Tuesday, October 7, 2014

fall chores in the bee yard

On Sunday, I discovered a tiny swarm had landed in my back yard, hanging on to the bottom of my top bar hive. 

Several times during the day the back yard had been filled with bees- flying every which way.  This is unusual for my bees.  Their "flight school" lasts a short period of time and is centered around the hive entrance, but these seemed be be like bee storms.  I suspected I might have a swarm, but I wasn't at home to witness either one, so I when I got home, I walked around the yard to check out what had happened and spotted this cluster immediately.

As I knew a cold front was expected to come roaring in- with temps in the 40s and thunderstorms, I knew I needed to act quickly, because the bees would be dead in the morning.  I took my bee brush, flicked them into a plastic shoe box, and put them in the back of my top bar hive.  In the morning, they looked like this- all tucked into a corner, just hanging out:

After I talked to my bee mentor, we figured out that this late swarm didn't seem to have a queen, and since both of my hives were full of brood and eggs, they didn't come from either of my colonies, so he recommended that I spray both the small colony in my tbh and the swarm with lemongrass-scented sugar water, remove the divider, and let them merge.  So I did.

When I was checking my langstroth hive, I spotted the queen (can you see her below? She is in the bottom center of a cluster and has a naturally blackish, hairless thorax, where the other bees are fuzzy and golden) laying eggs, so I knew the swarm hadn't come from that hive.  The honey stores for both my hives are very low, so I made some heavy sugar syrup, to start feeding them.

 This morning I took the top super off of the langstroth (because there was no brood, honey, or anything but bees guarding small hive beetles in "jail" in this super), pitched the lighter syrup, and refilled it to begin feeding them heavily as we head into cooler weather.  I'll continue to keep the feeders in both hives filled with 2:1 sugar:water syrup over the winter.  Summer syrup ratio is 1:1, so this will help build up their stores. 

And here's my little langstroth hive, ready to snuggle in for the winter. It's been an interesting bee season this year.  I've had a lot of swarming and learned so much.  My mentor has moved away and is now a phone mentor rather than a physically-show-me-mentor, but I've learned a lot by working on my own.

I'm making a list of what I'll need for next bee season: a swarm catcher, since I had no less than four swarms in my back yard this year, another bee suit (or at least a jacket and gloves) for visitors and helpers.  I hope that if you're interested in bees, my bee adventures have fueled your desire to keep bees!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lemon Verbena

Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled lemon verbena dried lemon verbena lemon verbena tea Although autumn is here in full swing, my garden is still full of life and abundance. We have yet to have our first frost, so there are still cherry tomatoes on the vine. Greens such as swiss chard and lacianto kale are growing prolifically amongst the blooming asters and toad lily and there is still quite an abundance of parsley making it's way into many a meal these days.

Another herb that is still growing strong is lemon verbena, an herb that I most recently fell in love with. I have my neighbor to thank for that who gifted me a little brown bag of homegrown lemon verbena tea for Christmas a few years ago. That spring it was the very first plant I bought at the nursery and I find that each year I buy a few more plants than I did the last. I tuck them in to as many pots and planters as possible amongst other herbs and annual flower. I love it's bright green leaves and it's spindly, trailing habit.

I use the leaves fresh in both iced and hot tea throughout the summer and in late summer I begin to dry the leaves to store a way for winter. A few weeks ago we were threatened with some cold night time temps. Since lemon verbena is an annual I pulled a few plants from my pots and hung them in my pantry to dry.

Because the leaves are a bit more dry and tough compared to mint or basil, lemon verbena dries quickly. Simply hang in a dry, cool place. In about 7-10 days strip the leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container. To make tea , simply place a handful of leaves in a teapot, cover with boiling water and let steep for 5 minutes. I like my tea with honey but it's also delicious plain both hot and cold.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

DIY - Concrete planters

 I  have a lot of succulents that needs to find new pots. Making your own planters is fun and doesn't take much time. Just need to have everything ready.
So you will need :

Plastic containers ( soft plastic )

I reuse containers, plastic cups, yogurt cups, plastic containers from the restaurant... be creative ! 
Vegetable oil ( I used canola oil ) 
Concrete, I use a mix that you can get anywhere... Of course than you can start to play and add colors, materials... 
A large bowl to mix the concrete 
A little water ( for the concrete ) 
Gloves ( latex )

Here are the plastic containers I used. You will need to find some that are soft, it makes it easier to get the planter out...

Then you fill the bottom with concrete and place the smaller container in the middle and fill in any remaining space between the two containers with more concrete. ( again make sure it's very oily )
I didn't do it but, if you want a planter with a drain I guess you can add in the bottom a piece of a cork or something with a smaller diameter that you'll remove after. ( make sure it's oiled ) 

You wait until it's dry. ( depending on the mix you are using ) 

And tada !  I made 2 of them just to make sure one of them would succeed for the picture and they both worked !

