April 25, 2011

More Seeds to Sow

written by Yvonne

We had a weekend or two of relative rest, but all good things, as they say ... . This weekend we had several things to get done. Tom picked some mint from his bee mentor's house, so we had to find a location to plant it. Since we put lavender and lemongrass in what was going to be the mint patch, we looked around for a new spot. The space along the back fence has been relegated to bee-friendly items and/or things that need partial shade. That seemed like a good spot so Tom started clearing an overgrown area along the fence, behind the compost bins.

He used a brand new hatchet his mom picked up for him to help with the job.

Here is the mint before planting...

and here it is in its new home. It smells lemony.

Now for some beauty shots.

Peas have finally blossomed.



Beans that were planted just last week!

We each went to town on various projects that need completing. I was in charge of fertilizing the berries, ripping out BIG weeds from the berry area, and getting a green-up tonic together for the rest of the garden. A tonic is one of the things Jerry Baker recommends in his books. The green-up tonic I concocted today consisted on beer, ammonia, plant food, Karo syrup and dish soap. We have measuring spoons and cups and all of the ingredients in our out building so we can whip up what we want without having to go in and out of the house.

Tom (and Olive) turned the compost, added leaves, and 120 pounds of kitchen scraps.

Olive and I prepared bed #3 for a good bit of summer crops. I took one last harvest of collards and then pulled them out. I did a quick turn of the soil, pulled out some weeds, and planted bell peppers, oregano, tomatoes, cucumbers, and marigolds.

Tom had a full bin of leaves ready to use as mulch, so he loaded up the garden cart and brought plenty over to the potato/onion bed.

Some random dill (the fluffy green stuff I'm hoeing around) peaked up recently. At first, we didn't think it was any good because it didn't smell like dill. I pulled up one small plant to get rid of it and found it to be VERY fragrant after all.  So I carefully moved all of them over to make room in this spot for Holy Mole peppers. We didn't plant these type of pepper last year so it will be a new experience.

Tom tilled the pumpkin patch from last year (which never did produced any pumpkins) and sowed some melon seeds. (Has anyone noticed that I've been in the blazing sun in all these pictures while Tom is cooling it in the shade? Who came up with the distribution of jobs today do you suppose?)

Tom still futzing around with his hive bases. He's waiting not so patiently for his bees to arrive. Maybe by next week's posting. The anticipation is driving him c-r-a-z-y.

After getting cleaned up and getting a bite of lunch, it was on to more projects. Tom (and Olive) worked on building more frames for a second hive.

I had lots of reading to do.

Below are two web sites we want to share with everyone.  The Truck Farm we find quite interesting and Ruth Stout we find quite inspirational. Be sure to watch both videos (1 of 2 and 2 of 2) of Ruth Stout.

Truck Farm (www.truck-farm.com)

April 23, 2011

A Swarm at Mr. Bishop's

written by Tom

Okay, so I was totally lame and hadn't attended an open bee yard hosted by the Mecklenburg Beekeepers Association. An open bee yard is when an experienced beekeeper invites newbees to come and observe his or her hives. I had visited my friend, Hernan and his hives several times but hadn't gone to an official MBA open bee yard. So last weekend I went to the last one of the season, hosted by Mr. Bill Bishop. He is one of the original MBA members and has been keeping bees for some 55 years. Mr. Bishop was the first beekeeper in the Carolinas to have Russian bees.  He worked with the USDA, as it studied Russian bees in the U.S. some years ago. Russian bees are a little smaller and darker than the common Italian variety ... a little more gray in color, and they have different habits. One of which is that they are naturally resistant to the Varroa mite, which is a nasty little critter that can suck bees dry and ruin a hive. The Varroas are everywhere so sign me up for Russian bees! I am in awe of Mr. Bishop's knowledge and inspired by his no-chemical approach. It is definitely the way I want to keep bees. 

So I made a trip out to Mr. Bishop's yard. As soon as I pulled up one of his associates, a beekeeper from Louisiana named James said, "You just missed a swarm!" I quickly suited up and followed Mr. Bishop, several bee school students, and the MBA's president George McAllister to the swarm.

When bees swarm, it is a coordinated event following many days of planning on the bees' part. Usually the swarm heads to a temporary location such as a nearby tree branch, before their final destination. Somewhere deep inside this ball of bees, is the queen. Below, George gets his hand on the branch where the swarm landed.

George sprayed the swarm with a bit of sugar syrup to keep the bees happy and calm. It keeps them from flying about and gives them a bit of food to digest while someone below gingerly prunes off the little branch holding this swarm.

With pruned branch in hand George walks carefully, hoping not to stumble, while another excited student takes a photo.

I managed to get a closeup of the little swarm.

Bill had a small hive box or "nuc" (short for "nucleus colony"), ready to accept the swarm. He put the nuc on a plastic tray in the yard. Here, Bill shows George how to tap down the bees from the branch, onto the tray and at the nuc's entrance.

 "Bam!" George does just that in one swift motion. They all are bumped off the branch at the doorstep of their new home.

The tray and bottom board of the hive was filled with bees. Instantly they smelled the wax foundation and started to venture in. So did the young queen. We watched her go in ... and out ... and in .... and back out again of the nuc's entrance. We wondered if she'd accept the new home. Here you can see the orderly mass.

Mr. Bishop advised that all was well even though these Russians took their own sweet time going into the box. It took a couple of hours. But apparently that is another trait of Russians. They are NOT in a hurry  ... except when they say so. Bill kept telling us that the bees were inside re-arranging the "furniture" in their new house, getting things juuuuuust right for their young queen to come in and set up home.

