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Building a bee waterer

Fighting tomato blight with pennies

Square foot gardening rebuttal

How to help chicks during hatching

Moth pupa in the soil

Apr 2013

A year ago this week:

Spring in the Warre hive

Brood coop escape

Choosing the right drill for mushroom inoculation

DIY dog door update

Apr 2012

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hitch pin substitute

What do you do if your hitch pin is lost somewhere along a muddy driveway?

Poke around the barn till you find an old, rusty socket wrench.

Posted Wed Apr 16 15:19:37 2014 Tags:

Swarm trap baitsLast year, I started researching swarm traps just as the garden was heating up, so we didn't really manage to get anything going in time to catch a swarm (although a swarm did end up in the barn anyway).  But now that we have all of our ducks in a row, it's simple to bait a few hives with lemongrass oil and hope we'll catch free bees.

This is a bit early in the year to be setting up swarm traps, but Mark noticed some honeybees nosing around the porch over the weekend, and we wondered if they were looking for a new hive cavity.  The colony in our Warre hive still hasn't started building comb in the empty third box, but bees don't always read books, so it's possible the bees figured it would be easier to swarm than to build down the way they're supposed to.  I could know for sure what's going on if I opened up the hive and looked for developing queen cells, but I'd rather toe the Warre line and leave the hive closed, then hedge my bets with swarm traps.

I baited three different hives, and need to put in an hour to finish building last year's real swarm trap and install it as well.  It will be interesting to see which of the following a swarm of honeybees prefers:

  • A Langstroth hive made up of two shallows, one box with fully drawn comb and one box empty.
  • A Warre hive made up of two boxes, both with fully drawn comb.
  • A top bar hive with no comb and smelling of mouse.  (Over the winter, a pesky rodent nested under the lid, and even though I brushed away the nest, the scent remains.)

While this experiment is far from scientific, I'm always curious which of the main beekeeping methods the bees themselves would prefer, and this should give me some indication.  Here's hoping we catch a swarm early enough that it makes it through the winter!

Posted Wed Apr 16 07:27:20 2014 Tags:
poking fun at fig protection

We've been having a problem with our young fig tree "accidentally" exposing herself.

I've tried to explain to her how "good" fig trees stay buttoned up, but the only response I get is the classic rolling of the eyes with some lame excuse about how other fig trees are dressed these days.

Posted Tue Apr 15 15:58:29 2014 Tags:
Small-scale chinampas

Baby snapping turtleAs one of our readers commented, my terraforming project created tiny chinampas.  All winter, the rye I sowed on the raised parts of the beds thrived despite the soggy aisles, and come spring, wildlife moved into the little ponds between the beds.  I found two baby snapping turtles hanging out in the shallow water this weekend, and plenty of tadpoles are escaping their eggs to join in the fun.

As long-time readers will realize, we struggle to deal with the wet ground in certain parts of our garden, so seeing how well these little chinampas do has been an eye-opening experience.  I decided to go ahead and dig the back garden into similar raised beds to ensure that this year's tomatoes don't suffer from wet feet.

Building a raised bed

You'll know if your soil is wet enough to need small-scale chinampas because rushes and sedges will be growing in the mown aisles along with grass.  To confirm that the groundwater is too high for the soil to be planted into as-is, dig around a clump of earth, then grab the grass on top as if lifting the clump up by its hair.  If the soil is well-drained, the whole clump will stay together since roots go straight down into the subsoil.  If the soil is waterlogged, the top will peel off since the plant roots stayed in the inch or two of soil above the water.

Raking a bed flat

I dug one long chinampa Monday, which is about all my wrists can take before they start to complain.  I mostly tried to place the sod grass-side down so it will rot quickly, but I wasn't all that particular about it, knowing that I can always lay down some cardboard over top before transplanting in my tomato sets.

Of course, the down-side of turning the garden into chinampas is that I may be walking through an inch or two of water in the aisles if the summer is wet.  But better my feet get wet than my tomatoes complain!  Plus, if the aisles turn into ponds, they won't have to be mowed, right?

Posted Tue Apr 15 08:02:38 2014 Tags:
ATV leaf hauling to new Star Plate coop

Today was the day I tested out the repair job on the ATV garbage hauler.

I think it's going to hold together for many future trips.

