Queenright

Queenright. “Of a colony of social insects, especially honeybees: possessing a queen.”

I would love to talk about the potential broader uses for the word ‘queenright,’ but since this is a community gardening blog, I’ll stick to the information I’ve been reading about honeybees and beekeeping.

Here’s the new hive that’s been set up at PPCG by a local resident. To my untrained eye, the bees look all right. I’ve enjoyed watching them come and go and now have a better understanding of the word ‘beeline.’ These gals don’t bumble around.

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Most of the bees in any hive are workers, females who do the work of collecting pollen and nectar, among other tasks. They can, for example, lay unfertilized eggs, which become male bees.

Male honeybees, drones, are far less numerous and exist for one main purpose: to mate with a queen.

A queen (one per hive) will lay fertilized eggs that are capable of becoming workers or queen bees, depending on how they are tended by the worker bees. All of the larvae start off being fed a substance called royal jelly for a few days; then, all the bees destined to become workers get switched to regular old pollen and honey, the stuff of of the plebeian masses. Should the hive need a new queen, the selected queen-to-be gets a continued diet of royal jelly.

The key here is that for the first few days, any larva from an egg laid by a queen can be turned into a queen. As long as there are young larvae from fertilized eggs available, a new queen can be made.

Can you guess where this is going?

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Pictured above, the beekeepers are inspecting the hive at PPCG, searching for, among other things, the queen. Apparently she’s gone. Why? Maybe she flew off to mate and got eaten by a bird or met the grill of a car (no joke, here’s a study on insect deaths by vehicles). The consultant beekeeper (above right) mentioned that around 30% of queens who fly off never return.

So a queenless hive is not an uncommon problem, but the hive at PPCG is looking like it’s not going to create a new queen on its own. In addition, it’s producing no new female workers to keep everyone fed and maintain the hive. I’m skimming over details here; hives are fascinating, complex systems. When one part of the system goes wonky, the whole thing can fail.

There is another option if the queen doesn’t return. A new one can be installed, within another short window, which means the beekeeper will have to purchase a mated queen and go through a process of introducing her to the hive. It sounds tricky, but if she gets installed properly, the hive will be queenright again.


For further info…

More details on queenless colonies here.

Lots of great info on honeybees and beekeeping. (University of Arkansas)

Honey bee waggle dance (3-minute Smithsonian video)

Watch a honey bee hatch (short National Geographic time-lapse photography)

Beginning Backyard Beekeeper (It’s not easy getting started. Growing a Greener World episode)

Honeybee decline (link to USA Today)

Another perspective (honeybees, shm-oneybees: a little vinegar from NPR)

The decline of flying insects (opinion piece in the New York Times)

A bee’s POV? This novel by Laline Paull has been been on my TBR pile.

Getting Started at PPCG (Part 6): Maintaining Your Garden

After you’ve planted, you might be surprised by how much attention your small garden will require, sometimes on a daily basis. You’ll also be surprised by how much it yields if you put in the effort.

Watering

Those baby seedlings and transplants can’t be abandoned; one hot dry day will do them in. Once they’ve been established, you’ll grow healthier, stronger plants by watering less frequently and more deeply, which encourages root growth beyond the surface of the soil. See more Watering Tips.

Mulching

The benefits of using mulch in your garden include:

  • regulating soil temperature
  • maintaining moisture
  • suppressing weeds
  • adding organic matter to your soil
  • protecting crops from soil-born diseases that can be splashed onto your plants when you water

Types of organic mulch include straw, salt hay, wood chips, seaweed, chopped leaves, buckwheat hulls, stubble-harvest-straw-agriculture-158198.jpegand grass clippings. But take note:

  • Leaves can form a matted, water-resistant barrier if they are not chopped or composted first.
  • And thick layers of grass clippings can turn into a stinky, slimy mess.

In addition, some gardeners like using plastic mulch.

Keep the mulch away from the base of your plants. I usually put down mulch in my walking paths first, then fill in with more mulch closer to my plantings as they get established. The goal is to smother weeds, not your plantings.

