About Tina

I’ve gardened in Austin, Texas (zone 8b) since 1985. I garden with low maintenance, native and well-adapted non-native plants to conserve water and reduce workload. I also choose plants which attract wildlife to my gardens. I’ve completed the Travis County Master Gardener and Grow Green program (through the city of Austin). I’ve volunteered for a number of public and private gardens, as well as consulted and designed for private individuals. Formerly, I managed Shay’s Green Garden at Zilker Botanical Gardens and Howson Library Garden for the City of Austin. My garden is a certified Monarch Waystation and a Wildlife Habitat.I blog about my garden adventures at: https://mygardenersays.com/ I love blooming things and the critters they attract. Tina Huckabee

A Sweet Year

As beekeeping goes, it’s been a banner year for us and our resident stingin’ sisters.  The girls are in fine form and their queens are tough and strong, making good bee decisions and producing lots of bee babies for the next generations.  I haven’t taken many photos of the hives in the last few months and our last hive check was in October, but it looks like we’ll end 2018 on a good–if sticky–note.

We’ve extracted several gallons of the sweet stuff during 2018.

One of several groups of bottled honey for this year!

 

These photos were taken in the summer and demonstrate the strength of our hives.

The top part of the frame is capped honey, below are the cells where larvae are nurtured and bees are hard at work for the hive.

The metal contraption at the left of this photo, is a frame holder. When we remove a frame, we can hang it here while we poke around in the hive.  It can comfortably hold three frames.

 

Because the bees had completely filled the large brood boxes in both hives with honey and larvae, we added a shallower box, called a super, on top, and placed a queen excluder in between each top brood box and super.  The queen excluder is exactly what it sounds like:  a separation piece with mesh bars that are large enough for the workers to crawl through, but too narrow for the robust queen.  Workers can traipse through the excluder and into the super to make honeycomb and the queen can’t get through to lay eggs, so she rumbles around in the brood boxes doing her egg-laying thing.  The result is that in the super, there’s pure honeycomb, no larvae.

We added the super to ease overcrowding which could lead to swarming–a perfectly natural response to an overcrowded hive–but not one that a beekeeper wants to encourage.  We want to keep our bees and we want some of their honey.  That’s why we keep’em!

Those silly bees continued to build comb along the queen excluder.

We scraped off the comb-n-honey bits, kept some for ourselves, and left the rest for the bees to enjoy.

We observed this goofy comb-building during a couple of hive checks and then endured a head-slapping realization.  The bees built the wonky comb in the super because we, their keepers,  placed top bars, rather than full frames with wax foundation, in the supers.  Until our two Langstroth hives, Buzz and Woody, became honey producers (which happened this summer!), our honey extraction has been very low tech endeavor.  Our original hive (Scar) utilizes top bars with no foundation and the bees employ a free-form downward build as they make comb.  When we’ve taken honey from Scar, we cut the comb from the bar, then crush the comb and let the honey drip into a bowl.   I pour that honey through strainers and deposit into bottles.  All in all, it’s a relaxed process, albeit a bit hard on my wrist.

Langsthroth hives are best used with full frames and foundation, and are geared  for the keeper to extract honey efficiently, while limiting damage to the comb.  Our use of top bars in Buzz and Woody was a poor decision.  Of course the bees were going to build comb to their needs and not ours–we’re the silly ones, not the bees!  Bees couldn’t care less what shape the comb is. They’re just doing what honeybees do–build comb and make honey– while our choice of using the inappropriate-for-Langstroth hives top bar, which resulted in “messy” comb, was our lame and misguided attempt to delay the inevitable:  the purchase of a mechanical honey extractor which is how grown-up beekeepers extract honey.

Well, we’ve learned our lesson!

We assembled new frames for the supers for both hives, complete with foundation. The bees are now happy and productive, and gone are the wavy-gravy combs.

It’s humbling when you’re outsmarted by an insects.

So what’s next for the backyard beekeeping adventure?

Honey extractor with electric, heated comb knife,  and strainers.

A brand new, never-been-washed, manual two-framed honey extractor!  Don’t worry, we’ll wash it before we use it, but that won’t happen until sometime in late February.

When we last checked, both Buzz and Woody had completely filled each of the second brood boxes and their supers with honeycomb.  We’ve left all in the hive for winter so that the girls have plenty of the sweet stuff to slurp throughout the cold, wet days and nights.   In late winter, we’ll take some frames out before the queens ramp-up for spring egg-laying and fire-up the extractor. The use of the honey extractor advances us into a new level of beekeeping.

I’d say it’s been a good year for the honeybees and their keepers.

Here’s to sweetness for all!

 

Not Only Butterflies

Along with other contemporary perils, a remarkable habitat in South Texas is threatened by the irrational and incorrect belief that America is being invaded.  It’s not only that a uniquely diverse environment will be demolished, but that ecotourism, which is a huge economic driver of this region, will be seriously impacted.  The National Butterfly Center, as well as Native American gravesites, a historic church, the La Lomita Chapel, and a state park are in the direct pathway of the proposed–and funded–border wall along the Rio Grand River between the United States and Mexico. Sure, cute ‘lil butterflies and birds will lose their habitat and die, and yeah, the endangered Ocelot and Jaguarundi will have difficulty finding their former water source and die, but also private property will be seized and land benefitting many will be fragmented and obliterated for the foreseeable future.

Check out this sweet video of  a Rio Grande River tour with an accompanying explanation of this beautiful and rare area:

 

Our section of heaven on the banks of the Rio Grande River is on the line, threatened by the Border Wall. This once thriving, recreational area has become the center of a battle for a fully militarized zone between Texas and Mexico.  Please enjoy this tranquil and beautiful sunset cruise, as filmed just downriver from the National Butterfly Center, from aboard Captain Johnny’s Riverside Dreamer in Mission, Texas.

To join us in fighting the border wall, which will place the region’s only source of fresh water behind 30 feet of concrete and steel, please go to our GoFundMe page where you can make a donation to our cause. Here is the link: https://www.gofundme.com/protect-the-national-butterfly-cen…

Help us preserve the Lower Rio Grande Wildlife Conservation Corridor and the incredibly rich biodiversity of threatened plants and animals that live here!

Did you know nearly 150 species of North American butterflies can be seen only in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) of Texas, or by traveling to Mexico?In fact, more than 300 species of butterflies may be found in the LRGV, and more than 200 species have been seen at the National Butterfly Center, including a number of rarities and U.S. Records! Incredibly, almost 40% of the 700+ butterflies that can be found in the United States can be seen in this three-county area at the southernmost tip of Texas, where the subtropical climate makes it possible to enjoy the outdoors year ’round.

Even if you choose not to donate to the GoFundMe campaign, click and read, as it explains well the travesty of this border wall nonsense.  If nothing else, the list of federal laws being waived for this horror is illuminating– and horrifying.

For more information about how the wall will affect the the environment, the residents, and the immigrants, please read these articles from San Antonio Express-News  , The Washington Post another from The Washington Post, penned by the videographer of the above video and an employee of The National Butterfly Center, and The Guardian.