Monarchs, Top Bars, and Peas

Hiking this morning with the dog, I came across a familiar patch of milkweed. I always look closely at it, searching for eggs. But look what I found today:

There were several of these Monarch caterpillars, in different places in the milkweed patch, eating away. I've only been able to see this once before. It seems easy to miss, unless you're looking every day, and I hike somewhere different every day, so it's about a week before I come by this patch again. Next time, I'll look for cocoons.

This afternoon, I spent a quality hour preparing more top bars for the beehive. In a top bar hive, there aren't frames - just bars - and the bees build their comb downward from the bar. Beekeepers use different methods to give the bees a guide and help them build the comb straight. Some dip a string in beeswax and lay it in a groove. Some just fill a groove with melted wax and let it harden. When my father built my hive, he glued a bit of honeycombed beeswax in the groove, and this has caused my bees to build very straight comb. However he only put it on eleven bars, and there are 28 in the entire hive. We've already given the bees those first 11 bars. First we started with five, then moved to seven, then nine, and now 11. I'm thinking that they are only going to build more quickly, and I needed to have more bars ready for them.

I ordered sheets of honeycombed beeswax from a candle making company, making sure it was 100% beeswax. I cut the sheets into narrow strips, and spread Elmer's in the groove in the bar, then forced the strips of wax down in there.

And I've got 17 more bars, ready to go.

When the bees have filled all 17, it will be time to harvest honey, depending on the time of year. You want them to have space, but not too much: You want to guide the amount that they are building, but at the same time give them enough room to grow, so that they don't swarm. You want to take enough honey that they have to keep working, but not enough to leave them hungry over the winter. It's a delicate balance.

Right now, I'm keeping them behind a spacer, which I move every time I add bars.

But by the end of the summer, they'll be using the entire hive. It's exciting to see how much the colony is growing.

After I was done with this project, I harvested peas for dinner.

The peas are finishing up, we should get enough for a few more dinners, and then it will be time to rip out the vines and put something else in that spot.

I must confess that I get a little weary of shelling peas. But do they ever taste good.