Welcome Home!

Today we had some new arrivals on the farmy. About 300-400 of them. And thus far they seem to be content in their new location.

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The new arrivals are, of course, honeybees. I have been heavily considering a hive for a long time. My MIL and Greg purchased one for me this year for Christmas and yesterday I finally got to go pick up my bees, a 3 frame nucleus.

Now, the problem with that is the frames for a standard hive (known as a Langstroth) don’t fit into my stacking top bar hive (called a Warre). Langstroth hives were sized to be the largest commercially accessible boxes bees would fill with straight combs. They were cheap and production focused hives. Warre hives were designed to the sizes that bees preferred to make their combs given a variety of options. As such they are smaller and the Langstroth frames don’t fit.

So we ended up following some instructions on a Youtube video online. We used cheap dollar-store clamp style hair clips like these;

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Very 90’s!

And then tied them onto the top bars through the holes using twine. (The video suggested using zip ties but I didn’t have any.) Then we cut part of the frame out , just enough to fill a frame in the top bar hive, and used the hair clips to clamp onto them and hang them in the hive.

The bees seem happy enough on them, and they seem secure. As the bees work, they will seal the comb, hairclip and all, to the top bar until it’s secure. Then we can go back, snip the twine and cut the hairclip free. The bees will fill up the new gaps and it’ll be good as new.

The whole process was a little overwhelming for me. I have a somewhat irrational fear of bees. Getting stung doesn’t bother me that much, but the buzzing around my head or limbs, the potential for them to crawl up my clothes, etc. incites a panic in me. It’s not the pain, it’s all the anxiety leading up to the pain that causes my fear (which in turn fuels itself).

But I still managed to push forward and (three stings later) my friend (a semi-experienced beekeeper) and I got all the bees into the box. I did most of the installation and actual handling of the bees myself.

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Me on the right, brushing the bees into their new home while my friend holds the nuc box.

We did the whole process except closing up the hive at the end without a smoker, only sugar water. The only stings were my own. They did NOT like me taking away the frames to cut them for the new hive, and I got a sting for each of the frames I cut into for my troubles.

Today, they seem comfortable in their new home and have been working hard to clean out the mess of the cut combs. The honey stores left in the comb edges were cut open and set next to the hives for the bees to finish eating at their leisure, and a feeder with 1:1 (by weight) sugar water was hung for them.

This is to give them plenty of nutrients and food while they repair their hive and wait for the fall nectar flow. We’ll get no honey from them this year. This year they need to build their hive, draw out comb,  and grow into a stronger unit. Next year we may be able to take the excess but for this year they will need the food to help them get through the winter.

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And this is where they now live. Happy as a clam. A clam filled with hundreds of stinging death monsters. But it’s not so bad. They seem to like it here. And that’s good.

Inspiration

Farming and homesteading is inspiring to me. I get so much joy at looking at things running smoothly and properly. I draw a lot of motivation from looking at other people’s goals, aspirations, and the extremely cool things that they do.

Sometimes down the line I loose track of that joy. I loose track of it amidst things like trying to manage animal pedigrees and planting row crops and producing enough to justify that I am a “real” farmer and balancing budgets. It can be easy to loose some of my inspiration in among all of the red tape.

So here’s a little compilation of some nifty things I plan to do this year that are inspiring for me!

Vertical Gardening and Plant Towers

I really like the idea of growing up instead of out. While some vertical gardening (such as hydroponics in a warehouse) strikes me as wildly impractical, a lot of vertical growing can be done in a back yard and drastically increase your growing space. Hanging pots, PVC planters, trellises and the like all make for an increase in growing space without an increase in growing ground. And this year, I intend to do more of that. As the strawberry plants recover, I will thin them and put the new plants in hanging pots. I will also be trying to get some herbs running in a hanging planter made out of re purposed two liters that will hang near my awning at the back of my garage. This year I will be growing UP!

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PVC strawberry planter Photo credit: goodhomedesign

Natural Beekeeping and Honey

This is happening and it’s great! I have my bees on order and my hive is in the basement, just waiting to be assembled! We are going to be keeping bees in a Warre hive. This is a smaller beehive that’s designed with topbars and minimal inspection. Unlike the Langstroth, whose design is based around what bees will tolerate, the Warre hive is based around what bees make when left to their own devices. The size of the boxes are smaller, the empty boxes load onto the bottom of the hive, they build their own comb for the frames, there’s a lot more airflow as well. It mimics a hollow tree more effectively than a Langstroth but gives much lower yields. My hope is that the bees thrive in it!

