Sunday, December 19, 2010

Giving the Garden

I'm going to a holiday gathering today that's a teensy bit high-pressure. I'm wearing my go-to boots, checking my eye makeup before leaving, and practicing asking interesting questions so I can talk to people I don't know.

One thing I'm not worrying about is hostess gifts. The nocino really worked out well, and who wouldn't like little teensy pickles? Handspun yarn, repurposed manila folders, and there you have it -- something no one else could give.

For all the ups and downs, gardening lessens my stress overall.

Friday, December 17, 2010

December sprout - now pictured!

She was born yesterday, at 3:30 or so in the afternoon. A beautiful home birth, with her whole family gathered around.

This beats pulling Bermuda grass all hollow, in this aunt's opinion.

Friday, December 10, 2010

No cure, I'm afraid

I've been writing this post in my head for a week, but couldn't find the pictures. Then they were found, while I was doing something for homeschooling records. I've been meaning to cure my own olives for some time, and after my cousins in Sicily told me that it was really easy (at least, that's what I think they said; my Italian is questionable), I was even more determined to do so.

I made my eldest child help me pick "a jarful" of olives across from the most populated shopping center in town. She really appreciated that.

This is how most of my new projects are designed: jump right in but use the wonders of the internet to figure out how to follow through.

There are lots of recipes for olives here, and I chose just a straight brine cure. A quick slit in each olive, to let the brine in, and I figured I was on my way. They weren't very big.

I poured a cup of salt on them and topped it off with I think two cups of water. I weighed them down with a plastic bag full of water, so they'd stay under the brine.

Then all that was left was to wait a bit, check the olives, and proceed.

Alas, I do not have pictures of the next part of the process, but the next day I looked in the jar, and the water had started to discolor, which was great, but there were also small, grub-looking things suspended in the water underneath the floating olives. What could they be? Could I (ick) eat the olives anyhow?

Back to the computer. I discovered what my nemeses were. . . olive flies. And no, I could not just go ahead and eat them, or not with a lot of enjoyment. And control seems like a pain, also, so I was at least glad that I found them before putting a lot more effort into them. I had also planned to plant two trees! Now I have space, rather than difficult trees.

Maybe I can find someone around here in a non-infested area to get me some uncured olives, or maybe there is simply no cure for me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The sound of stealing

It's a gorgeous day here - sunny and relatively warm. I've been whining about the gray, so this is a nice change. I trotted out back with the dog and heard something. Something wrong. The boxes out to be cleaned by the bees had a lot of bees flying around them, and the sound could have been just the increased activity (nice weather=more bees flying), but I didn't think so. A glance out in the bee yard suggested that I should probably worry.

One of the hives is slightly weaker than the other -- always has been. Different queens, different hives. That's the one that had the ants on it, and today they were better. One grass stalk was leaning onto the hive, and the ants had redirected traffic onto that, but it was easy to fix. It didn't sound much better, though. Angry humming, or irritated humming, not the happy bee sounds one wants.

It turns out that old coffee bags are terrific smoker fuel, and an 8" square is just about enough to last though a quick hive inspection. Since I'm a failure at keeping my smoker lit, this was good news.

Yay, smoke!

It's a little difficult to see in this picture, but underneath the questionable hive, there was a pile of little wax bits.

In addition, the front of the hive was showing a lot of activity, but it didn't look like a plain old active hive, in which lots of bees fly in and out. There was a fair bit of hovering which could be newly hatched bees going on orientation flights, or something more sinister. I assumed sinister.

So I reduced the entrance with a convenient stick. If, as I assumed, the hive was being robbed by interlopers, having a smaller opening to defend would help them.
Once I got the hive open, my assumptions were confirmed. See the little ragged openings? Bee jaws. They cut them open and eat the honey.

That's where the carpet of wax bits underneath had come from. On the frames, there were mobs like this:

What are they after?

Yep, they're eating the tiny bits of honey. Yum.

Some frames were like this:

After I pulled off those honey boxes I'd put on for cleaning, I took a quick peek down in the brood box, and there was evidence that at least recently, there was an active queen. I saw open brood (the little white grubby things in the top middle of that picture) and capped brood (under the bees) but didn't look through the hive enough to either confirm eggs or their lack.

Once I found that the hive wasn't actively dying, and the empty honey boxes were off and free of bees (much shaking and wrapping in sheets took care of that), I buttoned up the hive again and replaced the temporary entrance reducer with a stick that would actually fit:

With the ants gone, and the robbing either completed or stopped, this hive should cheer up a bit.

The stronger hive just got its honey boxes removed and shaken. True to form, they'd begun filling them with nectar from whatever's blooming out there. I figured I'll just store it and they can deal with it next spring. Now, dry ice and bags are on my shopping list. After the sun goes down tonight I'm going to bring in all of the other boxes. I know that having a source like that can stimulate robbing, as I'd worried about earlier, and it seems as though that's true. No sense prolonging it.

Maybe tomorrow I'll actually garden some, and more easily with fewer bees flying around.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Hi there. I used to garden and blog about it. I used to do lots of things!

