Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Sting

Before I talk about what I really want to talk about, I'll update you on the aquaponics. The greenhouse is a big jumble of what looks a lot like rubbish, waiting to be transformed into glorious greenery reaching to the sky - strawberry towers dripping with red berries, tomato plants outgrowing their beds, etc etc. Jeff is on the ground, putting pipe together, and says he will order the gravel for Monday or Tuesday. Me and my tomato seedlings are getting tired of waiting. But we have been sidetracked by a very interesting turn of events.

 My daughter says, that according to the new Williams Sonoma catalogue, I am an "agrarian." So we have progressed from hippy to earthy to agrarian! " Our agrarian friends, the Hunts, and ourselves, decide to add bees to our list of fun things to do. We build 4 hives of 5 boxes each, and paint them pretty colors. We build 10 trays per box, and set them up on a nice stand by the garden.

Dave, one of our bee mentors, arrives with his bee suit to deposit three boxes of bees into the hives. First, he removes the queen bee in her little cage. Up and down the cage she goes. One end of the 3 inch cage has a cork in it. When she is at the far end of her cage, he quickly removes the cork and holds his thumb over the hole, and waits for her to go to the other end again. Then he plugs the hole with a sugar candy that looks like a licorice allsort. He hangs her little cage on a frame in the hive, and sets the open box of bees in the hive and puts the lid on the hive. That's hive number one, the green hive. Then he does the same for the brown hive and the purple (yes, purple) hive. The bees are suppose to eat the sugar candy and release the queen!  Meanwhile, she is being fed by more bees through the mesh walls of the cage. By the time she is released, all the bees are suppose to be happy in their new home, and love their queen, and start doing their thing. Next day, Jeff will take the lids off the hives and remove the travel box and add 5 more frames to each hive.
Loading the green hive

The Evil Queen herself!

Next day, Jeff goes to do this chore (oh, but with no bee suit on, since we forgot to buy one), and finds that all the bees have moved into the green hive and are a big boiling mass in there. He doesn't open the green hive! He calls for help. Alicia says she'll come over next evening with her suit and move some bees back into the other hives and take the green queen at least 2 miles away. That queen has obviously got too many pheromones, says Alicia. But late morning, while I am pulling weeds nearby, I hear a jet taking off, and the bees are slowly rising in a column up from the green hive. Up, up, forming a cloud, then a ball, and attaching to a limb above the hive. Alicia comes over right away to look. Yup, they've swarmed! $225. in a ball above our heads. She says they need to get back in their hive right away but she can't climb up to get them.  She suggests we use the forklift nearby and lift the hive up right next to the swarm to tempt them back in. We spritz the hive with sugar water to attract them and set it on a pallet and strap it down. This is all very unconventional, says Alicia, who has spent the last 8 hours on trying to figure out what to do with the mutinous bees. She has a few words to say about the green queen who absconded with our bees! She's worried the bees will move the swarm, and not into the box. We decide to wait for Dave to come home from work and go up into the tree (because he's not afraid of heights and he has a suit!) and scrape them into the box. Meanwhile we are starved and Angela brings us all a burrito. :)
"She didn't even leave us any eggs!" 

So we all go back to work, checking on the ball of bees now and then to see if they like the green hive yet. Then it happens again. The jet taking off sound - and this time we watch them fly over the treetops!

We are very sad; we want new, faithful bees. But we are going to be all the buzz at the next bee club meeting!
Alicia shows us what a tray of bees is suppose to look like, with tiny eggs, larvae, hatchlings, nurse bees, drones etc

Friday, April 6, 2012

progress report

Well, I wasn't going to blog again til we were up and running, but we are pioneering here, and there's always some problem or other to solve. For those of you who plan on copying us and starting your own backyard or commercial aquaponic system, I'm including a list of what not to do. Oh, first, my daughter pointed out to me that I spelled aquaponics without an "i" in my link. No wonder I can't find it when I do a search! Aquaponcs! Good grief! I have new glasses now.

Progress made since last post:

  • Hoop house up! Problem encountered: after battling with the giant kite of film, puffs of wind trying to sail it off over the trees, we discovered it was 9 inches short! How on earth? So we ordered a 5 foot strip of film which just arrived, and we'll wiggle wire it between the last two hoops.  
  • IBC's purchased, cleaned, and cut for grow beds. Problems encountered: IBC's were too dirty, it took us days to scrub them inside and out - we ended up selling half the first batch and buying cleaner ones! This is all organic dirt, mind you. The tough stuff was some sort of glycerine, very tacky, with dirt stuck to the tacky. Then we found some that had contained organic fish fertilizer from an organic blueberry farmer - perfect! 

  • Tables built for growbeds - each bed will be 900 pounds when full of gravel and water, so the tables have to be tough!
  • 8+ whole IBC's all full of rainwater for the fish, thanks to the third rainiest March in Seattle's history! See above picture of downspout in IBC.
  • Seeds started - tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zuchinni, and cukes started in rockwool. Lettuces and Basil, I'll start right in vermiculite and transplant them into the grow medium as soon as they sprout. So I'm waiting on those. The seeds you see in the dirt are Kale, broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts for the dirt garden outside. This is a makeshift seed starting set-up with the tomatoes, peppers and cukes on the heated kitchen floor, and the others on the cold floor. Grow lights on both to prevent the leggies!

Still to do before we can plant - PLUMB! Get plumbing, Jeff! Next we'll fill grow beds with gravel. We might have to hire help for that - heavy work and we're pretty old. Then we'll start the cycling process. I'll add the plants during this stage and keep them fed with liquid seaweed until cycling is done and we're ready to add fish. 

And lastly, here's the list of to-do's and not-to-do's for other beginners: 
  • Don't buy IBC's that are too dirty - Cleaner ones are worth the extra money! Time is money.
  • Find IBC's that have smooth sides!! Just trust us on this one.
  • Contact us for cutting and measuring instructions so you don't have to do it twice.
  • OR: For a small backyard operation, order the instructional video DIY Aquaponics by Murray Hallam.
Next post I'm sure we'll have more not-to-do's for you. And I'll update you on plumbing and cycling! 

P.S. We're trying to pick a name - do you like "Piscine Produce"? Any other ideas for us??