Friday, April 22, 2016

Bee Swarm

Last summer, we were delighted when a friend of ours, who is a beekeeper, asked us if she could place some of her beehives on our land.  There are many insects that pollinate crops, but bees are exceptional pollinators.  So, we were really excited to have some bee hives on our land.

Most of the winter, the bees stayed in their hives.  But, on warm days we would see them out and about, looking for pollen.  Unfortunately, there was nothing for them to eat during the winter.  That all changed this spring when flowers started to appear and they became very active. 

Our beekeeper told us there was a possibility a couple of the more active hives might produce swarms.  This is where the hive produces a new queen and the old queen is forced out along with a good portion of the bees in the hive.  When this happens, they normally fly to a nearby resting place where most of the swarming bees stay with the queen while scouts are sent out to find a new home.

We were, therefore, not surprised when we found this in one of the peach trees a short distance from the hives.

It was an amazing sight and we immediately called the beekeeper.  Her first words were "Tell me you don't have a swarm!".  Ha!  Spring is a busy time for beekeepers as the hives come out of hibernation and become active.  At any rate, she came right over and prepared a small temporary hive in which to put the bees.

The hive is a small rectangular box.

Inside the box are frames containing wax cells to give the bees a starting point for their new home.

Once the new hive was prepared, it was time to put the bees in it.  Fortunately, the swarm was not very high off the ground and was within easy reach.  The bees were so distracted that she could touch the swarm without getting stung.  

She held the temporary hive under the swarm and gently shook the branch.

Most of the bees fell right into the box in one big blob.

She had to make sure the queen dropped into the box with the swarm.  As it turns out, there are ways to tell if the queen is in the box, other than actually seeing her.  The main way is to look and see if there are bees at the entrance to the hive fanning their wings with their bottoms pointed up, like this.

They are releasing a pheromone to tell the other bees that the queen is there.  Fanning their wings disperses the pheromone into the surrounding air.  

A few of the bees kept going back to the branch because some of the queen's scent was left behind.  The beekeeper used a brush to brush them into a container and "pour" them in the hive.

After she had captured as many as she could, she set another box on top of the first one and added a container of sugar water to it so the bees would have some nourishment to get them started in their new home.

Then she put a lid on top and bound the 2 boxes together with a strap.  She said it was best to leave the new hive in place for a couple of weeks to let the bees get settled.  Once they are settled in and she is sure they are not going to fly off to look for new quarters, then she will put them in a permanent hive, like the ones shown in the first picture.  

It has been such a fun experience having the bees on our farm.  I've been mowing around wildflowers and clumps of clover to give them more pollen sources.  And, once we have tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and other crops blooming, I know they will pay us back by pollinating those and boosting the amount of fruit and veggies we get.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Green Garlic

In February last year, I wrote a blog entry about the many different types of garlic that are available, Garlic for the Garden,  which includes a link with pictures of our 2014 garlic harvest.  

If you read that article, you will learn that we normally plant garlic in the fall and harvest it the following June.  This method gives you nice big heads of garlic that contain many cloves.  However, if you wait until the spring to plant some of your garlic, then you can have what I call "green garlic".  Green garlic is like green onions in that you dig it before it is ripe.  Here is what it looks like at this stage.

Notice it looks very much like a green onion.  But, the leaves of garlic are flat.

The leaves are too tough to eat, but the bottom part below the leaves can be sliced and sauteed to give a nice mild garlic flavor to whatever it is cooked with.

I like to saute green garlic with asparagus to make a tasty side dish.  Just slice the asparagus into 1 inch slices and throw it in a pan along with the sliced garlic and a tablespoon of olive oil.

I have a well-used wok that I use for this task.  Stir-fry it until the asparagus is crisp-tender.  Then, add salt and pepper to taste, and you have a vegetable dish that is to die for!

I didn't realize when I took this picture that the food in the upper right looks like pizza.  It's actually a piece of pork steak that was cooked in the oven along with rice, tomatoes, onions and peppers.  It just so happened that I cut the meat into smaller pieces and the piece I ended up with was triangular shaped.  

I don't know why I felt compelled to clarify that point, except that I'm not a big pizza fan, and the thought of eating rice, pizza and asparagus is, well, just disgusting to me!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dandelion Fritters

Do you have any of these in your yard?  

If you do, I hope you are not wringing your hands and gnashing your teeth because of them!  In fact, dandelions are very nutritious and all parts of the plant are useful.  The leaves are full of nutrition and can be sauteed or used raw in salads.  In the old days, folks would make spring tonics from dandelions.  These tonics supplied much needed vitamins that were missing from their winter diets. 

