To Bee or Not to Bee….

In case you were wondering, I have been away for a while which is why you haven’t heard from me during the last month or so. Having survived the long, drawn out winter here on the island, I decided I needed a break; no cooking or housekeeping, no near or distant relatives, no pets, no rain or snow; just a pleasant climate with sunshine, pretty views, a nice sandy beach with swimmable sea water lapping at the edge of that beach, and a good book. Time away to recharge my personal battery.

I packed a small bag and travelled to a little village in Mexico, on the west coast, where I have spent quite a lot of time in the past. There, in familiar surroundings, I had the companionship of several like-minded friends who spend the winter months in that quiet and pleasant seaside community. I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday and was a little sorry to have to return to the reality of a late, chilly spring in the Pacific Northwest.

I had left home during monsoon-like conditions and apparently two weeks had done nothing to alleviate the poor weather. Luckily I had brought along a small folding umbrella. Managing to stay fairly dry, though shivering with cold, I made my way, using public transportation,  through  Vancouver to one of the southern Gulf Islands where C. met me. We spent the Easter weekend with family and friends before driving north and then boating home to our own island.

Spring had arrived while I was away! The daffodils, clematis, wild bleeding hearts, wood anemones, grape hyacinth and a lonely tulip or two are all in full bloom.

The bright green grass in the back yard has grown thick and lush and is ready to be cut. In the vegetable garden the rhubarb has sprouted up tall and thick, the first stalks have already been harvested.

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While I was holidaying in sunny Mexico,  C. kept busy holding the fort at home. Along with the endless job of firewood harvesting, he built a beautiful looking pile of compost, layering sea weed, sawdust, chicken manure, leaves and kitchen scraps. This ‘lasagna” of compost is cooking away as I write and will soon be ready to top dress the plants in the garden.

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More firewood, compost bins, top right.

C. looked after the tender seedlings that I had sown just before my departure. After the initial bad cat attack (when one diabolical feline managed to dig up half my freshly planted seeds in the indoor seed frame), C. fixed things up nicely, creating a totally cat-proof Fort Knox of seed-starting frames. The tiny bright green tomato and pepper plants plus a few herb and flower starts all looked healthy and have now been potted up into larger containers.

These heat loving seedlings fill the indoor seed-starting set-up with its fluorescent lighting system. The other small seedlings (cabbages, broccoli, cauliflowers and Brussels sprouts) that prefer cooler weather have been transferred to the outdoor cold frame until later when they will be set out into the vegetable garden. I have placed some spinach seedlings in the cold frame to join the lettuce and spinach plants that I started last fall. These are now quite large and ready to be made into a small salad or to find their way into a lunchtime sandwich. Once they are used up and the weather is warm enough, I will replace the salad greens in the cold frame with  basil seedlings that will grow there all summer long.

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One of the first things I did after arriving home was to check on my little Mason bee cocoons. They were still in a small, cheesecloth covered jar in the fridge, over-wintering since last autumn when I removed them from their little house to clean and store them, dormant in the fridge until the conditions outside were just right for returning them to their wooden house of holes.

The cocoons looked good, and the bees had not yet begun to emerge, which was a relief. So far, conditions have not been ideal for putting the bee cocoons outside. I thought they might like to start warming up gradually, so I left the jar on the counter in the cool laundry room for a day or so. The weather took a turn for the worse yet again; it was cold, only 7 degrees Celsius. The West Coast Seeds catalogue mentions that Mason bee cocoons should be “put outside on a windless day with a high of about 14 degrees Celsius”. Still too cold for my baby bees! Despite the warnings, the little bees began to emerge anyway. After releasing three bees onto a soggy forsythia bush, I bunged the jar containing the rest of the cocoons back into the fridge to wait for the weather to improve.

A couple of days ago we had a lovely day and I am happy to report that all the Mason bee cocoons are now outside, gradually emerging within the seclusion of the hatching chamber of their little yellow roofed, A-frame house. Soon they will be busy pollinating the apple trees, which have yet to burst into bloom.

Things on our island are normally about a month later than the southern islands, where at Easter, great clouds of plum and cherry blossom filled the air with their soft scents. The bees there were happy,  buzzing greedily about their business.

