radicle beets

Water!! And an Espalier! by radiclebeets

Last week, while we were in the food forest doing our thing, Jen noticed a little trap door hanging out by the wetlands. Adam and I watched  giddily as Jen, curious as she is, pulled open the door  to reveal a brand new water tap! This is very exciting news for the food forest as it means no more having to wheelbarrow giant bags of water back and forth from 4 blocks away! Not only that, but this also means fun possibilities in installing a new water irrigation system, which means even more possibilities for the food forest are headed our way. Woot!

Other exciting news at the food forest: our pod built a peach and apricot  espalier! We put our brains together, got some material, and designed a structure for our trees to grow against the south-facing building wall belonging to our friends next door. We also added a sloped roof at the top of the structure to protect the trees from rain. These fruit trees prefer a lot of sun and so we had to figure out a way to keep them dry and warm in this rainy Coast Salish climate.  Also it was a great excuse to spend two days working hard in the sun so that afterward, we could treat ourselves with some excellent ice cream!

Oh hey, what is an espalier anyway?

An espalier is the agricultural practice of tying tree branches to a frame and pruning them so they can grow flat against a structure. But why would we ever want to do that? Well, at the food forest we are lucky to have a south-facing wall be part of our garden. Since the sun shines hard against it all day, the wall absorbs a lot of heat and will retain that heat even after the sun has set. If we could get these sun-loving trees to grow nice and flat up against it, they will greatly benefit from the additional warmth.

An espalier is also a really great way to maximize space. In a couple of years, when our baby trees grow up, we will have a beautiful green wall that bears peaches and apricots. Not such a bad deal!

I’d like to give a special thanks to Jordan, who is on his way back to California, and Johana, who has gone back home to Toronto, for their amazing work in making this happen. We were lucky to have you and look forward to seeing y’all again!

Later days!



We like to move it! by radiclebeets
July 11, 2012, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Beekeeping | Tags: , , , , , ,

There has been a little shifting around lately with our three beehives.  What’s the big deal?  Moving, splitting, and recombining hives can be a lot more complicated than it might seem.  Bees have photographic memory–they know their place well, and when their hive moves and they don’t readjust their 2-mile radius image of the world, they can get… well, kind of confused.  Bees also know who is and who isn’t from their hive, so simply combining two hive boxes together can create a veritable war inside the hive!  Not to mention disturbing the natural balance of brood and honey.  Through many shifts in the past few weeks, we have learned a lot about how bees function and negotiate the nectar-ful world around them.  Here are some details on the moves that we have made, and an update on how the hives are doing after all that!


The Great Move

Earlier in the year, after deciding that the rooftop of the Mergatroid building was too wind-exposed for our bees to safely overwinter, not to mention a bit of a liability when bringing a group of people up to watch, we moved our hives the controversial distance of more than 2 metres and less than 2 miles.  Why is this so full of controversy?  Honeybees are understood to have a general flight radius 2 miles.  Their photographic memory covers this area.  When they are moved less than 2 metres, they should be able to easily spot their hive upon returning for a flight, and readjust.  When the distance is over 2 miles, the bees will completely reorient as they leave the hive, since they will not recognise anything of their surroundings.  However, moving hives distances in between 2 metres and 2 miles runs the risk of bees leaving their hive and returning to their old location.  It is, by many beekeepers, not reccommended if it can be avoided.  Since our food forest site was only 2 blocks away, we decided to try it.  Since the move also involved getting the hives off a roof, we had to do some research and planning.  A week before, we put a movable landmark in front of their hive (in our case, taping a cross of sticks) to cause the bees to start to pay more attention to their hive’s appearance and their surroundings.  Three days before, we confined them (this needs to be done at night when all the bees are in the hive) with wire mesh tacked across the opening.  Confinement for 72 hours causes maximum reorientation in the bees to their ‘mental map.’  On the big day, we strapped the hives up and had some help from a local forklift driver to move them down from the roof and in Matt’s truck to the new site, where we could release them.  The danger with this kind of move is that they might go back to their old hive site, and we really had no idea what to expect from our first attempt at this complicated procedure, but it seems to have worked!  The bees are now happily at their new site near the food forest!  Since then, we have moved the other hive (which we had thought was on the verge of death but made a miraculous recovery!) to the new site as well, where they are both now sitting peacefully amid the grass and pesky brambles!


