Monday, June 20, 2011

Pungent and Sweet

I had a red letter day in my garden this weekend:  I harvested my first garlic crop!  The stalks had fallen over and the lowest leaves had browned, letting me know that it was time to dig garlic.  I used a small garden fork to reach under and lift out the cloves, as any cutting or bruising of the cloves at harvest would ruin the keeping qualities.  These were late planted last fall from a few very small leftover cloves I ran across in the bottom of the bin in the feed and seed store where I went to buy chicken scratch.  Despite that sad start, I harvested 25 very nice garlic heads!  I have then spread out in a basket, stored in a breezy, shady spot under the house to dry.  After a few weeks I will brush off the soil and try to braid the stalks and hang the garlic in the kitchen for future use.  The individual cloves are small, so it will be a bit of a pain to use, but the ones I cooked this weekend were delicious.  I am now a big fan of growing my own garlic, so will order my cloves early (soon actually, as they need to be planted in late summer/early fall).

This weekend was also the first honey harvest of the year.  I have never seen anything like it.  We harvested 3 full supers of capped honey from Grace's hive.  That was 77 pounds of clean, clear honey!  We have another 3 or so pounds that drained out of the wax cappings, making a total of 80 pounds of honey from this one hive.  Now that is a good honey crop!  It is very dark and spicy, and I know we are going to enjoy it.  Here you see the bees walking on top of the perfect, white wax cappings over the honey, and then the cappings cut off and laying in the pan, with the frame of exposed honey on edge, ready to go into the extractor.  I feel a little better now about my disastrous year with the bees last year.  I hope these stay healthy through the rest of the summer!

Monday, June 13, 2011

First crop figs!

My fig bush puts out two crops a year, one small crop of HUGE figs, ripening right now, and a later crop of big, just not as big, figs later in the year.  You can see this in the picture: the big ripe fig with small, just developing figs right above it on the branch.  The bush is growing like crazy, and has moved out over the bed and into the driveway.  I have been told that I need to cut it back, but won't be doing that until after all this years figs have been picked and eaten!

This bush is a big producer, but I have to fight the birds for each ripe fig, so end up picking them a bit too green, and losing out on some of the ripe flavor.  These figs (locally called Davis Island) are not the most flavorful, even when ripe.  They are very, very mild, and so are not as mouthwatering as other, sweeter figs when fresh.  They really shine, however, when dried, which concentrates the flavor.  Oh my, better than candy!  I still love them fresh, and picked and ate my first fig on Saturday.  I picked two more this morning, and you see them here.

The other photo is a picture of beautiful, tender green beans.  This is about the 4th picking from the three little rows of beans planted earlier this summer. It has been so dry that I haven't planted any follow up rows, but maybe I will try to flood one bed this week and get some in the ground.  These are Derby beans, and they have produced well and are very good.

Still picking one or two big zucchini each day, but those plants are starting to show signs of drought and insect pests.  We have had plenty of good squash already, so no complaints from me.  I just accept that I will lose my squash to borers as the season progresses.

The backyard food system got to show off some this weekend.  I had some old friends over, and the meal I fixed included a number of items from the garden:  zucchini muffins, zucchini quiche, orangequat marmalade, honey butter, potato salad, fresh sauce for pasta (tons of fresh garden parsley and garlic added to chopped tomatoes),  deviled eggs from the coop, I can't even recall it all.  It feels good to serve fresh food to friends.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Digging down and reaching up

This was quite a week in the garden.  First, I gave the hens the tall stalks of chard.  I propped each one against their upper perch, so it was both a food source and an exercise regime and play ground at the same time.  Like any animals, hens like mental stimulation!

Next, I dug the potatoes.  25 pounds of the most beautiful Yukon golds you ever have seen.  Did you know that really fresh Yukon gold potatoes have beautiful pink eyes scattered about the golden skin?  These potatoes ranged in size, with about a third being really big for the short season they had.  I attribute it to the bed that is made up primarily of very (too) loose organic matter; nothing held those potatoes back!  So far I have given some away and made potato salad.  My husband eats them raw, like apples, every time he passes the basket. 

Finally, the bees.  Grace's hive has been bursting at the seams.  There are so many bees that they can't fit inside at night.  I needed to look into getting them more space, and I needed to see if honey was ready for harvest.  Problem was, this hive is tall.  It sits on three cinder blocks, then has one deep and two medium brood boxes.  Above that was two honey supers/boxes.  I needed to check those top boxes, each of which weighed close to 30 pounds.  Both were far above shoulder height.

Suffice it to say that I am glad there was no one videoing me as I built a step out of blocks (smashing one finger), and gingerly lifted each box down.  The fun part came after I added a new honey super, with lots of open space, but then had to put the two original supers back on, even higher than before!  Remember, each box weighs close to 30 pounds, and is full of thousands of bees, and is being lifted above my shoulders/head.  My favorite part?  When I stepped up onto the blocks with the last and heaviest box, lost my balance, and had to step/fall back off, all while balancing the bees on my chest.  The bad news: although there was lots of nectar in those heavy boxes, it wasn't capped, so not ready to harvest.  I actually think that the bees are probably taking what was fully ripened honey back in order to feed the huge hive.  Will check again, with help this time, in a week or so.

Note two things in the last photo:  First, still too many bees, so some are spending the night outside on the front of the box.  Second, look at the entryway.  See all those bees with their abdomens in the air?  They are part of the water cooled air conditioning system, as they fan their wings as fast as possible.  You can hear the loud hum of all those beating wings as you approach the hive!