Tag Archives: Homestead

The evolution of frames

Eight years.

That’s how long it’s been since I moved out to the ranch.

The first couple of years were mainly spent working to rehab the property: filling dumpsters with what was likely decades of trash that people just dumped wherever they liked because the property had been not a part of the state forest it abuts, but a similarly wooded parcel to which they had access. Getting good soil going at least to get grass to grow in what had been a sandy, beach-like property because the developer had scraped off the topsoil and sold it off. Working to get plants and trees in place so the wildlife – lizards, squirrels, birds, snakes, you name it – would come back. Those were hard-working, back-breaking years. They were worth it.

Ultimately, we decided that if we waited to plant gardens until the soil rehab was at least almost to completely done, it would be another five years before we grew any of our food. Instead, we built framed beds, filling them with a mix of topsoil, manure, and perlite, the latter to help provide some aeration in the mix instead of having every frame be composed of soil that would settle, become difficult to work, and have no give or good draining at all.

So we did. The first frames were 4′ by 4′, built of wood, each separated by a couple of feet as walkways. This led to some inefficiencies, as each individual frame then had to be watered, and drip irrigation was impractical, as there would be loads of connections that would have to be run from one frame to another.

The next iteration was 4′ by 8′ frames, also built of wood, butted up against one another in long rows. The longest row was 4′ by 42′. This made watering much simpler, as long lines of drip tubing could be laid all the way down the line.

The problem with those, of course, was the wood. It warps after enough time in the harsh environment here, and eventually starts rotting. We went with those for a couple of years, until finally hitting on a better solution: frames made from 22 gauge roofing metal sheeting. Cut in half lengthwise, they were screwed together at the seams of each 8′ length, and plain squared balusters (cut down to size) used to provide some structural support for each “wall”. All of our beds are now built out this way, although we do have an issue with some of the balusters rotting from being in contact with the moist soil all the time. On some of them, the screws have popped out because of the way the wood expands and contracts in the weather. Some of the frame sides have bowed out, as the pressure of the soil exerts an outward horizontal force. For those, the solution is to shovel the dirt away from the sides of the frames, reset and reseat the supports for the side, then pull all the soil back into the trench along the side of the frame. As you might imagine, this is more back-breaking hard work, and something I leave for the fall/winter to get done instead of trying to do this during the main growing season in temperatures that hover in the mid-90s to the 100s throughout.

The good thing about the metal frames is that they will last for a significant length of time before anything needs to be done with them – if anything ever needs to be done with them at all. A bonus of this use is that unlike the wooden frames, which break down, rot, and become something that isn’t good for much, the metal frames are steel, so they can go to the recycling center.

Although it took some years of experimentation and use to get to this point, it has served us well since the final frame type was put in place, and now we have spent much, much less time on frame maintenance than we did with the wooden equivalents. That time, recouped, is now spent on other, more productive tasks.

My hero

The cucumbers, running rampant in he front garden north, got some trellis work today, and the green beans, caught in the tentacles of those cukes, were freed to go about their business.

When I completed multiple levels of trellising on both sides of the cuke runs, I found my hero standing over the dead body of one of his enemies, which he had been stalking for a few days now.

Fearless mole hunter

The common eastern mole, making messes of yards everywhere for eons.

Dead mole

I did not cut it in half with the scissors, no. I just didn’t have any gloves with me during that particular excursion to the garden, and simply used the tool I had to pick him up and toss him over the fence into the ditch area by the road to allow nature’s cleanup crew (vultures, ants, etc.) take care of it.

Necessary things

Not Needful Things – that is, of course, a book by Stephen King doing what he does best. No, “necessary” things. The things that must be done at some point, regardless of how you feel, regardless of all the other things you have on your list of things to do, but not entirely regardless of the weather. Today’s necessary thing: mowing, at least the north and east sides of the property. It’s hot. Very hot. The heat index is 100+F. It’s quite dry. It’s very dusty.

But it’s necessary to get it done. In the same way it’s necessary to check the new bees every day to see if they need to be topped off with feed so they don’t starve. In the same way it was necessary to go out to the chickens twice a day when we had chickens at the ranch.

Today, two hours buzzing around on the tractor earlier, and 3/4 of the mowing is done. Tomorrow I’ll knock out the remainder, which includes the western part of the property and the beeyard (for which I don my suit, and must look quite the spectacle). Then we’ll be done for another week or so, and perhaps by then, the pneumonia will finally be kicked the curb and stop interrupting the flow of my life.

