Of Bugs, Blooms & Vittles: Bunches of berries, blessings of bees

By Chandra L. Mattingly

Is anything better than a ripe strawberry, warm from the sun? Ours started ripening in bunches just before Memorial Day weekend and already my fingers bear red stains. Yum! This is one of the fruits we wouldn't have were honeybees and other pollinating insects wiped out.

We're still getting asparagus, too, and enjoying it steamed, roasted and in cream sauce. I've started letting the skinnier stalks go, and the plants are slowing down, partly due to a lack of rain here in Rising Sun. But my first planting of lettuce is ready to pick, as is the volunteer kale, and the raspberries and gooseberries won't be far behind the strawberries.

Anyone who loves fresh fruit and has a little space should pop a few berry plants in the ground; they're so easy and so rewarding! Both strawberries and black raspberries will multiply, giving you a larger patch each year if you let them. And if you like asparagus, a good bed will produce for years and years.

Otherwise, our vegetable garden remains a work in progress. The most recent plantings were herbs, parsley, oregano, sage and sweet basil; tonight I hope to plant sweet marjoram and the other basils: lemon, lime and Spicy Globe. We love those in various dishes!

A few days earlier I transplanted more of the volunteer sunflowers and we planted Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes. Shell beans are next, and a second planting of sweet corn. The green beans and carrots are up and the tomatoes and sweet bell pepper plants look great – all they need is a little rain. Several of the tomatoes have small fruits starting.

Our last rain here was the 21st, with some different but beautiful lightning displays – long horizontal extensions, as well as vertical bolts coming down in fan-like sprays. But the rain here amounted to only a tenth, whereas some folks got a couple inches.

We still need to set out the eggplants I started from seed and get my gourds and cucumbers in the ground, hopefully to be followed by some rain.

And I want to resurrect my perennial herb garden where I will plant more sage, thyme, rue, lemon thyme, French tarragon, southernwood, costmary, lavender – and so much more! Only the comfrey and lemon balm remain of the herbs that grew there some years back.
There's always more to do!

Meanwhile, the honeybee hives are going gangbusters! In the past three weeks, my four hives went from having two supers mostly full of honey to over eight supers full! Some of the honey isn't ready yet, but as heavy as the supers are, it's not far off.

Bees make honey by gathering flower nectar, which mixes with enzymes as they carry it home in their stomachs. As the bees put the liquid into honeycomb cells, it's about 80 percent water. The bees inside the hive circulate air by fanning their wings, and the moisture level gradually drops until the honey is about 14 to 18 percent water. At that point, the bees cap the full cells and the honey can be harvested.

But the beekeeper's job also includes ensuring the bees have enough honey to feed them through the summer, when nectar sources may be scarce, and through the winter. Once the clover bloom finishes, usually in late June or by July, the bees may not have another major nectar source until the fall flowers bloom, the asters and goldenrod and boneset. Much depends on weather, with summer drought always a possibility, as is chilly, rainy weather in the fall.

And of course honeybees located near field crops, especially corn, likely will be exposed to neonicitinoid herbicides, which have been implicated in colony collapse disorder. Throw in two varieties of mites, and it's understandable why honeybees are struggling.

All in all, I feel blessed that my hives are doing so well, the four original ones, four divisions from those, and one hive originating from a captured swarm. All I have to do is keep up with adding more supers for them to fill with honey – with some help, bless him, from the spouse.

Anyone interested in purchasing one of my divisions may email me or phone 812-438-3182 and leave a message. I also have plenty of bee-friendly plants for sale, including strawberries, black raspberries, perennial flowers and herbs.

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