Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Picking Out Nectar and Pollen Plants

 I was fending off the bumbling bees yesterday morning in an attempt to try to tackle the garden before the heat made it too uncomfortable to work. The bonus to being a mile above sea level in an arid location is every night the temperatures drop 30 degrees or more. The cool crisp air buys me a few hours where the only pollinators are squash bees and bumble bees as the other pollen trollops need more heat to make the journey. Great sleeping weather.. bland tomatoes.. really sweet corn.. always a trade off I suppose.

 The rains are scarce this year, the reservoir having dropped over 7 feet and several small streams in the area turned to dust, I have made sure to offer a water source for the bees. Yesterday the pan dried out and I went to refill it only to be amazed at suddenly dozens of honeybees pounce for a drink. Most of the day it was a nonstop cluster of honeybees and wasps. The bees drink from one tray and the wasps have claimed the others. 

 I paid more attention that day and noticed the honeybees were sticking to the basil, melons, squash, chives, and mints.. but mostly ignoring the rest. I wondered if it had to do with the nutritional content of the pollen, so I started to do some research.

 They are after the nectar.. not the pollen. All this time I never once stopped to consider the fact that some flowers are primarily a pollen source and others are a nectar source, with a few that offer both. It was a moment where I just was amazed at how I could have missed something like that.. it suddenly seemed so glaringly obvious.

 Not all of the nectar producers are of equal caliber either.. while rain or irrigation can dilute the flowers' offerings, not all flowers produce nectar all day long. Some are like a sprinkler system on a timer and produce nectar when the right elements are triggered. 

 Quality and nutritional content of the pollen and the nectar depends on the environmental factors, in particular.. the soil. As well the amino acids vary depending on species when it comes to pollen. The amino acids are converted into proteins for the bees and much of the nutritional content they need- minerals, vitamins, protein, etc. are in the pollen.. the nectar is the energy. Pollen gets eaten as well as the surplus gets created into bee bread which can last for up to 2 years. The bee bread actually goes through a type of lacto-fermentation and in that process vitamins D and E are created. (Who woulda guessed bees pickle their pollen?)

 While I started out trying to find the nutritional values of various pollen plants, I ended up on tangent after interesting tangent. Urban bees have somewhat of a benefit due to an assortment or plantings to pick from, rural bees (in particular ones used for commercial pollination of monocultures) can not be quite as healthy due to the lack of variety.

 So I have yet to create the list, but am gathering information on it yet from as many sources as possible. Trying to keep track of what blooms when in the garden in order to attempt to keep the attention of pollinators all season is always a good thing. By all season I mean from spring clear through 1st frost. 

 The first few years in this location taught me not to take pollinators for granted. It has been a work in progress over the years to finally have the variety and plethora that now visit. Judging from the size of the last batch of bumblebees (the ones in spring are smaller than the ones in the late summer/ fall.. how well the larvae are fed determine how robust the workers will be).. these kids did pretty good. 

 Last thing.. I found NASA's BEE SITE which looks very interesting to say the least. Using scales to monitor how a hive is doing and it's production (it seems that even peeking into a hive for a few minutes can disrupt the girls productivity for a whole day).. they are tracking climate and ecological fluctuations. Makes sense.. as bloom times would be altered by climate changes and bees are a creature more easily observed due to their hive being maintained by keepers. Tracking the hive's condition by weighing it seems brilliant to me. Tracking the production over the years would give a rather good idea when a flow starts and is finished. I guess I am just one of those that likes to know what to expect.

Monday, September 27, 2010

7th hottest, 8th driest .. and it's making me crabby

 Still a few days left to this month and it is looking like we will jump up to being the 5th hottest September on record.. and while currently we have had less than 1/10th of an inch of rain.. we may move up the ranks for being so dry as well as no rain is on the horizon.

 I tried heading out to the back garden to try to round up the zucchini, green beans and tomatoes but there is a cloud of agitated yellowjackets preventing such an endeavor. It isn't a swarm.. I have seen that too often here as well. A swarm looks like a low flying black cloud.. a migrating shadow.. this is wasp frenzy. Frantic and furious they slam into you like bumper cars. When one got stuck in my hair.. any bravery and determination vaporized as I peeled out of the garden screaming like an insane fool. First thing I could grab to get the little beast out of my hair before it stung me.. the dog brush. Not a proud moment for me... only further enhanced by my neighbors lounging on the deck and witnessing the whole spectacle. 

 Minimal sleep, blazing sun, and the heat have me feeling a bit waspish with a raging headache.

 The heat and extended summer is lovely for the tomatoes and peppers.. but hell on the water bill. Only 4 tomatillo plants this year has provided more than enough for us. I discovered that one of them is a pineapple tomatillo.. not exactly my favorite.. but my daughter likes them... sorta. 