Running amok

As promised, a pic of the front gardens cucumbers, who are far outstripping their colleagues in the rear gardens. This is what happens when you get a raging case of pneumonia that knocks your schedule completely out of sync and keeps you from doing the rather mundane tasks like trellising work to keep pace with certain plants.

Cucumbers, front gardens, 2016

This is actually three rows of sown seed: the two middle rows are a couple of different varieties of cucumbers. The right row is green beans (variety: Provider, which is more reliable and productive than anything we’ve tried). This picture was taken a week or so ago, and does not adequately reflect the way the cukes are planning hostile takeovers of the frame to the left or the asparagus  in the background at this time. It’s something I’m going to try to address this weekend, and hopefully the pneumo, which has been with me for more than a week now instead of the more usual five days, will let me out of its grip.*

*Yes, I know, it’s strange to call pneumonia “the usual” in any way, but this is yet another of the ongoing gifts from cancers I should never have had. Fuck you, cancer.

Time for lunch

A small pair of birds built a nest in a ponytail palm we had brought up on the back patio during one of the more frigid evenings in our “winter” season. We hadn’t quite gotten to putting it back out before they started building, and when we realized what they were doing, we couldn’t move it at that point – that would be rude!

The female laid a total of four eggs, and on our occasional peeks, it seems all of them hatched into the usual ugly, reminiscent-of-dinosaurs babies. We have some pics of them both pre and post hatching, but for now, a little clip of one of the parents bringing home the bacon, as it were.

20160424 PM feeding

All hail the new queen

Late yesterday, I had the new (to me) experience of watching a new queen emerge from her cell.  Fortunately, I had taken the camera out with me and was able to capture it for other folks to see.

How it came about: I was dealing with a swarm and checking a hive for queen cells, only to find a queen cell, just opened, and the new queen emerging. It took almost 25 minutes for the queen and the workers that figured out what was happening to get the hole opened widely enough for her to get out. Then yours truly, while attempting to bet the worker bees out and keep the queen in the cup so I could mark her, allowed the queen to scurry off into the hive. I did a check for her, but by the time all this finished, my smoker was out and it was dusk. I had to end the hunt as the girls were getting a bit peevish.

Lesson learned: just capture them all, and then go about dealing with getting the workers out of the cup so the queen can be marked.

 

 

A word to the wise

A word of advice for anyone who thinks they want to be a beekeeper. Think on it twice. Three times. Half a dozen. A million. Then put it out of your head. Otherwise, you’re going to be delighted when you capture an enormous swarm and think how lucky you are, until you realize that giant swarm is probably two when you go in to examine it after hiving it. Then you’ll be cursing them out because you swear that last evening at dusk you found two distinct queens, but today, you can only find (and cage) one. You’ll spend the rest of your day tediously moving the bees frame by frame to the new actual hives, hunting for a swiftly moving, sunlight hating needle in a gigantic stack of buzzing, flying, also quickly moving needles that are basically all the same color. This will make you feel a bit like Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny and the search for the second key: did you really find two queens, or was it just the one making a sudden appearance in another part of the hive? I’m hoping for the former and the other queen is not in the hive with the now caged queen, but in amongst all the other bees I dumped into a different hive.

Spring, bitches!

Mother Nature doesn’t give a crap about your calendars, or a groundhog seeing a shadow or not, or anything else puny humans wish to do. When she’s ready to do something, she does it. Spring is here. Of course, now that I’ve said that, she’ll probably decide to kick my ass for it by shoving a random freeze in there, but we only had a handful of those during our incredibly milder than usual “winter”.

Forecast

I do believe it’s time to go ahead and transplant the brassicas – they’re getting crowded in their flat anyway now that overnight temps are in the 45-55F range. The tomatoes I am more wary about, because there are a crapload of them out there under the lights, and Mother Nature deciding to get buzzed and do something crazy would force a restart, thus delaying our first harvest of tomatoes. The peppers still need more warm overnights, which they can get in the barn better than outside.

The melons, pumpkins, and squashes also need to go out: one of them is already putting out tendrils and trying to capture a lock on the chain the light is hanging from, and if I don’t get it out of there soon, it will probably come to life and kill me while I sleep.