Category Archives: Beekeeping

June in the Junkyard Garden!

raised bed gardening

2019 Garden explosion

Oh what glorious changes are wrought with a little heat and a little sun!

My garden is literally exploding and there are baby veggies everywhere!!

Temperatures in the 90’s during the day and 70’s at night were all it needed.

Remember I said I encourage volunteers?

Dill plants growing wild

A sea of dill

This beautiful sea of dill plants, running down the middle of my tomato vines is what you get when you let nature do all the work.

What’s funny about all this dill is that I don’t use it in any recipes, don’t cook with it and don’t even cut it. I encourage it to grow because it brings hundreds of beneficial bees and wasps to the garden every single day.

I also have fennel that self seeded growing up by my pole beans, sun flowers growing next to the garlic beds.

Borage and Bachelor Buttons

Flowers growing where seeds fell.

And one end of my garden is graced by beautiful borage and bachelor buttons plants that seeded themselves!

Mixed in with more dill, these flowers feed bees, help to pollinate tomato, cucumber and bean plants and just plain light up the landscape with their color and their grace.

Serendipity brings them to my garden and they bring a joyful smile to my face every single  day that I am privileged to walk among them.

The heat has given my tomatoes a HUGE boost in growth – both the vines and the baby tomatoes themselves.

Atomic Grape tomatoes

Atomic grape tomatoes

 

Fox Cherry Tomatoes

Fox cherries on the vine

Atomic and Fox Cherry tomatoes are popping up on every single plant — all 13 of them.

And the 5 Kangaroo Paw plants are finally setting tomatoes, too. They look squat and round and I can’t wait to taste them.

Everywhere I look their is Life with a capital L.

The sweet potatoes are branching out; the volunteer tomato is setting flowers and fruit and my newest fig — Phygmalion is beginning to reach for the sky.

Chicago Hardy Fig

Phygmalion the fig

This is Phygmalion’s first full summer. Planted last August, she made it through our rather wickedly cold winter but she was supposed to. This is a Chicago Hardy fig – supposedly able to withstand -40 degrees. She joins Figaro – an Italian fig of unknown ancestry and Evangeline, a brown Turkish fig. Here’s hoping they all produce this year! I LOVE fresh figs but I also love fig jam.

Everything is growing and thriving right now – in those old truck beds or inside the PVC cage made for the tomatoes which are held up by orange and blue twine from my straw bales.

In the smaller truck bed, kale continues to produce while lettuce and spinach bolt and set seeds for me.

And in the big truck bed, the salvaged and bent fencing is fast disappearing under the cucumber vines twining up the links! The portulacas in the middle add just a dash of color while bringing in tiny beneficial bees. Finally, all the work is beginning to pay off. That’s it from this junkyard! Here’s hoping you are having happy gardening in your “junkyard”!

Cucumbers climbing chain link fence.

Cukes climbing the fence

Cukes growing

Healthy and happy cucumber plants

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Defending My Garden!

Dill growing in with tomatoes

2019 garden in progress

My garden feeds 4 families, every year. It feeds my soul every day.

It is a place of refuge for me, the birds and yes, even the rabbits. 

Recently, the husband of a dear friend of mine described my garden as a, “Junkyard.”

He will remain nameless (as his worth dictates) but I must defend the space that I call my garden.

 

Yes, I have 2 truck beds in my garden. And I love them. Anyone who gardens knows how expensive raised beds are to buy…especially the 3 foot high beds! Well, one of these truck beds was free; the other cost $100.

raised beds from truck beds

Truck beds for raised beds

Both warm up earlier than the ground does so I can plant early. Both keep my crops safe from rabbits and gophers. Both provide a windbreak for transplants which is very important on our property as we are on a hill. Both save my back from bending over to plant, water, pick or bug bust.

See the chain link fence bent in half in the left hand truck bed? I salvaged it from the side of the road and use it as a trellis for crops like cucumbers to grow along.

Found items for the garden

Free barriers

Baskets that were given to me by a friend cover baby plants when it’s cold out. I also use them to keep rabbits from eating tender new leaves on plants or shrubs.

See the yogurt containers on the right? I cut the bottoms out of them (in the foreground) and slide them over vulnerable plants like baby green beans or beets. They are free and they make great collars to keep rabbits and slugs off young plants.

An old screen from the sliding doors we finally had to replace (after 25 years) also provides protection from rabbits, groundhogs and yes, my two West Highland White terriers.

