Garden

First Check on the Spring Garden

Wanting to let the sun heat up the farm and beehives, I planned to perform the desperately needed landscaping maintenance on the garden aisles. However the weedwacker would not continue running instead shutting off a after about 40 seconds of idling, or whenever I opened the throttle at all. The blisters on three fingers and the intense DOMS in my shoulder blade attest to how many times I got it started. Was it bad gas mixture that sat all winter? Was it the carburetor that a knowledgeable mechanic found to be on its last leg a few months ago? Either way, my desire to be independent from petroleum powered machinery was reiterated and the most time-consuming task on my to-do list was not attainable.

So I spent the time wandering and weeding the garden beds. The hops and asparagus were already sending shoots out of the ground while the buds of grapes and blueberries were beginning to swell.

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Emerging Asparagus

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Emerging, nitrogen hungry hops with symbiotic, nitrogen-providing clover companion planting

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Swelling grape buds

Notice the similarities between young hops and asparagus shoots? They can be harvested and prepared in the exact same manner. I will elaborate on this more in the future.

 

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Garden

Absentee Gardening

This year the plan is to set and forget. I am going to deeply mulch the garden beds and leave them be as I will only be able to check in once or twice a month. I’ve got a plan for produce self sufficiency that I will expand upon in the future.

Other than groundhogs, water will be the anticipated issue, does anyone have any suggestions for plants don’t require much in the way of thirst?

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Uncategorized

Breaking the technological stagnation of Beekeeping

There has been no major technological innovation in beekeeping since October 5, 1853. As a result, beekeeping still remains a very labor intensive practice where rising labor costs leave little room for profit. Thus hobbyists are responsible for a relatively large proportion of beehives in existence. Like the surging craft beer industry, the passion associated with hobbyist is yielding the first major innovations in over 160 years.

Getting the most publicity, the Flow Hive is nearly a household name. While I am very excited to see attempts at technological innovation, there are many shortcomings that will prevent me from trying these hives out in my own apiary. I’ll save that discussion for another post.

HiveHaven from New Zealand is doing amazing work to innovate beekeeping. They are turning HPDE from recycled bottles into 3-D printer feedstock (“ink”) and creating cutting edge hive designs. A major benefit of this material is that it can be washed and sterilized in the instance of foulbrood appearing in the apiary.

Have you ever wondered why bees build comb in the manner that they do? Hexagons are the most efficient pattern to fill a two dimensional space. Honeybees were able to figure out over 34 million years of evolution. Humans integrated that wisdom into products that need to maximize surface area like the catalytic converters in cars and wood stoves.

More importantly, HiveHaven also focuses on producing hives for other types of bees. Remember that New Zealand was forced to make a economics-driven decision whether to continue importing clover seed for pastures every year, or importing a bumble bee to pollinate and produce their own seed. The large mouthparts of honeybees prevent effective pollination of the tiny clover flowers. Mason, orchard and bumbles bees play a vital but largely unappreciated ecological role here in the US as well.

Now HiveHaven has completed the circle by taking the innovations bred from the geometric wisdom of bees, and applying back to those bees. In addition to the standard hexagonal comb, they provide hexagonal hives that reflect the natural tendency of bees to build upward. Finally some technology for solitary bee husbandry!

Read more about their campaign here.

 

 

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Uncategorized

3-D Printing to save endangered species

I haven’t been writing much lately, but one post I have been putting together involves 3-D Printing in the apiary. However a small biotech company has plans to use 3-D printing in another way.

They plan to bioengineer synthetic rhino horns in order to flood the markets to hopefully remove economic incentive to harvest illicit animal products.

It is an interesting strategy that some argue could exacerbate the problem by creating demand for rhino horns. I’m no economist so I’ll defer that discussion to this solid piece of journalism from National Geographic.

As an avid hunter, conservationist and animal lover, I am happy to see technological innovation applied to the welfare of wildlife as well as eliminating the disgraceful practices of poachers that are all too often applied broadly to hunters.

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Garden

Planting Garlic

I meant to plant this at the beginning of October. Out of all the factors that cause garlic failure, rot is the most responsible. As the farm received an extraordinary amount of rain around that time, garlic planting was postponed.