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Warre bee hive Photo Credit – Thebeespace

Pollinator and Bee Gardening

Pollinators are extremely important to our environment, growing crops, and plant life everywhere. If I’m going to have bees, I better be more aware about providing for these ever important critters. So I will be building bigger, better bee gardens this year with lots of flowers! The goal is going to be to trim up the Magnolia and put some flowers around it out front, as well as re-do some of the landscaping around the house and plant as may bee-friendly and pollinator friendly plants as possible in the next couple of years. It will even include safe water sources for local bees, one of the things they lack (and need) the most. The hope is to provide a pesticide-free buffet for all the local critters who will desperately need it in the coming months and years.

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A bee garden! Photo Credit – helpabee

Purebred Wheaten Ameraucanas

This year, we are going to begin moving out of Easter Eggers and into a purebred flock. Our rooster is a purebred Wheaten Ameraucana and I now have a dozen hatching eggs of the same kind on order. Later in the year (possibly early next year) we will be ordering a dozen more and hatching some of our own. At that point, by next spring we will be running a flock of purebred blue egg laying chickens (possibly with a couple Australorps or Marans for eating-eggs and fun mixes). It will be exciting to finally have purebred birds!

 

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Wheaten Ameraucana Hen (and rooster) Photo Credit – Paradisepoultryandwaterfowl

 

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Quarteracrehome’s “Will” Wheaten Ameraucana rooster

Fully Pedigreed Rex Rabbits

Early this year we invested in a new buck to replace Cassanova, as we have kept two of his daughters (Lady and Sage) and would like to start filling out our pedigrees. So we now have a new buck that came to us through happenstance that is actually Bean’s grandson! We have nicknamed him Porter (as in a Porterhouse steak) and he will be our new herdsire for our rex rabbits, lending his lineage and traceable pedigree to our operation.

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SkinnyAcres Rabitry’s Porter, our new Rex buck

Companion Planting and Interplanting

This year our garden has been planned, planned again, and then planned some more. We are going to have both companion planting and interplanting on the homestead this year. Companion planting is when you plant two plants next to each other (or in alternating rows) that compliment eachother’s growth or deter pests from one another. Interplanting is related and means to grow two plants in the same space that don’t interfere with one-another’s growth. An example of this is growing beans and corn in the same space. The beans fix nitrogen for the corn, and the corn stalk allows the beans to trellis up them. One example that will be in our garden this year is growing radishes pretty much anywhere a slow-growing plant is seeded. Since radishes grow so fast, they can be harvested before they start to compete with their too-close neighbors. We will be growing as many plants this way as possible this year. Gardening is still somewhat a struggle for us, but we’re always trying to get better at it!

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Crops interplanted Photo Credit thrivefarms

And lastly;

Growing Trees!

Quarteracrehome is going to be working with Western Reserve Eco Network (a local grassroots environmental group seeking to promote sustainability, which I happen to be a part of) to grow a whole bunch of trees in empty lots in the city. These will all be either native northeast Ohio trees to help restore native forestland or fruit/nut trees to help feed the low-income urban communities around Cleveland. Some of those trees fruit trees may come tagging along back to the quarter acre. Additionally, I have several branches from my father’s Queen Anne cherry tree attempting to root in my living room. Not to mention that two of the plants that have been on this property for ages are also fruit trees and I just had no idea. So I am excited to be “branch”ing out this year! Ahahah, tree puns.

And that’s about it. Things that are inspiring me to do new stuff this year, and things I’ll be trying out. Fingers crossed that it all works out!

Flowering

Today I went out and got some lovely photos of the early spring blossoms. Warning, this post contains many high-res photos.

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Crocuses of some sort growing alongside our wild garlic

There’s not a whole lot blooming, but there’s some. We’re still a long while away from the violets, dandelions and asters that flood my lawn in late summer and fall.

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One of less than ten dandelions currently in bloom in our lawn

It’s really nice to see all the life starting to creep back into the world, though. And these early flowers can be a lifesaver for bees, especially wild ones.

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Daffodils are considered one of the best early flowers for pollinators.

