Monday, May 25, 2015

Planting the Garden

    I've had a tough time getting the garden planted this spring, due in large part to a busy spring at the Beez Neez.  I'm feeling like I've caught up, but a few things were planted a bit later than I would have liked. The peas in particular could have been planted in February, but were planted in late April. As a consequence, my peas are not as far along as I would like.

     The portion of the garden on the north side of the duck pen is done.  I'm calling it my "Irish Stew Garden" as I have planted potatoes, peas, carrots, and cabbage there. I planted three varieties of potatoes this year that I purchased from the Snohomish Co-op. I planted Yukon Gold, Red Lasoda, and a white variety whose name escapes me.  I'm trying something different this year with the potatoes.  I heavily mulched the potatoes in wheat straw with the intention that I will be harvesting clean potatoes from the straw. I forget where I read about this, but it seemed like a great idea.  I planted a rainbow blend package of carrots, purchased from Ed Hume Seeds. It included red, yellow, orange, white, and purple varieties of carrots. I also planted Marner Cabbage, and Super Sugar Snap Peas. After planting my main potato crop I received a gift of Banana Fingerling potatoes from my daughter, Rachel. I planted those as well, but in a different part of the garden.
Rhubarb Patch

My Irish Stew Garden

    In addition to stew ingredients, the portion of the garden near the duck pen also includes my rhubarb patch. I've added four new rhubarb plants this spring in an effort to grow redder rhubarb for pies. I have three Victoria Rhubarb plants from last year. I purchased Cherry Red Rhubarb from a local nursery and I purchased Canada Red Rhubarb from McDaniels, our local hardware store. Then a good bee store friend renewed her rhubarb patch and asked me to help her find homes for all of the surplus crowns she dug up.  I think there were about twenty.  I added two of them to my rhubarb patch. She couldn't recall the exact name of her rhubarb, but knew it included the word "Crimson" so that is what I will call it for now.

    The main garden area is in the front yard, our sunniest location.  I've planted two varieties of pole beans.  Fortex, a green pole bean, is supposed to be absolutely stringless. It was strongly endorsed by two serious gardening friends as a significant improvement over Blue Lake or Kentucky Wonder.  I also planted a yellow Romano type of pole bean called Marvel of Venice.  It was probably a little early to plant pole beans, but we are having a warmer year than normal. They came up well although I had to replant a little of it due to slug damage. I reduced the number of bean seeds I'm planting for each pole with the idea that it will end up looking less like a jungle. I also planted more Marner Cabbage and Bull's Blood Beets near the pole beans.

    At this time of year I lose the use of the ducks to keep the slug population in check. If I let them continue to do their slug patrols they trample all of the emerging seedlings.  Thus I am left with either using Deadline or doing some nighttime and early morning slug patrols of my own. Deadline isn't bad as far as garden poisons go.  The active ingredient is metaldehyde and supposedly doesn't leave noxious residues in the soil. I bought some Deadline for Linda to use on her Hostas and flowers, but I've stuck with physically removing slugs from the garden and dumping them into the duck pen. Watching the ducks make short work of the slugs isn't a sight for the squeamish.  While looking for slugs early in the morning I found that I still have some allies in my pest control efforts. I found this little salamander out looking for his breakfast in my vegetable garden.
I'm assuming this salamander is looking for protein and not vegetables

    I planted a lot of onion starts in our front garden. Either McDaniels or the Snohomish Co-op had a package deal of three different kinds of onion starts. The bundle consisted of 1/3 Walla Walla Sweet Onions, 1/3 yellow onions, and 1/3 red onions. Linda loves the red onions so I'm hoping that will keep her well supplied.  I planted the onion starts in late January so at least that part of the garden wasn't planted late. The onions are all doing very well except for a little slug predation. This year I will make a point of removing the seed heads when they start to form.  Next to the onions I also have a small patch of garlic I planted last fall.

Newly emerged Mandan Red Clay Indian Corn
    I planted my indian corn on May 12.  That also was a little early, but I covered the indian corn with  clear plastic for the first week it was planted to insure the soil was warm enough. The soil temperature is supposed to be 65 degrees to plant corn. My garden soil was at 62 degrees before I added the plastic cover. It turned out okay as most of the corn is already up.  The variety I planted this year is Mandan Red Clay Parching Corn. It is actually lavender colored rather than red and all of the kernels on the ears are just the one color. It is a flour corn variety which can be used for both parching and cornbread.

   Parching consists of heating in a skillet without oil. After a few minutes the corn pops, but it doesn't expand as much as popcorn. It merely triples in size.  You end up with a fully cooked corn kernel which has a nice crunchy texture. I've read that any flour corn can be parched if dried properly, but a few of the colors don't taste very good.  Supposedly, the red kernels have the best flavor and the blue and black kernels the worst.  I experimented with some of the Painted Mountain Flour Corn I grew last year.  It parched very easily in the microwave and I found it to be pretty tasty. Parched corn was used by a number of indian tribes as travel food because it was both lightweight and compact.

   I have four hills of winter squash planted on the east side of my indian corn. That will allow the squash to expand through the corn patch. I've also planted a few plants each of zucchini, yellow crookneck, and a yellow pattypan squash called Scallopini, all near the pole beans. The winter squash is called Potimarron and looks like a French version of Red Kuri. I had intended to plant Red Kuri as I had such great luck with it last year.  Territorial Seeds carries it, but I never found it on their seed rack in the Snohomish Co-op. I purchased the winter squash seeds from Uprising Seeds in Bellingham, along with the indian corn and a number of other seeds.  They are my current favorite seed company. They specialize in locally adapted varieties, something I would like to encourage. Everything I have ever purchased through them has done very well.

