Monday, April 30, 2012

New Space

We added a front bed partly for the tour, and partly to keep the mulch from being kicked out on to the sidewalk. I figured I'd plant neighbor-friendly tomatoes (Early Girl and Sungold) and some flowers. I may stick some pumpkins or a zucchini in the middle.

The tour was fun, although talking while hoarse from a cold isn't much fun. People were sweet, and appreciative, and I wish that my printer had been working so that the signs hadn't been made in crayon. Oh well.

And today, Cat and I pulled a sweet treat out of the garden.

I don't even remember the name of the variety, but I can see them (picked much smaller) in a mixed pickle. Next winter, I guess.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Today's the day

It's all pretty and we're ready to go. Photos after (maybe).
Bay Friendly Garden Tour

Friday, April 27, 2012

Almost Done!

Eric has been Mr. Garden Studmuffin all this week. (Plus he's either made me tea or met me with coffee every day this week, and gave me a really helpful leg and back rub one night because I started a "boot camp" type fitness program that felt very intimidating. Poor guy is getting up at O'dark-thirty in the mornings, participant or not.)

The thing I'm blogging about, though, even though it's only one thing, was part of getting the yard really ready for the tour. I'm trying to clean up, spruce up, and fill empty spots. So I bought some plants that I might have waited and grown from seed, or those that died in their pots quickly or birds ate or something.

Yesterday I put the climbing winter squashes in half of the spinach bed. This half wasn't intensively planted, and besides, some of the other spinach is bolting -- it's not going to last long. The butternuts I planted never came up, so I grabbed a couple of them at the nursery, plus a Kuri Red squash and a Small Sugar pumpkin.

But half the spinach bed isn't too big, right? What to do? Denise and Kevin had given me a bunch of huge bamboo from their yard, and Eric was a boy scout, so. . .

It's probably strong enough for a person to climb on, but the twine wouldn't hold. Certainly it's sturdy enough to hold pounds and pounds of squash, plus it's going to store easily or break down easily. Darn thing has to be 12-13' tall, though.

I'm going to use it as a place to put my "growing vertically adds space" sign for the tour on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April overview

This is post #2 today. Not fair to put this many pictures and the videos in the first up in one post, methinks. Speaking of which -- can anyone SEE the videos in the earlier post??

Garden overview -- from left to right, which is west to east from the house, and then south to north.

First bed has pole beans and bush beans, and still needs yellow wax beans and Romano bush beans. Must go buy some seeds. . . and something is already eating the babies. Must buy more snail and slug stuff.

Bed of brassicas going by and ruby chard volunteering. If I knew what was supposed to go there, I'd plant it. Guess that's why I should look at the pictures.

Kale, the indispensable vegetable. I'm going to start a flat of that inside, because in six weeks, there's going to be more room somewhere!

Brassicas flowering (I'm going to put up a sign about allowing that for the bees, and maybe something about how/why/when to save seeds -- this is not the method!) and some lettuce. This bed is almost done and therefore open.
Spinach and some space. Back to the drawing board! I think it's winter and summer squash slated for this spot.

Bed full of onions. My onions are making thick necks, and I think they're all as done as they're going to be. Especially the cippolini. I'm going to harvest and chop and freeze, I think. But after the tour.

The crowded apiary. The one to go is third from the front on the right hand side.

Transplanted persimmon tree. Seems we hit the rain perfectly and it's settled in. Red clover as a cover crop underneath.

Volunteer sunflowers with lacy leaves:

 And eek! There's something wrong with the Anna apple tree. Ideas?

The asparagus jungle:

Fava beans left too long for a cover crop but it's the way it goes. Hairy vetch underneath:

Tristar strawberries -- hoping to increase to another bed this summer, but they seem slow-starting to me.

The cucumber bed, with maybe six varieties and trellises:

Hot and Padron peppers in this bed. Each pepper has either a commercial cone-shaped wire cage or a trio of poles stuck straight in. I figure I can wind twine around if they need actual caging. Otherwise, they are sort of "hugged" in place.

Looking up the long bed on the east, black popcorn in the front, tomatoes in the back. I'm using the long running fences as cages again.