Then I got very busy as the slowdown of posts on this blog indicates. Garlic just fell off the to-do list until it was finally planted at the beginning of November.

Garlic basics

Individual garlic cloves are planted in the fall where they begin root growth. During the following spring, green top growth takes place yielding a full bulb in summer.

At this point, most garlic varieties will taste similar. Differences are developed as the bulbs cure. When the time comes, I will post on the harvest and curing process in greater depth.

Variety selection and pest deterring uses are covered in this previous post.

Planting process

Some recommend to pull the cloves apart from the bulb to be stored in a paper bag for 2 days before planting. I just yank them apart and put them straight into the ground. However, do your best to keep the papery covering around the cloves intact!

  1. Dig a small hole 2″ deep
  2. Place the garlic clove into the hole with the pointy side upward
  3. Refill the hole
  4. Repeat the steps with a 4″ spacing

I photographed the process thinking the immense size of my amazon-sourced Elephant garlic would help to demonstrate the process. Now I realize the single clove is the size of most entire bulbs of garlic and could introduce some confusion as well as change the needed planting dimensions.

Oh well, I’ll re-do this next year will appropriate sized bulbs.

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Garden, General Pasture

Agriculture caused global warming…7000 years ago

Shifting scientific consensus are fascinating trends to follow. Mounting Evidence Suggests Early Agriculture Staved Off Global Cooling published in the University of Virginia’s UVAToday demonstrates that exact type of change.

After analyzing ice core samples for carbon dioxide levels as well as pollen deposits, researchers have found that agriculture first started affecting global climate 7,000 years ago by preventing the expected cooling cycle.

Beginning 7,000 years ago, carbon dioxide levels began rising. The author attributes this to slash and burn techniques of clearing land for farming.

Beginning 5,000 years ago, methane levels started rising which coincides with large scale rice production. My assumption is the flooding of rice paddocks caused anaerobic decomposition conditions resulting in the release of large quantities of methane which is a greenhouse gas four times as potent as carbon dioxide. The author also states that domestication of ruminants could also be a factor or it could be a combination of both rice and ruminant husbandry practices.

After 12 years of debate, the consensus is shifting to agriculture being the main cause for staving off expected cooling trends.

Citation:

Samarrai, Fariss. “Mounting Evidence Suggests Early Agriculture Staved Off Global Cooling.” UVA Today. University of Virginia, 15 Jan. 2016. Web. 22 Jan. 2016.

 

I need to write a post on a relevant and absolutely eye-opening article published in Acres USA magazine about using soils to bank carbon. The interviewee is phD in soil sciences that explains the only way to build carbon (organic matter) permanently in soils is to keep plant roots pumping sugar into the soils to feed the symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi then leaving the soils undisturbed so the fragile humic globules are not destroyed. She asserts that all carbon from compost will eventually oxidize into carbon dioxide if plants do not constantly utilize those products of decomposition. Same goes for nitrogen in the form of off-gassing ammonia.

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Bees

DIY: $9.33 Insulating Hive Wrap for wintering honeybees

Wrapping the hive for winter is likely not necessary in my region. However everything on a farm boils down to energy management: less energy spent on keeping the cluster warm over winter translates into less energy consumption. This both extends the winter resources as well as lessens honey consumption. The latter point translates into more honey remaining in the spring, thus less need to refill the frames consumed over winter, thus allowing the bees to start storing excess honey sooner, thus increasing the harvest of the following year.

Total price tally (from amazon for universal considerations):

($17 for insulation + $11 for velcro) / 3 hive wraps can be made from these materials = $9.33 per wrap

First of all, I did not take very good pictures of the process so hopefully I can describe the process adequately with words. Secondly, I realize this post is late as I never got it written before I took my break in the fall. Third, as with all of my beekeeping posts [so far] I use 10 frame langstroth hives.

