Category Archives: the backyard

Autumn bee maintenance – installing an in-hive warmer

This will be my first winter using an in-hive warmer and, as usual, I’m posting both to share the information and keep a history going for myself. I installed the Warmbees product in August during my last full hive inspection. (Note that Warmbees has changed the configuration on their heater from the one I purchased – the new model looks more compact and can be re-oriented for use in a top bar hive.)

in-hive heater

Photo credit: www.warmbees.com

Installation couldn’t be easier: select the temperature range (mine is set to low to maintain a temperature of about 40 degrees F), drape the wire ribbon with LED signal light and the cord over the edge of the hive box, and plug it in to an extension cord. Naturally, this requires the colony to be within cord distance of an electrical outlet. I haven’t quite figured out a battery/solar configuration yet. There’s no assembly required and you don’t need to know anything about wiring. The tiny LED makes a reassuring glow in the front yard:

hive box with heater

I used an Imirie shim installed with the opening toward the back of the hive to run the cord and ribbon through, and blocked the extra space with dry grass. When I wrap the hive with insulation for winter in November I’ll tape over the hole as the bees should be used to it by then. When I replaced the quart mason jar of sugar syrup for fall feeding today (they’ve been going through a quart every three days) I noticed that they’ve built beautiful, regular comb over the wires running on top of the frame.

The beauty of this device is that it is controlled by the internal temperature of the hive box. Other products that wrap around the outside of the equipment doesn’t sense the heat generated by the cluster of bees and by overheating them can convince them to fly in freezing weather. We had a frost last night but with a good sized cluster generating its own warmth the heater hasn’t needed to go on to keep the internal temp at around 40. I have high hopes that this product will help an otherwise healthy colony last through the long, cold Maine winter and the cold, wet spring that follows.

The garden in late September after the first frost:

September garden

 

Salad days – July in the garden

The garden in July is a nine-day wonder. Every year I’m amazed that the tiny seeds of March grow into a vegetable forest in only 100 days.

The dry gravel in the dooryard continues to improve with the addition of seaweed, hay, and now Bio-Char, a soil amendment of organic material heated in a low-oxygen environment. I find it changes the texture and moisture properties of the bed almost immediately. The early Romaine and Blue Lake green beans seem to like it very well.

lettuce and bush beans

I reclaimed a row of angelica as a new site for yellow, purple, and red raspberries this year but it’s impossible to get every plant – evidence below. Angelica makes excellent bee forage and, at 6′ tall, there’s plenty of forage on each plant. The basswood tree behind it didn’t flower this year and I miss the long golden racemes but I’m not surprised at the branch damage with the temps settling at 15 F below for days at a time last winter.

angelica

William Lobb, an old moss rose with intensely fragrant and sticky burr along each bud and branch, with a rugosa hybrid “Hugo” in back, both covered in bees.

hugo rose

One rhubarb plant is really all you’ll ever need. Seriously. To think I’d planned on three?

rhubarbOne of the new colonies, both of which are settling in beautifully. The bees are in the lower portion (or “deep”). The upper two boxes are empty and hold an inverted quart Mason jar with holes punched in the lid to feed sugar syrup during the colony’s transition to a new place. They’ve stopped taking the sugar so I haven’t refilled the jar. The bed of Phacelia (Bee’s Friend) directly in front of the hive is constantly alive with pollinator traffic of all kinds, not just the hived honeybees.

beehives

Phacelia is a new addition to the garden for 2015. I’ve sown it nearly everywhere I had bare ground this year. It sprouts generously and easily from seed under harsh conditions, the ferny undergrowth shades the soil to conserve moisture during these hot dry days, and the bees are on the flowers at all times of the day so the nectar flow must be near continuous. I think my next exploration is Nectoroscodum siculum, or Mediterranean Nectar Garlic – a fragrant allium that seeps nectar from drooping flower bells- wow.

July in January

I’ve been working on my 2015 seed order this week and talking with a few garden friends about preferences in paprika peppers; rabbit and pigeon predation (I thought I had it bad with deer – at least they don’t fly!); cover crops, and the Eternal Chicken Question. All this brings to mind images of the garden in full green swing, not the current landscape of dingy grey snow with muddy patches and with a buzzcut of bare twigs and pale grasses. Here are some of my favorite images from July, 2014. (I was planning to take some side-by-side photos of today’s garden but it was too depressing – we don’t need a reminder that the ground is hard as iron right now and it will easily be four more months until it begins to soften and “green up”.)

Just outside the dooryard, on the southfacing hillside: broccoli, breadseed poppies, sorrel, mullein, strawberries, parsley, and a Beta pie cherry tree all held in place by withy rows of Black and Scottish basket willow. Down on the lower level you can see the Washington Hawthorns providing a thorny barrier against deer (and almost enough haws for a batch of jelly in 2014) and the silver foliage of the snake willow.