Screen door in the garden

A screen protects beans

Wherever and whenever I can I find and reuse items in my garden and I love being able to do that. I also follow Ruth Stout’s age old advice and use straw to mulch everything from the garden beds and soil to the blueberries, blackberries and herbs.

My garden is not regimented.  Okay, let’s be frank, I am pretty laissez faire when it comes to where some plants show up in my garden.  For example, when my lettuce and spinach start to bolt, I let them grow up and flower. I have 2 ulterior motives – I want the seeds and I want the bees!

Flowers seed themselves

Flowers seed themselves

Borage, dill and bachelor buttons grow together in clumps. Sunflowers grace the back fence. And dill is everywhere! I don’t use dill but it grows where ever its seed landed and I let it grow up and flower.  Why? I want the bees!

 

Volunteer tomato

Tomato volunteers in the sweet potato bed

If you look closely at this picture, you will see a volunteer tomato growing in the sweet potato bed with…yep, some dill.

Volunteer potatoes are growing around the zucchini which I tucked into blueberry patch along with summer squash.

Will this garden of mine win any awards? Probably not. But I love it and I love the food it puts on so many people’s tables.

I love the joy of just wandering early in the morning, the sweet sound of birds singing from morning til night and the beauty that surrounds me every time I step into my garden.

Fresh beets

Fresh beets

First tiny tomatoes

First tomatoes of 2019

Tiny cucumber

First, tiny cucumber of the 2019 season

Free Organic Gardening Book – How To Harden Off Before Transplanting

Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini wait for transplanting

Veggie plants waiting for transplant.

Is it planting time yet?

Every single year, that is the question I ask myself.

Why? Partly because I want to put my hands in dirt and partly because I am surrounded…by plants. They are everywhere…

This is my office…cum plant nursery.

Yesterday the temperature was 82 degrees; this morning, it’s 42 degrees. The weather seems to be even more capricious than ever and that means planning a planting date is pretty much impossible. The upshot is that this gardener remains indoors with trays of plants crowding the top of her desk and claiming space on the floor.

Zucchini, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant being baked in the sun.

Plants being burned by the sun.

Well, the plants and I are indoors except when we are both, literally going outdoors, for a few hours, every single day.  I put them out in the morning but by 2:30 PM, all of them are back, inside, feeling the burn.

This is the dance I like to call the “hardening off” cha cha! 

Peppers, cukes, zukes and eggplant baking on the patio.

Veggie transplants baking in the sun.

Hardening off is necessary to move the plants from a controlled environment into the world of wind, sun, rain and changing temperatures. Don’t harden off and your plants will die. 

So, for the next 2 weeks or maybe even 3, I will be lovingly, carefully and constantly toting trays of plants in and out of my office door.

At some point, I will have to make a decision to put them in the ground then stand by my raised beds, saying small prayers over their little green bodies.

After all, planting time here in Eastern Pennsylvania is usually early May, the merry, malleable and every changing month of May! So here’s hoping I get my garden in the ground by May 6th and the wind and snow head North for their last blast of winter!

Hardening Off Plants Before Transplanting

Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini wait for transplanting

Veggie plants waiting for transplant.

It’s May 19th and my tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini are still not in the ground.

Cold, windy weather kept the bees inside the hive and this gardener indoors with trays of plants crowding the top of her desk and claiming space on the floor.

 Then, the temperatures shot up to high 80’s and low 90’s and trying to harden off became a game between me, the sun and the time of day.
Zucchini, cucumbers, peppers and eggplant being baked in the sun.

Plants being burned by the sun.

All 74 plants go outside in the morning but by 2:30 PM, all of them are back, inside, feeling the burn.

It’s almost the end of May and I am still trying to harden off my plants and get them in the ground! I would like to stop doing this particular dance with my plants but I know better.
Peppers, cukes, zukes and eggplant baking on the patio.

Veggie transplants baking in the sun.

Hardening off is necessary to move the plants from a controlled environment into the world of wind, sun, rain and changing temperatures. Don’t harden off and your plants will die.

This weekend, no matter what the temperature, I will be planting my babies and saying small prayers over their little, green bodies. Here’s hoping the sun and the wind relent for just a few days!
After all, it is May, the merry, malleable and ever-changing month of May. Hope I get the garden in the ground in the next week.

Controlling Japanese Beetles Naturally

I am at war with Japanese beetles, the offspring of last year’s huge and devastating population. This year, I think I’m going to win!

