Well, the garden’s finally planted. In some ways, I feel like it’s later than usual, but in other ways, I feel like it’s early (probably because we planted popcorn in, like, July last year…).
The tomatoes are in the rightmost plot this time and green beans and popcorn are in the leftmost, largest plot. New for this year, Brooke put in some cucumbers. The kids actually eat sliced cucumber sometimes, so perhaps we’ll get something useful…
Brooke planted radishes, carrots, spinach and lettuce about a month ago now, but there was a massive rain (~4″ in a few hours…), so the seeds she’d just put in the ground shifted out of their rows and/or didn’t come up. Honestly, they look a little better than we expected, but we need to water the garden and get some grass clippings put in to limit weed proliferation. Last week was the first time I mowed the lawn (fully, at least), so I’m only now getting to the point where I’m mowing regularly.
The “herb garden” section still needs a little more work, though. Brooke put some bulbs in last Fall and they came up looking all pretty-like. Some of the other perennials have returned, but we’ve added some milkweed and indigo from the Botany class on campus. Again, lots of landscaping to finish off.
The trees have also had their flowers on already. Like last year, the peach tree had a bunch of flowers (and they didn’t freeze this time…yay!), but new for this year, the apple trees, cherry tree and almond tree also had some blooms. We’ll have to see if anything comes of it, especially on the apple trees where the buds were on the smallest of branches…
That’s it for now! We’ve got some radishes ready and the lettuce is moving right along, so onward, summer!
Brooke had been meaning to get into the hives for the past month or so, but the weather simply wouldn’t cooperate this Spring. March and April had very few warm-ish days and they were typically followed by long rain sessions. Then, if we actually had some good weather on a weekend, we’d be out of town and still unavailable.
Eventually, after Girl’s Weekend, Brooke was able to leave work early and open up the hives and see how the bees were doing. We’d noticed that there wasn’t much bee activity coming out of the hives on the warm-ish days, but again, as weather was back-and-forth for awhile, we couldn’t be sure whether there was a problem or whether the bees simply didn’t know what was going on with the weather situation.
Unfortunately, there were no bees. Our original hive from 2016 was completely empty and was likely “robbed” by another hive of bees. There was still some honey in the 2017 hive, but no bees to speak of, so they likely took their queen and swarmed sometime earlier in the year. The food Brooke put in late in Winter was still there, so it’s likely they left sometime shortly after she was last in the hive.
In many ways, we count ourselves lucky, as many beekeepers lose 1/3 of their hives in a given year and we didn’t lose any last year, so we were probably due to have something like this happen. We’re going to “re-set” the hive boxes to be lifted up a bit before putting any more bees in there, so in some ways, it’s a good opportunity to take stock of how we’ve been managing them and correct a few things before any new bees take up residence.
Thankfully, we’ve still got a decent amount of honey available to get us through the next few months. We think we may be able to score an extra package of bees from Brooke’s Dad in the next few weeks, depending on how his bees hold up. It’s the right time of year for bees to be delivered, so we’re hopeful that if Mark doesn’t end up having extra, someone else will, and Brooke has enough contacts now that we can probably get something going.
It’s been a long time coming. This Winter was quite a bit colder and, more recently, wetter than last Winter, so while we’ve wanted to get out in the garden to get things started, our schedule and the weather simply haven’t worked out.
Case in point, I was on Spring Break this past week and for the first 3 days of it, the temperatures were below 40 F and were rainy and gross. Granted, I was on Break and wasn’t particularly motivated to do anything, but oh well…that’s my excuse.
Regardless, Brooke ordered some seeds and tomato plants from Jung Seed, so we needed to get the ground usable prior to their arrival.
For the last few years, we’ve kept the leftover stalks and grass clippings on the gardens for the season. Last year, Brooke burned it all and we opted to do the same thing this year (this time with a permit, so a bit more legal…). It was just windy enough to feed the fire, but just damp enough so that it would take a little time to burn it all away.
After the fires were done, I used the neighbor’s tiller to turn it all over and make it look all pretty like.
I’m still impressed by how dark the dirt is after using it the past few years. We haven’t had to add much compost, though we did add some manure last year (just a sprinkling, really…not much).
The garden plots are going to get rotated again, but I’ll post more about that once we actually plant some stuff. For now, the plan is to put the carrots, radishes and lettuce are going to go where the tomatoes and peppers were last year. We’re planting all that stuff a week or two later than last year, but whatcha gonna do?
