Digging up Grubs

Photo Mar 30, 4 09 14 PM

Enter Grubs dug from the overwintered veggie garden

Preparing the street beds for spring planting I first pulled the winter plants (kale, cilantro), hoed the weedlets, and mixed in complete organic fertilizer (COF). In 30 sqft of garden, I unearthed nearly 40 large grubs of varying designs.

Happy happy day for the hens.

Is there a professional or amateur entomologist out there who can help me identify these guys?  What do they eat? What do they become?

Posted in animal behaviour, bugs, chickens, pest control, spring, vegetable garden | Tagged | Leave a comment

Complete Organic Fertilizer

Photo Mar 05, 1 55 55 PM

Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF) a la Steve Solomon – and pretty!

If you’ve been following this blog you may have noticed my struggle with soil fertility.  The first few years of the garden were prolific.  I started with a yard that had been growing grass quite successfully for untold number of years.  I composted/removed the sod and mixed in topsoil and compost. In the intervening years I have amended my soil with cover crops, homegrown compost, commercial compost, and feather meal.

Most gardening books say to generously apply compost, amend pH, and all will be well. Still, most of my plants have shown a gradual decline in size and productivity over the years.

This winter, a climbing buddy reminded me of Steve Solomon and his book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. VERY IMPORTANTLY, Steve writes about the special challenges our soils face for growing veggies.  In general, our native soils are impoverished in P, leached of Ca by our abundant winter rainfall, but high in K. My own soil tests have repeatedly shown low N, high P, and very high K with a moderate pH.  These home tests do not measure other important nutrients like Ca, Mg, or the even more ‘trace’ essentials like S, Fe, Cu, Zn, Mn, B.

So this year I am trying Steve Solomon’s ‘Complete Organic Fertilizer’ (COF). Variations allow for adding different elements from different sources, but here is what I did (per 100 sqft):

N: 3 QT soybean seed meal + 1 QT feather meal

Ca: 1 PT agricultural lime (x2 for first few years)

Mg: 1 PT agricultural gypsum

P: 1 QT bonemeal

B: 2 t laundry Borax

Zn: 1.5 t ZnSO4

Cu: 1 t CuSO4

Mn: 1 PT kelp meal

Hopefully this combo, with some home compost, will do the trick! I am putting in a full batch of COF prior to planting, adding a small amount in transplant holes, and will side-dress hungry crops through the season.


Posted in rain, soil test, vegetable garden | Tagged , | 1 Comment

That Honey Looks a Little Funny…


Don’t the fine CO2 bubbles look like fungal hyphae??

So, flash forward several months after the honey harvest, and not only has the honey crystallized to an opaque creamy yellow, but threads of white appear to mar the surface of several jars.

I finally ask the Googles about it and despite ‘honey never spoils’, well, it turns out that it can!


Fine bubbles on the surface of the crystalized honey

I was very worried what I was seeing were fungal threads creeping around in the honey.  But no.  Nothing so drastic as that.  It was teeny tiny CO2 bubbles from fermentation!

Here is the deal: When bees have evaporated their processed nectar into ‘honey’, it usually contains <20% water. At that point they cover the cells with a wax cap – sealing the honey for later use.  Capped honey is usually ‘safe’ to harvest because of it’s low moisture content.  What that means is that any yeast present won’t have enough water to ferment the honey.  Hence, ‘honey never spoils’.

If the moisture content of the honey is higher than ‘normal’ – due to high nectar flow (not enough time for the bees to evaporate sufficiently before the cells are full and they cap it), or if the honey has time to absorb moisture from the air (as in wet weather during harvest or, say, taking several days to drain your honey), the naturally occurring yeast can begin to ferment the honey – turning the sugars into alcohol, acids, and CO2.


Water bath to melt the crystallized honey

Eventually, fermentation can give the honey unpleasant off-tastes.  The solution is to liquefy the honey and either pasteurize it to kill the yeast or chill it to slow the fermentation process.


Foam from fine CO2 bubbles in the liquefying honey

I placed the 3 pints of honey we had left into a water bath on the stove on ‘low’.  Slowly the crystals melted, the honey began to clear, and the tiny bubbles rose to the surface.  After a few hours of this the honey was completely clear with no more fine froth on the surface.  I let the honey come to room temperature on the counter, labeled it and stuck it in the freezer.


Fine CO2 bubbles slowly rising to the surface of the liquid honey


Liquid honey again – still some fine bubbles. I actually but the jars back in the water bath until the honey came out totally clear.

From now on, any honey we are not using in the next 3 mo is going in the freezer. Simple.

Posted in bees, harvest, honeybees, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Dead Bee Honey

Photo Nov 25, 10 41 26 AM

Raw honey extracted from the Italian hive this fall

Sooooo….our bees died.  Again.  Sadly, the first hive that expired was on us.  I have yet to make a decent lid for the hive.  So one stormy night, the lid blew off and water made its way into the hive.  The bees likely died of hypothermia from getting wet.  Ouch.

Irresponsible apiarists?  Yes.  Will I build lids this year?  Yes.

In the meantime, we decided to harvest the honey.  Although we have kept bees since 2013 we had yet to harvest any honey – preferring to leave it for the bees so they could build up their colony.

Honey is harvested differently from top bar hives compared to ‘traditional’ Langstroth hives.  In Langstroth, bees build comb within a wooden frame – often onto a ‘foundation’ of plastic.  In order the extract honey from a capped comb, the cap is scraped off, and the frames set into an extractor.  As the frames are spun within the extractor, honey is flung out of the opened cells by centrifugal force and the honey funneled down to a spigot where it is collected and processed.

Photo Nov 22, 4 33 15 PM

Scott ready to take a bite out of the honey comb

Top bar hives do not use foundation or even a frame.  Bees build comb down from a ‘top bar’. To extract honey, combs are simply cut off the bar and crushed.  At first we tried mashing the comb with a potato masher – but it soon became clear that the masher could not break every cell, so I switched to clean hands.

Photo Nov 22, 2 52 30 PM

Honey comb ready to crush

After every cell was broken, we filtered the honey through a fine mesh filter. For us, that was a paint strainer from the hardware store inside a metal colander over a bowl.  It’s a good idea to do this when the weather is warm so that the honey flows.  It was cool when we processed our honey and it took a few days of hanging to get the last good drops.

Photo Nov 22, 4 24 12 PM

Comb ready to crush in the mesh-lined colander

From there, we pretty much just scooped the honey into sterile glass jars!

Photo Nov 22, 5 06 00 PM

Honey pouring from the crushed comb

Sharing it with a few friends and family, we found the taste much stronger than ‘regular honey’.  This may be because it was raw.  Pasteurized honey will contain less interesting proteins than raw honey because of the temperature.  I personally find it also has the sweet-strong smell of fresh comb.  And it smells like HIVE on a warm day when the bees are fanning like crazy to evaporate their nectar into honey.

Photo Nov 25, 10 47 46 AM

Final haul of honey made by the Italian hive in 2015

Posted in bees, harvest, top bar hive | Tagged , | 2 Comments