Saturday, June 28, 2008

You say tomato . . .

Here it is, the first full size, red ripe Brandywine tomato!  It is sitting on a pile of fingerling potatoes, and beside a jar of fresh mint sun tea.  The mint came from the beautiful mint bed pictured here.  Mint is such a great herb: it takes absolutely no care of any kind, and comes back year after year, bigger and better each time.   To me there is no better summertime drink than fresh mint steeped in the sun, with a touch of honey and lemon, poured over ice.  This mint bed came from a single spring of mint from a grocery store pack two years ago.  Mint sprigs root very easily; nab a piece from a friend's yard or from the store, and keep it in moist sand or other growing media until it takes root.  Keep it watered the first few months in the yard, and Ta Da! mint bed.

The birds already have pecked off all but two of the very few tiny apples we had on the trees.  The pears, however, which were thinned a few weeks back, are going great guns.  The squash has powdery mildew (white powder all over the tops of the leaves), and is starting to show some wear and tear.  It seems the problems with production (half developed squash starting to dry out and shrink from the blossom end) did stem from too little water to keep up with the exceptional heat and drought.  I doubt the plants will last more than a week or two more at the very most.  We have eaten quite a bit of squash, and I even got some in the freezer, so I guess I can let them go.  I need to decide what to put in their place, and when.

Finally, Bunnie, the biggest of the baby chickens, is starting to develop slightly curled, iridescent tail feathers.  I can no longer tell myself that this may be a female (pullet), but need to finally accept she is a he.  Now it's time to find him a new home.  We aren't holding out too much hope for Expresso either, but I can tell myself that this little one is a she, at least for another week.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Scale insects; ornamentals; zebras

They are so tiny I couldn't get a photo, but my tangerine tree is infested with scale insects.  The first sign was ants traveling up the tree over a week ago.  Despite knowing better, I ignored that, thinking that maybe there were just some aphids in the young leaves.  Then I noticed a few 1/2 inch long, 1/4 inch wide, white, fluffy scale insects near the base of the tree.  They were still soft and juicy when I squished them over the weekend, so I figured they had not yet laid eggs and I was safe.  (Sorry that in my zeal to get them out of the tree I forgot to take a photo first.)  But today I noticed more ants traveling throughout the tree, and on closer inspection found multiple scales on the limbs, petioles and leaves.  These were a different type, and may already be too far along in their life cycle (no longer young crawlers, but stuck down to the leaf with a hard, protective shell over them) to kill easily.  In hope not, and I sprayed the tree with horticulture oil in an effort to control them.  I will spray again in 10 days, and will be upset if my lack of attention means that my prize tree has a scale infestation that is beyond the treatment stage!   

Ornamentals are just amazing right now, especially the perennial flowers.  Here is a little sample of Mexican petunia (Rubelia brittoniana) and tickseed (Coreopsis).  Note that the Mexican petunia has been put on the invasive plant list in Florida, and may spread readily and take over a bed here in coastal North Carolina.  I want it to fill in this bed, but will cut off the seed pods before they mature to prevent it's spread by seed.  Finally, look at this zebra tomato.  The plant was a gift, and the name on the tag has washed off with the rain, but this tomato plant is almost an ornamental.   It is covered with these striped beauties.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Today, in color

I was asked today why people garden, why they keep chickens.  I tried to explain what these things do for the soul, but it is something that isn't easy to explain.  But when I looked at the colors that I came home to in just the first 30 minutes at the end of my work day today, I knew they would tell the story of why we need to grow vegetables and flowers, to raise chickens and bees.  All this, just waiting for me in the backyard:  The zucchini plots it's escape from the raised bed, the garden and coop yield eggs, squash and herbs for dinner and a bouquet for the table, the one huge fig that made it from the early crop sports a rosy hue, and the big girls aren't so sure about the new kids in the coop block.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Honey harvest, squash problems

When I combined the weak hive with the swarm hive a few weeks ago, I created a towering megahive with 5 brood chambers and 3 honey supers. This hive was taller than me, and much more than the bees could police. To help remedy this situation, on Sunday we removed the uppermost medium (brood) box, which was chock full of capped honey. After extracting, we ended up with 25 pounds of beautiful amber honey. This appeared to include some honey from nectar collected last fall and some new honey from this spring. It is delicious. The bees seemed to be working hard, but I did not go all the way down into the bottom of the brood chamber to look for the queen or new brood. For now we will just keep our fingers crossed.

