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.

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Plants in the Ground

Peas, tomatoes, and strawberry plants

Today was a big milestone for me: I finally put plants I raised from seed into the ground.  The peas have gotten so tall that they have been needing support for a while now.  Putting them in the ground allows me to have a support system to prop up the plants.

Also, I took this opportunity to plant all of the first round of plant starts.  I know it is still before the last average frost date here, but I think it is close enough to the date that I can probably get away with it.  It also helps that it has been unseasonably warm this year.  All told, I got Alaskan peas, zucchini, tomatoes, strawberries and cabbage in the ground today.

Close up of the tomatoes

Close up of strawberries

We got rain today, which has made working in the garden a very muddy affair.  One big upside to that, however, is that it made dealing with the heavy clay soil much easier.  I had been tilling the soil to help with the weeds that have been coming up in the garden plot for a few weeks now, but the soil has been drying out horribly in the process.  The rain has made it workable again.  I hope to have a few days where it remains that way.  I will probably end up spending a great deal of time and effort over the nxt few years amending the soil with compost to make it easier to work with and more fertile.

Peach fruit set

All of the flowers on the peach tree have finished their bloom and the fruit is setting very nicely.  I don’t know how long it will be before I need to thin the fruits so that I get nice sized peaches at harvest time.  Also, the apple and cherry trees and the grape vines have all started to set fruit as well.

In the greenhouse, I have another set of cabbage and tomato seedlings in reserve in case the ones I’ve planted don’t make it.  Also, I have started some pinto beans I got from a local whole foods store.  Supposedly, I have some mint and thyme started as well, but they are taking their sweet time to germinate.

Pinto beans sprang up over the past two days.

One thing I have realized is that the larger the seed, the bigger the seedling.  I suppose that makes sense, as larger seeds would have a bigger energy supply to pull from when germinating, but it caught me off guard.

I still have a few more plants that I haven’t started yet.  I have some lavender and chamomile seeds I need to start fairly soon and I will be able to now that I have several plastic pots to use from the seedlings I just transplanted into the garden.  I have a bit of mostly dry soil stashed away in the greenhouse that I can use to fill the pots, but I will probably end up waiting a while for the ground to dry out a bit so that I can get more soil from the garden plot.

Onions and Apple Blossoms

The onion sets have sprouted. So have some weeds

I planted some onion sets about a week ago, and they are starting to come in very nicely.  Roughly half of the plants have broken the surface, so even if I don’t have any more sprout I will have a decent number of onions come harvest time.

I’ve been experimenting with a solar wax melter I hobbled together with things I had lying around the house.  I am using a large glass jar with a glass lid and a dark-colored rag that the wax sits in.  As the wax melts, it passes thru the cloth and falls to the bottom of the jar, where I collect it.  So far, I’ve only rendered a small amount of wax of the handful of brace comb that I have removed from the hives.

White apple blossoms

My apple tree is in full bloom now, as is my cherry tree. I know for certain that it is getting well pollinated because I have seen a swarm of insects around the tree.  I suspect that there are some of my honey bees in among the other insects, but there were so many, I couldn’t distinguish any honey bees.  I know there were at least three types of bees: some small, likely solitary, bee, a large bumblebee and my honey bees.

I was a bit surprised to find out that the tree I thought was the cherry tree was in fact a pecan tree.  I have had virtually no experience with identifying trees before a couple of months ago, so it is not that unexpected that I make a mistake.  The pecan tree is not next to the other three pecans I know are on my property and is in between the apple and peach tree.

I am starting to harden off my vegetables.  The peas have gotten so tall that they should really be staked and for that, they need to be in the ground.  So I have started lugging all the pots out of the greenhouse after work and lugging them back into the greenhouse before I stop for the day.  I am doing this in the hope of preventing transplant shock after putting the plants in the ground outside.  How well that will work is another matter entirely.

Finally, Its Not Raining

Over the past three days, it has been raining on and off.  So much so, in fact, that I haven’t been able to get hardly anything done outside.  What I have done is rather meager.

Maybe bamboo?

I have obtained seeds for mint, a bag of pinto beans and some onion sets.  The onion seeds I tried to start never did.  I managed to get the sets planted before the rain and it appears that the first bulb is starting to push up from the soil.  Also, I may have some bamboo growing in my garden plot.  I frist thought that they were red onions after looking online at sprouts, but after digging one up, I found not a bulb, but something that looks like a stick.