Last summer, I applied a thick layer of newspaper topped with wood chips. The worms loved it. Most newspaper dyes are okay; check if you’re not sure. The Boston Globe, for example, offers this info. I’ve also heard that lawn refuse bags make great weed barriers.

Gary makes use of free seaweed, collected from beaches. Louise (plot 25) favors buckwheat hulls. And I noticed that Marie (plot 11) uses salt hay.

We do not use the composted leaf mold offered for free by Braintree because we cannot guarantee that the product is free of chemicals and other unwanted matter. For this reason, we’ve started our own leaf compost pile in our garden.

Fertilizing

It’s difficult to talk about fertilizing without knowing your soil, so here’s one more pitch for getting your soil tested. Before throwing down any fertilizer, if you know exactly what your soil needs, you won’t be making blind guesses that can be detrimental to your garden, the environment, and your wallet.

Depending on the needs of my garden at the time, I’ve used products like Garden Tone, composted manure, blood meal, bone meal, kelp meal, and compost from my home composter.

Want more information about organic fertilizers? Here’s a good place to start.

Pests and Diseases

Heads up, gardeners: the deer are active at PPCG this spring.

I’m not sure there’s much we can do to protect ourselves from determined deer because we cannot exclude them with tall fencing around our garden perimeter. In this case, it’s helpful to think more in terms of deterrents and “acceptable losses.” On a more positive note, I will also say that in every year I’ve gardened at PPCG since 2010, I’ve always harvested more than I’ve lost.

In the past, I’ve sprinkled my plants with cayenne pepper and dangled old CDs from

string around the perimeter of my garden. I’ve seen other gardeners use pinwheels. And Louise (plot 25) has covered her lettuce and pea shoots with bird netting (available at Home Depot). If you notice forks growing out of Gary’s plot, it’s because he’s hoping the sharp tines will deter rabbits. With all of these efforts, there’s not much to lose except a little bit of our time.

IMG_20180423_075227139.jpgThis year, I tried inter-planting lettuces with bunching onions and bordering my garden with shallots, leeks, and garlic. Maybe the scent of allium will deter rabbits and deer from chowing down on my lettuce. It’s worth a try, and if nothing else, this particular inter-planting makes good use of space. (Update: the deer did, indeed, skip over my lettuce, but chowed down on a perennial flower and trampled carrot seedlings. I counted myself lucky he didn’t eat the peas and decided, not without pause, to install a fence around my plot. He can still jump over or wiggle under the 4′ plastic mesh–and if he does, he’s going to cause a lot of damage–but at this point, if he gets my plantings, he’s earned them.)

Want some more ideas for deterring wildlife? Try here.

Regarding insect pests and diseases, we have a new gardening resource (stored in the shed) that will help us identify them in our garden. It’s also available here online.

  • Consider using hybrid plants as a front-line defense against common diseases.
  • If you have any diseased plant material, please bag it up and remove it from our site to protect other gardeners.

Specific insect problems at PPCG

  • Vine borers have plagued some of our squash crops.
  • Some of the gardens along the treeline bordering the park have been affected by winter moth caterpillars dropping from the trees overhead. If you garden in one of these spaces with trees favored by this caterpillar, you may want to use row covers over your leafy greens until their season passes. Remember to remove the covers if you have plants that need to be pollinated.
  • In 2017, we also had a localized infestation of earwigs, which the gardeners controlled with a trap (buried bottles filled with oil and soy sauce).
  • If you notice that one or more of your plants looks like it’s been snapped off at the base, you may have cutworms. There’s a simple remedy for cutworms, but you have to act before they do their damage. See the following fact sheet link.

Here’s a good fact sheet with more info on general insect management and here are more fact sheets on specific pests, but please remember that we do not permit synthetic products.

Happy gardening, everyone!


In case you missed it…

Part 1: Organic Gardening and Soil

Part 2: Our Growing Season and Gardening Resources

Part 3: Garden Design

Part 4: Plant Choices and Sources

Part 5: Planting