Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The "B"s

Beets, Brassicas and Bees are taking up plenty of time lately.  Blanching, freezing, storing, dehydrating...  busy as a bee am I!

The hives are really busy, too as the bees are going full tilt bringing in pollen and nectar.  Near the hives, I planted a large area to bee friendly plants this Spring which seems to be well received.  The bees are working the clovers, buckwheat, alfalfa, calendula, nettles, borage, comfrey, sunflowers, monarda, zinnias and more...  A bee garden is a wonderful thing (whether you keep bees or not).  It's deeply gratifying to know that a few minutes of seed planting can feed so many bees for so long!  We also have a garden full of native plants nearby which I'm seeing that bees prefer to cultivated plants.  Between both large gardens and the nearby naturalized areas, there appears to be adequate forage. 

A recent addition to the apiary is a long top bar hive so that we can experiment with horizontal expansion vs. vertical (supering top bar hives).  As we are new to beekeeping, we chose to intentionally stick to top bar hives this year and will add Langstroth hives to our apiary next year.  We'd like to compare the 2 methods, but not in our first year as we don't need more variables to contend with when learning.  There's enough "NEW" without mixing two very different methods.    We both love this long top bar hive - it's SO easy to check the hive - no heavy lifting, no bending and stooping, just easy, relaxed work pulling one frame out at a time.  Even our kids can do it with no help.

As you can see, the bees draw (build) their comb down off the top bars into the shape of the inside of the hive.  This comb isn't fully drawn down yet in the picture above (it's close).  The capped cells (seen better below) are "brood" (developing bees) and soon, a new female worker bee will emerge from each cell.  The holes are cells where a bee has recently hatched out.  

The queen in this hive is a vibrant, prolific layer.  There's an abundance of eggs and larvae (in all stages) seen at every hive inspection.  We currently check our hives every 3-7 days because we are learning and want to see the subtle changes that occur through the passage of time.  Learning clues that may indicate problems takes time to master and we figure that frequent checks will give us more opportunities to do that.  It's a balance between frequent checks to learn and not disturbing the bees any more than is necessary. 

Our other hive is not quite as prolific.  It's healthy, yes, but not quite as strong/populated. At our next hive inspection, we are going to transfer a comb of brood from the strong hive into the weaker hive so help boost it a bit.  We want to balance things out for ease of management and up the odds of winter survival in that weaker hive.  I'll let you know how that goes.

Back to the blanching pot...

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The First Preserving

Over the weekend, the first of the season's preserving began.  We bought garlic scapes at the farmer's market on Saturday and combined them with our own Genovese basil (bottom right), parmesan cheese, good olive oil and a pinch of salt to create a delicious pesto.  We ate it on pasta for supper that night and the rest went into the freezer for winter meals.  I love it in place of tomato sauce on homemade pizza (which we eat lots of in the winter as it warms the house up nicely).  I like to freeze pesto flat in little ziplock bags then stack them like books in the freezer once they're frozen.  They defrost quickly this way which makes it convenient for last minute meals.  Slow food (fast) at it's finest!   I hate using plastic, but as we are down to one freezer, canning jars will take up too much room leaving me no space for all the rest of the season's offerings (veg, fruit and meat).

I'm also growing Dark Opal Basil this year and the colour is gorgeous (the burgundy leaves in the top picture).  I decided to steep the whole lot in 2 jars of vinegar for use in salad dressings.  After just a few days, this is the colour of the vinegar:

 It smells fantastic so hopefully it will make salads taste as good as it smells.  It might make good Christmas gifts (I've saved lots of small bottles for this purpose).

Speaking of colour, the cutting of flowers has begun!  I LOVE delphiniums and can't get enough of them.  Soon the zinnias will be blooming in full force.  You can also see my most recent free cycle find - a bag of embroidery floss (boasting an equally riotous shock of colour, I might add!).  I want to begin a few embroidery projects when things slow down in the garden and this looks like it should get me started nicely.  I love free cycle :)

Back to the kitchen!  Broccoli is coming in in full force,

as are the peas (snap, sugar and shelling) which results in lots of vacuum sealed bags of fresh veg.  I love to use a Food Saver for this because the veggies stay crisp and fresh tasting for many months with NO freezer burn.  In years past, I've been very disappointed with other storage methods - the taste and flavour are not even remotely comparable to this method.  It's a lot of work to grow food and prepare it for storage so I want it to taste as fresh as possible.  I buy the bag rolls in bulk at Costco and save and re-use them again and again (not if they have had meat in them), reducing waste (both plastic and money).  

