Simply Resourceful

Simple ways to be more conscious about how we use our resources.

Mexican Bean Beetle Invasion!

Our experience with garden pests have been very minimal...slugs and aphids.  Now that we live in the country without the suburban pesticides, we are realizing how difficult organic gardening really can be.  So far this spring/summer we have dealt with: cucumber beetles, potato flea beetles, cutworm, aphids, potato beetles, slugs, and the Mexican bean beetle.  We have spent hours and I mean literally hours, hand picking these pests.  Of course, aphids fly away and we haven't figured out the right mix of dish detergent and water for pest management control.  Any readers who have suggestions, please leave a comment!  The picture above shows a section of bean plants that have been affected by the aphids and the Mexican bean beetle.  Surprisingly the beans themselves haven't been affected, only the leaves.  

Here is a cluster of the Mexican bean beetle eggs.  One beetle can lay 40-75 eggs in a single cluster.  

Here is the larva.  These pests live on the underside of the leaves which makes finding them a bit more work.  We have 250 plants so that's a lot of leaves to turn over!

Weeks ago when we first saw this brown beetle, we thought it was a beneficial insect because the aphid population was declining.  Come to find out, it's the adult Mexican bean beetle!!  

I am so confused when it comes to knowing which bugs are pests and which bugs are beneficial.  There are so many different colors of ladybugs that I never know which ones should be left in the garden.  I left the ladybug in the above picture on the bean plants assuming it was a beneficial.  Do any of you readers have advice on identification?

Updates at the Wolfe House!

We have been a bit disappointed with the garden this year because the soil is really poor.  It's mostly clay with very little organic matter so it is hard as a rock without many nutrients.

Thinking ahead, Jon put a wanted ad on Craigslist for manure.  We quickly received a response...a farmer with 200 cows.  The manure is only 6 weeks old so we will rotor-till about half of it in the garden after the fall harvest; and then in the spring add more before planting.  Some of it will be added around the fruit trees.

For $75.00 we received 5 tons.  I couldn't help but take a deep sniff of this manure...the familiar smell of my childhood where I grew up on a dairy farm.  Cow manure always reminds me of the black rubber boots that fit over my dad's work shoes. 

Jon built a trellis for the tomato plants.

This is an embarrassing picture...these are supposed to be bush beans but they are not very bushy.  The ladybugs finally made camp and helped diminish the aphids that were eating the leaves.  The plants are slowly filling out and surprisingly have a lot of flowers ready to bloom.

This is the solar panel for the electric fence that surrounds the garden, blueberries, and grape vines.  It is 10,000 volts and can charge 30 miles of electric fence.  So far we haven't had any deer problems.  At first the grape vines weren't protected and it only took a week for the tiny leaves to be discovered and nibbled off.  Now that they are enclosed by the fence, the leaves have grown back and the deer haven't bothered them. 

The fruit trees are looking really good.  Out of 11 trees, 1 died, and another one only has growth coming from the very base where the root stock is before the graft.  Does anyone know what that means and if we still have a fruit tree of some sort?

The chickens are thriving!  About every 2 weeks I introduce a wheel barrow full of grass clippings into their outdoor fenced area.  When they aren't in the chicken tractor, they can keep busy scratching and pecking the new grass.

I haven't completed a hive inspection since I introduced the new nuc of bees 2 weeks ago.  With very few flowers out there for nectar, I decided to feed them because they have only a few frames of drawn comb and very little capped honey.  So far I have given them 11 cups water and 11 cups sugar.  In the corners of the vivaldi board you can see clumps of big black ants.  I am not sure if they are a threat so I left them alone. 

Everyday we seem to discover new creatures.  This week it was a gigantic turtle in the front yard coming out of the creek.  The tail is really long and covered in spikes.  We have also seen a blue heron eating fish from the creek.

It may seem busy around here, but we always find time to play!

Bee Arrival: Take 2

About a month ago a nuc was introduced into our apiary.  The first 2 weeks we saw a lot of activity outside the hive and a lot of pollen being brought in.  That activity quickly diminished so I decided to open the hive and take a look.  When I removed the vivaldi board, this is what I saw.  This isn't a good sign because there should be bees on top of the frames.

