Beginner to Beginner Queen Rearing

November 7th, 2011 by david laferney No comments »
A queen bee.

You can learn to produce your own queens using this small, but scalable system.

I originally wrote this article in 2011, since then I have continued to keep bees and rear some queens every year.  I have tried most of the other popular methods, but this one is still my favorite for the size of my apiary and my needs.   As I have learned new things I have incorporated those into this article.  So, on with it…

I’m a beginner.  This has been my second year raising queens – my third year keeping honey bees.  So  I am in no way pretending to be any kind of an expert – not only have I made many mistakes, but I expect to make many more next year.   As one beginner to another – I think I might have  some useful insights into getting started in queen rearing.

I’m going to give several  beginner-to-beginner tips in this article.  Things that might not be all that helpful to old hands but have really helped me.  Here’s the first – and I think, best:

Plan to practice  rearing queens when it’s easiest – during the main flow/swarm season, that is – late April/Early June in Mid TN – when the bees want to reproduce.  It can be done earlier and later, but it’s a lot more difficult.

The Basic Principle of Honey Bee Queen Rearing

Any queenless hive of honey bees will try to make a new queen if it has the resources to do so.  The required resources being » Read more: Beginner to Beginner Queen Rearing

How to build strong bee hives for honey production – Ed Holcombe

July 14th, 2010 by david laferney No comments »

How to build strong bee hives for honey production – Ed Holcombe


This is from the notes I took at an excellent session at the Heartland Apiary Society gathering in Cookeville, TN July 8-10, 2010.  I’ve tried to accurately record the instructions that were given, but it is quite possible that I’ve gotten something wrong.  Caveat Emptor and all that.

Everyone won’t agree with all of this – that is a given among bee keepers – but I’ve tried not to interject my opinion at all.


To make a good honey crop requires:

1) A large population of foraging bees » Read more: How to build strong bee hives for honey production – Ed Holcombe

Starting Seeds Indoors Under Lights

February 8th, 2010 by david laferney No comments »
seedlings growing under lights

Seedlings growing under lights

I started some seeds today in my “plant work room” and I thought you might be interested.  I start seeds in regular plastic nursery trays that I get from a local greenhouse – and that I save from store-bought plants.  I do recycle my plant containers from year to year –  If you reuse containers like this you really should wash them thoroughly in a weak bleach solution and dry them in the sun before storing them away for reuse.  » Read more: Starting Seeds Indoors Under Lights

Honey Bee Queen Rearing

February 4th, 2010 by david laferney No comments »

This post is probably not going to be very interesting unless you keep honey bees – Or want to become a bee keeper.  Sorry about that, but there will be more gardening content coming soon.

Queen Bees – The heart and soul of a honey bee colony is the Queen.  Every hive has just one (with few exceptions) and if she is healthy, good natured, and productive she will pass those traits on to all of her daughters – the worker bees – and all will be good.

A bee keeper needs new queens to replace failing older queens, and to establish new hives and grow their operations.  If a hive becomes queenless for very long it’s production and health will suffer, and eventually the colony will die.  Hives with old queens are more likely to “swarm” – an event where the hive splits itself and half of the bees flying off to make honey for their selves instead of for the bee keeper. So replacing old queens with new ones every year is also a way of preventing swarms.

Queen Rearing – Most bee keepers order new queens by mail (when they are available) for about $20 each plus shipping.  Others raise (or allow the bees to raise) their own queens one at a time like nature does.  These videos are of what is called queen “rearing” – producing viable queens in batches.

At a value of $20.00 each the ability to rear even small batches of queens could make a big difference in the economics of a small apiary. Being able to have queens when you need them instead of having to wait for one to come through the mail, and having some control over genetics are also factors in favor of learning this craft.

Wax cell cups for raising queens

In the first video very young (probably one day old or less) worker larva are being removed from a frame of brood comb and placed into wax cups using a wire grafting tool.  BTW, all workers are female.  The larva are very small – about the size of a comma.  Wax cups roughly the size of a small thimble  are either manufactured or are home made by dipping a wet wooden peg into liquid wax.

1) Grafting larva into cups

In the next video, the grafted queen cups which have been mounted with hot wax onto cork shaped pegs that fit into a special frame are being placed into a “cell starter” hive.  A cell starter is a regular hive with the queen removed that has a very high population density of bees – especially young “nurse” bees – and plenty of food stores – honey, and pollen.  » Read more: Honey Bee Queen Rearing

The Ultimate When to Plant Guide

February 2nd, 2010 by david laferney No comments »

My Garden in April

Pay attention.  This may be the most valuable tidbit of gardening wisdom anyone ever hands you. Of course it also might not be.

