Adventures in Beekeeping – Chapter the First

new hiveAaaaand – the adventure begins to borrow a phrase. This was delivered yesterday. Brand spanking new bee house. Look closely, it’ll never look this pristine again. I’m not “getting into” bees because I’m all that interested in bees per se, but because I’m more interested in what the bees can do for me (pollinate the veggie and fruit garden) and because it appears that the country – and perhaps the world – has put all their eggs into one basket by depending so heavily on crops that also depend on, mostly, one species of pollinator, that of the European Honey Bee, Apis mellifera. There are other pollinators out there, but not in the numbers needed for so much of the monoculture farming that is the normal (there’s a misnomer if ever there was one,) method of crop production these days. And now the honey bees are apparently threatened on all fronts, disease, parasites, malnutrition. The diversified crops and extensive wildflowers that the bees need for proper nutrition are a mere shadow of their former selves, and without proper nutrition this beneficial insect falls prey to all sorts of parasites and diseases that ordinarily they could shrug off.

So, I’m just trying to do my bit.

And maybe get some honey into the bargain.

First starts in the ground.

2013-02-20 11.50.41I suppose this is the “real” beginning of the gardening season then. I got the first plants into the garden proper, the broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, and the cabbages. I came up one cabbage short due to losing so many seedlings to damping off, but everything else came out just right with no leftovers. That can be a good thing, there’s no waste; or a bad thing, if I lose any of the plants there’s nothing to replace them with unless I buy some at a garden center. I didn’t do a whole lot to prep the bed; when push comes to shove at this point they really don’t need much. I spread 4 bags of mushroom compost over the top, and mixed in some 10-10-10. I thought about putting in organic fertilizer, but it has blood meal as one of its components I believe and I do not want critters digging up my freshly planted brassicas. They might do it anyway of course, but there’s no sense in asking for trouble.

2013-02-20 11.50.36Although the t-tape drip irrigation system is down,  as wet as it’s been the last couple of months, it’ll be some time before there’s any necessity for additional watering, especially in these raised beds which are really glorified potting soil that hold the moisture quite well. A for instance is the thyme which I planted last year and which did not do very well. Come to find out it actually prefers things a bit drier so that I think it was just too damp for it getting watered every day. This year I may leave the herb bed drip irrigation cut off and just water the individual plants so that I can tailor the watering needs to the individual plants rather than using a blanket method. We’ve gotten notification from Stark Bros that the peach trees have shipped. There are three holes dug, only three more to do, and the trees can just be popped in the ground. So that will be done by this time next week I hope.

The Seedling Factory

seedlings_021613The seedling factory, as I like to call it, continues to perform. I’ve got to get these babies in the ground real soon now although if I can get them in within the next few days, they’ll be right on schedule as far as the plans I threw together way back in the autumn. Actually I’ve got to get them out, either that or buy some more lights to turn the seed starting stand into a double decker. It’s time to get the next chapter started: tomatoes, peppers, etc., the tender annuals.

These have done really well, although I had some problems with damping off early on, something I’ve never had a problem with before. For some reason the diCicco broccoli was especially prone to it so that I lost about half of them. Of course those were the most expensive seeds so I’m not surprised, such is my luck.

baby leeks

Baby Leeks

I’m drawn toward doing things “the old way” and the more natural way in many cases, so that I’ve started collecting some small terracotta 4″ pots to use as seedling starters. Terracotta has its pros and cons, just like plastic, but I honestly feel better about using a more natural substance rather than petroleum based disposable plastic cell packs. Besides, they just look neat :-).

When I do get them planted, I’m probably going to have to fill out the ranks a bit with some purchased cabbages, etc., since I lost so many to damping off, but that might not be a bad thing as it’ll give me a bit more variety and a chance to see what does the best.

seedling_cabbage

Cabbage ‘Earliana’ starts

The cabbage in particular is just going insane. I swear some of them look like they’re already trying to head; I just hope they’re not in for a rude awakening when I get them out into the garden proper. I’ve never tried cabbage before, it’s really a cool season crop. For this reason I purposely chose an early variety Burpee’s ‘Earliana‘, which is supposed to mature quite quickly. Excessive heat will cause cool season crops to “bolt” or shoot up to set seed; it also will make them bitter, and while not exactly inedible, not very nice. This is one reason that we here in the South will plant collard greens in the fall with the expectation of the greens maturing after frost. I tried planting some of these cool season crops in the fall a couple years ago and wasn’t very successful, so I’m trying something a bit different this year.

