Bee Swarm at the Garden!
By Carter DeJong
Spring has sprung and the bees at Unity Gardens have begun working hard to bring you Honey from the Hood and your favorite beeswax candles and hand-balms. Recently, our bees have been “swarming”. This occurs when the space inside the hive becomes too limited for the bees and they must find a more suitable area to live.
To initiate a swarm, the older queen will leave the hive with about 50 to 60 percent of the worker bees so that they can start a new hive. They will gather at a nearby area to swarm. In this case it was an apple tree branch in the garden. Next, scout bees will be sent to search for a suitable place for a new hive. Once the drone bees report back, the queen will then lead them to the new area.
Swarming is also the primary method bees use to reproduce. While swarming, the bees are not very aggressive as they are not defending their hive and they are full of honey.
In the picture shown above, our beekeeper, Tim Ives of Ives Hives, looks for queen bees that can be used to start new hives. From this particular swarm, Tim found five or six queens.
All of the bees at Unity Gardens are raised without giving them any sugar. Tim’s method involves leaving enough honey for the bees to eat so that they do not need to be fed anything else. Most commercial beekeepers feed their bees sugar so that they can get more honey from them. Unity Gardens Honey from the Hood is made completely naturally and is not pasteurized. Currently it is available in three flavors: fall blend, raspberry blossom, and the award winning South Bend Wildflower. Honey from the Hood is sold at the South Bend and Mishawaka farmers markets.
Its January in Indiana and you are snowed in. What do you do? Well, if you love gardening, it's a great time to study seed catalogs. There are some things to think about when buying seeds: Heirloom vs Hybrid, Organic vs Non-Organic and of course GMO's. Here are some informational tips:
Sometimes I find myself doing tasks in the winter that would have been much easier in the summer. Cleaning trays is one of them. It is just like leaving dirty laundry on the floor. You would not have to go back for it if you had put it in the hamper in the first place.
Ok, back to real life. It is great to recycle old seed starting trays, but they need to be sterile. Old trays can harbor pathogens that can dampen off young seedlings.
Here is what you "should" do.
After you use the trays initially and transplant seedlings into your garden, clean your trays using the following steps:
1. Shake out loose dirt.
2. Rinse off with garden hose.
3. Wash with 10% bleach solution or soapy water.
(some gardeners soak trays in a tote or kiddie pool of bleach water)
5. Let trays completely dry in the sun.
6. Store in plastic garbage bags until ready to use.
Whenever you choose to clean your trays, your seedlings will be glad you did.
Pruning has never been one of my favorite things. I am always afraid of doing permanent damage. In reality, apple trees are tough and very forgiving. The best start to pruning is good-quality sharp and sterile pruning tools. Hand held bypass pruners, long handle lopping shears, and a pruning saw are some great ones. A good tip: if you have a battery powered reciprocating saw, it will do the job on branches that are too big for the loppers. When cutting, you want a clean cut without smashing the wood.
When to Prune Apple Trees
Summer pruning of apples helps encourage fruiting and flowering, but winter pruning is essential for controlling shape and vigor. Winter pruning starts when the trees go dormant and lasts until early spring before they start to bud.
1. Remove the 3 "D's".
That’s diseased, dying and dead wood. If the wood shows obvious signs of any malady, amputate it. Make the cut into healthy wood to ensure the problem doesn’t spread.
2. Remove crossing branches.
If two branches cross, they will rub away the bark and potentially provide an entry point for disease. They will also make it harder for air to circulate, and make harvesting more awkward. Try to imagine how the branches will look when weighed down with leaves and fruits; will they rub against a branch below? If you spot two branches that are likely to cross in the future, prune one of them out now. It’s an easier job to make these cuts while they’re still small. Think of any inward-pointing branches as crossing ones, and remove.
3. Make the biggest cuts first.
You can spend an awful lot of time removing a small dead twig here and a spindly inward-turning shoot there, but when thinking about removing a small branch it’s a good idea to trace it back to the trunk to see if there are other problems. You might find that it crosses with another further back and that it, therefore, should be cut out closer to the trunk.
