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Divide and conquer: Creating new queendoms

What’s a beekeeper to do when fall is around the corner, winter mortality is unnervingly high, and you’ve got just one hive? Make new queens, of course! (Right … just like that!)

I’ve been helping Chad Franer, Director of Horticulture, keep bees at the IMA for six years and every season we both learn something new. This year, we tried our hands at splitting the hive – our one and only hive that we purchased in the spring. Did we know what we were doing? Of course not!

Assistant horticulturist Gwyn Rager examines a hive to determine which frame to use when splitting the hive. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Assistant horticulturist Gwyn Rager examines a hive to determine which frame to use when splitting the hive. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Splitting the hive to force the production of queen cells felt a lot like moving from the freshmen level course to somewhere with the upperclassmen. It was one of those moments where we felt the training wheels coming off and it was time to ride or fall. After much instruction from our mentor, Brian Shattuck, we took on the challenge.

A healthy honeybee hive is composed of the queen, worker bees (female), drones (male) and brood (future bees). The queen will lay an average of 1,000 to 1,500 eggs per day, all the while producing a pheromone that communicates to the rest of the hive that she is present and thriving. The daily egg laying, referred to as the brood cycle, ensures a constant and strong colony. When a hive becomes robust, the beekeeper may have the option to split it.

Splitting the hive means moving the queen, along with a few handfuls of workers and brood, to another hive box and leaving the majority of the original hive intact and in need of a queen.

What happens next is pretty fascinating! The colony notices the absence of the queen and begins to prep several of the recently hatched eggs to potentially become the next queen. These select larvae are fed royal jelly and larger cells are constructed for them each to develop within. Then it’s a race to see who will emerge first and survive. A new queen, in her due diligence, will systematically kill off the other potential queens as they emerge. Once her position is secured, she takes her mating flight and returns to the hive to pick up where the last queen left off. Voila! The beekeeper now has two hives!

Laura Dulin, the IMA HortSoc fellow, looks for a new queen in one of the newly split hives. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Laura Dulin, the IMA HortSoc fellow, looks for a new queen in one of the newly split hives. Photo courtesy IMA Horticulture Department.

Brian encouraged us to also create a nuc (short for nucleus) around this time. A nuc is a mini version of an official hive. Midway through the splitting process, we opened up the original hive and removed a frame that contained a few queen cells, dropped it into a nuc box along with a starter kit, frames of honey, brood and room to start laying eggs, for the soon-to-emerge queen. We beekeepers now have three hives!

So, why go through this effort when we’ve got a strong, healthy hive? I guess I could argue that it’s part of proper beekeeping. We’re making certain that we go into winter with more bees and two new, fresh queens. Winters can be long and hard in Indiana and our honeybees need all the resources we can offer to ensure survival – survival into the next spring and for years and generations to come.

The training wheels are long gone and we’re a little bit wiser. Can we claim now that we know what we’re doing? Probably not! I’ll always be a gardener first and beekeeping is a bonus. But I couldn’t be a gardener without the bees. Each day that I work in the gardens of the IMA and I see my tiny worker friends, I thank them for their diligent pollination … and their sweet honey!


Towers of ‘taters!

You say poh-tay-toe and I say poh-tah-toe and, considering the fact that potatoes play a significant role in food supplies worldwide, there are lots of ways to say POTATO in dozens and dozens of languages! Researchers have found that the potato originated from South America. Its stellar ability to be stored long-term allowed it to be a perfect cargo haul for ships. Naturally, the Spanish brought it back to Europe from South America and it quickly became a staple for mariners who, in turn, introduced it to other ports around the world. Now we have French fries, gnocchi, aloo gobi, bangers and mash, tater tots, papa rellena, pierogi – this list could go on and on!

062614_garden_03Prior to commercial farming, homesteads sported their own plot of vegetable gardens and dedicated a portion of it to rows of potatoes. Today’s modern “homestead” does not typically offer the space for rows of potatoes and gardeners are getting creative with making the most of the plot they’ve got. We plugged in the creative juices here at the IMA and decided to try something new. It’s not a novel idea, nor can we take the credit of inventing the “method”, but it saves space, looks kinda shabby-chic, and gets the job done! We’re growing our potatoes this year in Tater Towers.