Surround stops Japanese Beetles.

Japanese Beetles hate Surround!

Why? My secret weapon? I am using Surround.

Surround is 95% kaolin clay (5% inert) which is mixed with water and sprayed on plants.

This year, all the blackberries and the blueberries in my yard are wearing coats made

Blueberries covered by Surround.

Beetle free blueberries coated by Surround.

of Surround which I sprayed at the first sign of Japanese Beetles in my back yard.

When I say “first sign” I mean it. Apparently, the beetles release a pheromone when they find good food. Any beetles in the vicinity fly in and start feasting.

Surround doesn’t harm any other insects. But Surround does make berries and leaves taste really bad to the beetles! The proof is on the plants and in the bucket.  This year I have only gotten about 45 beetles, total.

Very few Japanese Beetles in 2016 thanks to Surround

Surround meant fewer than 45 Japanese Beetles in a week!

Last year, I plucked morning and evening, got thousands of Japanese beetles in my bucket and I still lost all the blackberries, beans and apples. The only difference this year is Surround!

Surround also keeps my 10 most hated bugs, including Colorado Potato Beetles, Cucumber and Squash beetles, off of plants so, yes, every squash and cucumber plant in my garden is also sporting a beautiful coat of kaolin clay.

FYI the beetles I have found were on the only 2 plants I didn’t spray with Surround — a Pussy Willow and Borage, which I planted for the bees.

Borage without Surround equals Japanese Beetles.

Borage is one plant I didn’t spray!

Based on my current state, which is only one week into beetle season, I may win the war this year.

If I do, I give all the credit to Surround. If you’re being “bugged,” consider giving it a try.

Bees Susceptible to Neonics Used on Seeds & Seedlings

Bee on sunflower.

A bee visits one of my sunflowers.

If you’re an organic gardener, you don’t use neonics which we know are killing bees and damaging the environment. Or so you think.

But, if you are not buying organic seeds and organic plants, you very well may be poisoning bees right in your own back yard.

Eartheasy shares the latest information on neonics and on how these deadly herbicides and pesticides have slipped into just about every aspect of the farming and gardening world and the result is devastating.

For example, Marta Spivak, an entomologist and Distinguished McKnight University Professor at the University of Minnesota, suggests that  this could be the foundation for “…the problem of the Varroa destructor mite, which spread widely in the 1990’s. If a bee’s immune system is already compromised by even a low dose of neonics (for example, the concentration found if only the seed of a plant is treated) it can make it all the more difficult for the bee to recover when it encounters the dreaded mite.”

Eartheasy provides more information and more insights on their site. Check it out and find out how we might just be undermining the health and well-being of our bee friends and not even know it!

 

Beekeeping: Getting Started!

The buzz about beekeeping seems to be getting louder or maybe I am just listening a bit better.Bee-apis

Margaret Roach’s podcast this week is with Olivia Carroll, author of The Bees in Your Backyard.

The April-May issue of National Wildlife offers a special issue focused on gardening for wildlife and offering a feature article on nurturing native bees.

Bee on sunflower.

A bee visits one of my sunflowers.

Jacqueline Freeman, natural beekeeper and author, was one of the stars of the recent Food Summit.

Bees have always been something I always dreamed about having in my backyard and this spring, my dream is coming true!

I am taking part in a research project involving “ruburbian”dwellers – not quite a suburbanite and not quite a rube. And I will be getting a hive placed in my back yard, lessons on beekeeping and a chance to care for them all summer long.

And I am trying to win a hive all for myself via Margaret Roach! Bees are her latest giveaway. And I could really use them.

Cherry, apple, pear, and pluot trees share space with 13 blueberry bushes and about as many thornless blackberry canes in my backyard. This spring, I am adding elderberry bushes to my meadow. And I’m currently growing chamomile, fennel and marshmallow in my basement to sow around the new additions and keep the lemon balm, milkweed and sunflowers that are already growing there, company.

Add my very big, totally organic veggie and herb garden and it’s clear that I could use all the pollinating help I can get!

I just completed the Chester County Beekeeping Association’s Beginning Beekeeping so I could make a plan for getting my own bees. And now, I am doing research, reading and getting really excited about getting bees!

I would LOVE to provide a happy, safe, pesticide free home on my 2.3 acre “farmden.”

If you want to get an up close look at bees, visit the National Geographic feature with photographs by Sam Droege and his team who are populating a database using data collected by backyarders around the country.