Friday, May 29, 2015

PA Native Plant Bed

The Audubon Society at Beechwood Farm Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel PA has an excellent selection of ethically propagated native plants.  Who could ask for more?  I am tickled pink about some perennial flowers and shrubs I was able to get from Roxanne, the native plant queen.  Every year I add a few new ones to our plantings.  

Going with a purple/blue themed flower planting up against Jason's yellow studio

What did I get? Well...

  • Sensitive Fern (so cute...check him out in the little pot in the picture below).
  • Leather Flower (a native clematis.  Score!)
  • Blazing Star
  • Wild Senna
  • Blue Lobelia
  • Wild Geranium
  • Spicebush
  • Serviceberry
  • Bloodroot
  • Tall Tickseed
  • Swamp Saxifrage (a kind of ugly little plant perfect for a marshy it!)
Some of the plants are going in our lot next door to our house that we are slowly building soil in (literally, we need more soil here, not JUST soil improvement!) and some are going in my little purple flower themed bed by Jason's yellow studio building.  

A native clematis?  Be still my heart.
Roxanne gave me a gift of a small plant, American Columbo.  It is an endangered plant in Pennsylvania that they are trying to propagate and having trouble keeping alive overwinter.  It takes years to grow big enough to set seed, so my task is to try to get it to stay alive long enough to do so and then share the seed back with them and report what it liked as far as growing conditions.  Sounds like a fun challenge!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Evening Elderberries

iphone + dusk = grainy photos....buuuut, in any case,   The elderberry patch I planted last spring seems fairly happy and is ready to bloom soon.  I have Johns and Adams varieties as well as some wild elderberry plants.  My plan for the elderberries is to make a healing syrup for winter ailments, and of course leave a few for the birds (or maybe they'll leave a few for me).  To read more about the healing properties of the elderberry, read on here.  

Tallest elderberry on the left clocks in probably at about 8 feet tall.  Not bad for 1 year of growth!
Elderberries get overflow water from the rain barrel...they like it damp
About to flower
Of course when I planted my elderberries I had a bit of a mix up with labeling, so I know I have different varieties but as far as who is who, I haven't a clue.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bee Update

The girls are doing well.  As far as my home hive that I split several weeks ago, both splits are doing well.  The laying queen in one is trucking along and I spotted the new virgin queen in the other hive and was able to catch and mark her (Lucky break...I actually saw her crawling on the towel I use to cover the open hive as I am working to keep the sun out as much as possible and keep the bees calm).

At Garden Dreams, I waited a bit too long to split and the girls got a bit cramped.  This is why I sold off most of my hives.  They need my attention in May and it is when I am most busy with work, but I make time for them on my day off!  And two hives is the perfect number for me (Oops now it is four hives again!)  You know you have waited too long to attend to your bees when you see swarm cells well on their way, which I did when I looked in a week ago.  The build up happens fast and you have to be on it, or they run out of room.  Swarming is the natural impulse of the honeybee this time of year, and we beekeepers try to gently dissuade them and ask them to stay with us a bit longer.  

Once I did split, the old hive that was now queenless because I removed the queen to the other split bearded out on the front of the hive every day.  They seemed cramped and grumpy, wanted to swarm but with no queen to take with them (that is totally a guess but it seems to make sense).  I had left them a queen cell to raise a new queen but had a feeling they would swarm with her as soon as she hatched, so something needed to be done.

Bee beard
New split with stuff in front, encouraging the bees to "reorient" to their new hive once they make it by the branch obstacle
So, I added a bit more room to the cramped hive by moving some things around.  When I inspected the other hive (the one that had the laying queen), I found lots of eggs, lots of capped honey, but not much open honey or pollen (food for the brood).  So, I had.....

1) Hive A (aka "Bee Beard Hive") who was cramped full of bees with no laying queen yet...hopefully a virgin queen running around in there somewhere because I saw a hatched swarm cell. (In case they swarmed with her, I left them another cell...maybe I'll live to regret it!)  They were short on space and chock full of honey.

2) Hive B with a laying queen and some capped honey but not much food stored for brood (pollen and open honey near the brood nest) and not as many bees, and some empty space.  

I had read about switching the positions of the hives so returning foragers enter the wrong hive and the weaker hive becomes stronger, so that made sense and that's what I did.   I moved the hive that needed bees and had extra space to the position of the original hive (before I split the hive in 1/2).  It seems to have worked, as there has been a lot of activity at the "weaker hive" and no more bearding at the hive that was so cramped days ago.  We shall see.

