Yesterday, after I’d fed and watered the chickens, I grabbed a two-gallon bucket and a ladder to pick some apricots for canning. But my morning didn’t go as planned when I spotted a cloud of bees swarming in the very fruit tree I was preparing to climb into. Nothing like a honeybee swarm to make you switch tasks in a hurry.

 

Honeybees clustered around the queen in a swarm

Honeybees clustered around the queen in a swarm

 

 

There’s a centuries-old saying among beekeepers: A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay . . . a swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon . . . a swarm of bees in July ain’t worth a fly. My beekeeper neighbor says simply, “A swarm in July . . . bye bye.” The rhyme echoed in my brain. Even early July? Should I try to save them? I donned my beekeeper suit and gathered together the items I would need for the rescue.

 

Ironically, in late winter I had hung a swarm catcher in the tree next to the swarm. A swarm catcher makes it easy to hive the bees since they are all inside the bucket-shaped unit with a small hole on one side and a large covered opening on the other. They go inside and you dump the bees into the hive box. I’ve had three swarms this year and not one of them went into the swarm catcher despite me putting attractant (a type of scented oil) in the vial inside the unit. Go figure!

 

Yesterday’s swarm wasn’t as big as the two I captured in May and June. I’m not even sure if I could save this one, but trying was better than losing them. I decided to help the small population along but putting into their hive some frames of comb and honey.

 

A swarm at this time of year (approaching the end of swarming season) will require extra food if the bees are to make it through autumn when they kick out the drones and then winter when their food and nectar sources become scarce.

 

Lavender and sunflowers are beloved by bees

Lavender and sunflowers are beloved by bees

 

 

I draw hope from the fact that August in the Bay Area brings blooms to certain species of eucalyptus and also star thistle. My bees also have access to lots of lavender. I have planted several types of it around my farmette.

 

 

 

Giant sunflowers in bloom

Giant sunflowers in bloom in dinner-plate size

 

 

The sunflowers in my garden are blooming now and will (thanks to consecutive planting) over the next several weeks. And I’ve got two raised beds designated as bee gardens full of blooming flowers and herbs like borage that attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

 

 

It remains to be seen if this July swarm will have any worth at all. I think they’re going to need a lot of help. That means keeping my eyes on them as I take care of my chickens and keep the summer canning going.

 

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

If you enjoy reading about the workings of an urban farmette and also appreciate a good, clean mystery, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries–A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES.  I also write wellness and spirituality books–SACRED TRAVELS (soon to be updated to include color images), RITUALS FOR LIFE, and MY POCKET MEDITATIONS.

 

All my books are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other traditional and online bookstores everywhere.

 

 

All available online and in bookstores everywhere

Meera’s mystery series

 

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

Anyone can find peace, clarity, and focus...all it takes is a moment

Anyone can find peace, clarity, and focus…all it takes is a moment

 

 

 

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Plant for the Pollinators

Author: Meera, June 20, 2017

I seldom need an occasion to put in another bed of flowers, but this is National Pollinator Week. I think a new bed is in order to attract local bees, birds, bats, and butterflies–all considered pollinators. Having these small creatures around benefits landscapes, gardens, and orchards.

 

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

 

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has noted that over 75 percent of our plants are pollinated by birds, animals, and insects. We can help ensure these creatures will be around for a long time if we restore their habitats and ensure they have food and water.

 

 

 

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

 

 

 

There are many lovely plants you can grow that don’t require a lot of care.

 

 

 

  • lavender
  • bee balm
  • echinacea
  • sage
  • cilantro
  • thyme
  • sunflowers
  • sweet alyssum
  • anemone
  • borage
  • geraniums
  • scented pelargoniums
  • mint

 

The florets are falling off and the seeds have formed on this giant sunflower head

Sunflowers are a favorite of bees and the seeds are loved by squirrels and birds

 

 

 

 

A tapestry of colorful herbs and flowers beautifies your landscape and pollinators love the diversity. If you don’t have a lot of space, grow some of these plants in planter boxes, clay pots, or other types of containers.

 

Robins drinking from a pottery saucer

Robins drinking from a pottery saucer

 

 

 

Put in a water feature, too, such as a table-top or larger fountain that recycles water. Even a pottery saucer filled each day can attract pollinators.

 

 

It won’t take long for the bees and hummingbirds to find the water. Their frequent visits are fun to watch, and they’ll likely be sipping throughout the day.

 

_________________________________________________________________________

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing. My newest novel includes delicious recipes, tips on keeping bees and chickens, and much more. Click on this URL for more information, http://tinyurl.com/ya5vhhpm

.

