Another good reason to keep nettles around

RedAdmiral

This isn’t the best photo in the world, but it should be good enough for you butterfly watchers to play “name that species:”

Can you tell me what it is?

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If you guessed a “Red Admiral,” then you’re right.

Red Admirals are a butterfly found far beyond just North America. I’ve seen them before but never really took the time to find out what their babies eat… so I rectified that oversight a couple of days ago by reading up on the species.

Surprisingly, it turns out that Red Admiral caterpillars eat nettles.

Because nettles are a good compost addition as well as being edible, I let them grow here and there in my yard as I’ve written previously.

Now we have one more reason to let them live.

You never know what damage you might be doing when you start chopping down all the “weeds.”

Don’t be quick to race for the RoundUp or the lawnmower… the bees, the ladybugs, and the butterflies will all thank you for letting the lawn get shaggy. Sometimes even the biggest “pest” plants are blessings in disguise.

David-the-good-books-revised

Creating a simple bee house

MasonBeeHabitat2

This year I created a wild solitary bee habitat, which I mentioned I was planning to do in my birdhouse post a few months ago.

Here’s my DIY bee house:

A simple bee house – no vacancies!

Those are chunks of wood and bamboo stuffed into an old wine box. The roof is an aluminum cooking pan that had seen better days. Plus Alzheimer’s is scary.

Mason bees and other solitary bees and wasps like to build nests for their babies in wood holes.

Creating a solitary bee house is easy. I just drilled a bunch of holes in varying sizes to give them some ready-made housing. Call it an insect condo… a bee house… an insect hotel or whatever you like. It’s working!

Thus far I’ve seen a brilliant green bee on the house, multiple small solitary black and white wasps, and some mason bees.

Why do I want them around? Pollination and pest control! They’re hunting caterpillars and other insects as baby food and they’re visiting my fruits and vegetables and scattering pollen about. We can’t always count on honeybees anymore, so it’s time to recruit their cousins.

Here’s a close-up showing one of the holes they’ve filled in:

Since I took these photos a few days ago, there’s been a lot more activity… the vacancies are filling up and there’s always activity around the bee house.

I’m impressed – and I’ll be building plenty more to scatter around the yard next year.

David-the-good-books-revised

6 Creatures That Should Be In Your Food Forest

WeMissYouWeb

“We Miss You”

I built upon my birdhouse post from the other day and really thought more on what animals should play key roles in a healthy food forest system. Once I made a good list, I wrote it into a new article for The Prepper Project.

Click over there and read it – you’ll like the part about lizards.I guarantee it.

“Over the holidays I had an epiphany. As I was considering my
front-yard food forest and the new plants I should add in the spring, I
realized that I should plan in some new habitat for animals as well.

If you’ve read this site for very long, you know we’re a fan of
putting chickens to work in our planned edible ecosystems. Though that’s a good start, chickens are also high maintenance and almost always require supplementary feed unless you make careful (and extensive) plans to feed them completely off your land. Beyond chickens, other domesticated animals that can be (carefully) added include ducks, guinea fowl and even pigs.

Yet in nature there are a lot of other creatures that do plenty of
work behind the scenes. Many of them aren’t usually recognized as our
partners in food growing. Some are considered little more than nuisances to be fought with.

If you’ve dealt with moles, deer, squirrels or crows, you know what a
pain some animals can be. Even these have their place, of course, but
today I’m going to focus on six “good guys” and how you can add them to your plans, starting with one insect that always get a bad wrap. Let’s
jump in!

(Click here to keep reading)

I like writing for the guys at The Prepper Project. They’re good folks, plus the deadlines and wide range of topics force me to keep thinking about what I’m doing and how I can share it with a broader audience. That said, don’t forget to sign up for the free upcoming Survival Summit so you can hear (and see) my Extreme Composting presentation. It’s going to be fun.

David-the-good-books-revised

Bee log

BeeLog

Check out this bee log:

bee log

That is a hollow log filled with bees, tied to my fence. Yes, the neighbors find me “eccentric,” but I don’t care. I’m saving bees, dang it.

There was a storm a couple of weeks ago that knocked over a tree at my Uncle’s shop. This section was about 20′ in the air. When it fell, thousands of bees started flying about and my Uncle called me and asked if I wanted to save them. So naturally, I called Allen the Beekeeper. We spent about a day sawing and cleaning up limbs, carefully removing sections to save as much of the interior comb as possible. (He’s got some really cool pictures that need to be shared – if he sends them, I’ll post them). Remarkably, even after a week of laying on the ground, the comb was intact and there were new eggs in the hive.