 Definitely an anti-social kind of day... or rather selective socialization. Like facebook would send me into a tizzy right now. My verbal filter is not to be trusted today around those that drive me nuts on a good day.

 Today is a good day to organize and sort seeds.. to clean out the fridge.. scrub the cabinets.. organize the pantry.. right after I pop some Tylenol and banish this headache in a cold shower.

Thinking about Roses and Seaberries

  While tackling a corner of the mountain of stuff accumulated over the years, I unearthed some hidden treasures in a box that pretty much left me weepy for a few hours. In the box were letters written to me by my Grandmother, my Dad's treasured rosary, and some picture negatives of my sister. 

 The rosary and 2 pictures were the only things my Dad had to remind him of his parents. The beads of the rosary were made out of rose petals and are black due to time, yet still very faintly offering a sweet scent.

 The letters from my Grandmother made me laugh and miss her a lot. They are in German and very difficult for me to read especially with her script. The ultra short version .. "Anne.. behave...please." The pictures ironically.. I took of my sister in my Grandmother's garden after I decorated her waist length hair with hundreds of flowers. The first few she was smiling.. I thought it was missing something.. so I may have mentioned something about an insect.. and the next progression I thought were better. Terror.. then all out murderous glare. Ah yes.. the artistic years. (My sister got back at me.. let's just say I was sporting the mother of all asymmetrical haircuts that took over a year to grow out.)

 My Grandmother grew a massive climbing red rose up the side of her apartment building. My Dad found peace from the insanity of 7 daughters and 2 ex-wives trying to coax his roses to thrive. He hunted for awhile for this pale orange petaled beauty with the alluring scent.. and he adored it.

 The smaller farm is rather exposed. The plot of land is a big open grassy rectangle, and I really am not a fan of massive monocultures of grass. It needs a fence.. a living fence for starters.

 While I could make it out of blackberry or raspberry.. there are already plenty of those running rampant. I have considered something like what my Aunt has and make it out of seaberries (Hippophae rhamnoides) but I am not sure of the drainage in that area on that farm. 

 Seaberry has some wicked thorns. It is one of those multitasking plants that appeal to me. They are exceptionally hardy, fix nitrogen, offer visual interest, and also produce an edible crop. Harvesting the berries.. that's where it becomes death defying with those thorns.. and those thorns also make them a rather interesting hedge choice. They just do NOT like having wet feet.

 The other option I am considering is roses, Rosa Rugosa in particular. They are very very hardy roses and most of them are grown on their own root stock. Quite a few of them sport so many thorns that they make razor wire look like a safer option to cross. Many of them are scented and produce rose hips.. they also can escape control (and even self seed). 

 Although part of the allure of the Rugosa is how easy it is to care for.. the petals (with the white part, the heel, cut off) are edible.. and the rose hips are something I love in tea.. knowing me, I'd be making rose water. The ever lovely edible astringent... but the all time favorite of mine is rose water lemonade. 

 My sister's husband has made desserts flavored by roses.. but that is so very far out of my league. (Not to say I don't secretly hope that one day there would be time to learn!)

 Seaberries and roses...  I probably will plant them both, but it won't happen anytime soon if I don't get back to sorting and packing. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Scouting Out New Tools, Last Batch of Tomato Seeds

 So I am looking at getting my husband 2 gifts. Rather hefty ones I know he'll use often.. an air compressor and also a paint sprayer. Only problem is I don't have his construction buddies' phone numbers... yet. The one I really want to ask is laid up in the hospital and the last thing he needs is to be pestered.

 He's had a palm nailer on his "toys I gotta get" list ever since this one summer where they put in the fences for a stable. He's told me several dozen times about Wendel's palm nailer able to sink 30 penny nails in solid oak posts the size of railroad ties so fast it was amazing. maybe it is a bit more along the lines of I want a paint sprayer.. but I know if I get one.. he's going to take it. He refers to it as "power tool rescue and recovery". Seriously though.. it would be nice to have something more than the Fischer Price Anne safe  tools I have.

 Anyways.. the last batches of tomato seeds are fermenting away. I let the first several blooms get cross pollinated however the bees wanted and next year will grow some of those out to see what comes of it. These last batches are from trusses I bagged to keep them from crossing. A low estimate is each container is holding 600+ seeds.

 If you ever order out at a restaurant and they use those quart sized plastic containers..or they'll have them at delis.. the ones for holding hot foods. They look like this.  I have put them through the dishwasher and they are fine and I'll use them for fermenting the seeds if I don't have glass jars around. Only reason I like the plastic ones is because when pouring into a strainer outside, I have had the glass ones slip out of my hands.

