Thursday, October 30, 2008

We always knew they were special . . .

Pauline, Hilda, and Louise (with moral support from Lena and Expresso) won the blue ribbon for their Large Brown Eggs at the regional agricultural fair.  They are so proud and so am I.  Here they are gazing at their ribbon (OK, and eating the scratch grain I put on the ground under the ribbon).  Lena's eggs could not be entered because they do not qualify as "Large."

We are all embarrassed for the bees, whose last minute honey entry earned only a third place white ribbon.  The hens aren't even being subtle as they taunt the worker bees and flaunt their blue ribbon.  I pulled a very small amount of late honey off the bee hives this week (it is not yet extracted, so I do not know how much for sure), and found that Dolly's hive had completely abandoned their bottom brood box.  I removed the empty box, leaving them with just one box of brood and one of food (honey and pollen) as we go into the winter.  I may need to feed this group to help them survive.  Here you see their new, smaller winter hive.  There were hive beetles in this hive, so I am hoping that the smaller area will be easier for the bees to patrol.  While moving the bees to a new box, I saw the queen!  She looked lovely.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Finally, my fall growth spurt

Finally, the gardens are full of plants and I feel like the universe is as it should be.  Some plants are teeny, tiny, new lettuce and asian green seedlings, but some are big, happy chicken raid survivors.  In this photo you can see the few collard plants and the one broccoli that were protected from Pauline, Lena, Lou, and Hilda, surrounded by the same vegetables that are in recovery mode after being eaten down to stubs.  I actually am looking forward to seeing if I get multiple, small broccoli heads from the ravaged plants.  The collards are almost big enough for me to start picking the outer leaves for dinner.  

You also can see that the chickens had no interest in carrot tops, as this beautiful row of carrots remained untouched when everything else around them was eaten to the ground.  Beside the carrots are three cilantro plants, which thrive here in the cold months.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like salsa made with fresh cilantro Another herb that loves the colder weather is flat leaf parsley.  These beautiful plants were planted last year.  I harvested parsley all spring and summer, and they are now putting on their deep green, shiny fall leaves in hopes of being included in Thanksgiving dinner.  (They made it to last night's pasta sauce.)

A cold front is supposed to swing over us tonight.  I am going to do my best to get out during the warmer part of the day today and get the last honey supers off the hives and put the bees to bed for the rest of the season.  Any more honey they may collect from the fall flowers will help them finish filling their shelves with winter food.  I should have checked the hives earlier to make sure they have put away a full brood nest of honey.  I really hope I don't find any surprises out there.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oh man, shitake mushrooms and local shrimp!

What a day we have for food!  We bought the shrimp you see here from very local waters (almost within sight of our porch). That is a quarter on the plate beside those big guys!  When doused in salt and olive oil and seared on the grill they are just about the best food on earth.  Add to that our first shitake mushrooms from the logs we innoculated in the spring, and I am in foodie heaven.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Native forage for the bees; floral honey

I found a little capped summer honey (8 pounds) on the hives, and we extracted it this week.  It tastes different from any other honey I have harvested from Loretta and Dolly.  It is very, very floral and not at all what I usually call "spicy."  You can't taste it without making some "oh my" exclamation.  I am thrilled by the taste of all my honey, but this one is just so different; I may have to keep this harvest for home use or very special gifts.  

You can see how busy the bees are this weekend.  The entrance to each hive was a flurry of activity.  The long, slow rain on Saturday was a great boost to the native flowers that the bees depend on this time of year, and they are out in full force today to take advantage of the new blossoms.  Here you see bees on the yellow seaside goldenrod and the white flowered groundsel (also known as "mullet bush" down here on the island).  For once the girls are foraging for nectar and pollen right here in their own backyard on these two marsh plants.

