Bees become active in the spring even as the very earliest flowers blossom. However, in zones 5b and colder, it’s best to wait until May to start new hives. A young colony will grow quickly when there’s plenty of food to gather nearby.
At then end of 2008, I vowed that Your Home Kitchen Garden would become an advocate for honey bees. In a recent post titled Home Kitchen Garden Beekeepers, I shared some of my childhood to encourage gardeners to become beekeepers. Since then, I had a conversation with my dad in which he agreed I could acquire some of his beehives and beekeeping gear.
I want to start a bee colony or two in my home kitchen garden in May. This means acquiring his gear, inspecting it and cleaning whatever is still usable, upgrading some parts to take advantage of improvement in bee culture over the past 30 years, and ordering bees so they arrive in early-to-mid May.
Before my dad decided to raise honey bees, he knew almost nothing about them. He picked up a book or two and read… as did my brother and I, and he got his hands on a catalog from a company called Dadant & Sons. During maple sugar season, he assembled hive bodies and frames from mail-ordered kits, following the directions that came with them. My dad wasn’t a professional carpenter, but he made the assembly look easy.
Nearly all of our beekeeping knowledge came from those books, and from asking questions of neighbors and friends (one of my dad’s work associates was a beekeeper). You have far greater advantages. There are far more books about beekeeping available today, there are more manufacturers and suppliers than ever, and the Internet provides ready access to dozens of useful sources—including enthusiastic beekeepers who are happy to answer questions.
Did you know that an apple will form even from an unpollenated blossom? Unpollenated apples are much smaller than pollinated apples. Interestingly, sometimes a bee pollinates only part of an apple. When that happens, the pollinated lobes grow large while the unpollinated lobes remain small; you get a rather strange-looking apple as a result. If you raise bees, chances are that food-producing plants in your neighborhood will produce better.
In my youth, the standout books about beekeeping were The Hive and the Honey Bee written by L.L. Langstroth, and The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture by AI Root and ER Root. Both books have been around long enough to become seriously out of date. However, recent updates make The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture completely relevant (revision 41). For kicks, an old copy of The Hive and the Honey Bee (most recent revision was in 1992) is still a good read, but I’d look to more modern publications for serious guidance.
When you commit to beekeeping, get The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture and consult it often. But to get started, choose a book specifically written for beginners. I’ve added a section on beekeeping to Your Home Kitchen Garden store where you’ll find several appropriate books to help you get started. Also, biggerbooks.com has a decent selection of books about beekeeping.
I’ve spent several hours in the past few weeks reviewing videos that give a clear understanding of basic beekeeping activities—and that reveal how simple beekeeping really is. I wanted a video that reviews the components of a modern beehive, that explains how to assemble the pieces, and that shows how to install a new package of bees. I couldn’t find one I like.
I did find several videos that, taken together, cover most of these topics reasonably well. The first, embedded here, is more of an advertisement for a beekeeping supply store than it is a robust do-it-yourself tutorial. Still, it shows a beehive unassembled so you have some idea of the parts you’ll need to nail together if you buy a kit through the mail.
Please have a look, and check back soon. In my next post, I’ll include a video showing the finer points of assembling components of a hive, and video in which a beekeeper installs a new shipment of bees into a fully-assembled hive.
I accidentally sprouted roots on a basil sprig, then planted it in a flower pot where it has grown very slowly this winter on a south-facing windowsill.
I’ve reported several times this winter about my answer to cold and snow: I have a small indoor home kitchen garden. That garden consists of two flower pots on a south-facing windowsill, and an occasional canning jar with fresh, young sprouts for salads and breads (I wrote about the sprouts in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog).
In my last post, I reported that I found box elder bugs wintering over in my indoor herb pots. This morning, when I went to water my herbs, I made another unexpected discovery: My basil is in bloom!
In October I had put some sprigs of basil in water to hold them after the first killing frost. Those sprigs happened to put out roots. I planted one of the rooted sprigs in a flower pot.