4. Make clean cuts.
Use clean, sharp pruning tools. If you’re doing a lot of pruning you may need to stop occasionally and re-sharpen the blade. High-quality tools will retain an edge for much longer. Always cut just-above a healthy outward-facing bud. This is where next year’s growth will spring from. If you need to remove a whole branch, make your cut close to – but not into – the main branch or trunk. Look for the raised ‘collar’ where the branch joins and cut flush with that.
When using a saw to prune larger branches, first make a shallow undercut before sawing through from above. That way if the branch breaks off as you’re cutting it, it won’t rip off a long section of the tree’s protective bark.
Prune very thick or long limbs in sections. It may seem like more work but it’s much safer, and it’s less likely to cause damage if the branch breaks under its own weight as you’re cutting.
5. Take your time.
Keep stepping back and checking the overall shape of the canopy to make sure it looks balanced before making your next cut. A little change in perspective can make a big difference!
Indoor seed starting is a great way to get a head start on your Spring gardening. It can also bring lots of frustration with leggy plants, poor root systems, bad germination, and damping off. I have a few tips that have helped me become a master at indoor seed starting.
1. Order good quality seeds, store in cool dry place.
2. Don't jump the gun and plant to early. This results in plants that are root bound, leggy, and too big for transplant. Know our last frost date ( I go with May 15th ) and read the seed packet to see how many weeks before that to start seeds. or find a nice chart with planting dates.
3. Use a good quality I use Promix it works great for me you can find it a many professional growing stores.
4. Use new or clean seed starting trays. If you reuse old trays clean them well with bleach water and let them dry before using. This will insure any residual fungus is removed from previous growth.
5. Seeds germinate best in warm soil. A seed starting heating mat .
6. I like good quality seed trays. I like the with 3 inch deep cells. Also good heavy duty seed bottom trays. Also clear plastic seed tray covers.
Lets get started.
1. Fill seed tray cells to top with soil. Crush up and large soil chunks.
2. place seeds in cells at depth recommended on seed pack.
3. fill bottom tray 1/4 to 1/2 full with very hot water from sink. This will take a little trial and error depending on size of cells and type of soil you want the water to wick up to top of cell and keep seeds moist until they sprout. Hot water at first will speed up germination.
4. Put on heat mat, and cover with plastic dome to keep moisture & heat in
5. Pull cover off as soon as seedlings appear.
6. Key to healthy seedlings is to always water from bottom. Let bottom tray dry out before watering, then do not over water. Water enough in bottom to soak part way up soil, keep top of soil dry. Make sure tray is level so it gets watered evenly.
7. Light on new seedlings is important. If using grow lights 16 to 18 hours. If using window light try to get as much light as possible and rotate tray so it gets even light.
If your are missing being out in the garden here is something fun to do that keeps you in touch with your green thumb. Even though the the ground is frozen you can get an early start on your garden. When I first heard of Winter Seed Sowing it was pretty simple. You wait until early January to do this. You take a old Kiddie pool poke some holes in the bottom, fill the bottom with about 2" of soil throw some old leftover seeds in water, and cover with clear plastic. You leave it out in the back yard and the concept is after freezing the seeds will come up when they are supposed to. I have done it for fun in the past and it worked Ok for what it was. This year I am going to be a little more organized in the way I do my winter seed sowing. I am using milk jugs as mini greenhouses to sow in. As a rule of thumb you can do this with any seed that will grow in your zone. sometimes seeds can also sprout during some freak warm spell between weeks of frigid conditions. This is not a problem for perennials and hardy annuals. But if this happens to tender annuals you may need to cover them with a blanket on chilly nights. Hardy plants to sow in January and February are perennials and vegetables like Spinach,Kale,Brussels sprouts, Peas, Broccoli, Thyme, Sage, Oregano, and Cilantro. In March
Tender Annuals, Vegetables & Herbs Lettuce, Bok Choy, Beets, Carrots, Basil,and Parsley. In April Tomatoes, Eggplant and Peppers. Check out these simple instructions below. Use good weed free soil, and once the plants are large enough take them apart and transplant into your garden.