The compost is almost finished, and another batch is cooking. By the time the one batch is totally finished, we should be hit by a frost. I will rip out the spent plants and set up the chicken wire ring to hot compost right in some of the raised beds. The finished compost will be turned in to the soil in one of the raised beds and I will plant garlic. The guy who will hopefully be moving in (no.. still not finalized.. hoping it will be soon) will just flip. I asked if he wanted a vermicompost bin and he very excitedly said yes. 

 With constant composting, minimal tilling, and consistent moisture the worm population in my garden and raised beds are extremely high. If you dig 20 feet away from the gardens.. in the concrete clay you might be lucky to find maybe one or two of the Tommyknocker worms. Just a guess.. but possibly they are Diplocardia spp. or Octolasion tyrtaeum. I am really hoping they are a native species though. They are large.. really large.. and unpigmented.. so their bodies are this almost translucent grey coloring and then the clitellum sports a faintly orange coloring. 

 If you ever read Tommyknockers... if you saw these worms, you'd think of the Steven King book too!

 Last tangent.. it was discovered that slugs will eat an earthworm. Not a discovery made by me.. but rather a professional worm geek  scientist who saw it happen on pavement.. and then proceeded to test the oddity several times to verify. Indeed.. slugs will prey on earthworms if they can catch them. I wonder how much of the unnaturally high slug population in my yard was due to my vermicomposting. If they would just allow us to have ducks.. the slug troubles would really not be an issue. lol I can't explain how gross it was to be weeding and have slugs stuck to you.

 Good thing an air compressor will help make building the poultry palace a lot faster!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Unidentified Shrub and the Fall Ruckus

 Right outside one of our living room windows are 3 aspen trees underplanted with this ever expanding shrub. Worst placement ever for trees as the closest is maybe 2 feet away from the house.

 The shrub is very happy where it is and when I had fish in the pond, the water and much would drain near it. The aspens and the mystery shrub of course loved the additional watering with nitrate packed sludge.

 I brought a 2 foot cutting off of the shrub into several nurseries to have them identify it. HA.. yeah..they didn't know. I know I should have gone into a local extension office, but I never got around to it.

 In the spring it puts out a lot of pale pink flowers.

Then in the fall the berries mature to a matte deep blue. Heavy producing shrub, every year it never fails to produce a big crop.

 I wish I knew what this was. I do know that the squirrels and assorted birds go crazy for it. It holds on to the berries well into winter and until winter kicks in full force, we have our daily visitors.

 Every other day we have a mob of birds pop in and cover the shrub. So many birds that the shrub moves as if stuck in a gale. The dog always runs up to the window and watches them intently.

 The squirrels come to visit almost everyday and every day they spot the dog.. and the bitch session begins. There is a many year feud between the dog and the squirrels.. which sadly the squirrels have the upperhand. Once the squirrels fill up on berries, they then take off to steal entire heads of sunflowers gone to seed.

 He's going to have a field day.. literally.. on the farm.  I am not what you would call a "dog person" but he is the exception. If every dog was like him.. I would be. He has a special "Ahhh-Rooo" which he only does for us when he wants to let us know he missed us. He can only make that sound when he exhales from a yawn.. so he makes himself yawn. 

 We will have to watch one of my Mom's dogs while at the farm. My dog seems large when you first encounter him.. but next to her neurotic beast.. he looks tiny.  
 I am going to gather a few berries from the mystery shrub and extract the seeds. With any luck, I hope to have some to plant at the farm. 

 It may seem like an odd way to approach things, but I handle problem critters like this.. if possible, I try to plant things they can have away from things I don't want them to have. I'm not talking about offering up an easy buffet (although that is how we kept the raccoons out of our garden. The little panhandlers got to the point over the years that they would hop onto the kitchen balcony and scratch at the door. They'd see us round up the leftovers and run down to the ground for feeding time. Now this isn't advisable, but the neighborhood went from being houses on 2 acres plus per home of mostly forested lots surrounded by fields and forests.. to big lawns where the surrounding fields and forest being developed with McMansions. Who the hell buys a house for a couple million with no yard? I mean you can almost shake hands through the windows with your neighbor!)

 Anyways.. beyond our bubble.. these critters perform more of a function beyond being a "garden pest". Easy to say when you don't have a warren of rabbits  feasting in your garden. We also had red-tailed hawks nesting in our yard.. My Mom refused to have a massive ancient.. and very dead oak removed that the hawks selected one year.. until the babies had flown away.

