Introducing Our Girls!

After years of studying, six weeks of classes, and several months of waiting, our girls were finally ready to move into their new home. We picked them up from a local bee business in nucs. Nuc is short for nucleus, and it’s a small colony of bees with a queen who has proved she can lay eggs and workers who have accepted her. For absolute beginners, I think it’s a little easier than package bees.

A package of bees contains worker bees along with a queen who has mated, but may not have laid eggs and probably hasn’t been around these worker bees before. To keep the queen safe in a package, she’s in a private cage with a retinue of her own workers. When introduced to an unfamiliar queen, workers may kill the queen. Her cage is blocked with a candy cork, and by the time the worker bees eat the cork, they’re (hopefully) ready to accept their new queen.

Our nucs consisted of five medium height frames in a cardboard box with screens added to keep the bees from escaping. We had an interesting drive home because there was a tiny break in one of the screens on one hive! There were a few bees loose in the car trying to figure out where they were.

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We set the nucs in the shade and got to work getting their new homes ready. Here’s how the hives looked before we started.

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We set the hives up so we could transfer the frames from the nuc as quickly and gently as possible. We started out with two supers (boxes) stacked on each other. The bottom super has 3 frames with wax foundation and will be filled when the five frames from the nuc are added. The second super has 8 frames of foundation, so the bees will be working to fill 11 new frames with comb, start raising brood and storing up honey and bee bread.

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The Chief of Implementation lit the smoker and got lovely cool smoke going to calm the bees. Possibly the smoke confuses them. Beekeepers aren’t sure WHY smoking bees works; they just know that it does work.

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We smoke the first nuc, waited about 30 seconds and then began carefully transferring frames from the cardboard box to the hive.

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Each frame was transferred to the hive with a minimum of disturbance to the bees, being VERY careful not to drop any bees off. There’s always a chance that the queen is one of the bees that falls on the ground, and she’ll most likely die if that happens. Notice that the nuc box is very close to the hive here.

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We also made a point of keeping the frames in EXACTLY the same order they were in in the nuc: no need to traumatize our girls any more than needed.

When the box was empty, there were still a LOT of bees in it, so we left the box close to the hive hoping the bees would find their way to their new home.

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We added a third box to hold a feeder, and fed each colony a gallon of sugar water so the girls could get right to work building comb in their new home.

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The Opposite of S.A.D. and 50 Jars of Jam

I have a dear friend who struggles every winter.  It’s dark; it’s cold; the days are short; the sun isn’t around.  She has Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) and needs extra light in the winter to stay healthy.  I have just the opposite problem:  I hide when there’s too much light. She’s an anthropologist and assures me that my ancestors didn’t LIVE in caves, but sometimes I’m not so sure.

It’s a funny thing for a gardener–I don’t like summer.  I’m passionate about gardening in the fall, weeding, seeding, planting, building.  I plan great empires of gardening during winter, reading books, drawing designs, perusing catalogs, winter sowing and continuing to build and plan.  I start off with a bang every spring, waiting impatiently for last frost dates, buying and planting great volumes of plants and seeds.  Then about June, it gets HOT, and I retreat to my cave in the forest.  Okay, it’s not really a cave; it even has windows that show the sunlight outside.  This year was hotter than the last couple of years, so I was even less motivated to get outside.

But that undefinable moment has come.  Deep inside, I can tell fall is coming.  About two weeks ago, I got an urge to venture outside and view the devastation wrought by summer.  Surprisingly, the yard’s in pretty good shape.  Thank heavens for heavy mulch–where it didn’t keep down weeds, they’re not too hard to pull.  So I’m hard at work, pulling weeds, taking inventory of beds, planning what gets added this fall and spring.

I started the year with plans to eat more sustainably–local, organic produce is the ideal, and it’s particularly nice if it comes from my own yard.  Then I broke my ankle in February, and I’m still walking carefully and putting ice on it in September.  Nothing out of the ordinary for this kind of recovery, but not helpful for gardening on a large scale.

Despite that, I’ve learned a few things.  I didn’t make huge changes, but I’ve made some small changes.  We’re paying more attention to where our food comes from, and trying to make better choices.  We switched to some organic canned goods, tomatoes & peanut butter in particular.  I can make ranch dressing from scratch, so my house has one less jar of scary chemicals in it, and it’s something we eat a LOT of.

