Friday, July 20, 2007

Three Sisters

Well it's high time I gave an update on my three sisters experiment. I'm embarrassed to share these photos because the plot is in such sad shape. I haven't pulled one single weed, I haven't mulched, and the soil there is pitiful. The deer got in and ate my squash and beans almost down to stems at one point before we hooked up the fence charger. So the results are abysmal, yet I'm encouraged and will definitely do this again next year unless something goes horribly wrong in the near future.

The soil in this area is clay and rock with an amazing hardpan. We dug it up with a roto-tiller on the tractor and the tiller had a hard time breaking the soil. At a certain depth it was like asphalt and the tiller just rode on top of it. I think I'll try to plant alfalfa, buckwheat, or ryegrass here in the fall as a green manure and to break through that hardpan. All three of those have deep roots to help break up compacted soil but I don't know what would be a good choice for fall planting.

I'll also amend the soil more next year. When this garden is spent, I'll clean up the chicken house and spread the manure around. I'll probably till it in, let it sit for a week or two, till it in again, and then plant my cover crop. I may end up burning up the cover crop but I'm going to give it a try anyway.

Next year I may do mounds again or I may modify it and do long raised beds/rows. Whichever I choose, I'll definitely mulch well, especially in the walkways.

I'm encouraged because I can see how this could work really well. The corn is finally starting to grow (what didn't wither and die) and the beans are beginning to reach out and some of them are twining around the corn plants. The squash are blooming and spreading out like crazy things.

Some things I did right: I selected tall growing corn varieties with strong root structures. I am trying Hickory King (a dent corn that can be eaten as roasted ears when young), Country Gentleman (shoepeg), and Stowell's Evergreen. Shorter stalks and weaker root structures can't handle the weight of beans growing on them very well.

I also selected beans that grow well in cornfields and can thrive in the partial shade of that environment. I'm trying Genuine Cornfield, Ruth Bible, and Turkey Craw. Other bean types need full sun and won't produce well in a cornfield.

I planted six corn seeds per mound and then later on when the corn was about 4-6" tall I planted a bean for each corn plant. Some of my corn hills only had one or two plants to germinate and make it to 6" tall :( I planted one squash per hill. I think with amended soil and mulch, these numbers will be about right for my mounds which are four feet apart.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Broccoli Bunny Breakfast

Our broccoli is pretty much harvested now. About every second or third day, I pull a broccoli plant out of the garden and take it to the rabbit colony. They really like that!

I do this either early in the morning or late in the evening. During the day it's just too hot for them to want to eat.

In the group photo, the dirty one is one of the senior does. They stay kind of dirty from digging burrows and going in burrows to nurse their kits. The rest of the rabbits stay pretty clean. They're getting, uh, kinda big.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Chicks at Our House

A few weeks ago we were fighting raccoons. When it became apparent that our flock's very existence was threatened (I'm talking flock extinction, not one or two losses to predators), we sat down and discussed things. We figured that in addition to patching up the old chicken house, we needed to build a new chicken house. So a new chicken house has gone up on the priority list. We juggle the priority list quite a bit.

We also either needed to order more chicks or invest in an incubator.

We started saving eggs and got a fairly inexpensive incubator. When it arrived, we had 18 eggs saved. Due to the reduction in our flock, that's all we could save in seven days. I've been told that eggs older than seven days can be incubated and hatched, but the viability drops quite a bit.

We have thirteen little raptors hanging out under a heat lamp in the chicken house now. Fourteen pipped but one only cracked the shell and then apparently suffocated before it could get out. That was sad. The others are all doing well.

Here they are on the fourth of July. They all hatched on the third and fourth.

Here's a view showing (sort of) their magnificent brooder box. They weren't "due" to hatch until the 5th, so when they began pipping on the 3rd it was quite a surprise. I hustled big time to get the brooder box done in time to move the chicks into it. It's about 3' x 4' and 15" high. It has 1/4 inch plywood sides, a 2x2 frame, and hardware cloth for the floor and hinged lid.

