Category Archives: gardening

Autumn bee maintenance – installing an in-hive warmer

This will be my first winter using an in-hive warmer and, as usual, I’m posting both to share the information and keep a history going for myself. I installed the Warmbees product in August during my last full hive inspection. (Note that Warmbees has changed the configuration on their heater from the one I purchased – the new model looks more compact and can be re-oriented for use in a top bar hive.)

in-hive heater

Photo credit: www.warmbees.com

Installation couldn’t be easier: select the temperature range (mine is set to low to maintain a temperature of about 40 degrees F), drape the wire ribbon with LED signal light and the cord over the edge of the hive box, and plug it in to an extension cord. Naturally, this requires the colony to be within cord distance of an electrical outlet. I haven’t quite figured out a battery/solar configuration yet. There’s no assembly required and you don’t need to know anything about wiring. The tiny LED makes a reassuring glow in the front yard:

hive box with heater

I used an Imirie shim installed with the opening toward the back of the hive to run the cord and ribbon through, and blocked the extra space with dry grass. When I wrap the hive with insulation for winter in November I’ll tape over the hole as the bees should be used to it by then. When I replaced the quart mason jar of sugar syrup for fall feeding today (they’ve been going through a quart every three days) I noticed that they’ve built beautiful, regular comb over the wires running on top of the frame.

The beauty of this device is that it is controlled by the internal temperature of the hive box. Other products that wrap around the outside of the equipment doesn’t sense the heat generated by the cluster of bees and by overheating them can convince them to fly in freezing weather. We had a frost last night but with a good sized cluster generating its own warmth the heater hasn’t needed to go on to keep the internal temp at around 40. I have high hopes that this product will help an otherwise healthy colony last through the long, cold Maine winter and the cold, wet spring that follows.

The garden in late September after the first frost:

September garden

 

On the easel – Blackberry branches galore

Sometimes I just want to paint structure and there’s nothing like a glass jar buttressed stems, leathery leaves and huge, recurved thorns to work out that urge. These blackberry bushes grow uncultivated along the edge of our gravel road but the blossoms are huge, white and surprisingly delicate for living on nothing but dust and neglect.

blackberries cherries

 

Blackberries and Cherries, drawing in progress, vine charcoal on gessoed panel, 40 x 32

Salad days – July in the garden

The garden in July is a nine-day wonder. Every year I’m amazed that the tiny seeds of March grow into a vegetable forest in only 100 days.

The dry gravel in the dooryard continues to improve with the addition of seaweed, hay, and now Bio-Char, a soil amendment of organic material heated in a low-oxygen environment. I find it changes the texture and moisture properties of the bed almost immediately. The early Romaine and Blue Lake green beans seem to like it very well.

lettuce and bush beans

I reclaimed a row of angelica as a new site for yellow, purple, and red raspberries this year but it’s impossible to get every plant – evidence below. Angelica makes excellent bee forage and, at 6′ tall, there’s plenty of forage on each plant. The basswood tree behind it didn’t flower this year and I miss the long golden racemes but I’m not surprised at the branch damage with the temps settling at 15 F below for days at a time last winter.

angelica

William Lobb, an old moss rose with intensely fragrant and sticky burr along each bud and branch, with a rugosa hybrid “Hugo” in back, both covered in bees.

hugo rose

One rhubarb plant is really all you’ll ever need. Seriously. To think I’d planned on three?

rhubarbOne of the new colonies, both of which are settling in beautifully. The bees are in the lower portion (or “deep”). The upper two boxes are empty and hold an inverted quart Mason jar with holes punched in the lid to feed sugar syrup during the colony’s transition to a new place. They’ve stopped taking the sugar so I haven’t refilled the jar. The bed of Phacelia (Bee’s Friend) directly in front of the hive is constantly alive with pollinator traffic of all kinds, not just the hived honeybees.

beehives

Phacelia is a new addition to the garden for 2015. I’ve sown it nearly everywhere I had bare ground this year. It sprouts generously and easily from seed under harsh conditions, the ferny undergrowth shades the soil to conserve moisture during these hot dry days, and the bees are on the flowers at all times of the day so the nectar flow must be near continuous. I think my next exploration is Nectoroscodum siculum, or Mediterranean Nectar Garlic – a fragrant allium that seeps nectar from drooping flower bells- wow.

