First Garlic Harvest

Garlic bulbs layed out in the garage to dry.

Garlic bulbs laid out in the garage to dry.

Today, I decided that the garlic was ready to check for harvest.  A few of the lower leaves on the garlic have already turned brown, which is the first sign the bulbs are getting close to being ready to harvest. After using a garden fork to break up the soil around one of the garlic plants, I found the bulb was small but fully formed.  So I went ahead and harvested the rest of the plants.  In total, I got fifteen plants out of the original three bulbs I bought from the farmers market last year.  I plan on using most of the garlic in this harvest to plant out more garlic later this year.  I expect to get about forty to fifty plants from this.  I will only be planting the larger cloves and the smaller cloves will be used for cooking.

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.

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.

Shelling the Last Pecan…

The last pecan, all by its lonesome self...

The last pecan, all by its lonesome self…

Today marks a small milestone for me: I have shelled the last pecan I had harvested from my four pecan trees last year.  This has taken an enormous amount of work over the past four to five months to complete as all of the pecans were cracked by hand.  All I have to say is that I have a great respect for the people who did this sort of for a living before the invention of mechanical nut cracker.  I doubt that I would have lasted.  At the very least, my hands would have been destroyed by the work.

The nine quart-jars of pecans I have in my pantry.

The nine quart-jars of pecans I have in my pantry.

The final result is twelve full quarts of shelled pecans.  Three of the jars were used for pecan pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so only nine are currently in the pantry.  I see several pecan pies in my future this year.  I will also be on the lookout for more recipes that use pecans and I will snack on some of these.  It is a good thing that I will be getting more pecans later this year, as these will be gone before too long.

I have a five gallon bucket full of pecan shells that I plan on turning into charcoal.  I haven’t been making much charcoal recently because the weather has alternating between warm enough to do work outside and too cold to do much outside.  When the weather is warm, I’ve worked until the sun goes down and that doesn’t leave much time for getting the needed wood together to run the fire.  And when it is cold, I don’t want to be outside for long, even if there is a blazing fire nearby.

Next Bean Harvest Getting Close

Some of the pinto beans nearing harvest.

Things have been very slow around here lately.  The plants are doing basically what they do: grow very slowly. The pinto beans have filled out very nicely and one of the two fall plantings is getting close to harvesting.  I should be able to harvest sometime in the next few weeks.  I think I will be getting considerably more beans than the harvest earlier this year.  The beans were planted much closer than previously.  I like how this turned out enough that I will intend to do this from now on.  I have a few more patches of beans growing in the garden that are probably  a month behind these.  If this winter is anything like last, things will be very mild and I should be fine, but there is always the chance of a surprise frost from mid October on.

Jars of apple sauce and dried apple chips.

I finally managed to get the apples finished last week.  I ended up turning the remainder into apple sauce and canning it.  Doing everything manually takes a lot of work.  I was only able to make about two or three quarts in a given evening and it left me quite exhausted.  Things like this remind me how much I have been spoiled with food so far.

Chives gone to seed. I’m hoping to collect these seeds for next year.

It is about the time of year to start thinking about the next year.  There is still a huge list of things that need to get done.  Finishing up the harvest, planting fall garlic, adding compost and manure to the garden before putting it to bed for the winter.  I plan on planting lots of pinto beans next year, but I am also thinking of trying a few more things.

A honeybee on a cluster of flowers.  This flower I got from my grandparents.

I want to try planting a small plot of buckwheat.  This should give me something like a grain and also provide a good nectar source for the bees in the spring and fall when they really need it.  But first, I want to get a separate garden plot for it because buckwheat has a tendency to drop some seed before it can be harvested.

Each year is a new start with gardening, and I feel like I have learned a lot in my first year.  Maybe by the third or fourth year I might start getting good yields from the garden and I can start being more adventurous with my plantings.  I enjoy trying to make the future into the present.