I even took a few shots of the tree out front of my house. The same one you saw weighed down under snow in my last post. The lovely pink blossoms are just about on their way out. After much digging I have finally identified this mystery tree outside my house as am ornamental plum tree, either a cherry plum or purple leaf plum. Both have edible fruits in the late summer to early fall ideal for making jams. I had NO idea that this was the case, and perhaps I shall have the opportunity to taste them this year. I have my pectin and jelly jars all ready!

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Beautiful pink flowers, already shedding their petals

Also on the list of “things I didn’t know” are these gorgeous pink flowers that produced for me one whole apple last year. I was shocked. When I saw it, I thought it was some sort of bug’s nest hanging on a branch. I have NEVER seen this plant do anything before, but I knew it was in the rose family and given that it never produced a fruit, I assumed it was a rose bush, not a fruit tree. But apparently it’s an APPLE shrub!

apple2Who knew!? Maybe we will get more apples from it some day. I would like to try to graft some branches onto it from other very-early blooming apple trees and see if I can get a real apple crop! I shall be trimming it down aggressively this year, along with the plum tree. They both need a serious pruning.

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Even our Magnolia is in bloom, though it’s flowers aren’t quite so useful. They don’t even feed bees, and the tree is a mess. It’s my least favorite plant on my property.

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It can be hard to photograph in the wind.

Pretty much all of these plants were put in by the people who owned this house before the people who owned this house before us. Apparently they were a couple of old retired ladies who loved to garden. I find myself in need of upping my game. The plants they chose are generally lovely, but I want to grow flowers too! Specifically bee flowers. You may recall some of my previous posts about gardening, especially for bees, wherein I attempted to grow some bee-friendly flowering plants to ultimately end in epic failure as they were dug up by my chickens escaping the confines of their chicken pen.

Well this year, I thought I’d try again. I invested $20 in a mixed shade perennial package from Costco, same as last time. It came with five hostas, five astibles and five crimson star columbines. These are all big bee attractant plants that bloom from early to late summer. And so far, things are going OK.

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My initial investment on day 2

The plants came in plastic bags which I immediately opened, tried to sort them into generally upright positions, and then watered heavily. Recently I repotted them. Since then, the columbines have done squat nothing, they may indeed be dead completely on three of them.

But the astibles and hostas are doing MUCH better!

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The hostas in their new pot this morning

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Two of the astibles, separated and growing nicely.

In addition to these I also purchased a pair of lilac bushes that were similarly sad and pathetic upon arrival. Lilacs are good for butterflies, and sub-par for bees, but they are my favorite flowers, and all pollinators need food, including butterflies.

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Sad lilacs, the day after arrival

They have since perked up significantly and nearly doubled in size.

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Lilacs in their new kitchen-side window home!

And lastly, I also did some homesteading things while I was outside today. I started by pruning and separating some blackberry canes that were starting to overgrow.

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New leaf growth on a blackberry cane

Then I weeded the strawberry bed. The weeds were then tossed right back into the bed, root side up, to produce mulch for the strawberries. It may not look like much but the nine plants we put in last year have multiplied into a couple dozen. Depending on how well they do, some of them might be dug up, washed, and repotted for some vertical gardening I would like to do.

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And with the advent of freshly disturbed mulch, dirt and plant, the chickens attempted to lend a beak to the process.

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Chickens, invading the strawberry bed. The string to designate the area off limits to the dogs means nothing to the chickens.

So they were given a handful of wheat berries that we use to grow fodder on occasion, away from the strawberries, which kept them distracted until nightfall.

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Chickens love snacks

Making today a warm, beautiful, and otherwise rewarding day. I just still wish that the REST of my lawn wasn’t quite a swamp, so I could get right down to gardening. This weather would have been perfect for it!

Garden Layout (Round 1)

This year I did some serious work planning my garden. Usually I just kinda stick things wherever I feel like they’ll do well, but this year I actually made a full-blown honest to goodness map.

I measured my garden bed yesterday and found out it’s much smaller than I thought. I was spot-on with how deep it is (8′) but I thought it spanned nearly 40′ long. In truth it only hit 28′ when including the emergency addition I put in last year, so I called it 26′. That addition worked out sub-par, producing no eggplants and a handful of robust squashes that it took me several months to discover were buttercup squash… Though through no fault of the garden plot, honestly. They just got crowded out.
(Incidentally, those squashes became my go-to vegetarian holiday dish for Yule this year. I stuff them with a stuffing made out of “wild” mushrooms (usually just a mix of shiitake, button, oyster and portabellas), chopped walnuts, onions and basmati rice, all cooked in vegetable stock, butter and wine, seasoned and topped with parmesan. Conveniently, I could sub out the butter and skip the cheese and make it vegan if I wanted… But I’ve never had a need or reason. Still, it’s nice to know that I could prepare something delicious that meets that criteria if I needed to. I like to be accommodating.)