Back half of the garden, behind the tomatoes -- artichokes and some oregano that won't stop coming. Need to make more spaghetti sauce, I guess! I bought three more artichokes today to fill that bed in.

Empty beds along the east fence. I'm thinking bell peppers or squash. Can't quite decide. Back to the drawings.

This is technically Ellie's bed. I was hoping to have it full of flowers by now, but my zinnias and sunflowers and breadseed poppies weren't terribly cooperative. I may go to a nursery and seek out flowers. There is a very happy clump of Lemon Balm in this bed.

And that's it. I had hoped to have more art in the garden before Saturday, but it's mulched and I still have quite a bit to do, so art may have to wait another year. Copper words, a mural. .  . something.

Now there are five

The other crowded hive swarmed yesterday while I was transplanting cucumbers. This time, I took some video and so did Cat. Unfortunately, the video that was terminated when I discovered a bee inside my veil wouldn't load, so you don't get that pleasure! I had forgotten to zip my hood. Not a mistake I make often!

Here's the first one, after I ran around and found empty frames and a box to entice them into:

Then I did the bucket trick. I had already dumped one load, from the bottom branch, and then waited for a clump to re-form. I also wasn't wearing a bee glove on one hand, and hey, presto, pushed one bee hard enough for her to nab my finger at the end. See if you can tell how calm and collected I am!! This is one reason I almost always fully suit up, although I am impressed at the bare-handed and short-sleeved keepers among us. It's just not me. You can see how sweetly they just flow into the box -- I bet they follow the same kind of form that something like molasses would. Nature seems to enjoy these tricks.

I'm trying to get rid of this swarm's mother hive. It's all on medium frames, and I am not comfortable managing that hive. I think it's going to get done before this weekend, which would be nice. Today I have to find time to assemble some wax-strip frames to make more room in the four hives I have remaining! Maybe I can then, like Kristin, remember to prevent swarming and have hives to give away or sell instead. Four is really the maximum I think I can fit in my yard.

The whole garden is looking well enough that I'm not panicked about the Bay-Friendly Garden Tour. Yet.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Got Dramamine?

In the middle of shoveling mulch in the back garden,

 my crowded hive swarmed. Fortunately, I was there to see it and fortunately they started landing in a low plum tree. Also fortunate? I had a deep with enough ready frames to tempt them in. Finally fortunately, my dear son was willing and able to shoot video of the coaxing them into the box.

You might need antinausea medication to watch the first video. Unfortunately, my cameraman sees the world faster than most people, so jerky edits don't phase him. Be grateful that I didn't post the six minutes of the whole swarm process, because that one almost made me fall off my chair.

Never before have I experienced a mid-swarm hiving -- it was a matter of plopping the queen into the prepared hive box before they had really established a midway point on the plum branch. The bees really want a safe, dark home, and are easily persuaded once given one. I have questions about the status of the original hive. Will it swarm again? There were lots of queen cells the last time I went through it.

I'm clearly going to spend some time next week assembling some more frames and waxing in starter strips on them. There are too many old wax frames in my storage area, and I'm in need of fresh equipment so I can rotate out the old stuff. How do beekeepers keep up? I don't know.

We're almost done mulching, which means the back yard is closer to completion. I wrote an "I will know I'm done when. . . " list, and have been drawing lines through items. As is the nature of lists, however, a few items have been added at the bottom.

Transplanted peppers today, tiny, tiny peppers, and I may have to redraw the garden plan for more. There aren't enough bells for my taste, although there are many hot varieties. Then, I'll need to figure out where to put the cucumbers (and what kind of trellis/stake system to use to lift 'em up with) and get on that. I had hoped that some things would be bigger by now, but I assume the tour folk will know that gardens are a process.

Finally, I managed to get a quickish overview of the garden here. If you listen carefully, you can hear our youngest sprout talking about her plans. And you can see the various stages of growing/going by/just starting in the beds.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lots afoot

So much happening. Things being planted out (hot peppers and pole beans so far), things being harvested (peas, celery, a garbage bag full of spinach), and one big thing being built.
Kevin has been making me an unbelievable birthday present:

and Taz is going to find that her easy-access days are all over. I'm working hard getting ready for the Bay Friendly Gardens Tour on April 29th.
Denise and Cat helped process the celery.