I also made a nuc with a waxed cardboard medium nuc box I bought from Dadant.  It is like a tiny file folder box but with bees inside instead of hanging files.  I went with two frames of brood with a queen cell with larva and royal jelly, 2 frames of open honey and a frame of pollen and a frame of nurse bees shaken in for good measure.  I hope they do alright as the temp is dropping into the upper 30s tomorrow night.  This is the smallest split I have made as I usually just use a proper hive.  I ended up putting a tray over top of it weighted with a brick to keep the rain off, though the waxed cardboard is supposed to hold up to several rains.  It is a temporary home, for sure.

Mini nuc
Medium waxed cardboard nuc
Medium nucs are hard to find, as most beekeepers use deeps for their brood nests.


Monday, May 11, 2015

What's Happening in the Garden This Week

A heat wave has sent everything into Full Growth Mode.  Temps hovering around 90 degrees for the last several days.

My Ninebark shrubs have buds.  Looking forward to seeing what the flowers look like.
Soon to be squash patch...composted (kind of) chicken bedding where I'll plant the squash and and cover crop of oats and peas for the plants to ramble over.
My PA native azalea, Pinxterbloom Azalea 
A Red Buckeye tree I got from Tree Pittsburgh, and my beloved Greek Bay (in the clay pot)
Chicken Milk Moustache....drinking kefir again
Grumpy Broody Hen went through a few days in the dog crate and is now back to herself with the flock again
My sylvetta and chicory mix from Franchi Seeds

Greens: mustards, romaine, pak choi
Green Arrow shelling peas (on left) and Conservor shallots (on right)
This asparagus is 2 years old.  We harvested for 2 weeks and then let it grow.
Experimental winter rye and woodchip bed.  The Juliet tomatoes are thriving...all the other tomato varieties seem pissed off
Ice water helps beat the heat
Hot bees have been bearding out of the hive a little

Saturday, May 2, 2015

What's Happening in the Garden This Week

What is in the garden so far this year:
  • Jersey Knight asparagus planted last spring as 1 yr old crowns (now 2 years old).  Harvested lightly this year.
  • Overwintered spinach and lettuce
  • Kale, cabbage, mixed greens, lettuce, arugula, raab (March/April transplantings)
  • Shallots (Conservor and Zebrune transplanted end of April)
  • Onions (Cortland, Red Marble, Redwing, Red of Tropea transplanted end of April)
  • Tomatoes (Juliet for drying and canning and a few for salads and sandwiches: Pruden's Purple, Cosmonaut Volkov, Green Zebra, Sungold transplanted early at the end of April)
  • Sweet Peppers: Lively Italian Orange, Stocky Red Roaster, Ace (transplanted end of April)
  • Hot Peppers: Aji Cristal, Aji Colorado, Criolla Sella, Chile de Arbol, Red Habanero, Padron, Hinklehatz, Ring of Fire Cayenne for dried chile flakes, Golden Cayenne, and Matchbox. (transplanted end of April)
  • German Extra Hardy garlic planted last fall
  • Potatoes (German Butterball planted end of April)
I don't want to spend much (any?) money on soil amendments, extra compost or mulch for the garden this year, and I'm experimenting with whatever organic matter we have on hand, so I am ready for some failures.  I planted the peppers and tomatoes into a deep wood chip bed over winter rye that wasn't really dead and still exuding growth inhibitors I'm sure.  Whoa.  And the potatoes I am trying growing on mulch - I just piled some leaves, coffee bean chaff and hay I had and poked the potatoes in. 

garden with mixed hedgerow planting on the right
Zestar! apple blossoms
broody hen all fluffed up and pissed because I pulled her out of the nest
I know what I need to do with this broody hen but I haven't made time to set up the crate yet.  I plan to on Tuesday though.

In the world of bees...I like to wait "for the dandelions to bloom" before I reverse the boxes on my hives to give the bees more room in the spring but I did that early this year because they seemed ahead of schedule.  I like to wait "for the drones to fly" to make spring splits, and I saw a single drone flying around on Tuesday with night temps in the 40s for a few nights and then in the 50s, so I went ahead and split.  I have been successful using this technique to help give the bees more room and prevent losing any in a swarm, although I have also had my fair share of swarms!  The idea is you take some brood, honey and pollen and move them into a new hive. As long as there are eggs, the bees can raise a new queen.   

There are a million ways to split, but what works for me is to keep it simple and kind of divide everything in half.  I know the hive on the left is a bit stronger, and may try to rob the hive on the right of their honey, so I plan to switch the position of the two in a few days, so some foragers will likely enter the wrong hive and beef up the population of that weaker hive.  

