Cherry Harvest, New Beehive

The cherries are ready to harvest.

The cherries are ready to harvest.

It is finally time to harvest the cherries. The cherries started to change color early this week and most of them were ready to be picked by the middle of the week, but the storms that moved through Oklahoma this last week has kept me from doing anything until Saturday.

This year has been so different compared to last year.  Just about everything seems to be taking a month longer.

Once more, I have three hives on my property.

Once more, I have three hives on my property.

About two weeks ago, I found a swarm in my back yard, but  I was not able to catch it.  However, I now have three hives on my property again.  I ordered a queen to replace the queen in one hive to get less aggressive genetics, but before I was able to, they swarmed and I was unable to find the old queen.  To prevent the queen from going to waste, we set up a third hive and put the new queen in there.  We borrowed worker bees from another hive and a frame of brood to make sure the hive survives until the new queen can get to laying.

Okra, radishes, and lettuce.

Okra, radishes, and lettuce.

The garden has been making good progress over the past few weeks.  The radishes in particular have been doing quite well and have managed to completely shade out the ground, which I like because it helps cut down on the weeds in that section of the garden.  I would really like for that to be happening in more places in the garden, but so far I’ve only managed to do that here.  The okra I planted has sprouted.  My wife makes an excellent gumbo, which contains okra, so I’m looking forward to having some with okra I grew.

Peas, beans, and herbs.

Peas, beans, and herbs.

The peas I planted this year are doing much better than my attempt last year.  This year most of the plants that sprouted have flowered and have been setting pods.  I accidentally pulled up one plant with pods while weeding today, so I ate the peas in the pods and shared them with my wife.  It was the first time she has ever had peas straight out of the pod she rather liked them.  Given that she normally avoids peas, this is saying a lot.  There is nothing quite like peas straight out of the pod.  If you have never had a chance to have them, grow some peas next year or find somebody who is growing them this year.  You won’t regret the taste.

The garden is looking very green, but I can probably pack even more plants in here.

The garden is looking very green, but I can probably pack even more plants in here.

I finally have caught up with weeding the garden from when I when on my business trip early in May.  Now I just have to maintain the bed, which is a lot easier.  I don’t enjoy having to play catch up, but at least the wet weather has made the process considerably easier.

I picked up some new seeds today and planted them in the garden: green beans to fill in the places in the rows of peas where the seeds didn’t sprout and basil, oregano, and parsley.  These join the chives, thyme and mint I already have growing in the garden.  I will eventually have a wide variety of herbs in the garden.

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Back from Business Trip, Bee Swarm and Progress in the Garden

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The second bee swarm this year.

I got back from another business trip to the east coast Wednesday and have been trying to get caught up around the house since then.  On Thursday evening, I discovered a swarm of bees clinging to a dead juniper tree.  This is actually the second swarm this year.  I found the first on the ground under the apple tree while it was nearly freezing outside, and I suspect that swarm died from exposure.  For this hive, I put out a hive body to try to entice the bees to move there without me having to do much work.  All yesterday, there were bees over at the hive body checking things out.  This afternoon I found the bees have left the tree and I suspect they have moved into the hive body, but I don’t want to disturb the hive for a few days.  There is some minor traffic at the hive’s entrance, but not enough to be definitive.

The garden is starting to grow well.

The garden is starting to grow well.  The irises are blooming in just about every possible color.

While I was gone, the garden has started to take off. The lettuce and radishes I planted before I left have sprouted and are starting to grow.  unfortunately, so have the weeds.  I have spent most of the time since I have returned home pulling weeds from the garden.  The most annoying is certainly Bermuda grass.  It is very prolific and also difficult to remove.  I have more than half the garden still to weed.

Since returning home, I have planted Jericho lettuce, some potatoes that were no longer edible on the counter, mammoth sunflowers, and okra.  I also put flower seeds in the front beds along with chives as a border.  I want the front beds to be a bit more colorful than the green and brown, but mostly brown, color they were last year.

Irises Bloom, Plantings Continue, and the Remaining Peaches

The first Iris to bloom in my garden.

The first Iris to bloom in my garden.

