Gardening

Gardening Made Easy with Chicken Power

I weeded and tilled (by hand) one end of the vegetable garden and planted some fall crops last Saturday. On Sunday, Hubby and I made a small mobile chicken pen out of some left-over cattle panels and chicken wire. We placed this over the other end of the vegetable garden (after first removing tomato and pepper plants) and put two of the chickens in it. They had a great time eating fresh basil and all the bugs they could find until Houdini (the kitten that adopted us) dug under one of the panels in an effort to join her friends!

Speedy lives up to her name and refuses to be picked up, so she doesn’t get to play in the garden. She’s not happy being alone in the chicken run either, so we get to hear a whole range of chicken sounds from her on garden-vacation days. Still, all three chickens must have read my last blog because they started laying eggs the day after I posted it and we have three eggs most days.

I moved the pen over four feet today (again after removing plants chickens shouldn’t eat) and weeded and seeded. It was so much easier this time! The chickens had loosened up the top 8 inches of soil and eradicated most of the weeds and other plants. It’s hard to get “fluffy” Georgia soil with all our clay, but the that’s the best description I can give for that little piece of garden today. The chickens have now tilled another 6 x 6 square for me, and I’ll plant some more carrots, spinach, and lettuce next weekend.

Another thing that is making gardening easier is a tool called the Hooke ‘n Crooke. My brother-in-law told Hubby about it, so Hubby bought one for me. I was skeptical about it at first because BIL has neat, weed-free rows and I underplanted my tomatoes and peppers with basil to control weeds. Now that I’ve removed the tomatoes, I’ve really had the space to try the Hooke ‘n Crooke and love the multiple ways in which I can use it. I dug out plant roots, broke up the soil that the chickens couldn’t get to, trenched rows for my seeds and then covered the seeds — all with one tool and without bending over.

We’ve really enjoyed all the fresh vegetables this summer and are looking forward to our first attempt at growing a fall/winter crop. We are considering adding a hoop house and an hydroponic system eventually, but I know I can grow carrots in the garden and everything else is a bonus if it works out!

Canning · Cooking · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

At least the chickens are happy…..

Tomato Soup

This seems like an awfully small amount of soup for all the deseeding, chopping, cooking, pureeing, and dirty dishes, but the chickens are ecstatic about the bowl of seeds they received this morning. Now the soup does taste good and nowhere near as sweet as canned soup (how much sugar do they add anyway?), and it’s made from tomatoes and basil from my garden, but it’s barely enough for me, never mind both of us! I guess I’ll need at least 6 pounds of tomatoes next time — and I need a better mixture of tomato plants next year so that I have some large tomatoes!

Last week’s batches of butternut squash soup and leek-and-potato soup were much more satisfying with about the same amount of time yielding multiple jars of each. The squash is from my brother-on-law’s garden and the leeks from the grocery store. I also have canned and frozen squash for winter, so we’ll have some healthy options for quite some time.

The summer garden seems to be fading, and my thoughts are turning to fall and winter crops. Carrots worked well last year, and I’m going to add spinach and lettuce. I remember spiders crawling our of spinach that a friend in Germany gave me, and I remember small slugs on the lettuce on school lunches, but I’m trying hard to not let my mind go there! We’re setting up an outside sink to wash veggies before they come inside, so that should solve some of the problems.

We did finally get to harvest honey in late July. We have a lot less than last year, but that seems to be a problem across Georgia and even my friend’s hives in England. We strained our honey into three buckets and each tasted very different: one was similar to last year’s, one had a spicy undertone, and the other was a little lemony. They are all mixed together in the keg right now and we’ll start bottling soon. The pollen and nectar dearths are definitely on, but the bees are still doing well. We are supplemental feeding to build their strength up before the fall nectar flow and hope to go into winter with strong hives full of natural resources.

The chickens may be happy with all the tomato, squash, and melon seeds they are getting, but they are not happy enough to give us any eggs yet! They are checking out the nesting boxes and have started kicking the fake eggs out, so I guess that’s progress. Their combs and wattles are red, and they are making even more noise than usual, so all the signs are there, just no eggs….. As they are hiding the fake eggs from me, I don’t even have the millisecond of excitement from seeing them twice a day before realizing what they are. At least I no longer get excited over seeing the golf balls!

Houdini, the kitten that adopted us and escapes cages, is finally letting us touch her so long as food is involved. She happily plays with both dogs, but keeps her distance from the other cats. The dogs love playing together, but remain a little jealous when it comes to sharing their people with each other. Belle is learning the house rules, but still just has to chew on a wooden spoon or something to remind us that puppies are impulsive.