I’ve been meaning to post something for a bit, but with the weather we’ve had these past few weeks, we haven’t done all that much! In the past month, we had a few nights in the -10 F range and at least a week where we didn’t go above freezing. Last Tuesday, school was cancelled for Meg because we weren’t expected to get above 10 F, and apparently waiting for a bus when it’s -3 F in the morning isn’t ideal…
Anyway, this past week, temperatures started getting up into the 40 F range for once, getting rid of the snow we had last week… Yesterday, we made it into the 50s (though I was on campus working with a Science Olympiad competition we were running, so I didn’t get to really enjoy the weather all that much), and today, we’re in the mid-60s. Not bad for late-January!
We’ve been keeping an eye on the bees throughout this process, as they don’t survive well when it’s below 0 F for extended periods of time. Generally, as long as you’ve got enough bees in a hive, they can surround the queen and flap their wings enough to keep everyone warm and survive. We had some much colder days this winter than last winter, though, so we weren’t sure how they’d handle it.
Based on the picture above, they did just fine! Brooke got in and put in a solid feeder “cake” sort of thing to get them through the rest of winter (at least, most of the way there) and she pulled off the super to keep them concentrated in the lower portions of the hive. They’re pretty active on a day like today, so hopefully they don’t burn through the rest of their food supply thinking it’s Spring (hint: it isn’t).
In other news, in keeping with this blog’s need to post everything garden-related possible, here are some popcorn ears Brooke finally picked. Because, you know…it’s January.
Like I said, we had some snow last week on Martin Luther King Day when both kids were off school, so it was the perfect time for Calvin to go sledding for the first time. Again, it hasn’t gotten than cold the past few years and, incidentally, we haven’t had enough snow for sledding since we first moved here, so Calvin hasn’t been old enough to enjoy it yet.
The garden is certainly on the decline, but we’re still picking a substantial amount of stuff. When all was said and done, we ended up with over 20 pints of green beans canned this year, along with all the rest of them we ate fresh. There are still some beans on the plants, but most of the pods are empty, so we’ve largely given up on them.
The tomatoes and the soup beans, on the other hand, are ridiculous. The tomatoes have certainly slowed, but Brooke has been keeping up with canning sauce, freezing batches until enough are ready. Brooke has canned 32 pints of tomato sauce so far. This time, she hasn’t canned any whole tomatoes like she’s done before.
We also have 5 quarts of soup beans. As in, a full ice cream bucket full of them. And there are plenty more on the vine. This may be our largest haul of those beans yet!
We’ve had some banana peppers here and there. Our pepper haul this year was lower than before, mostly because the volunteer tomatoes encroached and limited their growth. We haven’t eaten many of them yet, but Brooke’s frozen slices of them for later use.
Here’s that really good pumpkin, completely with a grasshopper to add some scale to the picture. We were hopeful this one would make it, but some bugs drilled a hole in the side. It isn’t rotten yet, but we can’t say we’ve got much hope for its survival. There are a few other little baby pumpkins growing that are still yellow, but they surely won’t make it.
We actually had more luck with watermelons this year. This is the biggest one, yet it’s strangely misshapen. There’s another, rounder one, but this late in the season, we aren’t hopeful much will come of them. Still, it’s the most success we’ve had with watermelons! They just took a lot longer to get moving than we expected.
The popcorn also took awhile to get going. There are fewer stalks this year, but what we’ve gotten so far is promising. Obviously, the weeds are taking over…
The corn ears are pretty skinny still, but I seem to remember them looking like that last year. We aren’t expecting to get a lot of popcorn, but last year’s crop worked out better than we expected, so perhaps we’ll be surprised again!
The raspberries came back with a vengeance! I figured they were done a long time ago, but the last two weeks, we’ve been getting handfuls of them. We haven’t really done anything particularly interesting with them, but Meg and Calvin each had 10-15 last Saturday afternoon while they were playing outside and, frankly, that’s a good enough reason to grow them.
The sweet potatoes are still growing and we haven’t done anything with them yet. We assume there are potatoes down there. I guess we’ll find out eventually, when we get around to digging them up!
The fruit trees are still there, with the peach tree leading the growth chart. The rest of the trees got hit hard by Japanese Beetles and, while they’re still growing alright, they’ve got a long road to full recovery. Their trunks have fattened up substantially, so I hope the root system has followed suit, even though the leaves haven’t. We’ll add some fertilizer and mulch to them in the next few weeks and hope that helps them out over the winter months.
