Category Archives: Gardening

First flats out

Finally, the first flats are out to the barn under the lights: three tomato flats, three pepper flats. Tomorrow, more flats, this time with the brassicas. A long day of mixing seed starting soil, packing the flats, seeding, covering, watering under the seeds (not on top – avoid damping off!), and hauling to the barn.

Beyond the brassicas – which sounds either like a cool book title or a garage band name – the weekend will be spent doing tons of weeding. A necessary evil as the season creeps up, but not bad for thinking or musing over plot points.

Doing the math

“I was told there would be no math!”

You were misinformed. All that stuff back in high school you’d thought you’d never use becomes quite handy when making plans.

2016 Planning

These particular plans involve mapping out the gardens, figuring up linear foot lengths, and calculating how much of any X can go into Y.

It’s heady stuff, really, although probably only exciting to farming nerds like me.

Still, it’s a useful exercise to know how much room you have. If we (I) planted out on a one plant per foot basis to fill all the linear feet in the rear, front north, and front south gardens (not including the herb garden), we could put in 2992 individual plants. If we ran the plants out on an 18″ basis, we could fit in 2157 individual plants.

Obviously, this is not something we will be doing. Each set of plants has an area it needs that we’ve seen be beneficial to it. Peppers and tomatoes? Eighteen inches. Summer squash and zucchini? They need about three feet, because they are gigantic. Carrots, onions, spinach, and some varieties of lettuce? Six inches.  When you plant, you have to know what kind of space to give something so they don’t crowd each other out fighting for resources and so there is adequate airflow between them, to avoid things like fungus or rot. The spacing also helps with things like worm control, as it makes it more difficult for them to move from one plant to the next without a good deal of effort.

The aim, overall, is to make as efficient use of the available space as possible, and account for both pulling of spent plants (determinate tomatoes, primarily) and rotating where you plant things not just year to year, but from one part of the season to the next, at least here since our season is long. And that, rancherinos, is why you need to be able to do math and strategically plan the things you want to do.

 

I coulda had a V8!

No, not really. I never like V8 when I could handle drinking it, and it isn’t something I miss now that I can’t.

One thing I realized I did not track down during my rampage of seed ordering: Hungarian Boldog paprika seed, since we are down to our last of the paprika powder made from the paprikas I grew two years ago. Boldog, for those of you who do not know this fun fact, is a town in Hungary in a region known for growing spice peppers like this. This variety is a hearty, elongated conical pepper, while another paprika (alma) is squat and slightly flattened. If you are looking to grow paprika peppers so you can dry and grind them yourself, I highly recommend boldog and not alma. They are more robust and easier to work with, even though the seed for them is sometimes difficult to find (and more expensive). Reimer and Fedco both usually carry boldog, and this year is no different.

On another note, if you want to buy some all-natural, organic, free-range (ha!) paprika powder at the end of the season, let me or Gabby​ or Chris​ know. Harvests for this one begin slowly in mid summer and build up from there until it’s an avalanche of them (the cayenne are like this, too). I have it in my mind that this year is going to be a great year for production on the ranch.

 

Starting right

Happy new year, Dear Readers!

We start off our new year by…sowing spinach seeds before the rains come to engulf us. Yes, even before coffee. Often, beginning anything prior to coffee after just a handful of hours of sleep is not a great idea, but at least this process is not terribly complicated.

For the rest of the first new day in the new year, I’ll be doing treadmill walks at halftime in the various bowl games, finalizing my seed selection and ordering from different companies, working (of course), and – drum roll, please – writing.

Here’s to a fine, productive, and prosperous new year.

Improvements

I’m back to hitting the treadmill, but decided to leave off the “working it out” titles on posts, since I wind up including other things in those posts, and you, Dear Reader, should not be fooled into thinking there will be just some boring story about exercise and elect to skip it. Instead, I’ll get to pull you in, unsuspecting, to regale you with tales of my not-terribly-exciting life that (from the looks of the archives) seem to follow a most Groundhog Day-like annual routine. For instance, at this time last year, I was doing the same thing I am doing today and have been doing the past few: getting all the seed information into a spreadsheet to decide what to buy and where to buy it.

Let me just say that 2015 was, from a farming aspect, terrible. Too many sicknesses and other things going on made the year a grind. On the plus side, we have all made it out the other end of the year, waiting to greet 2016 as it slides in and gets it feet under it.

It took Mother Nature a long time to get out of summer mode here. Last week, this week’s forecast looked as if she was just going to drop winter on us like and anvil in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Now, it looks more like fall (or fall-ish, as the case may be).

