Morel Season!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Went on a quick morel hunt this morning with a small amount of success...!

Wildflower walk and bee update

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I went on a wildflower walk this morning with Dr. Holly Scoggins. It was offered through the fantastic local Hahn Horticulture Garden, where I've been spending a lot of time lately in pursuit of my Master Gardener certification.

It was a wonderful walk through a secluded and little-known area protected by the Nature Conservancy. I took a lot of pictures and did my best to capture all of the right names for everything - you can check it out in my Picasa Web Album.

Beekeeping Update:

We opened up the hives today to check and make sure the queen had been released. While Tuesday (the day we installed the bees) went really well and we felt like experts, today reminded us that we're novices and will probably continue to have a lot to learn for years to come.

Both hives had built burr comb between the top feeder and the lower deep (we had a medium super in between so that we could place the bee delivery box and the queen's box in between). We knocked off the burr comb on both hives and took out the bee delivery box, the (now empty) queen box, and took off the medium super body. There was a huge amount of activity as we worked with the hive, and John got his first sting from a bee that went up his pant leg. It was a bit more intimidating than the first day!

At one point I saw a larger bee with a shiny body which I thought might be the queen on one of the pieces of burr comb... A lot of panic ensued and as I tried to "shoo" the bees into the frames with my bee brush, the bees that were there took flight. I was sure that I'd lost the queen. At this point I now realize it was probably just a drone, but it was a grim moment in our beekeeping so far! At the end of the day we realized that the bees will probably be just fine - in spite of us.

Our very own bee movie

Friday, April 22, 2011

Finally got a few minutes to edit down the video of our bee installation (on YouTube) and wanted to share. It's still a bit long (just a hair under 8 minutes), but you get to see us bumble around (ha! get it? bumble?) first and then install the bees for both hives. Enjoy!

Update: Although the info I saw from YouTube said that the video would be available in the US, it appears some folks have had trouble opening it, so I built out a new copy (*sigh*). I had tried to include a version with the awesome music of Muddy Waters' Honeybee (which, interestingly enough, you can find several versions of already on YouTube, including this one), but I had to do it with no added music to resolve the issue.

Pics - Above: the queen in her chariot, er... cage. Below: John and Kyle with one of the packages of bees.

Tips and tricks against the Tomato Hornworm

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I posted recently about garlic spray, which can be used to control pests as well as disease such as late blight. One pest that I am in search of a good solution for is the tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata).

Tomato hornworms are closely related to (and sometimes confused with) the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta).

One natural control for these pests is the Braconid Wasp, which lays its parasitic eggs on the back of the hornworm. These eggs then eventually kill that hornworm by eating it from the inside out (uhm, yuck)... The moral of the story is, if you see a caterpillar that looks like this, it is a host for an insect that will kill the caterpillar's brethren (not to mention, he's about to be wasp larvae kibble), so you might want to leave him there.

There's a great publication on minimum chemical gardening available from the Virginia Cooperative Extension's website. It includes tips such as tilling, crop rotation, etc... Very good general low-chemical-use information!

I read that you can use naturally occurring Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) to kill the tomato and tobacco hornworm, and this might be the easiest route. I looked to see if BT is bad for bees (since this will be one of my primary concerns!) and found somewhat mixed information. I don't think I'll be doing much with BT in my garden, especially not in the first year of trying to get my hives established.

For my own garden, I'm going to stick to the "find and pluck (and SMUSH!)" tactic. I've read that the best times to find the hornworms are early morning and evening, they'll be more active on the plant at this time. During the heat of the day they'll hide under the leaves. You can follow their poop (which from what I hear looks like little hand grenades!) or the destruction to try to find them if all else fails.

Good luck with this year's pests, and happy gardening! Let me know if you have any tried-and-true tricks to share!!

Garden season is ON!

Great weekend working outdoors. I love it! Yesterday was insane weather; we started out with severe thunderstorms in the morning, which blew through by early afternoon and were followed by sun and crazy wind gusts to 30+ knots.

The apiary (thankfully still empty at this time) blew over, which sent John and I out in search of wind break plants to put nearby, and straps to strap down the apiary until the plants grow in. We get some really incredible wind here in the New River Valley.

As a result, we installed two white False Spirea, intended to be a wind break for the apiary, hopefully in the very near future. Their leaves are gorgeous! While at Lowe's I saw that they had azaleas on sale for $2.50 each, so I picked up three Hershey Red to put in the front bed, which we installed today.

My friend Laurie asked me about a recipe for garlic spray, and I noticed a great recipe in one of my favorite books that I thought I'd share.

Garlic Spray
Excerpt from Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte:

"Take 3-4 ounces of chopped garlic bulbs and soak in 2 tablespoons of mineral oil for a day. Add one pint of water in which one teaspoon of fish emulsion has been dissolved. Stir well. Strain the liquid and store in a glass or china container, as it reacts with metals. Dilute this, starting with one part to 20 parts of water, and use as a spray against your worst insect pests."
I've used a simpler form of garlic spray (garlic olive oil + a small amount of dish soap + water) to treat late blight with good success (unfortunately, that year we were getting unheard of amounts of rainfall, and you have to reapply the mix each time to control the blight as it will get washed off).