The basil has grown poorly. It got too little light, and the soil was too cool on the windowsill. Oh, and when I took vacation one week, the basil got miserably overwatered, resulting in a massive setback for the plant. Still, this morning I found three tiny basil flowers.
It was a great reminder of the coming springtime. I’m so jonesing to plant vegetables.
I planted cilantro in a pot and set it in a south-facing window. I added a grow light, but did nothing to push back the cold from the window. Outdoors in summer, these plants would be at least shin high. The cold windowsill has slowed their growth; they aren’t even ankle-high.
My home kitchen garden just emerged from the ice pack that has covered it for more than a month. Even with the snow gone, the soil is frozen nearly rock-hard. That’s good, because February shouldn’t be a gardening month in central Pennsylvania… unless you grow things indoors.
In the doldrums of early winter, I grow a few things indoors. This winter, I planted a flower pot with cilantro seeds, and a healthy but small crop of the herb is growing on my basement windowsill. I also planted a sprig of basil that had rooted when I set a bouquet of it in water on my dining room table just before the first frost of autumn (I wrote about it in Your Small Kitchen Garden blog).
The bottom line: I’ve been a lousy gardener this winter. I put my meager plantings on a south-facing windowsill, which, I’ve explained in other posts (in Your in-Home Kitchen Garden, for example), is a lousy place for plants in the winter—unless you’ve provided extra light and heat. The winter sun isn’t enough for most vegetable plants, and 65 degrees Fahrenheit makes for slow growth; a central Pennsylvania windowsill in winter tends to run much lower than 65 degrees.
I did put a plant light over the herb pots, but the plants must think it’s early spring; they haven’t grown quickly in the cool air on the windowsill. Were I to harvest cilantro now, I’m afraid I’d kill the plants. That’s OK because I know they’ll grow faster as the days warm. In the meantime, my in-home herb garden has taken on new life: several box elder bugs lurk among its leaves.
Box elder bugs were news to me when I moved to rural Pennsylvania; growing up in upstate New York, I’d never seen nor heard of these critters. However, during my first autumn in Lewisburg, I’d see hundreds of box elder bugs gather on the front of my house where the sun hit in the late afternoon. A few of them got inside each time we opened the door.
The box elder bugs that decided to winter over in my house have found their ways to my cilantro pot. It feels more like a home kitchen garden now that it has bugs.
Living in apartment buildings in Boston, I found cockroaches amazingly unpleasant. However, I quickly became indifferent toward box elder bugs. The few that winter over in my house ignore my food stores, they don’t reproduce in the house, and they don’t scurry into dark spaces whenever I turn on a light. In fact, I rarely see them—and I never see traces of them, though occasionally one flies by or crawls down a lampshade.
I guess the box elder bugs in my house are as fed up with winter as I am. I’m impressed that they’ve found the few food plants I’m growing, and I’m letting them stay. My indoor herb garden feels more like a seasonal outdoor garden now that it has insect critters scurrying about in its leaves.
Please enjoy these other articles about growing herbs:
SCHWOIT » Blog Archive » Easy To Grow Herbs – Gardening and … – Today I have decided to write about some of the easiest to grow plants in our garden. They are Chives, Ku Chai (Garlic Chives), and Sweet Basil. The two forms of chives are great chopped up finely in a salad. …
How To easily Grow Herbs | Gardening In Our Backyard Garden – How To easily Grow Herbs. 09 Feb. Posted by Webmann as gardening · Growing herbs can be an easy process and the results can be used to add flavor to meals, make soothing and relaxing teas or for making fragrant sachets, potpourri, …
When a beehive gets crowded, the queen departs with several tens of thousands of workers. We spotted this swarm clumped on the trunk of a young spruce tree and installed it into one of our working hives.
In a recent guest post on the Northwest Garden Show blog, I suggested that if you have a Home Kitchen Garden, perhaps you should take up beekeeping. With our honeybee population beleaguered by Colony Collapse Disorder, foul brood, wax moths, and mites, every gardener should be concerned.
