Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hilda's no longer a bald chicken

You may recall that we found a new home for our rooster, Expresso, a few months back. One reason he was rehomed was that he was just a little too rough with our hens, well, with our one redhead hen, Hilda. His attentions left her fully bald and with patches of missing feathers behind each wing joint. I became concerned when these spots remained bald, even weeks after Expresso was gone. One of our chicken experts at the University told me that she may also be in a spring molt (when chickens loose their feathers seasonally), so I decided not to worry. Sure enough, she did loose a few more feathers on her chest . . . so moult was the verdict. But, time went by and now she had multiple bald spots and no sign of new feather growth.

At the same time, I noticed that our egg shells were getting thin for all the birds but the youngster, Lena. A light bulb went off in my head. Hilda and Pauline and Lousie are now over a year old. They have used up the calcium reserves they were born with, and commercial chicken feed and scratch grains don't supply the calcuim they need. So we purchased a bag of crushed oyster shells and began sprinking a spoon onto their daily food. Two weeks have passed, and look at the new feathers coming out on Hilda's head and chest! I will never know for sure, but I think what little calcium she had left was going to eggs, with none left to help form her new feathers. In any event, it appears she soon will be her beautiful self again, with no need to call the hair club for hens.

The other photo shows the ladies rushing for cracked or bird damaged tomatoes from the garden. They love them!

Monday, June 22, 2009

This is why

If you ever wonder why we weed and sweat and chase bugs, just look at one day's harvest from the vegetable garden in June, or the dinner plate sized flowers from a perennial hibiscus.

Friday, June 19, 2009

I hate squash borers, love tomatoes and basil

Well, here you see the results of squash borers on my beautiful Italian zucchini.  They bore into the stem, leaving behind wet, brown frass (excrement), and destroying the plants vascular system.  If you are not vigilant (I was not), you will first notice that the plant has wilted.  At that point it is too late.  The key to control is to stop the borer from entering in the first place, or to remove them when they are tiny and before they do much damage.  Stagger plantings so you always have new plants coming along to replace ones that are infected.  Get rid of all squash vine residue to break the life cycle.  Cover vine "joints" with soil to get multiple rooting sites for one plant.  Hope you have better luck than I did!

This zucchini, from a different vine, shows how moisture at early development, followed by really dry times, followed by moisture, affects the shape of the final squash. 

Finally, check out this first of the season beautiful salad of two kinds of cherry tomato, lots of basil, and olive oil.  Too good to be true.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What do you get when you soak a log? Naming a queen

I came across my stack of shitake logs last week, and noticed that they were very, very dry.  In hopes that I could revive them, I filled a rain barrel half way, then dropped in the logs and left them to soak for about 36 hours.  I pulled them out, and three days later: presto!  Shitake mushrooms for dinner.  They were the most beautiful I have seen, and went very well stir fried with the very, very last of the sugar snap peas.  I expect a few more this week, then will soak the logs again in the fall to try and force another flush of growth.  

By this past weekend hive number three, the new swarm hive, was established and doing well.  It clearly was time to name the queen.  You may recall that the first two hive queens were named for country music stars (Loretta and Dolly), a reflection of their humble beginnings near the ground on a low bush in a trailer park.  Unable to come up with another appealing country music star, and noting that this new swarm had not worked its way up in the same manner anyway, I passed the naming torch on to my spouse.  

Our new queen is now named "Grace."  No, it is not as calm and meaningful as you think.  It's for Grace Slick.  We have moved on to rock and roll.  So now Loretta, Dolly and Grace labor on in the back yard, creating what I hope will be gallons of beautiful honey to harvest mid-month.  On a final note:  green beans are ready to pick this week!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bees and bulblets

On Saturday I was down to about 2 tablespoons of honey from last season.  Luckily, our three hives of bees have been working so hard this spring. (I just realized I have not named the new hive queen!)  Not only did I need some honey, the masses of bees that could not fit in the front door of Dolly's hive at night told me that I better get a third brood box on there, and soon.  So I got suited up, lit the smoker, and headed out to the bee yard with a medium, 8 frame box to add to Dolly for brood, and the only shallow, honey super frames I had: 4.  I brought a plastic container big enough to hold some loose honey frames, and good intentions to gather a full super or two of honey, plus 4 frames from other supers.  How soon we forget how to do even basic things!  You would think it had been 10 seasons rather than one since I last harvested honey.  

In Loretta's hive I found one super full of capped honey, plus more in the other supers.  Turned around to set them on the ground, only to remember that we had removed the cinderblock pad temporarily, as ants had nested in the dry spot underneath.  Peaked roof on this hive, so could not set it there.  Lets just say that I have reinforced the knowledge that it is a BAD idea to set a beehive super, covered in sticky propolis, down on the pine needle covered ground.  Oh, and you know what I forgot was going to be inside the honey super?  Thousands of bees . . . who knew??? (Geez, where was my head?)  I had forgotten to bring out the bee escapes necessary to start the process of getting the bees out of the hives.  Anyway, you now have the picture of what a seamless, well planned day it was in the hives.

Bottom line?  Dolly's hive has a whole new brood box to fill, I have 4 frames of capped honey, 2 from Dolly and 2 from Loretta, and each of them has two empty frames of wax to work.  The mostly full supers are on the top of the super pile for each hive now, and the more empty supers on the bottom.  Those 4 frames gave us just under a gallon of the most beautiful, lemon yellow, pale, spicy honey ever seen.  And I bought myself a week or two to actually prepare for a true honey harvest.     Here you see photos of two frames in the extractor, and fresh, new honey running out into the filter and bucket.  You also see a new friend who came to help clean out the spout after harvest.

In the garden, the tomatoes are really growing, and the leeks, though still small, started to go to seed.  Many of them were already too tough to use, but some were still tender enough for cooking.  Look at the tiny bulblets found at the base of one leek.  These have been planted, and a couple of leeks left in the ground to see if they will form more bulblets for a late summer planting.  Apparently spring is not the right time to plant leeks here.