 I suppose I come from a long line of odd logic. Plant for yourself.. plant to redirect pests and encourage predators. Not sure how well this practice will hold up when poultry is added, but judging from the turkey population.. I am hopeful.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Queen Bumblebee

 So I just took this picture a few minutes ago.. a Queen Bumblebee. She's huge.. I mean absolutely massive. Recall the biggest bumblebee you have ever seen and multiply that by 3.

 I thought it was a bird when I saw her out of the corner of my eye. When I saw it was a Bumble Queen.. I flew into the house to grab my camera. I only got a few shots before the camera died.. and most of them are with me perched at the edge of the raised bed sticking my arm into the flowers and hoping to heck she was in the frame.

 If she was to land on you.. you'd feel it without a doubt. Where the other bumblebees can land on the cosmos and not make the flower move much.. when she landed on them they tilted over.

 I wish this fat and sassy Queen a long and very productive life!

Another bumblebee for comparison..

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Designing a Garden Journal

 So I am also in the process of designing a garden journal as none of the ones I have found quite fit my needs. Printing companies are able to make quite a few things beyond manuals and booklets for company presentations. 

 This way, I can organize and keep track of everything in a personalized arrangement that suits my needs and tailors to my goals.

 So far these are some of the things I want in it.. 
  1. at least a 5 year journal.. ideally a 10 year
  2. tabs at the beginning of each year
  3. spot on daily entries for weather high/low
  4. track harvest
  5. each year separate section of pages to track 
  • seeds purchased.. amount, company, price
  • germination rates
  • tracking of cuttings/ grafts/ etc.
  • tracking transplants.. when started, varieties, when repotted, when fertilized, etc.
  • pests and diseases
  • crop and cover crop rotations
  • applications of composts, fertilizers, teas, etc.

 I am probably missing a few things, but I still have time to refine it and figure out what pictures I want to use in it. I probably am going to use pictures on the tab pages that separate the years. Enough room for each day to keep track of turning compost, when things are planted, when they bloom, etc.

 If you can think of something that I should add.. please tell me! : )

Patrolling for Pollen

 After discovering the camera in the linen closet last night, I had it all set and ready to take some pictures of the pollinators this morning. (No one is fessing up to putting it in the closet either.) It is however very chilly out and so the ones currently working the blooms are a tad sluggish while the smaller bees have yet to wander over.

 Quite a few plants are good at sending out another flush of blooms if the first flush is cut off before fully setting seeds.

 If you are looking to build up the pollinator posse in your garden there are a few things that help..
Plant in clusters plants of the same type with the same color bloom. Plant, or allow to bloom a variety of different types. (A variety of flower types will encourage and attract a larger assortment.) Make sure you have blooms through the duration of the growing seasons. Spring blooms are key to initially attracting them to your yard.. but fall is also important as it also determines the success of next year's population.

 I am going to head out in just a few to see if the rest of the gang has shown up. These are some of the blooms in my gardens. Fennel, roses, cosmos.. the roses are the least visited except by leaf cutter bees who love using their serrated leaves.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lots of cooking and sorting

 It was in the mid 90's today and the realization of a lot of the veggies from the garden that I froze.. are going to have to be eaten. 

 Yes.. we are going to make the move. Not only do we have 1 person wanting to rent.. but now a second. The first one would be able to move in as soon as 10 days from now.. but that timeline is too soon for us.

 So today I collected more seeds.. always collecting seeds.. and tinned out the second crop of lettuces, beets, swiss chards and carrots. The green beans and tomatoes are still in overdrive and the zucchini is showing signs of slowing down.

 Despite the heat.. I entered into cooking and baking mania. Spiced zucchini bread, banana struessel muffins, herbed parker house rolls and a dried tomato and roasted garlic bread... I about died from the heat baking today.

 Dinner tonight is still in the works. I needed to take a quick break from standing and chopping before my back totally freaked out. I have the pork chops in brine.. they were cut from a tenderloin roast. (the roast is huge... huuuuuuuuuuuge.. so several other pork dishes are on the menu this week).  Mixed baby greens with creamy garlic and herb dressing.. gazpacho.. garlic/ginger green beans, Au gratin potatoes, roasted root vegetables all to go with the pork chops. Dessert is double chocolate cherry cake.. which this time I am hoping lasts longer than 2 days with all of the other things I made.

 Even though I swore I wasn't ever going to make several stock pots worth of green chili.. break out the gloves as I caved. The weather is supposed to dip down to the 70's in just a few days... relief! I will tackle it then. My husband's buddy will bring the roasted peppers and offered to help us move if I'd make him some green chili.

 A lot of veggies on the menu, which is typical for us for summer.. but even more so now. Even though  I have been sharing most of the tomatoes.. I still have 15 pounds of it to tackle and a ton more in various stages of ripening. 

