Sunday, April 17, 2016

Buzzing Bees, Garlic Shoots and Planted Peas.

So as promised in the last post... the bees arrived this weekend !

We got a supply of Italian bees from Backwoods Bee Farm in Windham.
The hive consist of about 10,000 bees and a marked queen. The mark is put onto the queen with a marker prior to delivery to help newbie beekeepers like ourselves with locating the queen once she is released into the hive. I say once she is released because she comes in a separate little box that is inside the cluster of bees in the package. It isolates her during the journey. The hopes are that the queen will be healthy and the hive will accept her once she makes her way out of her cage and the magic of the hive begins. The mark is white this year and it also helps beekeepers remember how old the queen is as there is language of color coding that happens from year to year. The queen has the most important role of the hive, without her there will be no reproducing and growing the colony into a healthy 30,000 plus bees needed to thrive and do what bees do best, pollinate and make honey !

All the tools ready for hiving the bees. Sugar water, frames with foundations, the inner cover and of course the hive roof.

So the key to hiving a package is to pry the lid off, inside there is a metal can that is filled with sugar water solution that keeps the bees fed during the journey. Wedged in between the can and the opening is a metal tab that is attached to the queen cage. After prying off the lid and removing the can I brushed the cluster of bees off the queen and set her aside while I gave the rest of the package a good shake into the prepared hive body. When I shook the bees from the package into the hive I had the middle four frames set aside. I then proceeded to gently slide the frames into place and wedge the queen cage in between the middle two frames using a piece of duct tape to make sure the cage stayed in place. Before putting the queen cage into the hive I removed the bottom cork from her cage... it has another plug behind the cork that is made of sugar. the idea is the queen will chew her way out and the colony will chew their way in and hopefully when the interaction finally happens everyone will be happy to see each other and the process of rearing new brood will begin. A healthy queen will lay 1500-2000 eggs a day and within three weeks they will hatch into full grown bees ready to work work work ! The whole hiving process took around 15 minutes and there were lots of bees buzzing about but I wasn't overly nervous as they seemed very playful and happy to be free to buzz about on a warm sunny afternoon.

Here you can see the queen cage with the cork still in the top, the sugar plug is on the bottom side where I took out the cork. Ill be opening the hive on Monday to see if she has made it out yet. Its very important to monitor her as without her the chances of the hive surviving and thriving are slim. 

After placing the inner cover in position, I then added a feeder filled with sugar water. Then I put the hive lid on and placed the shipping package with a handful of straggler bees near the hive entrance and gave them some space until the morning.

The next morning I took a quick peek into the top box that held the feeder, it was early and still pretty chilly so they were not very active but as you can see they were finding the nectar which will help them produce plenty of beeswax comb in preparation for the queen to start laying.

Here is a video from this afternoon where you will see the hive buzzing with activity.  I was excited to work on some garden projects while the hive oriented itself to our surroundings.

 First on the list of planting this weekend was some Bloody Dock Sorrel... its a perennial that takes a year to really establish but its a good deer deterrent and I have always enjoyed its bitter, citrusy flavor. Its a great garnish for fish or a nice addition to some hot weather salads ! 

From there it was on to the peas and salad greens... I knew I wanted to use the log cabin style bed as I watched the way the sun passed over last summer and this spring so it seemed a good fit for a trellis. I am trying to rotate and succession plant a little better this year... plans are the peas will be replaced by cucumbers which will also benefit from the trellis as well as provide some shade to the rotation of salad greens as the summer heats up. I added a dressing of fresh compost and graded the bed gently with a bow rake. Now I had to figure out what to use for the trellis... my first thought was a grid of twine, but after a little searching in the basement and shed I had a better idea.

I found a leftover roll from the fence we constructed last summer and after unrolling it I had just enough to run a twelve foot span along the raised bed. Then behind me I remembered a small beech tree that I had chopped down last weekend to make a little more room for the slowly evolving compost bin system. After sawing that into a couple 7 foot sections and sharpening the bases into stakes with my hatchet it was all coming together. 

 I pounded the 7 foot stakes into the ground and secured them to the raised bed with a few screws. Using a roll of stainless steel wire I then cinched the wire fence to the stakes and the final outcome seems like it should work quite well for peas and cucumbers !

I soaked the peas I was ready to plant for a few hours in a solution of fish emulsion and warm water.
The final planting was a straight 12 ft row with 76 peas planted.

33 Sugar Sprint Snap Peas / 10 Burpeanna Early Peas / 33 Little Marvel Peas 


Along with the peas I also sectioned off five different areas to start the bed of salad greens ! 
Seeds planted; Gigante d'Inverno Spinach, High Mowing Mesculin Mix, Tatsoi, Mache 
and Wrinkled Cress

Still making great use of that Benson's organic surf & turf compost mix and that makeshift bin I constructed last fall held up over the winter !

Another exciting addition to the homestead is our first fruit tree...
a Red Haven Peach tree  

and I had to put one grape vine in the ground this Spring, and Elvira was her name.

