Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shiitake Mushrooms

Last year a buddy and I plugged oak logs with shiitake mushroom spawn. They were so delicious that I decided to do it again myself this year. The process is simple. You take branches or small trees that were felled in winter (Jan/Feb is ideal) and cut them into 3-4' lengths. The logs should be no more than 6-7" in diameter ideally. The following April you drill holes in the logs that are the same depth as the dowel plugs are long. You gently tap the plugs into the holes and seal them over with cheese wax to prevent the spawn-laden dowel from drying out. Then you wait. The logs are 'racked' for a year to allow time for the mycelium to colonize the sapwood to the point that it's ready to bear fruit. The spring rains stimulate the logs to produce mushrooms. You can 'fool' the logs into fruiting by soaking them in cold water. I use a stock tank and soak about 4 logs at a time.

Queen Cells

I finally went back to my 'old' way of doing things and made my own wax cups, primed them with royal jelly, and grafted the larvae into them. Out of 26 cells I had 20 that were accepted by the bees. The advantage I think to making your own cells are several-fold: Cost...they're free. Freshness...they are brand new and so don't have a chance to build up any wax bloom on them that I think deters the bees from accepting them. "Crispness" By that I mean that the edges of the cells, when properly made, are sharper than those available commercially. Having the thinnest, most pliable edges on the cells I think increases the rate of acceptance. The bees seem to prefer them.

After grafting I wait 24 hours to check to see how many are accepted. If the bees have begun to draw out the cell you can generally assume it has been accepted. You mark the graft date down on the calendar and make a note 10 days later to remove the cells to the mating nucs. I generally place two cells into each nuc (in case one is a dud) and let the queens emerge and take their mating flights.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Raising Queens Part III

Should have known better than to try dry grafting. The success rate on the initial graft was 0%. Dry grafting means placing larva into queen cells that haven't been 'primed' with royal jelly. I think the larvae dried out and were rejected by the bees.

I tried again tonight. I harvested some royal jelly from damaged queen cells and primed each cup with a small dab. Priming serves several purposes. First and foremost it makes it infinitely easier to float the larva you are grafting off of the grafting tool into the wax cup. It also serves to keep the larva from drying out. Some say it serves as a food source but I've also read that the bees clean out the royal jelly under the larva and replace it with fresh stock. The stuff I used tonight was as fresh as it gets so we'll see.

Grafting is difficult only because it requires a steady hand and keen eyesight. I'm lucky to be able to see the day-old larva in the cells and to be able to move them. I need to invest in a magnifiying headlamp. Holding a flashlight in your mouth while you work is nonsense.

Raising Queens Part II

Now that the Cloake board is set up and the bees are 'queenless' we can set them up to raise some queens for us. We use a standard medium frame that has been modified to accept cell bars. The cell bars are nothing more than paint stir sticks. Attached to the cell bars will be the wooden cell cups and pure wax cells into which the grafted larva are placed. I couldn't get any photos of the grafting process since it's too hard to hold a camera and graft at the same time. I need an assistant next time.

Today it has been over 24 hours since the introduction of the grafted cells. We'll check them to see how many were accepted. I'm not the most experienced grafter so I usually experience somewhere in the vicinity of 50% acceptance. Amazingly I also couldn't find my typical grafting tool when I needed it most so made use of a 'grafting' tool shown to me by Dr. Rick Fell of Virginia Tech. It consists of a sanded down wooden stick. Being almost paper thin it bends nicely to get underneath the larva.