Last night the UPS guy arrived during dinner.
Because I’m not overcommitted, yesterday I ordered 6 pounds of bees and two hives. I’m taking a beekeeping class run by my local beekeeping club. And in about six weeks I’ll drive two hours west to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, pick up my bees, and begin a new adventure.
If you garden much at all, you’re probably aware of the plight of Apis mellifera, the European honeybee. Between varroa mites (Varroa destructor), the mysterious colony collapse disorder, and a charming array of other pests, diseases, and environmental insults, only about 16% of feral bee colonies survive one year (American Bee Journal). Sustainable colony management is essential to helping the species survive.
Yesterday I began preparing my bee yard. I’m resisting calling it an apiary; that seems a rather aspirational term given that I’ve got two hives and no experience.
The ideal spot to locate hives is in full sun, away from well-traveled paths. That place doesn’t exist on my half-acre suburban property. The full-sun locations in my garden are immediately adjacent to my neighbor’s driveway, where a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old play daily. Everywhere else on the property is well shaded by mature oak trees.
I’ve chosen a small spot behind my shed, where the bees will be sheltered but should still get some morning sun. I’ll face the hives towards the southeast, because light stimulates them to start their day. Yesterday I cleared the area of ivy and vinca vines, leveled the ground, and laid a few inches of gravel where the hives will be. Gravel helps suppress small hive beetles, a pest I’m told I will have to accept around here. Chickens are also excellent at helping to suppress the beetles–they adore the larvae–but that’s a project for another day.
I’m also clearing ivy vines that have grown up the trunk of one of the nearby oaks. I won’t be able to reach them at the top, but by getting as much as I can off the trunk, I will permit more light to reach the bee yard.
I started at ground level, wedging a cat’s paw tool–a wide, flat crowbar/nail puller about 12 inches long–between the trunk’s bark and the vine. I pried it back from the bark, slid it up the trunk as far as I could, and pried again.
I’ve wedged brick fragments between the trunk and the vine to keep the vines from reattaching until I can complete the project.
I hate to use herbicides in my garden, but this is a desperate case. I’ll pull off as much as I safely can, and paint the remaining vine with brush killer. I will probably also paint the base of the vine with the same, and dig it out once it’s dead. I know from experience that if I don’t use herbicide on something as large as this, I will never eradicate it.
Wish me luck. I’ll post photos of the carnage when I can.
Today’s temperature was only in the high 80s, so I felt brave enough to venture outside and tend long-deferred tasks. Weeded grassy area off the deck; I’m impressed with the resilience of Eco-Grass, a fine fescue blend I’m trying out. I sowed it in cool weather, early spring, and did the requisite watering to get it established but since then haven’t watered or fed, or even mowed. It’s long, at about 5″, but what’s growing in the shade is still very green. I’ll have to be careful establishing it in the main pathway between house and shed.
Made notes of shrubs to buy for fall. Started weeding rain garden; weeded & mulched maybe 20%. Weeded and mulched 1/3 of ophiopogon path, watered with nettle tea. Made more comfrey tea. Both plants have made a rebound after a brutally hot and dry June.
Moved a Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) to where the side gate will be (oh, yes; we’re getting a fence for the yard to contain Henry). Watered and mulched it, the existing jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides variegata), and the ‘Yuletide’ camellia. Moved 2 loads mulch to the very damp corner behind T’s room; perhaps later this week I will till it in to improve drainage. Ferns looking superb in the rain garden and hanging in there in the new rain barrel bed. The fungus that grew on the blueberries earlier this year seems to have stayed away. Found a big fruit on Arisaema.
If you read much gardening literature, you’ll eventually come across some plant for which the consensus seems to be that anyone can grow it, it’s totally foolproof, and yet you, no matter how hard you try, cannot get the job done.
For me, for the longest time, it was poppies.I love poppies (Papaver sp., mostly). Their delicate petals and vibrant colors fill me with longing. Everything I read promised they were easy to grow. I even read about a local woman who bought a sackful of breadseed poppy seeds from the bulk bin at the local market and threw them out into her garden, and next year her side yard looked like Giverny. I tried the same technique and discovered that lady must be holding something back. I tried different varieties–Oriental poppies (P. orientale), breadseed (P. somniferum), Welsh poppies (Meconopsis cambrica), California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas), Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule)–everything except the holy grail of poppies, the Himalayan blue, which, let’s face it, I wasn’t ready for. I tried direct seeding in fall, in spring, I tried transplanting–failure after failure. Some sources said they needed rich soil. I provided rich soil; nothing happened. Some sources said they grow in very poor soil. I began to despair. Last year, a gardening friend, Catherine, shared her secret:
How to grow poppies from seed
- Find your sunny spot where you want your poppies to grow, and lay out a bed of compost about 1-2″ thick.
