Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chicken Salad Bar - AKA the Greenhouse

I built my three hens a little addition to the chicken run to use up some of the scrap hard wire cloth and lumber I had floating around in the shed.   It's a little 3'x3' pen that I can open up for their snacking pleasure.
 I have two points of access- the closest side in the photo below can be completely removed so I can muck it out / add more grass / whatever. 
 I threw in some grass seed that I had on hand and it's just starting to take off. 

I'll let them have access to it for an hour or so a day, once the grass is filled in and jungle-y.

My hope with this addition is to increase the nutritional value and production of the eggs that my hens provide.  I have no idea if it'll help or not, but I bet they'll have a blast destroying it. :)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Mason Bees - Summary of 2012 Season and Preparing for Spring

I've just returned from the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.  My haul included a gorgeous blue zebra striped primrose (I didn't take a photo before I gave it to my neighbor- she loves primroses AND purple, and this pretty plant had her name written all over it), along with 7 dahlias, and, the pièce de résistance- more mason bee cocoons.

Mason bees are my current insect obsession.  I think we all should have one indigenous insect species to champion, and the blue western mason bee has impressed me so much that it's now a priority for my 2013 garden.  

Last year, I started with 20 cocoons and one small house.  Here's what it looked like at the end of the season:

There are two plugged tubes on the bottom of the nest box, which indicates that I have some sort of bee larvae waiting to be harvested.

There was significant water damage to my house though- water seeped into the bolts holding the house together, and along the roof.

Despite the issues, I still had some cocoons to harvest- 8 in total.

Behold, the contents of the tubes- I had 8 cocoons (3 female, 5 male), a dead mason bee, and a bunch of miscellaneous debris.

Here's a close up of the bee who decided to use my bee nest.  I promised her that I'd take care of her offspring to the best of my ability before burying her unceremoniously in the compost pile. 

A close up of the bee tube debris- the concave brown things are mud plugs- the yellow stuff is pollen- and the teeny tiny little bits are feces.

I made several mistakes in 2012 that I hope that I won't repeat in 2013:

1.  I didn't put my house in a sheltered area.  I had falsely assumed that the home would be sheltered well enough on its own.  Building something like this is a priority for me before putting out my cocoons:

2.  I'm going to release my cocoons in two different batches, perhaps 2 weeks apart.  My first 20 cocoons were soaked and soggy due to some crazy cold rain and due to the exposure issue I mentioned above- I can't imagine it was great to emerge under such chilly and wet conditions.

3.  Don't kill before you know what it is.  I thought I had a yellow jacket in my house (it was silhouetted against a bright window) and I killed it.  Afterwards, I discovered that I had murdered one of my own mason bees.  Whoops.  

Now I have a total of 37 cocoons in my fridge, thanks to Beediverse and Wild Birds Unlimited.  I'll be building a mason bee lodge here soon, and will have photos for you as soon as I'm finished!

 This is the perfect time of year to start a mason bee colony.  If you're so inclined, I highly recommend Crown Bees and Beediverse for both cocoons and information.