Monday, June 30, 2014


i just love them!  when i was about 12 or so, i saw a painting of a vintage bike set against a moss covered brick patch and giant wall of a variety of hydrangeas.  the painting spoke to me at that young age and there started my appreciation for hydrangeas.  to me, they represent so many things i love; they're coastal, classic, romantic and fit so nicely in so many different types of gardens.

i've been in the hobby of propagating hydrangeas for a few years now.  this time of year is the perfect time to take some cuttings and try rooting them.  i follow directions similar to the ones found here.  i keep it simple.

over the weekend, i took some cuttings from my hydrangeas and some others found in my neighbors' gardens.  when all is said in done, i now have 40 little cuttings that will hopefully turn into larger plants next spring.  i'll plant them around my yard and give some away as gifts.  

happy july, friends!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

june garden harvests & squash bugs

these are the days when we spend more time outdoors than indoors. in the late evenings & until dark you'll find us watering, pruning, weeding & harvesting in the garden. we're pulling up garlic & replacing it with sweet potatoes. you'll find us harvesting the bulb onions & seeding watermelons. 

we have also been filling our baskets to the brim with fresh food from the garden. right now we're harvesting the first of our tomatoes, green beans & cucumbers. i am creatively adding basil & onion to every dish we prepare. this week i spent less than $20 at the grocery store. i am always so thankful for the way our garden provides for us throughout the year. 

this week we are especially paying attention to our yellow squash & zucchini plants. it seems as though the squash bugs have paid a visit to our little garden & scattered their eggs throughout. 

are you familiar with squash bugs? squash bugs & aphids are among our worst garden pests here in the south. in the blink of an eye, these two will cause serious damage & disease. 

below is a photo of what squash bug eggs look like:

to maintain control over squash bugs in your garden, look underneath every leaf of your plants. if you find a cluster of squash bug eggs, squish every single one of them. they will make a popping nose when fully squished. there are plenty of ways to naturally kill squash bugs once they hatch, but the very best preventative measure is to kill them before they've hatched.

what are you harvesting in your garden? do you have any natural tips for dealing with pests in the garden? please share!

- natalie

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

beekeeping: learning the hard way

Over the past month-plus, I've watched my hives with a wary eye.  They aren't doing well.  The langstroth hive that I split off from my top bar isn't nearly as active as it should be (read: a cloud of bees orienting themselves to the hive location at least once a week), and while there are eggs and both capped and uncapped brood, it's just not quite as active as it should be.  I will keep feeding them and watching.

My top bar hive, however, is in collapse.  When I last wrote about my hives, I knew that they'd swarmed and hoped to see evidence of a new queen.  I did not.  I saw flies hanging around, and when I opened the top to inspect two weeks ago, there was a small ant colony making itself at home.  A strong hive will keep out robbing bees from other colonies (there were lots of bees in this hive and around it that didn't look like mine), ants, and small hive beetles, the bane of southern bee keeping.  Even worse, I didn't see any new brood.  The hive was queenless.  I hoped that I'd caught it in time, and moved a frame with a queen cell and lots of brood from my langstroth hive over to this top bar hive.  I watched the bees tend to the queen larvae, checked the window every day to watch its progress.  It was capped, and one day, it was open.  The queen had emerged.  Unfortunately, I also noticed larvae for something else crawling around, and the honeycombs seemed to change color.

On Sunday, I got up early, suited up, and got ready for inspection.  As always, I began my inspection from the back.  This was the first frame of honey that I pulled:
Isn't it beautiful?  Golden capped honey, super straight comb.  I set it aside and pulled out four more just like it.  One comb fell off of the starter strip (it was a hot day, and the wax begins to melt), so I put it into my harvesting bowl to take in.  I harvested nearly 5 cups of honey from the comb that fell.  Forager bees were actively putting away honey and pollen, and younger bees were building new comb.  As I worked my way to the front, however, it was very clear that the hive was in distress.  The combs were very dark and liquidy looking.  The entire front of the hive was in collapse.

