A Swarm in June…

So the saying goes:

A swarm in May, a bale of hay, a swarm in June, a silver spoon, a swarm in July, not worth a fly.

In other words, if you want to capture a bee swarm, let it be June, with several months of nectar and pollen remaining before the freeze.  Then they have time to get themselves established and food stored for the long winter ahead.  At least that applies to those of us in Northern climes.

With all this in mind, and inspired by Bello Uccello’s Klaus and Shirley, there is now a swarm trap installed in one of my cherry trees.

Swarm Trap in the Cherry Tree

There are not a lot of bee hives in my direct area; however, one neighbour had three hives, and all three apparently fled the coop in November.  Which is very odd.  He believes they didn’t like the site of the hive (too damp).  They didn’t die; he saw them many times returning this Spring to take their stored honey out of the hive and carry it off to their wild lair.  They must be hardy and healthy bees, they made it through one of the toughest winters I’ve ever seen, with snow five feet deep.  Perhaps in a hollow tree somewhere in the forest.

So the swarm trap is waiting.

I saw the honeybees in early Spring when they came in droves to the blossoms of the sugar maples all around my house.  They also returned during the apple blossom season.  This year is a strange year.  Everything is late.  Many days are cold, as much as 10*C below the norms.  So I would say the bees have been challenged this Spring.

Now the comfrey is blooming.  For the past week I’ve been watching for the honeybees. But only bumblebees and other wild cousins visiting the pink blooms. Today I spotted the first scout on the comfrey.  About an acre of comfrey in bloom, I’d say that qualifies as mother lode in bee language.  As I write this the scout is probably back at the hive already, doing the bee dance, giving directions.  “Fly this far then turn right, then over the hill, and then straight up the rise.”

Comfrey Blossoms


Songbirds Find their Way Back North

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

As we have had a particularly difficult winter, which has lasted right up to the month of May more or less, the return of the songbirds is even more welcome. Thankfully there are now some insects to eat as well. Modern farm methods don’t really take the birds into much account, which is so wrong. It’s just wrong!

Apart from their beauty and song, birds are part of the intricate web of life we didn’t make, and which we disrupt at our peril! Just like the insects which so many dread. The mosquito and the black fly I could do without, but I don’t think the birds could! Which is another benefit they bring, the devouring of vicious insects, everything from blood-sucking flies to spruce budworms and the grubs which destroy the crops.

If a farm had a songbird management plan, farms would look different.  Hedgerows would return for example.  One reason the hedgerows are often ripped out is to make the fields bigger, which accommodates larger machinery.  Which is supposed to translate into efficiency.  I would say there is a huge cost to that kind of efficiency.  One book I’m currently reading is The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier.  It’s an eye-opener as to how two or three people can earn a very good living intensively working very small-scale farm operation–all while using methods which build the soil instead of tearing it down.  I’ll be doing a book review on it later!

Flycatcher Returns to the Woods

Flycatcher Returns to the Woods

Learning About Pollinators

In late September I was working around in the vegetable patch, and wondering if my squash plants would mature fruit before the frost, when I was struck by the amazingly loud hum of insects nearby. A number of years ago I had planted rapini and probably mustard greens of some kind. Lots of it went to seed and every year thousands of the plants sprout up in the Spring. If they are not in the way I just let them do their thing, and their thing means blooming and going to seed and starting more plants. So they have become an established resident of the vegetable patch, and I get to eat the greens from May to October, without even having to sow a seed.  They are delicious, and their bright yellow blooms add a cheerful note all season long.

I have now discovered that these brassica family plants produce lots of nectar, and letting them flower and go to seed is a boon to the native pollinators, and honeybees.

Like everyone else, I’ve been hearing about the demise of the bees, and I’ve done some reading into the problems with modern beekeeping, not to mention pesticide use. I’ve been thinking of bees for some time, with the idea to have honey bees here on the farm in future.

Well, the bees are already here! This photo is not great, I don’t have a macro lens. These were the little creatures making the buzz in the rapeseed. Honeybees with arrows

What an exciting discovery!

There are not a lot of houses in the area, and no bee keepers within honey bee range, so I assume these are honey bees from a wild hive. They may have swarmed from some distant hive, perhaps more than once. Apparently there is a significant population of feral honey bees now thriving in the wilds of Nova Scotia.

So next year I will be planting rapeseed on purpose, and sowing it in scattered patches far and wide on the property and in wild meadows. The reason I think this plant is so special for the bees, apart from the fact it produces a lot of nectar, is that it blooms and re-seeds, so there are blooms available from June to October. I plan to sow the seeds every few weeks to keep a good number of blooms going. The only reason I noticed the honey bees was that in October there are very few things blooming here. These bright yellow flowers were one of the only blooming plants available. So on every bright day when the sun warmed things up enough to encourage the bees to get out, they came right to this and one other late patch of rapeseed.

And not only bees showed up! There were other wild pollinators thriving and making the most of the last nectar. I took the time to do a little research, and was able to identify four species of bumblebee, drone flies (they look like bees but are actually flies), mason bees, yellow jacket hornets, and several types of wasp… all highly beneficial insects essential to pollination. I was surprised to learn that many of these native pollinators are even more effective than honey bees in the pollination game. By planting lots of flowers, by letting things go to seed and letting patches of the garden go wild, we will help these beneficial insects do their job. Later I will post on specific plants to grow for the benefit of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and all the other pollinators.

Will I Die if I Eat This?

1999 vintage jam1999 vintage jam bottle copy

I found a bottle of berry preserves on the shelf of my cold room–dating from 1999! Probably the first batch I made here at Turtle Hill. The seal was still well intact, and I had a french pastry crying out for something dark and intense, so I popped the lid. Looks good, smells good, tastes…great! I’ll let you know if it kills me!

The Roosters Earn a Living as Models

Gorgeous living sculptures!  They also make beautiful paintings...

Gorgeous living sculptures! They also make beautiful paintings…

The latest product from Turtle Hill Farm is a line of hand-painted cards featuring some of the residents, namely, the beautiful roosters. I like working in this fresh style which is an oriental approach to art, with deftness of brushwork being an important feature; it is not realistic, yet, it captures the essence of the subject. And I would say, the personality!

These works are done on the spot… with a live bird standing in front of me, not from photos. I’ve nothing against working from photos, but these are meditations, and the spontaneous, in-the-now making of the art is the most important part.

If you want to own a little piece of Turtle Hill, and an original work of art, you can buy cards at my Etsy shop!