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.

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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.

Seeds Are In, a Homemade Ladder, and a New Computer

All the things in the packet from Terroir Seeds

All the things in the packet from Terroir Seeds

I got the last of my seeds in nearly a week ago, just before heading out on a business trip.  Now all that I really need is for things to warm up a bit more before I can start planting.  The most exciting thing I ordered was the Bloody Butcher variety of maize (corn) which has a very deep red color.  Besides the corn, I have lettuce that should do fairly well in the Oklahoma heat, carrots, peppers, sunflowers, buckwheat and some Vitex seed.  The last one is a shrub/tree that will primarily be for bee feed.  The buckwheat will also be a good nectar source, but it also will provide seed that can be turned into flour.  Vitex, also known as the Chaste tree, appears to have some herbal medicine properties, but I haven’t ventured down that path so far.

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A ladder-like construct made from 2x4s

Before the business trip, I spent some time cleaning up one of the sheds I have on the property that is somewhat of a workshop.  There was already a workbench in place and was wired for power, but after moving in, we have just been using it for storage.  In the process of cleaning up the shed, I decided to put everything we were storing there in the loft area.  The difficulty in this was that it was difficult to get up to the loft to pack things in tightly because there was no ladder.  So I built one.  I don’t think many people besides myself could use it and using it feels more like climbing a tree than a ladder, but it fits my needs right now, so it will stay until I decide otherwise.

The driving reason for the shed cleanup is to have a space to use the band saw and a table saw I got from my father-in-law.  They have been sitting in his garage for several years without use and somewhat in disrepair, so he decided to let me use them.  I’ve been working on repairing them as best I can.  The table saw has a non-functioning motor and is rusted up badly.  The band saw was in better shape and after lubricating just about every part on the machine, it was working well.  Then the lower tire started coming off the wheel and now needs to be replaced.  Once both the table saw and band saw are up and running well, I will be able to start making bee frames, boxes and probably much more.  This makes it a lot easier than driving an hour and a half to my mothers to use the equipment at her house and so I will be able to do a lot more woodworking that I have recently.

20130302100129After my computer died about two weeks ago,  I read an article on Ars Technica about a very cheap computer that was less than $400 for everything including the monitor.  Using this article and the computer parts that were still good in the dead computer, I put together a system for just over $200.  The case is a nice 4U rack mount server case I purchased over a year ago for when I decided to build a server-class machine that I have yet to get around to.  I spent yesterday evening putting the system together after getting home from Virginia.  Everything went together smoothly and started up without issue.  Some basic benchmarking puts it at six to seven times more powerful than the machine that died.  This is not too surprising as the old machine was purchased in 2005.

Progress on the Veggies

Since the first tomato sprouted this year, I’ve had several more plants sprout: tomatoes and other varieties.  Here’s some pictures:

Quite a few of the tomato seeds have sprouted

First up, here are the tomato sprouts.  There are currently a total of 21 plants growing.  I planted two seeds to a pot in an attempt to make sure that I got at least one tomato plant per pot.  In a week or two, I will be thinning out the plants so that only the strongest plant remains in each pot.

Also coming soon is hardening off the plants for outdoor planting.  I intend to do this after I’ve thinned things out and it warms up a bit more outside.  I’m willing to take a few chances with early planting, but I want the veggies to have a chance of surviving.  I doubt that they could survive outside of the greenhouse right now.

Cabbage sprouts are doing well.

Next up are the cabbages.  These were planted after the tomatoes were, so I am not surprised that not as many have sprouted. I’ve never grown plants from seed before so I’m learning what plants look like at an early stage.  For a while, I was not sure which plants in the pots were the cabbages and which were very large weeds.  A quick check on the internet resolved that issue and now only the cabbage sprouts and weeds that are still too small for me to grab remain in the pots.

I seem to be having a problem where the pots closest to the wall are not sprouting.  I suspect it is because the soil temperature is not a warm as those further inside the greenhouse and cool off quicker at night.

Here be giant zucchini sprouts.

Now, the largest sprouts I have are the zucchini.  These things a monsters compared to the other sprouts I have.  So far, only two plants have sprouted. Not much more to say about these.

I suspect that for several of the varieties that I am starting from seed, I am going to need to do a least a second batch of seeds, if not  third and fourth batches.  Part of this will be because not all seeds sprout, but the rest will likely be because of my skill, or the lack thereof.

Some Alaskan peas are sprouting

Last, but not least, the Alaskan peas I started this last week are sprouting. Nice to see another plant sprouting.

Unfortunately, not all of the plants I have started have sprouted.  I planted seeds for bell pepper within a few days of when I started the tomatoes, but I haven’t had a single bell pepper sprout.  Or if I have, the sprout resembled the weeds I am getting closely enough that I accidentally removed it.

Also missing are the yellow onions.  However, the seeds I am trying for those were left over from last year’s planting by my home’s previous owner, so the seeds themselves are a bit suspect.