 

 

Coming Sept. 2017

Coming Sept. 2017

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

French Lavender–A Favorite of Pollinators

Author: Meera, March 1, 2017

It’s bare-root season, a special time of the year for me. I like to visit local nurseries and check out the new offerings of heirloom roses, fruit trees, berries, herbs, and flowers. No matter which nursery I visit, I always seem to spot the lavender first.

 

 

Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love lavender

 

 

After we moved to the Henny Penny Farmette, we put in lots of French lavender. But after a few years, the stalks have grown old and woody.

 

Recently, on a visit to a nearby nursery, we purchased twenty one-gallon plants of French Lavender, an upright perennial that we’ve discovered blooms almost all year long in our Bay Area climate.

 

 

Pots of lavender await planting

One-gallon pots of lavender await planting

 

 

 

 

Now, they are hardening off in my garden until I get around to planting them.

 

 

The word “dentata” means toothed and a closer examination of the foliage reveals fringed indentations.

 

 

This aromatic, shrub has been around for centuries. Valued for its ornamental and medicinal properties, it also is used for soil erosion control. Once established, the lavender is drought tolerant.

 

 

Many gardeners love this lavender for its gray-green leaves. When other flowering plants in the garden have finished their blooming cycle, this lavender keeps producing tall spikes of bright purple florets.

 

 

Not as brilliant in color as the English or Spanish lavender, the French lavender is lovely grouped together in a single area where its flower stalks can sway in the wind. Our honeybees and other pollinators love it.

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

 

If you are a fan of cozy mysteries and love farmette topics like gardening of heirloom vegetables, herbs, and fruits as well as keeping chickens and bees, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

The first book in the Henny Penny Farmette series, Kensington Books 2015

The debut novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series sold out its first printing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides a cozy mystery to solve, these books mix in delicious recipes, farming and gardening tips, facts about keeping bees and chickens, and morsels of farm wisdom.

 

 

The third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series is due out in September 2017

COMING SOON– Sept. 2017, the third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

The second cozy mystery in the series

read comments ( 0 )

To Feed or Not to Feed the Bees?

Author: Meera, September 15, 2015

Mid-September is a time when beekeepers check their hives and consider the prudence of harvesting more honey or leaving it as well as whether or not to feed the bees. Honeybees, like many living creatures on our planet, need food and water to survive.

 

 

A honeybee alights on a fountain, searching for water

A honeybee alights on a fountain, searching for water

 

 

My wise beekeeper neighbor tells me that the hive needs to have sixty pounds of honey to make it through winter. He’s feeding his bees now a mixture of sugar and water.

 

 

 

black plastic feeder unit inserts fit directly into a hive like frames

Division board feeders are black plastic feeder units that fit directly into a hive like frames

 

 

The sugar-water inserts are black plastic holders that get inserted right into the hive in place of a frame. They are rigid enough to hold the sugar-water but pliant enough to swell outward, so conventional wooden frames of honey and wax help them stay in place. The downside is that bees can drown in these feeders. And if the beekeeper lets them go empty, the enterprising bees will just build comb and honey inside them.

 

 

There are several kinds of feeders–all with benefits and also drawbacks. For more information on feeders, see: http://www.honeybeesuite.com/what-type-of-honey-bee-feeder-is-best/

 

 

Closeup of a division board feeder unit

Closeup of a division board feeder unit

 

 

Last year, I didn’t take honey in the fall. I wanted to ensure the bees had what they needed to survive after they’d been through yet another summer of drought. There aren’t a lot of pollen-rich flowers to be found now. However, star-thistle still dots dry hillsides of Contra Costa County (where I live) and particular eucalyptus species that the bees like are blooming now.

 

 

I’m hopeful that this will be the last year of drought for a while. Weather forecasters say we have a strong El Nino that’s formed and will likely bring rain during our rainy season (November through April). That will be good news for the bees and those of us who love to plant flowers in our gardens to attract pollinators. But until the wet stuff starts coming down and new pollen sources are abundant, we beekeepers need to keep a close watch on our industrious little honeybees.

 

 

 

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Northern California Nut Trees in a Nutshell

Author: Meera, June 19, 2015

Take a trip into Northern California’s great Central Valley and you’ll notice how the landscape becomes dotted with nut tree farms along with vegetable fields, fruit tree orchards, and dairy farms. While Texas dominates the pecan tree market, California’s big three nut crops are almonds, walnuts, and pistachios. With nut prices on the increase, backyard gardeners might consider planting a tree or two if they have the space.

