Monday, June 27, 2011

Weekly Harvest Weigh-In #2

So is it just me or has this been the weirdest year for gardening, weather-wise?  The past two days have barely gotten up to 65 degrees and I was forced to break out my thermal pajamas.  It's nearly July!  Mid-eighties are our norm this time of year.

It seems that we're going to be shooting back up to the 90's again this week with lots of severe thunderstorms in the forecast.  Lots of rain.  Perfect conditions for various plant diseases to pop up.  I'll be keeping a close eye on my cucurbits.  And I'm really glad that I forced myself to not crowd the tomatoes this year.  Good air circulation should keep a lot of those tomato problems at bay.

I should be getting my first ripe tomatoes here pretty soon.  Our friend digitS' from TEG showed us this week an interesting photo story of how long it takes a Big Beef tomato to grow from a bud to a ripe tomato.  It's not just my imagination (compounded by the mouthwatering anticipation) -- it really does take forever!

So far all I have been able to harvest from my garden is about five gallons of strawberries, a few green onions for supper here and there and maybe a handful of blackberries.  (These thornless ones I have come on very gradually.  It's a real effort to beat the birds and the kiddo to them!)

So onto this week's weigh-in...

This Weigh-In will be open until midnight on Sunday, July 3rd. All that is required is that your post be current and relevant to edible gardening that you have invested your own time and sweat equity in. Be sure to link to your specific gardening post and NOT your blog's main page. Please provide a link within your post to the current Weigh-In so that others can join in (this page.)  You are welcome to grab the Harvest Weigh-In banner above and use it to link back here. This is a family friendly site and I reserve the right to remove any links that are inappropriate, irrelevant or otherwise deemed spam.

***Weighing in is optional; you are still welcome to link up a post about your garden!
If you don't have anything to weigh-in for this week, that's OK!***

Check back with us every Monday for the next week's Harvest Weigh-In! Take some time to visit other gardeners' blog posts below that may be of interest to you. Happy gardening!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Three Things I Learned This Week

Three things I learned this week, in the garden...

1) Hummingbirds love this pink honeysuckle vine. (I don't remember seeing any on it last year?)

2) Scalding weeds is easier than pulling them. I kept refilling the tea kettle and as it came to a boil, just dumped it on them!

3) It's easy to grow butterflies in a bucket!  These are Black Swallowtail caterpillars that I found on my black anise and dill.  We give them fresh greens everyday.  They just eat and grow!

Then they crawl up the side of the little bucket and make their chrysalis.  If they attach to a green stem (or a green dot on a bucket...ha) the chrysalis will be green.

If they attach to something dark, like this brown plastic honey bee queen excluder that I used for a lid, their chrysalis will then be brown.  Cool camouflage, huh?  :)

Linking up with the Barn Hop #18 over at Homestead Revival.  Go check 'em out!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A New Favorite

My new favorite -- Tetra Ruffled tall cutting snapdragons. 
They last over a week in the vase!
I can't believe these grew from such a teeny tiny little seed.

And my old standbys -- old fashioned hollyhocks. 
I've lost track of how many colors I have now. 
It's just not summer until the hollyhocks bloom.  :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Weekly Harvest Weigh-In #1

I often joke with my husband that while he may be the breadwinner in our household, I'm the veggie winner.  And eggs and poultry too, but really that is more of a joint effort...

After talking with some of my gardening friends on The Easy Garden, I've decided that this summer I am going to start faithfully weighing and logging what I grow.  My garden produces abundantly and goes a long way toward feeding my family throughout the whole year.  I already track all of my egg and meat bird production and I am very curious to see just how much my effort in the garden is really paying off.

If you love to grow your own fruit and veggies, I'm going to encourage you to do the same!  I will be hosting a weekly Harvest Weigh-In here at One Sunny Acre where you can share with us your garden's progress and how much you have harvested throughout the week.  Whether you choose to keep a spreadsheet on the computer or simply jot it down in a small notebook, I invite you to come by every Monday and link up here to a blog post you have written for that week's harvest.

If you don't have a blog already, it's easy to get one started.  I use Blogger.  Or if you prefer, you may also choose to weigh-in by simply posting a comment below.

Any recent blog post about your own edible gardening efforts will qualify for the Harvest Weigh-In.  Show us your garden's progress.  Show us pictures of your fresh produce.  Show us those colorful canning jars all in a row.  Show us your herb garden.  If you grow it to feed your family, be it fruit or veggie, you can link it up here.

