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.


Heiko said...

Welcome back Stephanie, Hey don't beat yourself up too much. We've been having weird weather and a re well behind on many jobs. We've had a quarter of the olives turned to oil and are waiting for decent weather to get the rest in. Some of our terraces have collapsed in torrential rains, just to give you a quick overview of what's been happening to us while you were 'away'. Sounds like things are starting to come together for you though.

Mikey looks a large baby and I'm sure a right handful. Him and Eddie no doubt would make great friends. Give my love to your family and hang on in there. It's worth it! I'm counting on the fact that winter has arrived early this year, so I'm hoping for an early spring too (next week would be good...)

Erin said...

Congrats on your beautiful Swissie! We lost our Bernese Mountain Dog 2 years ago to histiocytosis. Those breeds don't have long life spans but wow do they make up for it in personality and sweetness. I'm sure he will be a wonderful part of your family!

Mr. H. said...

It's very nice to here from you again and what a beautiful dog Mikey is, you will have so much fun with him.:) Also, I really like the way you "planted" your bean residue.

chaiselongue said...

Good to see you back again and to hear that your bees have done well for you. I love the idea of the 'honey money' taking you all to the snow! I think we all slow down a bit in winter, in what our minds can cope with doing and, physically, in what we can do in the garden. Luckily, nature allows us a bit of a break, or an easier time anyway, at this time of year!

Ribbit said...

Glad to hear you're doing well if not just very busy. Your new family member is just adorable! I bed he's a hunk of fur.

meemsnyc said...

Mikey is adorable! Puppies are a lot of work. I'm so jealous of your bees! My husband keeps talking about wanting to start a hive, but i don't think so in our neighborhood.

kitsapFG said...

I am always amazed at the bee keeping process. It sounds like the bees gave you a good harvest this year!

You got a tremendous amount of work done in the garden considering you were having to provide the motivation as it was not just "occuring" for you lately. Sometimes, things just start feeling like work and that is a good time to step away and do something different for a while.

Kristin said...

So happy to see/read your post! Remember you're homeschooling two more kids than last year? And the new dog? And there are always duldrums upon returning from a trip? Plus you came home to a jungle. It will take some time to put it all back together again. Have patience. I'll be reading what you write and so will others...

Dan said...

Your new dog is adorable!

Stefaneener said...

Heiko, thanks much! I'm so sorry about your rain and your terraces. It's so much work to keep them up. Mikey would love, love, love Eddie. I'm crossing fingers for an early spring.

Thanks much, Erin. He's got his good points, definitely. I dreamt that I had a St. Bernard this morning!

Mr. H., thank you. I was thinking about how intelligent Rowdy always looks and how dense Mr. Mikey seems -- but very cute! The soil building beans are also part of a lazy gardener!

chaiselongue, I'm really missing the sun, I think. The short days are wearing on me. I forget every year how dull the darkness makes me feel. Must get more sleep, like a bear!

Ribbit, thanks. We can't go on a walk without a lot of comments now.

meemsnyc, a lot of neighborhoods have hives that are just under the radar. My neighbors wouldn't know if I had them if I didn't hand out honey. Check and see if there's a beekeeping association in your area. They're usually lots of support and help.

kitsapFG, thanks much for your supportive words. I'm getting some activity back, it's just slower.

Kristin, thanks! I forgot about the more kids thing. . . and less-easy kids too! Maybe I'll do some weeding this weekend and feel even more motivation.

Dan, thank you. He is a lovely lovely boy.

erik said...

I have a question about your H20 system - is the hose in your garden box a soaker hose, or the laser cut type hose? I have a laser cut hose with holes every 12", and it seems that there are always dry spots in the garden.