 One of the guys that wants to move in is into gardening. He wants our place in part because of the size of the yard compared to the other places.. and the raised beds.. and the back garden. When he found out I have artichokes.. he flipped. Now.. he just has to mulch them in well so they survive winter.. and if he does then he'll have a lovely treat next summer. Right now he'll already have an assortment of things he can pick over winter.

 Ok.. break time over.. from the smell of it I need to go check on the cake. My daughter has already devoured a huge salad and 2 bowls of gazpacho with some rolls (and has announced she is holding out for a small piece of cake). Time to make the rest of dinner so it'll be done when my husband gets home.

 I am hoping at some point while I am sorting.. I can find where my husband put the camera.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Worm Bins.. Prepping for Winter

 Ah yes.. it is that time of year where I am pulling the last large harvest of vermicompost and prepping the bins for winter. The vermicompost that is harvested will be screened, part will be used to give the gardens the last dose of fertilizer and part will be frozen, then stored.

 Yes.. frozen!  The freeze will still maintain a majority of the beneficial microbes, but it will also kill off any insects. I try to harvest out as many of the active cocoons and hatchling earthworms, but any missed ones will perish in the freeze. They do get a chance.. for a little while anyways. Harvesting takes me quite awhile and the sorted vermicompost goes into plastic storage containers a bit bigger than a shoe box. The containers then get put in a plastic bag and frozen for 2 weeks before I plan to use them. 

 I start a lot of plants in early spring and the vermicompost I find gives my transplants a nice boost. I dilute it with captured water and the vermicompost tea is offered to the young seedlings. When they get larger and get repotted, the vermicompost is mixed into the  soil mix. As well I use vermicompost tea to presoak old seeds or varieties that are known to have low germination rates. (The nutrients, especially nitrogen and giberellins, in vermicompost help break seed dormancy and provide a boost to the seed's energy reserves that may be otherwise too depleted for the seed to sprout.)

 I use a closed bin for my worms that has holes poked around the sides for ventilation. Although this particular design is not the most efficient for harvesting, it does allow me to set up the bins and not have to deal with them very much at all until spring.  I keep the gang in the garage where they won't freeze, but it does get quite cold. 

 This is how I set up the bin for winter..
  • 1st layer consists of heavier stems, stalks, twigs
  • dried vegetation (bean pods, iris leaf trimmings, seedless weed trimmings.. somewhat larger fibrous plant material)
  • a few scoops of vermicompost
  • spent potting soil (end of the season nutrient poor soil in containers get put in.. no diseased plants)
  • few more scoops of vermicompost (by scoops I mean enough to cover the layer by 1 to 2 inches as this will innoculate the other material with microbes)
  • food scraps
  • few scoops of vermicompost
  • topped with straw/ shredded newspaper or a mix
 The bottom layer being thicker fiber dense harder material keeps the content from compacting too much, creates an area where excess water can drain, and also helps with airflow. 

 By spreading vermicompost between the layers the material gets innoculated with the microbes the worms are accustomed  to and also helps in preventing the bin from hot composting. To keep it from heating up is why I have it layered this way with the "browns" at the bottom and the "greens" at the top. The last layer is to control moisture as well provide a more protected area for the worms to feed under, yet fluffy enough to offer good air exchange.

 By the time I am done the bin is already more than 1/2 way filled. I keep an eye on the contents for the next several days to make sure they do not heat up. I have never had a bin start hot composting when I layer it like this. The heat and gasses from the contents hot composting will wipe out the worm population, so you want to avoid it.

 This isn't the only way to set up an enclosed bin.. just one of the ways I do so that by January/ February I have some bins finishing up in time to harvest. 

 You want to avoid putting diseased materials in the vermicompost bin. While some pathogens like e. coli and salmonella don't survive in an earthworm's gut.. some plant diseases like verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt DO survive. 

 Ever cut into a potato and see black spots just under the skin in the white area? That could be fusarium wilt. Best to avoid it as much as possible, and learn how to identify it. These 2 in particular can live in the soil for many year.. as well many plants can be their host.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I think that's a yes...

 Everything seems to be lining up and I just hope this is the right move. Let's just hope all the ducks stay in line.

 Aside from the mountainous list of what needs to get done.. I am also ticking off a list of what needs to be done there if we can make it before it snows. Attacking roughly 1 acre of asparagus bed run wild.. planting garlic.. build cold frames and raised beds..  I feel like even if I was there now I might not have enough time to do everything I want.

 I can feel time slipping past. I think that is a gardener's quirk.. watching the passage of time so intently. 