New work: Quince Branches in a Tan Vase

So much is happening in the garden: two new hives of bees, new bee fodder (phacelia!), new green manure mixtures, and a foray into next-gen gardening with Bio-Char. I want to write about all of it but there’s still life material growing out there too. The Ruby-Gold ornamental quince put out flowering branches for the first time this year; combined with a new thrift store tablecloth it made an excellent color study.

Ruby Gold Quince

Quince in a Tan Vase, 24 x 18, oil on panel

March 2015: The Snow Garden

The first crop to be direct-seeded is always the peas. Some years I have tomato seedlings under lights that are weeks old, lettuce and green onions in flats, trays of cosmos and delphinium, but all those will have to wait until May before venturing outside. The peas are hardy souls, they love the icy soil, and they’re cheap enough that I can re-sow a batch if the temperatures drop too low.

This year we have nearly 4′ of snow over the entire garden. We had a few days this week where the temperatures finally made it above freezing but the snow pack simply settled and solidified. It’s not going anywhere fast. Yesterday I decided to help it along a little by digging through the drifts at the front of the house and excavating a bed to help it warm up under a sheet of black plastic.

Our metal roof dumps snow easily, which is a good thing when we don’t have to climb up there and shovel if off, and a bad thing when I have to cut through 5 – 6′ of packed drifts. Here’s the path to the spring pea bed (eventually):

pea-bed-001

I was very pleased that I managed to aim right to the corner of the pea bed – that is some NASA level shoveling right there.

shovel snow Now to shovel off the bed proper and cover it with black plastic to warm up:

future peas

For reference, this is what the rest of the garden looks like now, in March:

digging out or in

And this is the same view in June, 2014:

Maine JuneFor my bee group, all that yellow bloom is Dyer’s Woad, Isatis tinctoria. It’s a wonderful bee plant and a good source of blue dye.

New work

We have so much snow on the ground that the thought of painting it makes me shiver. I’m making drawings of the dark spruce trees bending under heaps of pristine white, but as an antidote I’m finishing images from this summer. The crab apples are from the community garden and orchard at College of the Atlantic.

Crab Apples and Teapot

Crab Apples and Teapot, 24 x 18, oil on panel

July in January

I’ve been working on my 2015 seed order this week and talking with a few garden friends about preferences in paprika peppers; rabbit and pigeon predation (I thought I had it bad with deer – at least they don’t fly!); cover crops, and the Eternal Chicken Question. All this brings to mind images of the garden in full green swing, not the current landscape of dingy grey snow with muddy patches and with a buzzcut of bare twigs and pale grasses. Here are some of my favorite images from July, 2014. (I was planning to take some side-by-side photos of today’s garden but it was too depressing – we don’t need a reminder that the ground is hard as iron right now and it will easily be four more months until it begins to soften and “green up”.)

Just outside the dooryard, on the southfacing hillside: broccoli, breadseed poppies, sorrel, mullein, strawberries, parsley, and a Beta pie cherry tree all held in place by withy rows of Black and Scottish basket willow. Down on the lower level you can see the Washington Hawthorns providing a thorny barrier against deer (and almost enough haws for a batch of jelly in 2014) and the silver foliage of the snake willow.

Broccoli withy

More from the dooryard: purple basil, pinks, calendula, and carrots grow under the Seckel pear tree. There’s an elderberry bush coming up on the left that will need to be transplanted (again!) into the swamp during Garden 2015.

purple basil and calendula

Entrance to the lower garden: rhubarb, German paste tomatoes, mustards (in bloom), columbine, Joe Pye weed, and rugosa

rhubarb, tomatoesPink and white rose-mallow, well, mostly white this year! It was nearly smothered by pole beans in August but managed well enough to be featured in several still life paintings.

mallowThe chaos that is the lower garden center: mullein, Russian crabapple, marshmallow, goldenrod (for bee fodder), and one of the glacial erratics that characterize the Maine island garden. There’s a path in there too, somewhere. . . .

lower gardenIn every photo set from my garden there should be at least one very, very confused plant. This Angelica decided to grow up through a cinderblock amidst the nasturtium and pole beans, and it did very well, considering.

sugar cane

Can’t wait until July, 2015!

 

 

 

New work – Acadian bouquet

A still life of all the flowers that grow along the paths and roadways on the island: mallow, borage, goatsbeard (Aruncus), echinecea, sage, and thistle. I’ve made myself a note not to try borage again for a while – it was incredibly difficult to make sense of in the drawing!

Acadia bouquet

 

Acadian Bouquet, 24 x 18 inches, oil on panel