The larvae that I'd seen late last week were everywhere.  Bees were robbing the fermenting honey, and even though the queen cell had been opened, the comb was getting slimy and there was no evidence of new activity.  I took out the worst of the infected combs and put them in my chicken yard for the girls to eat:

You can see how dark the comb is- the comb closest to the wood is still capped, but those white spots on the dark comb are small hive beetle larvae.  I was devastated, even  though I knew a friend and neighbor beekeeper had lost her hives the same way, and there's little to do to combat these beetles besides having a really strong hive.

Grief aside, I have an action plan.  I'm going to take the combs that are still good and move them into my deep-bodied langstroth hive for those bees to eat and use.  There are two top bar combs in that hive already, and if I add four more, the bees there should be able to build up their colony.  It's my hope that next year the queen will lay eggs on the top bar combs and I can move them and their nurse bees over to repopulate my top bar hive. 

But what about the bees currently in the top bar?  A bee that is "born" in the spring and summer only lives for 6-7 weeks.  They emerge, clean their cells, tend the queen, tend new bees ("nurse" bees), build new comb, the finally go out to forage.  With my colony, all that's left are a few worker bees and the foragers.  They will continue to try to do their work until they die.  I'm less worried about them, and hoping that some of the bees will remain with the combs I move into the langstroth hive and live a while longer.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Joy in the Garden

 I wandered around my garden today and realized just how many things are bringing me joy out there!
The fig tree that I bought this winter as a houseplant (but wasn't very happy) is now coming back to life as it takes a summer vacation outdoors. IMG_4408 IMG_4409
We had our flowering cherries pruned back this spring which has allowed for much more light to filter in to the side of our house (which was pretty much full shade). The plants are filling in and my window boxes have never been happier! IMG_4410
There is a sea of sunshine blooming bright in my front hillside garden. Coreopsis is such a happy plant.
. IMG_4411
Curly kale growing in harmony amongst the Lambs Ear. IMG_4412
 A robust crop of Horseradish to be harvested this fall. IMG_4413
The first of the gooseberry harvest. IMG_4417
A Black Eyed Susan vine finds it's way.IMG_4421
The living roof atop the bunny hutch is lush and beautiful full of succulents and herbs. IMG_4425
The Yarrow has begun to bloom. IMG_4427
And the purple bush beans are flowering.

What is bringing you joy in your garden?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rose petal and jasmine flower jam

We have a very fragrant rose bush. I have been meaning to try to make something with it for a couple years now and I never did it.
Only because when the flowers are in bloom I have no time or just when I want to use them they are done.

So I decided to give it a try one evening I just picked a bunch of flowers and started a rose petal jam using this recipe. ( link to recipe )
With the little time I have I really needed to make something fast, so believe me it is fast...

I obviously didn't have enough petals to follow the recipe I found online but I experimented with it.

First, I briefly washed the petals with water to get the potential bugs out. Then I put the petals in a bowl added the juice of a lemon and cover the petals with sugar.

I covered the bowl for the night and let it at room temperature.

That's when I decided to also add some Jasmine flowers, I picked the ones that were in bloom and added it to the petals for the night.

 In the morning I started to boil a cup of water added the flowers and a cup and a half of sugar. I let it on the medium low for 15 minutes then added 1/4 of a teaspoon of pectin.
I kept on stirring until it started to get a little thicker.
Poured in the jars and let it sit .


It tastes delicious !!! It was my first time so next time I'll get better at it.

I didn't can it, it was so little of it, I will keep it in the fridge.

Hope you will give it a try !