 The weather is holding out here and trying to keep up with the tomatoes is getting challenging. Speaking of which.. I need to make another vat of salsa and salsa verde. Although my husband "doesn't like the taste of raw tomatoes".. salsa is a different story. If I make it spicy enough to liquefy asphalt.. he's in heaven.

 No doubt he'll miss wandering down to the neighbor's testosterone sanctuary (he converted the garage into an "only men" zone. Pool table, flat screen, fridge.. whole nine yards.) and hanging out while they devour food so spicy they cough the second it is in their mouth.. and deny it effects them. Tears are attributed to allergies or smoke in their eyes. A fraternity of the demented.

 I will have to learn about guinea hens.. and quick. Happily that shouldn't be too difficult as a neighbor at the other farm has them. Poultry 101.. always pleasant to learn hands on and with a seasoned pro's guidance. Gotta tackle the ticks.. or buy a hazmat suit.I can deal with a lot.. but ticks are one of those things that give me the heebie jeebies.

Back to work I go.. the sun is setting and the bees have wandered off.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Beekeepers Renting Property

 Commercial operations of beekeeping are hired to set up and maintain their hives for farmers, but then there are the avid beekeepers who's hobby has expanded beyond their yards. If you have the space and the flower power, but not the resources or zeal to take up tackling hives, try looking for local bee clubs.

 The bee clubs are a wonderful and often unknown resource. If you have a rogue swarm, look for local beekeepers before contemplating calling an exterminator. Honeybees are really too useful to unnecessarily smite. Bee clubs are all going to be different, have various levels of expertise, various sizes.. you get the idea. Calling them to see if they want the swarm can benefit both you and them. Your bees get removed (usually free of charge), the beekeepers get a new colony (and new genetic stock), and the bees get a lease on life.

 What is also not very well known.. is that sometimes beekeepers are needing a place to put extra hives (hive splits, not enough blooms in an area which requires relocating hives, etc.) Sometimes they will pay with a percentage of honey to rent land to put their hives.

 It does entirely depend on the beekeepers in your area, but you won't know unless you ask. If someone is interested, they will ask to see the property. Things that they would be looking for:
  • minimally disturbed area - a quiet location where the hive will not be in the way
  • pollen providers - what is blooming, when it is blooming, and how much is available
  • water sources - pond, water trough, stream, bucket.. you get the idea. the girls gotta drink
  • safety - pesticides, predators, protection from the elements.. they don't want their bees poisoned so what chemicals you do use, have used, intend on using in you yard.. they need to know. 
 The beekeepers maintain the hives.. so they need access.

 This isn't something for everyone, and zoning rules must be minded.. but it is a potential possibility.. especially for those with large yards, vacant lots, etc.

 If you are lucky, you have a bee club/ beekeepers near you.. check them out.. support them.


Sunday, September 12, 2010


 I figured.. what the heck.. I'll put up a picture so you have an idea of the farm. 

 Still nothing set in stone.. even semi set jello would be some sort of progress. 
Interesting thing about this too.. by changing the south field.. it could almost spell out u r screwed.

 Sometimes life has just wicked dark humor.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Move to the Farm?

 Right about now I wish I could see into the future.. if I choose this, what will happen? If I choose the other, what will happen? 

 Sometimes I kinda look back and laugh. You have a child and it is a radical shift in perspective, approach, personality. I can divide it up like a time line.. BC (before child) and PC (post child). How my Mother survived.. I am guessing in part is because ignorance is sometimes not just bliss.. it is the only means to retaining sanity. I suppose when you have a bunch of kids it is easier to let things slide with only 1 set of eyes to watch a small band of troublemakers all headed in opposite directions.

 She just turned 13 and is towering over me as she is just shy of 5'9" with feet to match. When I look back at all the insane things I did at that age, I can't imagine letting go enough to see her do the same without a helmet, full body armor and an armed guard that has special forces training. 

 If we move.. she will be unplugged and no longer micromanaged. Going to hang with some friends no longer means crossing the cul-de-sac and having 6 options on just 1 block alone. It would be transformed into hop on bike, ride 1/4th mile down the way to see if the two sisters on the sheep farm aren't busy. 

 I haven't seen my Mom in a few years, since she stopped by on her way to Vegas to help my sister with 1st baby.. and then the second. Last time I did she was a whirlwind as always, but then she had a spell that at first they thought was a stroke, but thankfully wasn't... and now at 70, the whirlwind is tamed to a gentler gust. My sister, her husband and their 2 daughters have moved back to NY. NY was the first place in the States my Mom lived.. and 20 years ago she would have jumped without looking to head back there for awhile. Times have changed, NY has changed.. and the excitement, bustle, energy there for her registers more like overwhelming chaos.

 She needs help on her farms. Like major help.. 95 acres worth. A farm that is left minimally attended can get swallowed up fast. She wants to be on her farm, but doesn't want to be alone, and can't swing it solo.