I went out to work weed the garden a couple of days ago to find that some of the Irises that I received from my Grandparents in Utah are starting to bloom.  I planted these about mid-summer last year and they grew through-out the year.  Now, some of the larger plants are starting to bloom.  The whole thing is rather exciting, because I have no idea what colors I am going to get.

A line planted with radishes.

A line planted with radishes right next to the surviving 16 garlic plants.

I still have quite a bit of space in the garden, so today I spent some time filling things in.  I planted several lines of radishes and lettuce.  The lettuce mainly went right next to the flowers where I don’t have to worry about pulling up a root crop disturbing the flowers.  The radishes went into places where digging them up is not going to be an issue.  I’m trying to fill up the garden as best I can so that I can get a good harvest and also so that I can crowd out weeds.  I would be very happy if the weeds had no space to grow.

One of the peaches that survived the late frost that killed the blossoms.

One of the peaches that survived the late frost that killed the blossoms.

A few of the peaches survived a late cold snap are now starting to get large enough to actually determine how much was lost.  I estimate that I will be getting about 20 to 40 times fewer fruit from the peach tree this year.  It remains to be seen if the fruit decide to grow larger this year to compensate.  I plan to skip thinning the tree of fruit like I did last year in an attempt to get larger fruit.

The weather this year has been very difficult.  We have had several late cold snaps that keep killing early plantings and flower blossoms.  I haven’t planted a lot of crops out of fear they will end up getting killed.  The tomatoes and the peppers are still in the greenhouse.  The cold has also ended up stunting the growth of plants along with germination rates.  About the only things that seem invulnerable to the cold are the perennials, the garlic and the peas.

Sprouts Galore

One of several lines of pea sprouts.

One of several lines of pea sprouts.

Things are finally starting to pick up in the garden. Nearly all of the peas I have planted have sprouted, and those that haven’t sprouted, I don’t really expect to see.  The seed I was starting with was a couple of years old, so it doesn’t surprise me that some would not sprout.  In addition to the peas, the beans are also starting to sprout.  I still have several lines of beans to plant, but it looks like I’m getting good germination rates so far.  About half of the seed in the ground I saved from last year, so I’m pleased with the results so far.  I also have a few corn plants sprouted, but I have barely planted any corn so far.  I intend to plant a lot more along the back yard’s fence line.  This will be new garden space, so I am unsure how it will turn out.  Probably fine, but there is always the chance of some wrench getting thrown in things.

Pea Sprouts and Flowering Cherries

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A honey bee on a cherry blossom. When I took this picture, the whole tree was buzzing with insects.

The last chance of frost is quickly approaching.  Already, one late frost hit the peach tree pretty hard and almost all of the blossoms died before starting to set fruit.  Compared to last year, only about one in ten or twenty flowers is setting fruit.  I hope the tree will compensate by making larger fruit, but even if it doesn’t, I’ll be happy with whatever fruit I do get.  I still have several jars of canned peaches in the pantry to use.  The cherry trees and the apple tree missed that freeze and are in the process of blooming, and hopefully the soft freeze forecasted for next week does not affect fruit set.  At least this year, I know which tree is which.  Last year, I mistakenly though the cherry tree was actually an apple.

One of the first five peas that have sprouted.

One of the first five peas that have sprouted.

About a week and a half ago, I started direct planting peas and beans in the garden. So far, the results have been rather mixed.  I have had five pea plants sprout and several of the beans also sprouted.  However, the beans don’t seem to be surviving the cold night temperatures, so it is just as well that the majority of the beans to sprout yet.  I have plans to plant the beans close enough that they basically form a blanket over the garden bed.

The grape vine is starting to put on leaves.

The grape vine is starting to put on leaves.

The grape vines are just starting to put leaves on.  Last year, the grape vines had this happen almost a month earlier.  In general, this growing season seems to be taking its time to get going.  Not that I mind too much.  I just am anxious to start seeing the results of my work.  Last year, was not able to do very much with the grapes I harvested, and almost all of them went into the freezer. Because they are seeded grapes, they are not really useful for eating straight, so grape juice and wine are really the only uses for them and only the grape juice is really an option for me because I refuse to drink alcohol of any form.  The only way I could get juice out was to cook the grapes and then strain them thru cloth.  The resulting juice had oxidized and was not very good.

