The Big Move

My back garden forms an odd, pie-shaped situation and for the past decade, has become increasingly shady, especially in the back corner section of the garden.

These two photos are several years old and most of what is blooming in the shots either no longer exists or doesn’t bloom due to the shady conditions. Some bloomers here include Turk’s caps, with their summer tiny, twirled flowers, a Mexican Honeysuckle bush, whose orange flowers appear when the mood strikes, a leaning Frostweed which blossoms as it reaches for autumn sun, and a few small, shade-tolerant perennials and grasses. This darkened corner is best suited for foliage and, as of March, the beehives.

When Bee Daddy built the Langstroth hives five years ago, I see-sawed about which would be a better spot for the two hives: in the back, shady corner, a generally out-of-the-way spot, or in one of the opened graveled sections of the main part of my back garden.

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I opted for the main area of the garden, and while that wasn’t a mistake–it was easy to work around the hives and they received some nice bits of sun–I’ve come to accept that it’s better to have the bees tucked in a part of the garden where no one but yours truly ventures.

In autumn, I decided to move the hives to the back section of my garden. Really, it was only one hive that needed moving, because Buzz absconded last spring, the hive sitting empty for the year. Picking up and transporting Buzz’s truncated hive–base and roof–was a snap. In the new beehive spot, I also expanded the limestone border between the negative space and the garden, enlarging the beehive area a bit. I intended to mulch or gravel, but February’s snow storm and the months-long cleanup which followed, plus a bum back to boot, rendered that segment of the project incomplete before the two colonies of bees moved in, Woody in March, the new one in April. I added a few more shade-tolerant grasses to the garden itself.

In this photo, taken in January, you can see short little Buzz sitting all alone in its new cul-de-sac of the neighborhood, while tall, stout Woody, remains in the original spot.

There are about 17 feet between the two hives. Our plan was to suit up and smoke Woody sometime after the first couple of winter freezes, then move Woody 2 to 3 feet a day for 5 to 6 days. It’s best not to move bee colonies more than a few feet at a time because bees use visual clues and pheromone signals to exit the hive and return. If hives are moved too far, too quickly, bees are lost.

After the move, the two hives would then sit side-by-side in their shady, corner garden. I knew that as we moved Woody, we’d need to traipse across some plants, but accepted that the few evergreen plants bothered wouldn’t be particularly damaged. The awful February storm made one thing easier: all my perennials, even the so-called “evergreens” were knocked back completely. So after I pruned all the plants to the ground that were in the hive’s pathway, it was time to move Woody.

What fun.

The big move progressed reasonably well for the first 4 or 5 days. The hive is ponderous and awkwardly tall with its two brood boxes and two honey boxes. Bee Daddy did most of the “heavy lifting” while I skootched the hive along, keeping it vertical. The last day was, for whatever reason, the worst. It was chilly, which should have made it easier because the bees are slower in cold weather, but it took us longer to get the hive set and leveled in its new place. When working the hives, I wear a full bee suite, with veil, and Bee Daddy wears jeans, boots, and a jacket with a veil. As we were finishing up, Bee Daddy’s bum fired up in pain; he realized that he’d forgotten to put a belt on his jeans and, well, you can guess what happens when the jacket rides up, the jeans slip down, and bees find a way into clothes and onto bare skin.

Poor Bee Daddy.

Ouch! Itch!

In April, we hived a new colony and renamed the hive Bo-Peep. If you’re familiar with Pixar’s ‘Toy Story’ franchise, you’ll know who Bo-Peep and Woody are–a great pair!

Drat! I wish I’d had the time to mulch before we moved the hives. The weeds are going to drive me nuts this growing season!

Both hives are thriving. We continue to feed sugar water to Bo-Peep, as she’s still combing out the frames, but she’s almost done so the supplemental feeding will end soon. Bo’s queen is laying eggs and she appears to be off to a good start in colony life. Soon (we should have already done it!), we’ll remove one of the two full honey boxes from Woody and add an empty one for them to fill during the course of the blooming season. Then we’ll have another gallon or more of honey to process; we already have an embarrassment of riches in that category.

From both a garden aesthetic and a practical positioning, I’m glad the hives are in the back of the garden. The bees don’t care where their hives sit as long as there is plenty of nectar and pollen available, and honey to make and hoard.

In our subsequent hive checks, Bee Daddy hasn’t once forgotten to put on a belt! Lesson learned!

Me and My Shadow

Monk Parakeets are stopping by daily for some nibbles, usually favoring the safflower feeder. It’s a pair (mates?) and so fun to watch.

Parakeet performance art at its finest!

Beautiful green and blue birds, monks aren’t native to Central Texas, but instead, are descendants of released or escaped pets and they’ve thrived in this region for decades, creating colonies, feeding alongside other birds, and cawing loudly as they swoop around town in small groups. As far as I’m aware, they’re not destructive to any native species, but occasionally Austin Energy (Austin’s electric provider) pulls down the parakeets’ huge and impressive nests from the top of utility poles. The nests sometimes catch fire (electric wires!) and are clearly a hazard for both birds up top and beasts below.

I usually hear them more than see them, as their calls are loud and raucous, but they’re welcome to pop by for snacks. They certainly add a splash of color to the garden.

Red-n-Black

In my garden, red-n-black doesn’t lack–in bird colors. It’s that time of year, when the colorful migratory birds wing through Texas and (lucky me!) some visit my garden.

In early April, I always see one or more Summer Tanagers, Piranga rubra, who show up to snack on honeybees and native bees. These scarlet hunters are adept at catching the bees on the wing as both birds and bees flit through the garden.

If you look closely at this striking adult male, you’ll see something in his beak–it’s a honeybee.

In this shot, you can see the wings of the bee meal, the red menace in the process of whacking the hapless bee against the branch, effectively killing the bee and making it easier for the tanager to remove the stinger. That’s probably a good idea, considering that the bird is going to have the bee in its beak and down its gullet.

The snack is ready for the eating! I was able to capture these shots because my poor Red oak trees are late in leafing out after the snow/ice storm in February and is lacking in leafy lushness.

In a more colorful photo, the gorgeous guy perches in the freeze damaged, but partially foliaged, Mountain Laurel.

No meal is complete without a complementary aperitif, and what better drink to go with honeybee meal than pond water?

Or, perhaps it was just time to take a bath!

The brief April visits from this species is typically in the form of adult females and juvenile males, who are just as beautiful as this year’s male: golden feathers for the female and splotchy red and yellow for the youngster. Mr. Male was only here for a matter of minutes; I hope more of these tanager treats show up in my garden.

Another annual spring migratory visitor are Red-winged Blackbirds, Agelaius phoeniceus. I have a tough time catching these stunning birds as they’re quick with their seed and peanut eating, plus they fly off at the slightest movement. I was lucky to snap a photo of this handsome chap as he enjoyed a sip at the bar.

The male Red-winged Blackbird is a velvety, deep black, with underwing highlights of deep red and rich yellow. Their underwing colors are more visible when the bird is in flight, but significantly more challenging to photograph. But I’m content with this capture of his profile of midnight black, with bits of cheery color, and bright eye to complete the bird package.

Bird stories, garden stories–get your fill by popping over to Anna at Wednesday Vignette. Happy reading!