Dandelions have thick deep roots from which the plants come up year after year.  

The roots can be roasted, ground and stored in an air-tight container to later be used as a hot beverage when mixed with boiling water. The roasted roots are supposed to taste a bit like coffee and chocolate.  I plan to dig some of them and give this a try.

One thing I have tried this spring are dandelion "fritters".  Tom was skeptical about these, but ended up trying them and said they weren't bad.  Ha!  That is a big thumbs up being that he is not the most adventurous soul when trying new things.

Here's how I made them.  First, I picked flowers that had longish stems.

Then I made a batter of milk, eggs and flour and used the stems to dip the flowers in the batter.

Next, it was just a matter of placing the batter-dipped flowers into hot oil and frying them until they were browned.  

Once they were drained on paper towels and slightly cool, we ate them like Popsicles by holding the stems and biting off the flowers.  

I've been reading about making dandelion wine, as well.  The flowers are used to make wine, but the recipe I saw called for a gallon of dandelion flower petals.  The stems and core would have to be removed.  It seems to me this would take a LONG time and I'm not sure my poor back would tolerate bending over long enough to pick that many flowers!  So, I think I'll leave the dandelion wine to someone with a stronger back and more patience.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Keeping Lettuce Fresh

How many times have you bought fresh lettuce at the farmers' market or grocery store, only to have something come up and realize you won't be able to use it as quickly as you had planned?  You put it in the frig in a plastic produce bag hoping it won't be too badly wilted before you are able to make that luscious salad you had planned.  Then, you forget about it and find it a week later too wilted and mushy to revive.  Well, read on, because here is a fool-proof way to keep it fresh and crisp for several days.   

Here are a couple of bunches of leaf lettuce we had left over from the farmers' market.

First, I cut about 1/8 inch off the end.

Then. I filled the cup about a third full with water and put the lettuce in it.

Finally (and here's the secret to keeping it fresh), I put a plastic produce bag over the lettuce, secured it to the cup with a rubber band and put it in the refrigerator.

I've had lettuce keep for over a week using this method.  It does take up some shelf space, but at least it is visible and you are unlikely to forget about it!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Let Us Plant Lettuce

Although spring is still a week away, we are having some nice warm days and everyone is itching to get out there and start planting seeds.  However, here in Oklahoma where we live, the average last frost date is April 15, so it is a little risky to put out tender plants until the danger of frost is past.

That being said, lettuce is one of those hardy plants that will withstand frost and live to tell about it.  In fact, we have been growing lettuce in our hoophouse all winter.   Click this link to see it:   Hoophouse

In order to get the nice individual heads that we sell at the farmers' market, we start lettuce seed in cell packs and put them in our small greenhouse.  Here's some that was started a couple of weeks ago.

Once it gets to be about this size, we plant the individual little plants.

We grow several varieties of lettuce.  Every year, we drool over the seed catalogs and have a difficult time deciding what kinds to order.  There are several "tried and true" varieties that we grow every year.  But, we like to try a couple of new ones every year.

Here are a few of the different kinds we've grown this winter.

As the spring warms up, we mix several varieties together and sow them outside in rows like this.

This is easily harvested by grabbing a handful and cutting it off about an inch above the ground.  Then, in a few days new leaves will begin to grow from the stub that is left.  This is called the "cut and come again" method and you can get about 3 cuttings off the same patch of lettuce.

Lettuce is easy to grow and I encourage you to try it.  You can stash it between flowers in your flower beds or even grow it in pots on your patio.  A word of caution, though.  It does not like hot weather and will bolt and turn bitter when hot weather arrives.  So, now is the time to start planting it.  If you sow a few seeds every couple of weeks during the spring, you will be able to enjoy fresh greens for several months.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Early Spring Chores and Pictures

We've had spring-like weather the last few days.  Heck, yesterday it was 80 degrees!  That is verging on summer as far as I am concerned.  I had to break out my sleeveless t-shirt and shorts!  Well, maybe not the shorts just yet.  But, it was a beautiful day and we got a lot done outside.  We planted the elderberry bushes that we bought a couple of weeks ago from 360 Farms near Webbers Falls, OK.

Elderberries are native to Oklahoma and are high in antioxidants.  They make excellent jellies and their flowers can be dried and used for tea.

I also mulched our blackberry bushes using leaves we had collected last fall.  This normally eliminates most of the weeds in the blackberry bed and keeps moisture in the soil.