That’s about it! Probably the last post on this for the year, but who knows…maybe those tomatoes will keep going through November…
It’s a little early to be posting another garden update, but we’re reaping some benefits from our copious greenery, so I figured I should put up a few pics. Above, the pumpkins (big leaves) and watermelon (in front) are growing alright, but we haven’t seen any fruit on the vines yet. There are some flowers there, so we’re hopeful. The green beans have gone crazy, so we’ve been picking quite a few of those in recent days (just about every other day).
Thus far, Brooke has canned 16 pints of green beans and we have another 4 pints (we guess) in an ice cream bucket waiting to be fully processed. There are still flowers on the plants, so we expect more to come, however the temperature has been in the 90s all week, so despite my watering of the garden every few days, we figure the beans are going to slow down pretty soon.
We also picked our first few tomatoes last night, and that seems a bit earlier than last year’s harvest. The plants have also gone kinda nuts…
…and that isn’t helped by the soup beans that surround them. We spent some time last night pulling the soup bean vines off the tomatoes and tied up the ‘mater plants to the trellis, but I suspect the beans will continue to encroach. The soup beans are also doing quite well, so we’ll end up with a great harvest of them. The tomatoes are mostly green at this point, except for the ones we picked last night.
Also, last, but not least, we got some peaches before the Japanese Beetles got them! We ended up with 5, total, though one fell off early and the other was split down the middle, so we didn’t eat it. They were very good! A bit soft by the time we picked them, but the flavor was quite nice. Not too bad for 2 years of having trees!
Speaking of which, the beetles have been really bad this year, mostly targeting the peaches. We put up a beetle trap last night and we’re hoping that mitigates the issue a bit, but we’re wary of how helpful it’ll be…
There isn’t much to talk about right now, but I did want to note a few goings-on from the last few weeks with regard to the good ol’ Marshall Homestead…
The green beans, tomatoes, soup beans, pumpkins and watermelons are all moving along pretty well! There are some tiny green tomatoes on the plants and the green beans are flowering, so all’s well on that front. The green pepper plants are still pretty small: two of them are looking good, while the other two are on the short side, and are getting encroached by “volunteer” tomato plants from last year.
Other than that, Brooke laid waste to the remaining lettuce, pea plants and carrots this weekend and ended up with a substantial carrot crop. The lettuce had gone to seed a week or two ago, so it was time to end them, and the carrots had been in for months now, so it was time to pull them up.
After hours of processing (that, thankfully, I had very little to do with), we ended up with ~15 lbs of carrots, 12 lbs of which Brooke chopped up, blanched, then vacuum-sealed and dropped in the freezer. Last year, we also got a lot of carrots, but we left them in the fridge crisper for far too long and then ended up “floppy,” which isn’t exactly great if you like raw carrots.
Still, despite Brooke’s metric ton of time working with them, she’s pretty satisfied with the haul of organic carrots she grew.
Otherwise, a few weeks ago, Brooke checked out her beehives and removed 6 shallow frames-worth of combed honey. There’s more in there, but some frames had brood and others weren’t quite full yet. Our new hive from late-April is also doing well, so Brooke put the super on it in hopes we’ll be able to get some honey from them later this summer, too.
Brooke will scrape off the wax from these and likely make some candles (among other things), and she’ll extract the honey along with her Dad this weekend, as he’s got some frames to process, too.
Generally (as I can’t remember if I ever explained this…), honey extraction involves removal of the wax cappings, insertion of the frames into a cylindrical drum, and then spinning them around to use centrifugal force, pulling the honey out and allowing it to drop down to the bottom of the drum, thus letting you fill up jars of honey. It’s a messy and time-intensive process, so while you could get honey directly from these frames, it’s a lot easier to process a lot of frames all at once, saving you clean-up time.
Therefore, we will figure out how much honey we got this weekend. 🙂
The last thing I wanted to mention was that Japanese Beetles have arrived in Marshall. The two pictured above were on our neighbor’s tree, but we’ve seen them on our trees, too, as well as on our sunflowers. We’ve got multiple leaves that look like those pictured above. Our understanding is that this crop of beetles were spending their time reproducing and laying eggs, all of which will hatch later this summer and wreak havoc. Hopefully, our growing season will be mostly done by then…
Still, we put in some praying mantids last week in an effort to kill off insect-derived pests while not spraying anything on our flowering green beans, as that would likely affect our bees. We’ll see if it work… We ordered the mantids and put them in a cage (an old bee package) back in late-May and it took almost 3 weeks for them to show up. There were 10s, if not 100, of them in that package before we released them on our green beans, so hopefully they do their jobs.