The steam juicer I used to make fruit juice.  This is the same style of juicer that my wife's grandmother used.

The steam juicer I used to make fruit juice. This is the same style of juicer that my wife’s grandmother used.

About a week ago, I got a steam juicer in and was able to easily turn the grapes into very good tasting grape juice, along with the peach peals and apple peelings and cores.  The juices will probably need to be mixed to get a good final product, particularly with the peach as it is quite tart, but overall, they taste quite good.  The grapes in particular were quite good because the juicer keeps the grapes from oxidizing and giving the juice an off taste.

Compost, Band Saw, and Seed Starting

Compost spread over most of the garden.

Compost spread over most of the garden.

It has been a busy week so far and this has been the first opportunity I have had to write about my progress.  Last Saturday, I was able to spread all the compost I had over the top of the garden.  The endeavour took nearly the entire day to do and left me with several bruises where I kept running the five gallon buckets into my legs and arms.  The bruises are just now starting to fade.  This was the entire reason I had started making compost: to amend the soil so it is more fertile, hold moisture better and plant easier.  This may also act as a mulch to help suppress weeds.  (When I think of mulch, wood chips spread over a flower bed come to mind, and not compost)

Starting pepper and tomato seeds.

Starting pepper and tomato seeds.

Also on Saturday, I started the first seeds of the year in the greenhouse.  I started the same variety of tomatoes that I grew last year.  These are not seeds I saved from last years crops, but rather left over seeds that I purchased last year.  I plan on starting some of the seed I saved later on once I know I will have as many plants as I want.

I also started some pepper seeds that I bought this year from Terroir Seeds.  There was only 23 seeds in the packet and I am trying to start them all, two per pot, so I’m hoping that I get at least a couple of plants that I can save seed from.  Otherwise, I will probably end up trying a different pepper variety next year.  Last year I tried to grow green bell peppers, but I never got anything to sprout.

The band saw with new, bright safety orange tires.

The band saw with new, bright safety orange tires.

On Monday, the tires I ordered for the band saw came in, several days earlier than I was expecting them.  Actually getting the tires on the wheels was rather difficult, because they were about an inch shorter than the wheel’s circumference.  Thankfully, the tires stretched and were able to fit, but if I ever need to remove them, I will be doing it with a knife because I doubt I could get them off whole.

I was able to start making some frames for a super and I got six sides finished and started on six top bars before I it got too cold in the unheated shed for me to work.  I should be able to fabricate every part of the frame except the bottom bar with the band saw.  For the bottom, I need to make a groove along the entire length of the bar, which will probably require a table saw or a router as I cannot think of a way to make that cut with a band saw.

Daffodils in Bloom

Daffodils in bloom

Daffodils in bloom

The daffodils are finally in full bloom.  They took about a week or so longer than last year.  About a week or two later is about how this spring has been going so far.  I’m just starting to get things set up for starting seeds, where this time last year, they would have already been germinating.  But unlike last year, we had a rather late cold snap that is probably responsible for pushing out spring.

About three feet of pinto beans direct seeded in the garden, just above the swale-alike.

About three feet of pinto beans direct seeded in the garden, just above the swale-alike.

The one thing that is taking place earlier than last year, is direct seeding of beans in the garden.  If we have another sudden cold snap, these will likely end up dead.  I only planted such a small amount because I am not certain that they won’t end up dead or that they will even germinate.  If this line does, I will be putting in more beans next week and hoping they don’t die by frost.

My spring ToDo list is starting to grow rapidly.  I have compost to move onto the garden plot, seeds to start in the greenhouse and in the garden, preparing some new ground near the fence line for corn and buckwheat.  And before long, the bees will need an inspection.  And I still need to finish the fence work in the front yard, pulling weeds for the compost pile has started, and a bunch of other small tasks.  Also I’ve ordered new tires for the band saw that should arrive late next week, which will allow me to start producing bee frames on a much more regular basis.  Until the rush to get all the plants in the ground subsides, I’m going to be keeping very busy.