A (different) Apple Every Day

sunny_tree

Sunny helps out

So I guess this will be a week’s worth. I’ve received an order of seven apple trees, each a different variety, from Century Farms Orchard in Altamahaw, North Carolina. We got these the week of February 3rd, right on time. They arrived in excellent shape. I wish I could say the same for the weather. Of course it seemed the time of the Inundation was coincident with the trees arriving, and I’d procrastinated about digging the holes and having them ready so that when a fairly dry 2-3 day window appeared I was faced with the problem of planting seven apple trees in a short amount of time. In the mushy field. I managed to get four of them planted on Saturday by really pushing it, and Sunny helped with the remaining three on Sunday morning so that we just missed the next storm system and its 2-3 inches of expected rainfall. And then of course this weekend, we’re expecting a hard freeze with temperatures down in the 20s. Fortunately everything I’ve read seems to point up that once in the ground the trees shouldn’t suffer from the temps.

apple tree

Newly planted apple tree

As mentioned, there are seven different apple varieties, all old Southern types: ‘Carolina Red June’; ‘Summer Banana’; ‘Roxbury Russet’; ‘Bevan’s Favorite’; ‘Mary Reid’; ‘Mollies Delicious’ (that’s apparently how it’s actually spelled); and ‘Aunt Rachel’. These trees are all grafted onto semi-dwarf rootstock, so I’m hopeful that they won’t take quite as long to produce as a standard tree would. I’ve got these a bit close at 12′ although most of the recommendations I can find do say 12 to 15 feet apart.

Now of course, I get to dig six more holes for the peach trees that are supposed to arrive next week!

infant orchard

Orchard in the making

The Start of Another Year

looking aheadSo much to do this year, I don’t know if it will all get done, but I’m optimistic that at least some of it will. The table in the Pub seems to have become my planning table. The Pub catches the morning light and is very pleasant at this time of day; a nice spot to have a hot cup of tea or coffee, or just to watch the birds at the feeders in the back off the deck.

We brought the seed starter stand inside this past weekend, and I got the Brussel’s sprouts, the broccoli, and the cabbage planted in the starter trays on the 31st, or the 1st to all intents and purposes. Some weeks back I started a hardcopy gardening binder, something to refer to on the spur of the moment without having to go chasing down a gadget, or worrying about said gadget being harmed by potting soil, water, or just general mayhem as I go through the gardening process. One of the things I’ve put in it is an actual calendar of when I want to plant my various seeds so that I actually got something started when I wanted to this time! I just have to remember that it’s there for my instant reference.

seed_traysThe seed trays are on a heating mat as a source of bottom heat. I hope to upgrade to a “real” seedling mat at some future point, but this method has done me for a couple of years now. This was an inexpensive mat, one without an internal timer on it (it would hardly do for the heat to go off after a couple of hours,) and one marked as “water resistant”.  The lights are on for 14 hours give or take; they’re on a mechanical type timer which isn’t quite as accurate as an electronic one, but simpler to program and able to take more abuse in the long run. The seed starting medium this year is a bit different, an “organic” mix by Burpee’s that I picked up at Lowe’s. Rather than being peat based (a non-renewable resource,) it’s coir based. The only real difference that I’ve noticed so far is that it seems to dry out more quickly than the peat type. It’s also more expensive, I suspect because it is to all intents and purposes a by-product to the coconut industry and I can’t imagine that the the coconut industry is actually that large. Except for its tendency to dry out more quickly I like it overall; it has a nice texture.

Brand new baby broccoli, just peeking out.

Brand new baby broccoli, just peeking out.

The broccoli (Burpee’s variety ‘di Cicco’) is happy anyway, it’s already popping up after only a few days!  I was a bit careless sowing these seeds; normally I’ll only sow two, or at most three seeds per cell. It’s a bit persnickety when they’re so small, but it is doable and when they’re so expensive much more economical rather than flinging them hither and yon. If the seed is stored somewhere away from heat and moisture they will be viable for many years. That’s a lot better than spending $4 or $5 a packet every year which is what some of the hybrid varieties end up costing. The most I spent on any one variety this year was for the Brussel’s sprouts ‘Dimitri Hybrid‘ at $3.95 for 25 seeds. The only reason I opted for those is that it is advertised as “easy to grow” and the last time I tried to grow sprouts they didn’t perform.

On into the next season . . .

I had the best of intentions, that of regularly updating this garden blog, and you can see where that went. Well, here it is past the end of the season, and I’m hopefully getting back to it.

The garden’s been buttoned up for the season, I’m not going to try to deal with any fall/winter type veggies this year; I’m putting all of my energy into properly planning and laying out for next year. Which means that even though the garden looks a bit sad as there’s naught in it save for the last dregs of the summer’s peppers, there is much going on behind the scenes. I’ll have to finalize at least the early veggies really soon, since some of them should be started inside by the middle of December or so for a February planting. I’ve decided to try English peas this year, I’ll probably try both, direct sow and starting under lights; they’ll need to be in the ground by the middle of February, likewise the potatoes I’ll be planting. I planted potatoes this last season, not many,  and they were severely neglected. Even so they still managed to produce some potatoes , enough for a couple of meals which has inspired me to try again.