Hubby is already back at work, albeit closer to home, and I will soon have to adjust to not spending all my days on the farm. Equal parts of me look forward to seeing my students again and long to just stay home with the critters and the garden. My body has been getting plenty of exercise, but it will be good for my brain to start doing some mental gymnastics again! Life is good on the farm, but I do love my job….

Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

Stihl Garden Pruner

Hubby finally found a “chainsaw” that is just right for me – a Stihl GTA 26 garden pruner! It’s a light-weight, battery-operated hand pruner that is capable of cutting down saplings and trimming tree limbs. I cleared part of the view of the creek with it yesterday afternoon, and we’ve been using a variety of tools to selectively cut trees between our planned house and the creek today.

Not only do we have a better view of the creek, we’ve unearthed another three sourwood trees. Sourwoods need adequate sunshine to bloom, so trimming non-nectar trees that are shading them will help us with our honey production next year. Our guide is that if we can put our thumb and forefinger around a sapling, it needs to go because it’s simply taking resources from the trees around it without much of a chance of ever being a strong tree in its own right. Of course, we’re also battling muscadine vine and blackberry briars while keeping a close watch for snakes, so it’s not exactly fun. It is, however, very satisfying to see instant progress.

After yesterday’s workout with the mini-saw, I decided to rest my muscles this morning and made a new batch of itch-soother salve. I ran out of salve last week, but had to wait for the oil-herb infusion to be ready for a new batch. It’s fairly quick and easy to make. Some of my first batch was a little grainy in texture, so I used the immersion blender this time once the beeswax melted. Now I just have to wait for my next bee sting to see if it’s as effective as the first batch! I also need to figure out how much each jar costs me to make as I originally spent $40 for the herbs that go in it.

Once I finished the salve and the clean-up, I couldn’t resist heading back out into the woods where I could hear Hubby with his chainsaw! Right now, I’m taking a break from the heat and waiting for the pruner’s battery to recharge, but I anticipate being back at work in just a few minutes.

Time to hydrate and head back outside before the afternoon thunderstorms move in!

Chickens · Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

All Cooped Up

Like the rest of the world, we are self-isolating but lucky to be living less cooped up than our friends who live in apartments.    We both continue to teach, but from a distance.  I’m finally getting into a routine and after a round of parent emails, students have been busy making up work today!

But tomorrow is Saturday.   Tomorrow we start building the chicken coop.   But first, a greenhouse update from Hubby:

Greenhouse is back up and running after a year with improvements that should extend its life and usability. Tried to go cheap last year and used standard 6 mil poly plastic. Found it worked great for about 120 days. Then it totally disintegrated due to UV. This year I used real greenhouse poly which is UV protected and suppose to last 5 years. I also added a solar powered vent opener and “wiggle wire” fasteners around the bottom to keep the poly tight. ‘Maters already growing.

Cattle panel greenhouseEven though the plastic turned brittle and tore easily by summer, the cattle panel greenhouse ended up being more energy efficient than our old pre-fab greenhouse.  The gravel floor seems to help retain heat.   We didn’t have many plants to overwinter this year as we got them all in the ground, so we didn’t need the greenhouse until spring planting time.  I was going to plant fewer tomatoes and peppers this year, but with the way things are going right now have decided that more is better.    We’d already planned to add more raised beds and we had the cinder-blocks delivered last week.  The delivery man from Taylor-Foster Hardware and Hubby found it odd to not shake hands, but we are all practicing safe distancing.

Hubby also added an automatic window to the greenhouse.  We may add one to the front next time around, but this year it’s easy enough to open the door when it’s hot and close it in the evenings, especially as we go up to the RV to visit our chicks in their temporary home whenever we need a computer break.

Because we have so much going on, we’d decided to wait until next year to get chickens.  Then schools closed for a week, then two weeks, then……     So, we now have 3 chicks in the RV and a friend has offered up 2 laying hens as soon as we have the coop built.   Maggie is fascinated by the chicks and they are now used to having big brown doggie eyes staring at them.   Just like the house site, we’ve changed our minds more times than we can count as to where to place the coop but have decided to place it close to the greenhouse with the two plastic compost bins between the two.