I have a food scale that I already use frequently for cooking, so I will be tracking my harvest in pounds.  I plan to also compare my harvest's value with the current going rate for similar product at the grocery store (although we all know a garden-fresh tomato is far superior to a sorry ol' store bought slicer.)  ;)  My intention is to determine how much money I save by growing my own.

You can't get any fresher or more local than what you grow in your own backyard!  Homegrown produce is richer nutritionally as well, since it is picked and eaten at the peak of ripeness.  You can't beat the glorious flavor of a sun-ripened heirloom tomato.  I love my garden.  I live in my garden.  When it's cold and snowing, I dream about my garden...

Here's a few highlights from this week's garden.  It took awhile to get it all in this year, once the rain finally stopped, but things are starting to catch up!

I planted about 300 or so onions this spring.  Although they went in a month behind schedule, they are bulbing up nicely.

My kitchen herb garden is beginning to fill in.  I tried to plant every herb I could think of!  My lovage and cumin failed to germinate.  I'll have to try starting those again in flats.

For the first time EVER, I have mulched all of my transplants BEFORE the weeds showed up!

These Costoluto Genovese tomatoes are almost full size.  They are a beautiful, fluted, heirloom paste tomato.

These are Santa Fe hot peppers, the first of my pepper plants to set fruit.

I can't wait to start munchin' on these lil' babies straight from the garden.  These are Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes.

Some women collect Fiesta Ware... I collect manure.  How much is enough?
My husband says you can just call him "Dung Beetle Boy".  Ha.

OK, your turn!  This Weigh-In will be open until midnight on Sunday, June 26th.  All that is required is that your post be current and relevant to edible gardening that you have invested your own time and sweat equity in.  Be sure to link to your specific gardening post and NOT your blog's main page.  Please provide a link within your post to the current Weigh-In so that others can join in.  You are welcome to grab the Harvest Weigh-In banner above and use it to link back here.  This is a family friendly site and I reserve the right to remove any links that are inappropriate, irrelevant or otherwise deemed spam.

***Weighing in is optional; you are still welcome to link up a post about your garden!  If you don't have anything to weigh-in for this week, that's OK!***

Check back with us every Monday for the next week's Harvest Weigh-In!  Take some time to visit other gardeners' blog posts below that may be of interest to you.  Happy gardening!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Merging Two Hives

I made the big move Saturday evening, merging my queenless hive with my new small swarm.  Instead of two weak hives, I now have one big, strong hive.  And hopefully that means we will get to harvest some honey here in a couple of months!

I am so thankful that the rain held off today.  I was getting very antsy to go take a peek at what they had been up to over the past week since I hived the new swarm.  The weather was not too bad when I worked them this evening around 6pm, but in that full bee suit, I still get very hot and sweaty.  This was one of the most relaxing and intriguing excursions I've had working the bees.  I am really starting to feel confident and competent around them!

It's a common misconception that honey bees are aggressive.  They truly are not.  Their policy is: don't bother us and we won't bother you!  Different hives may display different degrees of temperament though.  With a docile hive as mine have been, even when you do irritate them a bit, they still have a rather mild response.  I can walk ten feet away and they have already forgotten about me.

The new swarm was very calm and quiet, as if they didn't even know I was there.  It was a lot of fun to work them.  The old hive however, being queenless and bugged by some ants that were trying to move in, did take note of my pestering them and they were quite a bit testy.  But like I said, they give up very quickly.

Here's what they sound like when they're mad...

Here's a few highlights from this inspection:

This has been the new swarm's temporary arrangements.  I ran out of cinder blocks and I've
been a little nervous with them sitting on this milk crate.  It's not quite as sturdy as I'd like.

This is a really small colony.  They've not accomplished a whole lot in the past 11 days since I installed them.

I had to carefully remove the wild combs they had built so that the two remaining frames could go in.
(You leave the gap initially because you need a hole to dump them into.)

This is the frame of honey I gave them from my other hive to get them started.  Most
of the bees are on this frame.  They've been busy!  The capped cells are full of honey.

I had no trouble finding the queen this time, since I only had one and a half frames to check out.

She's doing a great job and laying a tight pattern.  I found lots
of capped brood, all stages of white larvae and many tiny eggs. 

I wasn't sure what to do with these odd combs at first.  Fortunately I took a closer look and
was able to spot a bunch of minuscule eggs in most of the cells on just one side of both of them.

