Sunday, March 30, 2008

First quarter 2008 total harvest

Our total backyard harvest for January, February and March, certainly some of the slowest months of the year in the garden, was 16.075 pounds of vegetables, plus 2 (yes, we got another one today) beautiful brown eggs.  Note this is the first year for one bed and only the second year for the other; each bed has a soil area of 3 ft. x 7 ft.  I have not added herb harvests to the list, but I use fresh herbs from the yard daily.  Check the log at the bottom of the blog to see the daily harvest from our two small raised beds, plus the fruit trees, hens, and bees. 

Now March is going to be a very slow vegetable month, as we are just getting started on the new season's crops, but lets wait and see.  I was amazed at the total for the first quarter, but it goes with my feeling that fall, winter and spring might be our best gardening seasons in Carteret County.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Baptisia emerging

I wanted to show you how beautiful the new spring growth is on my baptisia (false indigo).  It looks like big fat stalks of asparagus, doesn't it?  This is one of my favorite flowers, and I can't wait for the flowers and leaves to open for the summer.  This one is blue, I really want to add a yellow baptisia this year.

First egg

Look, our first egg!  It is absolutely perfect and beautiful.  You can get a feel for the size by looking at the quarter beside it.  I should have taken a beautiful photo in the straw of the nest, but didn't have my camera with me and could not bear to leave it behind.  I'm not sure who laid the egg, but I suspect Lou, as she seems most mature, with the largest comb.  It is cold here today, and windy.  It feels more like February than the last of March, but with fresh eggs to look forward to, what else matters?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Striped tulips and colorful hens

Just a quick shot of the new tulip hybrid that seems to be successfully naturalizing here in Carteret.  Usually our standard tulips live only one year.  These are flowering for the second time, and have multiplied already.  I really like the pointed flower petals and pink stripes.   Another colorful addition to the yard:  Louise, Hilda, and Pauline, free ranging on the spring grass.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Forest of tomato seedlings

I hope you are having a delightful Easter weekend.  To celebrate the day, I let the hens out into the backyard.  Free range!  They and the dog just ignored one another.  So much for that worry.  I had counted on them for an easter egg, but they let me down.

The garden transplants are growing, as you can see by the picture of the tiny tomato forest.  Each pot had two or three seeds germinate of the four planted.  Today I thinned them down to one plant per pot.  This is where I start to get nervous; a damping off fungus now will eliminate my carefully tended, self started seedlings.  The tomatoes were the first to really get growing, but one set of the basil seedlings also are up and got thinned today.  

Interestingly, all the basil seeds in one set of six pots germinated, while none of the seeds in the other set of six are up.  Did I seed too deeply in one set?  Too little or too much water?  Too cool at that end of the flat?  Or did I just label wrong, and the other set of pots is an entirely different plant?  The first of the teeny, tiny pepper plants have just emerged.  They are still too few and too fragile to consider taking out even one of those seedlings.   It is cold and windy today, so I am avoiding the outside garden chores.  Getting the seedlings thinned and watered pretty much wraps up the gardening for today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Drones flying

Here he is, my first drone of the season (or at least the first one I have seen flying).  The drones are the males of the beehive.  Unlike the worker bees and the queen, who are all female, the drones have no stinger.  Ahh, you say, that is why she is holding him in her hand!  I wish this picture was more clear, but this guy would not stand still for me.   The fact that drones are out flying tells me that the hive "feels" (for lack of a better word) that the season is far enough along that the hive size is building fast enough to expect swarms soon.  The drones serve no purpose other than to mate with new, flying queens.  Those new queens start appearing in the spring, either to replace old queens who are not performing, or to start up new housekeeping in mom's old hive after the older queen mother has moved off with a swarm.  New queens need drones, so that is what the hives produce.  It is just another sign of spring

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fiddleheads and Helebores; honey time

It is hard to believe tonight, with temperatures in the 40s, that this past weekend was the perfect time to work on my ornamental beds.  I moved spirea from the edge of the bed, where it was way to large, into the center of the bed where it can serve as a backdrop for the shorter perennials.   My biggest challenge, however, is the bed on the north side, under the house, in full shade.  I have killed many a hosta there (slugs), and had a dog who regularly dug large holes there in the dry soil.   I am determined this year to make that area into a beautiful part of the yard.  Luckily there already are two plants that are happy to be there:  the holly ferns and helebore in the photos.  Each fern had a number of tightly cured fiddleheads waiting to unfurl this weekend.  That alone is enough inspiration to look for some more shade adapted plants and try to make this bed work. 
It also was a great weekend to check the hives.  Dolly is ahead of Loretta in brood, but both are much further along than I would have expected for mid March.  I added queen excluders and the first honey super to each hive!  I can't wait to see what early spring, wild, coastal honey tastes like.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


I have to show you the millions of aphids that I found under the leaves of one of the kale plants harvested yesterday.  There were millions of them, covering at least half of the bottom surface of every leaf.  The other plants had no aphids at all.  I did not weigh this plant as part of the day's harvest, as most of the weight would have been aphid.  I found the perfect use for the plant:  I put the whole thing in the pen with Pauline, Lou and Hilda, and they ate the aphids and greens down to to stalk.   I turned aphids to chicken manure fertilizer, isn't that a riot?
Although this pales in comparison to the excitement of a zillion blue aphids, I did plant potatoes yesterday as well.  I put them out front in an ornamental bed that had open space because the trees planted there have not matured.  They are Swedish fingerling potatoes.  I have never tasted them, but I liked the description:  fingerling size, with the texture of baking potatoes. 

