Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fava flowers and special "harvest"

I thought you might like to see what a fava flower looks like. The few plants that survived the winter winds while frozen solid now are trying to deal with the slightly warmer but no less damaging winds of today. I would love to harvest at least a few fava beans from this first attempt, but whether that happens remains to be seen. I have decided to pull out the winter brocolli plants, as they never really developed any size, and the small shoots that I have been able to harvest aren't worth the garden space. Next time I will use transplants and get them in on time, and will use a standard variety instead of this multiple shoot variety. The peas I planted last weekend have not yet germinated. I was gone most of the week, and I hope they did not dry out before Thursday's rain. I love to see the first big fat pea plants begin to emerge in the late winter! This is a slow time in the garden. I need to get my soil tests taken and mailed in, and I need to incorporate some blood meal for slow nitrogen release when the spring plants begin growing.

Although I did harvest and eat some wonderful rhutabagas yesterday, my best harvest was a 5 gallon bucket of wood shaving mixed with chicken manure from the mini coop. I look forward to eggs, but really am most thrilled to have this amazing organic fertilizer. I probably will compost it for a while before I use it as fertilizer, although I may try spreading a thin layer under some established trees (but not too close to the trunk). I hope I don't burn them with this rich material, but I truly want to see if I can find a way to use it directly in some carefully chosen situations. The photo shows Hilda out in the run, Lou coming down the chicken ladder, and if you look really closely, Pauline up in the house standing on the roost.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Planted peas and feeding bees

The photo is just a shot of clothes drying on the new clothesline added inside my screened porch. I haven't hung clothes out to dry in about 30 years, and I love the way it looks and how it feels not to turn on the drier when the wind is already blowing so nicely outside. This weekend I planted some sugar snap peas on the back side of the garden, where I have a trellis waiting for twine for the peas to climb. They should pop up in about a week, and that is a sure sign that spring will arrive before too long. I use sugar snap instead of english peas just because you get so much more volume when you can eat the pod along with the fat round peas. Sugar snaps are different from snow peas. With snow peas you eat the pod only, when it is flat and before the peas begin to form; with sugar snaps you let the peas ripen, and then eat them, pod and all.

As for the bees, I found that at least one of my hives (Loretta) had all of its honey crystalize, and that the bees were not willing or able to use that crystalized honey right now. As a result I put a feeder on top of that hive, and I am feeding a solution of 1 part water to 1 part sugar (by volume, not weight). They drank a full gallon in less than 24 hours, so I am pretty sure they were hungry and needed the supplement. Both hives have been flying hard in the warm sunshine of the last few days, so I will have to figure out how best to help that hive make room for new stores and new brood.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Update on bees and hens

We made our first spring inspection of our two hives on Sunday. The hives are named for their queens, Dolly and Loretta. Long story, but essentially they each seemed to have had a life that just begged for a country song. Anyway, Dolly was doing great. They had eaten one medium, 8 frame box of honey stores and had moved up to the middle box. They had a great third box above them that was still full of honey. We removed the empty bottom box and moved it up to the top. That put the bees on the bottom, their box full of honey directly above them, and an empty box above that. If all goes well they will be ready for a spring nectar flow, but we will check them again in a couple of weeks. Things can go wrong very quickly for bees this time of year. Loretta was a bit baffling. She still had two full, 8 frame, medium boxes of honey up top, and the cluster of bees was still in the bottom box. What have they been eating all winter? Are there not enough bees to need the honey? We made an executive decision not to break into the brood box and look for the queen, as they had been open for a while and were changing their tone. We will go back in soon and make sure they have a queen and some early brood. The honey was partially crystalized, but that should not completely prevent them from eating it. We will see what happens to Loretta's family as winter wraps things up.

As for the hens, they seem pretty happy. Both Pauline and Lou have been losing their big tail feathers, I think because of the limited room in their house. (They would have more room if they spread out instead of all clustering together in one corner.) If you look at the mini coop photo on the side bar of the blog, you will see that we added a "day pen" for the hens to use when we are home to monitor the dogs. They walk from the door of their coop into this arched roof pen, and then we can move them anywhere in the yard that has particularly tasty weeds. Lots of wing flapping and feather ruffling in joy as they got a taste of spring sunshine this weekend.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Pruning, shaping, and cleaning up perennials

What a weekend! It was as beautiful as any day in April. I spent lots of time with the bees and chickens, but more on that later. This post is about cleaning up the ornamental beds and fruit trees. Two pictures here show how an apple tree was shaped by this season's pruning, and how small bars with points on the ends were used to help spread branches to improve their angle to the main leader. Different length spreaders were used for different sized branches. The third photo shows one of 3 piles of debris remaining after I cleaned up the dead twigs and branches from some of my ornamental perennials. You are looking at branches of gaura (whirling butterfly) and of spirea. The white gaura was huge this past year; I am going to have to take out two of the three plants and find a new location for them. The red guara however, did poorly, I do not know why. Now, to avoid disappointment later when the temperatures plummet again, I have to keep telling myself: "It is not spring. It is not spring. It is not spring."