Tomato trellis 2014

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Tomato start making its first loop of the twine support

What is the best way to grow tomatoes? The answer will partly depend on the variety grown and partly on the climate, but I think the descriptor ‘vines’ is part of the answer.

Every garden year I challenge myself with the best physical support for tomato vines. I have tried allowing them to sprawl, inverted ring cages, box cages, pruning, and leader support.

This year I will prune my tomato vines to a single leader and train them up a single vertical support.

I used this method in 2009 and it was very successful until the plants grew too heavy for the bamboo frame that I built.

For better support, I am following the method detailed by Ed Smith in The Vegetable Gardeners Bible.

You will need:

  • 2×2 lumber for vertical posts and horizontal supports (preferably cedar)
  • Long nails (I used 3″)
  • Drill with bit equivalent to width of nails
  • A level is useful
  1. Drive a 2×2 into the soil every <8′ along your tomato row [we used 8' 2x2s pounded down 3' with a sledgehammer]. Try to keep the post level.
  2. Drill a 1.5″ into the top of each post.
  3. Measure the distance between posts
  4. Determine where the horizontal 2x2s will sit on the posts and where they will overlap
  5. Notch the ends of horizontal supports that will meet atop posts
  6. Drill through the ends of posts where they will sit atop the posts
  7. Insert nails through horizontal supports and secure to posts
  8. Drop a line of twine from the horizontal support and firmly attach to a spike embedded near the base of each tomato plant
  9. As each plant grows, trim the lateral spurs and loop around the twine.
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3″ nail inserted into end of horizontal support and top of vertical support

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Detail of overlap between two horizontal supports at a vertical post

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Bad picture of the completed trellis system with twine anchored at base of each plant

Posted in DIY, tomatoes, vegetable garden | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Definitely Dead

Dead bees clustered around the Queen on top bar 10 of the Carniolan Hive

Dead bees clustered around the Queen on top bar 10 of the Carniolan Hive

The Carny hive, suspected of demise (and then a spark of hope), is now, finally, dead.

Here is what I found:

Of 23 top bars drawn out with comb, bars 13-19 were heavy with honey. Dead bees littered the floor below bars 3-12. The Queen Bee was found on bar 10, surrounded by her attendants, all eerily still. There was a tight cluster of capped brood next to the Queen, adjacent empty cells with anywhere from 2-6 eggs per cell. Worker bees were found clinging to comb and head-first in cells, most densely around the Queen comb. Many more dead were found layers deep on the hive floor. There was no honey in bars 1-13, only capped brood and some pollen cells.

Did this hive starve to death? Were the honey combs at bars 13-19 just too far from the brood chamber as winter drew to a close? I vaguely recall a recommendation to move honey comb to the front of the hive late in winter. This could be our novice fault. :( It seems reasonable that the cold snap in February could have weakened the hive, killing off the brood we saw on Feb 13, but the Queen kept laying, and while trying to build up their numbers, they starved to death… This was also the hive that suffered an intial setback resulting in loss of its first honey stores. Plus the open window found in December. These could all have played a role…

I have decided to utilize the diagnostic services provided by the APIS Molecular Systematics lab at Washington State University. If I send them up to 1 c. of bees in isopropoyl alcohol, they will check for incidence and prevalence of common diseases, including nosema, varroa mites, and tracheal mites. I will report back on the findings.

In the meantime, tulips are blooming, the Italians are going strong, and spring is (hopefully) here to stay. It is the best time of year, full of hope and promise for the new year.

Posted in bees, spring, top bar hive | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Hive Alive!

Italian honey bee with pollen packet on the pussy willow tree

Italian honey bee with pollen packet on the pussy willow tree

It’s still too chilly out to do a full hive inspection, but experienced beekeepers are easing our fears of calamitous collapse in our Carniolan hive. Last week when I wrote to Christine, our neighbourhood beek captain, she immediately assuaged my fears with the following:

The mold in itself is not unusual, since during winter the bees often are in a tight cluster staying warm and can not attend to housekeeping chores in other parts of the hive. As soon as things warm up and numbers increase they will start spring cleaning. The same is true for the dead bees.

The moisture in the bottom of the hive is also not unusual. It might be from a leaky roof, but it might also just be condensation from the bees keeping it warm inside.

The key is if you have a cluster of bees, and esp. if you have a queen. It sounds like you had a queen until recently, based on your observation of larva (dead). It is not unusual for a batch of larva to perish due to a cold snap.

Italian honey bee collecting nectar and pollen from the first crocus blooms

Italian honey bee collecting nectar and pollen from the first crocus blooms

The last few sunny days, as the Italian hive was buzzing both inside and out, we saw a very small but steady stream of Carni bees emerging from the Carni hive. Today, Christine came by for a quick peek. Towards the front of the hive we found ample honey stores and many more bees than we expected. We also saw Carnis returning to their hive with loads of bright yellow pollen. The next time it’s 60+ F and we can get in there, we will do a full hive inspection and see whether we still have a laying queen. Until then, we rest easier knowing there is nothing terribly unusual or disastrous transpiring. Whew!

Anybody else suffer a loss this winter?

Italian honey bees on the flowers of our pussy willow tree

Italian honey bees on the flowers of our pussy willow tree

Posted in bees, honeybees, top bar hive, winter | Tagged | Leave a comment

A cry for honeybee help

Moldy bees stuck to hive

Moldy bees stuck to hive

Moldy bee at top of comb (bar upside down for inspection)

Moldy bee at top of comb (bar upside down for inspection)

Water pool on hive bottom with dead bees

Water pool on hive bottom with dead bees

Dead bees amid some sort of dusty particles

Dead bees amid some sort of dusty particles

Live bees working at honey cells at the top of a comb near the hive entrance

Live bees working at honey cells at the top of a comb near the hive entrance

Brood comb with pasty (dead) bee larvae

Brood comb with pasty (dead) bee larvae


What do you do with dead bees? I don’t mean the steady trickle of bees who have lived out their useful lives. I mean couches of bees in fungal shrouds. The ‘uh-oh, my bees are dying’ kind of dead bees.

We had a brutal week of sub-zero weather followed by warmer weather with buckets and buckets of water falling from the sky. Today was mild and sunny and, though windy, the Italians were out sunning themselves. The Carniolans, on the other hive, were dreadfully silent.

Looking at the hive entrance: One or two bees flying out. Looking through the observation window: Handfuls of dead bees on the hive floor. So, without even gearing up, we went in. There were bees in there, but orders of magnitude fewer than we expect (i.e. 100s instead of 10s of 1000s). And the newest comb, furthest from the brood chamber, carried dead bees married to the comb by puffy fungal threads.

Ruh-roh. Newest comb empty since summer. A few bars in, recently capped honey in the middle of the comb, but with dead bees below and within cells. In the middle of the hive, dead bees in what appeared to be a pool of water towards the broken window. At the back of the brood chamber, we found white larvae curled inside honeycomb cells, but rather than glistening white, the larvae were pasty white – possibly dried out – probably dead. Other cells appeared to contain putrescence.

As the sun was moving on towards the Pacific we closed the hive back up to try to figure out what the heck to do next. Is the hive dead? Did the bees die because water got in past my crappy lids and broken window, challenging the already-damp conditions? Do we sacrifice the moldy combs, contract the hive, and see if it can recover? How do we dispose of the dead bees (in case they are diseased)? Can we eat the honey in the capped cells even if there is mold present on parts of the comb (where dead bees are)? We could seriously use some advice.

Posted in bees, Fungi, honeybees, rain, top bar hive, winter | Tagged , | 8 Comments