So I took some pictures awhile back and apparently never posted them here. These pictures are more recent, so I won’t bother showing how it all started when, you know, they were just dirt plots… As stated in an earlier post, we’ve been busy! Still, we got started relatively early this year and the weather was pleasant enough that we could get peas, carrots, lettuce and radishes planted (above). We already picked the radishes and, while many of them turned out pretty good, others were left in the ground a bit too long (as evidenced by their thoroughly tough exterior…).
This is the most lettuce we’ve grown and it has turned out pretty well! We’ve had weather in the 90 F range this past week, so we’re probably getting to the end of the line with lettuce, but the carrots aren’t quite done. It’s about time to pick peas but, at usual, we aren’t expecting to get all that many.
We also switched up the locations of crops from last year, so now the green beans are closer to the house and a bit more shaded. The mounds above with the greenery is watermelons, and the two mounds in the background are supposed to have pumpkins, but they haven’t sprouted all that much yet…not optimistic… The peppers are positioned around the smaller trellis and we already lost a few of them, but the plants that are still there look passable
The tomatoes, on the other hand, are looking pretty solid. Those plants took off pretty well, mostly because we didn’t rely on seed starts as much as last year, so they went in bigger. We planted most of this the weekend before Mother’s Day, so they’ve had time to grow in the last few weeks. Brooke did plant a few that she grew downstairs, but they didn’t take off as well as last year. Hopefully we end up with a solid crop this year!
Lining the edges of this plot, we put in some soup beans. Those are substantially larger than when I took this picture and they’re looking pretty good. I’m hopeful they don’t decide to vine all the way up the tomatoes, ’cause that would be a huge pain…
Brooke expanded the herb garden, as well. The sunflowers all came back as “volunteers” from last year, and our lemon balm plant also returned from last year. Unfortunately, that was about it! Otherwise, Brooke planted some other stuff like sage and, oregano, and some butterfly-attractive flowers.
The blackberries are also taking off quite nicely! I may need to get a shotgun to fight off birds (and people) that may try to take them before they’re big enough… Lastly, the trees all survived the winter and are growing well, especially the peach tree! We even have a few peaches on there, but that’s the extent of the fruit we’ve observed. The trees will keep growing this year and we’ll get some more stuff next year, we guess!
Now that September is nearly over, the garden’s pretty much done for the year. This past week, the highs were still in the low 90s and the sun stayed out, so we ended up turning a few more tomatoes red than I expected to, but overall, we’re in a “down year” for our tomato crop. The corn has dried out pretty effectively, though we haven’t tested the kernels to see if they “pop” as they’re supposed to.
The peppers have mostly died out, though the coyame peppers keep on producing. Brooke’s been spending most of her garden time dehydrating peppers, then dicing them up to make pepper flakes (for some unknown, future purpose…). The margaret peppers never really did much, though we did get some peppers off them. The peppers definitely produced, but I just don’t remember getting all that many off the plants. This is probably because margaret peppers are intended as “red” peppers, so I wasn’t picking them in their “green” state. As such, sometimes they’d shrivel up before we’d get to them.
The coyames, alternatively, turn red and then stay red for awhile, giving us the time to pick them. Of course, they’re hot peppers, so not exactly the kind of thing I’m going to slice up and slap onto the grill. Oh well.
The pumpkin story is yet to be completed. The plants died out pretty rapidly, leaving behind at least 15 little orange pumpkins. Beetles got to them, but I think we’ve still got a few viable ones out there. Brooke tried spreading some Sevin on them, as that was a pesticide that she could carefully avoid contaminating bees with, but we aren’t sure how much it helped. We’ll see, I guess…
The basil took over the herb garden. Lavender, oregano and lemon balm are still doing quite well, but weeds have invaded this area of the garden. The sunflowers aren’t looking great anymore, but I think Brooke is planning on using them for something.