 We also uncovered the garlic from the leaf mulch that we placed over the winter and were excited to see what appears to be every clove sprouting away ! I snagged a bale of straw that I hope to be able to dress the bed with this week to keep any weeds from becoming an issue as the growing season warms up.

Another fairly large task that I got made some progress on and have a few scratches to prove it was pruning back the brambles. They seem to not have been dealt with in many years and have spread like wildfire. Im trying to cut all of the canes back only leaving a few of the healthiest and strongest. Hoping over the next year or two to create a nice natural fencing along the soon to be fruit tree patch with the remaining canes,but this is a battle that will be long and arduous.

Well that is my weekend update from this week. Quite productive and my limbs feel like they got a good workout. More seedlings to start this week, getting a little behind but without a greenhouse just yet Im looking at six weeks of seed starting for my tomatoes, eggplant and pepper which I am hoping will all be started by the middle of this week and planted around Memorial Day ! 

Till then I leave you with the fingerling potatoes that are prepping to plant as the eyes form this week.

Thanks again for all the great support, words of encouragement and as always feel free to leave any questions or comments below or email me 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Spring projections and kitten reflections.

Spring is creeping in, the grass is greening, buds are splitting and we have some new residents here at the Localrootz Homestead !

Welcome Oak (brother) and Maple (sister) !

We recently adopted these adorable siblings from the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society.
They are full of kitten mischief and never leave each others side.  

Its a bit difficult to see in these pictures as they are both tiger striped but Oak the boy has a couple white paws along with a patch of white on his neck, the girl Maple has no white spots. We are so lucky to have such great kittens after a few months of empty house syndrome since our old girl Merrimac passed on. We are so happy to have the pitter patter of playful paws scurrying through the house and they aren't afraid to get a good lap nap in on occasion as well !

The other spring project other than raising kittens has been the preparation for our first beehive. We spent the winter reading some books on the subject as well as scouring the interwebs for good resources on the subject. One thing we found was there are lots of different methods and  opinions on the right and wrong way to do things. After absorbing a handful of  these opinions we were ready to give it a shot and start the hands on learning process. Step one was visiting the Portland Honey Exchange where we were able to source all the equipment needed. We chose an 8 frame and with some nudging by the wife we splurged a little and got the copper hive top to add a little pizzaz to the homestead.  

Assembly was pretty straight forward and required some weatherproof woodglue and galvanized nails to hold up to the elements.

After assembling the hive bodies and honey supers, bee talk for the large and small boxes the frames are held in, it was time to assemble the frames. These are the bases or "foundations" for the hive to build their comb for raising brood and making honey ! Inside these frames I laid a base layer of thin embossed beeswax to guide the bees on their journey to produce honey and raise a hopefully healthy and thriving colony. 

Its projects like assembling the hive that make me glad I spent the time this winter constructing a proper workbench. I still have plans for some extra shelving and a better light fixture but for around $60 in lumber this is sturdy and at a good height for working.

The finished hive, as you can see, we decided to use an outdoor stain on the exterior of the box to help protect it from the Maine weather, but still retain its rustic appeal. I cleared the area around it and plan on possibly propping it up even a little higher with a few extra cement blocks before adding the bees this coming weekend. Much more information and stories to tell as our beekeeping experiment gets going !

Another early Spring project that we tackled last weekend was establishing a proper asparagus bed. Asparagus is one of our favorite spring vegetables and also one that cost a pretty penny when sourcing it locally and organically. I choose a nice sunny spot located next to last years sunflower raised bed and decided to dig a 18" hole that measured just about 8' x 4'. I realized I had made the right decision going with raised beds last Spring because there was a lot of rocks... did I say rocks, maybe I should use the term boulders. Luckily I used a bit of restraint and managed to not break one of my shovels ! 

Here you can see the finished hole, I snipped any large roots that were encroaching and lightly aerated the base to allow for decent drainage, though I found the soil actually more sandy and less claylike than I expected. In fact I added a wheelbarrow full to the raised bed next to it and decided that would make for a good potato bed to plant some fingerlings this year... more on that in another post. 

Following some guidelines in a few of our gardening books, I blended some woodchip compost that was leftover from the previous owners goats and blend it with the organic surf and turf compost blend I purchased from Benson's last year.

I then grabbed the Purple Passion Asparagus crowns that I purchased locally from Pinetree Garden Seeds in New Gloucester a few weeks before. I keep them in a dark cool corner of the basement and pulled them out and let them warm to room temperature overnight.

Then we filled our compost bucket with warm water and diluted a few tablespoons of Alaska Fish Fertilizer into the warm water and gave it a good stir.

Spreading out and gently untangling the 10 crowns I arranged them from big to small.

From there I soaked the crowns in the warm nutrient enriched water for a half hour. 


And finally in the warm spring afternoon sun I spread the crowns evenly throughout the bed and covered the crowns with another 2-3 inches of compost, watered liberally with the enriched water bucket and then a couple fresh pails full too!


Well that was a successful weekend to get things going for another growing season and to make sure my back remembers how much it enjoys moving dirt by the shovel full !

And one more shot of the cute new kitten additions !
Maple & Oak

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