5.21.2013 The bees, the straw bale experiment, the tomatoes and what became of the guineas

We’ve been living in the murk for the last several days.  Too wet to work in the garden.  Too wet to mow the pastures.  But I did manage to find a dry half hour to go see the bees.  I am beginning to hear reports from other area beekeepers that the honey flow is finally on.  But I don’t think it’s quite on yet around my farm.  The clover has been up and blooming for about two weeks, but it has either been cold or raining. (We had frost two days last week!)  My bees have largely stayed at home.   I haven’t seen them on the clover or the blackberry blossoms that are everywhere.  Heck, I even have some volunteer buckwheat in bloom out in the pasture and they aren’t even on that.  The only thing I’ve seen them working is the three Borage plants in the garden.

There's one of my girls on the borage, which is the plant in the right foreground.  Behind that is the garden sorrel.  The former tastes like a fuzzy cucumber and the latter is the most interesting, new-to-me plants I've run across.  It's lemony and somehow sour and sweet at the same time.  Chop some and add it to your next salad and you'll see what I mean.  You can do the same with the borage leaves.  The borage flowers are supposedly tasty, too.  I haven't tried them yet since I really wanted to leave them for the bees.

There’s one of my girls on the borage, which is the plant in the right foreground. Behind that is the garden sorrel. The former tastes like a fuzzy cucumber and the latter is the most interesting, new-to-me plants I’ve run across. It’s lemony and somehow sour and sweet at the same time. Chop some and add it to your next salad and you’ll see what I mean. You can do the same with the borage leaves. The borage flowers are supposedly tasty, too. I haven’t tried them yet since I really wanted to leave them for the bees.

Nevertheless, I didn’t want to have the bees in need of space when the main nectar flow finally gets a head of steam.  As it turned out however, only the pink nuc was ready for another box.  The established orange and lavender hives have only just moved up into the honey supers – not a single frame of capped honey in the honey supers in either hive. The last of my hives, the newest nuc – the blue one, is still essentially on three frames.  If I had stronger hives, I would have given them another frame of brood, but I’ve probably already taken too much from the orange and lavender hives.  Blue will have to make it on their own, or not.

Splitting my two hives, was, in retrospect, probably not the best thing.  None of them seem to have the force of numbers to take full advantage of the resources at hand. Of course, the orange hive was preparing to swarm when I split it. . .  had to be done. . . Maybe it’s just the coolness of the spring.  I read somewhere queens don’t make many babies when it’s cold.  A week ago, it was very cold.

So far it’s not shaping up to be a banner year for honey.  We shall see.  Things can change in a hurry in a bee hive.

Chlorosis update:  Last week I posted a picture of an apple tree that had yellow spots on the leaves.  I sprayed the tree with fish emulsion and molasses.  A week later, the tree is worse condition.  One of the main branches has almost completely died, the leaves and fruit shriveled and dried.  The remaining branches continue to show chlorosis.

Chlorosis still on the left side of the tree.  On the right the tree seems to be dying.

Chlorosis still on the left side of the tree. On the right the tree seems to be dying.

The nearly constant spring murk is also making for a particularly bad season for cedar apple rust.  All my apples trees are affected, some more than others.  There’s a bit of leaf curl on the peaches, too.  I suppose it’s too late to put an organic fungicide on them.  Still so much to learn about orcharding.

And then there’s The Straw Bale Experiment

Over the winter, I read several articles about straw bale gardening and wanted to try it.  So for the last 6 weeks, I’ve had ten bales of straw lined up against the garden fence.  I laid a soaker hose on top and covered them in tarps.  I’ve watered the bales every couple of days.

The before shot with the package of elm mushroom spawn in the bag on the first hay bale.

The before shot with the package of elm oyster mushroom spawn in the bag on the first hay bale.

A week ago, I poured a peroxide solution on them and today, I inoculated the bales with Elm oyster mushroom spawn.  Then I planted cucumbers, yellow squash, cantaloupe and watermelon into the bales and tucked in some parsley starts that desperately needed a home.

