Monthly Archives: February 2015

Busy as Bees

Hive-KSOn our farm, we use the Langstroth hive design. Here is a picture, from Kelley Beekeeping Co., that shows the entire hive.  There are other types but this one is the easiest for honey production.  The two larger boxes on the bottom in the photo are brood chambers and the two shallower boxes on top are honey supers.  Inside each box is a series of 10 frames, each frame holds a sheet of foundation (or starter wax).  An example of a frame is shown sitting to the right of the hive in the picture.  In this example, there are forty frames, 10 in each box.  According to the strength of the hive, the beekeeper will stack more supers on top if the ones underneath are full of honey.  We’ve had hives that were so productive, they needed seven supers.  Each year, we have found ourselves needing more equipment and this year is no different.  We began with this style hive from Kelley eleven years ago, so that is where we have ordered from ever since.  The sizing is supposed to be universal, where every manufacturer builds to the same specs so you could have hive parts from anyone and they would all work interchangeably… in reality that is not true. Stick with what you start with, experience has proven that.

2015-02-07 13.10.32Equipment does not, however, come assembled.  Here is a picture of what you get.  (My personal kit is also shown in the picture with wood glue, extra nails, extra parts, and tools.)  The materials come with nails from the company, but not wood glue.  In addition to assembling the hive, its best if you paint the outside before you put it out in the weather.  So, beekeepers have to begin building these pieces long before they are needed… and they are often needed at a moments notice.

2015-02-07 17.21.18 2015-02-07 14.14.59 The first thing to put together are the boxes because then you have somewhere to put the frames as you build those.  Frames take a lot longer and are more tedious to build.  Boxes are a no brainer as you just fit and nail the dovetails together… with the handles on the outside!  Otherwise, your spouse may laugh for days and text everyone a photo asking, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

2015-02-07 14.17.24Once built, they need painted.  You don’t actually have to paint them, but the wood lasts a lot longer if you do by keeping moisture out.  Here is an example of some weathered boxes that were not previously  painted.  We use white exterior paint and at least three coats.  Why do most beekeepers paint them white?  It reflects heat, which is important in the South, and also for greater visibility when you are on a tractor, plus, it just looks clean.  Paint ONLY the outside.  The inside must remain unpainted.  That includes the box insides, and all the frames.

2015-02-07 17.22.51You may wonder why we would need hive equipment at a moments notice?  One answer… swarms!  A swarm is when a hive colony splits itself and half of the bees fly away to form a new colony.  When you find one, it is the equivalent of free bees!  Unless, of course, your own hive has swarmed, in which case it’s like your stock has split but if you don’t act quickly, half of your investment will simply disappear.  So we catch these swarms and place them in their own permanent hive.  Putting them in a “temporary” arrangement is not practical, and the bees are likely to get insulted and leave.  Trust me, it’s better to be prepared.  Another reason for having equipment ready, is for when a hive colony has filled their current supers with honey.  If you put another super on top, they will begin working on filling it.  If you don’t have a super for them and they have nothing to do, they can become aggressive as their efforts are now turned toward defending what they have.

Root : Shoot Ratio for Pecan Planting

In Georgia, January/February is the time to plant fruit and nut trees, and that is just what we did this past weekend.  We only plant a few trees each year due to cost.  Previously, we have driven to a nursery, picked out trees and brought them home in pots.  The past two years we have mail ordered them and amazingly have had better success.  It may surprise you to see just what arrives in the package, so I’m going to show you and also give you a few tips on what to do once they arrive.

saplingsbare rootThis year our package came via FedEx, and was 32 lbs.  The box was roughly the size of a small adult person, and contained four pecan trees, two walnut, one pomegranate (with massive roots, see left), three currant, two elderberry, twenty red raspberry, and one goji berry.  Yes, it was a tight fit.  The plants are shipped “bare root”, which means that the nursery dug them and washed all the dirt off the roots before shipping.  The box was lined with plastic and contained a gel like substance that held moisture.  The less time your plants spend in the box the better.  That’s why they are shipped FedEx and why you should be ready to plant when they arrive.  I was notified by email when mine shipped.  Photo to the right shows some of the smaller plants, which almost look too small to amount to anything.  Remember, they are currently dormant, so if you do your part, they should flourish into the plant you envisioned when you ordered.  Larger saplings are not always better to buy than smaller ones.  Smaller ones cost less, are easier to plant, are easier to train, and are naturally faster and more vigorous growers.

It is recommended that you soak the roots of these new bare root plants in water for an hour before you plant them.  Handle them gently and be careful of any small shoots.  It was easy to find buckets to soak the smaller ones, but the 4-5 foot trees needed something bigger.  I found a trash can for some, and the last few I just put their roots back in the box and filled the plastic liner with water, which surprisingly worked great. You could also use a heavy duty garbage bag.

root boxSpecific to pecan sapling planting, a portion of the tap root should be trimmed to invigorate the growth of the tree. The tap root is the largest root that grows straight down.  When you get a bare root tree, some of the root system is automatically lost from digging.  A proportionate amount needs to be cut from the shoot to keep a balance – also called root:shoot ratio.  Some websites recommend a drastic amount, but I feel safer with keeping it under one third.  This cut is not easy to do on a beautifully healthy and rather expensive tree!  Luckily, the pecans I got were already trimmed from the nursery.  When trimmed in this way, you can determine the top bud and choose one that faces the way you want.  Commercial growers choose one on the side facing the wind to counterbalance the natural force of the wind and grow straight.  The top bud will become the leader shoot.

Doug spent a lot of time digging and preparing the holes.  We have mostly clay here in Georgia, so we have to amend it every time we plant to help with drainage.  I’ve heard a saying about not planting a $30 tree in a 50 cent hole.  The better you prepare the site by digging a large hole and adding compost and worms the greater chance your tree has for surviving and thriving.   It’s a lot of work, but hopefully these trees will do well.  One black walnut is planted in memory of a local farmer, a dear friend and neighbor Luke Adams, who has recently passed away at the age of 91.  Black walnut wood is very fine and straight grained.  It is a beautiful hard wood that is used for making high quality furniture once the tree has finished producing the distinctive flavorful black walnuts that are loved by so many.

walnutThe tree in the photo to the left may not look like much right now, but planting a tree like this means that I can train it to grow the way I want it to grow.  I can determine the angle of the branches to help it be able to bear heavy loads of nuts.  Granted, it will be years from now, but you have to start sometime.  There is another old saying that the best time to plant a tree… ten years ago… the next best time is right now.