The Inner Cover

Kim Flottum

We have a garden every year. I know a lot of people that have bees have gardens. They sort of go hand in hand. You have a garden and it needs bees. It’s pretty simple. I think we’ve only missed a couple of years of not having something in the backyard since I started here. A couple of times the weather and travel got in the way and by the time we had the time it was August and too late. It was threatening to do that again this year, but we got a couple of breaks, and we got some extra help so it worked out. Better a little late than not at all.

I always plant some things in the garden just for the bees – odds and ends of flower seeds left over, some extra veggies they particularly like, and I try to let some things go past due for harvesting and go to seed – just so they have something else later in the Summer. Our garden isn’t a critical necessity when it comes to putting food on the table, but it supplies exactly what we like to eat. The exact color, flavor and size tomato, all kinds of green, yellow, red, purple and orange peppers, radishes as big, or small as you want, peas and all kinds of beans at exactly the right time and Summer squash as small, or as large as we want. We don’t get stale, old, tough or rotten out of our garden. What we harvest is always A+. That to me is the joy of having a garden. I choose what to grow and what to eat, not some produce manager or even a local CSA seller putting it out there and take it or leave it ‘cause I don’t much care.

We do lots and lots of not too many things. Lots of tomato plants (over 55 this year), and lots of tomato varieties (13 or 14 if I recall), same with peppers and Summer squash and cukes and beans and greens. And we do a whole bunch of really, really hot peppers, in pots on the deck. I don’t eat those. Not one, ever. Food shouldn’t hurt in my opinion. But we have a lot of friends that can’t get enough of them, can’t grow them and don’t get to farm markets much, and grocery stores here in northeast Ohio don’t carry many kinds. So because we always have a lot of them to share we have as many pepper friends as we do honey friends, if you know what I mean.

And with a garden, you can be planting every couple of weeks so there’s always something exactly ready right when you want it. We do that with Summer squash, greens, and a dozen or so kinds of lettuce and other salad greens. I get to get my hands dirty every day if I want, harvesting, planting, replanting, harvesting again – it’s what a garden is for, right? And especially with the greens and the lettuce, if we don’t get to them at the right time and they go past due, there’s 20 some chickens who watch us every time we go to the garden because they know when we come back – something will come with us that’s a treat and a half they don’t get in the Winter.

And there’s the herbs. For now, and for this Winter. Basils of all makes and manners, cilantros, oreganos and turmeric and more. Some picked fresh for now, but most harvested and saved for flavoring soups and such. Blended together with some garlic, no, lots of garlic, mixes of basil and parsley, oregano and cilantro, onions and basil and garlic and olive oil – blended to a course mix and frozen for later. We have fresh garden eating 365 days a year if we want.

So in early July this year, the week of the 4th to be exact, I’m in the garden, having just finished the last row for a while and I’m looking at our handiwork. We use 6’ x 4’ cattle fence panels to hold up the beans and peas and the rest are all in their own rows. Between rows we laid cardboard snug to the plants to keep weeds away, and on top of it all straw to both hold down the cardboard and to add yet more organic to the soil this fall when all the plants get pulled and the rest rototilled under to set for the Winter. All the pepper  transplants are put in a furrow opened with the rototiller, carefully set up straight at the right depth and then the furrow filled with a mix of garden soil and potting mix. Tomatoes and herb transplants get their own hole half filled with potting mix and finished with garden soil.Then the whole gets a good soaking, at least a half inch a week from rain or the sprinkler for the first month, along with half strength fertilizer once a week for that month. We give the plants everything they need to do as well as they can. They are nursed, babied, catered to, cared for and tended. And, almost always, they thrive because of that care and feeding. Unstressed plants fend off pests a tad better than their troubled neighbors, they produce more and larger fruit, they start producing earlier and continue longer, and they will harbor more beneficial insects than the same plant with issues of diseases, pests, nutrition or other problems.

So while there, a beekeeper outstanding in his garden, one of those flashes of inspiration came to me. The garden was just starting out. The plants we put in needed everything – seeds needed covered and watered, transplants needed roots buried just so and lots of water, the soil needed covering and protection from eroding drenchings of water from rain or sprinkler. What they didn’t need was to be left on their own, seeds scattered about hither and yon, transplants tossed into the rows, no covering to protect the soil and keep weeds in check and a faint hope it might rain in a day or less before everything dried up and blew away. What they didn’t need was to be on their own, by themselves, unprotected, unfed, un-anything. Moved from safe and dry seed package or a greenhouse environment to a cold, dry, nutritionless, cruel world to fend for themselves.

