Monday, June 25, 2007

Drought


This is our back yard. It's been very dry here. The ground is hard and cracked, even in the "grassy" part of the yard. Much of the grass is dried out but the clover, ground ivy, and other "weeds" are doing okay.

Area-wide, the hay crop is reduced and gardens are suffering. We don't do hay but we do have a kitchen garden. I've seen folks carrying water to their gardens in five gallon buckets. That's a hot miserable job.

Our water supply is an ancient hand-dug well. It's only 25 feet deep (so we were told, we haven't measured it) so we're anxious. We shower (no baths) and that only when we can't stand ourselves any longer. When we do laundry, we do a full load and then we wait a couple of days or longer to give the well a chance to recover.

When I need hot water to wash dishes, I let the water run into a gallon milk jug while it warms up. Then later on I carry the milk jug water to the rabbits and chickens.

Last year we had to cut the grass every weekend and it actually would have benefitted from being cut mid-week some weeks, but our schedule didn't permit that. This year we have cut the grass twice that I can recall. Maybe three times.

Fortunately, there is a water line that runs from the pond down to the area where the house and garden is. We use the pond water to irrigate the garden.


You can see on this support post for the dock that the water level in the pond is about 5 to 8" below normal.


We tried using drip hoses to water the garden, but they clogged because of all the debris in the pond water. Then we tried a fan style sprinkler, but the little screen filter on it clogged within less than five minutes so that the water flow was completely blocked.

I spent way too many hours watering "by hand" - with the hose, not hauling water, but still time consuming.

Then my husband thought of the nifty little sprinklers you see in the photo. tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-BRRRRRRRRRRRT! They have a large water opening that the water shoots through, and no pesky screen filter. All the pond debris just flies out into the garden where it's probably appreciated by the veggies growing there.

The drought has really brought out the predators, too. We've had an ongoing struggle with Raccoons going after our chickens. The peanut butter bait continues to be effective. We only have one rooster and one hen left, but we are less TEN raccoons now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Potato Patch Tour, Continued


This is a squash bug. Why he's hanging out in the potatoes I have no idea. I planted my squash late and they are just starting to sprout. I'll have to keep a vigilant eye on them.


The icky slug. I had these real bad at one point. I mustered up my courage and actually picked them off and dumped them into my soapy water bucket. It was hard getting the nerve but once I actually touched them it wasn't any worse than cracking an egg. Slimy, but so what? I'm not rushing to repeat the experience though.


A good guy! I avoid spraying if at all possible because I'm hoping some good guys will get established in the garden like this ladybug. Last year the only good guy I had was a garden spider. This year I have ladybugs and I saw one mantid.


I never really thought about it, but until I grew potatoes for the first time last year I didn't know they flowered. This is a sad example of a potato blossom but it's what I had. Potatoes aren't grown from seed, though. Although the potato plant flowers, to my knowledge the seeds are not used. Potatoes are grown from other potatoes (called seed potatoes, but they're really just plain old small potatoes). The potatoes or potato pieces are buried about 4 inches deep. The eyes sprout and become the green plants you see in the potato patch. After the plants turn yellow and fall over, you dig the potatoes out of the dirt with a pitchfork or garden fork.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Potato Patch Tour

My potato bed is about 3 or 4 feet wide by about 30 feet long. Let's take a walk through it, shall we? It has more bugs and activity right now than any other part of my garden. Most of it is bad bug activity but as the plants are doing well and the potatoes themselves are underground, I hand pick the pests and don't spray. Oh, I did spray Neem Oil once.


This is a flea beetle and the bane of my existence. In my garden it attacks mostly the potatoes and creates lace from the leaves. It also attacks seedlings. I don't have chard (yet) this year because these little buggers eat it before it can get established.

Usually if a plant can get well established the flea beetle does more cosmetic damage than anything else. If it gets your new seedlings, though, it can eat them to the ground in no time. Neem Oil is an organic control.



This is wormwood. I have my potato bed broken into thirds, with wormwood planted in the two breaks. Wormwood is supposed to repel flea beetles. I had flea beetles before I could set out the wormwood, though, so the flea beetles are laughing at me. They have a huge head start. I remain hopeful.


The infamous Colorado Potato Beetle. I hate it that he's a bad guy, because he's so beautiful. These two went into a plastic ice cream "bucket" with about an inch of water and a drop of Dawn dishwashing liquid in it. Without the soap, the beetles can climb out of the water and get away. Use the soap!


Colorado Potato Beetles lay their bright yellow eggs in clusters on the underside of the leaves.


The Colorado Potato Beetle larva is a plump juicy little guy. He goes into the bucket too, or if I don't have my soapy water handy he gets squished between two leaves and his guts get left as a warning to others.

There's lots more going on in the potato patch, but this is enough for now.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Three Sisters

Supposedly the Native Americans grew corn, beans, and squash together and called them the "Three Sisters". Corn is a hungry plant, and benefits from the nitrogen fixing capabilities of the beans. The pole beans grow up the stalks of corn and use them for support. The vining squash acts as a living mulch and helps shade the soil, conserving moisture while deterring weed growth. Raccoons detest the prickly leaves of the squash and avoid the corn patch which has squash growing amongst the corn.

