Experience is a brutal teacher. But you learn, my God, do you learn.

-C.S. Lewis

Stream In January

Stream In January

Monday, April 27, 2009

Jenny and Randy's Garden

We spent the weekend in Chapel Hill with our son and daughter-in-law, Randy and Jenny. Although the temperature was in the low 90's, Saturday was a great day to start a garden. We headed to the Carrboro Farmer's Market early and bought tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber and chive plants. Then onto Southern States for a few more herbs and supplies. My husband had been CH a few weeks ago and he and Randy built a box for compost and started digging this bed. We started with an area of about 8 x 10 feet.
After a trip to Lowe's, the bed grew to a nice finished size of 8x12.

Jenny is serious about digging the holes for the tomato plants.

Compost is already off to a good start with leaves and kitchen scraps.

In the small space we planted 4 tomato plants, 6 peppers, 2 squash, 2 cucumbers, 2 basil plants, 4 chives, cilantro, and also a row of green beans along the back edge. Randy and Jenny worked in lots of Black Cow and also added my favorite organic fertilizer, Plant-tone, to each plant. They spread newspaper around each plant and mulched with bark. They also added a center path of pine straw. A good soak with the hose and the garden was finished!

We also planted a small herb garden, but when I went to get a picture, my memory card was full. I know the kids will keep me updated with pictures of both the herb and vegetable gardens. I also failed to get a picture of Randy at work, but I understand there are some posted on Facebook. I'll check those out later.

We had such a good time doing this, but by 4, we were all ready for a rest and a cold beer. I tried Jenny's favorite Magic Hat #9 and did it ever taste good. Randy and Jenny are coming for a visit in June and I expect to see squash and cucumbers from their garden!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bees In The Garden - Honey and Mason

I spent last Saturday morning at the Appalachian Growers Fair with my daughter and granddaughter. It's a unique fair celebrating local farmers and growers. There was an open-air plant and produce market and crafters and artisans were also demonstrating and selling their wares. A local band entertained with bluegrass music and storytellers were on hand to delight the children. I had a chance to visit with my friends, Kelley and Quintin, who own Balltown Bee Farm. They've had 2 swarms already this year. They were able to catch one, but the other was too high and was lost. I was delighted when my granddaughter, 20 month old Savanna, went to their observation hive, pointed and exclaimed "BEES." I also had good visits with my friend and local county extension agent, Christy, and also Ellen my friend I gardened with at The Community Garden for the previous 2 years. I miss the Community Garden, but with my involvement in the Harvest Project, it was just more than I could do this year. Maybe next year I'll go back.

The Mountain Heritage Center had a display on Mason Bees. Mason bees are solitary, sting-less bees that make their nests in small holes. They don't make the holes themselves, but use holes made by woodpeckers and other insects. Mason bees collect pollen when they visit flowers and make a ball of pollen to put in the nest. They lay an egg on the ball of pollen and seal it with mud and then continue this same procedure until the hole is filled. Masons have been pollinating my garden for the past several years, so I thought I'd give them a home in which to nest. The box is just a simple block of untreated wood into which holes are drilled at a depth of 5/16 and at least 3/4 apart. (Those are inches.) Cover with a roofing shingle and hang it at a height of about 3 feet off the ground. It should, like a bee hive, face the southeast to catch morning sun. Mason bees would be a great alternative for people who want bees in the garden but cannot raise honeybees. If the masons do nest, it will be interesting to see what interaction they have with my bees.

Honeybees love dandelions and mine are working them heavily. I love the color of the bands on this girl. Make sure to click-on to see all the lovely details.

Her pollen baskets are loaded and all the fine hairs on her body are covered with pollen.

Look at that beautiful orange pollen.

Again, I love the color.

There is not much going on in the garden right now. Our nights are still very cold - 35 for the past two mornings. We are supposed to have very warm weather beginning tomorrow and I suspect with the amount of rain we've had everything will finally start to bloom. I won't plant summer vegetables until the middle of May. Our average last frost date is May 15 and sometimes even that is iffy. The tulip poplar should be out soon. That will be our first major honeyflow.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"April is the cruellest month"

Poet T. S. Eliot wrote those words and they certainly apply to the weather in Western NC and probably a good part of the rest of the nation. By the way, the poem wasn't really about the weather.

We had strong storms Friday night, but thankfully were spared some of the most severe weather. There were several tornadoes reported to the south of us in the upstate of South Carolina. Saturday was clear, but fairly cool and breezy. I worked some in the garden and had the chance to photograph this little baby bird. It didn't show any fear. Not sure, but I think it's a pine siskin, or if not, probably a goldfinch. We have lots of both. Sunday dawned clear and sunny. By mid-morning it was mid-50's and by afternoon 62. The rain washed away a lot of the pollen in the air. We've had high pollen alerts for the past few days. The honeybees are loving it and the hive was exploding with activity. Noticing a lot of white pollen coming in now, along with the brilliant orange and yellows. Still not a lot blooming in the way of flowers other than daffodils and pansies, but there are several apple trees in bloom about a quarter of a mile up the road and I suspect they are working these tree. Tulip poplar should bloom soon.

