August 7, 2012 What I heard at the bee club

Tuesday evening, I finally managed to get to a HOVA meeting (Heart of Virginia Beekeepers).  Bee clubs are wonderful things.  I always learn so much when I make the time to go.  And naturally, I left the meeting fretting about things about which I had not formerly given much thought.  Mites and small hive beetles and whether my bees would have enough food for the winter.  I got snickered at for taking that swarm, but I figured I would be.  The swarm is probably a waste of good sugar water, but the price of sugar has been modest compared to what the swarm is teaching me about beekeeping.

The beeks are worried about the state of fall forage.  Goldenrod, which is a huge September forage plant for bees is blooming now.  3 to 4 weeks early like everything else this year.

Remember the old bug spray cans immortalized in the cartoons of the 60’s and 70’s? Well, here’s a gas powered updated model that is rated for use in organic gardens and beekeeping. Load it with the vegetable oil of your choice. There’s a rumor that Italian bees prefer Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but beek humor being what it is, one suspects any old vegie oil will do.

One fella showed us what he uses for small hive beetles.  A fogger.  It’s a propane fired heating element that turns mineral or vegetable oil into a fog at the press of a button.  You direct the fog into your beehives and this supposedly coats the eggs of all insects in the hive, without hurting any live bees.  You lose one day’s worth of bee eggs, but you kill all the small hive beetle eggs.  You can also use the fogger in your vegetable garden to kill the eggs of all those voracious vegie monsters.  Just be sure to always stand upwind of the darn thing.  Oil heated to a vapor doesn’t smell very nice.  No Precious.  Not very nice at all.

On the way home from the meeting my head was spinning.  The beeks had said if we were to plant buckwheat now we would get at least one bloom off it, possibly two before the frost, IF it rained, ever again.  We were supposed to have rain on Friday and possibly into Saturday, and in general I am sensing a pattern change.  The daily thunderstorms that in July formed overhead and dumped their payload elsewhere, now linger a bit and slobber on us before taking the bulk of the rain out to the highway.  There’s not much moisture in the soil, but there is some – enough so that I could till the riding ring without asphyxiating myself on the ensuing dust cloud.  So, yeah.  The rains may be returning, in a modest sort of way.  The high temperatures aren’t as high anymore, either.

I didn’t have much luck the last time I planted buckwheat.  Not enough soil contact and not enough rain – I think.  So I don’t want to plant another pure stand.  What I decided on is a mixed planting of oats and field peas (I have nearly 50 lbs of each on hand – abandoned chicken feed experiment) plus purchased buckwheat, crimson clover, perennial rye and hairy vetch.  A nice salad for grazers and pollinators.

I have just the place for it.  There’s about a half acre in the southwest pasture that produces a nice stand of Dutch clover in the spring but shrivels to hard pan in the summer.  There’s no grass there to speak of, save for a short pale green variety that forms a head similar to wheat but which neither the horses nor the chickens will touch.  It shriveled and died with the clover. The soil there is more clay than loam and it’s at the top of a hill so it dries out quickly – one of several hard to grow areas on the farm.

It’s small enough that I can irrigate with a garden hose if the rains fail.  I just ran the chickens over it, so it’s been fertilized though it’ll be a little on the hot side.  I’m going to till it with the tractor and scatter my seed cocktail on it, maybe adding in some lime and kelp to sweeten the soil a bit.  And, if I get really motivated, I will top-dress the whole thing with hay to keep in the moisture in and add a good bit of red fescue and Dutch clover seed to the mix.  I have until the 19th to get it done, then my minion goes back to school and I will have no hope of getting help.  All the seed has to be spread using push rotary and drop spreaders.

Experienced farmers will likely read this and roll their eyes at my pure ignorance.  Wrong mix.  Wrong time. Wrong tools.  Go ahead and correct me.  Better yet, write a book that explains when to plant what, how to prepare fields for planting, what implements to use behind your tractor and why and how to pay for all that kit.  I come from suburbia where we put down a broad spectrum herbicide to kill absolutely everything and then two weeks later, till shallow, rake smooth, scatter seed, cover with straw and turn on the sprinklers.  How farmers manage to feed the world and their livestock is still very much a great mystery to me.  So go ahead and write that book – pasture and row crop methodology.  I’ll read it. Or leave a response here.  I’ll greedily read that too.

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