Meanwhile, a string of too warm days and 23 degree nights took its toll on our bees, but they are recovering.   We hope we won’t have another hard freeze.   Even if we do, the queens are laying like crazy and every hive is crowded now, so they’d survive.   Very few bees are visiting syrup feeders this week, so they must be finding real nectar out there somewhere.   We have the first blackberry and clover blossoms, but I haven’t seen bees on either yet.

We sincerely hope that all our readers remain healthy.   These are worrying times, and I feel so blessed to have 20 acres of stress relief right outside our door.   Stay safe.  Stay healthy.   Our thoughts are with you.

 

 

 

Apiary · Bees · Gardening · Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

The Colors (and tasks) of Fall

20191109_Grass
New grass and clover planting with expanded blueberry patch behind – Fall 2019

Plants

The weekend before the drought ended, I turned the soil in the remaining compacted section of the timber company’s loading deck and we sowed a mixture of annual rye, fescue, and White Dutch Clover.  The rains came, and we have lush green grass with an under-story of clover over a few acres of recently cleared land as well as on the deck.  More importantly,  we have eliminated the erosion problem that has plagued us for almost 5 years now.    Oh – and by cleared land, I mean Hubby pushed back some more of the undergrowth between trees so that we could have more room for clover and fewer thorny plants.

We lost one of the magnolia trees planted by the gate in the drought, so when I’ve finished my coffee and this blog, we’re going to plant some camellias and gardenias on that side of the gate so that we have evergreen plants of a manageable size that are beautiful in spring and summer.   I was able to bring some gardenia cuttings from South Carolina, but was unable to get any cuttings from the camellia plants to take root.   By the time we finish that, it will be warm enough to continue getting the bees ready for next week’s cold snap.

20191110 FeedersBees

We constantly had problems with leaky lids (mainly when I put the lids on) when we used bucket feeders, so we’re trying open feeding with our internal feeders right now.  The hives I checked yesterday have a good deal of nectar, but very little bee bread.   We put the pollen feeder back out a few days ago and the bees are hitting it almost as hard as the syrup feeders.   The pollen feeder was a great success during the summer dearth and it was easy to clean up once the fall blooms started.

I went out to refill the syrup while it was still cold enough for the bees to be indoors this morning, but it was not cold enough to intimidate the yellow jackets, so we had to add yellow jacket traps around the feeders.   Those guys irritated me non-stop last weekend while I was applying a  non-skid paint to our ice-rink of a deck!

Hubby was at work yesterday, and the small syrup tank was empty, so I rustled up some bravery and started the gas-operated pump to cycle the syrup in the large tank and then fill the small tank.   Well, it didn’t look like anything was happening once I got the motor started, so I pulled the exit hose out to take a look.  It’s a pretty powerful motor, so once the hose was out (and, yes, the syrup was moving), it wouldn’t go back in.  One sugary shower and a change of clothes later, I got syrup transferred over and had to evacuate the area because every yellow jacket and bee from a  5-mile radius appeared to show up for a free lunch!  I suspect I still have syrup in my hair.

A couple of week ago, I read a blog by Ron Misha about winterizing hives.   He mentioned that his father used to hang a piece of burlap out of the hive lid to wick moisture out of the hives in winter.  We have a roll of burlap, so I am trying that.   We’re going from a record-breaking warm October to lows in the 20s this week, and the hives have more nectar than honey in them.   We’ll add candy boards going into December, but this weekend is all about getting the bees through the coming week.   I combined the weakest hives I came across yesterday and shook bees into others that will struggle to stay warm.   I’m still rebuilding strength in my arms and hands after this summer’s neck problems, so I did not get as far yesterday as I would have liked.   However, the good news is that I stopped when I noticed that I was getting clumsy because my hands were tired.   Sometimes it’s good to be stubborn and push through, and other times it’s better to apply common sense.

I was going to write about some great changes to our landscape and our renewed indecision regarding where to place the house, but I think that needs to wait for another time.   It’s way to pretty outside to sit at a computer for hours, especially when bad weather is going to keep us inside for the next few days.  Stay happy.  Stay warm.  And remember that life is good on the farm!

 

Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

Fall Nectar Flow

20190908 Buckwheat
One of three areas planted with buckwheat

While temperatures and humidity remain unbearably high, the fall nectar and pollen flows are on.   We’re lucky to have a spring-fed creek running along two sides of our property as our evening and night-time temperatures are lower than the local average and we have heavy dew every morning.  We’ve had a very dry week, but even areas that we don’t water remain green.  The Goldenrod currently looks unimpressive, but that will change as temperatures drop and we hopefully get some rain.