While Yule tides me through the darkest part of the year, I am always thrilled when my seeds come in. And come in they have! They arrived just this morning, right after I finished making my growing chart!

I had some problems last year with my plants. The biggest problem (besides spacing and varieties grown) was the addition of some pests to my garden. I figured they’d crop up eventually but it still sucks. So now crop rotation, companion planting and integrated pest management come into play.

I referenced these pages on companion planting;

http://www.vegetablegardeninglife.com/companion-planting-charts.html
http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/companion-planting-guide-zmaz81mjzraw
http://www.almanac.com/content/companion-planting-chart-plant-list-10-top-vegetables
http://www.ufseeds.com/Vegetable-Companion-Planting-Chart.html

I try not to use one source only when I do research so I referenced all four.

And then I used these pages for pest prevention;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pest-repelling_plants
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/12-plants-that-repel-unwanted-insects
The wiki list is very good and I generally consider Wiki to be well managed.

And with the additional few feet we want to expand, ultimately, I came up with a yard layout that looks like this;

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I made this in a free open-source art program, similar to photoshop, called GIMP. This shows all the features of the left wall of my lawn, including our trenches for run-off, and the mixed flower bed surrounded by rocks that we’re planning on putting the bees in.

The key is;
Green BB = Beans
pppp = Peas
Pale Green B = broccoli
green LL = lettuce
green SS = spinach
grey H = herbs (various)
yellow D = dill
red RRRR = radish
Yellow C = Corn
Purple P = Purple Beauty bell pepper
Red A = Anahiem
green J = Jalapeno
gold S = acorn squash
pink W = watermelon
red T = tomato (our new tomato variety has smaller plants than last years)
peach O = onion (we’ll be buying onion sets)
dk green/black Z = zucchini
The grid is square feet, and some plants are supposed to grow in the same spots as the corn. Radish is harvested before the corn grows and the squash uses the corn plants as a trellis. Herbs are spread out to help deter bugs on susceptible plants. Dill is separate from herbs because it’s mammoth dill and grows several feet. Clustered letters indicate how many plants we’ll be planting in a specific spot, whereas the big letters show the amount of space those plants are projected to take up. The letters that take up a single space on their own are just that, one plant per square foot.
I would also like to set up 2-4 potato bins for seed potatoes against the fence, between the garden bed and the chicken pen and grow radishes there as well a little later in the year.
Also marked is our shady spot (left) which is shaded by trees in the spring/summer, and unshaded in the winter/early spring, and our ultra-wet spot (bottom) that floods next to the garden bed with 1-3 inches of standing water. East is 1/4 of the way down on the right wall of the bed image.
There’s a few glaringly huge problems with this layout…
1. Crop rotation. It’s hard to do when you only have a few hundred square feet and the same areas of the lawn have the same conditions from year to year. For example, the leftmost garden squares that are shaded. The summer sun scorches us with 90*F+ for a week or two every summer, and that shade is critical to protecting leafy greens, peas and other plants that are easily scorched. Even in spring it can be overwhelming and the ground cracks. On the left, currently it’s marked with “herbs” but last year that’s where we grew kale. Similarly, the leftmost beans are where peas were last year (legumes on legumes). We can’t plant things like peppers or tomatoes in that space because they won’t get enough sun. So plants that have specific requirements for growth like the watermelons, kale, other leafy greens, beans and peas are all in unfortunately similar areas to where they were planted just last year. (And the year before that.) And there’s not much I can do about it.
2. The bottom of the bed is 7′ deep. Now, in theory I can reach in the 3.5′ from each side to weed and harvest… I have long arms and tools. But in reality I suspect that’s too wide for me to manage without stepping on the beds (which as we all know is bad juju). This could be a serious problem, or I could us boards to step on.
3. That’s my working location for the bees… Sunny in the winter, shaded in the summer, protected from rain and wind by trees and a fence line, easy to access but not somewhere I use… But it’s uncomfortably close to the garden beds, and I want to keep the dogs out of it… So I theorized putting a small stick fence around it. It could still be a big problem because bees don’t like things in their flight path. I’m working on that one.
4. Soil erosion at the bottom part of the bed where the standing water is. This has been a consistent problem, yearly, since we moved in. That land needs to be built up with organic materials that can absorb to water and a way for it to drain into the irrigation ditch needs to be considered. Something has to be drastically different soil-wise.
In reality, I might spend much of today retooling this layout. We also may be expanding beyond this point by bringing in manure from local horse farms for free and adding more onto it. But as it stands, this is how I’m growing plants. In addition to this, I have a 4’X4′ bed of everbearing strawberries that overwintered from last year and about a 3’x3′ bed of flowers out front I’ll be trying to plant up a little better this year.
One way or another, in total I will be gardening at least 300 square feet this year, some of which will be vertical (beans and peas on trellises, potatoes in boxes).Not too shabby, but a long way to go still. Hopefully, with a little luck, we’ll be able to expand further than that this year and do a much better job.