Overall, I think the “herb garden” was pretty successful this year, though processing everything else has detracted from our use of it. Which is to say, there’s a lot of fresh stuff in there, but Brooke needs to spend more time dehydrating oregano and basil for later use, and less time dehydrating peppers. Still, a good problem to have!
I wanted to include another picture of the trees, as they’ve done remarkably well. The pear trees are still lagging behind the others, as they got hit by Japanese beetles, but the trunks have grown quite a bit in recent weeks, so I think they’ll make it through the winter and come through stronger than ever for next year. I can’t remember if we should see fruit yet next summer, but I can at least plan for the trees to survive…
We ended up getting access to some “pork ends” from a co-worker of mine. $20 for 60 lbs of leftover cuts. Some of it was definitely better than others, but Brooke ended up grinding 20 lbs of it by hand (then vacuum sealing it and freezing it), followed by some additional portions she saved for cutting up (i.e. various purposes), and lastly the leftover “fatty” portions for rendering. If I recall, she ended up getting maybe 4 lbs of fat off what she saved.
It brought back some memories for Brooke, who used to work behind a meat counter. I’m not sure she’d like to do this all the time, but for the money, we ended up getting quite a bit of usable pork to use this winter.
That’s probably it with regards to “garden updates” for 2016! The highs this next week are in the 70s, so while we’ll get a few more tomatoes to ripen, it certainly won’t reach the heights of tomato juice production we’ve had in past years. Brooke has a few buckets frozen downstairs, but again, I don’t anticipate she’ll get more than a few quarts. Perhaps we’ll be pleasantly surprised…
I realized I hadn’t posted an update since late-June, so I figured I ought to add some more pictures. Overall, the garden’s finally starting to yield some produce. It sure looks healthy, for the most part, though we’re still in waiting mode for many parts. The pumpkins took over this section of the garden, and have continue into the rest of the yard. There is a single watermelon plant somewhere in there, but considering how voracious the pumpkins have been, I don’t expect them to make much. We’re having to keep the pumpkins out of the tomatoes, so keeping an eye on their growth has almost become a full-time job…
The corn has tasseled and has some ears on it, finally. Brooke pulled up the carrots weeks ago, so she planted some peas on the other side of the corn in hopes they’ll do something for the Fall. There are some little plants growing slowly, but it’s still too soon to tell if we’ll get anything out of them.
The coyame pepper plants have gone insane. These were some free seed packs from Monsanto that we inherited and, believe you me, those geneticists know what they’re doing. They’re similar in hotness to jalapeños, so Brooke will probably end up drying them and grinding them into chili powder. The margaret peppers we planted aren’t doing quite as well, though we’ve still harvested a few. They’re closer to regular ol’ bell peppers. That sad little wilty plant in the middle of the picture is a margaret pepper plant and we’re trying to keep ‘er going. It’s got some peppers on it still that we’d like to continue with.
The bean plants in the background are also moving alone. The green beans are mostly done at this point. We ended up with around 2 gal of fresh green beans that we ate on as we picked them. We’ve still got cans of beans downstairs from previous summers, so Brooke wasn’t quite as ambitious this time around. The soup beans are coming along nicely, and the edamame (read: soybeans) are producing a metric ton, so we expect to do pretty well on that front.
Otherwise, the tomatoes are still coming along, albeit slowly. They really got hammered by the hail a few months ago and it seems like that hampered their growth on the north side. There’s also something eating them that we haven’t been able to identify. It isn’t squirrels or rabbits, but likely some kind of caterpillar or other insect, as we’ll find random holes through all the good ones. Still, it seems like that’s slowing down and we’re starting to get them now. If they continue, we should end up with a healthy number of roma tomatoes and other “slicer”-varieties.
Lastly, the basil, lemon balm and oregano really took off since the end of June, let alone the sunflowers. The lavender has slowed down quite a bit, and the lettuce is done. The comparable picture from June of this section of the garden sure looks sparse!
That’s good for now. Weeds are slowing down and we’re having to supplement our watering now, which isn’t too surprising. We ended up with 4 in of rain last week when we got back from our vacation, but the ground drank it all up and we had to water again shortly thereafter.
I should also note that Brooke’s been using Sevin dust on various leaves to kill off the Japanese Beetles that are still going after our plants, especially one of our peach trees. We’re finding them on some other leaves too, but Brooke’s trying to keep it away from the flowers so she doesn’t influence the bees. For now, the trees are fine, but we’re having to keep an eye on them.