It took four guys to move this thing into position… in the dark. The cinderblocks beneath are pretty uneven… but it was hard to line things up late at night beneath a heavy log while covered with angry bees. The trunk segment easily weighs over 300lbs. There’s comb in there from top to bottom.

The bees are already finding their way about my un-mowed yard.


Needless to say, I’m thrilled. The previous swarm we captured failed to live through winter… so it’s try, try again.

David-the-good-books-revised

Starving bees in Georgia and nectar sources

www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)
“Hey David,
I ran across your article about Mulberry trees as I was doing research
looking for trees that my honey bees might like.  We are in west central
Georgia and have experienced a couple of years of drought that have
taken a toll on our honey bees.  Not enough pollen/nectar in the early
Spring or late Fall.  I am a Speech Language Pathologist and noticed a
mulberry tree with ripe fruit growing at one of the schools where I
teach.  My thought was that if it is in fruit now, it must have been in
flower at least a month ago.  This would have been wonderful food for my honey bees, if they use mulberry pollen and nectar.  So, my question is, do honey bees use the pollen and nectar that mulberry trees
produce?
We are really struggling in our area.  We lost one of our hives to starvation and we only had two!  We know veteran beekeepers who lost 30 to 40 hives to starvation.  We believe the temperature fluctuation from cold to warm and back to cold may have, also, contributed to our problems.
Thanks,
Susan
Columbus, GA”
bees in georgia
Being less of a bee expert than my friend Allen the Beekeeper, I sent him Susan’s questions. His responses are below:
“Mulberries do produce pollen bees like and use. Sadly, they’re not good sources of nectar, and in times of little to no rain, they have even less nectar than normal (and it is minimal to start with for the mulberries.)
If your bees need to be fed to get started, do so, even here in north central FL if I cant get them to citrus soon enough, I feed in times of
dryness.

Feijoa is a good nectar source if it grows there. And she can look up a local butterfly plant list. Plus, U GA has a good botany and entomology program that can help.

Side note: A typical campus is just as poisonous as a golf course in
terms of pest control and treatments. Yes, the fruit and blossoms are
there; but at what cost of contamination? Just a thought.
On the U GA site… type ” nectar plants ” and in the top five search is a list of Ga. Plants for her bees year round.”
After Allen sent me his responses, I talked to him on the phone. When he realized you were in Columbus, he told me that’s one of the toughest areas of the state for keeping bees happy. He also said that you may want to give up, since the droughts really wreak havoc on honeybees and the drought cycles seem to have gotten worse recently. Without lots of water and nectar, it’s a tough row to hoe.
One more thought from Allen: bees tend to do poorly in pine scrub. If your area is filled with pines, that’s a bad sign for bee longevity. It also brings in pine beetles to chew up your hives.
And here’s a question from me: Do you see any honeybees in the wild where you are? If not, that may be a sign that your area is simply poorly adapted for domesticated bees.
Susan – thank you for writing. I hope your bees do well.Too bad you didn’t ask about raising fire ants. Georgia is a REALLY good place for that (second only to Florida, of course.)

David-the-good-books-revised

A free beekeeping lesson from Allen

www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

Photo by Jon Sullivan (public domain)

I asked my friend Allen for his thoughts on bees – below is what he sent me last week – consider it a free beekeeping lesson. He started with the following quote, then continued:

“In the temperate zone, honey bees survive winter as a colony, and the
queen begins egg laying in mid to late winter, to prepare for spring.
This is most likely triggered by longer day length. She is the only
fertile female, and deposits all the eggs from which the other bees
are produced. Except for a brief mating period when she may make
several flights to mate with drones, or if she leaves in later life
with a swarm to establish a new colony, the queen rarely leaves the
hive after the larvae have become full-grown bees. The queen deposits
each egg in a cell prepared by the worker bees. The egg hatches into a
small larva which is fed by ‘nurse’ bees (worker bees which maintain
the interior of the colony). After about a week, the larva is sealed
up in its cell by the nurse bees and begins the pupal stage. After
another week, it will emerge an adult bee. For the first 10 days of their lives, the female worker bees clean the hive and feed the larvae. After this, they begin building comb cells. On days 16 through 20, a worker receives nectar and pollen from older workers and stores it. After the 20th day, a worker leaves the hive and spends the remainder of its life as a forager. The population of a healthy hive in mid-summer can average between 40,000 and 80,000 bees.” –Infogalactic

ALLEN:

“There on Wikipedia are the basic essentials of bee keeping – all you have to do is anything a matriarchal society wants!

