about 48 hours old. Micro greens are harvested by cutting the plant off at the soil level. Arugula, mustard, pea, beets, cilantro are some micro greens now on the market with more to come. The nutrients contained in micro greens are four to six times more intense than the mature vegetable.

Rain barrel with edibles
Rain barrel with edibles

I am sure that you noticed that of the above movements, most of the options involved vegetable or edible gardening.  As a consequence, when vegetable gardeners speak, the gardening industry listens!

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