When to plant – every seed packet you pick up has a little map on the back with 4 or 5 colored zones and planting dates for each zone.  Or they have cryptic advice like “whenever soil can be worked”, “after soil has thoroughly warmed”, or “after all danger of frost.”    Forget all that.  Plant when the soil is the right temperature.  Period.   Depending upon how sheltered your garden is, or if it has shade in the morning or afternoon – or if it is in a greenhouse or cold frame – those dates are just about meaningless.  But, the soil temperature will almost never lead you astray because the ground temperature changes slowly – it is slow to warm up in the spring, and slow to cool off in the fall.  Not wildly swinging with every warm or cold front.

Seed Germination time in days at different temperatures

degrees F 32 41 50 59 68 77 86 95 104
parsnips 172 57 27 20 14 15 32
onion 136 50 13 7 5 4 4 13
spinach 62.6 23 12 7 6 5 6
lettuce 49 15 7 4 3 2 3
cabbage 51 17 10 7 6 6 9
carrots 50 17 10 7 6 6 9
celery 41 16 12 7
peas 36 14 9 8 6 6
radishes 29 11 6 4 4 4 3
asparagus 52 24 14 10 11 19 28
tomatoes 43 14 8 6 6 9
parsley 29 17 14 13 12
sweet corn 21.6 12 7 4 4 3
cauliflower 19 9 6 5 5
beets 14 9 6 5 6
turnips 5 3 2 1 1 1 3
lima beans 30 17 6 7
okra 27 17 12 7 6 7
peppers 25 13 8 8 9
snap beans 16 11 8 6 6
cucumbers, summer and winter squash
13 6 4 3 5
eggplant 13 8 5
watermelon 12 5 4 3
muskmellon 8 4 3

As a general rule seeds that can germinate at a lower temperature are also more resistant to rot.

If you study this table you will begin to understand » Read more: The Ultimate When to Plant Guide

Greenhouse Collapse!

January 31st, 2010 by david laferney No comments »

If you’re thinking about building a greenhouse here’s an opportunity to learn from my misfortune.

This is bad.

hoophouse greenhouse collapse from snow load.

Only 3 inches of ice and snow did this to my hoop-house.

When I first built it, my 50 dollar green house had a design flaw to say the least.

After removing the snow from my collapse greenhouse it is almost as good as new.

Fortunately After removing the snow from my collapse greenhouse it’s almost as good as new. But, I think I can prevent this from happening again.

This isn’t a great thing to find on a winters morning, but on the other hand a minor fail like this is just the thing to help improve a design. Fortunately I got the snow off of it before any real damage was done – this time.  If I didn’t live in the (usually) sunny south it wouldn’t have taken me over a year to discover this design flaw.  So – to anyone who’s been inspired by this blog to build a greenhouse…  Sorry about that.

Here’s the thing – as long as rain or snow runs off and doesn’t accumulate which it usually doesn’t – all is well.  It’s even OK for a little bit of snow to accumulate on top, because it just falls right off of the steep sides, and no harm is done.  But once the peak starts to sag then it doesn’t run off like it needs to, and it can build up more weight making it sag even more, which allows more to collect, more weight, more sag… Until you get an ugly surprise.

So here’s what I did.  » Read more: Greenhouse Collapse!

Salad Every Day

January 12th, 2010 by david laferney No comments »

Lettuce growing in my cold frame.

When I built my 50 dollar greenhouse over a year ago one of my goals was to be able to have something fresh to eat out of the garden or greenhouse every day of the year.  Well, it’s been about a year now, and  it hasn’t even been very hard to do.

Here is what I’ve learned so far –

Despite what you might have read, lettuce spinach and other salad greens are not really  particularly quick crops.  Sure you can have a pretty little stand of plants in about 6 weeks or so under good conditions, but  in cool weather  they don’t really get productive until they are  almost 3 months old.  Yes you can harvest a few salads out of the thinnings, but the young plants » Read more: Salad Every Day

Forced Rhubarb

January 7th, 2010 by david laferney No comments »
Doesnt that look delicious?  Forcing rhubarb results in an earlier, tastier, more tender crop.

Doesn’t that look delicious? Forcing rhubarb results in an earlier, tastier, more tender crop.  The container used to force this rhubarb probably should have been taller – note that the tops are curled over.  Sure is a pretty color though.

Rhubarb is a perenial plant which grows back from the root crowns every spring.  The large leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid and are poisonous, but the celery like stems are wonderfully tart and tangy.  Children like to eat them fresh right out of the garden, but nearly everyone likes it used as a fruit in sweet deserts – pies, crumbles, or just stewed with sugar.  My Mom (a marvelous cook of course – thanks Mom!) used to make it into a pie with strawberries.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Don’t worry too much about those poisonous leaves – they apparently taste so nasty that there is not much danger of anyone eating them anyway.