Broccoli withy

More from the dooryard: purple basil, pinks, calendula, and carrots grow under the Seckel pear tree. There’s an elderberry bush coming up on the left that will need to be transplanted (again!) into the swamp during Garden 2015.

purple basil and calendula

Entrance to the lower garden: rhubarb, German paste tomatoes, mustards (in bloom), columbine, Joe Pye weed, and rugosa

rhubarb, tomatoesPink and white rose-mallow, well, mostly white this year! It was nearly smothered by pole beans in August but managed well enough to be featured in several still life paintings.

mallowThe chaos that is the lower garden center: mullein, Russian crabapple, marshmallow, goldenrod (for bee fodder), and one of the glacial erratics that characterize the Maine island garden. There’s a path in there too, somewhere. . . .

lower gardenIn every photo set from my garden there should be at least one very, very confused plant. This Angelica decided to grow up through a cinderblock amidst the nasturtium and pole beans, and it did very well, considering.

sugar cane

Can’t wait until July, 2015!

 

 

 

The Social Capital Owl FAQ

hOWLaween

1. How long has this foolishness been going on?   About 15 years now.

2. What is Social Capital?   The Wikipedia article is pretty good. I find myself aligned with Francis Fukuyama as opposed to Bill Putnam, who wrote the most commonly accessed book on the subject, “Bowling Alone”, and who I feel is heavily influenced by a false sense of nostalgia for the white male nirvana of the 1950’s in the US. Fukuyama describes social capital as “shared norms or values that promote social cooperation, instantiated in actual social relationships”, which I feel describes the owl-community fairly well.

2. How did the SCO get its start/How can I start a SCO on my road?   One day I started cutting down a small spruce at the edge of the road and was interrupted (as one is with small children) before I chopped down the stripped trunk. A neighbor came by and plopped a yard-sale scare-owl on the convenient pole. Someone with a great imagination decided to dress it in a baby tee-shirt advertising the Common Ground Fair and here we are. I imagine you could start by setting a naked owl statue out by the side of the road and then quickly walking away –  the key seems to be allowing anonymity, at least to start. Don’t spy on the owl goings-on!

3. What’s your favorite owl outfit?   Someone added a mortar board (it might have been a party favor?) when our son graduated from high school. That was very sweet.

4. Do you ever dress the owl yourself?/What’s the easiest way to dress an owl (statue)?   Generally the owl just shows up in a new outfit based on the season or an upcoming holiday. Patriots games are a big inspiration, and so is Halloween. Baby clothes from a thrift shop or yard sale used to be the easiest costumes to use, but now I buy small dog outfits when I can find them cheaply. They come with velcro fittings and come in a frankly frightening array of holiday/sports/occasion choices.

5. The owl has been exposed to 15 years of road salt and blistering Maine summers; will you find another one when the plastic finally crumbles?   The owl is indeed faded and worn, and his/her eyes are not their original sparkling yellow. I think we’ll probably have a neighborhood wake and family burial in the back yard at some point, and then go looking for alternatives. Suggestions, anyone?

 

The July garden

Right now is when everything in the garden turns the corner into full production. We’ve just past the longest day of the year and now it’s all about beating that long, downhill slide toward the dark and cold. November will come, but meanwhile we can make hay while the sun shines and harvest broccoli too.

brassica larkspur

Broccoli, kale, cabbage and other brassica grow well under a variety of conditions, but in my garden they also attract pests if too many are crowded together in one place. I spot plants around in odd areas to avoid cutworms, whitefly, and fleabeetles that find their host plants by scent. In the back is a row of larkspur flowering in its first year from seed – can’t wait to see the variety of colors.

green dinner

Tonight’s dinner is kung pao tofu with assorted greens.

long view of valerian jungleSome of the lower garden is buried in an onslaught of valerian. I don’t discourage it because it goes by quickly, the bees love it, and the roots make an excellent sleep potion (which as a bonus, smells like wet dog).

blue angel hosta

This is the season for big edibles, but the ornamentals aren’t far behind: Blue Angel Hosta maturing at 5′ by 6′ down in the swamp!

seedum

For most of the year this seedum is a flat green carpet, but in July it becomes an alien solar farm.

finger trimmed spruce

I have a finger-trimmed spruce going down in the swamp, next to the hosta. It’s ten years old and has been hand pruned at the tips each year. The “antler” is what happens when the gardener is called away without finishing the task! It’s not a fast growing tree, but it managed to put out this extension in four days – that’s a lot of pent up energy.

 

Taraxacum Season, blown away

A post of just a few weeks ago included photos of a sea of yellow dandelion flowers in full bloom. Today the gold has turned to silver as every floret matures into a seed, and each plant can produce up to 2,000 seeds. Multiply that out by the plants in these photos and you can see next year’s dandelion forest in the making.

The bee colony in as a rock in a river of gray flower-heads:

2000 seeds per plant!