So I had to do a little quick improv!  I used my hive tool to cut out a space in this new foundation.

And being careful to orient them the same way I found them originally, I patched them into this frame.

They had only begun working one side on one of the adjacent new frames in
their box.  This frame is beginning to fill up with honey and stored pollen.

Frames 5, 6 and 7 are the only frames that have any activity at this point.

I laid down two sheets of newspaper and a queen excluder on top of that to prep them for the
merger.  During the time that it takes them to chew through it this week, the scent of the two
hives will blend and they will begin to identify themselves as one hive.
 Moving on to the queenless hive...

The ants go marching two by two... These ants have been pestering
them this week, trying to move in on their hard-earned honey stores.

The white stuff is a grease patty I gave them last time.  It's supposed to help them resist tracheal mites.  They don't
seem to care for it all that much though.  It annoys me too, because it's a hassle to move it.  It falls apart so easily.

I was a little clumsy putting back a frame of honey as I was inspecting them.  This is the point where I annoyed them pretty good and I had to work quickly through the rest of the frames.  I was able to confirm that there are no laying workers and still no queen (I'm pretty sure I would have recognized her.)  Still no eggs or capped brood. 

Laying workers are supposed to present with eggs, larvae and capped brood, but they will all hatch out to be drones (which are pretty much useless to the hive.)  I'm a little perplexed as to what happened here and how they failed to raise a replacement queen.  I would have thought there should have at least been laying workers; but as I understand it, only nurse bees will become laying workers.  This hive has been queenless for over a month now.  Bad beekeeping on my part and definitely a live-and-learn situation.  Despite bad weather and precious few good opportunities this early spring--I have to check in with them more often.

Here they are sealed up for transport.  Can you believe I lifted this by myself?  I'd give it about 50-60
pounds.  All those feed sacks I've had to haul down to the chicken barn have built up my strength...ha.

Here they are set up under a small peach tree down in the field at my mother-in-law's place.
You have to move them over a mile away or they'll be confused and return to their old hive spot.
They'll hang out here for two weeks, while we work on building a better and permanent hive stand. 

The new swarm is on the bottom and the old hive is on the top.  They have a separate entrance in the back to
use for now.  The bees on the bottom will use the regular entrance which I narrowed with an entrance reducer.

That's all for today's honey bee adventures!  I'll stop by after church tomorrow and check them out to make sure they're coming and going from the hive OK.  Next Monday I will inspect them again and see how the merger went.

Link up and share your homesteading adventures over there!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Stalking the Whistle-Pig, Sniper Style!

The groundhogs are no more!  The world is safe for tomatoes once again.  My Bright-and-Shining-Farmer got the last one this evening.

All that time playing Call-of-Duty: Black-Ops on X-box seems to have come in handy after all.  He would come straight home from work the past couple of days and set up his vantage point on the back deck and oh-so-patiently wait for Mr. Groundhog to show himself. 

Afterward, as he was clearing the chamber on his .22 mag, he looked at me and said, "you know, Babe, I could do this all day!"

Apparently, sniping whistle-pigs is the way to go.  Sneaky little buggers!

Now to patch all the holes they dug under my chicken barn...

This post is part of Homestead Barn Hop #16.
Go take a look and see what other homesteading folks are up to this week.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tiny Garden Helper

This is the cutest and tiniest toad I've ever found.  At least I think he is a toad, being that he is somewhat bumpy after all.  I tried to identify him online.  I think he is an immature Fowler's Toad.  You can see how small he is next to my pinkie!

I just happened to spot him hopping away as I was hoeing a patch of weeds.

I didn't dare try to pick him up.  He just hopped into my daughter's bug box all by himself.  We returned him back to the garden at sundown.

I love toads.  They eat lots of slugs and other bad buggies!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Box O' Bees

Image taken by the man who captured the swarm.  Sorta like a baby picture, huh?  :)

We got a call at 6:50 AM this morning from one of my husband's co-workers asking if we would like to have a small swarm of bees that he had collected at the plant yesterday.

"Most certainly!"  I replied.

I woke Ava up early and we hurried to go get them before the day grew to be too hot.  The temps were in the mid-eighties by the time we got home. 

Here they are all boxed up to travel.  Being a power plant, hazard tape is always kept on hand. 
The other side of the tag identified the hazard as "honey bees".