This is the time of the year that our ever peaceful Honey Bees take a bad wrap for their not so friendly cousins the Yellowjacket Wasp. There are some very clear differences to look for.
Yellowjacket Wasps are skinny and shiny (no noticeable hairs). Eat other insects (soft bodied caterpillars, and spiders) and are beneficial predators. Wasps are carnivores and may be attracted to meat at your picnic. They also are attracted to sweet soft drinks.
Honey Bees are fatter, and appear fuzzy or hairy. Bees eat pollen and nectar from flowers and are beneficial pollinators. Bees do not eat meat and are not attracted to your picnic. They generally are not attracted to soft drinks
Yellowjackets are one type of wasp.
They live in a social colony and the nest looks like a greyish paper carton.
Yellowjackets usually nest underground in an abandoned rodent burrow and are readily seen flying in and out, especially if you run your lawn mower over the opening of the nest. If they are living in the wall of a house, you will not see the paper nest, but you will see them flying in and out.
Yellowjackets have an annual colony, meaning the entire colony of wasps will die off after two hard frosts. Colony populations will range from a few dozen to a few hundred individuals. Only new queens survive the winter by hibernating underground. The queens will establish new nests in spring and will not reuse the old paper nest.
Yellowjackets have a smooth stinger, which means they can sting multiple times, and do not die after stinging. There is no stinger left behind at the stinging site.
Yellowjackets do not produce or store honey
Honey bees are one type of bee. They are orange-yellow, gray or brown and black banded, and fuzzy. They are also social and the nest is constructed of beeswax.
Honey bees nest in a beehive, a cavity of a tree, or sometimes in the wall of a house, where they can be seen flying in and out. They do not nest in a hole in the ground.
Honey bees form perennial colonies, meaning the entire colony of bees can survive the winter, clustering in the nest and producing heat by consuming stored honey. Honey bee colonies have much larger populations, often approaching 30,000+ individuals at the height of the summer season. Honey bees can sting only once and die after stinging. The stinger and poison sac are often seen left in the skin at the sting site.
Honey bees are the only type of bee that collects large amounts of nectar and pollen from flowers to store in the nest, to use as food during the colder times of the year.
So do Honey bees or Yellowjackets in your home?
If you have yellowjackets, rest assured they will be gone after two hard frosts. If they are not bothering you, ask yourself if you can live with them and appreciate them as beneficial predators. If you cannot live with them, you may need to exterminate them. If it is late summer or fall, keep in mind the colony has been growing there all season, and if they have not bothered you, they likely won’t start. If you have a honey bee colony nesting in the wall of your house, ask yourself if you can live with them and appreciate that they are beneficial pollinators. If you cannot live with them, you will need to try to locate a willing beekeeper and contractor for removal options. In most cases, there is no easy or inexpensive solution to removing a honey bee colony from a house, as de-construction is necessary to open up the wall cavity to remove the bees and wax combs. If it has been determined that the honey bees must be removed, the best time to do so is often in late winter or early spring. The reason for this is that by that time of the year, the bee population is often at its lowest point, meaning fewer bees to deal with. Also, much of the stored honey will have been consumed by the bees over winter, so there will be less honey in the combs to deal with. Often the bee colony will die over the winter, usually due to insufficient population to maintain adequate temperature for the bees to survive; insufficient reserves of honey, so the colony starves to death over winter; or the colony succumbs to parasitic mites. In all of these cases, it is much easier to deal with the remaining bee less combs, as the bees will have perished, making removal much easier (no stinging insects to protect the nest!).
It is not a good idea to just plug the entrance hole of an active honey bee colony in this type of situation. Once the bees can’t get out and die in the wall, there will no longer be temperature regulation of the nest cavity. This in time may result in the melting of the honey comb, and the leakage of honey down into the wall, which will attract other insects and possibly rodents. There will also be developing brood or baby bees in the comb which will also die, leading to bad odors and attraction of other scavenger insects and pests.