I've posted a listing for "soup celery," which is what the San Francisco Chronicle called it this weekend, although I'd call it "trimmings," on Freecycle. Don't worry -- I'm keeping plenty to flavor broth.

Oona can now put herself IN the dog crate.
And Eric and I got to dress up and go to a wedding this week.
Clean up rather nicely, don't we? Unfortunately, Taz proceeded to eat my new shoes the next morning. I had gotten home late and tired, and left them carelessly on the couch. Instead of getting up and taking her running, I'd read the paper. 
Maybe if they'd been behind a fence. I'm very very sad about that.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tomato time

During a break in the rain today, a friend of mine and I
Set up the funky linear cage system I like to use for the tomatoes
Perhaps I should have placed the tomatoes in first, but by carefully reeeeeaching through the 6" openings in the mesh, I managed to tip each of the first eight seedlings into holes made on a slant, so that they'll make more roots along their stems and hopefully grow very happily
Of course, it's not supposed to rain again, at least not this week. Wonder if it will again? I did lay out the hoses carefully so I can hook them up to the irrigation system if needed.

And tomorrow? I'm going to heavily harvest spinach ahead of the dry weather. Tonight's dinner was a bowl of leaves sauteed with garlic and dressed with a tiny bit of vinegar. The namers of the "Gigante d'Inverno" weren't kidding! 

I think the one next to it is Monstreux de Viroflay, but it's not such a monster.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I quit

Things are heating up, ironically, since it's raining and cold again. The tomatoes, however, are outside getting wet and blown about. I'm transplanting this weekend unless we experience apocalyptic floods or earthquakes or insistent Frisbee or something. It's time.

And things in the basement are doing well. In the absence of the large, hairy tomatoes (I imagine them seeming like older brothers to the rest), there are more timid, more heat-loving plants:
The older peppers. Planted maybe in February? They're bedeviled by some pesky reddish aphids which seem to reproduce exponentially every 12 hours. If I could find the Ur-Mother, I might be able to be rid of them. Daily squishing, twice daily ideally, seems to help. I may make some insecticidal soap stuff and spray it. If I could only find a whole sprayer. How many spray bottles have romped through this house? Sigh.
Younger peppers, more varieties. I had concentrated on Padrons, having tunnel-vision. Then I remembered how much I loved having ripe bell peppers in the garden, and how much I loved pulling out frozen pepper strips for recipes. And Eric, in one of those, "Hey, let's keep this marriage fresh" moments, let slip that he really liked pickled hot peppers. Color me surprised! I did not know this. Now I am determined to procure, grow, and preserve some hot peppers. Whee!!
Speaking of preserving, there are about five or six varieties of cucumbers also coming along. Three or four pickling varieties, mostly cornichons, for the oldest child. (Who will no doubt again tell me that I misheard and she doesn't like them, but was only going through a stage.) A couple slicers, only one Lemon -- I can, apparently, learn.

And outside, well, outside some things are done with their run.
This is the last of the purple cauliflower, from a commercially raised transplant, and a variety of lettuce leaves nipped off of the outside of the spectacularly happy lettuce out there. Cool, rainy, no slugs, check! I'm already thinking of what kind of salad this will make.

But what I'm NOT thinking about is weighing, writing down, or recording this harvest in any way. I still remain in awe of the bloggers/gardeners who do, and I think it's probably a good idea, but I haven't been able to do it in any useful way. Maybe some day my head will be screwed on in that direction, and I'll probably say happy things like, "I canned 48 bazillion quarts of tomatoes!" if that happens, but until then, I think I better concentrate on a) growing the food and b) eating the food while c) making certain there is more food ready to be planted.

So consider this my notice, I guess. I quit. 

Sort of.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Like a useful little notebook

This blog can be.

Just a few notes because by next week, if I don't write them down, the details of today's bee adventures will be overlain by a thick layer of detritus in my brain.

Swarmy hive was split by adding four brood frames to the single-box new swarm hive, put in a second deep box on top of the first. Frames were replaced with a mix of drawn, foundationed, and foundationless frames. That ought to confuse the swarm impulse out of them.

In addition, the bee escape either malfunctioned or I did something else wrong, because far from being empty, the two honey boxes were full, full of Very Upset Bees. I pulled the two boxes off the hive.