To close off this post, I thought I'd show you a cool picture of two grasshoppers that were languishing on a tall seed head in our front yard.   Although they are helping themselves to a fair bit of leaves in the garden, the "hoppers" themselves are also food for a great many birds (our chickens included).

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Veg Garden Tour

This is where I live for a good 4 months of the year (and if I'm lucky, 5).  I work my garden nearly full time during the warmer months which sounds like an exaggeration but I assure you, it isn't.  Our gardens are large, extending far beyond the confines of these pictures and managing them takes a lot of time.  I don't mind it though as I do think it's good to work a bit for your food.  We don't grow everything we eat and we are far from self sufficient ~ we simply aim to grow as much as we can (which I know is vague).  Some years are successful and others, not so much.  Weather, family needs, health issues, garden mistakes... all those things combine and every year yields a very different harvest.

Our main annual veg garden is fenced which keeps the deer, rabbits, neighbouring farm dogs and chickens out.  That said, our cat finds the fence only slightly restrictive (it merely slows his access rather than preventing it).  He regularly scales the 6' wooden posts and drops down into the garden when I'm working (which is basically every day).  He likes to keep me company and watches curiously as I sweat and contort myself to tend this plot of food and restore my sanity.   He interrupts this watching of me with brief prowls through the network of pathways peeking under plants and around corners to hunt for mice.  He is a cold blooded killer with the pinpoint accuracy of a sniper.  I'll not say anymore about that - I'm sure you can imagine the rest.   I watch him equally closely because I don't want him relieving himself in the garden!   The pathways are covered in a thick layer of wood chips and the bedding areas are filled with dense plantings (there's very little exposed soil to dig in). I've never seen him use the garden as his latrine but should the idea strike, I've got the hose ready at my side :)

This is the view when I first walk through the main access gate that leads to the garden and the chicken coop.  We walk here many times each day (I'd hazard a guess at 20 times or more?).

I'm growing numerous varieties of pole beans and all around them, there's a variety of companion vegetables such as celery, chard, lettuce, savoury and an embarrassing showing of carrots (below) which are too shaded to thrive.  I'll rip them out and sow lettuce there today.

Below, is the same garden space (viewed from the gate in the same spot as the first picture) before it was planted (late May).

Continuing on to the coop, this (below) is the view from the front step, looking out onto the main garden.  Forgive my hand at the top of the picture ~ that early morning sun was so bright, I couldn't get a decent shot without shading the sun out a bit.   It may be hard to see, but each side of the garden is a series of keyholes.   Can you see a large pile of wood chips on the left at the double gates?  That was my work for yesterday - it's all spread now :)

Incidentally, here's a photo taken from the same spot in May.  The keyholes are easier to see in this picture :)

The area with the beans (in the first pictures up above as you walk through the main gate) is seen in the distance at the top left.

...and here's the same view (below) in May.

Here's the garden from the other end directly opposite from the coop (looking toward the coop from the raspberry patch).  You can see brassicas, potatoes, beets and herbs on the left and tomatoes, carrots, peas and herbs on the right. 

The peas are just staring to be picked....

The cabbage is forming nicely....

The broccoli is forming rapidly and is being picked each day.

The raspberries are fruiting and are COVERED in berries!  The bees have fully enjoyed the flowers which made the canes HUM for a good 2 weeks.  You could literally hear it 20 feet away.

Speaking of bees, they also love borage which I planted with the pickling cucumbers.  

It seems to be working as the cucumbers are now fast forming.  VERY soon, we will be drowning in pickles (which is fine by me as we ran out of last year's MONTHS ago).

Lastly, here's a typical harvest basket, although since this picture was taken, the volume has ramped up!  We have much more coming in every day, so there's lots to do to preserve it all.  

This year has been a lot more work than usual as I renovated the garden by digging down permanent pathways while placing the dug out topsoil onto the beds to raise them up.  We had MANY truckloads of wood chips delivered and have heavily mulched the paths (which effectively hold and direct water through the garden as well as suppressing weeds).  

My shoulder tells me that I've dug too much over the last few months, but I think the effort has been worth it.  The soil seems to be in fine condition and the paths/swales appear to be doing their job.  It's time to enjoy the fruits of my labour and preserve the generous offerings of my dear garden.