Dandelions guard the path to the driveway, with some centura and valerian waiting in the wings.

dandelion path

Also in bloom this week; Dyer’s Woad.

dandelions and dyers woad

 

Blizzard warning!

Tonight there’s a scary-beautiful conflagration of low pressure and high cold air that will bring us 20″ of spring snow and 50 mph winds by early morning. The storm will intensify over the Gulf of Maine and bring even higher winds to the Nova Scotia reaches, scouring the highlands and dumping 2′ of snow along the way.

But isn’t it pretty? That’s us – right between the huge gray high and the Buddhist monk orange low.

Blizzard warning

Time to go fill the teakettle and grind some coffee before the power goes out. Stay warm, everyone!

 

New work, redux

March in Maine: wearing crampons over my boots to hike down to Four Seals Beach and wearing fleece-lined leather gloves to stand on the rocks and draw, white sky with black rocks and seals barking in the distance, the full moon and the sun glowing on different horizons. I’m happy with the work, will continue to use a Cadmium Lemon wash and different hues to make the underlying map on this set of paintings.

Square Rock at 4 Seals

Four Seals, Square Rock, 18 x 24 inches, oil on board

Seed order 2014, new directions

Every winter I try to take a snow day off from work and spend the morning finalizing my seed order to Fedco. There’s something very satisfying about glancing up from long, detailed descriptions of luscious tomatoes and tender green beans to see the snow pelting down outside. (Seeds for bush beans and alyssm “Carpet of Snow” are already on order, as they were in 2013 below.)

beanies beans

My seed order for the coming year will be an experiment; an acknowledgement of suspicions and assumptions that I’ve been resisting for several seasons. My new guidelines, In no particular order, are:

  • I don’t need to grow boatloads of everything. That goes double for tomatoes
  • I should grow more of what we actually eat, regardless of whether it appeals to my Yankee nature and stores well in the pantry or root cellar
  • I love flowers, I paint flowers, and although we can’t eat flowers, I should step all over that Yankee nature and give serious consideration to creating a huge cutting garden.

And maybe give in to the occasional impulse buy that turns out to be really cool – like Dutch Butter popcorn!

dutch popcorn

Well, no, growing popcorn is an indulgence in space that we could be taking up by growing 9′ stalks of Silver Queen (the finest white sweet corn of all time), so popcorn didn’t make the 2014 list. I am easily swayed to excess when I’m reading seed catalogs but I think I managed to hold closely to my New Rules. FEDCO seeds just emailed me my order confirmation:

214 – Greencrop Bush Green Bean ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
658 – Silver Queen White Sweet Corn ( A=2oz ) 1 x $2.20 = $2.20
818 – Oregon Giant Snow Pea ( A=2oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2073 – Shin Kuroda 5" Carrot ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $0.90 = $0.90
2186 – Bulls Blood Beet ( A=1/8oz ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
2425 – Bleu de Solaize Leek ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
2510 – Space Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2555 – Giant Winter Spinach ( A=1/4oz ) 1 x $1.40 = $1.40
2766 – Australian Yellow Lettuce OG ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.60 = $1.60
3209 – Maruba Santoh ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3222 – Tokyo Bekana ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
3230 – Mizspoona Salad Selects Gene Pool OG ( A=1/16oz ) 1 x $1.50 = $1.50
3273 – Joi Choi Pac Choi ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
3315 – Gypsy Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.70 = $1.70
3316 – Purple Peacock Gene Pool Broccoli OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
3322 – Arcadia Broccoli ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.80 = $1.80
4441 – Aromato Basil OG ( A=0.5g ) 1 x $1.30 = $1.30
4481 – Wild Bergamot OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5113 – Sunburst Heliopsis ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $2.50 = $2.50
5168 – Giant Imperial Mixed Larkspur ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5171 – Lavatera Mix ( A=1g ) 1 x $1.00 = $1.00
5291 – Tall Climbing Mix Nasturtium ( A=4g ) 1 x $1.10 = $1.10
5350 – Elka Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5351 – Ziar Breadseed Poppy OG ( A=0.1g ) 1 x $1.20 = $1.20
5731 – State Fair Mix Zinnia ( B=2g ) 1 x $2.80 = $2.80

This order and what I’ve saved from previous years will probably still grow more that we can eat, but perhaps I won’t feel quite as compelled to spend the entire harvest season canning tomatoes. Perhaps. The baby in this photo is now 22 – obviously I have a long history of growing too much produce!

tomatoes, everywhere

The summer studio

It’s minus 7F this morning, but I have off from my day job and a heated studio to paint in so I’m feeling particularly fortunate on this first day of the New Year. This morning I’ll start a new piece based on photos, drawings, and color swatches from this summer. Here’s the set-up – the hoop-house in the garden is a frozen refuge for field mice this morning, but on a sunny Saturday in late July it was glorious place to work.

Painting in the hightunnel

Happy New Year everyone!