Because that is, you know, what nature provides. Plants grow, flowers appear, pollination happens or not, seeds grow and fall to the ground or are eaten by some seed eating pest or they fall where seeds won’t grow, but maybe, just maybe a plant emerges from a seed that makes it. Maybe. Sometimes. And you need a million seeds to get just a few to grow enough to repeat the process. And then they have to live well enough and long enough to produce flowers, produce seeds and do it again. With luck it happens. Do that with a tomato plant and you are a natural gardener. Nothing artificial, nothing added, nothing favored – it’s a live and let die tomato you’ll get. And if it lives to set fruit, that tomato will be – what – a hybrid of tomatoes of yesteryear, aided by a bumblebee’s buzz, sporting the best traits of one or several varieties? Or maybe a self-pollinated same variety as it’s now gone parent?

And wouldn’t you know there were a few of them growing early this Spring. Self-seeded from last year. Winter didn’t kill them (but then, it was a pretty easy Winter), come Spring the seeds from fallen fruit germinated and were already going strong by the time we got transplants ready and could get into the garden without a boat. Yup, going strong. Didn’t need water, food, protection or us. Natural tomato plants.

Well, standing there, I saw some similarities between what happens to some package bees sometimes. Moved from warm and wonderful south Georgia or northern California to northeast Ohio, those bees went from perfect to, well, let’s just say less than perfect. They need food because it’s too early for any around here for some time, and protection, and, and, and.

Meanwhile, that swarm hive from last year over there is doing just fine thank you. Got food, got protection, got a queen, got it made. A natural hive.

My natural tomato will get the benefit of some of the broadcast fertilizer, the irrigation the whole garden receives, and I’m pretty good about removing any pests I find. Disease shows up, the whole plant goes away so there’s no residue next year. Kind of the same with those bees. I don’t do much with them ‘cause I don’t have to. But if it’s a bust for honey I’ll make sure they have enough for winter from somebody else, and I won’t let mites get them cause I trap drones and make fall splits. I don’t put poison in a hive but I check to make sure they don’t get overrun and cause other hives a problem, and if disease shows up, that hive will go away so there’s no residue. Maybe this Fall I’ll just bury a few ripe tomatoes where I want them to grow next year and see what happens. If they don’t grow, it’s just more organic material for the soil. If they do, I have a whole natural tomato bed.

Second Year Class. A few years ago we had a beginner’s class here in September. It was for anybody who wanted to take it but mostly for all the beginners who took their initial class early in the Spring, which only touched on getting honey, Fall splits and Varroa control, winterizing, emergency feeding, frame arrangement for food and moving up, and Spring management next year. The second class was a lot more in depth and detailed and it was well accepted. To help I’ve got Tracy Alarcon, a county inspector who’s a darn good beekeeper with a lot of experience and because of what he does has seen just about everything that beekeepers can, and do wrong when it comes to all this Fall, Winter and Spring stuff. If Jim Tew’s schedule works he’ll be part of the class too.

So we’re going to try it again. It’ll be all day in early October, from early to late so we get it all in, in a single day, and includes an easy lunch. Since it’s starting a bit later in the Fall we’ll cover colony health going into Winter, nutrition, Winter protection, frame arrangement, emergencies, feeding, and emerging into next Spring alive and well and ready to go. We’ll send out details in the BUZZ and on Facebook and twitter so watch for those if you’re interested. We’ll even send along local hotel info. Stay tuned.

It’s August. It’s hot. And you absolutely need to pay attention to what’s going on with your bees. This is when Varroa kicks butt, and if you weren’t on top of it in July, you got about a week to get it in gear. If you treat, treat now if populations indicate. If you make Fall splits, do it yesterday so you can get those queens up and running before winter. If you don’t do anything, at least check mite populations so you know if you are the villain in the neighborhood spreading mites and causing Varroa bombs, and especially check so you know early on if someone else is doing it to your bees. It’s hot. Wear a wet bandana around your neck when you go to the bees to keep you cool, and keep your smoker lit, your hive tool handy and your bee veil tight. Next year has already started.