Fascinating But Annoying

I was just outside on the deck and noticed something flying around the mason bee hotel. Since the tubes are almost all occupied I was curious who might be looking for a place to live. As I watched I saw a small wasp climbing around on the outside of the bamboo carefully inspecting them with her antennae. Then she assumed a rather arched posture and I assumed the worst.


Yup, somebody’s laying eggs! If you look closely you can count her six tan feet versus one black, evil (if you’re the poor, parasitized pupa inside) ovipositor.

Bamboo Crack

When I looked around the other side I could clearly see the crack she had discovered and was exploiting. It’s a flaw in the fortress that will probably cost more than one mason be his or her life. Bummer. Yet it’s fascinating. This makes me think I should be changing out the bamboo each year. Replacing it will not only lessen the occurrence of vulnerable cracks, but also reduce the buildup of parasitic mites.

Seems there’s always something going on.

Trouble in the Onion Patch


I pulled the first onion today! It’s a good size and the top had definitely fallen down which is what I take as a signal to harvest. Lots of onion leaves are toppling.  Whether that’s a good thing, I’m in the process of looking up right now.


There’s something that looks like a fungus attacking the leaves of the onions. It seems to be spreading from one area making me think it’s something that’s spreading by spores helped out by the near-daily showers we had in June and the cool weather that’s been hanging around. Preliminary investigations are leading me to believe we’re not going to be eating our own onions for a full year like we have been until now.


I also took a leek in the garden Winking smile Every year I’ve been ignoring them until they’re big monsters so I’m making an effort to eat them as the season goes along. Fingers are crossed that this disease won’t attack them, too.

There was insect activity today, as usual. I’m slowly working at learning what some of them are and, more importantly, who’s a friend and who’s a fiend.


An obvious friend was this bumble bee hard at work pollinating the tomatoes. Look at that load of pollen!

Bee on Cilantro

This little solitary bee was one of the critters feasting on the cilantro flowers. First, I hadn’t realized how pretty cilantro flowers were until I started looking at these pictures. Second, see her cute little tongue probing the bloom?

Bee on Cilantro 2

Here’s another angle so you can see how she carries pollen on her leg hairs, not all packed in a ball like the bumble bees and honey bees do.

Fly on Cilantro

This fly was visiting the abundant cilantro flowers, too. I can tell it’s a fly and not a bee because its eyes meet at the top of its head.

Bug on Cilantro

I almost didn’t notice this bug on the plants nestled between unopened buds. There were several of them just hanging out. I saw one on a pole bean tee-pee, too.

Grasshopper on Squash Leaf

This little grasshopper, on the other hand, was easy to spot on a squash leaf.

I’m really enjoying observing and trying to photograph the insects that I’m encountering in the garden. Discovering the burst mode on my phone’s camera has helped a bit in photographing them. It also means I have dozens more images to sort through to see if anything is in focus. There was an amazing fly with a ridiculously long nose working the cilantro blooms that I just couldn’t get because it was moving around so fast. That will be the next challenge to overcome.

For the time being I’m back to researching onion diseases. My fear is that they won’t keep as long as they would have otherwise or, even worse, they’ll need to be discarded right away. Wish me luck!

Ready For Guests

I finally, and possibly at the last minute, got around to putting up the nesting tubes I had gathered for solitary bees. As luck would have it I had the roof from a failed birdhouse attempt that a soup can fit into nicely. I jammed the bamboo firmly into the can and wired it to the underside of the roof.


Since the roof is so much wider than the can I took advantage of the extra space and hung a bundle of turtlehead stem sections below and to the side of the bamboo can. Now it’s just a waiting game to see if any bees find these accommodations inviting!

The Bee That Launched a Thousand Eggs…A DAY, and a Mystery Visitor!

Helen's Workers

Say “Hello!” to the workers of Queen Helen. She’s busy at the moment down on the frames laying eggs. I installed a three pound package of bees in this hive about a week-and-a-half ago and have confirmed that they are raising brood like good little troopers. It’s safe now to officially name the queen. This is the first time I’ve actually had drawn comb to install on. I’m reusing what was left from a split we did last fall that died over the winter. When bees are installed on bare foundation or, as I do, on empty frames with guide bars, they have to put a lot of work getting the comb made first before the resource-gathering and brood-rearing can get into full swing for the season. Comb is the structure of the hive that they really can’t function without.

Next door in Bernice’s hive things are off to a slow start but I’m hoping now that the weather is warming up they’ll build up soon. As I was looking into that hive I noticed one of the bees crawling around on my hand wasn’t a honey bee!

Not a Honey Bee

I grabbed my phone and got  a quick picture of it before it crawled down into the hive. I don’t know what it is and I hope it’s not harmful to the honey bees. I doubt it is. Looking around at some resources online and elsewhere I think I have a general idea of what it is but am not ready to say for sure. I will say, however, that my year of paying more attention to native bees got off to an earlier start than I expected in a completely unexpected place.

Hope Survives

Actually, it’s the hive I’ve named Bernice that is known to be surviving at the moment. I don’t have any named Hope but that’s not a bad idea, now that I think about it. In any case, I checked the two backyard hives yesterday and found the workers of Queen Bernice dining on the sugar that I placed in the hive last fall as insurance. The cluster was already at the top of the hive back then despite having at least one full super of honey below the top super. It looks like they’ve gone through more than half of the ten pounds of sugar and I’ve got some sugar cakes made should they exhaust this before nectar is available this spring. I also gave them a little pollen patty, that brown thing on the right, in case they get a hankering for that.

Live Bees on Sugar

The other backyard hive, a split from the only hive we had survive last winter was dead. The cluster was huddled toward but not in one of the corners of the lower of two medium boxes. The super above them is still full of honey and then there is ten pounds of sugar on top of that so I’m pretty sure they didn’t starve to death. If I had to guess, I’d say they froze because the cluster was too small. We’ve had some unusually long stretches of brutally cold weather without a break and other beekeepers in the area are reporting smaller clusters perishing for no other apparent reason. I’m going to take this as a lesson to make sure hives have a good population going into winter and to take extra precautions with nucs, should I end the season with any.

The 2014 beekeeping season is going to be different for me. My partner and I are going to go more our separate ways as we have different goals and amounts of time we’re willing to allot to the bees. I’m going to have two to three hives in my back yard and let him take over the other hives we’ve started in the other four locations. My idea is that with fewer hives and a convenient location I’ll be able to give them more attention and, I hope, learn more and become a better beekeeper in the process.