Please at least employ gardening practices that encourage pollinators and that protect them from harm. This means eliminating chemicals from your gardening activity, or learning to apply them so they present the least possible danger to pollinators. It means growing a variety of plants that produce flowers in all seasons. It means going easy on weeds that provide pollen and nectar to bees. It means letting your herbs and vegetables flower even when you’re done with them. It means providing places in your garden that provide shelter from wind and rain. And it means leaving dead spent vegetable plants to die, dry, and winter over in your garden. (I’ll expand on these suggestions in a later post.)
That’s my dad to your left, and me to your right. Yes, those are 1970s-era bell-bottom denim pants. It’s a pain to stuff bell bottoms into your socks. The white box to my dad’s right is a bee hive, probably newly-started with mail-order bees only a few weeks earlier.
Becoming a beekeeper is the most outrageous suggestion I made in that guest post. Honestly, it’s not all that outrageous a suggestion. Preparing for a honeybee colony requires a bit of do-it-yourself savvy, but an active bee hive requires far less attention than a housedog. And, while your bees won’t be nearly as cuddly as a dog, learning about how bees behave and getting to know their idiosyncrasies is both entertaining and satisfying. What’s more, with surprisingly little effort, even one bee hive can return many quarts of honey in a season.
When I was in my teens, my brother convinced my dad it would be a good idea to raise bees—though I think we called it raising honey. Being mildly allergic to bee stings, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, and I was kind of detached as my dad received beekeeping equipment via mail-order (close to 20 years before the Internet happened), and assembled bee hives in our living room.
When I learned that bees would arrive in the mail, and somehow end up in the boxes my dad built, I started to take notice. Once his beekeeping operation was in full-swing, I was hooked: those critters were fascinating. I enjoyed working the bees, and I enjoyed reading about bee culture.
In coming months we’ll explore the honey-raising experience. I’ll share some memories, and we’ll look at modern beekeeping methods. Right now I want to tell you about capturing a swarm. The story touches on several details of bee culture that we’ll explore in-depth in upcoming posts.
Once the queen bee finds her way into the bees’ new home, some worker bees face the entrance and jut their rear ends into the air. The swarm flows like liquid into the hive’s entrance. The entrance here is in the middle of the bees, and you see some order in the bees’ alignment.
Bees swarm when their hive gets crowded: they manufacture some new queen bees, and the existing queen leaves the hive along with a whole bunch of worker bees. Oddly, it seems the bees leave the hive before they’ve decided where to go.
This swarm lands somewhere—often not far from the original hive—while various scouts search for a new home. The attentive beekeeper can capture the resting swarm and install it in an empty hive box. Amazingly, you can also install a swarm into a hive that already holds an active colony; the bees will get along (don’t just dump a swarm into an active hive; there are steps to take to ensure a hive’s workers accepts the new bees); the photos in this post are of a swarm that we added to an established hive.
Early in our beekeeping days, we found a swarm on the trunk of a small tree near our hive boxes. Capturing the swarm was simple: we cut the tree off near the ground (we had to run the saw through the ball of bees, but they obligingly moved out of the way), shook the bees off onto the top of an open hive box, and watched the bees move into the box. It was that easy… and watching them was very cool; I saw this phenomenon many times during our beekeeping years. It goes like this:
For a few minutes, there’s a blob of bees writhing around on—or in front of—the hive box. (Sometimes we’d stretch a bed sheet in front of the hive and dump the bees on the sheet. The bees found their ways into the front of the hive box.) Naturally, some bees wander into the box. Scan the swarm carefully and you might spot the queen bee; her attendants will eventually usher her inside.
Bees who know where the queen is, stand in place pointing in her direction. Other bees fall into line also pointing toward the queen. (To point, the bees face the Queen and extend their butts upward.) Soon, the bulk of the swarm is streaming into the hive past several dozen or hundred pointing bees. Finally, even the pointer bees head into the hive.
Seeing a swarm communicate so rapidly and effectively gave me a lot of respect for them. These and other bee behaviors were truly awe-inspiring, and I never got tired of seeing bees in action.
I’ll continue to encourage you to raise bees, and I’m looking forward to the day when I establish hives in my own home kitchen garden. I hope you’ll come back here to share your experiences as you get started with your own hives.