Maybe it's the shorter hours of daylight, maybe it's stress, maybe it's some personal failing, but I'm not the bundle of energy I usually find myself. I'm certainly not blogging as I used to, nor knitting, nor reading and commenting on blogs, nor weighing and recording any garden output. It's all mostly gone to circling the inner wagons and painting trim in the dining room.

This week, however, a few bits and bobs got done. All of the honey has been harvested, bottled, and sold. We're going to go to the snow after Christmas, since my "honey money" is earmarked for family outings. Hooray for the bees.

All of that may be done, but the aftermath isn't quite finished. I had stacks and stacks of boxes to clean, harvest, and clean again. Organized beekeepers get the boxes off the hives, harvest the honey, return the "empty" frames to the bees for 24 hours to get the residue off, then pull the boxes off again and store them carefully against insects and damage, until the spring, when we start the whole delightful round again.

That's organized beeks, as noted. Guess which kind lives here? Yes, the four boxes which were efficiently harvested the first day off the hives were also efficiently returned to the hives for cleaning -- a month ago. I couldn't really put the many other harvested boxes back on for cleaning without taking the first off, and the earlier nice weather has mostly given way to actual cool, rainy weather. Also, I have a mix of sinking feelings and elation because the bees were actively foraging for that month. There's probably another 60 pounds of honey waiting for me out there.

Whether there is or not, those boxes awaiting cleaning had to be attended to, and the parents of the book club kids were going to need the basement to sit in during book club. Out the bee stuff had to go.

Instead of berating myself for my poor planning, I chose to look at it as an opportunity to get the frames cleaned without opening the hives to expose any brood to a chill. The bees could come and get the honey if I set the boxes out to be foraged from, far enough from the hives to not stimulate robbing. At least that's the hope.

The bees were pretty happy about it, at least in between rain showers:

Setting my precious drawn comb out to be foraged and rained on (probably Very Bad for the wooden frames -- I hope they dry out okay after tomorrow, when I pull them back in ) wasn't the only beekeeping activity managed this week.

While out putting scraps in the chicken coop last evening, I dropped by the hives and listened. Even without going in, you can learn a lot by watching a hive from the outside and listening to it. I'd noticed earlier that day that one hive had a bit less activity than the other, and that it had some ants in it. The grass had grown right up against it, and an ant highway coupled with a weak hive adds up to real trouble.

When I listened, the "good" hive (the one I usually call my boomer hive because they do everything more than every other hive) was quiet. Pretty much what you want once it's dark and cold. The other hive? Buzzing angrily. I wouldn't want to open a hive that sounded like that in perfect weather, let alone questionable. Something is wrong in there.

Today I fixed the one thing I could fix completely externally -- manage those ants! A good dollop of Tree Tanglefoot on each bit of hive support, plus some judicious grass pulling, meant no more ants could get in:

I'm going to check it again tomorrow. That hive needs attention inside, too, like Kristin gave her bees recently. It's just time to manage hives. If the weather would cooperate, I'd manage. You do what you can, beewise.

Despite having almost no gardening mojo, I managed to get a bit done out back. Some of it was due to my eldest's nearly enthusiastic help as I pulled out that forest of tomato vines last week.

Days after those beds were clear, compost got dumped and a mix of cleaned-from-the-coop chicken droppings and humusy soil got top-dressed. The ones with the rocket-fuel manure dressing would probably be too hot for most crops, and I'm not quite ready to commit to growing anything. Told you I've been feeling weird.

Cover crops to the rescue. A mix of legumes, clover, and grains like oats and buckwheat were scatter-sown to wait the coming rain:

In the pole-and-bush-bean bed, I tried a different tack. Pulling the poles and beans out, I left the crop residue right on the bed. From the outside, I began digging ditches and laying semi-chopped bean plants in the ditches, covering them with dirt. I wore out as the middle jungle approached. I'm going to get to it, just not right this minute.

Then there's the really minimal work areas. Some beds just got weeded. The back corner now has three perennial herbs, so I work around them. I'll get to that end of the garden before the end of the year, I hope. Maybe by the end of January. I'm thinking another trip to the stable for a load of manure would probably be a really good idea.

Maybe Denise and Kevin can find a lot of free time to help! (Just kidding -- their little sprout is almost due.)

One bed that's been just left alone is the pepper bed. I'm still getting some Padron peppers -- enough for a small side dish each week. Maybe they will overwinter. There's a bale of straw to mulch them with waiting in the dry. Between a good mulching, some feeding and an eventual trim, I'm expecting a good pepper year next year.

One other thing that has been taking up some time is our new baby. He's a handful, and we're all still getting used to each other. Meet Mikey:

He turned one on November 1st, and we've had him since I think the second or third of that month. He's about 100 pounds, and partially trained, since he is essentially a show-ring reject, not reared as a pet. He does love his mum. I'm looking forward to hours of hanging out in the garden together, once he learns to stay on the paths even if he's Very Excited.

I hope everyone is much more on top of things than I am.