 Dream choice for me, right? 2 farms that I would have carte blanche to do as I will.. 2 organic farms as neither has seen a drop of any insecticide, herbicide, etc. since they were purchased in the 80's.  Already has solar panels on the big house, ancient orchards that are still producing despite decades of minimal at best care, without planting anything you can gather enough to live off the land.

 If only it was that simple. It'd be rural.. uber- rural. I mean I could walk to the mailbox naked and the only thing I would permanently blind by my so white I'm blue, pasty Irish complexion is a herd of sheep. What to do with our house? Rent it? Can't sell it right now without losing everything.

 I am going through the pros and cons.. the major stumbling block is my husband would leave a job to go to somewhere that we are not sure if he'd find work. Although out there, we'd have a chance to go back to school (and the schools there are better than here for our daughter).. but that would only be possible if we were almost entirely self sufficient. Then what.. 

 I'll be mulling this over pretty much every waking second. Time to grab a pen and list the mess swirling in my mind. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fruit Tree Propagation

 If you are looking to reproduce fruit trees... you may want to take a course on grafting. Even though my daughter knows this.. it in now way slows her down from shoving apple seeds or peach pits into her pocket after lunch to experiment with later. Or forget about it entirely until Mom discovers her little treasures in the washer or dryer.

 A lot of fruit trees like apple, citrus, peach, pear, plum, avacado are reproduced by means of grafting.  Haas avacado trees.. came from 1 mother tree.. which actually died just a few years ago.

 Anyways, apple in particular is one that offers rather squirrely odds. Apple trees require another tree to pollinate, and preferable of a different strain. That makes for a lot of genetic possibilities in the following generation, especially with the fact that the next generation is able to produce something that is not anything like the parents! 

I know.. it seems odd. Apples are crazy like that, which makes them fascinating to me. Just their scale also makes it out of my reach to mess with... for now. Heirloom.. when it comes to apples.. means an old cultivar.. it does not mean it is open pollinated. No such thing as an open pollinated apple! Aside from grafting.. some apple trees send out buds (or suckers) which hold the possibility of actually being different from the parent.

 If you are limited on space.. seeds are not the way to go. If you have tons of room and just as much time.. then go for it. Keep in mind you could plant thousands of apple seeds and potentially only get 1 good tree out of the lot. By means of seeds however is one way new apple tree cultivars are created.

Just expect the unexpected. Russeting, varying storage capabilities, yields, coloring, shape, tartness, acidity, sweetness, size, disease resistance, etc. etc. are all a big gamble. You won't know the pay off for quite a few years until it fruits.

Just something to think about when you see an apple and all the varieties. Now maybe you'll see them like I do.. an amazing moment of genetic luck and truly something special.

Seed Bank Suckers- make your own instead

 To say this guy irritates me.. would be putting it mildly. I shake my head in disbelief at the ad, and cringe at the dweebs posting their testimonials about how safe they now are on youtube.

 Really.. the fleecing is offensive on so many levels. To avid gardeners who look at the "diverse" selection and realize that not every crop works in every area (hence serious potential to fail).. to avid seed savers who by their sheer effort are keeping thousands and thousands of strains alive (and realize that without basic knowledge of how to keep a strain from out crossing.. or how long seeds keep, how to store them, etc.) that this "bank" is laughable at best.

 The ones who should really be offended are the "preppers".. as there are sooooo many that have bought into this and have donned rose colored glasses of security. This man has made a mint off ya.. and he is laughing all the way to his bank. 

 All out laughter.. the man is in hysterics as he is cashing in hand over fist.

 Let's get this out in the open..  It is not uncommon for seeds that are in packages with a "sell by" date to already be SEVERAL YEARS OLD. Especially with ones like peppers, tomatoes and other crops that have a longer storage vitality.. they often already are 6 years older or more. Age is not a restriction on seed sales. They have to pass a germination test then if they pass, they are marked with a "sell by" date that is well over a year from the date of the test. He's repackaging seeds with no idea of their age.. I doubt he's testing their germination and he's counting on the fact that no one is actually going to call a spade a spade when they dig up the container in 20 years to find not much sprouting. The fact he has onion seeds is a glaring problem.. it screams to a seed saver that this guy doesn't actually save seeds.

 The strains... ok let's just start with there is a reason thousands and thousands of different strains came about. Every spot on the planet is a micro climate. Altitude, soil structure, nutrient content, weather, prevalent diseases, humidity, precipitation, winds, wind breaks... this is why sometimes it takes multiple tries of different strains.. why sometimes 1 variety does better or worse some years than others. When you maintain a strain and select for qualities repeatedly all of this plays a role. Know what to pick, and pick a variety suitable to your climate.