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Starting seeds; honeybees

We only have 4 weeks until our last frost date, so today I started some herb and vegetable seeds indoors.  If all goes well they will be ready to go when the soil warms.  The photo shows a pepper seed being lightly pressed into a small hole I punched into the peat pot.   I planted Juliet tomato (grape type), Brandywine heirloom tomato, Genovese basil, Italian dark green flat leaf parsley, Joes long cayenne peppers, hot ancho chili peppers, and french marigolds.  I grew the Juliet tomato last year, and it produced an amazing yield over a very long time.  Of course this year may have different results!  I am trying the heirloom variety in an effort to find a really good tasting tomato, but I know I am risking lots of disease issues.  
I will leave the newly seeded pots in the warm kitchen until the seeds germinate, then I'll move them to the cooler attic, where I have a light fixture set up with two florescent bulbs (one cool and one warm type bulb).  I will keep the seedlings under the lights for most of the day, each day, until time to move them outdoors.  By keeping the light suspended just above the seedlings, and only moving it up as they grow taller, I hope to keep the seedlings short and strong.  Things are growing outdoors too: the peas are up in the garden, as are the lettuces (3 types).  I got them in a bit late, so they are tiny now, but still should have a pretty good harvest before it gets too warm.  
The bees are feasting on all the spring weeds and trees that are in full flower.  If you look closely at the photo, you can see one hovering near the door with huge loads of pollen in her baskets. Still no eggs from the hens, but they seem very happy, and their combs are starting to grow a little.  I take that as a sign they are maturing, so I will keep checking the nest daily.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Construction details

I have been asked for some how-to construction hints for both the raised beds and the day pen for the chickens. Lets start with raised beds. You can see the photo of my beds on the main blog page. These beds are 8 feet long and 4 feet wide (outside dimensions). They are constructed of 6 x 6 lumber, stacked three deep. We chose this sized lumber and this height because it gave us a nice wide edge for sitting, and at a good height. You can make your bed out of any kind of lumber, plastic, cement block, whatever works for you. If your ground is not wet you don't have to raise the bed at all! The most important thing to remember is to make the bed narrow enough that you easily can reach just past the middle from either side. What you see around my beds are old roofing shingles. They are there to hold down weeds while we decide what to put down for a more long term solution.
Construction project two: Above is a photo of the entrance from my fixed chicken coop to the movable day pen. You are looking down at the solid roof of the fixed pen, and the curved side of the day pen. We made the door of the fixed pen so it opens at the top and drops down like a ramp. The day pen was designed to do just the opposite: it opens from the bottom and hinges up and out of the way. This allows us to open the day pen, slide it in front of the fixed pen, then open that door into the day pen opening. The hens walk down the ramp into the day pen, then we slide it away and shut that door. Very easy system for moving the hens from one pen to the other. They figured out the routine after about 2 days, and now they line up to move from pen to pen. I hope the photos and explanations of some of these construction details are helpful.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Vegetables, chickens, spring

Look how happy (and how big) the ladies look!  With spring coming on strong, my lawn has marvelous patches of chickweed and cool season weedy grasses.  Pauline, Lou and Hilda get to scratch and nibble to their hearts content.  Here they are in their movable day pen, snacking over the tastiest the lawn has to offer.  They have really changed their shape and their look over the last couple of weeks.  As they mature they are replacing some of their teenage feathers with the most beautiful adult plumage!  The feathers, especially the edges, shimmer in the sun as though they were metallic.  No pullet (small, first) eggs yet, but I think it will be very, very soon.  The other photo shows the root vegetables I harvested out of the garden bed today.  I want to get that bed ready for spring planting, and decided to go ahead and harvest everything in the south end.  You can see that we got a nice haul of carrots (they are very sweet), baby beets, and rutabagas.   Only about 1/3 of the peas that I planted germinated.  I think it is a combination of last year's seed and the fact that I was away the week immediately after planting, and they dried out.  Because the ones that did germinate are still very small, I think I will use the remaining seed to plant in the gaps.  Hopefully we will get some more germinating, and I will have enough for a trellis of peas.  In the ornamental beds, the daylillies are really pushing through now.  I will spend part of the next day or so planning the spring and summer vegetable beds (I am a bit behind), and will let you know what will be going in first.