I have been dividing and transplanting lots of perennials. Also putting in some new beds where we took down some trees in the fall. I hate to cut trees, but these were shading some of the garden and also the area where Walter Bee is located. It's important that the hive gets sun as early as possible in the morning and cutting these trees allowed that to happen. It's nicely shaded in the afternoon. I did lots of fertilizing. I use an organic product called Plant-tone on just about everything. I've also been adding bonemeal and/or super phosphate to day lillies and irises. Also anything I transplant, I use fish emulsion to water in the new roots. So far, no problem with a bear but I'm being very careful to mulch everything heavily to help cover the odor. I admit the stuff does stink, but does it ever make things green! (I hope I didn't just jinx myself with the comment about the bear. They are still my biggest fear for the bees..)

The cilantro seeds I planted have germinated. Even though the weather has been so rainy and cold, the lettuce I started from seed looks good, also. I planted potatoes a couple of weeks ago and can see tiny sprouts pushing through the mulch. Broccoli and brussel sprouts don't mind the cold and are growing nicely. Rhubarb is beautiful. All the herbs are growing except for the rosemary, which is dead. I've never been able to get it to overwinter. I'll replant mid-May.

Although it's almost 2:30, the temperature is barely 40 and it's raining. What more can I say? T. S. Eliot already said it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Notes and Photos Continued...

Oh, No, Not Again!
Thyme and chives. Herbs don't seem to mind the snow.

Walter Bee in the snow. A sharp rap to the side reassured me all was well inside. Bees humming! By Wednesday the honeybees were out foraging again, but there were a dozen small bees on the landing board. I think they may have been young bees that froze. I had a good look at them up-close and could see no sign of deformed wings or mites. This morning, even from a distance, I can see the colony buzzing with activity.

The buckets and boxes in the foreground are covering young broccoli and brussel sprouts plants. When I uncovered them yesterday, everything looked good. No damage. To the left of the scarecrow is bee balm. I think it liked the snow. This morning it looks like it grew 4 inches overnight. The bee balm was gorgeous last summer and by late summer stayed covered with butterflies. I think my bees are going to love it.

Young lettuce covered with boxes. Again, no damage. I didn't cover the lettuce I started from seed because the area was too large. But all the very small plants look fine.

Our temperature was 32 this morning. I didn't recover anything in the garden last night. This morning, all is well. I actually think cool weather crops like some snow. I know it provides an insulating cover against the cold. I'll revisit these photos next year just to remind myself not to plant too early. I hope this has been our last cold spell, but I'll not be too confident until May.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Notes and Photos From The Past Week

Saturday and Sunday were beautiful and I spent a lot of time in my garden and in Brevard at the Harvest Project garden. (See http://www.harvestproject-bgc.blogspot.com/) The honeybees were quite active over the weekend. They are bringing in every color pollen imaginable. The inside of Walter Bee must look like a rainbow. Still not quite warm enough to do a good inspection. I love to click on the photos for great close-up views of the bees. I received an email from Christy, our county extension agent, letting me know our Honey Comb News is now available online and in color. There is always an interesting beekeeping article included. I've posted the link in the sidebar and will update as I receive new publications from Christy. BTW, she is awesome at her job and always available to answer questions. Thanks Christy for everything you do. http://jackson.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/50/April-May%202009%20HCN.pdf

Lots of daffodils and pansies blooming in the garden.

Marley in the phlox. She loves being in the garden. Maybe she'll catch the vole I suspect is chewing on some roots.

Thanks to all who commented or emailed me with information about the owl. The photos generated a lot of interest. I learned, among other things, that he is a barred owl. I keep hoping to get another glimpse of him, but so far, no luck. I also keep saying he, but maybe it's a she. As I asked my friends, Alice and Dane, who are world-class birders, how do you tell? Maybe someone can answer that question.

As I said earlier, the weekend was beautiful, but then Monday came. At 9:00 it was 45, at 12:00 it was 35 and snowing. It got worse. I'll continue this post...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Owl On The Stream

I live on a heavily wooded acre and a half of land in Cashiers, NC. There is a beautiful trout stream that flows the entire length of our property. It's been raining for days, but I stepped out on the deck this afternoon and something caught my eye in the woods. I realized in a hurry that it was an owl. I quickly ran and grabbed my camera. We hear owls calling just about every night, but very seldom see one. I didn't have any idea if I would be able to get close enough to get a photo of this one. Very quietly, and in the rain, I crept down the yard. I'll let you see if you can spot this beautiful bird. Good luck.

This is my front yard. There is an owl in this picture. Click on and maybe you'll see him.

A little closer now. I'm walking very quietly, but he has already spotted me. Do you see him in the lower left-hand side of the picture? He sees you with one eye.

See him now? Picture is blurry. Rain and excitement! But I'm getting closer...and then he flies.

Here I am! Lucky me, he flew to a tree that was much more out in the open.

Am I not beautiful!!! And then he spread his wings and flew away.

I'm glad it rained again today. I think the woods were so deep and dark, this bird was hunting trout in the stream. We have lots of songbirds in the yard and at the feeders, but I don't often get to see an animal this gorgeous. Maybe he came to brighten my day. He succeeded.