I split my beehive on Tuesday into 2 hives

Monday, April 27, 2015

High Density Apple Plantings

apples in hedgerow
I have a hedgerow type thing going on around the perimeter of our property.  I like the idea that a mixed hedgerow planting can supply many things: privacy, efficient use of space, pollinator and wildlife habitat and forage, deer barrier, pretty things to look at, and a food source.  I know the picture looks like a bunch of sticks and twigs, but c''s early spring!  Stuff isn't leafed out yet. Right now I have the following list planted in the hedgerow:

  • Apples (early blooming):  Yellow Transparent, Whitney Crab, Zestar!
  • Apples (mid blooming): Liberty, St Edmund's Pippin
  • Apples (late blooming): Arkansas Black, Winesap, Stayman Winesap, Virginia Beauty, York, Red Royal Limbertwig
  • Hazelnuts (unknown varieties)
  • Aronia
  • Nanking Cherries
  • Fig (Celeste)
  • Raspberries
Between and underneath these trees and shrubs I have kitchen herbs (closest to the house), strawberries, comfrey, and flowers, and covering it all is a deep mulching of woodchips.  This mixed planting has some permaculture ideas going on including the idea of underplanting shrubby things and trees with lower growing things and tap-rooted things that won't compete too much with the shallow tree roots.  In my notorious style, it is all a little was not planned and drawn out perfectly on graph paper first.  

The apples came from a fantastic nursery called Urban Homestead in Virginia.  The number of antique apples this small family business propagates is staggering, and their customer service is simply excellent.  These trees are EMLA111 rootstock, a large semi-dwarf rootstock that will take some serious pruning to keep small.  This rootstock has disease resistance, does well on heavy soils, and is good at anchoring.  Since we have lots of wild apple trees in the area that may host diseases, heavy soil, and a site that gets some wind, I thought this rootstock seemed like a good choice.  

These trees will want to grow 25' and I'd like to keep them to under 12'.  The type of intensive growing I'm talking about is Backyard Orchard Culture, as discussed on this page by Dave Wilson nursery growers.  Another blog I like, The Walden Effect,  has tried out a version of this type of growing and is having success with it.  I see it as a chance to experiment.  Thinking about the longterm, if we ever leave this garden and the next owner doesn't want to prune so intensively, I could see taking out every other tree and letting the remaining trees grow larger.  

I love the idea of widely spaced, full grown trees in a proper orchard, but on our site, I'd like these trees to be part of the hedgerow.  A dwarfing rootstock seems a more obvious choice for keeping small, but dwarf trees need stakes, and Dave Wilson Nursery actually advocates the use of EMLA111.  As a novice fruit tree grower, I can't help thinking there must be consequences to keeping a tree from growing as large as it is trying to grow.  We shall see.   

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Holistic Sprays of Spring & Chicken Nest Boxes

Michael Phillips, apple grower of Lost Nation Orchard in New Hampshire, advocates spraying health tonics on your apple trees to prevent fungal infection in spring, when the trees are most prone.  I missed the timing for the first spray at 1/4 inch green, right when the leaves are just peeking out.  The trees are leafed out now and the blossoms are still buds and haven't opened, so my timing was right for the second spray.

For a 2 gallon sprayer:
  • 5 oz fish emulsion (I used Neptune's Harvest)
  • A few teaspoons kelp powder
  • 1.25 oz pure neem oil with about 1/2 tsp soap as emulsifier (high quality, fair trade, OMRI approved neem sources available here)
  • Some garlic water I made by soaking 2 crushed cloves overnight (this isn't in his recipe but I had it in the fridge and thought it couldn't hurt since garlic is anti-fungal)
Another key ingredient in Phillip's sprays is effective microbes, good microbes that colonize the tree's surface and prevent fungal invasion, but I'm still waiting on that to show up in the mail, so I'll respray once they arrive. SCD Probiotics is a reputable company Phillips recommends to buy effective microbes.  

Arkansas Black planted last spring about to bloom
Fish emulsion and seaweed powder for apple tree spray
Want the cheat sheet to Phillip's methods?  Check out his helpful tips here:  Seasonal Checklist for the Holistic Orchard

Another spring happening is improved nesting boxes for the chickens.  I dropped some cash for a high quality, 4 hole nesting box from Kuhl that hangs on the coop wall.  The bottom of each box pops out if there is ever a broken egg in the box, or for general cleaning, and there are no nooks and crannies for mites to hide.  Plus, it's easy to detach from the coop and give a good cleaning once in awhile, unlike wooden boxes.  The milk crates worked as nesting boxes for a year, but this is a big improvement.  It's lightweight but fairly durable, and the eggs are staying much cleaner for some reason.  I'm not sure why that is, but I won't complain.  Clean eggs and mite-free chickens makes me like these boxes a lot!

Kuhl Metal hanging nest boxes