And now, for pictures!

Here we go... Here are the two False Spirea out by the apiary (taken down for the moment due to continued high winds):

One of the Josee Lilacs (I'll spare you the other photo, I don't think the other one is going to make it):

A shot of the tiny azalea bushes, barely visible in the shade in the mulched tree area to the right - a tiny shot of pink between the tree in the foreground and the tree by the driveway further up:

A better shot of the azaleas:

John's got some hop rhizomes going in the mulched area going down the side of the house in this picture:

The three Siberian Irises I planted (did I forget to mention those?) that I got free from a kind Master Gardener who was dividing hers and shared with the class (Azaleas in the background):

Does anybody know what this plant is? It's another freebie from the kind Master Gardener Mickey. It is super fragrant and supposedly shade loving and spreading.

We also have a BUNCH of these coming up from seed all over my garden beds. I've been trying like crazy to get them out. What are they?!

I spy, with my little eye, a few Ga Southern & Southern Giant Curled Mustard I direct seeded--along with a few of those PESKY WEEDS (see above):

Indoors, still growing, the tomatoes are getting big! And I've got another month or so to go before they get planted out.

I'm about to plant some of these in a ceramic pot together, which is why I was looking at Carrots Love Tomatoes earlier. I have no idea which to combine that would grow well and look nice together! Oh well, I guess I'll look up info online and wing it. H- are Herbs for culinary use and T- are Herbs for teamaking. I can't wait to start harvesting some of these and making my own teas!

I suppose I'll close with this shot of my garden, waiting for the warmth to come, and the last frost date to pass. You can see the potato box in this shot, one of the reasons I'm throwing it in to close out my post.

Thanks for sticking with me!! Happy Spring!

Garden and Apiary Update - PICTURES!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Finally some of the long-awaited pictures! This post will be brief in words, but will give you a better visual on what's going on around the old humble homestead.

Charles and the (empty until next Tuesday) apiary, by our back fence:

Looking back at the house (that's John on the back deck way down there, between the windows and the double doors; our six raised garden beds are to the right):

Tiny leek shoots and cabbage (collards?!). For some reason the "auto" setting on my Nikon washed all of these pics out, so I had to mess with the settings to get anything to show up... Sorry! Learning about how to fix that is something on the "to-do" list, when (if?) some of my other activities slow down!

Those tiny green twigs amongst all the mulch are the Josee reblooming lilacs:

This incredibly unflattering picture (after a long day of gardening) is proof that I did, in fact, try to learn how to fillet a fish:

The final meal - the fish fillets (give or take a little!!!*) with some of the mashed potatoes left over from the Shepherd's Pie (I'd made the whole bag of potatoes up versus saving a few that would start to grow in the pantry), and some garlic steamed broccoli:
This fish has the lovely and romantic name of Loup de Mer, or Wolf of the Sea, also known as Seabass. We compared it's final flavor to Tilapia - this could very well have been poor technique on my part... By the time I finally got done filleting that (those! there were two) poor sucker(s), and having gardened all day, I wasn't feeling terribly creative to go looking for complicated recipes. I wound up sauteing it with onions, butter and lemon juice.

* I'm pretty sure that, while what I was attempting was to fillet the fish, I actually just butchered it. I think we own some pretty decent and sharp knives, but none of ours could get through the thick and slick fish skin without a sawing motion, which I think is probably, combined with my inexperience and lack of overall technique, the kiss of death for a good fillet.

Garden Update

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Time is flying by. I can't believe it is already APRIL! And, with this week (5 weeks before our last frost date (I err 1 week toward the more conservative end of the last frost date window), it is time to plant out the leeks and cabbage that I started from seed back on March 6.

There is something that seems to happen to me every time, maybe you can help me with a suggestion on how to avoid this. It seems that no matter how carefully I make up and situate the tags, I always wind up getting a few of the same type (different variety) of plant mixed in together. The tags are too huge to poke directly into the seed pods I use, so they are laid next to the plants, and this can be confusing when you have a 72-slot planter with 2 Brunswick Cabbages next to 4 Early Jersey Wakefiled Cabbages next to Georgia Southern Collards and Long Island Improved Brussels Sprouts (which BOTH happen to look just like the cabbages at this stage, and BTW aren't supposed to be planted out for another 2 weeks). I can tell the two that are the Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage (they're RED!), but the two varieties of green cabbage, I have no idea which is which. Frankly, at this point I just hope I didn't grab the collards or brussels sprouts by accident.

Next year, I'm thinking popsicle sticks stuck into each plant. I had been trying to use one tag per each variety (multiple plants) because the plastic tags are "spendy" (that is so not a term I use but I've known folks who use it and I really like it in a weird sort of way). Popsicle sticks, on the other hand, are a couple bucks for 100, so I can go to town!