And the after shot.  All planted and ready to grow.  But will it?

And the after shot. All planted and ready to grow. But will it?

I have tried to grow cucurbits for the last three years.  If they make it to blossom stage, which isn’t likely, then they are quickly overwhelmed by squash bugs.  If I am really lucky, I am able to harvest for a week before the plants die.  Mostly I am not lucky and get no harvest at all.  Between the squash bugs, the stink bugs and the vine borers, this group of plants has been nearly impossible, gardening as I do without chemical warfare.

So my thought is by planting cucurbits in the straw bales, they will be up off the ground where the bugs might not look for them.  The mushroom spawn might offer some nutrient assistance to the vines and thus make the plants less susceptible to attack.  The parsley might stink enough to send the bugs elsewhere.  Plus, the bales act as a bit of a windbreak for the garden and I can trellis the vines on the fence.  An edible mushroom harvest would be nice, but incidental.  At the end of the season, I can toss the bales into the orchards as mulch providing much needed fungal duff for my struggling trees.  It’s a beautiful plan.

But already the plan is beginning to unravel.  The bales have already been colonized by fungi, so I don’t even know if the elm oyster mushroom spawn will be able to get a foothold. The soaker hose is old and brittle and broke without me realizing it sometime in the last month.  The last two bales in the row didn’t get watered as much as they should have.  The tarps were old tarps and allowed at least some of the rain through (which is why the tarps got retired from chicken tractor duty), but those last two bales were pretty dry, so it’s likely those two bales will heat up with regular watering and fry the roots of the watermelon seedlings I dropped in them.  But those two things aside, it’s still a beautiful plan.  We’ll see how it goes.

It dried out enough this afternoon for me to get into the garden tomatoes and do some pruning and tying.  Naturally, I am behind schedule on this chore.  Some of my tomato vines are three feet tall already.  I had already pruned out suckers and strung up half of one row.  Today, I did the other half that of that one row.  Of all the varieties I planted, the Pink Vernissage is doing the best – longest vine and a tomato the size of a marble.  The Black Krim is not far behind.  Even though I did not cover the tomatoes during last week’s frost, the tomatoes came through unscathed.  I got lucky.

The row in the center of the pic is the tomatoes pruned of all suckers and tied up.  The row to the left I haven't gotten to yet.  I was a bit disappointed in last year's Florida Weave tomato trellising system which began to sag badly towards the end of the season.  This year, I am using 7 foot T-posts topped with 2x4's.  The whole contraption is tied together with baling twine and is surprisingly stable . . . at least so far.

The row in the center of the pic is the tomatoes pruned of all suckers and tied up. The row to the rightt I haven’t gotten to yet. I was a bit disappointed in last year’s Florida Weave tomato trellising system which began to sag badly towards the end of the season. This year, I am using 7 foot T-posts topped with 2×4’s. The whole contraption is tied together with baling twine and is surprisingly stable . . . at least so far.

Out in the pasture, the completely neglected tomatoes are competing with the volunteering buckwheat.   Again, the Pink Vernissage is doing better than all the rest, but even so it is less than half the size of its pampered garden sister.  The more I work with tomatoes the more admiration I have for this plant.  It is hardier than most people would have you believe and it will grow in places you would not expect for a fruiting vine – places like the riding ring, which is more sand than anything else – no organic matter to speak of, yet the riding ring tomato experiment is still clinging to life.

Still to do this week, prune and tie up the second row of tomatoes and finish the trellis for the pole beans that are suddenly incredibly ambitions.  I also have onions left in the winter sowing jugs that need a home and a lot of other starts and potted things that would prefer not to be in pots anymore.  Ophelia’s pasture needs mowing – a muzzled horse cannot nibble tall grass.  Not going to get it all done, but we may actually have a few sunny days ahead, so I should be able to make a respectable dent.

Lastly, the guineas have been happily rehomed to a farm several miles down the road.  They didn’t go quietly, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from a pair of guineas.

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