As many of you probably heard, I am trying my hand at beekeeping this year for the first time. Back in January, I ordered my ‘nuc’ (short for nuclear unit), then I bought the pieces and assembled my hive, and painted it turquoise and yellow.
When my nuc arrived in April, I drove to the pick-up location and put the sketchily-secured container of 12,000 anxious bees, with a not-at-all-secured screened entrance into my subaru and very carefully and nervously drove 3 miles to the apiary where I am now keeping them.
I’ve been a pretty hands-off beekeeper so far-just enough to keep them happy. I go there once every week or two, open up the hive to check the brood pattern and make sure the queen is still laying eggs. Since they have been doing so well, I have also been
checking for queen cells and drone comb-signs that they are getting ready to swarm. I have been giving them extra space when necessary, by exchanging brood frames that were full of honey for empty ones so they can use them for brood, and by adding the honey supers. In doing so, we got our first harvest of honey, and probably a pound of wax that I have been testing out lip balm recipes with.
Hey all! I had a couple new card designs printed recently-the ladybug and the western thatching ant are brand new and I’m really happy with how they turned out. I also found some fancy colored envelopes so each card has a matching envelope.
Here are a couple pics of the full set. I started selling packs on Etsy if anyone is interested. Next task: get Paxton Gate (arguably the coolest store in PDX) to sell them for me 😉
I personally go to about 15 farms each week. The insects we look for are ones that you are probably familiar with-mainly spotted winged drosophila, but also brown marmorated stink bug, lygus bugs, aphids, and beneficial insects like bees, lacewings, lady beetles, and minute piratebugs. I have definitely found the insect searching and counting to be the most straightforward-there aren’t many insects I can’t ID with a sample and google. But I also look for symptoms of fungal, viral, and bacterial infections in the plant, which can be much more difficult. There are lots of symptoms that can be caused by a range of things, making it much less clear-cut than IDing an insect. For instance, leaf yellowing could be nutrient related, a viral infection, chemical damage, root rot, etc. I am starting to get the hang of it, but there is a lot of second-guessing involved.
As I mentioned, spotted winged drosophila is the insect we care the most about, and I do a TON of trapping and counting them. SWD is a fruit fly that is relatively new to berry farmers in the US. It arrived from Asia in 2008 and has since exploded in California and the Pacific Northwest. As of a couple years ago, it was established in MN as well. The female has a strong serrated ovipositor that makes her able to saw into soft fruit to lay eggs, and their fast generation time makes it so that any berries that ripen later in the season can be pretty heavily impacted. We trap them with apple cider vinegar mixed with white wine-they can’t resist it! The trapping isn’t intended to reduce the population though-it is only an indicator of the population
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great solution to combat these guys either, particularly for organic farmers. The best way is just to try to keep ripe fruit out of the field, harvest as early as possible, and plant early-fruiting varieties whenever possible. For instance, June-bearing strawberries would be at a lower risk than ever-bearing strawberries.
Another big part of my job is monitoring traps for three native moths in fields where produce is shipped to South Korea. The Korean government has strict protocols that need to be followed before fruit can be imported to make sure that no insect hitchhikers make it into their country and become invasive. We use delta traps with
pheromone lures to attract the adult moths. They get stuck to the sticky bottom of the trap and we can monitor the population level by counting them each week. It breaks my heart when I find incidentals like bumble bees who were trying to find shelter from rain stuck to the traps. Call me biased, but I feel less bad about sticking the yellow-jackets.
Last week Pete and I went on a multi-purpose trip to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Zion National Park, UT to do some visiting with friends, climb, and (most importantly), look for insects.
It was a sunny week with highs in the mid 70s. In Zion, the boxelder bugs were out in full force, and one lone butterfly followed us for a couple miles up Angel’s Landing. Other than that, I think most of the bugs were hiding in the ground and not out-and-about. With the exception of the one day in Zion, we spent most of our time climbing near Red Rock NCA, and though I kept a vigilant eye on the ground for beetles, I saw very few: only a couple pinacate beetles and one dune beetle. The dune beetle was nearly dead on the trail, and the pinacate beetles must have been scared up by the foot traffic near the road. Both of these beetles
are members of the Tenebrionid family, the darkling beetles. Most of the genera in this family are active at night, though there are exceptions. Apparently the pinacate beetles are known for doing a sort-of headstand and emitting a stinky odor to ward off predators, but the ones I saw weren’t doing that.
I had an inkling that most insects in this desert would be nocturnal, avoiding the mid-day heat, and I am fairly certain that had I gone back in the evening, I would have found a plethora of ground dwelling insects and other arthropods. Unfortunately, it was just not going to happen with my low energy level after the days of sunshine and climbing. Also, our trip was just a few weeks early for most flowering plants, which typically flower late March, I am told. They have received usually high amounts of rain this winter, and so are expecting an especially good spring bloom. I bet there will be lots of insect activity then.
In the end, I was able to collect a couple beetles and bring them home, and I am excited to do some drawing with new specimens. Next time, I will have a better idea of what to look for and when, and hopefully can schedule in some night-time bug-hunting.
I had a request by a honeybee lover for a tattoo design of a worker bee. I don’t know how easy it for tattoo artists to replicate drawings like mine, so I tried to use more solid lines and less shading than my usual. It measures a mere 2.5″ x 3.” It didn’t take too long to draw, and it has me mulling around ideas for a tattoo for myself!
One thing that I especially enjoy during my entomology pursuits is getting my engineer/photographer boyfriend Pete to nerd out on bugs. I found these two arthropods in our house recently, and with very little prompting, Pete jumped up to get some photos of them. He was originally much more of a landscape photographer and has only recently been getting into macrophotography, which may or may not be due to my fascination with the miniscule. Either way, I like it!
These photos are of a brown marmorated stink bug and a spider. Not the most charismatic subjects, perhaps, but the options are limited in these late-winter weeks. The brown marmorated stink bug is a true bug in the order Hemiptera, family Pentatomidae (its shape resembles a pentagon). It is actually native to Asia, and has become a serious pest of fruit and vegetable crops around the US. Nevertheless, it is very pretty up-close with its red eyes and greenish depressions on the head and pronotum. This guy was sitting on our countertop, and we moved him to the stove to get the black background before putting him in the freezer 🙂