New year forecast

Since she is treating us so magnanimously, I decided to see if we could get a late year/early year crop in: I put in some carrots and radishes over the weekend, and today added some lettuces to that same row. My intent was to put in spinach as well, but the rains came – welcome rain, as we’d had none for weeks. Even without that rain, some of the radish seed I’d put in was already poking up through the soil, and today’s rain (and the rains to come) will help those along.

For the exercise bit: during the first bowl game today, I went out to check on and feed the bees. During halftime of the second, I hit the treadmill once more. I’m also planning another treadmill session during this last game of the night.

Currently reading:  A Cold Day for Murder by Dana Stabenow

 

 

Death of a hive

It isn’t quite Death of a Salesman, but it’s still a little sad. The small swarm I captured late in the season, which I was, for months, trying to keep alive to the point of combining it with the remaining bees and queen from hive #11 that absconded is dead. That’s the way things go sometimes, I suppose. Doesn’t make it any easier. I took the frames from those boxes and left them out yesterday afternoon for the girls from the other hives to clean. Late in the day toward sundown, I put them into a couple of hive bodies to avoid having them get rained on or collect dew. After a few more days, I’ll go out and collect those frames and boxes and store them in the shed until spring arrives.

In other news, yesterday was a bee day only, exercise-wise. We’ve had record breaking temperatures here and insanely high humidity. I did manage to get through the remaining hives I had not yet inspected and do all the things that needed to be done with #11. The other hives all seem to be going about their business normally. Hives #13 and #14, which are package bees from May of this year, never really built up to the level I would have liked to have seen out of them. Poorly mated queens can cause that, so those two in particular will require some watching next season to make sure the queens get themselves in gear to build up the colony – if they don’t, the bees themselves may decide to replace their queens as unproductive, a process known as supercedure. This would be fine with me, as it’s how I’ve let the other hives manage themselves.

As we did last year, we will be doing an end of year/beginning of year harvest of honey. The youngsters cleaned the extractor (thanks!), and will be ready for me whenever I’m ready for it. Generally, we wouldn’t be harvesting honey at this point, but the weird weather has this unexpected bonus round.

The first of the year is supposed to bring much cooler, winter-like weather to us here, but no freezes in the forecast as of right now. That’s good, as it will allow the girls to recognize that it’s time to slow down a little, and I’ll be able to focus more on clearing the beds for the upcoming season, checking the grow lights in the barn, doing some minor repairs here and there, and in general getting the soil ready for when it’s warm enough to start planting out.

Here’s to 2016 being a much, much better growing and harvesting year than 2015.

A day’s work

Merry christmas, my smattering of readers!

So, you may ask, just where were YOU yesterday when you failed to post anything to this here blog?

Glad you asked: because I had a very productive day yesterday, and it takes me back to about a year and half ago when my energy levels were not being sucked dry by the most mundane of tasks. All this adjustment of meds and forcing myself to work through that fatigue and weakness is working rather well, I do believe.

My day started with an MRI on my brain (so they can tell me there is nothing there, yuk yuk), and I have to tell you this: if you must have something like this done, it is absolutely a terrific idea to have it very early on christmas eve, especially if the trip begins at the ranch and requires that you head into the city. There was virtually no traffic there or back, the MRI department was not backed up (thanks to a 0745 scan time for yours truly), and everyone was in a festive mood over and above their usual good humor. This particular scan takes about 40 minutes, but with that out of the way, I was able to get on with the rest of things.

Those things included another trip to the beeyard. Winter will come, eventually, and from the forecast it appears it’s just going to change from summer to winter overnight. This is not entirely unsurprising, as it’s generally the way our seasons move from one to another: overnight and with a rather stunning immediacy. The bees, however, need to be put into the best situation for them to get through the periods where it will be too cold for them to fly, and that usually means swapping hive bodies from top to bottom, as they generally tend to move upward in the hive. With the swap, they’re back on the bottom, and as they eat through stores in the lower level, they’ll migrate to the top to continue waiting for spring. Unlike most places, we do have a lot of days in “winter” where the bees will be flying, but unless winter switches off suddenly and gives us back our warmer weather, it’s unlikely they’ll find that things are blooming as they are right now with the lingering summer. The job of the beekeeper is to make sure they have stores in place to eat, and to feed them if they don’t. Having them in the lower level of the hive will help them regulate their hive temperature on the coldest nights. I try not to open the hives very often during winter, to avoid allowing heat to escape, but since it’s pretty mild here most of the time, I’ll probably get a peek or two at them during the period.