Reeling and Seedling

Well, yesterday the hammer dropped and every single republican told 30 million people like me to go and die quietly please so they could save some money for rich folks, OK?

Not farming stuff incoming. Feel free to scroll down to the bottom if you don’t like the uncomfortable reality that at least some of you probably voted in the people that voted to try to kill me today. I’m looking at you rural farming America. Thanks for that. (Or, you know, if you’re too overwhelmed by the awfulness of it to hear about it again or you might go shoot someone. That’s an OK reason to scroll down too.)

It sounds like some sort of bad black humor, or some sort of dramatic hyperbole, but the vote to dismantle the ACA (including popular programs like protection from denying healthcare based on pre-existing conditions, coverage for pregnant women, and allowing young adults to stay on parents insurance for a few extra years) was clear. 51-48, not a single democrat voting to dismantle. In case you’re wondering, the senate is 52% republican and 48% democrat. I’d love to have the ability to vote republican sometimes, I do believe that the democratic party is corrupt, but the concept that republicans care about my human rights or my wellbeing or the wellbeing of anyone but themselves at this point is unfortunately a joke. They would genuinely rather I just die instead of spending money.

I have a family (and personal) history of female reproductive problems. Case in point; my mother who died of uterine cancer. Preventable uterine cancer that she did not have treated until it was about to kill her because she was one of the 30 million people that couldn’t get insurance without the ACA. Preventable uterine cancer that the only reason she was able to receive any treatment at all for (extending her life for 5 years which were happy and filled with life and joy, and having end of like palliative care, IE: letting her have pain killers and a hospital bed) was because of the ACA being passed soon after her diagnosis, protecting my dad’s ability to put her on his insurance after he finally found employment.

My family is what even republicans usually think of as a “good family”. We’re about as far from the ultra-racist “welfare queen/baby daddy” stereotype as you can get.  We’re white. My family came from a southern catholic farming background on my moms side. My dad’s father ran a cardboard box factory that made him significantly wealthy. Mom raised seven kids, cleaned, couponed, cooked, and made sure her kids were well educated and raised with integrity. My dad currently is nearly 80 years old and works for NASA. He designs lithium batteries that can handle outer space and are charged by solar panels. He holds a patent for some of the first neurological interfaces to allow people with paralyzed limbs to move their arms. All of us kids got jobs at 15 years old. We’re not uneducated, unmotivated,  have poor parenting or even just plain stupid. My family is gritty working types. And my mom died because there was no program like ACA when she got sick and my father was unemployed due to the Bush-induced recession. We live in the rust belt. The economy here has been awful for decades.

Now we’re looking at facing that all over again.

My partner owns his own retail store. It’s extremely successful for a retail store, going on their 3rd year anniversary with profits in the black. Over 95% of retail stores close their doors in the first 5 years and almost none make profits. He’s a small business owner. He built that.
He’s about to fall into the medicare gap. And without the ACA, he will not be able to afford health insurance.

I run this tiny urban farm. I work hard at it, I love it, it helps massively with my depression and I think few people this will reach would be able to tell me that farming isn’t a respectable job. But I will laugh in your face if you even consider the possibility that it makes enough money for me to afford insurance outside of the ACA. My healthcare is about to be gone. And best of all, the medication that keeps me able to function and could save my life is probably not going to be covered by most insurance any more. People still think birth control is only so people can have lots of sex that offends their religion. Little do they know that it’s probably slowly saving my life, not just from cripplingly painful cycles that prevent me from working normal jobs… But also from the genetically-inherited uterine fibroids that nearly killed my oldest sister and were probably inherited from my mother. Did you know that, if left untreated, uterine fibroids can develop into uterine cancer? Did you know that birth control prevents uterine fibroids for 1/10th the cost of a single surgery to treat them even before the become cancerous? Two and two fit so nicely together here if you care to look at facts.