Each hive still has one honey super remaining on top of the queen excluder.  Dolly's super is partially filled and capped, so it is likely we will have a late fall honey harvest from those bees.  Loretta's is empty, except for fully drawn comb (wax comb built out to full depth, ready for honey).  It it unlikely there will be honey to harvest there, but they are so busy that I left it on, but only for a couple of weeks.  Both hives have 3 medium brood boxes with honey backfilled for winter, so I do not anticipate they will need any honey they place in the supers.  Last year they had so much honey left over in the spring from the three medium brood boxes that it caused a logjam in the hives; and they swarmed rather than producing spring honey.  I hope that will not be a problem again in spring 2009.  For now they are active and beautiful and a joy to watch.  The marsh was alive with foraging honeybees and native bees and wasps.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Speckled egg, tiny transplant, coop expansion

This is the prettiest egg so far from our hens!  This one was Pauline's, but with wonderful, purple-ish spots.  We are buried in eggs right now.  I just gave away 18, and by the end of today there will be 24 more sitting in the fridge.  No matter how beautiful they are, I can't come up with enough ways to cook eggs.  4 a day is just way too many for two people.  Soon the hens should slow down and maybe even stop laying for the winter.  I need to savor the feast of eggs now, in preparation for the possible egg famine.

We have added an expansion to the chicken coop, another 5 x 3 foot section.  This is necessary because their garden foraging is forcing me to keep them penned most of the time now; at least until we can figure out a way to keep them out of the vegetables.  We had not yet roofed the new pen section this morning, but we figured the 6 foot tall wire and relatively narrow space would be enough to keep them in.  No such luck.  Expresso and Lena were casually walking around the yard when I went to leave the house.  A temporary fish netting roof should hold them in until we buy some roofing.

I worked this weekend on salvaging what I could of the vegetable garden.  The chickens had left the broccoli as mere stumps, without a leaf in sight. There were tiny leaf buds forming, however, so I left the stumps in place to see if the plants actually recover.  My husband had put fencing over one part of the garden, so some tiny new kale plants survived.  I spent the weekend transplanting every other tiny plant to a space in the garden left bare by the hens.  The plants were pretty small, as you can see, so I don't know if they will survive.  

I have high hopes that, despite all the setbacks this fall garden has experienced, we will see some very late greens.  I planted some leftover lettuce seeds on Sunday, and plan to order more.  Part of a row of carrots and a few beets also survived under the hen-proof wire, so they remain as well.  Although the hens had nipped the tops off most of the new arugula and russian kale plants, a few retained their growing points, so I thinned out all the decapitated ones, and hope the others fill in.  With the hens restricted to their new coop, there is some hope for my poor garden at last.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I missed the storm, but the garden didn't

I have been away for a couple of weeks, helping care for my Mom, who is approaching 91.  Like you and most everyone else, there are times that the garden gets left behind while other more pressing things take all our time. Luckily, my husband fed the hens and gathered the eggs, but the rest of the garden had to fend for itself.  So, how is the garden after 2 weeks of neglect?  

Well, first of all, we had rain.  Many plants were pulled back from the brink of dying from drought; this rain came right in time.  Others, like these pink rain lilies, spring from the ground only after a natural rain, from a seemingly blank space in the garden bed.  I love to see them them each time they pop up.   When I see my rain lilies, I know the other plants also received a much needed, deep drink of water.

 The storm that brought the rains also brought days and days of salty wind.  Look at the wind and salt burn on the SW side of my young maple tree!  The salt wind not only blackened leaves, but even killed the tips of some tender branches on trees and other woody ornamentals.  Other plants, especially those with shiny/waxy leaves, showed no effects from the salt.

Finally, that same storm brought the tide way up in the yard, higher than it has been even in hurricanes.  Although you cannot see any signs of it now, the tide was right up under the bee hives, against the cinder block stands you see here.  Apparently the bees where not impressed, and just continued with their day. 

 And the chickens?  Well, despite best efforts, they destroyed a large part of what little had been growing in the fall garden.  This weekend we fence them out of that part of the yard, and assess the final damage.   We are getting 4 eggs most every day, even though Lena's eggs remain tiny.  It looks like she may lay little bitty eggs, even as she matures.  My husband likes to say they have only half the cholesterol of the other eggs!  We will see if the eggs get larger, but, if not, their tiny but perfect shape make a bowl of eggs look even more interesting and beautiful.