When I pulled a frame, this is what I saw.  There was no question about it...the hive was queenless.  Not only was the spotty brood pattern a dead giveaway, but there were several small uncapped supercedure cells and most of the capped brood were large, indicating drone cells.  Surprisingly there were a lot of bees so I think the queen has only been gone for a short time.  There weren't any eggs in the cells, only a few larvae and the capped drone cells.

Without hesitation, I called up the beekeeper I purchased the nuc from.  He had no problem swapping my queenless nuc for one of his working nucs.  I remembered my camera this time and took a picture of his apiary.  I really like the colorful hives!

I really like this beekeeper's way of making nucs.  He takes a regular brood box and divides it in half and keeps two separate colonies in the same box.  There is a divider down the middle separating the frames and entrances.  To feed the nucs, he uses mason jars with holes in the lids that he inverts over a piece of plywood with a hole covered with a screen.  He even paints the box in two different colors.  It looks like a really simple design that I may replicate someday when I have a large apiary.

Here is one of the frames he gave me for my new nuc.  The brood looks a bit spotty to me, but I was told that this pattern is characteristic of the VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygiene) gene.  I had never heard of this, but apparently it's a hygenic trait that helps increase the level of resistance to pests and diseases.  In a hive with the VSH trait, you will find spotty brood because the bees eliminate any brood that may show a defect or mite.  They have been known to detect mites on capped bee larva and they chew through the wax covering and eliminate the larvae before it even has a chance to hatch.  So even though the queen is laying eggs correctly in every cell, the other bees are removing bees which makes the pattern very spotty.  I was also told that over time, as the queen ages, the spotty brood pattern will decrease.  I don't know if this is all a fact, but irregardless, this is the colony I have for now and we hope it lasts through the winter now that the nectar flow is for the most part over for the summer.  Right now our goals are to get more comb drawn and make it through the winter.  Definitely no excess honey this year. 

I managed to get a picture of the queen in my new hive.  She is a bit smaller than we prefer. 

Jon snapped a picture while I was introducing the new nuc into our hive.

New Barn Roof!

Fixing up the barn is one of the two big projects for this summer, next to pumping the septic tank.  It's a small barn that has an insulated woodshop upstairs equipped with an air conditioner, fluorescent lighting, and cable TV.  It was certainly a man cave!  Over the years it had been neglected; as a result, squirrels, mice, snakes, wasps, and ants have made this their home.  Before the roof could be replaced, the plywood and moldy insulation had to be removed because there were some major water leaks.  This was quite the project!  Every time a piece of plywood was removed, nuts and ant eggs and ant larvae would scatter on the floor.  To put it bluntly, the ant colonies were pissed and had a terrible bite!  Thankfully we decimated the wasp population early this spring on cold mornings so  there were only a few wasps to smash before they had a chance to sting.  We weren't surprised to find 2 snake skins in the wall!

Our camera broke the week we started this project so I don't have any of the inside destruction, but we managed to get a camera the day before the roof tear off began.  The picture on the left shows the moldy plywood.  In places the mold was about an inch thick and hung like stalactites.  Because the walls and ceiling were insulated, the water never leaked fully through the plywood so the floor is dry. I think we caught the problem just in time!

The original roof was asphalt shingles, but we decided to put on metal.  It just seems fitting to have a tin roof on a barn.  Jon and I have never replaced a roof, so we leaned on two close friends who drove all the way from Wisconsin Memorial Day weekend to help us with the project!  With their help and expertise, we managed to tear off and put on a new roof within 2 days.  The guys worked hard and did a fabulous job in the 95 degree heat with 35% humidity!

In addition to the roof, we have also replaced some of the rotten siding (see the white squares?).  I hope to give the barn a fresh coat of paint this summer to finish it off.  It is a cute barn and we would like to have it ready for when we decide to have some livestock. 

Here's the first trip to the landfill.  There were 3.5 truck loads.  It was a little sickening to see all the waste. 

Here is a snippet of what it looked like at the landfill.  It was an open pit were we literally drove on a pot-hole ridden path to the top of a hill, dropped our load, and drove away.  

About this blog

A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.

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