Tools Needed:

  • String or something to measure (tailor’s tape, etc)
  • Scissors
  • Empty hive body (can be any size, we are just after the outer perimeter measurement)
  • Rubbing alcohol and a rag for cleaning

Materials Needed:

  • Reflective Bubble Insulation (Affiliate link) 16″ wide by 25 feet (enough for 3 hives of 2 deep supers each) ($16.25 at time of writing)
  • Industrial Velcro, (Affiliate link) 2″ wide by 4 feet (enough for 2.75 hive wraps but see notes below) (I bought mine at walmart for $8 if I remember correctly but use that link as a reference to the exact product but save some money getting it locally) ($11)

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Procedure:

  1. Use the string to measure the outside of your hive body
    1. My hive bodies are 19-7/8″x16-5/8″ for a total parameter of 73.5″
    2. My actual measurement was just over 74″
    3. I like to compare the measurement to the expected perimeter calculation based off of factory measurements for extra assurance but this is likely not necessary
  2. Add 2 inches to the parameter total to accommodate the overlap needed for velcro
  3. Cut the insulating material to length
  4. Clean the last two inches along opposing edges with alcohol and a rag to ensure adhesive sticks well
  5. Apply velcro to OPPOSING FACES ON OPPOSING ENDS so the velco will align when wrapped around the hive
    1. for clarity: imagine the insulating wrap is a piece of paper. Put on strip of velcro on the top of the front of the page. Put the opposing strip on the bottom of the back of the page.
    2. ALSO BE SURE TO use the two different types of velcro at either of the two ends the loop velcro can catch the fuzzy velcro
  6. Apply to hives!

Picture of the finished product:

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Oops! On my original design I forgot to account for the overlap needed for the velcro to grab its opposing self so the insulation is cut to the exact perimeter of my supers. Which brings me to my next point.

Notes

This velcro is incredibly strong. After 2 months of use, the maximum of 1/4″ overlap I could barely stretch out of it has held the hive wraps in place without a single issue. I’m actually worried about being able to get the wrap off in the spring had I provided a full 2″ of overlap. After all, its advertised to hold fire extinguishers to the wall! I was also originally planning to reinforce the adhesion to the wrap by stitching the velcro in place. I decided not to for 2 reasons:

  1. The insulation is like unpoppable bubble wrap used as a packing material so stitching through it would have ruined the insulating air pocket under the strips of velcro
  2. After playing with the velcro, I decided it was unnecessary. Ok Ok…I actually dropped the velcro and almost destroyed the carpet trying to detach them from each other. If the adhesion wears out down the road, you all will be the first to know!

Insulation power:

The insulating wrap I linked to has a extremely low insulation value: R=1.04 which is roughly equivalent to 1 inch of solid wood, increased to 4 if a 3/4″ gap is made. That gap could be achieved by putting blocks of wood under each of the 8 corners but the work required was not worth it for me. Regardless, this current set up serves me fine as I doubt I even need insulation. If your location calls for more insulation, I would use many many many layers of this or use the age old method of hay bales (or both in combination) or leave snow piled up around the hive with the entrances clear for ventilation.

Dimensions:

I chose 16 inch insulation because overwintering, my hives are 2 deep supers: each 9-5/8″ tall or about 19″ total. The 3 inches of difference leaves the bottom entrances open for ventilation as well as the top entrance (although I keep that one plugged unless condensation becomes an issue). If you have a different hive configuration you will need to calculate or measure the required width and buy or cut the insulation to that figure.

Similarly, I use 10 frame deep supers so if your configuration is different you will need to calculate or measure the length requirement of the insulation. Don’t worry it is simple and discussed in steps 1-2 above.

Final thoughts

The setting sun can hit these hives and reflect off in blinding fashion that makes it look like the hives are on fire. If your apiary has a line of sight to a roadway or bee thieves are a valid concern, you may want cover the outside with an additional layer of fabric or paint. Also this makes me wonder if the wrap is causing the hives to lose that warmth but I feel that keeping in heat is more valuable than capturing it in the winter (although backed by no calculations).

Also after seeing how ferociously strong the velcro is, next time I am going to use only a few inches at each corner and maybe on in the middle instead of lining the entire length of the end of the insulation.

Lastly, I may build a collar of sorts for the hives out of scrap wood to give the insulation the 3/4″ gap that quadruples its insulating rating. It would be a simple wood frame that sits down over the hive to be wrapped instead of the hive itself.

Honestly with the low insulation this provides, the benefit is likely more psychological to the beekeeper than anything else. As bees are best left undisturbed over winter, it is a hard time for a keeper who is uncomfortable with taking a hands-off approach. This at least provides a piece of mind that the keeper is doing everything in her or his power to help the bees survive!

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