The Birds and the Bees… and Garden Things

Our chicks arrived on Mother's Day.  I am so excited about our new arrivals!  I ordered a couple of Rhode Island Reds to replace the ones we've lost over the years.  They are just the best winter layers; we have never had a winter without eggs, and I don't use an artificial heat source.  This winter we were down to one Red ("Mrs. Cluck", as she was named by a 7 year old Peep #2) and felt the pinch.  We never had to actually purchase store-bought eggs (gasp–the horror!) But there was a time there, especially around the holiday baking rush, where I felt a little panicky. LOL

So anyway, I also ordered a few Buff Orpingtons, because they are supposed to be sweet, friendly, and good brooders.  It would be nice if in the future I could just get some fertilized eggs and let a hen do the work of chick-rearing for me.  I also got, at loooooong last, my blue egg layers!  I've been wanting these for so long and it just never worked out. (Once the hatchery was out of stock, and another time a lady was giving some away and then changed her mind.)  These Ameraucanas are beautiful and it's going to be an exciting moment the first time I find a blue egg in one of the nesting boxes!  (These are good times on the homestead, people.  You know, we don't have any cows to tip over.) 

Meanwhile, all of my seed starting is done.  I have flats in various stages set around the property.  Out in the garden and ready for planting this week are my tomatoes, peppers, calendula, and sage.  In the hardening off stage outside the greenhouse are the nasturtium, beets, and radishes.  Under the lights inside the greenhouse, just to give them a head start, are pumpkins, squash (acorn and butternut), cucumbers, and zucchini.  I also am starting a few more nasturtium and trying some Chinese lantern flowers this year.  The last bit to do will be to direct sow the corn and sunflowers, which I hope to get to this weekend.

Transplants to be.
Greenhouse

I was so excited to see little fruit on my fruit trees this year!  I've had a terrible time getting my fledgling orchard started up.  Fortunately I have the established apple trees to fall back on, but I really want the ones I've planted to get going!  This year my fig, nectarine, pears, and dwarf apples all have little fruit!  If they only survive the June drop I will be ecstatic.  And, the blueberry bushes just get bigger and better every year.  I long for the day when I pick a big colander full … but I am still a ways off from that.  Finally, the strawberries are taking over my vegetable garden.  I hate to move them though, because they are really thriving there.  The trick is to keep the chickens, birds, and chipmunks away so that the humans can actually enjoy a decent crop.  I'll have to rig some sort of MacGyver-esque contraption to suit that purpose.

This week I split my hive and re-queened.  I had mixed feelings about that.  Most beekeepers re-queen every other year.  Mine is in her third year and I didn't want to get rid of her.   You know, there just is something wrong about getting rid of an old queen to replace her with a new young one, KWIM??  And, of all the hives that my mentor manages, mine was the only to survive this year's winter.  They are just going gangbusters and the population had exploded.  So, reluctantly, I split the hive and gave the existing queen to a friend to start their own hive. (At least it wasn't, off with her head!!)  My "old" queen and a small band of her subjects have been exiled to the Fair Lands of the North where hopefully they will prosper with a new colony.  A few days later my "new" queen was introduced and so far all is well.  And that is that.  Like the bees we are busy busy this time of year, and are really looking forward to being able to put the books down for a while so we can be outside!  (Just a few more weeks left!)  More on school in my next post…

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Garden 2009

Meh.  Not a banner year in ye ol' garden…  summer started too late and some things fared better than others.  The peas and lettuce thrived, but my heat lovers (peppers, tomatoes, zucchini) have struggled.  I just harvest my first beefsteak tomato in mid August– practically a whole month later than usual.  They are coming in a nice steady flow now, though.  The peppers are finally coming in as well, and the string beans
are doing fabulously as usual.  My successes! 

Pumpkins tanked.  As did the zucchini.  Both got attacked by Squash Vine Borers that I neglected to stay on top of, so it's my own fault.  Out of about 7 great big Connecticut Field pumpkins I think only one has a good chance of surviving; the rest are on life support and their outlook is grim.  The butternut and acorn squash were attacked by some kind of worm– I think actually pickle worm, which normally doesn't make it this far north but– lucky me!– managed to this year.  The damage in not extensive, but I'm still not sure how they will fare.  Regardless, I doubt they will keep as long as I'd hoped with those little holes in them.