I've already started getting everything ready outdoors. It took me a few weeks, but all six raised beds are now weeded, and we just had some dirt delivered to top them off (each year it settles down a bit more into the bed). John took what small amount of compost we had (it wound up being only 1/2 wheelbarrow full or so) and spread it among the beds before the new dirt was added to the top. I planted a Columbine that I bought at the farmer's market this morning, as well as a Johnny Jump-Up that someone had given away at one of the Master Gardener meetings a few weeks back.


I started the draft above Saturday morning, and BOY, was it a busy weekend! I have pics that I'll upload later.

Transplanted out:
- Cabbages and surely inadvertently some of the collards :p
- Leeks
- Garlic
- Onions

Started seeds:
- Peas
- Collards & Mustard
- Beets

Planted out (plants) - these are the ones I referred to in this earlier post:
2x Lilac (still need to find a home for the last, sad wilty looking one)
3x Knock-out roses
3x Russian Sage
3x Peony

A note about the popsicle sticks to mark plantings - Charlie thinks they are fabulous to chew on, so that isnt' going to work (at least, not out in the garden)! I should have realized this from him doing the same thing last year with the plastic tags. I need to come up with something that he's NOT interested in chewing on to mark my plants. Suggestions?


BEE UPDATE: We were supposed to be receiving our two packages of bees tomorrow, but received news over the weekend that it's been postponed a week. I'm not super happy about that, because every week is one less week the bees will have to get settled and build up a healthy hive before winter. They need all the time they can get! So, now they're supposed to arrive on 04/19. The good news is, the Apiary are all set up and John put the mulch down around the area, so we're ready for them.

Pics to come, I promise!

Wild Mushroom and Carmelized Onion Shepherd's Pie

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

(I drafted this a couple of days ago, decided to wait to post it until I had the pics uploaded - here you go!)

Just finished assembling this recipe; it's in the oven for the final cooking step now. I didn't take any step-by-step shots, but I'll try to get a good shot once it comes out of the oven, and once we get some out to eat...

A *lot* of prep work involved in this one! The cooking itself isn't hard, just many, many steps. I think the website says you can do this in 1.5 hours, but I'm thinking you'd have to be really on it and multitasking, with a sous chef, to make that happen. I prepped the potatoes (peeled & cooked) on Monday night, which saved me 1/2 hour, and I started cooking right when I got home at 6pm - it's 8:18 now and I've been sitting down for about :15 minutes.

The verdict? Really, really delicious! And I'm not even a super big fan of mushrooms. I saw a comment (luckily after I'd already started the process, the day after I'd made the potatoes and already had all the ingredients) that the person found it slimy and not good - that was not my experience at all. I even had to subsidize with a small quantity of dried mushrooms which I rehydrated (I'd misread the quantity of mushrooms needed - it is a LOT), and it still came out really, really tasty. Also, to save some money (wild mushrooms are crazy expensive), I used a mix of 2-4 oz packages of wild mushrooms and then 6 oz of button mushrooms and some loose shitakes to make up the rest of the 1-1/2 pounds you need. I wouldn't sweat the particulars too much on which type of mushrooms, as long as you can have a variety. Good stuff! This may or may not be on the make-again list... John and I both loved it, but I rarely have hours to spend prepping and assembling a meal. Maybe next time I'll sub in some roasted root vegetables. If there is a next time... We'll see!

Land of the LOST, or, A Visit to the Virginia Tech Apiary

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

We went to the VA Tech apiary on Sunday. We had our final beekeeping class for most of the day Saturday, but it was too cold to open up hives (sleeting, snowing, high in the 40's), so they rescheduled for Sunday afternoon - which wound up being perfect and gorgeous, around 70+ degrees (welcome to Blacksburg!).

We spent Sunday morning staining our brand-new hives here at home (pics later) and then rushed to get to the apiary by 2pm. We actually arrived a bit early and so were able to poke around a bit before everyone arrived. I seriously wondered if we'd entered another dimension. I should probably note that the VA Tech Apiary is actually at a location referred to as the "Virginia Tech Research Center."

We compared it to LOST's Dharma initiative, and we were at the previously undiscovered "Hive" Station. It was as if we'd fallen off the map into someplace where reality was still reality, just with a slightly odd bent to it... I can't really explain it, I just have to show you - even then, maybe you had to be there.

Overview shot:
A little bit of some awesome art we stumbled upon between the warehouses (which I want for my yard):
Large freestanding fireplace with dome at the top of the chimney that is *just* cut off in this pic:

Stairway to... a seating area?

The apiary itself was one of the coolest things ever. Our experience there observing and handling the frames really instilled a much greater sense of confidence for us going into beekeeping. I think there were 30 apiary (apiaries?) set up there, and maybe more. We got to open up, look inside, and handle and learn about the frames of activity within 4-5 of them. After a while (after we'd opened up multiple hives), the bees were flying everywhere - they were so very docile (landing on people at most, never attacking) and it was so interesting to see all of the bees (drones, queens, workers, oh my!) and the different things they do inside the hive.

I'm scared to death (of killing them or being a bad beekeeper), but I can't wait to get our bees in the next week or so!!!

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