Running the creek
sprinklers all day felt
like a good way to celebrate Easter.
My weather guru reports
that (despite the high groundwater from a wet winter), spring 2014 has
been unusually dry. As in previous years, this sets up a feedback loop, which in the current instance will likely lead to a hot, dry summer.
I have to admit, even though I don't like heat that much, I do
like this forecast. From a gardening perspective, it's much
easier to add water than to take it away, so a hot, dry summer could
mean lots of tomatoes and other crops that sometimes flounder in our wet
climate. Plus, we might finally be able to drive the truck back
to our core homestead, making it much easier to stock up on firewood,
manure, and other essentials.
In the short term, the forecast was simply a reminder to pull out the sprinklers.
I knew the ground was getting dry, but didn't realize quite how parched
the garden had become until Kayla and I were out weeding Friday.
Maybe some artificial rain will tempt those asparagus spears to push the
rest of the way out of the soil?
A crushed Swiss Chard seedling is a small
price to pay for the help Huckleberry provides in the garden at this
time of year.
Readers of my book blog will know that
I considered signing back on with my old publisher to make Naturally
Bug-Free available as a print book, but decided to self-publish this
paperback instead so I could maintain the e-rights.
While making that decision, I spent a couple of weeks turning the interior into a work of art, with
big color pictures that should really suck you in (even though the
paper isn't glossy). And then I decided to also make a
black-and-white edition for those of you who can't afford the high price
tag of the color version.
The black-and-white copies are on sale
for only $4.99 on Amazon, and the full color version is on sale for
$16.62. Both are eligible for Amazon's usual free shipping
offers. Plus, you
get a free copy of the ebook through Amazon's matchbook program with the
purchase of either paper edition, so you
can see those color pictures even if you buy the cheaper black and white
edition on paper.
To celebrate (and spread the word), I'm running a giveaway --- one lucky reader will win a signed color paperback copy of Naturally Bug-Free, a starter culture of kefir, a Walden Effect t-shirt (only sizes medium, large, or 2XL are now available), and a seed starter pack (containing some of our favorite vegetable varieties).
That's a $72.49 value just for spending a minute plugging my new
paperback. Use the form below to enter, and thanks for your help!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Once we moved the new chicks
in to the Star Plate coop Anna decided the back wall would be a good
place to mount the swarm
trap we built last year.
of my favorite parts of homesteading is the daily surprises.
Sunday, the hummingbirds showed up and I learned that the tiny birds
sustain themselves in the early spring on peach blossoms and the
like. Monday, I harvested our first two asparagus spears in
preparation for the hard freeze. And Tuesday I noticed that my baby apple trees were starting to leaf out.
Most of the trees' action
so far is on the rootstock, which is normal but which requires a little
care. With newly grafted trees, you don't want the rootstock to
put its energy into growing leaves and branches. Instead, you'd
like the plant to focus on healing up that junction between rootstock
and scionwood, then to start feeding energy into the scionwood
above. To keep the baby trees in line, I went through and
carefully picked off the sprouts coming off the rootstocks, and will
repeat the task as needed until the scionwood is growing strong.
Like many aspects of
homesteading, care of a baby tree doesn't take much time, but should be
timely. I think the biggest difference between someone with a
green thumb and someone who kills every plant they try to raise is the
willingness to spend a few minutes a day with their eyes wide open, then
a few more minutes tending to whatever needs their care. Just
walking through our core homestead with my senses wide open is another
of my favorite parts about homesteading.
We installed another chicken
door in the Star Plate coop today along with sealing up the front door
to keep any small chicks from squeezing through the crack.
Tomorrow is their move in
Forecast low: 26. Actual low: 23. Fruit damage: high.
I've tried protecting tree blooms in the past, but haven't had any luck with wrapping trees and
don't want to try to run sprinklers all night. So we just roll
with the weather, some years not getting any tree fruits at all.
I had hoped that this year's slow spring meant our trees would bloom late enough to miss the hard freezes, and the blooms were
slow, but the freeze still came. The question is --- did it kill
everything? It's hard to say how low the temperature actually got
at various levels above the ground and in different parts of the
yard. The apple blossom above was clearly nipped, but many of the
dwarf apples closer to the hillside are running slower and are at first
pink or even tight cluster stage --- some of them might have made
it. (Here's a chart of critical temperatures in case you're dealing with a similar late freeze and want to guess which of your trees are in danger.)
Low-lying plants are much easier to protect. I pulled out all of my old pieces of row-cover fabric to shelter tender vegetable seedlings like lettuce, broccoli, and cabbages.
At this time of year, I
often cover up strawberries too, but only a few had even opened as far
as the flowers shown to the right --- "popcorn stage." The popcorn
flowers will have gotten nipped, since they can be damaged when the
temperature drops to 26.5, but tight flower buds are okay down to
22. I figured it was better to miss five or ten of the earliest
strawberries than to lose whole beds of broccoli.
Under their covers, all
of the seedlings came through with flying colors, even though the freeze
was so hard that weeds in the yard like clover and dock were nipped
back. I usually don't cover peas, but I was a little concerned
about them and carefully laid a row cover over half of the beds.
Interestingly, of the uncovered beds, one (in front of the trailer) was
moderately nipped and one (in the mule garden beside quick hoops) looked
just fine. A few pea seedlings elsewhere in the mule garden came
out from under their cover and those were nipped, so it seems like
microclimate effects are hard at work in the garden.
The good news is that,
even if we don't get any tree fruits this year, we should have plenty of
berries to go around. Our blueberry flowers are in what's called a
tight cluster, safe down to 20 to 23 degrees, so most should be
okay. Blackberries and raspberries haven't enough thought about
blooming, and their leaves came through the freeze just fine. Add
in strawberries and figs and we'll definitely enjoy fruits this summer
--- yet another reason to grow berries even though they take a bit more work day to day than fruit trees do.
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.
Last 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!
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