So yes, when I say that republicans voted to literally end peoples lives today, I was not being hyperbolic. I was being frank. My mom would be alive today if healthcare reform went through in the 90’s. I or my partner, hardworking Americans, may not be alive someday because of the vote that just took place. Sorry if that’s too much of a burden on your taxes. I’m sure you needed that fat holiday bonus more than I needed my life. It’s cool.

And if you voted republican this past year? Fuck you. If I (or any of the 30 million other people insured the the ACA) die in the next four years, it is probably your fault.

 

Ok, you can pull your head out of the sand now. We’re back to farming.

FARMING AHOY.

So instead I’m trying to immerse myself in the potential spring hold for my homestead… Despite the fear and the potential for my untimely demise, I want to try to look forward to spring. This year we’re placing a new seed order. We grow heirloom organics, which allows us to save seeds from each plant each year. Still, not everything grows correctly and genetic diversity is important in plants AND animals, so we like to bring in new seeds.
We buy from high Mowing Seeds, and we’re not paid to say nice things about them. I just happen to like their seeds, prices, and polite customer service.

Here’s a list of what we’re getting and why.

Thyme
Every year we try to grow a new herb. I used a lot of thyme this year as it’s great on, well, everything? So we thought we’d give it a shot.

Bellstar tomato
This year the tomatoes did great, but they had some problems. We grew amish paste and san marzino. The amish paste did not produce well. The san marzino were nice, but they came in haphazardly, only allowing me to put away several jars of tomato sauce despite huge numbers of tomatoes growing. They just all ripened at different times, so we’d have 10 tomatoes here and 15 there, all year. They were also surprisingly watery for paste tomatoes and the plants were VERY thin and spindly, they needed trellises badly. Hopefully this variety will provide what we need a bit better.

NuMex Joe Anaheim and Early Jalapeno Hot Pepper
We grew an anaheim and a jalapeno from plants we bought at the garden center this year and they did very well. I use a lot of hot peppers and if we get these to grow and the tomatoes, it means jars of salsa!

Purple Beauty Bell Pepper
I have never gotten a bell pepper to live in my lawn. So I am kind of just grasping at straws here and hoping that because this pepper looks so different it might grow. Eh?

Kentucky Wonder (green beans)
These did great for us this year, huge plants, 8′ tall. We’re getting them because we liked them so much we want more of them! We have seeds saved from this year and last, but we’d like to establish a little more diversity in our genetics and we’d also like to grow LOTS of them this year!

Red Russian Kale
This is another favorite. It grows very well in our cold climate and has a nice flavor. But saving seeds is tough and often the plant grows as a biennial. So we haven’t saved seeds from this yet. I still had seeds, but they were a couple years old and I gave them away as part of a Yule gift to a fellow gardener.

Painted Mountain Corn
We’ve tried growing corn for three years now to no success. We’ve been trying to grow Roy Calais flint corn, but since it hasn’t done well, we decided to try a new kind. Fingers crossed this does better. We want a flint corn for cornmeal, grits and animal feed.

Cascadia Peas
We’ve had sub-par results with out peas as well. Often they get really spindly and sometimes they grow too tall for our pea trellises. Cascadia are a dwarf variety where the pods stay big but the plants are small. I hope they do better than our other ones.

Costata Romanesco zucchini
I used the last of these seeds this year, to great success! The biggest of these reached 7lbs 10oz this year and wasn’t fully grown. Wow! But because they never grew all the way, we couldn’t save seeds. Since they did so well… Again! Again!

Table Queen Acorn Squash
Winter squash has consistently done great up here. We’ve had acorn squash seeds volunteer out of our compost in past years and this year we had great success with a desperate last-second planting of Buttercup squash that had germinated in their seed packet mid-summer. This year we’re trying acorn squash deliberately and we’re hoping for equally good results.

De Cicco Broccoli
This is the vegetable that’s new to our garden this year. We’ve had some half-hearted attempts to grow brassicas but never tried very hard and never had them grow more than a few leaves before being mowed down by plants. Every year we try to add a new vegetable to our garden, and this year broccoli is it!