Isn't it sweet ?  It's perfect for a gift as well with a cute little plant in it.

These pansies found a new home

And my little succulent can grow until it will need a bigger pot...

Have fun making these !


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

fall flowers

Yesterday, on the way home from school, we walked down the back alleys of our neighborhood and brought in flowers for the dining room table.  All of the goldenrod is taller than I am and I picked armloads of it.
Although it is far from my favorite color, I love how all of the blossoms of fall are purple and brightest gold.  There was so much going on it the alleys- goldenrod swaying in the breeze, swamp sunflowers, almost 10 feet tall, budding out.  The poke sallet was full of dark purple berries on magenta stems, and the wild false ageratum looks like lilac pom pons.

From my own yard I picked more of the jerusalem artichokes that run wild through my front flower bed, and some of the hyacinth bean vine, both in blossom spikes and in spikes full of deep glossy purple beans (I'll dry them for next year; I've already noticed someone has been munching on them in the garden).  It's almost time to put in pansies and violas, and I hope that I'll be able to find some decorative kales and swiss chard starts soon since I neglected to plant my seeds when it was time.

Happy Fall, y'all!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

End of summer

I have been away from my garden for a long time. I was happy to be back, I feel I missed a good part of the summer in the garden.

End of summer. I like this time of the year when you can feel things are changing, the garden is dying slowly. 
Let me give you a tour of what is happening here.

Harvest of the day,
 I am really happy with those round carrots. We only had a few of them as one of our chickens escaped and ate all the seeds...

Tasty tomatoes for my salads

Pansies in the planters for a little color

From my trip I brought back a hazenult tree...  

Asters are in bloom, this morning walking out in the garden I saw a bunch of bumble bees sleeping right on the flowers ! What a great bed for a bee. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the last of the tomatoes

Two weekends ago I was the very happy recipient of 20+ lb of cherry and san marzano tomatoes in varying degrees of ripeness and blemishes.  I got to sorting them as soon as I got home from the farmers market- I reserved 10 lb for bbq sauce and 10 lb for some kicked up tomato jam/marmalade/chutney.
This is the base recipe I used for my jam, but I increased the spices, particularly the ginger, added crystalized ginger chunks, and added a gallon bag of sliced meyer lemon quarters I found in the back of the freezer.  It is super spicy, still a little runny, and so excellent with goat cheese, brie, with Carolina-style shrimp and grits, and even over cream cheese and crackers.  I made at least 12 half pints of this jam! 

You can see from the photo that there were a fair number of green tomatoes included in this batch- and they were mostly cherry tomatoes.  I pulsed them in the food processor until they were just roughly chopped and I am quite delighted with this super spicy multi-use condiment. 

We use a lot of bbq sauce in my house, so I reserved the second 10 lb of tomatoes for bbq sauce. I am not really sure where my original recipe came from, but this is the same one I use every year.  We go through at least a dozen pints every year.  This batch made about 10 half pints, so I will probably need to find a box of late tomatoes from the farmers market in the coming weeks (or sacrifice some of my whole peeled tomatoes for later sauce-making).  The key to this recipe is the addition of liquid smoke (there's a really interesting discussion of liquid smoke, and how it's made, here) at the very end.  It's not too sweet, not too hot, perfect for making shredded bbq sandwiches (I use poached chicken breast for my boys' bbq craving, and chopped mushrooms for my own).
As you can see, my recipe has seen a lot of bubbling and spills over the years!

What are your favorite end of season tomato recipes?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

first hints of fall

Even though our Memphis temperatures are still hovering at the 90 degree mark, fall is on its way.  Mornings are cooler, I don't have to water every day, and late season plants are more prominent than the showy summer bloomers.
my lemon cucumbers are putting on a fresh set of fruit after summer's deep heat has broken.

bees, both honey and tiny natives, cover the garlic chive blossoms from dawn to dusk.  These reseed vigorously and I just let them grow where they please.  This time of year, I'm always happy to see their cheerful white clusters of blossoms along my fence line, in the lawn, and filling in gaps in beds.

While someone's made lacework out of the leaves, I've enjoyed my hyacinth bean blooming along both sides of my front yard fence.  The vines have worked their way up my bottletree in the most charming way.

My jerusalem artichoke patch has been blooming prolifically.  It will be time to harvest soon.

This is my first year to grow castor bean.  I think it's the most sculptural plant.  Next year I'll give it someplace with a bit more sun as these plants are very short.

The zinnias I planted late in spring are really starting to bloom, and after a break, the verbena bonerais is putting on a new flush of bloom.  This is another plant that I let self-sow.  Even though I'm not typically a fan of purple, I love the movement this plant brings to the garden.

It's past time for me to start seeds for winter greens, but I still have time to get in some arugula and chard, and maybe some radishes for the cold frame.  How are you preparing for fall, friends?