Here in TN I can barely grow rhubarb – although last year was so cool and rainy that it did pretty well.  It really does much better farther north » Read more: Forced Rhubarb

My first Year Keeping Bees

December 16th, 2009 by david laferney No comments »

Traditional clay covered straw skep hives in the Basque region

Those cone shaped bee hives are called skeps, and I’m pretty sure that the two simple wooden boxes are bee hives too. In most (if not all) of the United States the law requires that bees be kept in “modern” hives which can be opened and inspected. This marvelous picture is one of many extraordinary images that you can see at The Bee Photographer –  BTW – that is not me in the picture.

I’ve really enjoyed my first summer keeping bees – Working with, observing, and learning about the bees has been very interesting and enjoyable.  Before I started I read a lot about the subject, but inevitably experience teaches things that I didn’t pick up on during months of study.

You have to feed bees –  And it is more expensive than you would think – ideally bees feed their selves, but if you are trying to increase the population of your apiary you will probably have to feed sometimes – BTW most hobby bee keepers feed their bees syrup made out of plain old granulated sugar.  I haven’t kept up with it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve bought $50 (or more) worth of sugar to feed my 1 1/2 hives of bees this year.

When I feed my bees syrup I use a quart jar with a few small holes in the lid.

When I feed my bees syrup I use a quart jar with a few small holes in the lid.

Bees make honey of course, but they also eat honey. So if you harvest too much, or if it just isn’t a good year for honey production you might have to feed your bees – even after they are well established.  But when you are first starting out and concentrating on growing more bees rather than producing honey it’s almost a sure thing that you will have to feed.  Bee keepers have a saying – You can grow bees or you can grow honey, but not both.  Don’t plan on producing a lot of honey for a year or two. » Read more: My first Year Keeping Bees

Turnip Plantin’ Time in Tennessee

August 26th, 2009 by david laferney No comments »
There are good reasons to plant turnips even if they arent on your list of vavorite vegies.

There are good reasons to plant turnips even if they aren't on your list of vavorite vegies.

Turnips will almost never be the answer to the question of  “What is your favorite vegetable?” so maybe the title of this article should be “Cover Crop Plantin’ Time in the Mid South”  but it just doesn’t have the same alliteration thing going on.  BTW, it’s the last week of August, and a few harbingers of fall are already apparent – goldenrod in bloom for example.

Anyway, your summer garden is looking disgraceful (you know it is) and it’s high time to put all of those disease and weed ridden plants out of their misery before you get a visit from the homeowners association.  Hopefully you are planning to grow a fall garden, but even so  some amount of ground  is probably going to be vacant once you tidy up – which is where cover crops come in.  Any good cover crop will suppress weeds, prevent erosion, improve the fertility / organic content of your soil, and in some cases even put food on your table.  One of the main things that cover crops do is to absorb soil nutrients into their tissues as they grow so that they don’t leach away during the rainy winter.  But (to me) the main reason to plant cover crops is that they save work, because all of those advantages are gained with no more effort than it takes to sprinkle a few seeds on the newly bared ground.

The most popular fall / winter cover crops in my area are: Turnips, Crimson Clover, and Annual Rye.  They are area favs for good reasons, and they all have their unique advantages.  Rye probably does the best job of suppressing weeds, and adds lots of organic matter to the soil when you work it in early next spring.  Crimson clover adds nitrogen in addition to organic matter.  Turnips main claim to fame is the fact that they also yield food – all winter long in some cases.  Ask around (at a farmers co-op for example) to find out what works best in your area.

Whichever cover crop you choose to sow buy your seed by the pound (at a farmers co-op or or Real Garden Center) unless your garden is awfully small a little paper packet isn’t going to be enough seed.  Anyway, a pound of turnip seed should only cost 3 dollars or so, will last just about forever in the freezer, and contains enough seed to plant the entire state of Rhode Island – it’s one of those things that you should just keep on hand.  If you keep them in an empty shaker bottle such as spices comes in it will be very convenient to just sprinkle about – a good tip for all kinds of salad green seeds.

The other thing you should do with any of these crops is to completely ignore the planting dirrections.  One of those little packets will tell you that you need to plant turnips 1/2″ deep in loose fertile  soil which has been enriched with lots of organic mater – which is true if you are hoping to win a ribbon at the fair, but for the purpose of a cover crop just sow your seed thickly (thin later with a hoe if you want to harvest roots)  on top of the ground after you have pulled the old plants and weeds.  You do need to use a rake or cultivating fork to break up any crust that you might have, and you will probably want to rake it out just to be neat – but that’s all.  The main thing is to throw those seeds down and everything else will take care of itself.  If you water one time after sowing the seeds you will probably see sprouts in 3-4 days.

But, you say “I’m planning on mulching/tilling/fertilizing/planting something else long before those cover crops will be done.”  Don’t worry about it – when the weather cools off and  you get ready to do any of those things just do it  – until then your cover crop will be improving your garden for you, and if you don’t get around to those things until next year it will look like you planned it that way.

This is one of the best times of the year to work in your garden – get out there!