- Smooth it over a bit with the back of the rake.
- Scatter your poppy seeds in the compost.
- Tamp them in gently with the back of the rake.
- Walk away.
They don’t need watering, except what Mother Nature will bring.
Well, Catherine did not fail me. Barring a tornado, hurricane, or direct lightning strike to the spot, I am about to witness the bloom of my first poppy ever.
Timing your seeding seems to be very important as well. These were sown about the first week of November. I sowed some more in December and those are coming along, but are quite small. Perhaps the advent of summer tropical weather will hasten their growth.
I tell you, I’m anticipating this flower like the British press anticipated the first peek at Princess Charlotte. It will probably suffer sunburn from camera flashes once it does appear.
I have three weeks to go until our average last frost date.
I did really well this winter, getting seeds sown and potting things on. Now, I’ve got to hang on until the tender things are safe to plant. The cold frame is jammed full.
Hardening off seedlings, though, is too important a process to skip. I skipped it all the time until I built my cold frame–mostly because I didn’t want to spend half the morning bringing trays of plants in and out of the house–and my plants performed correspondingly poorly.
Hardening off is a process of gradually exposing seedlings and tender plants to larger temperature variations and stronger light levels than they experience indoors. The process produces slower, sturdier, more resilient growth, preparing plants for life in the open garden. Without a cold frame, gardeners place plants in a sheltered location outside–maybe in a shaded site, close to the warmth of the house–for a short period of time, lengthening the exposure to outside conditions every few days.
Using a cold frame–basically a tiny greenhouse–makes the process far less tedious. It’s not quite a matter of set-it-and-forget-it, but it frees up lots of the time and space other parts of life demand. My cold frame, which I constructed myself from recycled materials for about $30, faces south and backs up to my house. I start hardening off my seedlings in mid-February, when we begin to see a few 50-degree (10C) days. I start with the hardy perennials, then move in the hardy annuals. Tender plants come last. Space permitting, I sow vegetable seeds in flats directly in the cold frame.
During the first few days in the frame, I place plants on its south side so they sit in slight shadow from the frame’s front wall. They gradually move towards the back as more plants come in. On unusually warm days, I vent the cold frame by propping open the glass doors, made of discarded windows. This keeps the temperatures inside from getting too hot–such fragile plants can quickly dehydrate and die if the temperatures climb too high. Sometimes I’ll prop open the windows entirely, but cover the opening with a bit of horticultural fabric. This practice lets the light in but keeps hungry foraging birds and squirrels and early insect pests out.
We’re getting close enough to the last-frost date that I may move out some of the plants with the longest tenancy–particularly the perennials–into permanent locations. They’ve withstood some cold nights already, so a late frost won’t likely bother them.
Believe, gardeners! The digging season is nearly here.
Despite 70F (21C) temperatures today, it’s winter and I must govern myself accordingly in the garden. I went through the seed packets and found a handful of treasures to winter sow:
- Anemone canadensis
- Spinach (Bloomsdale)
- Louisiana iris ‘Black Gamecock’
- Bachelor buttons (Centaurea sp., double form, blues and purples)
- Cleome (pink and purple)
- Salvia viridis
I’ll keep an eye on the anemones and spinach. For now, I’m growing the spinach in the cold frame, though I may transplant some of it into a larger bed as the month progresses. The anemones will need a second cold, moist period, so in late spring they’ll migrate to the refrigerator for a month or two. I hope to be able to transplant them to the garden this fall.
January here can be terribly unpredictable: This week, we’ll swing from a high of 70 to a high of 29F (-1.6C). I’m sure we had winter temperature swings when I was growing up, but I don’t remember anything like this. And we always had at least a few snows; that’s not a guarantee now. The more time I spend in the garden, the more I worry about climate change.
My snowdrops are blooming and the foliage of daffodils and crocus stands just above the mulch. I’m closer to my goal of having something in bloom all year round.
This year’s bumper crop of acorns has meant that the deer have stayed away up to now, but two days ago I saw seven (seven!) adult deer at once in the neighbor’s backyard. I hope my garden looks more trouble than it might be worth to them. Thinking more and more about the necessity of a fence, especially with Henry‘s addition to the household. Perhaps he’ll frighten off the squirrels and voles, who are making one heck of a mess in the soft, wet ground.