Finally, we rebuilt our household compost pile.  This time we just used t-posts and wire.  Tom used part of a pallet as a "gate".  It is just wired to a couple of the posts and will be easy to remove when we are ready to move the contents of the pile out to our large-scale compost making effort out in the "compost lot".  See this entry for information on that:  Making Compost .

Rebuilding this compost pile was necessitated because Tom hit the old one with the tractor.   It was a more elaborate affair that consisted of wooden frames covered with wire.  It was getting in need of repair anyway.  The new one will work just as well and only took a fraction of the time to build.

While I was out in the garden, I took the opportunity to take pictures of signs of life that are sprouting up.  Here's a picture of one of the garlic beds.

I also noticed that my chives are coming out of dormancy.

We've been growing lettuce in our hoophouse all winter.  But, Tom has begun planting it outside in the garden now.  Here are some tiny lettuce plants he set out yesterday.  We will cover these with a light row-cover if it gets really cold, but otherwise, they will be fine and ready to pick in a few weeks.

There were other signs of life in the garden, as well.  Like this dandelion.

And this henbit.

Even if dandelion and henbit are considered weeds, to me they are still beautiful flowers and are a welcome sight after the cold, overcast days of winter.  

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Winter Sowing

I have found a new interest ..... Winter Sowing!  I know this sounds crazy, but I ran across this on Facebook and it has opened up a whole new world for me.  The rationale behind this concept is that in the natural world plants grow from seed, bloom, make seed and die.  The seed lie on the ground through the winter, through rain, sleet, snow and freezing weather.  Then, when the time is right, they sprout, send down roots and the whole cycle begins again.

It is thought that seeds which follow this cycle and are outside to endure the cool evenings and warm days during the early spring form stronger plants than those that are coddled inside under lights and warm temperatures.   This makes a lot of sense to me.  In fact, there is a website devoted to the concept which gives suggestions and ideas about how to do this.

It appears one of the most prevalent ways to accomplish winter sowing is to use gallon milk jugs.  I started saving milk jugs weeks ago, but when I was ready to start my seeds, I didn't have enough, so I went to a couple of the local coffee shops and asked for their empties.  Aspen Coffee gave me a whole trash bag full of empty gallon milk jugs!

The first step was to rinse them out and cut them around the middle with an X-acto knife, leaving a small "hinge" at the bottom of the handle.

 Here is a closer look at the hinge.

Then make drainage holes in the bottom.  There are several ways to make the holes.  One is to heat a nail over the stove and melt a hole in the plastic.  However, I used a Dremel tool fitted with a small drill bit.

Once the holes are made, then it is time to fill them with potting soil.  Be sure to water the soil well before you plant the seeds.

 Now sprinkle seeds on top of the soil and cover them with a small amount of soil.

After the seeds are planted, close the jug and seal it with duct tape, like this.

Label the jugs with a felt-tip marker and set them in a sheltered place where they will get some of the winter sun.

The general rule of thumb seems to be that you can use the winter sowing method to start perennials in January, but should wait until mid-February or early March to start tender plants.  I didn't know this at the time and planted all mine in mid-January.  Even so, I have one annual that has come up already and seems to be doing fine, even though most nights have been below freezing.

Once the plants are up, you will have to keep a close eye on the jugs to make sure they don't dry out.   Also, when the days are consistently warm and sunny, you will need to open the jugs up to keep the little plants from cooking.   There will be a period of several weeks where you may need to open them during the day and close them again on frosty nights.  You should not have to re-tape them, but just use a short piece of tape to close the jugs for the night.

After thoughts.....  In retrospect, I believe I cut some of my jugs too shallow.  They need to be deep enough to put 2-3 inches of soil in.  Also, I ran into problems taping the jugs shut because of the indention that many jugs have in the side.  

A solution to both of these issues is to cut the jugs at the top, like this.

When cut this way, the jug is deep enough so you can put in as much soil as you like and it also avoids the problem with taping over the indentation in the side.  It also uses less duct tape.

It will be interesting to see how this works.  Judging from the one jug of annuals that are already up, I know I put too many seeds in the jugs.  I'm sure I will have to thin the plants and only keep the number I need. 

It is still not too late to give this a try.  All the seeds I have planted so far are flowers of various sorts, perennial and annual.  But, I want to try starting a few tomatoes and peppers with this method and compare them with the ones we normally start in the basement under lights.

My biggest problem is going to be where to plant all these flowers, if they all come up!