The heat and humidity and the stuffiness of the cardboard box made them quite a bit irritable.  There was a little crack on the side that he left for them to get some air through.  They were trying to poke their heads out and I could hear them chewing at the box, so I taped an onion sack (left in the car from morel hunting season) over the hole for more security before I left with them.  It would have been a LONG drive home otherwise!  ;)  I poked a bunch of holes to give them a little more ventilation.  I tried to drive a little bit slower so they wouldn't be tossed around too much.

Ava went over to visit our neighbor, Mavis, for a little bit.  I suited up and promptly moved them into an empty deep that I had ready and waiting. 

I took a frame of honey off of my other hive (the one that is struggling) and gave it to this new swarm as a "housewarming present" to encourage them not to buzz off.

There was a severe thunderstorm brewing which hit about two hours later.  Both hives were very irritable this morning and I figure that had a lot to do with it.  It was a weird storm that blew in quickly from the opposite direction that our storms normally come from.

The swarm is a rather small one, but I was delighted to get them.  My plan is to combine both hives next week, after the new hive has had a little time to settle in and after I can confirm whether I do or do not have a queen in the other hive (or laying workers, which must be dealt with). 

It was really a huge blessing to get these free bees and now I am back in business!

I think it's special too that they arrived on our 8th wedding anniversary, which as it had worked out, last year's anniversary was also our first honey harvest.  I feel like we are living on an acre of "milk and honey".  (Just gotta get the goats acquired.  Ha.)

Another fortuitous thing that occurred today was that another neighbor stopped by to watch me install the swarm in to their new home.  He said that he hadn't realized before that I kept bees and told me that he knows of five or six hives that have been abandoned, left behind when a relative of his had passed away a couple months ago.  He is going to talk to the man's son to see if he would like me to take the bees off of their hands (assuming they are still alive).

Free bees!  Yay!

I have to say it was a very good day.  I'm super happy with my anniversary "present".  :)

This post is part of Homestead Barn Hop #15 over on The Prairie Homestead.
Go take a look and see what other homesteading folks are up to this week.

Friday, June 3, 2011


That's what Ava calls them and I think the description fits.

 For the next couple of weeks, I'll be furiously picking strawberries, trying to preserve as much of their summer sweetness as possible.

Last year, I picked and put up eleven gallons of Junebearers before my fingers fell off and I had to turn the patch over to the neighborhood kids.

This year, it's a jungle out there!  This is just one corner of my strawberry jungle.

 It goes all the way to the top of the hill (on the side of the cistern).  I really let them go, thinking that I would just dig up enough runners to start a new patch on FLAT GROUND and start all over again with a more wisely placed plot of berries.  It's hard to pick on a hillside!  And I can't till here to maintain the rows.

How's that for organic?

I can't say enough good things about these Sparkle - Junebearers.  They are unstoppable.  This patch has a lot of quackgrass in it and has had no attention at all for nearly two years.  They just have a will to live and produce strawberries.  Lots of them!  Sparkle is very disease resistant too. 

Ava's a big girl now, almost four.  But she still begs me to pick the berries for her while she parks and eats them.
"Please Mom, don't send me into the Strawberry Jungle.
I don't know if I can find my way back out again!"

I've been tossing the bad ones at the rooster to distract him.  Somewhere I read that the best way to tame a rooster is to bribe him with treats.  They say he won't consider you a challenger then.  So far so good!

Scram, chickens!  None for you!
Picking strawberries is the best part of starting off the summer.  We really enjoy them while they last.

Good times!  :)
These two gallons I decided to core, toss with a little sugar syrup and initially froze them on a cookie sheet so that I could bag them up.  We'll enjoy them on oatmeal or in smoothies later on.  I think it was my grandma who told me that a little sugar syrup would prevent them from getting freezer burn.

Speaking of beauties, check out these wonderful blue Love-in-a-Mist that volunteered in my garden this year.  I don't remember seeing them last year.  I think they came in a packet of mixed seed I planted previously.  I will be saving the seed!  I've picked off the lighter/whiter blooms to hopefully encourage them to carry on this true blue.

It's funny, my mom gave me some white Love-in-a-Mist a couple of years ago and it has aggressively popped up everywhere in my flower garden since.  I finally learned this year that I just have to pull them up before they go to seed.  The pods are really interesting too, so it took me awhile to figure this out.

 On a side note to any of my blogging buddies who are also on Blogger -- They seem to have been having some technical difficulties for over a week now.  I've tried to leave comments for many of you, but unless you have the Name/URL or Anonymous option, it won't let me.  The Google Account and OpenID options won't work for me at all.  I don't know about the others.