 He uses heirloom like crazy.. huge buzz word. It creates tunnel vision. It should be Open Pollinated (OP)... think Optimal Purchase. In general.. heirloom strains tend to be more finicky.. often less disease resistance.. sometimes later harvest dates.. and tend to be more known for their flavor vs productivity.

 Does this matter? If you are a prepper.. right about now you'd be yelling HELL YEAH IT MATTERS! Open pollinated strains are stable and can be perpetuated, they often just don't have the lure of the lore attached to them like heirlooms. There is no exact requirements for a strain to be "heirloom" either other than some proof.. vague or otherwise.. that it is old. Even the "old" is not defined and varies.

 Don't be a sucker.. if you put the effort in to "prep" and this is a key part of your planning.. grow it, save it, learn it and know it. Placing your faith in someone because he's able to rouse panic and offers quotes from scripture to pry funds from your pocket is not security. 

 Some basics to consider:

  • get books and learn to identify/ treat plant pests and diseases
  • "Seed to Seed" by Suzanne Ashworth is a seed saver's bible for crops
  • learn how to compost and build soil now, as well learn to spot deficiencies in nutrients by plant growth
 When you are gardening.. crops are roughly divided up into cool and warm season plants. Select crops with several factors in mind.. seasonality, works in your region, diversity, productivity, nutritional content, storage qualities, how soon until crops are able to be harvested.. to give you an idea.

 Make a garden and learn. Then realize if things go crazy.. those that bought the plastic pipe dream of delusion are most likely going to be the same people raiding you for food.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Gourd ID Chart

Digital Gourd chart © Dan Dunkin 2003
This chart is used courtesy The Gourd Reserve

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cucumber beetles & Gourds

 Little, yellow, different... it is the ever pesky Cucumber beetle. If they flourish in your garden, even Advil won't help minimize the pain. They attack an assortment of plants and in their larva stage they are also known as corn rootworms. In some zones these bugs have even figured out crop rotation so the whole soybean to corn to soybean trick is no longer effective.

 If you are battling these bothersome beings.. take the time to read this link. 

 I have a few that pop up in my yard from time to time but not a lot. I will drop whatever I am doing to squish these bugs.  Aside from staggered plantings and rotating crops as best as I can, I try to mix up plantings to further make things less easy for them.

 In the fall to early winter, many gourds, jack-o-lanterns and the like end up in the compost pile. Even through freezes and exposure to the elements, tons of volunteers appear every spring. I have only ever planted pumpkins and gourds once and that was a few years ago, but ever since we have had several pumpkins and too many gourds.

This would be one example.. most likely pumpkin x gourd. The original gourds had this coloring, were quite small and bottle shaped. This one in the picture is bigger than a basketball and has escaped into the yard about 5 feet away from where it sprouted. The vines are over 12 feet long easy. 

 I almost sent it to compost camp, but the flowers on it stayed open so late into the day that getting past the bees was proving tricky. The corner garden is sporting another 4 pumpkins that don't seem to be crosses. Also quite a few warty round ones and small striped ones.. yeah, there are a ton. 

 I had hundreds and hundreds sprout.. I tried to weed them out but even more would appear just a few days later. I thought with the late surprise snow I was in the clear... not so much. The snow wiped out only a few seedlings and these evil monsters are the remnants that survived.

 I gave away over 200 various gourds last fall. It is no easy task, and you have to quickly say "here! Halloween or Thanksgiving decorations!" .. shove the bag at them and then run like hell to an awaiting car that is still running.. before they can protest.

 One of the gourd plants last year threw out rather suggestive fruit. They were quite round and had a nipple on the bottom. One weekend my husband and his buddies, after a few too many beers, decided to get in the Halloween spirit. They grabbed some of those gourds and gave Michelle's scarecrow decoration a breast augmentation. The tin man woulda ditched Dorothy in a New York minute for that scarecrow. 

 What I always wanted to try and do... but never got around to it.. is carve up a bunch of the gourds into jack-o-lanterns and somehow string them up on a lit pole. It would look like a jack-o-lantern totem pole. That's what I would want to line up the pathway to my front door... a hallway made up of menacing flickering faces. A whole arbor tunnel of them would be sooooo cool. 

 Knowing me though.. after carving the 4th one I'd just settle for hopping out from behind the pine tree at the kids. Sometimes it is good to be easily amused. I will do it at some point.. it is one of those creative visions you just HAVE to bring to reality.. if even only for one year.

 This year... I am still working on it. I have a few ideas.. but for now I have to count how many gourds I have growing just as soon as I can find them under the vine jungle.