Some tips to keep Yellowjackets away from you house or picnic. Don't leave rotten fruit or meat outside. Keep garbage can lids on and keep cans clean inside and out, and bag garbage. Wipe down picnic tables after eating on them so Yellowjackets are not attracted to them.
For years " Gardening 101 " meant Rototill your garden, rake it out, plant rows of your favorite vegetables. The next year repeat the same thing all over again. Farmers do the same thing on a larger scale. As urban area grew we removed the native flora and replaced it with grass which in my book has no value to our ecosystem but its pretty. We cut down native trees and imported flowering trees from other countries that just did not belong. The result was a shift in the balance of our ecosystem. Native trees and wildflowers host beneficial insects. What are beneficial insects ? Lets start with insects in general 99% of all insects are not bad for us or our garden. Even spiders play a role in protecting your home and garden from invaders. A small amount of insects are damaging to our gardens and they in general focus on just one type of plant. In other words squash bugs love plants in the squash family, but you won't see them on tomatoes or anything else. Many of the other 99% of the insects are what we call beneficial's. In other words they feed on the bad bugs. So each time we use any pesticide be it conventional or organic you run the risk of killing as many beneficial's as you do the bad bugs. The use of pesticides and the stripping down of native habitats with grass and parking lots has reduced the population of beneficial's.
These beneficial's need the same things we do to survive air, food, water, and shelter. Native plants so its time to think about creating a balanced urban ecosystem, and of course we can only hope farmers do the same. The good news is that more and more farmers are.
First off it is a little complex but well worth it. There will be some pain as you make the change. First of all you are going to have to trust the plan. Early on you will be hand picking bugs off and maybe suffering more crop damage then you are comfortable with. Remember those bad bugs are also part of what attracts the good bugs to the garden. Oh which brings up another point you have to learn to live with some of those bad guys because they are food for the good guys, but trust me the population will be low.
Lets get started by remembering your yard and garden are one big ecosystem what you do in your yard affects your garden.
1. Plan on planting 25%or more of your yard in native wildflowers, trees and shrubs. Native our best because the are already adapted to the area, which means less water, and fertilizer. These plants will provide food for the beneficial's in the form of pollen and nectar. Many of the non native plants have been bred for showiness but they provide less pollen and nectar. The key is to make sure to have something blooming all season long. This takes some planning. A couple great places to start are Cardno/JFNew and the Xerces Society Its worth downloading this Fact Sheet from the Xerces Society
2. Don't clean-up too much. Mulch, brush, and leaf litter are great places for beneficial's to hang out so maybe leave a brush pile around, and some leaves. Many insects make their homes in the soil so some bare patches of loose soil will also help.
3. Provide water. Take a bird bath fill it with sand and rocks and keep it full of water so the sand and rocks stay wet. Create some areas where water can pool.
4. Make a shelter. This can be done in several ways. Build a insect hotel this can be done with materials you find even pallets. Its all about building nooks and crannies for insects to live.
So as you start planning your Spring start making some long lasting changes, start building your own Urban Ecosystem.
After our Beekeeper won the 1st place at the State Beekeeping Competition I ask Tim so what's next ? He said " Nationals on Baton Rouge but I can't afford to go" At that point I decided we need to get Tim to nationals. Not just because we have awesome to represent South Bend with, but Tim is a special kind of Beekeeper and really needed to go. So I decided to run a fundraiser, and 53 wonderful people donated enough money for Tim to go to Nationals. Better yet thanks to a donation by a local company Lebermuth and a little budgeting we were able to take Steve with Peace Bees who teaches our beekeeping classes. The trip to Baton Rouge started off a little scary because we started driving on the first day of the monster snow storm, and were worried we would not make it in time to enter our Honey from the Hood in the competition. But after one day of crazy driving conditions, and one nice day we made it.
Hi my name is Mitch I am the Unity Garden Manager. I am a Purdue Master Gardener, and teach many of the gardening classes. I also manage the LaSalle Square Garden, and maintain the website, blog and newletter