The third hive, that I didn't get to inspect yesterday, gave me some grief today. I am trying to love all-medium hives, but so far, the brood nest feels messier -- loads of burr comb, and a lot of drone brood. That tells me this hive is going to want to swarm, too. There was also a few frames of very nice brood, but I only went through two of three of the bottom boxes, below the queen excluder. I pulled a honey super off it, because it was full. Placed a new, empty super on top.

Piled all three honey supers on each other, with a bee escape below. If they're not out tomorrow, I may take it as a sign. Or else I'll use almond extract and get 'em out of there. It's that or purchase an electric leaf blower and "persuade" them out. I'm not up for shaking three honey boxes frame by frame. And I didn't clean the extractor today.

I still am not sure how that bee got up inside my shirt to sting me, though. Sigh.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Just in time

The weather has been unsettled, and yet the bees work on. Any kind of uptick in the temperature makes them a little more busy, a little more. . . springlike. And spring sometimes makes them think about swarming. No room in the hive, and all that. Giving bees plenty of room in the hive sometimes changes their minds. My job is to make certain that swarming remains a distant twinkle in their compound eyes.

And to do that, I have to get in there and say hi, how are you, every once in a while. Unfortunately, I had mislaid my smoker. Don't ask me how one does so; I live in the sort of family and household wherein such things happen. I kept putting off beekeeping because it's a titch less pleasant without smoke.

Fortunately, I spent yesterday in a nearby college town, being so amazingly proud of my eldest's Ultimate Frisbee team that I could have burst any buttons I might have been wearing. This pride did not prevent me from a quick spin into Sacramento, where I procured a replacement smoker at a beekeeping supply store. Getting back before that game was over was icing on the cake. All thoughts of smoking and beekeeping were driven from my head because nine high school players trounced, in order, four college teams, the last of which was twice their size, sending in a fresh crew at every point. The kids played with hearts as big as their smiles, and the air was thick with the Spirit of the Game.

But today, it was Bee Time. The kids played on, but my driving wasn't needed, and I have important things to do. Eric helped me weed, Denise and Kevin helped out in the afternoon. But in between all of this work and help, I had a new smoker, and some things the friend with the swarm said the other day kept going through my head -- she said she'd put off going through her hive and it was a mess when she finally did, queen cells all over. She was the one, not surprisingly, whose hive threw off the last swarm I picked up.

Some day, I'm going to master smoking -- using just the amount of cool smoke necessary, and of course keeping my smoker lit. Today was more like one of my usual days -- difficult to keep lit, hot when I needed it cool, and running through loads of fuel in what seems like a flash. Good times!

The top two honey boxes on the only hive I managed to get through seemed full. Full enough to extract, at least. I set them aside and walked back inside to get a bee escape and a board -- with this little device, in 24 hours, the top boxes will be bee-free after I return them to the hive this inspection, and I can get them drained and returned to the hives for more filling. Honey is faster than wax, remember, so reusing the comb is the way to go. I slapped a new box into position under those, with a queen excluder to go between it and the brood nest. They will need to go somewhere if they can't get into the top boxes!

But I wasn't there to assess the harvest. I wanted to see the bees. Down into the brood nest I needed to go. A bit more smoke, and I started pulling frames. The first two from the side were almost all honey, which is reasonable. Fortunately, I remembered to bring a pencil out, so I could mark notes on top of the frames:

This one notes the position of the frame, the fourth in from the side, and that it is filled with "perfect brood." To me, that means a full frame of capped worker brood, with stores along the sides and top. Not spotty, not full of drones, etc.

Unfortunately when I saw the queen I neither had my marking paint nor my camera ready, so she remains unmarked. Might as well look up what color I should mark her, hmmm? The other thing I noticed as I saw her was how little attention the other bees were paying her. Either there's something wrong or she was just in a hurry, but I wasn't thrilled with the scene on the comb.

Frame after frame, lots of brood, some less okay than others. . . a "trap frame" of drone brood, which I cut out and gave to the chickens, hopefully dooming any Varroa mites there and helping limit their population in the hive. . . all the way across the box. One thing that troubled me, though, was that while I saw a lot of capped worker brood, I saw no eggs (although I'm old enough to blame my eyes) and no larvae in different stages of development.