After Berry Picking, 25 August 2012

I’ve visited a farmer’s market or two.  I’ve gone berry picking a couple of times.  I’ve made my own flavored vinegars (chive flower & tarragon in the spring, raspberry this weekend.)  I’ve found at least a few things I love to can.  The Onion-Maple Conserve was so popular I need to make another batch.  I tried Pomona’s Universal Pectin, and the whole family loves lower sugar berry jam.  A conventional recipe calls for 6-1/2 cups of sugar for 4 cups of fruit–we’re made multiple batches with 1-1/2 cups of sugar for 4 cups of fruit.  It’s amazingly good, and very easy to make.  We’ve gone berry picking the last two weekends, picked about 30 pounds of blackberries and raspberries and canned about 50 jars of jam.  There’s also a small batch of blackberry cordial steeping.

Berry Jams, 19 August 2012

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Scottish Bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia)

It was a very pleasant surprise to see these in the garden this morning:

Scottish Bluebells, 31 May 2012

I planted seeds of Scottish Bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia) in Spring 2010 after the Chief of Implementation and I finished building the Terraced Driveway Bed.  I also planted white Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and Adonis aestivalis.  The Sweet Alyssum germinated right away and has reseeded and spread each year since.  There was no sign of either the Adonis or the Scottish Bluebells in 2010.  I was pleasantly surprised when the Adonis showed up in 2011, but there was no sign of the Scottish Bluebells.  I assumed they were growing in that great Garden in the Sky.

I noticed them for the very first time while touring the garden today.  Presumably, they just took their time growing.

Dave’s Garden has a lovely article on this plant.  Here’s to unexpected surprises.

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Piled Higher and Deeper

Three cheers for the Chief of Implementation! He built a new compost setup with four bins. Here’s the plan:

Bin 1 (on the right) contains “brown” stuff — high carbon material to balance the composition of the pile.  We’ll stockpile leaves in the fall here and add any leftover straw too.

Bin 2 (second from the right) contains the current year’s compost.  After every two inch layer of food scraps and garden waste are added, we’ll add a six inch layer of brown stuff.  Food scraps and garden waste are considered “green” compost materials that are high in nitrogen.

Bin 3 (second from the left) contains the previous year’s compost.  Once a year, we’ll turn Bin 2 over into Bin 3 and restart in Bin 2.

Bin 4 (on the left) contains compost from two years ago, which is ready to use.  Once a year, before turning Bin 2 over into Bin 3, we’ll turn Bin 3 over into Bin 4.

Here’s a picture of how it looks now.  The trash can is full of wood chips and leaves which are brown material from our old compost setup.  The orange wheel barrow contains the last of our old compost heap ready to be added.

Compost Bins, 31 May 2012

No glamorous pictures in this post, but I’m VERY excited about this setup.  Our old composter was overflowing and smelly because we weren’t careful about adding brown stuff to it.  This should be a much better setup.  This was inspired by the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge for February.  I’m late, but still game!

May your compost heat quickly, rot odorlessly and enrich your life.

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Wordless Wednesday: Peace Rose

Peace Rose, 10 May 2012

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Wordless Wednesday: Streptocarpus ‘Salmon Sunset’

Streptocarpus ‘Salmon Sunset’, 13 May 2012

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Re-Learning How to Can

Grammy & Greenhouse Tomatoes

My paternal grandmother canned, and my husband and I visited a few summers after we were married and canned with her.  That was over 20 years ago, and we haven’t done any canning since.  Until two days ago.

May 13 was our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary in addition to being Mother’s Day.  Our long standing tradition is to celebrate holidays that involve going out to dinner either well before or well after the actual day to avoid crowds.  Since we knew every restaurant on the planet would be mobbed all weekend, we found other things to do.

The highlight of our weekend was canning together.  The Chief of Implementation and I collaborated on a batch of Onion Maple Conserve.  We’re fond of sweet & savory together and this new recipe turned out extremely well.  We’ve already opened the second jar so another batch or two may happen.  We cooked 2-1/2 pounds of onions down to six 4 oz jars of maple and onion goodness.

Onion Maple Conserve, 13 May 2012

The recipe is from a Better Homes and Gardens special interest publication and I’m hoping that’s a safe source for recipes.

I also made two herb vinegars–rice vinegar with chive flowers and apple cider vinegar with tarragon.  They’re stored at the front of the peanut butter and snack cabinet for 4-6 weeks of aging in a warm dark spot where I’ll remember to turn them every day or so.  After that, I’ll filter them thoroughly and bottle them attractively.  I’ll watch the chive flower rice vinegar very carefully because it’s 4.3% acidity instead of the needed 5% for safe food.  I figured that out AFTER I’d put every available chive flower from the garden into it.  (Oops!)

Herbal Vinegars, 13 May 2012

We’re off to a small but happy start preserving our harvests.  Hope everyone is starting to enjoy garden bounty.

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