Our Tater Towers were constructed from repurposed tomato cages, lined with burlap. The burlap holds the soil inside the cage and yet allows moisture and air to move freely. We filled the lined towers with a foot or so of composted leaves. Why compost? Because it’s rich in nutrients, holds moisture, but is “fluffy.” Potato plants are usually started from the “eyes”, or sprouts, of another potato (called a seed potato). We dropped our seed potatoes into the towers and covered them with a slight layer of compost. As the sprouts began to develop leaves, we would add more compost.

We now have about 2 to 2.5 feet of compost in each tower and the plants have continued to grow. Potatoes will develop along the buried stems of the plant, all the while the plant above ground will continue to grow and stretch toward the sun. The Tater Towers offer a two-fold function: the lower half houses the medium for potatoes to form and the upper half confines the stems/leaves to avoid flopping and the hogging of garden space. Later in the summer, the plants will die back and we’ll dismantle the towers to hopefully find a healthy crop of taters.

Since there is more than one way to skin a potato and they’re fairly easy to grow, let’s not call this whole thing off! Find a growing method that works for your homestead (rows, boxes, grow bags, towers) and plant some spuds!


Perennial Premiere April 20 & 21

Celebrate the coming of spring at the 2013 Perennial Premiere sale. The Greenhouse Shop will have plants certain to appeal to everyone’s garden style, and the IMA’s skilled staff of horticulturalists will be on hand to help shoppers choose the exact plants for their sites, lifestyles, and budget. Plant selections will include, but not be limited to, old favorites (many of which were noted on Percival Gallagher’s original plant lists for Oldfields), new plant introductions, trees, shrubs, natives, herbs, dwarf conifers, perennials, and – depending on the weather – some annuals and tropicals. Many regional nurseries and vendors also will be on site to help you welcome the return of sunshine and warm weather. Perennial Premiere is more than shopping! Don’t forget to take advantage of guided garden walks, live music, food trucks, and a beautiful bonsai exhibition and demonstration.

Antique Tractor

NEW This Year!

This year’s Perennial Premiere has a small new twist.  We’ll go back in time when horsepower started to replace the horse.  Thanks to the Central Indiana Antique Tractor & Engine Association, visitors this weekend can peruse six restored gems – antique tractors that once worked the fields of Indiana!


Spring Veggies

The IMA vegetable garden in the orchard has been prepped and planted for the spring!  What’s on the menu?  Two kinds of peas, three kinds of potatoes, four types of lettuces, endive, radicchio, spinach, beets, radishes, and carrots.  Rhubarb has started growing and the asparagus should start sprouting soon.  Spring never tasted so good!



Pollinator Poppycosh!

Aside from a spelling variation of a certain culinary dish, the modern use of “poppycosh” is the description of a random shout of joy.  Why Pollinator Poppycosh?  It’s that time of year to celebrate pollinators (and it’s fun to say)!  National Pollinator Week is June 20 – 26, 2011.

A pollinator by definition is any sort of animal that carries pollen from one seed plant to another, unwittingly aiding the plant in its reproduction.  Most pollinators do this in the process of feeding off of the nectar of the plant.  This busy process has resounding effects.  The pollinated blossoms mature to fruits that feed wildlife and people and insure the genetic diversity on our planet.

Here at the IMA, our 152 acre campus is filled with gardens of diverse plantings.  Not only does this create a year-round experience for our visitors, but it provides a lush habitat for pollinators.  The IMA’s Horticulture staff has also purposefully introduced pollinators on the grounds of the museum.  If you’re a follower of Irvin Etienne’s blogs, you’ve probably read about our honey bees.  It’s been quite the experience for us as we learn to care for and manage the hive properly!

A healthy hive of honey bees can house upwards of 40,000 – 80,000 bees at one time.  About 98% of those thousands of bees are worker bees; the ones out each day working in our gardens.

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About Gwyn

Job Title: Assistant Horticulturist / Administrative Assistant
Interests: Cooking, knitting/crochet, reading, and getting dirty in the great outdoors (gardening, camping, hiking, biking, etc.)
Movies: Love kung fu movies! Also enjoy comedies, dramas, sci-fi, independent foreign flicks, and the all time most excellent movie - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Music: Pretty much everything from jazz to Bach and Cuban to '80s tunes and everything else that falls between and all around.
Food: Cheese, toast, and hot tea - the trinity of my comfort foods!
Pets: Wilson - a 12 lb cat who looks like Sylvester but acts like Garfield.
Something Extra: Gray is my favorite color and I thoroughly enjoy rainy days. That may sound bleak and boring, but it's the simple, quiet things of life that put a smile on my face.

Gwyn has written 7 articles for us.