With our first batch of chicks we used a cardboard box in the bathroom, but this time I wanted to brood them out in the chicken house. I needed to make a sturdy brooder box for a couple of reasons.
1 - I'm concerned the larger chickens (all two of them) might peck the babies.
2 - We have packrats in the chicken house and I was concerned they might bother the babies.

So, the magnificent brooder box was built.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Making a Garlic Braid

I grew garlic for the first time this year. I grew four different types and now I can't find the markers saying what I planted where. From what I read, hardneck garlics form scapes but softnecks do not. One of my garlic types did not produce scapes and the neck is indeed pliable. I decided to braid this garlic after curing the plants and setting aside the three best heads for planting in the fall.

Braiding garlic is pretty much like braiding anything else, except you add in garlic plants as you go. I begin by placing a garlic plant in the center, bulb away from me. Then I place a plant to the right and cross its stem over the first plant. Then I take a third plant and put it on the left. I'll cross its stem into the center of the other two, and my braid is begun.

Just like braiding anything else, the right hand bit (the rightmost stem) now crosses to the center.

I add in a garlic plant by placing the new plant's stem alongside a stem that is already a part of the braid, and that is being crossed over into the center.

I continue adding in plants as I go, first on one side and then on the other. I add a plant from each side, then do a couple of "cross over to the center"s without adding in a new garlic plant. This results in a loose braid that is not as pretty as a tight braid, but will allow for better air circulation. I'm concerned about the garlic going bad if it isn't well ventilated, because I live in a very humid area.

After all the garlic has been braided in, I continue braiding the stems. I tie these off with a bit of bailing twine but you can also just tie the stems in a simple knot.

To use the garlic, just get some scissors and snip off the bulb that you want. Easy peasy.

This is the first time I've done garlic like this, but I experimented with some onions last year and they kept all winter long. I hung them in a terrible location, too - the south facing window above the sink in my kitchen. I hung this garlic braid on a nail in my pantry. I think it should keep pretty well in there with no sunlight and fairly regular temperatures.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

How To Assemble a Bee Frame

Inside the bee hive are frames that hang vertically. These frames hold the comb which the bees use to store eggs, brood, nectar/honey, and pollen. Where we buy our bee supplies, the frames come in pieces and we assemble them. Here's how it all goes together.

Above is a photo of the parts. At the top is the top of the frame (upside down), then the bottom of the frame, then the two sides. The top is wide and the bottom is narrow. Both of them have a channel cut into them where the foundation (pre-formed sheet of bees wax onto which the bees will build their comb) is inserted. The top also has an extra lengthwise cut that hopefully I can explain with the next photo.

It's hard to see because of the wood grain (clicking to view large might help), but the top piece is cut so that in addition to the channel where we will insert the foundation, there is a second lengthwise cut on the side that allows you to easily remove the wood that forms one side of the channel. You can use a utility blade but I found this carpet knife first so that's what I used. You only have to score it; it's cut almost completely off already.

In the photo above you see the top piece (turned bottom-side up for the moment) with the full thickness away from you, half thickness toward you, and the removed bit in the foreground.

Place the top of the frame into the two side pieces and use a tack hammer to place a single tiny nail on each end. See how the nail is off center? The nail goes into the side of the top that you did NOT cut away.

Then place the bottom of the frame in place and secure at each end with two tiny nails. The wood frequently splits where you nail it because it's so thin. Don't worry about it. You can see the channel that will receive the foundation; it runs the entire length of the bottom piece.

Now you can insert the foundation into the channel in the bottom piece of the frame. Leave the frame upside down for the time being; we have work to do which is more easily accomplished upside down.

The foundation I use has thin wires pressed into it, to give it strength and stability. The wires stick out a little on one side. The side without wires went into the slit in the bottom piece of the frame. The wires that stick out rest on the top piece where we cut away a bit of wood.

The cut away piece is repositioned and nailed in place with some super tiny nails. I use needle nosed pliers to hold these nails while I hammer them in place. They're too small for me to manage with my fingers.

Now we hang ten of the frames inside a wooden box and that make our hive where the bees raise their young and store their food, or maybe a "super" where the bees store extra honey. Yum!


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