My opinion: **PLEASE DO NOT TREAT EVERY COLONY AS AFRICANIZED!! Let a professional that WANTS to help the environment make that decision.  Chances are if you are NORTH of Okeechobee …you will never see an african bee. I’ve met a South African just as interesting, but much less harmless (unless bored), but that’s another story.

Most people want to grab the first can of toxic ingredients at hand
and go after bees. This is wrong on too many levels, STOP!!! Remember you are poisoning YOUR environment too.

Call a local Apiarist. Most pest control companies will tell you “they don’t
handle honey bees,” and thankfully now (unless they’re a dire threat) they won’t kill them either, so what to do?

Allen in action.

So now to the common sense. Don’t spray them with water if you see a swarm colony on the move. (Many have done it; therefore, I must say it!)

DON’T worry. Typically, they hang around for a few days and move on. They are just waiting on the slow relatives to catch up so they can
get to their new home.

If you feel the need to “check them out,” wear light colored clothing, no loud smells and watch them from a safe distance (they will let you know what that is.) When you see a honey bee, one of the biggest signs is before a bee stings, you will get bumped. Due to their sense of self preservation, they will
NOT sting YOU at the first chance – they want to live too. If you get bumped, back off and enjoy their company and unless IN a home of their own they will go away soon enough on their own.

And hey… what’s the worst that could happen? A new colony gets a fair start – and all the flowers have had all the sweet tenderness they need to make seeds for the next generation of food… and O2 for US!”

Update: Here’s Allen on YouTube in our free beekeeping lessons series:

David-the-good-books-revised

Capturing a swarm of bees

Bees5web

How many of you have been involved in capturing a swarm of bees? If you haven’t done it, man… it’s a rush.

Back in January, I had the chance to capture a swarm of bees. My friend Allen the Beekeeper called me out of the blue while I was hanging out with my cousin Jen, a fellow homesteading/gardening enthusiast.

“Hey Dave – want to go catch some bees?”

My answer – of course – was yes.

Allen and Dave star in UPN 33’s late-night movie The Andromeda Strain

The next morning we set off for a rental house in a residential neighborhood. The landlord had been told there were bees there, so she called Allen to get rid of them. Jen joined us and documented the experience with photos and video. (Final Cut is giving me fits right now. I’ll figure it out and post the video in the future… I hope).

Even though it was winter, the bees had swarmed – and then built a hive-  right out in the open. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Right on the side of an oak, about 12′ up, there were perfect hanging pieces of comb, covered with bees – and filled with larvae and honey. Totally bizarre. I can’t figure out how they were surviving the cold out there.

I climbed up and cut them down as Allen rubber-banded them into hive frames, then put them in a nuc box. After that, we brushed as many bees as possible into the box and prayed we got the queen. (Well… I prayed. Allen’s a born-again pagan, so I suppose he willed good karma at it). At any rate, we boxed up all the bees we could get, then Allen installed them in my backyard.

Jen – our adventuresome photojournalist

Some days later, we busted open the box and found there was indeed a queen in there. Hurray for bees!

It’s been a few years since I kept bees… this was something I was really missing. Thanks to Allen and these batty out-of-season-swarmers, I’ve got ’em again.

David-the-good-books-revised

Pollinator Plants

CosmosWeb

If you don’t have some pollinator plants, say wildflowers, or at least some blooming weeds in your yard, plan for them.

Attracting bees, wasps, moths and other pollinators will increase your yields – and they add a little joy to the grim slog of Depression 2.0.

It’s easy enough to tear up some ground and chuck wildflower seeds around. And often, the plants will come back year after year, provided they’re suited to Florida.

I’ve had zinnias, morning glories, tobacco, marigolds, sunflowers, 4 o’clocks, Jamaican sorrel and wild mints come back in subsequent years.

Perennial plants are even better.

The ornamental sage below is great for attracting good insects and hummingbirds.

Pollinator plants like Mexican sage are both lovely and useful

Bonus: it starts by plant division, so if you get one, you can later cut it into chunks and spread it around your yard (I put them beneath my fruit trees) once it gets big enough to divide. Also – don’t forget to include some Shepherd’s needle in your yard somewhere… it’s perhaps the most incredible bee and butterfly magnet that’s ever popped up in an un-mowed lawn.

Make some habitat for the pollinators… your fruit trees and gardens will thank you.

And – I can’t say this enough – plant a food forest! Even a little one provides food for you and a place for the pollinators and other good guys.

David-the-good-books-revised