     Another good bee store friend gave me eight tomato plants last week.  He is a serious tomato expert and gave me eight different varieties that he really likes.  The tomato plants are from his green house.  I've used a homemade hoop house for the tomatoes to keep them warmer and drier.  I reduced the size of the tomato hoop house by a third this year and hope I have a more manageable tomato surplus this summer. I also still need to plant cucumbers, but it is still a bit early for both cucumbers and tomatoes. I starting the cucumber seeds indoors a week ago and they are already up. I won't plant them outside until the weather is more consistently warm.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May the Fourth Be with You

    Our Grandchildren find this pun to be particularly funny, much like Pi Day (March 14).  This is actually going to be another one of those, "A Day in the Life" posts.  Yesterday, May 4th, was a nominal day off. I ended up having to do some bee store work in the early morning, in the middle of the day, and again in the late evening. Linda complained a little about this. I told her that complaining about the bee store is a bit like a farmer's wife complaining about the farm.

   The main occasion for my Monday bee store work was preparation for a mini package bee day later this week.  I am purchasing some Carniolan packages this year from a couple of local Russian beekeepers, Nikolai and Dimitri.  Months ago, they had offered to make up packages from their Carniolan bees. It sounded like a good idea at the time. Now it just extends the busy package bee season by another week when I am a bit tired of doing this much work. The advantages are it gives me the opportunity to sell Carniolan packages, a different variety of honeybee from the Italian packages I offer in our main package bee sales. Also the packages are produced somewhat locally. Their bees are currently doing a pollination job on blueberries in Lynden, Washington, near the Canadian border.  Thus there is no grueling drive to California so I don't have to worry about transportation costs. This allows me to sell a smaller number of packages and still have it be a profitable activity.

    The main down side is yet another week of package bees. I'm a little tired of being so busy and longing to spend more time on my vegetable garden and preparations for cousin camp.  I didn't have to drive to California, but I did have to gather the cages and make up enough sugar syrup to fill 88 quart sized cans.  I was very grateful that my daughter Sarah and grand daughters Hannah and Autumn pitched in and helped me prepare the sugar syrup over the weekend. Nikolai and Dimitri came by at 8:00 am to pick up the shipping cages and the recently refilled syrup cans. Twelve hours later, I received a phone call from Nikolai informing me that they were en route with the packages and expected to arrive at the Beez Neez at about 9:15 pm.  I met them at the store. They unloaded their trailer while I vacuumed off the hitchhikers.  I finished up the job at about 11:00 pm so it really wasn't painful.

    I was very impressed with how healthy the packages looked, not having made a twelve hour trip from California. Now all that remains is for me to put the queens into the packages.  The queens were shipped this morning from Koehnan's, a queen producer in California.  UPS will probably deliver them to me at about 10:00am tomorrow. Then I will have to pull out each of the syrup cans, install the queens, and then replace the cans, without releasing any more bees than necessary. I will probably end up with more loose bees than I would like, but that's why I have a bee vacuum.

    Nikolai was very happy to make up these packages for me.  It isn't just about additional revenue, as it solves a significant hive management problem for him.  When he puts his beehives in a blueberry field there is a considerable amount of drifting from one hive to another as the bees get oriented to their new location.  The drifting bees tend to collect in the hives towards the ends of the rows, causing those hives to have a lot more bees than they should. These overpopulated colonies would quickly start preparing to swarm if the situation was not corrected.  Nikolai simply collected the excess bees from these overpopulated colonies and put them into the packages.  Simple in theory, but a lot of work in practice.   Their work day started at about 7:00 am and ended at about 11:30 pm.

    Sandwiched in between this package bee activity, I was able to make some significant progress on our vegetable garden and thew task of reclaiming our poor neglected orchard.  I planted Potimarron winter squash and Super Sugar Snap peas. I made a trip to the bee store and did the bank deposits. I bought goat, duck, and chicken feed, along with six bales of wheat straw, at the Snohomish co-op.  The main issue with the orchard is that I had an apple tree go over this past winter because I unwisely thought it no longer needed to be staked. The heeled over apple tree made it almost impossible to mow the orchard and the orchard is too large for me to want to do the job with a weed wacker.  I should have fixed the tree right after it happened. The tree has lost some roots in the straightening process and may not survive. On the other hand, I do have replacement apple trees waiting in the wings and this particular tree has scab issues. After making the tree vertical again, I used the weed wacker to bring the grass down to a level the mower could handle.  I wasn't able to finish the job as the battery on the weed wacker gave out on me. I've included a photo of my "wheat crop". I noticed that heads are forming on the wheat that grew up from my straw mulch. My friend Quentin gave me a sythe for my birthday a few years back.  It looks like I'll finally get to use it.

   I also hived a swarm around 2:00 pm.  My modified Warre hive sent a small swarm into the adjacent cherry tree. It was pretty easy squeezy to collect the swarm.  I moved the orchard ladder into position, clipped off the small branch with my hand pruners, carried it over to a waiting nuc box. There are a lot more bees in the box than it appears as I had removed the middle frames before I shook the bees of the branch into the box.  It took me longer to get Linda to come out side and take a picture than it took to hive the swarm.

About a three pound swarm

The swarm's new home

   As I was working outside, I found an interesting artifact one of our grandchildren had left on the teeter-totter.  My daughter Sarah and son James had visited us over the weekend. We had a total of eight grandchildren visiting so I don't know which one deserves the credit for this piece of random cuteness. Note the map is labeled "Grama's Hows" rather than "Grampa's Hows". Linda is a rock star grandma so I don't really mind that she always gets top billing. The map is also a bit dyslexic regarding the relative location of their favorite places at Grama's Hows.

Map of Grama's Hows - author unknown