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.

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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.

Peach Harvest in Full Swing, and Grape Harvest Finished

The peaches a week ago. I got the first round of peaches on Monday.

I’ve been working like crazy over the past two weeks because the grapes decided to ripen last week and the peaches decided it was time to ripen this week.  I ended up not being in the mood to post anything last week because I managed to cut the tip of one of my fingers.  Two weeks and a preventative Tetanus shot later, my just about completely healed. I’ve hurt myself more in the eight months since I’ve moved here and started gardening than the previous two or three years.

Two bags of grapes and a bunch of tomatoes.

For the most part, the grapes ended up being frozen.  This was the simplest way and while they wouldn’t do very well with a power outage, they will otherwise be fine and it gave me time to take care of other things.  A portion of the grapes I turned into grape juice that I later used for canning peaches.

The first batch of peaches filled four five-gallon buckets full.  And that ended up being only about half of the harvest.  Tuesday and Wednesday were spent busy pealing, pitting, heating and canning all the peaches I could.  Not all of the peaches were good.  A number of them were partially eaten by some large ants while they were still on the tree and several were partially rotten or otherwise bad and had to be discarded.

One shelf in my small pantry is nearly completely filled with peaches. Tomorrow, there will be even more here.

Even after throwing away a lot of the peaches, I ended up with four and a half gallons of canned peaches.  As of now, I have six quarts and twenty-two pints of peaches canned.  I am definitely going to need to start making peach cobbler and start looking for other peach recipes.  It is not much use to can so many peaches and have them go bad before they can be eaten.

My second batch of the peach harvest.

I got another three five-gallon buckets full of peaches again today.  I plan on spending a large portion of Saturday pealing, pitting, heating and canning peaches.  I am not sure how much this will end up as, but the majority of this will be going into quart-sized  jars.

The Tomatoes Ripen

Three of the tomatoes are turning red. This is one of them.

I’ve been awaiting this moment all year: I have my first tomatoes ripening.  I’m not quite sure when this variety of tomato is best picked, so I am trying a few different times to get a feel for the timing.  The remaining tomato plants have more tomatoes that I am willing to count right now, and several of them will probably start ripening soon.  I suspect that I will have a nice continuous tomato harvest from now until the frost kills the plants.  Once I start processing the tomatoes, I am going to attempt to save seed for use next year.  I’ve seen a few tutorials on how to save tomato seeds, but like everything else I’ve learned, there is a fairly big difference between watching somebody doing what you want and actually doing it.

The peaches have started turning color.

It has been a while since I posted anything on the peaches, mainly because nothing interesting has been happening with the peaches. They have just slowly, but steadily, grown in size. Now, they have finally started changing color. This signals that they are getting close to being ready to harvest. I am guessing that harvest will be between two weeks and a month and a half. I really don’t know how long they take and when exactly they are ripe.  As soon as they are ready, though, they will all be harvested, pitted and canned for use later.

The garden is pretty much full now.

My mother came over today and brough seventy strawberry plants, numerous irises, day lilies, and assorted other flowers. Because I don’t really have anywhere else to put them at the moment, they went into the garden plot. Many of them will be remaining in the garden for as long as I can keep them alive and I will be dividing them for the plants that will go into the front flower beds. Those beds need some work to get ready and I won’t be doing that until next spring at the earliest.  The space in the garden plot that was remaining after the flowers went in, I planted out with more pinto beans. This is for fertilizing the ground thru nitrogen-fixing bacteria, experimenting with planting methods and if I am lucky, some more beans.

The pumpkin continues to grow larger.

If I want to grow more food next year, I will end up needing to expand the garden plot.  I have already expanded the plot by about a foot on one side already, and it is a lot of work with a garden hoe.  The two biggest problems with doing this is hard, dry Oklahoma soil and grass.  The first limits how much time I have to work the soil and the second makes it a lot more difficult.  Especially when it tries to take back the area already cleared. I know that machinery would make it take a lot less time, but I enjoy the exercise I get doing it by hand, especially since I end up sitting at work so often.

Thinning the Peach Tree and Custom Bee Hives

The peaches I removed went into the compost pile.

I spent most of my time outdoors today thinning the peach tree.  I haven’t finished the entire tree.  There are sections near the two hives I made from swarms I caught this season that haven’t been thinned much for obvious reasons: standing in the flight path of a beehive is a great way to get stung a lot.

From what I have read on the subject, after thinning, I should have about one peach every six to eight inches.  Doing this will result in larger fruit and sweeter fruit as the tree puts the same about of energy and sugars into a smaller set of fruits.  While thinning, I realized that my peach tree set a very large number of fruit.  In some places I had to remove upwards of eight fruit on a six-inch stretch of branch.

