6.21.2013 Wax Moths, Summer Dearth, Lettuce Worms and Broody Hens

It hasn’t been a great week.  More rain came early in the week and the farm was just about as soggy as I’ve ever seen it.

Garden Problems:   With the soil waterlogged, I only managed to pull up the snow peas.  Last week they were going gang busters, then over the course of a few days, they turned all pale and tragic and quit.  The cabbages and cauliflower are struggling with the heat and worms.  It hasn’t been that hot but hot enough that the broccoli and the lettuce have bolted.  The directly sown beans did not germinate and the bean transplants are starting to put on a lot of growth, but so far not a single blossom.  The squash bugs are busy laying eggs on anything like a squash, a cucumber or a melon.  The nasty buggy phase of gardening has begun.  The only really positive notes in the garden these days are some pretty impressive onions and the fact it’s nearly tomato time.

We did get our first tomatoes of the season.  The Tess’s Land Race Cherry Tomatoes began ripening this week.  Calling them cherry tomatoes is being generous.  They are more like pearls.  I call them tomato shots.  Fabulous flavor from a determinant vine that is better suited to caging rather than tying up.

Tiny little flavor bombs.  The first homegrown tomatoes of the season always taste so amazing, don't they?

Tiny little flavor bombs. The first homegrown tomatoes of the season always taste so amazing, don’t they?

In the white room, I have lettuce starts that are just beginning to resemble something like lettuce but they are now being ravaged these tiny little worms that I think may be cabbage moth larvae.  Lots of squishing going on down there.

My camera just won't focus on the very small things in the world.  This was taken on June 19th.  I destroyed this plant and another that was equally infested.  I now pick these little buggers off twice per day.  It's taken four days, but I think I just about gotten all of them.  They are definitely little caterpillars.

My camera just won’t focus on the very small things in the world. This was taken on June 19th. I destroyed this plant and another that was equally infested. I now pick these little buggers off twice per day. It’s taken four days, but I think I just about gotten all of them. They are definitely little caterpillars.

Orchard Problems:  The B.P. Morettini Pear got a bad case of fireblight sometime over the last month.  I have been meaning to prune out the affected limbs, but it’s been too wet, in my opinion to be pruning trees already stressed with a bacterial disease.  But I finally found a day to do it and here are the before and after shots.  I had to take out the central leader and more than half of the top growth.

B.P. Morettini pear growing happily but heavily damaged by Fireblight.

B.P. Morettini pear growing happily but heavily damaged by Fireblight.

 

 

Not much left, but it looks so much better.

Not much left, but it looks so much better.

Across the aisle from the Morettini, is the 3 in 1 Asian Pear which also got the fireblight and is now a 2 in 1 Asian Pear.  Even though I seemed to have stemmed the tide on the fireblight, the Asian pear remains an unhappy tree.  Something about that location that pear trees simply do not like.

The peaches and plums showed a little development, but most of them dropped or were so bug ridden that I pulled them off.  I still may get a few pears and maybe an apple or two this year.  Keeping my fingers crossed.

Last year, we planted quite a few artichoke plants to serve as nurses for some of the trees.  They made it through the winter and most of them are now loaded with buds.  We are now having to learn how and when to harvest these delectable little morsels, little being the operative word.  They are nowhere near supermarket sized, but the petals start turning out and I cut them.  At this size, they have developed a choke, but they are still small enough to make eating them a bit tedious.  But they are yummy.

Chicken Problems:  It got a little warmish over the last few weeks and the hens have really let up on their egg laying.  On a good day, I get 14 eggs.  Most days I get 8 or less.  Just when demand is highest, supply is the lowest.

Widgeon has gone broody again, along with a Sussex from last year’s hatch.  The broody Sussex also has a nasty gash on her back, probably from one of the roos.  I can’t spare eggs for them to sit on and my broody hut got smashed during the derecho.  So my two moody, broody hens are pondering their momma hen hormones in the coop where I’ve blocked off all access to the nest boxes.

I also discovered green #7 Speckled Sussex hen is responsible for some of my egg problems.  I caught her today with her beak soaked in yolk and three empty egg shells at her feet.  She’s awaiting trial with the broody hens, who aren’t laying eggs but will surely lock themselves tightly onto any egg that #7 lays, and then what will my little cannibal do?

Back in the pasture, one of this year’s pullets has come up with a case of I don’t know what.  She does a lot of sitting and ignoring the world.  She eats and drinks well, she’s just doesn’t move much.  Nothing broken, just lazy or depressed or doing some serious method acting in the role of dust bunny.