It also comes in handy for hauling bags of leaves back to the garden.

Posted Mon Apr 14 16:32:37 2014 Tags:
Carolina wren

All winter, our farm grows toward the sun.  I plant most of our fall and early spring crops in the mule garden, the furthest away from the shade of the hill.  We bask in the warmth that comes in the south-facing bank of windows in front of the trailer, and our tractored chickens do the same with their open-fronted living quarters.

Chicken tractor in the garden

But as April brings a spell of days in the low 80s, everything turns around.  First comes the chicken tractor, which I literally turn 180 degrees so the solid back creates a shaded zone for hot afternoons.  I start to close the shades on the trailer's west windows to block out afternoon heat.  And soon we'll even switch our work schedule so we do outside tasks in the morning instead of the afternoon.

Four-leaf clover

This heat spell won't last long, and by tomorrow I'll be scurrying around to cover up seedlings, glad the strawberries haven't yet opened their blooms.  The hint of summer was fun, though, since it gave me the chance to lounge in the yard and find the year's first four-leaf clovers (two in one patch).

Roast rhubarb salad

As a completely unrelated side note, I really appreciated everyone's rhubarb suggestions!  I merged several pieces of advice together by tossing about a cup of chopped stalks with about two tablespoons of strawberry freezer jam and roasting them at 450 degrees for about ten minutes until they were just becoming soft.  Adding the strawberry-roasted rhubarb to a spring salad of lettuce, baby kale, and arugula, topped with hard-boiled eggs, a store-bought avocado, and a bit more strawberry jam drizzled on top was delicious!

Posted Mon Apr 14 07:11:11 2014 Tags:
Star Plate pop hole close up

We made this first Star Plate chicken door out of 1/4 inch plywood.

Past experience tells me it's better to have the lock on the inside.

Posted Sun Apr 13 15:34:56 2014 Tags:
Apple flower buds

Mark and I only tasted our first homegrown apples last year, and those trees were already two or three years old when we put them in the ground four years ago.  By that math, the little trees I grafted this spring won't fruit until 2020 or 2021.  It's hard to imagine waiting five to eight years to taste the fruits from the trees we just grafted.

On the other hand, you can also look at those non-fruiting years as an opportunity to really get the orchard in stellar order so the eventual fruits are so chock-full of micronutrients they knock your socks off.  To that end, I'll be growing cover crops in the tree alleys where this year's babies will be set out next year, and then I'll probably grow vegetables or raspberries in between the baby trees in later years until the trees begin to fill in their space.  The bed I pulled blackberries out of last fall is proof that simply topdressing soil with manure and mulch every year will result in supremely dark and loose earth in no time, and I'm sure my apple trees would love some soil like that to grow into.

Cabbage transplant

That mental perambulation reminded me that I have some spare room in between the new grape vines I installed this past fall.  I mulched the grape rows well to begin the battle against weeds, but the transplants won't have spread their roots far yet.  Why not sneak in an extra two dozen cabbage transplants into that ground?  In an effort to hedge my bets against weird weather, I started about 200 more cabbage seedlings under the quick hoops than I actually need, and they all came up, thrived, and need homes.  I know I have a plant-propagation problem...but I can quit any time....

Posted Sun Apr 13 07:51:55 2014 Tags:
Bays Mountain sun watch day
Observing sun spots is a nice way to end an afternoon hike.
Posted Sat Apr 12 17:22:15 2014 Tags:

The garden bounty is starting to come in, which is lucky since our freezer and larder are nearly bare.  We're eating leaf lettuce every day, kale nearly daily, shiitake mushrooms from the old logs under the fruit trees whenever they feel like popping up, lots of chives and Egyptian onions, and masses of eggs.  Working with what's in season, I made this recipe with shiitakes and dandelion greens in place of the sweet potatoes, and it was delectable!

The new crop coming in this week is rhubarb.  I have two neglected plants...neglected because I rarely think of eating rhubarb.  The trouble is that the sour stalks require so much sweetening, they don't push my good-for-you buttons.  Does anyone have a recipe for rhubarb that doesn't rely on copious sweeteners?  If all else fails, I'll do what I usually do --- give the stalks to my mother or brother to bake into a pie.

Posted Sat Apr 12 08:02:17 2014 Tags:

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