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.

Twenty-five, and counting . . .

Two weeks ago Sunny and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. At first we’d planned to go out, but came to the conclusion that we probably wouldn’t enjoy going out all that much and it was going to be very expensive, especially taking into consideration that  neither one of us really has any “going out” clothes. I’d sort of wanted to buy a nice, dressy outfit, but we’re also both dieting (successfully, I might add) and I really didn’t want to get something that was only going to fit for a month or so.

I did indulge myself by investing in some bits and bobs for the table, silverplate chargers, a vintage double damask actual linen tablecloth off of Etsy and napkins which are an amazing match off of eBay. Considering the price of new linen tablecloths seem to be in the hundreds of dollars range, I think the $35 spent for the tablecloth and the $12 for the napkins a real bargain. And I get to use them again. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any plates that would go nicely with what was turning out to be a very formal table, so had to make do with the Mikasa Arabella. It didn’t look quite right with the sterling and crystal, being more of a casual quality of dinnerware, but the King crab legs and Sirloin Strip tasted just fine off of them :-). And the table still looked nice. Mr. Carson would be appalled though, the dinner fork is crooked ;-).

The sterling is a pattern I’ve been trying to collect for years, since I graduated High School to be precise as the very first piece was a fork given to me by my Aunt Jennie as a graduation present in 1975. It was years before I was even able to identify the pattern as of course there was no internet in those days. Finally a friendly antiques dealer was able to pinpoint it as Reed & Barton’s “Les Six Fleurs“, first produced in 1901, the year of Queen Victoria’s death and Edward’s ascendance to the throne of Great Britain. Being an antique pattern well over a hundred years old, they can be very difficult to find – and also expensive. I call this my one vice. It could be worse, I could have a closet full of clothes. At least this stuff is hard to find. It keeps me honest.

The crystal is Waterford of the pattern “Powerscourt.” Something else I’ve been collecting one . . . piece . . . at a . . . time. Mom always said I had champagne tastes and a beer pocketbook. I’ve really just now gotten to the point where I can set two place settings. The next goal is to have four place settings, then I can have company!

I have, at last, and purely by accident, found a dinnerware pattern that I’m happy with for formal place settings. There was a Craigslist entry for 4 place settings of Noritake Shenandoah for $400. I was curious as to what the heck was so special about it that this lady wanted an astronomical price for it so I looked it up. Turns out she was apparently just clueless. The real value of a place setting is somewhere in the $50-60 range. However when I saw the photos of it, it looked like it was exactly what I was looking for. True, it wasn’t Royal Doulton or Limoges, but Noritake has a good reputation and is an old company. This particular pattern is a delicate floral, opulent without being over the top, and with that “old fashioned” flavor which I love. Of course it’s a discontinued pattern so now I’m  collecting those as well.

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