Supposedly.

We'll see.


We tilled up a patch of ground about 30x30. Normally I would try for raised beds rather than tilling but time was running out and I wanted to do the traditional mounds rather than beds. The area we tilled is clay and rocks so we threw some peat out there and tilled it in. We put a blob of composted manure about every four feet, to mark where our mounds will be and to enrich the soil a bit. My husband was in charge of east-west alignment and he did a fine job.


I was in charge of north-south alignment and, well, let's move on to the next photo, shall we?


We mounded up the dirt with a hoe, then held the hoe horizontally and used the handle to flatten the top of the mounds. This pretty much sums up the prep work we did for our Three Sisters garden. I'll talk about the planting in another entry, and we can check in on the garden from time to time as the growing season progresses.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Garlic Scapes


This is a photo of garlic and if you look closely at the center of the photo you will see a curly bit of stem with a still-encased flower bulb. That is called a garlic scape.

If you look at the bottom left portion you will see another scape.

Only hardnecked garlic makes scapes; softneck garlic does not. When the garlic forms scapes, you should cut them off so that the plant continues to put its energy into forming a nice large bulb beneath the soil rather than trying to produce a large healthy flower.

Scapes can be stir-fried, steamed or sauteed in butter, or they can be used to make pesto which I am assured is delicious on toast. We plan to make home made bread and dip it into the pesto. I can't wait.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Burr Comb Disaster


When I put the queen into the hive, I set her in her little wooden queen holder down on the "floor" of the large brood chamber in the middle, between a couple of foundation frames. By the time she escaped and was accepted by the colony, the bees had built some burr comb in the extra space between the frames. It was just a little bit, but I hated to destroy it and undo all their hard work.

I have a book entitled "The Hive and The Honey Bee" that says burr comb is always attached to the floor or walls of the hive, but most beekeepers call any unwanted comb "burr comb".

I asked advice from experienced beekeepers, and they said "Clean it out!" so I went back to clean it out. As you can see in the photo above, it was no longer "just a little bit" but had grown and had at least honey in it.

I pulled the frame out and the burr comb was in a HUGE piece. I scraped it off the frame at the top, and fortunately it wasn't all entangled with the foundation - it was a separate sheet of comb, almost like they'd made a "filler" frame in the gap I'd left. I went ahead and let the sheet fall into a plastic bowl. It spilled over the sides, there was so much of it.

To my great dismay, the burr comb had lots of brood in it. I am now a bee-baby killer :( In retrospect, perhaps I should have let them keep their extra "frame" of comb but it might have only gotten worse and made it impossible to pull the frames and inspect them.

The lesson is: clean up burr comb as soon as you find it! You have to be able to pull the frames and ensure there aren't any mites or moths or other problems getting into your hive. You also need to make certain eggs are being laid and raised and that the bees are putting away an adequate supply of honey to survive the upcoming winter.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Bees Setting up House


I took a few pics the other day when I opened up the bee hives for the second time after having put the bees in them. You saw a few photos already with the feeder and the foundation. In the above photo they're "drawing comb". To do this they both draw out the wax that the foundation is made of, plus they create new wax with special glands.

Here you can see the cells being used for honey (the pale capped cells in the top left area), pollen storage (the dark open cells in the middle), and brood (the medium colored capped cells near the bottom right). This is typical positioning of honey, pollen, and brood cells. Bees usually form an arch with honey on the top and outside edges, pollen in the middle, and bood center and bottom.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Garden Mug


I was out of town a while back and spent the night at my favorite cousin's house. She gave me this mug, which I coveted. It is shiny, which automatically makes it irresistible. It is insulated, a definite plus in the hot garden. It also has a little slidey thing in the lid that is supposed to keep your coffee from spilling out but in actuality keeps the dirt and bugs mostly out while I'm working.

She's my favorite cousin because she gave me this mug. I am fickle and can be easily bought, so anyone wanting to occupy the position of 'favorite' only need send me something cool and useful. Shiny stuff gets extra points.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Baiting a Trap for Raccoon

We have a friend who slowly lost pretty much his entire flock of chickens to raccoons last year. So when we had raccoons going after our chickens, we called him up and asked his advice. Using this technique we caught five raccoons in five days (using two live cage style traps).

Cut off the bottom one-fourth to one-third of a soda can. You can bend the sharp edge in to make it easier to handle and to increase its strength if you like (we did).

Poke two holes in the can bottom, opposite one another.

Fill the little "cup" on the bottom of the can with peanut butter, and wire the can bottom to the cage with any old wire you have lying around. Thread the wire through the two holes.

This gives a large yummy-smelling peanut-buttery surface to attract the raccoon. Also wiring it in place is important because raccoons will barely enter the trap and reach as far as they can with their little "hands" and grab the bait and run away with it if it is not wired down. They can do this without tripping the trap mechanism.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Strawberries



We picked strawberries from the garden yesterday evening. This is the second year we have had a strawberry bed. Last year we got about 3 or 4 strawberries, because the plants were getting established. This year, a bountiful harvest!

For dinner we had whole wheat pancakes - made with freshly ground wheat - and fresh picked strawberries. It was delish!

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