 

 

This backyard almond produces a bountiful crop

For it’s size, this almond in my neighbor’s yard produces an abundant annual crop

 

Some nut trees, such as almonds, require pollination assistance–a couple of different cultivars and honeybees will do the trick. For this reason, commercial almond growers pay beekeepers to bring their hives in to pollinate California’s early almond crop each year. Growing almonds is big business in California (it’s the third leading agricultural product in the state); the decline in honeybee populations is bound to affect this profitable crop.

 

The Central Valley has the perfect climate and growing conditions for almonds. It’s estimated that there are roughly 5,500 almond growers in the state. Many are commercial growers who capitalize on the rich, well-drained soil, and the hot summers and cool winters of Northern California. But California’s continuing drought is causing concern to almond growers since almonds require a lot of water. Backyard gardeners, too, must consider the water requirement of almonds before planting trees.

 

A newly formed almond on the tree looks like an unripe fuzzy peach because almonds are related to the peaches. Mature almond trees reach 20 to 30 feet tall. Some popular cultivars in zones 5 through 8 are Hall’s Hardy, Nonpareil, Peerless, and Mission. My neighbors have gorgeous, healthy almonds growing on their farmette.

 

 

Young Franquette walnut will provide shade and nuts for years to come

This young Franquette walnut will provide shade and nuts for years to come

 

 

The California Black Walnut and Persian Walnut (with cultivars of Franquette, Chandler, and Hartley) are valued for their stateliness, shade, bountiful crops, and longevity. Walnuts contain healthy nutrients. Cultivars of the English walnut are fast-growing and the nuts are thin-skinned and bountiful.

 

If a walnut is planted at the birth of an individual, and he lives 75 years, that walnut tree might could still be growing when the person breathes his last breath. The black walnut can reach 100 feet in height. The nuts have an thick outer hull that can blacken sidewalks and driveways with their stain; also, the tree also can be toxic to other plants.

 

In comparison to walnuts, filberts/hazelnuts are considered small trees (achieving heights of only 10 to 40 feet), they are often the nut tree of choice for backyard landscapes. DuChilly and Daviana are excellent pollinizers with Barcelona. Other cultivars are Bixby, Royal, and Hall’s Giant.

 

Pecan trees grow much larger than filberts, often towering 70 to 150 feet. Some cultivars include Major, Peruque, Stuart, and Colby. The cultivars of Wichita, Western Schley, and Cherokee are excellent pollinators for each other. Of all the nuts valued for their antioxidants, pecans rank the highest.

 

There is a pistachio tree growing a mile or so from my farmette. While pistachios love the Mediterranean climate of the Central Valley, in some places the trees perform better than in others. The nuts are highly valued by consumers. Growers have taken notice. Pioneer Gold, a varietal that’s been around since 1976, remains a popular choice. The trees are wind pollinated and require a male and female tree for a crop set.

 

If you have room in a backyard garden or on a farmette or field, consider planting one or more nut trees. You’ll be rewarded with shade and heart-healthy, nutritional snacks for years to come.

 

 

 

 

read comments ( 0 )

Neonicotinoids, commonly referred to as neonics, are a new class of pesticides that are closely related to nicotine. As the U.S. government debates the use of these controversial chemicals and studies go on, the European Union has voted to ban bee-harming pesticides. See, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/apr/29/bee-harming-pesticides-banned-europe.

 

Search for the tubular circles and you've found the queen houses

The tubular structures are bee queen houses

 

 

There’s no question that the bee population has been in decline in the last decade. Many beekeepers and experts alike have been vocal in their suspicions that exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides is a likely culprit. The journal Nature published a study that revealed significant negative effects on the wild bumble bee foraging on plants sprayed with the new class of pesticides.

 

 

Pollinators of all types are important to our food crops, but especially the bumble bees and honeybees. The latter are trucked around to farms and orchards (particularly the almond orchards) in early spring to pollinate the blossoms.

 

 

Exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides resulted in wild bees doing less reproducing, having smaller colonies, and having colonies that didn’t grow as compared to wild bees not exposed to the neonics.

 

 

Healthy bees on a frame

Healthy bees on  frames (on their side)

 

 

One of the studies was the result of research done in the wild, using 16 patches of land divided into two parcels of eight patches each. One area used canola seeds coated with the pesticide containing neonics. The seeds were not coated in the other area.

 

 

Scientists then compared the bees exposed to the pesticide with bees not exposed. The treated side had half as many bees per square meter as the untreated side. The bees in the pesticide patches also had negligible weight gain, but the bees in the untreated area gained roughly one pound.

 

 

Neonicotinoids are now the world’s most widely used pesticides. Isn’t it time farmers of the world found other options and chemical companies put less money into lobbying for these bee-dangerous chemicals and instead searched for good alternatives to help farmers deal with pests in their fields and orchards?

read comments ( 0 )