Bee Problems:  Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen the stored pollen and honey rapidly disappear in my hives.  I thought it was simply a case of all the rainy days we’ve had and the bees not being able to get out and forage.  But I have to face facts.  A check of the pollen counts confirmed my suspicions – there is no pollen out there.  The Pollen count yesterday was 7, compared to 2500 back in April.

It would seem the summer dearth has begun.  That is really hard for me to believe.  There is stuff blooming everywhere – Bee balm, Echinacea, Black Eyed Susan, Elderberry, Queen Anne’s Lace, Trumpet vine and assorted wild flowers for which I have no name.  The Dutch clover appears to be glorious, but it is the domain of the bumble bees.  I rarely see a honey bee working a clover blossom.  So there’s no nectar or pollen to speak of coming into the hives.  All this rain.  All these blossoms and no nectar and no pollen.  I don’t understand.  It’s so bad, I suspect I will lose the Orange hive within a week if I don’t feed them.

But do I want to?  That hive wanted to swarm in March, so I made a split.  It swarmed anyway on May 28.  It never touched the honey super this year, despite being my oldest and most established hive.  The pre-split queen was awful.  The post-split queen was better and the queen that’s been working the hive since the swarm left lays a beautiful pattern.  Doesn’t that just beat all?  I finally got a good queen just in time for her and all her minions to starve.

But wait, there’s more.  I saw something in the Orange hive today that I’ve never seen before.  Two orange-ish structures in the comb.  I didn’t know what they were, so I left them.  Then I saw another one in the Blue hive, but this one was open and there was a caterpillar looking larvae in it.  I cut it out of the comb and  brought it into the house for identification.

Look at the bright tube looking structure in the top center of the comb.  That's not bee architecture.  Lesson learned:  When I see something that doesn't belong, take it out and identify it.

Look at the bright tube looking structure in the top center of the comb. That’s not bee architecture. Lesson learned: When I see something that doesn’t belong, take it out and identify it.

The news wasn’t good.  Wax moth larvae.  As soon as I had that piece of information, I wanted to slap myself.  The wax moths were actually loitering on the outsides of the hives this morning.

But wait there’s more.  I saw small hive beetles for the very first time.  Just two.  And I killed them both.  But there’s no drone comb for them to infest, so hopefully, that won’t get out of hand.

I think I caught the moth situation early enough that it’s not too serious and hopefully I can do a few things to get my bees past this latest setback.  First, the two hives showing signs of infestation have too much space to defend and that’s my fault.  At least it is with the orange hive.  I should have removed the honey super and put on the entrance reducer when they swarmed.  I did that today.  But supplies and bees are so short in that hive right now, they need to be in two brood boxes, not three.  I will do that tomorrow when I . . .

Feed them.  I didn’t want to have to feed bees.  Hives that can’t manage their own supplies should be allowed to fail so in the long run I have thriftier bee genetics.  But the way I see it, Orange is failing partly because of my errors, and all the hives are struggling because of the unusually cold, wet spring.  So I will give pollen patties to all my hives to offset the unseemly lack of protein presently available and my hives will get a 2:1 sugar syrup that’s been treated with citric acid to lower the pH* and just a touch of HoneyBHealthy for an essential oil boost. The Lavender hive has plenty of honey still in their top box and a honey super half full of uncapped honey.  I am not going to mess with their set up just yet.

What this has taught me is:

  1. Keep entrances small and limit the empty space.
  2. Keep detailed notes.  I started logging every frame a couple of weeks ago and those notes really helped me spot the drastic decline in pollen and nectar.
  3. Use your nose.  The orange hive didn’t smell right after the May 28 swarm.  Quite honestly it smell of Raid bug spray and moldy insulation.  Apparently that’s the smell of stress in a hive.

*The relatively high pH of sugar water has been tagged as part of the problem in Colony Collapse Disorder.  Honey has a pH around 3.5-4 while sugar is up around 6.  The theory goes: the higher pH of sugar water messes with the bees’ ability to assimilate that which they need to assimilate and to disassemble that which they need to disassemble.  In other words, sugar water opens the bees up to infections and infestations.  All theoretically speaking.

Here are a couple of good links about doctoring up basic sugar water for bees.

This one is from beesource.com

http://www.beesource.com/forums/archive/index.php/t-264760.html?s=d75aaaacbea470690de994a0253c4674

This one has a recipe for an herbal sugar water concoction.  Made me wish I had chamomile tea on hand.  http://urbanbeeprojectseattle.com/2011/04/19/feeding-bees/

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