It was a magical moment and gave Bill plenty of time to give us his wisdom on bees, Russians in particular. I wasted no time asking one question after another. I learned a ton. Bill showed us how he stores equipment, without the use of chemicals, which prevent wax moths from destroying it all. Because he doesn't use chemicals, he had equipment at the ready for such an occasion as a swarm.This bit of knowledge wasn't lost on me! In this photo, you can see that about a third of the bees have entered the nuc.

And about two hours later, just a handful of bees remain outside the box and at the entrance. Success!!!

While the Russians were setting up house other mentors were busy showing us newbees the ropes. Here mentor Jimmy Odom opens a hive au naturale. He shared a lot of information with with us. I got a kick out of seeing all of us newbees suited up head to toe while Jimmy opened up a box of bees with no protective gear whatsoever.

Here, Jimmy stresses the finer points of beekeeping.

All in all, my open bee yard experience was really magical thanks to the mentors from the Mecklenburg Beekeepers Association who made it possible. I truly can't wait to give back in the coming years. :)

April 18, 2011

Greens for Sale, Greens for Sale!

written by Yvonne

(Seriously!  I have spinach and collards for sale. See picture #2).

As I write this, I thought it was two weekends ago that we harvested 8 pounds of spinach to freeze. Now I realize it was ONE WEEK to the day... and this is what that same patch looked like yesterday!

I harvested another big batch: 10, 10oz bags of spinach and 6, 10oz bags of collards. They are $1 per bag.  (Available to anyone that Tom or I see on a regular basis so we can hand them to you within the week. Or, if you want to pick them up at our house, you could do that as well. First come first served. While they last and all that good stuff.)

Here is the run down of how things are going in TYs VeggiePatch this week.

Here is the out-of-control collard patch (prior to harvesting) with some random lettuce.

Garlic (foreground) and the second bed of spinach (background).

Peas were very slow going at first but within the last week they've almost doubled in size. Still no pods yet.

Very small carrots but they're there.

We think (you know how that goes) this is broccoli.  The cauliflower patch has this same shaped leaf sprouting in it so we're hopeful that both are going to take hold and produce something.

I think this is lettuce. Or it could be a weed. Or maybe a mango tree.

This is definitely potatoes. The whole bed is growing like crazy.

Raspberries seen to be taking root.

It appeared that we lost this blackberry bush soon after planting it. But it's growing new leaves after all so we think all is good.

Blueberry bushes (foreground) also look like they've taken hold. Dog (background) enjoying the beautiful day.

This is Maizie. She is one of our indoor cats. She has chronic renal failure and gets IV fluids every other day. We know she's on her 9th life so we decided to let her join us outside. Sunday was the third or fourth time we've let her come outside and she LOVES it. She did what all cats do and found a hidden place to lay in the sun. She is laying on our out building enjoying the day. The fact that it smells like gasoline because of the lawnmower didn't seem to deter her from choosing this spot.

Spring makes one so hopeful. The beginnings of these peaches and apples (below) get my mouth watering for cobblers and pies. But we know both trees have issues with bugs or fungus and we won't get a harvest from them. Getting the boxes built for the garden was our focus in year one. Year two, this year, the focus is to maintain what we have and get the bees going. Next year we will focus on these two fruit tress and get them manageable and healthy.

We planted two types of beans this weekend and threw lavender and lemon grass seeds in the mint bed - which is now the lavender/lemon grass bed. Speaking of mint; we are aware that mint grows like a weed around these parts which is probably why we can't find seed in any stores. And yet, we also can't find any growing like weeds in anyone yard either. As such, if anyone has access to mint, maybe several cutting from someone's yard, we'd love to have it. I'll trade ya spinach for mint?

In Bee News
Tom took his first hive to the drop-off point where it will be populated with a queen and all her workers. He should have them back within a week and then he's off to the races.

Tom set up the hive stand (four pained cinder blocs) and got good vibes from our four-legged creatures to bless the new bees home.

April 10, 2011

It's All About the Green

written by Yvonne

Due to lots of rain and very cool temperatures, we have an extraordinary amount of greens.  Over the last few weeks we have given away bags and bags to friends.  That had kept us just about even with the pace they are growing.  We got another week of periodic rain and more cool temperatures and we lost the fight.  We officially cannot harvest and eat the amount of spinach and collards the garden is producing. (It's one of those good/bad problems, I know.)  :)

The other day, as I was cooking up a batch of grits and greens (yum!) I started thinking about how I might be able to preserve some of this spinach. I could can it, but I just don't think I'd use canned spinach. Especially considering I don't even buy spinach in a can now.  However, I DO use frozen spinach.  In fact a few of the recipes I've been making call for frozen spinach but I just saute our fresh and use it instead. Yes, freezing it is!

We harvested as much spinach as we could, as well as some collards.  The collards we'll eat this week for dinner but all of the spinach was used for our freezing experiment.  We crammed these baskets full and ended up with just over 8 lbs of spinach and 2 lbs 10 oz of collards!

We used every large vessel we owned for this process. The process was: pull off the large stems, wash the spinach, pull out the smallest leaves that can be used for salads....

blanch the spinach by dropping as much as would fit into a stock pot of boiling for 3 minutes then shocking it in ice-water for 3 minutes...

then set them to dry on towels.  The wilted greens on the left are the blanched spinach; the ones on the right are the washed collards.

We weighed out 10oz portions ('cause I think that's how much a box of frozen spinach is) and ended up with 8 10-oz. portions.  The spinach bunches will sit in the freezer for a day or so, then we'll take them out and wrap them individually so they'll be ready to use.  If we remember we'll try and report on how it goes the first time we use any in the future.