We planted about two acres of buckwheat a few weeks ago, both to provide nectar and to improve soil in areas that we had not yet tilled and/or had recently cleared.    We water it most days and this crop is the most impressive yet.   On weekends I get to water it early in the morning which helps the nectar flow:  by 9:00 a.m., this morning, the fields sounded like one big, happy bee hive.  We have sunflower seeded in with the buckwheat and will sow white dutch clover once it actually feels like fall.  Buckwheat is used as green manure and will provide nutrients and moisture to the clover seedlings.

20190908 Bee on Buckwheat-COLLAGEI saw pollinators that I don’t remember ever seeing before and quite a few that are regular visitors on the blossoms today.  A large variety of butterflies passes through almost year round, and carpenter bees are a permanent (and unwelcome) fixture.

There are two bugs that I really don’t like right now (well, three, if you count the aphids all of my tomato plants, especially the one that hitch-hiked a ride into the house last weekend):   one is the Tomato Hornworm and the other is the Assassin Fly aka Robber Fly.   Because of my neck/shoulder problem, I’ve been neglecting the tomato plants.  As a result, I caught (?) / picked (?) 20+ hornworms from my tomato plants and ended up throwing away an equal number of munched-on tomatoes.  The biggest worm was larger in length and width than my middle finger and the only way to dispatch them is to drown them in soapy water.  Yuck!    Well, I guess other people could squish them or attack them with garden shears, but I haven’t reached that point yet.  Drowning works quite well, as long as you don’t forget the soap.   (Yep, I forgot one day and they all crawled back out of the bucket.)

20190908 Assassin FlyThe Assassin Flies like to hang out by the lily pond and I find it very upsetting to see one cradling one of my honey bees like a baby only to suck its brains out!   Luckily there are fewer of those around.

But let me end this with good news:  I made it through two work days without taking any pain killers after breakfast two days this week.    The doctor says my left tricep is “still weak as a kitten” and my right isn’t much better, but the nerves are healing.    He’s added some exercises, and of course my Sleeping-Beauty muscles are just as cranky as I am when the alarm clock goes off now that they are being woken up!   Healing isn’t always comfortable, but I am healing, and that’s what’s important.

It’s a beautiful day and life is good on the farm!

 

 

Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

Happy Transplants

dsc00412We have already been amazed by the vibrant colors and the length of bloom time of our daylilies here in the Georgia clay.   This morning, the first Crinum Lily that we transplanted from the city bloomed, and it is also a deeper pink than it ever was back in the sandy soil of Columbia, SC.  (Even deeper than it appears in the picture.)  These transplants are from our son-in-law’s grandmother’s garden, so we are very excited to see them thrive.   We also have some Wedgwood blue bearded iris from her garden, but they did not bloom this year.

dsc00410-collageWe also found the plant-tag scrap book from Columbia, so we should be able to identify the daylilies we bought sixteen years ago.   For the first time, they look like they did in the catalog and are all blooming at the same time.   I periodically throw some Miracle Grow on that bed, but nowhere nearly as often as I did in Columbia, so they must just like Georgia better, even with minimal fertilizer.   May was extremely dry and many of our plants appeared to be hanging on for dear life, but then everything burst into bloom when the June rains started.

dsc00415-1Of all the transplants (other than us), Maggie is certainly the happiest.   As of this morning, we are a two-golf-cart family, so she now has her pick of chauffeur driven vehicles.    When the woodland smells become too enticing, she dismounts and heads off on the trail of a rabbit or deer.   We saw two deer while cruising around after a thunderstorm yesterday, and she ended up showing off her tracking skills while getting incredibly muddy.

The first golf cart has been so very useful for hauling equipment to the bee yard and potting soil to the garden, but it came to the point where it was always being used by one of us when the other needed to haul something.  Our increased productivity made adding to the “fleet” worthwhile, especially with the ever increasing number of hives to manage.  We received fantastic customer service at Golf Rider in Peachtree City for both carts as well as a better price than ones we’d looked at online.

One advantage of the golf cart over the ATV is the accessibility of the bed; not only is it lower, the tailgate can be dropped, so I can lift relatively heavy things on there.   The other advantage is the wonderfully quiet electric motor.   The new cart even has a USB charger, so I can keep the phone going when I record hive inspection information.

Well, afternoon thunderstorms will start rolling in soon, so I am heading off to battle Japanese Beetles and other critters that like our veggies just as much as we do.  We found our first pink tomato this morning, but something else found it first — I don’t plan to let that happen again!