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

oh, how quickly our gardens grow!

a few nights ago right before bed, i was scrolling through instagram & as those things usually go, i happened upon our farm hashtag #freckledhenfarm. i love using instagram to organize photos & it's such a fun way to track the progress of a specific project or season. as soon as i came across the photo below, i was amazed! 

below is our garden just 8 weeks ago:

this is our garden this morning:

i am amazed at how quickly our garden has progressed in just two short months. this is our first year tending to this garden & it's been such a gift to watch it grow. 

i thought i would take you on a little tour of our garden happenings:

cabbage is ready to harvest & our flowers are doing so well. three weeks of rain does wonders!

we're harvesting small handfuls of sungold cherry tomatoes every day.

it's truly summer here with the taste of fresh basil! we've been a little neglectful on trellising our cucumbers. that's a project for another day, i suppose! 

we're slowly adding homemade tomato cages to our 48 tomatoes. the perennial flower bed is looking so lovely. friends, this is the garden of my dreams!

if you would like to follow along & share the progress of your garden, leave a comment with the link!

- natalie

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

my favorite basil, plus one

One plant I try to buy every year is African Blue Basil.  I couldn't find it locally this year (though I didn't go to the big Memphis Botanic Gardens plant sale, where I'm sure I could have gotten it), so I ordered two tiny plants from ebay.  They arrived as plugs in two inch pots in late April, but now they're 2 ft tall and almost as wide:
I buy this because the bees (both native and honeybees) go crazy for it.  It's covered in delicate purple spires of blooms until a hard freeze kills it,  and it is almost always covered in pollinators.  I've never eaten it, but I hear that people do use it for culinary purposes.  It is a sterile hybrid between African basil, which has a camphor-like scent, and opal basil.  Because it's sterile, you have to buy plants every year- unless you either dig up your plant or root pieces to carry over.  But! You're in luck!  It roots like crazy in water, which you can see below.  These pieces, which I'd tip-pruned to make my original plants more bushy, have only been in their little vase for a week and they're ready to pot up.

I usually root my original plants two or three times in a season and plant them in pots and in the borders around my garden, just to attract the native bees and butterflies (as well as my favorite honeybees).  By the time we have a killing freeze, the original plants are the size of mature boxwoods.  I think this year I might try cooking with some of this basil, or infusing it in kombucha or using the flowers in salads.  

In the jar next to the basil is purple shiso, or perilla.  It is a relative of mint, and once you have it, well, you have it.  I got my original plant in a big box of perennials from one of my mother-in-law's friends, who gave me several starts from her perennial garden as a wedding gift (I still have many of the plants, 14 years later, and it is still one of my favorite gifts.  I think of Mrs. Allison every time I pull one of these shiso plants!).  It is a vigorous reseeder if you let it flower, but like the basil, the flowers are long spires of purple that are favorites of pollinators. 

Shiso is a popular herb in many Asian cuisines and gives off a lovely rosy color (it may be the color used in pickled ginger) and a punchy peppery-meets-mint flavor.  I've been leaving a plant or two in my borders and in large pots of mixed flowers for height and depth of color, and I like to use a stem or two in bouquets.  Last night I made sushi bowls for supper and added a small bowl of shiso ribbons to the table for color and a little flavor.  I've also heard of infusions for cocktails (Empire in Portland ME had a "shiso crazy" cocktail that intrigued me, and I've seen it used as a mojito ingredient), but I haven't experimented with it in cocktails- yet.  Again, as you can see in the kitchen-window photo, it roots like a champ, so if you find some in an asian market or in a friend's garden, you can grow it, too!  

Both Shiso and African Blue Basil do well in full sun to part shade, in a variety of conditions, but they appreciate well-drained, loose soil.  I'll admit that I've seen shiso growing in my driveway cracks and I don't baby it at all.  I think I'll have it forever!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Let It Grow

We've been so busy around here, life hasn't allowed much time for working in the garden.  We've had family in town and have taken a couple out of town trips.  Over the weekend, after being away for a few days, I came to an overgrown garden that seemed like it had grown several feet while I was away!

I reflected on how easy gardening can be if I let it.  No fuss, no weeding, no digging; just letting things be.  I let the rainy days take care of the watering and the breaks of sunshine take care of the feeding.  Sometimes it's just nice to sit back and let things take care of themselves.  Of course, the grass will eventually need to be mowed and unwanted weeds taken care of.  But for now, I'm just enjoying time with family and letting my garden be.