In the orchard, still no fruit!  I had hopes for the Gala apple tree, which actually did get some tiny fruit on it this year, but one day I went out to check on them and they'd all mysteriously disappeared.  I added a nectarine and new pear tree to the orchard this year.  Hope springs eternal…

On the other hand, the strawberries, raspberries and blueberries all produced rather well this year.

One other great success– garlic!  Of the 50 cloves I planted, I got 48 bulbs!!  Not too shabby, eh?  I cured them in one of the barns for a few weeks, cleaned them up, and now they are ready to use.  My hope is that they'll last through 'til next harvest. 

Part of the problem was the weather, true, but I also have to admit that I'm not as committed a gardener as I should be.  When the weather gets too hot, the last thing I want to do is be toiling in the heat and humidity.  I have no body fat.  That means that the temperature extremes (both freezing AND hot), cause me to retreat into Sloth Mode.  So probably just about the time I should be out there keeping on top of the bugs and weeds, I'm reading a book on the front porch.  But hey, that considered, I think I usually do pretty well in the garden.  And there's always next year to try again…

The Garden Crazies

I am up to my elbows in garden planning for the upcoming season.  I have gardening books, seed catalogs, graph paper and piles of magazine cut-outs littering most of the space on my desk and side table… it’s spreading to the kitchen, my night stand, even the car!!  I do it to myself every year, when inspiration first takes hold, and get overwhelmed.  But it’s a process, and I seem to need to go through it.  Then, I pare down.  This year’s contenders so far are:

Vegetables:  the usual suspects, though no eggplant this year.  I always plant it, then as the harvest starts coming in, I think, “what do I make with this? Do I even like eggplant??”

Herbs:  I’m goin’ wild with herbs this year… as it stands I only have a small culinary herb garden.  Now I’d like to add some magical and healing herbs, as well as add a few more for cooking:

-Hyssop (anise)
-Ladies Mantel
-Yarrow
-Shepherd’s Purse
-Feverfew
-Bee Balm
-Common Sage
-Evening Primrose
-Calendula
-Bay

Flowers:  Pretty much I am pleased with the cutting garden so most of the flowers this year are fillers/scent-producers or garden helpers (beneficial insect attractors/bad insect repellants):

-Sweet Alyssum
-Thrifts
-Columbine
-Ciquefoil
-Nasturtium
-Jasmine

The only other thing I’d like to try this year is a few night-bloomers.  I’ve already purchased a packet of Moon Flower seeds, but I’m thinking about also getting a night blooming Jasmine.

So, next up:  the ordering.  The local garden center still has one paltry seed display.  Everywhere I go to ask if they have seeds they always laugh and say it’s too early.  Hey!  Some of us start from seed and we need to get a move on, people!

A Gardener’s Bio

I first got the gardening bug about 4 years ago (2002).  At the time, we were living on a very small property (quarter of an acre) that had almost no place for a garden.  The back yard had a large overgrown wooded area and a very large in ground pool.  The front was too shaded and too close to the road to support a garden.  In frustration I built two small raised beds for vegetables in a sunny "nook" by the pool.  Surprisingly, it worked pretty well, but there just wasn't enough room to grow the amounts and varieties I wanted.

Then, in 2003 we purchased an antique house on over 2 acres.  Since then I have been in gardening heaven!  The house was built in 1789 and had many established but over grown plantings… including two 100+ year old Holly trees that soar over the house!  Although I put in a 20×20 vegetable garden the first year, we have spent most of our time reclaiming the property from vines and other overgrowth.  We’ve corralled raspberries into several "patches" and this fall planted several fruit trees to compliment the existing ones (which unfortunately are very old and not healthy) and hope to have it grow into our own mini-orchard.  I have a small herb garden outside of the kitchen, a good (and ever expanding) compost pile going, and a small flower garden that keeps me in fresh cut flowers from about March until October.

I’ve come a long way in 3 years but still have a lot I want to do and learn.  I’d love to expand the vegetable garden and, since I’ve been doing a lot of reading on sustainable agriculture, am toying with the idea of some chickens or other livestock.  We have a pen and and barn on the property so it’s feasible, but I am trying to pace myself.  As it is a friend of mine who is a bee keeper will be setting me up with a couple of hives in the spring.  I'll start there!

We have a small greenhouse attached to the house but I would love to get a good size one right near the vegetable garden in the back of the property.

I am also learning more about organic gardening.  Last year I decided to go organic and have learned so much from from the wonderful posters over at Garden Web  It should be the first place you look for gardening advice!