The most difficult section to try to thin is the top of the tree.  I think I will be pruning the tree to shorten it a bit so that I don’t have this problem again next year.  I’ve been climbing the tree and using a ladder to get to the fruit at the top, but there are still fruit that I can’t reach.

The second swarm I captured before it all went in the temporary hive.

The two swarms I have caught are still around.  The first swarm I captured was very small and has started having problems with bees coming an robbing it.  I’ve reduced the entrance to about two inches and covered the remaining opening with grass clippings.  This hasn’t completely deterred the robber bees rom coming, but  it does make it easier for the hive to defend itself from the thieves.

I am going to attempt to make some hive equipment for the new hives. There are a lots of wood scraps I can use for the effort and I have access to a table saw, a compound miter saw, and a router.  BeeSource.com has plans to make Dadant type frames.  I have an idea of what I can do for the hive body, but it will mostly come down to making a box that can hold the frames I make.

Yet Another Swarm!

More bees in the peach tree...

This evening, I found that yet another swarm has taken up residence in my peach tree. I had just finished mowing a section of the yard and was hauling the grass clippings to my compost pile, when I noticed the swarm in the tree.

I have done what I did with the previous two hives: cut the limbs of the tree they were hanging on to and stuck them in a cardboard box.  Unlike the other swarm I’ve managed to keep, this one won’t be able to go into a hive body for quite some time as I have no more hive parts to spare.  If this one sticks arround, I am not quite sure what to do with it.

Unlike the previous swarms, this one was quite a bit larger and more aggressive.  I ended up getting stung on the neck and having to kill several bees because they would just not leave.  I really hate to kill any bees at all, even when they are trying to sting me.  The bees that tried to sting me were at least half the normal bee size, which is a bit puzzling to me.  Scouts, perhaps?

This is the first year I have seen a swarm, and now I’ve seen and tried to capture three in about a month.  I hope I don’t get any more swarms this year as I have no place to put them or anybody I can give them away to.  That, and I don’t think my peach tree can take many more swarms.

Just Chugging Along

Roman Chamomile seedlings

The past week has been very slow for things at the homestead.  I finally started some of the last seeds I have: the chamomile and lavender.  Today, the chamomile is starting to send up some small seedlings.  Only the lavender has yet to make an appearance.

Most of this past week, I’ve spent my time either waiting for plants to do something, or cutting up a bush that was cut down as it outgrew its area and was growing thru a fence.

Wood cutting area with unprocessed branches to the left and a stack of wood on the right.

All I’ve really been doing with the wood is cutting up the thicker sections of the wood and putting it on the wood pile, or binding the branches together with twine.  The latter is the more interesting of the two.

To make bundles of sticks, I take a 5 gallon plastic bucket and just start cramming it full of branches that I cut off at the rim of the bucket.  I tie it together with some twine to keep it from falling apart.  The result is a nice bundle of sticks that can be used later as fuel.  I don’t have a wood burning stove yet, so for now, I will just be using the wood for making charcoal.

Bundles of sticks.

I can make about two or three in a day before my hands get sore from the hand pruners I use.  I have lots of wood that will end up going into the bundles, so I am in no hurry to get it all done.  There are still at 4 more bushes that are overgrown and I haven’t been able to fully process a single bush in a week.

My garden plot is soaked.

The past few days have really put a damper on my ability to work outside.  We have been getting storms here as part of the sever storm outbreak across the midwest US.  This has soaked my yard to the point that I sink into the ground a bit when I walk.  The garden plot is no exception.  There is standing water in the normal corner as well as another  spot that doesn’t usually get it.  A few of the plants got done in with the runoff, but most survived just fine.  I lost a couple of tomato plants, most of the strawberry plants, and possibly a cabbage plant.

Plants ready to go into the ground.

I have more tomatoes and cabbages ready to go into the ground as soon as it dries out a bit so that I can work the soil.  In addition, the first batch of pinto beans are ready as well as the remainder of my zucchini starts.  Unless I have a massive loss of tomato plants, I will not start any more tomato seeds for the garden this year.  If all the plants I put in the ground produce, I’m going to have more tomatoes that I will be able to eat or preserve for later use.

Peaches. My hand shown for scale.

The plants and trees have been making decent progress during the last week. I am fairly certain that I will be thinning out the peach tree in the next week, weather permitting.  Some of the fruits are almost 2 inches in their smallest measurement.

The swarm I pulled out of the peach tree is still in the box I put it in. My brother-in-law, David, ordered a new set of hive bodies for the hive, which I will transfer the bees into once they arrive.