Flowers
We’re gonna try to grow some flowers this year. Echinacea, butterfly mixes, chamomile, sunflowers. Maybe we’ll get some pretty (and useful) flower this year for… Our…

 

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEES

I received a cedar warre bee hive for my birthday this year from my extra-generous MIL! Which means BEEEEEEEEES! I am extremely excited to have bees! We’re looking for our nuc right now and I am just floored and thrilled.

Despite the world being pretty dark for me (and most everyone I love) right now, I’m excited for the weather breaking and it being spring. Lots of exciting things will be happening and I am looking forward to it.

Wish me luck!

Stickin’ it Where The Sun Don’t Shine! Homestead shade gardening

Well there it is. My 24/7 shade line, as illustrated by 3 inches of snow on a 60* day. Are more words really needed to illustrate how shady it is? Straight as a ruler down my fence line, that is where I would stick the proverbial it, if told to stick it where the sun don’t shine. In this case I have decided that “it” is a shade garden. I have a compost pile in this shade line that I am about to move (if it ever thaws!?) and it will be a nutrient-rich locale. Vegetables don’t grow well there, you see. Too much shade. So of course a shade garden is all there is to be done. And on a homestead, all deliberate plantings should be at least a little bit useful, right?

So in this case, I have decided that my shade garden will also be a BEE garden. Because I don’t have enough bees in my lawn, clinging to dead flowering shrubs at the end of fall and stinging me as I try to pull dead stalks… But I digress. Bees are important. Not just honey bees, but all bees. Native non-honey bees need food and are Important too. And they’re dying. http://www.beesfree.biz/CCD
Don’t think bees are important? Consider this handy list;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crop_plants_pollinated_by_bees
Wave goodbye to all those plants if bees disappear. Further more, looking at this list we see many major sources of FEED for LIVESTOCK on the list, including almost all clovers, vetch, alfalfa, safflower, sunflower, cow peas, turnips and beets. Not only are you waving goodbye to your favorite things like almost every fruit and nut, your chocolate supply (cocoa and oil palms), canola oil (rapeseed) and coconut oil, and your morning coffee… But you are also saying goodbye to the cotton and flax that produces the very clothing you wear. So not only do bees effect our “vegetable” supply, they also effect our meat, our clothing, our couches, our curtains, our cooking oils, our luxuries, our very way of getting up every day. Did you have an ordinary morning today? You have a bee to thank for it.

So a bee garden it is. Since it’s not feeding me it has to be low maintenance (perennials please!) and the plants need to stick it out through cold and shade. But, of course, flowers don’t really “thrive” in the shade very much so one has to be choosy. I’ve made a few choices of my own!

Astilbe

These shrub-like flowers are partial to full shade and very bee-friendly! They produce lots and lots of beautiful cones of flowers, over winter in cold as low zone 4 and are nice and fluffy! Getting up to 2′, this is a really robust plant that SHOULD do well in my area. I found some started plants at Costco of all places and bought them. They’re now sitting sadly in their bags for their first day of fresh air, sunshine and a bit of water. I have high hopes for these plants as one of the higher rated plants for bees and butterflies!

Sad looking, huh? I sure hope they’ll perk up!

Hardy Geranium

These pretty flowers are hardy geraniums. The come in several different colors but a very nice lady said she’d send me some of THESE ones as a gift! These are lower shrubby flowers that bloom profusely. They make a nice ground cover and are known for choking out weeds. They produce a LOT of flowers and can bloom from early spring right through the fall. If these particular ones fail, I will find some more suited to my climate. The huge number of dispersed blooms should make the bees pretty happy!

Hostas

Hostas are a cold-hardy shade tolerant plant that produces flower high up, above all the rest. These can only be grown behind my fence as deer and rabbits LOVE them! These are human-edible and rabbit edible plants and as such as very useful in a shade garden, besides providing some great pollen and flowers especially suited to attracting native bees! My mother grows tons of these… And if I can’t get some of hers they are very inexpensive at the local garden centers!

Bluebells

The common bluebell is a cold (zone 5-7) and shade hardy bulb plant that is a nectar and pollen powerhouse. Since they don’t grow well in heavy soils, a bit of sandy garden soil and wood chips will be worked into the bed as I plant it, further down in the clay. This worked surprisingly will in my double dug beds and the clay in those is still loose and easy to move. Bluebells have some minor medicinal properties, but are mostly there for the bees! Their beautiful flowers attract especially Bumblebees, a native species of bee.