Hive Splitting and Recombining

Two weeks ago, we had a great orchestration of shuffling around of our hives.  Hive splitting and recombining is a way of equalizing the strength of the hives, using a strong hive to help a weaker one, and preventing the naturally occurring (yet devastating to honey-gathering) phenomena of swarming.  Our oldest hive, Missbeehaven, was full to the brim and preparing to swarm–we could tell this by the multitude of swarm cells (larger cells where they would lay a replacement queen before leaving with half of the hive for greener pastures).  Our other hive, Maybee, which had made a miraculous recovery since being near death over the winter, was still quite weak.  With some advice from bee mentor Brian, we decided to split Missbehaven (taking one of the two hive boxes away and replacing it with an empty hive box) and add one of the full hive boxes to the single hive box of the weak hive, Maybee.  We also decided to add a new queen to Maybee, as we hadn’t seen her and a lack of queen, or simply a weak queen, seemed to be a likely cause of their slow growth.  We had also just recently installed a new nuc, Newbee, and needed to add a honey super (and extra hive box) onto it to accommodate its quick growth.  So, one day, with many skillful new beekeepers in the orchestration, we found the queen in Missbeehaven, took the other queenless hive box off, put a new empty one in its place, installed a new queen that Phanh had picked up that morning into the bottom hive box of Maybee, and added Missbeehaven’s removed box onto the single brood box of Maybee (with two sheets of newspaper in between, cut through in a few places to allow them to slowly get to know one another as they gradually chewed through the paper).  We then added a honey super onto the nuc (newly installed hive), Newbee.  Luckily, there were many helping hands, and the shuffling seems to have gone down well!

Updates and Queen Rearing

Queen bee in a cage, before she is introduced to the hive!

Our hives seem healthy and happy for the mostpart.  Missbeehaven is a little more quiet than usual, and we are guessing her queen may be older or dead (we didn’t see her the last time we inspected the hive).  This hive is laying a new queen and we’ve decided to let it grow rather than introducing a new mated queen.  Hopefully this will go well and Missbeehaven will soon be thriving again too!

Our new exploration is into rearing queens within our own hives.  By reducing our dependence on outside sources to buy reared queens, we can become more self-reliant and move towards a respectful and sustainable beekeeping practice.

Natural Building Workshop on Salt Spring Island by radiclebeets
July 3, 2012, 10:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

Jenni here, reporting back from the natural building workshop that I attended with the Mud Girls on Salt Spring Island from June 18th to the 22nd.  We built a straw bale wall for a client.  The wall is both for privacy and noise reduction from road traffic.  When it is completed, it will be a beautiful new landmark on the main road of the island, complete with a plastered mural on the front and a living roof.

Me with the almost complete straw bale wall behind me.

The first thing that I learned was how to build a dry stack rock foundation.  The term “dry stacking” refers to building without the use of a mortar.  The rocks are stacked in such a way that they are overlapping and the weight of the rocks themselves keep them in place.  This method of foundation building is stronger and will last longer because it doesn’t rely on a mortar, which will crumble over time.

Once the foundation was completed, we drilled holes into some of the rocks and inserted threaded rods.  We then covered it with a layer of cob, in order to make a flat surface for the straw bales.  Cob is a common and versatile natural building material made from clay, sand, water and straw.  We mixed the cob with our feet.  I chose to go bare foot, and I found that by doing so, I was able to feel when we needed to add more water or straw and exactly when the cob was ready.

Once that was done, we started stacking the straw bales in a running bond (like bricks) and pinned them together with lengths of rebar.  Some of the bales were impaled on the threaded rods, which are what is holding everything together.  The bales were leveled off and the spaces in between were stuffed with slip straw.  Slip is a mixture of clay and water, and slip straw is straw that is lightly coated with slip.  We topped the wall off with wood planks which were bolted onto the threaded rods.  We cut out and attached trusses to the planks and nailed down plywood for the roof.

Now the wall is being left for about 6 weeks so that the bales have a chance to compress and settle.  There will be another workshop in August where the wall and the cob benches we also made will be plastered and the living roof will be completed.

Discussion topics included, types of natural building materials, applications for different materials, house design and building methods, different types of roofs, earthen floors, ways of heating, insulation vs. thermal mass, different types of natural plaster, building codes, how to protect naturally built structures from the elements, and basic natural building principles.

I would love to share the skills and information that I have learned and am excited about the possibilities for future workshops and building projects with the Purple Thistle Gardeners.


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