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Summer means cicada season in Texas. If you look carefully you can usually catch a few as they’ve just emerged from their larval shells. Immediately after molting their wings are still wet and can be easily damaged, so they stay put until the wings are completely dry. I saw this one last weekend, a bit before sunrise.

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This morning I was lucky enough to find another one. I noticed that it seemed stuck in its shell, and as I looked closer something didn’t look right. There were spider webs all over the cicada.

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This small spider, a fraction of the size of the cicada was working on its next meal. I figure that it must have paralyzed the cicada before it went to work.

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Here’s another view of this crazy scene.

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I decided to come outside every half hour or so and check on the progress. My next visit made me question my sanity for a moment. The cicada was gone!

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I heard a squawk and looked to my left. One of the guineas was devouring both the cicada and the spider! It happened so quickly I couldn’t snap a photo.

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Here’s all that remained. I guess the shell wasn’t too appetizing.

Such is the circle of life!

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beesuits

Last month we took our hands-on bee class from Bee Friendly Austin. Chuck and Tanya are so knowledgeable and helpful. After the class I felt very comfortable, and confident that I could do it.

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We also had Chuck build our top bar hive for us.

On May 17th we picked up our package of bees from Beeweaver.

That was an adventure in itself. Beeweaver is northwest of Dripping Springs. I drove past the place a few times, as it is unmarked, with only a mailbox, with very faded numbers. Once you decide to just go for it and turn down the driveway, it’s probably a quarter mile in before you see any signs of civilization.

Once I got the bees home, I put on my suit and did all the prep work. I made up the sugar water, added the divider, set the queen excluder, and attached some old comb to the first two bars with some fishing line. I then took out the queen cage and laid her back under the combs. Next, I took the cover off of the package and set it in the hive. I then closed everything up.

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The next day I freaked out! I opened up the observation window and saw tons of dead bees and a completely empty quart of sugar water. I ran to the house to put on my suit, grabbing another quart of sugar water while yelling to my family “I’ve killed all my bees!!!”

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Well it turns out I didn’t kill all the bees, but probably at least a thousand had died. When I did some research on beeweaver and other websites, it seems this is common. You are expected to lose a large number of bees. I’m surprised I hadn’t read this before, when I’d been doing my research.

After my first scare, things didn’t get easier.

The fourth day, the queen still had not gotten out of the cage. I had to poke a hole in the marshmallow, being very careful not to poke a hole in the queen.

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That evening, I came home to see the hive in disarray. It appeared that all of the bees were on the outside of the hive! The queen excluder was still on, so only worker bees can get in and out. I frantically called Chuck and Tanya. They suggested that there was a traffic jam and the bees could not get in and out. I should put a box under the hive and push all the bees into it, then dump that box into the hive.

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Well that is not what a new beekeeper wants to hear. It was getting dark at the time, so I waited until morning. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night, anxious about the task ahead. It went pretty smoothly, and as you can see, by morning the number of bees had dropped significantly.

After getting a good amount of bees in the hive, I decided (foolishly) to open up one of the corks so more bees could get in and out. I then headed off to work.

Chuck checked in on me to see how the bee wrangling went. We talked and he mentioned that the queen was probably a little unhappy with her new home and had most likely blocked the entrance, keeping the worker bees from getting inside. Oh no! I had just opened up the cork, allowing my “unhappy queen” access to the outside. All beeweaver queens have clipped wings, so Chuck said the worst case would be that a cluster of bees would be on the ground when I returned home that evening.

Well as my bee luck has been so far, there was a large cluster of bees on the ground when I got home. The only positive, was that the box was still under the hive. The majority of the cluster was on the box, so I was able to dump the cluster into the hive (I already had practice with this task). The ones on the ground I stirred up a bit, to make them fly. I then scanned the ground to see if any bees were left crawling around. I couldn’t find any, so had to hope that the queen was in the original cluster and had been dumped back into the hive.

Since the queen does not go out at night, I closed the cork, but opened the queen excluder to allow drones through. I didn’t want them all stuck outside. After dark I turned the queen excluder back on and crossed my fingers.

I decided to leave everyone alone for a few days, meanwhile having no idea whether or not I had a queenless hive.

One last bit of drama occurred on Sunday. We threw a pool party and I don’t know if it was the noise, the smoker or what, but suddenly it looked like the bees were swarming. There was a huge tunnel of flying bees. I was convinced that the queen was gone and that they were all flying away. About 15 minutes later they settled down and were back on the outside of the hive.

This afternoon I decided to check the bees. I didn’t get far enough in to see if there were eggs (the sign that the queen is in there — aside from actually seeing her of course). The bees looked happy. They were clustered on the 1st though 4th bars, which means they are frantically building comb.

I’m hoping to be through with the first round of drama. I’ll go looking for the queen and eggs in a few days to know for sure. Wish me luck!

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I have grown fennel for several years, but have never eaten any. I always leave it in the garden way past it’s prime for the butterflies. It is a host plant for the Eastern Black Swallowtail. Here are the stages I’ve seen in the last few days.

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Unfortunately, another visitor has been the red wasps who seem to like the caterpillars 😦

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It must be due to the rather wet winter, but the caterpillars are absolutely terrible this year. I didn’t have anywhere near this many last year. This is only my second spring at my current house, so I’m not sure if this is the norm or not. I haven’t busted out the Bt yet, I’ve just been going out several evenings a week and picking off the caterpillars after dark. We’ll see if I can keep this up 🙂

 

Tonight's Haul

 

 

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Cicada

Here are a few cool pics I took of a cicada a few days ago. It had just molted, so couldn’t move until it dried out. I’m sure it was less than happy to pose for these photos.

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>Saving the Fall Harvest

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I had seen a few holes in the leaves over the weekend, but didn’t think much of it. I should have known better and next season I will. By Wednesday morning things were getting out of hand. It’s amazing the damage a few little caterpillars can do. I believe that I would have lost all of the cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, and kholrabi if I had waited a few more days. I picked off all of the caterpillars I could find and then sprayed Bt all over everything. I think even the most damaged plants will pull through ok.

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Another cabbage view

One of the culprits

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