And lastly I’ll be trying to throw in some Dandelions! These plants DO grow in the shade, although rarely blooming. They are one of my favorite plants and the huge leaves the shade dandelions produce makes them worth considering for a shade garden. If some of them bloom, even better as dandelions are well renowned for their huge amount of pollen that can dye your nose orange with one little sniff! They have deep taproots that can help break up the soil in the area. If I can get them to grow we’ll also see about putting in some wild carrots! I will also be trying to grow some henbit deadnettle there, a low to the ground min-family weed I have found a few times on my property. Being edible, chicken edible, rabbit edible and one of the first flowers of spring… It seems like the right call to grow!

There are many other good shade flowers even for bees, such as Foxglove, or my favorite, Lilly of the Valley. However, these plants are extremely toxic, and I have two dogs and the occasional roaming chickens or rabbit, having those plants actively on my property is a liability to the homestead. I may try to plant some and see them grow OUTSIDE of my fence line.

So there’s the dirt on my bee garden I will be implementing as soon as I get that darn compost moved! I hope you find some plants to benefit bees and your homestead that you, too, can shove where the sun don’t shine!

Happy gardening!

Bee Garden

So I have been wanting to keep bees for some time. And every time I speak of this to anyone they think I am crazy. Completely nutsy. You see, I am terrified of bees and have been my whole life. But I love honey and so I have been working hard at getting used to bees so I can keep a beehive. Just a small one that I can harvest one pint of honey from each year, more on good years to give as Christmas gifts or some such.

Recently we have these tiny white daisy-like flowers all over these shrubby plants in my back yard. I don’t mow my back yard or weed much because I want to know and lean about all of the native plants that are growing. These little shrubby things, covered in tiny, dime to quarter sized white flowers, are bee heaven. They are always COVERED in dozens of tiny bumble bees and lots of native, wild honey bees as well. And because I like the idea of feeding and encouraging local pollinators, I have had to work right through them, moving chicken tractors, dishing up feed and delivering water as the swarm around me.

The honey bee in this shot is very hard to see, but it was the best picture I could get with my phone.

All in all this has made me feel much more confident of having a hive of my own. And I have been having this issue of what to do with the whole entirety of my front lawn. That’s over 1000 square feet of space I just haven’t been using because of deer, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, etc. that needs to be mowed every few weeks. Bleh.

So I have decided to plant a bee garden. Over my entire front lawn. The front lawn will be nothing but flowers both beautiful and useful so I will both feed my bees and never have to mow again. I will even be employing clover as a cover crop and native plants so that I won’t have to weed!

The bee garden will be made up of lots of flowers good for bees and butterflies, but many of which may be toxic to other wildlife, such as the local posse of deer that live across the street. In this way the animals SHOULD avoid my lawn in general (seeing as there’s things like delicious daylilies just across the street) and the toxic plants have a chance of protecting the less toxic plants. The result? My front lawn space has a chance of being useful!

My current bee garden list looks like this;

Bearded Iris
Crocus Savitus (Saffron)
Rosemary
Oregano
Sunflowers
Bee Balm
Thyme
Smooth Aster
Shasta Daisy
Goldenrod
Deadnettle
Lonicera caerulea (Blue berried honeysuckle)
Evergreen Azaleas
Goldenseal
Echinachea
Chamomile

Many of these plants have some sort of use on the homestead or are edible. Goldenrod, Deadnettle, Echinachea, chamomile, honeysuckle… All very tasty! Goldenseal is a powerful herbal medicine. Sunflower seeds are an amazing snack for my chickens! Bee balm is a unique spice sometimes used like Oregano. Bearded irises are some of my favorite smelling flowers. My hope is to get some good spices out of my front lawn, some medicinal herbs, some edible seeds, and maybe even some Honeysuckle berries for jams! All the while feeding local bee populations and making my front lawn thick with the sticky sweet smell of flowers.

My bee garden will take some serious tweaking to get flowers blooming in every season all the time, but it will get there! I will work on pairing up plants that do well together and making sure that when one plant dies out, another can take it’s place!

If you have any perennial suggestions of flower, shrubs, bushes or ground cover for my bee garden I’d love to hear them!

In the meantime… It’s time to start finding garden bed edging!