What I did see, to my dismay, all over the bottoms of the frames in the first box, was variations on this theme:

How many queen cups (in different sizes and stages) can you count? Only one of these has a developing queen in it, but there are more waiting for use. The drone comb means that any hatching queens would have at least a few drones to choose from. I actually debated leaving one in the hive, but decided that they should go. If the hive really needs a new queen, I'll see it the next time I go in, because the brood pattern will have changed dramatically. For the nonce, they're going to have to deal with the queen they have. If the capped brood is any indication, they're going to have a hugely increased workforce.

Maybe in the bottom box? And there, indeed, I saw some of what I had been hoping for. Small larvae, and space -- open space in drawn comb. Too late, if the spare empty comb from downstairs had been available, I might have been able to pull a couple of frames out of the top box.

Instead, the position of the two boxes was reversed and I moved the empty outside frames into the brood nest, opening it up so the queen would have more space to lay eggs and hopefully preventing the hive from swarming off.

That new empty honey box, in between the queen excluder and the bee escape under the full boxes, is going to come in handy! Of course, this also means I have to get going on extracting and returning the other boxes to the hive, or sheer crowding (two honey boxes down to one, plus hatching workers) will push them into swarming no matter what I do. I should probably split them, therefore getting the four hive load I'd hoped for. Maybe just pulling some frames and adding them to the new small swarm would make sense. Boosting one hive while easing another? I'll have to think on that.

Thank goodness for lots of help. Eric pulled many weeds before the bees today, and after, we all moved the persimmon tree to her/its new home in the back yard. We had lots of help from Taz.

She thinks digging is a Great Idea. Such a good idea that one of the things Kevin did was plan for a real fence around the garden. Just enough to convince Busy Puppy that she needs to be elsewhere. It was pleasant hanging out with her when I was pulling weeds between beds and she was chasing and eating beetles and spiders, but I could always let her in for those special times if needed.

All in all, it was a busy and productive day. Ten or so more of those, and we'll be all ready for the Bay Friendly Garden tour.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


I checked my email to make certain I was at the right park at the right time for baseball practice. And there it was -- "Easy swarm available now." I fired off a response (who knew a smart phone was going to be this kind of useful?) and dropped off the baseball player.

A quick toss of materials into the car, and off I went. The original beekeeper whose hive had spawned this swarm had helpfully put a plastic storage box with a couple of frames in it near their location, and by the time I got there, it was 98% hived. The homeowner seemed impressed that I knew what to do, and it struck me -- this skill has grown without me even paying attention. I have a front row seat to all of my knowledge gaps and inadequacies, so I don't see competence and ease, but this guy did. And I do know how to get swarms, of all kinds, and how to protect them, and how to cut out hives. Doing really has meant learning. Slowly, and without seeing it happen. Pretty neat.

Some stragglers were under the cute little model train track running all around the back yard of the swarmee -- HO maybe? and I scooped them up. A few more drawn frames in the storage box so they wouldn't bang back and forth in the car was all it took.The sheet that comes along to burrito-wrap the swarms was superflous, which was nice. I don't love driving in a van with free-flying bees.

At home, I set the new hive base up, with the new hive body, and started lifting the frames out of the storage box. Since there was no particular hurry -- having dinner already made and in the oven sure helps -- I decided to do more watching. After all of the frames that would fit were snugly in, I stood up the spare one, covered in bees, and watched them march into the hive.

Try as I might, I couldn't see how it was happening. Their activity was kind of random, fanning, feeding each other, moving around, but the mass of bees kept incrementally moving down. I figured if watched closely enough, I could see if there were little shepherd bees pushing the others, but no. Without obvious pattern, the signal "Get down in here" was clearly sent, and clearly received.

What else could I do but watch patiently?

Well, it turns out I could use a spare plastic foundation to chivvy them along, ever so slowly, and push them with my gloved finger tips. But I did resist the temptation to do the banging trick that I have done in the past, and they hived anyhow, without a lot of flying about. Close enough to a night cold enough to bring the sunning tomato babies in, I didn't want them outside of the hive.

Maybe I'll save that trick for warmer days.