Things I have done nothing with appear to have made the most progress in the past few days.  The apple tree is on the verge of blooming, some other tree I’m not exactly sure of its identity is starting its bloom,and both the grape vines and the pecan trees are putting on leaves.

Grape vines have a few leaves already

This saturday, I’m planning on doing the second hive inspection of the year and hopefully the hive is far enough along that I will be able to put on a super.  The hives have been very active when they weren’t hiding from the rain.

I’ve also discovered three pots of herbs by my back porch, of which I have identified two: thyme and rosemary.  Unfortunately most of the thyme plant looks dead. The rosemary is doing amazing.  I’m not too worried about the thyme because I am trying to start several new plants in my greenhouse.  I’ve put seeds in 24 pots and if I get only a fraction of that germinating, it should leave me with plenty of thyme.

Nice looking rosemary along with mystery herb

Hopefully things stay dry for a bit so that I can get my hive inspection done on Saturday and possibly get a few other things done outside. The forecast has this weekend looking rain-free, but that can change at a moments notice. I also want the sun to be out to help the plants along so that I can start hardening off the plants for transplant.

Foundation, Charcoal and Plants

Wood outgases as it turns to charcoal

I have started a new batch of charcoal, but this one is taking longer than my first.  I am fairly certain this is because I have larger pieces of wood than in the first batch.  Well, I’m not surprised as I am still trying to work out the kinks.

I finally got the foundation for the supers in yesterday, and now I have foundation in all but 20 of the 60 frames.  10 of the frames I am going to use as an experiment in foundation-less frames. I just haven’t gotten back around to putting the foundation in the last 10.  I have enough supers for a while, so I am in no hurry to finish the frames.  None of the frames are wired yet, but that is yet another item on my to-do list right now.

Elephant garlic in a hole

I have planted the first plants outside of the greenhouse this weekend.  I have 4 cloves of elephant garlic, 10 strawberry plants that I don’t think are going to make it, and a about 70 yellow onions. I tried starting onions from seed, but they never sprouted.

I think I waited too long from when I purchased the elephant garlic and strawberries before I planted them, as one of the garlic cloves was moldy and the strawberry starts weren’t looking that good.  I don’t know what they are supposed to look like, so they may be just fine, but I won’t know for a while.  Also, I tried planting the garlic and strawberries without any guide and managed to have extremely crooked lines.  I pulled out some rope for the onions, which resulted in a much better line.

The grape vines survived the winter and the puppies' teething

In the past week, the grape vines decided that it was time to bloom. I was worried that they had not survived the winter because the two puppies, dogs really, decided that the grape vines were a good thing to chew on while they were teething.  These are green grapes of some sort; I don’t know what variety they are.  I intend to eventually get a few concord grape vines, but probably not before next year.

The plant starts that actually germinated

Finally, an update on my plant starts: I’ve moved all of the starts out of the trays as they were getting too large to fit with the lid on. Most of the plants are starting to grow their first set of true leaves.

I initially started 12 pots of each plant type, most of them didn’t germinate. I started new pots for each of the ones I removed as well as some thyme.

I want the thyme for use in bee feed for anti-fungal properties, and it makes sense to grow a lot myself.  I also want to grow chamomile and mint for use in the bee feed as well, but so far I haven’t found seeds for chamomile. I think I may end up having to order it from online.

Houston, We Have [Germination]

The first tomato sprout of 2012

Two days ago I had my first seed germinate.  This year, a tomato sprouted first.  Not that I have started vegetable seeds before.  I have tried some herbs before in an apartment, but never got very far (they died from lack of water).  Since the first plant sprouted, I have had another tomato plant sprout and a couple of cabbages sprout as well.

In reality, the first thing that sprouted this year were weed seeds.  I took my starting soil from the garden plot and sifted it to make sure the plant roots did not have to push thru hard clay lumps and will be able to go arround instead.  Because I did not cook my soil to kill the seeds, all the started pots are filled with little weed sprouts that I am removing manually.  It is a bit annoying, but I can deal with it. There are no additional weed seeds getting into the pots, so eventually all the seeds will sprout and be removed and no more will come.  At least I hope so.