Hives 3 and 4 got swapped yesterday. I found the queens in each box, and they both have outstanding stores of honey – enough, in fact, to be a bit nervous about if they don’t eat enough in the winter, because come spring, being honeybound will itself create swarm conditions. When a hive is honeybound, the queen has nowhere left to lay eggs, which turns on the little “let’s get someplace roomy!” light in their brains. If I’m able to get into the hives over the next couple of months on good days, I can check their progress at working through their stores to make sure as we head into spring we’re in good shape. This is why we had a honey harvest in January of this year, in fact. While the harvest was not huge, the girls were tremendously productive and the weather warmed so quickly that we were already seeing blooms in February. They got busy and started loading cells with nectar without the winter stores being depleted. Lucky us, given that the late honey run (the end of last year) is the dark honey that a lot of the fam and friends enjoy.

After some fun with the bees, I headed out to the front gardens to sow some carrots and radishes. I figured if the weather is going to stay rather temperate, we could take advantage of that a bit. Before I was able to sow seed, I had to do some weeding to clear the row, and put the black plastic back down on half of it where it had been blown off by the winds. The plastic is supposed to lend me a hand and keep weeding chores down a bit, but it doesn’t do much good if it isn’t in place. But, the row is fully weeded, the irrigation lines back in place, and two types of carrots and two types of radishes are now out there, lurking.

Still not quite done for the day, I jumped on the treadmill for close to 15 minutes, walking and continuing to read toward the finish line of the book currently occupying the lead spot on my Fire. Yes, it is still Vera Stanhope, but I’m getting closer to the end with each walking session – and the thing about this is that my reading is done while walking. So, if I get in two sessions, that’s about 20-30 minutes of reading time, and since I read incredibly quickly, I get a good pace to completion at the same time I get in a nicely-paced walk.

The rest of the evening was spent hunting down peoples’ out of date scripts, deleting bogus files, editing trojan-injected files to remove the bad code and cleaning the spam from affected servers, answering the few tickets that made their way in, and listening to a bunch of holiday music, the youtube links for which I posted to facebook.

No writing. Still. I did come across some commentary about the little voice in one’s head that tells you everything you do sucks. Not from a professional writer or a shrink or any of those sorts. Just a guy I happened to stumble on. His talk raised an interesting point about not fighting with that little voice for me: instead of trying to duel with it, what would happen if we (I) were to grab it, shake it out, and see what’s wrapped up in it that’s causing such stress, preventing you (me) from Getting Shit Done? Naturally, this does not only apply to writing or any other singular thing. It’s as equally applicable to writing as it is to, say, losing ten pounds, or getting a painting into the works, or getting that list of chores done. That is what I am pondering this quiet evening now that the christmas carnage phase is over and we’re drifting into the holiday weekend.

All the best, Faithful Readers. Be well.

 

Helping

A common orb weaver, hanging out in the leaves of the horseradish plants, waiting for something unlucky to come along.

Orb weaver spider

As you can see from the leaves of the plants, the beetles were having a go at them. Since the value of the horseradish is in the root, not the leaves, and as the leaves are plentiful and mostly intact, the plants can weather the bug attack without too many issues other than those cosmetic. Every bug these helpers catch and devour is a plus.

 

It’s the most wonderful time

This is, for the farmer/gardener, the most wonderful time of the year. Because this is, for the farmer/gardener, the time when the seed catalogs start rolling in, seducing us with colorful descriptions and drool-worthy photos, the Scylla and Charybdis we encounter as we start the decision-making for next year.

Seed catalogs 2016

Once again this year, I will try to reign in my impulsive attempts to add just one more packet of some cool-looking tomato seed or try another bell pepper that may hold in the field better when ripening from green to red, and in general ordering things that I think would be neat to try. BUT! I am still not giving up on corn. I’ll try it once again in the coming season, to see if we can manage to get anything from seed to harvest successfully.

Soldiering on

The season that has thus far remained unseasonably warm has resulted in the remaining plants soldiering on, happily producing the fruits of my labors even as they have (mostly) been ignored. Case in point:

More tabascos

I had, in all honesty, completely forgotten I’d transplanted these tabascos to the back when the rest were in the front. As things slowly went into crazy mode from May through almost July, the weeds took over virtually everything. When I got myself back in order and hit the frames to get them cleared, I had a rather nice surprise: these were still alive and trying their damndest to flower and put out fruit. Once uncovered, they got themselves going rather well.

The forecast calls for a freeze Thursday night into Friday morning. A one shot deal, really, as the forecast both before and after is rather mild. But that one night is likely to knock out this bunch plus the remaining peppers in the front forty, so I’ll likely just go ahead and harvest them green, either to add to the gigantic batch of tabasco-based hot sauce I’ll be making, or to pickle on their own, for that ubiquitous bottle that’s on the table at almost every BBQ joint in the world.

For now, they continue on.