Although the photo of the squash plant with blossoms and the interplanted flat leaf parsley and thai basil looks lovely, in reality I am having a real problem with my squash. They begin to develop beautifully, start to get some good size on them, and then the front half of the fruit begins to dry out and shrivel. The stalk end continues to enlarge and grow perfectly, but the squash as a whole goes downhill. This does not look like blossom end rot, as the squash gets pretty good sized before it begins to shrivel, and the end does not rot, it just dessicates. Water is not an issue, as the plants are well watered and have not wilted at any point. So far I have lost most of my squash to this (probably 19 yellow squash and 12 zucchini). I will let you know what I learn about this problem.

Many of my perennial flowers are in full bloom now, including this hardy hibiscus. The deep red flowers each bloom for only one day, but are the size of dinner plates. The blooms open a few at a time over a few weeks. These plants can tolerate damp feet, and appear happy in my sometimes soggy front bed. The die back completely in the winter, but spring up each summer with larger, thicker stalks and more flowers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Summer: birds, bees and fruit

I was away for a week, and when I got home my garden had exploded in the near 100 degree heat. Thank heavens my chicken-sitter friend took it upon herself to water everything. Tomatoes are really putting on size now. The only problem is that I cannot tell one type from the other, as they are all tangled together in one bed.

The bees seem to be doing fairly well, but I have not opened the hives to determine the final outcome of the difficult merger. (See that bee on the gaura flower? That bush was humming with bees at 7:00 am this morning.) If the weather is not too extreme this weekend I may take a peek at the hives and decide if any spring honey can be harvested. I hope so, as I am down to my last jar from last season.

Although the young chickens have been panting in this heat, the older hens are doing quite well in their new pen. They will do even better when the kiwi vines provide more shade. For now I think I will pile some brush on top of the arbor as a temporary fix. Friends who were over yesterday commented on how beautiful the ladies were, so I decided to include a photo of them as well. Finally, that amazing flower is from a button bush, which grows in wet areas. It is in my front, very wet bed, along with Sabal minor palms, native iris, and others.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Time for new crops; Taking a bad situation and making it worse

The first photo is of my white guara (whirling butterfly) blooming behind the rosemary.  Everything is so beautiful this time of year!  The vegetables are shifting from the spring crops to summer crops, and I am ready.  Look at the pile of sugar snap pea vines I pulled off the arbor this weekend!  There was so much great organic matter there that I didn't want it to go to waste, so I have now used the spent vines to mulch under a Rugosa rose.  The last harvest from those spring pea vines was mixed with the first harvest from the fingerling potatoes for Saturday's lunch.  I finished off this dish as I was taught while living in Pennsylvania: steam them together in just a little water, and when the water evaporates, add butter, cream and black pepper, then eat it with a spoon.  Oh my.   Finally, I guess you are wondering what today's title means.  Well, Dolly's hive just wasn't acting right this week, so I decided to go in and take a look.  I thought the problem was that they had filled most of the brood space with honey and so had nowhere to go with new eggs.  I went out to the hive all prepared to deal with that:  I had new frames of wax to add to replace frames of honey that might be blocking brood.  What I found was much worse.  No eggs.  The only brood was drone (male bee) brood.  A practically empty brood chamber.  Either the new, post-swarm queen never got well mated and was laying all drone eggs, or the queen was eaten by a bird or came to some other bad end, leaving a colony with a laying worker (a really, really, bad thing).  So, its 85 degrees, I have a big hive full of bees wide open, there are thousands of bees in the air, and I have to decide what to do.  I decided to combine this hive with the existing new hive from an earlier swarm.   They have brood and a good queen, but few workers and little honey.  The hive I have opened has tons of workers and honey, but no queen or brood.  It seemed like a match made in heaven, so I put a sheet of newspaper over the open top of the little swarm hive, cut two slits in the paper, then placed all the boxes from the poor hive on top.  The idea is that it will take a couple of days for the bees to eat through the newspaper, and by then they have accepted one another.  In reality, about two hours later, there was a war going on at the front door of the newly combined hive.  Hundreds of bees are now dead in the grass in front of the hive, and I don't know who survived.  Did they kill the good queen of the swarm hive, or did she survive?  Was there a laying worker, and will she now take over the combined hive and produce only drones?  Only time will tell.  On Sunday I started with one good hive and one suffering hive.  Did I manage to destroy them both?