week, the world seems to be chock full of soldier beetles.
Specifically, these goldenrod leatherwings are in a mating frenzy --- I
counted half a dozen on just a few echinacea flowers on Wednesday
With nearly 500 species
of soldier beetles in the U.S., gardeners aren't likely to learn them
all by name. But I'm pretty sure all of the soldier beetles are
either innocuous or beneficial (although some of their larvae are minor problems on fall fruits).
The beneficial species
are handy because the larvae eat slugs and snails while the adults
consume aphids. Other species (like the goldenrod leatherwing)
seem to fixate on nectar instead, but the world can't have too many
(Yes, this post is just an excuse to share pretty bug photos. What can I say --- they're cute!)
Our neighbor with a tractor
has agreed to help us get the truck unstuck.
Today we just looked it over
and developed a plan.
With any luck it will
continue to dry up and make things a little easier.
August is probably the
tastiest time of the year on our farm. This week, we've enjoyed
the first lettuce and red peppers, and the fall round of red raspberries
are starting to be nearly as copious as the blueberries we've been
enjoying for weeks. Three cups of berries per day make perfect desserts.
still eating tomatoes and cucumbers and watermelons (although they're
starting to decline), and have plenty of summer squash, green beans, and
Swiss chard that will continue to go the distance. We're nearly
at the end of our spring cabbage and carrots (which currently live in
the crisper drawer of the fridge), but fall crops are all growing like
gangbusters and promise to replace the spring round soon. In fact,
I saw the first pea flower Monday!
What am I watching with
an eagle eye? Our fig bushes! Last year, the first fig
ripened up at the very beginning of September, and I'm looking forward
to tasting the first few Celeste figs (along with bowlsful of Chicago
Hardy) later this year.
What are you enjoying and looking forward to seeing soon in your own garden?
I installed a firewood guide
on our steel
crate garden wagon today.
The small and medium slots
will help us cut up all the fallen limbs we have.
Our power was out for
about 21 hours Sunday afternoon through Monday morning. That
seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out the new rocket stove that our neighbor gave us!
I'd like to be able to
tell you "I only needed two sticks of wood to scramble our breakfast
eggs," but the truth is that this first iteration of rocket-stove
cookery was a learning experience. What I mostly learned is that
damp wood doesn't fly in rocket stoves --- I didn't really get the fire
blazing until I tracked down the piece of kindling in the middle of the
photo above, which had been sitting in our woodshed for a couple of
years and was bone dry. The sticks that have been drying on the
porch for a week mostly smoldered instead of burning.
Perhaps because I only
ended up using one dry piece of wood, the temperature in the skillet on
top of the rocket stove never got warmer than what equates to about
medium on our electric range. That's fine for scrambling eggs, and
would be great for things like soups, but for my next experiment I look
forward to trying out the skirt that fits around a pot to increase the
stove's efficiency by 25%. I also want to get a more solid handle
on exactly how much wood the rocket stove consumes, although I have to
say that I'm already impressed in that regard.
What was the biggest
surprise about making breakfast on the rocket stove? How much I
enjoyed the fire therapy! Usually, I get a little cranky during
power outages due to internet deprivation, but a dose of fire first
thing in the morning instead set me singing happily as I weeded the
garden. Of course, it doesn't hurt that our Cyberpower Battery Backup combined with my laptop battery means I can enjoy about an hour and a half of blogging time even while the grid is down.
In case you're curious, everything in the freezer
stayed frozen during the outage, despite highs that nearly reached
90. If the juice had stayed off for more than 24 hours, though, we
would have topped off the cold with our generator.
Five years ago we hauled
a freezer twice this size with the golf cart.
That was during a rare dry
spell. The golf cart wouldn't have made it on a day like today and I
think we maxed out our ATV carrying capacity with this 7 cubic foot
A 10 percent discount for
veterans along with free delivery made this a sweet deal.
The bees haven't managed
to do any extra comb-building this week, as evidenced by a photo up
through the bottom of the daughter hive. Sure, there are scads of
flowers available at the moment, but bees can't fly when it's raining
every day. Luckily, both of our colonies have socked away so much honey that they could probably coast until winter if they had to.
Honey is on my mind
because this is the time of year to start thinking about the hives'
winter survival. But survival through the cold months doesn't just
mean honey stores. Varroa mites can be a huge drain on a hive's
resources in the winter, and the populations sometimes balloon in late
summer and early fall. So I like to do a mite check
in August, another in September, and one more in October just to make
sure the colonies are on track. Our two hives passed with flying
colors during this first round --- the daughter hive dropped two mites
per day while the mother hive dropped 1.3 mites per day, far below the
What will we do if mite levels rise over time? We already use a lot of the methods of varroa-mite treatment/prevention listed here. Last year, we tried out treating bees with powdered sugar
as well, but I don't think I'd do that again --- it could be just a
coincidence, but the hive dosed with sugar is the only one where I've
ever had a colony abscond in the fall. Instead, I might try the rhubarb trick that an old-timer recently shared with me. Better yet, here's hoping our hygenic bees will groom off so many varroa mites that I won't have to do anything at all.
We recently decided our front
porch would be a good place for a small ceiling fan.
How do you install a ceiling
fan on a slanted roof?
Level the ceiling
fan mounting kit at the opposite angle before securing it.
I'm intrigued by the potential of the scarlet runner beans I'm growing for the first time this year. I planted them for quick shade along the south face of the trailer
while the perennial vines get established, but I was soon taken by the
way the orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds (plus bumblebees,
butterflies, and other insects). And now I'm wondering whether
biomass production might not really be scarlet runner beans' primary
plants are like annual kudzu!" I told Mark at lunch yesterday, and he
asked me why I was being so mean to the beans. But, the truth is, I
was paying them a compliment. If the species wasn't the scourge
of the South, kudzu would have a lot going for it from a permaculture
perspective due to its ability to fix nitrogen, to thrive in poor soil,
and to grow extremely quickly. Scarlet runner beans seem to share
many of the same traits, as you can see by comparing the two photos
above --- the top picture was taken this weekend while the second photo
is from only seven weeks earlier. Since scarlet runner beans are
annuals instead of perennials, they can put out this crazy amount of
weekly growth with much less risk of the beans taking over the world.
Since our soil is getting
richer by the year, meaning we can grow more food in less space, I've
been tossing around ideas for what to do with the freed up growing
room. One big goal is to grow more of our own compost and
mulch. To that end, I'm experimenting with some plants that I
wouldn't quite call cover crops since they don't out-compete weeds, but which might mix together to make a prime compost pile.
photo above shows this summer's experiment of sunflowers and sorghum,
with oilseed radish planted around the roots of the left-hand bed for
weed control. Perhaps the relatively woody stems of sunflowers
will combine with the high-nitrogen vines of scarlet runner beans to
create good compost? As a lazy gardener, I'd love it if the
compost could be made in place --- just toss the plant carcasses on top
of a garden bed in the fall and let them rot into compost by spring
while shading out weeds in the process.
It seems like I've always
got exciting cover crop experiments in the works. That's the sign
of a geeky gardener --- she's drawn to the buckwheat being grown for
soil improvement before she takes a look at your tomatoes.
I've looked at a lot of
chicken cam set ups over the years and have not been impressed with any
until I found Terry Golson's HenCam.com.
What's it take to keep 4 live streaming cameras going in a barnyard
husband does an excellent job explaining the not so easy IT details
that make such a project possible.
They've also got goats to
keep their flock of over a dozen chickens entertained.
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