It is an exciting time in the gardening year. I feel pleasantly overwhelmed by all the tasks competing for my attention. Every day, when it is not pouring with rain, I dig a little bit in the vegetable garden, preparing patches of ground as I go. I spread compost over the previously well-limed soil. I add some bone meal, blood meal and Gaia Green, a chemical-free natural organic fertilizer, before  planting the vegetable seeds and starts. Here a few peas, there some potatoes (no lime for these), a patch of leeks next to the garlic patch,  some parsnip seed there beside the pea patch, and so on until gradually, eventually, all will more or less be planted.

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By then we will have reached the middle of the growing season, and there will be bit of a pause before once again, the weeding, the watering, the tending and harvesting will begin to consume the remaining days of summer.

©Claudia Lake, claudlakeblog, Island Time
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8 thoughts on “To Bee or Not to Bee….”

    1. Thanks for your comment and questions, nice to hear from you.

      All that rhubarb gets eaten up one way or another. For dessert we eat almost exclusively fruit crumbles; rhubarb is the main ingredient for this from about mid-April to the end of June or so. Rhubarb freezes very well (chopped up and straight into a freezer bag) for use all winter long in more crumble (plain or mixed with other fruit and berries)as well as cakes, muffins, pies etc. I also use rhubarb to make a refreshing beverage; rhubarb cooked with water and some sugar, boiled and strained, then bottled; to be mixed with plain or sparkling water (this would make a good cocktail with a dollop of champagne, vodka or gin!). Then there is jam, chutney, or simply baked or stewed with a bit of sugar (adding a sprig of the herb Sweet Cicely is supposed to help sweeten rhubarb, allowing for less sugar). Baked rhubarb with custard sauce is another delicious dessert. I am planning to write a post about rhubarb soon, so stay tuned!

      Mason bees are wonderful pollinators, and hardly take any time at all to look after; it probably depends on how many bee cocoons end up surviving (bringing them in and cleaning them up at the end of their cycle helps with survival rates I am certain) but I spent less than an hour cleaning up 100 or so cocoons last fall; then nothing apart from scrubbing the housing parts to store over the winter. Maybe a half hour in the spring to re-assemble the house, hang it on the fence and re-install the cocoons, then the little bees are on their own; I love them so I keep having to peek at their emerging progress. I find them fascinating and no trouble at all. Our apple and berry production has increased dramatically since we started keeping the Mason bees. There are other native bee species that one can provide housing for as well; leaf cutter bees are one. Well worth the very small amount of effort in my view.

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      1. Thank you for the information. I especially like the idea of using sweet cicely to sweeten it up. That is great you are able to use it all up. It is so easy to care for and just comes back every year.

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      2. Yes, very easy to care for, and it shows up just as we have used up the last of the apples from last fall, so provides us with some sort of fresh “fruit” stuff; though I think technically rhubarb is a vegetable….still, a real spring tonic! Cheerio and happy gardening. I hope things are warming up for you down there….here it is cold and blowing southeast, not very nice for the bees etc.!!

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    1. Thank you! Nice to hear from you. I also found your blog very interesting; look forward to reading more, and good luck with the blog-a-day project; that is a daunting prospect from my point of view! The bees will be fine, I am sure, especially when the weather warms up a bit. Cheerio!

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  1. I like the way you make you bee nest blocks. Mine are just drilled into solid blocks. Last year was my first year so I’m learning. I didn’t refrigerate my bees. I just left them in their blocks until they emerged. Meanwhile I made a second set of nest blocks to put in the little hotels I made from old birdhouses. It was fun to watch them coming out. I read somewhere that females are laid in the rear of the holes and males in the front. The males could emerge first and be ready for the females as they came out. I actually saw a pair mating on the front of one of the blocks. They are all now busy “as bees” going in and out of the new blocks. I love the way they sit in the front, looking out at the world. – Margy

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    1. Hi Margy, Many thanks for your interesting comments re: the bees! Very informative. Sounds like a much simpler method than the one I have been practising. I am curious to know the difference in survival rates between the two methods; might have to do a sample of both methods to know for sure. I love the way the bees peek out of the holes as well. How lucky to see them actually mating; and how do they know which are the males and which are the females for laying order purposes, I wonder? Or is the sex of each bee determined, somehow, by their position in the holes? Very curious; so many questions and not enough answers. I think this will be an on-going research project!

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