Tomatoes were very nice this year; I even managed to cook up some of the roma type (Burpee ‘Fresh Salsa’) into some tomato sauce and freeze it. That’t the ticket right there, growing enough to have extra to store. It gives a feeling of, well, independence, like we actually have at least some control over our food source. We probably could have done even better with our tomatoes, we’re still having problems with blight, but I don’t know that there’s anything we can really do about it. I’m going to try to get at least a couple of beds solarized next season and we’ll see if that helps the blight problem any.

The summer squash was disappointing. Nothing we’ve tried has kept the squash borers away except for a barrier method – keeping the plants under row cover and hand pollinating. While the pollinating chore really wasn’t a very big deal, the row covers kept in the moisture and stopped any airflow so that the plants eventually succumbed to mold and other similar disease. After discussing it, I think we might try to just boggle the little bugs’ minds with so many squash plants that they can’t possibly kill it all. In other words we’re going to plow up some ground outside of the garden proper and plant a LOT of squash and see if that works. The reasoning behind this is that apparently squash borer is not a problem in commercial fields. At least it’s something to try. This year’s squash only produced for about a month or so, and the best I can tell it should really last until frost. I’ve never had any plant to produce much longer than the aforementioned month.

So, I’ll be doing some serious planning in the next month or so, and doing some serious ordering after that. These are the things that I’m definite on, or at least considering:

  • Tomatoes (several varieties, beefsteak, roma, cherry, heirloom slicing)
  • Peppers (hot: Mariachi, Jalapeno; Sweet: California Wonder)
  • Corn
  • Okra
  • English Peas
  • Lettuce – leaf and semi-head
  • Broccoli (fall crop didn’t do well, so trying late winter, early spring)
  • Brussel’s Sprouts (ditto Broccoli)
  • Potatoes (the Red ones did best)
  • onions – globe and bunching
  • basil
  • thyme
  • Cucumbers – slicing and pickling
  • Carrots (did REALLY well, must have more!)
  • Beets (haven’t done well for me, but I think I know why)
  • Parsnips (a first, just an experiment)
  • Summer squash
  • Winter squash (the borers leave it alone as it has a solid stem)

This isn’t written in stone, I’m sure it’ll be tinkered with over the next month or so. I’d like to have the garden in continuous production, at least that’s my goal. There should always be something I can pick out of the garden, I would also very much like to have a surplus that can be put up.

Captain Carrot, I presume?

The winter vegetables were so-so. The Brussel’s sprouts were a distinct failure, got a couple of tiny broccoli, and likewise the cauliflower. Not sure if I’ll try again or not. Part of the problem has been a very warm winter, and a spring that’s more like June than March with temperatures in the 80’s. However the Romaine lettuce finally did well, and the carrots are a resounding success I’d say. Classic carrot shape, looks like something the Were Rabbit would be after. I may try another variety next year, these are ‘Danvers Half Long‘  which I’ve just discovered is an heirloom variety. I may try one of the long skinny carrots next time, like this hybrid from Burpee. I’ve tried growing carrots before when I lived in Cooks Springs, but never had any luck really. Of course these have been in the ground a long time, since last October/November if I remember correctly. Think I’ll try planting some in mid-late summer to mature after the frost hits. If there’s enough I may try canning or freezing the surplus.

The bunching onions are finally getting big enough to do something with, and the leeks are finally doing something as well. Most of this stuff was just kind of dormant through the “winter.” Except for the carrots apparently which were doing their thing underground. The leeks are in the upper left of the bed in the accompanying photo, the rest of those are the bunching onions. The beets have just done so-so. There might be one or two in there, but again I think it was too warm for them. I’ll probably pull them in the next week or so, likewise a good bit of the romaine which is, with the warmer weather, trying to bolt. Drat.

And of course, springtime in the south means azaleas. Lots and lots of azaleas.

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Ides of March

Been tinkering a bit with the theme. Going to take a bit of tinkering to get it like I want it really, especially since it’s a “learn as you go” type of a situation. I think I actually liked Twenty Ten better than Twenty Eleven but just the basic theme will do for now.

It’s hard to believe these tomato babies are a whole six weeks old now. Or maybe not so hard, they’re certainly doing well. Had a brief scare when they started yellowing early on (and you can see a bit of that in the photo) but although at the time I thought I may have been overwatering them, now I’m more inclined to believe that they had simply outstripped their nutrients. Shortly after that I started watering about every other time with a half-strength fertilizer solution and saw no more yellow. Actually I’m to the point where I have to harden them off, they’ve gotten so tall that there’s quite a size difference between them and a lot of the other starts (basil, parsley, lettuce, etc.) and I’m having to put the shorter plants up on an upside down flat to raise them up closer to the lights.

There’s no cold weather in the forecast for at least the next week, maybe even to the end of the month. It’s very possible I’ll be planting these babies in the next few days.