New work

We have so much snow on the ground that the thought of painting it makes me shiver. I’m making drawings of the dark spruce trees bending under heaps of pristine white, but as an antidote I’m finishing images from this summer. The crab apples are from the community garden and orchard at College of the Atlantic.

Crab Apples and Teapot

Crab Apples and Teapot, 24 x 18, oil on panel

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!

 

 

 

New work – Acadian bouquet

A still life of all the flowers that grow along the paths and roadways on the island: mallow, borage, goatsbeard (Aruncus), echinecea, sage, and thistle. I’ve made myself a note not to try borage again for a while – it was incredibly difficult to make sense of in the drawing!

Acadia bouquet

 

Acadian Bouquet, 24 x 18 inches, oil on panel

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

 

Taraxacum season

Dandelions are only a nuisance weed if you have lovely heaps of fertile soil. For those of us who live on a pile of rocks, Taraxacum o. is a long-season cultivator with a tap root that loosens packed subsoils and moves soil nutrients to the surface for other, more delicate species. The composite blossoms are a dependable food source for the bees during the early spring, and I have to admit that as much as it would have driven my father crazy, I don’t mind looking out my front door on to a sea of yellow blooms.

taraxacum o

Looking to the side yard toward the swamp, where the blue Chinese forget-me-not is blooming early and the Centura nearly taking over. . .

Taraxacum o in bloom

And along the front walk by the hives and tomato plants in their protective cloches.

Dandelions under the plum tree

We’ve had a few warm days since I took these photos last Sunday, and the blueberry bushes in the foreground are all blossomed pink and white. Spring is passing quickly!

 

 

The bees are coming, the bees are coming!

. . .so I spent most of Sunday making them a nice clean home.

New location for hive

Last year’s hives were down the hill in the garden proper (one of the originals is visible in the photo above). Unfortunately, neither colony was particularly strong and bald hornets attacked in July. They’re carnivores and attack the hives for their larvae as well as honey and pollen stores: neither colony survived the long Maine winter. The new site is not too far away, on the hillside overlooking the garden in a nice, sunny spot where the hornets may not find it right away. My research suggests it doesn’t take much displacement to confuse the predators.

Sunday was clear and warm although you can see that we still have plenty of snow around the yard. The exposed ground was soft and the air temp stayed @ 50 F during daylight hours. The first hatch of mosquitoes is still a week or so in the future (I hope) so it was a pleasant day to spend outdoors, cleaning and smoking the used hive boxes and bleaching the hive-top feeders. I may even have gotten a little bit sunburnt around the edges.

This weekend I’ll get packaged bees delivered from Spicer Bees in Whitefield and we’ll start the 2014 garden season with a new colony. I’ve fitted out the old hive box, below, with smoke-cleaned frames, applied Bee Charm to the inner surfaces, and left the bottom entrance fixture open to see if we can attract a swarm.

finished new hive

A view from the garden down the bee highway:

bee highway

 

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

Update from the hive

We’ve had very pleasant weather for far longer than is usually the case in October. There have been a few chilly clear nights but no hard frost here yet and the temperature is predicted to stay above 40 right through next week. Temperature doesn’t rule every living thing, however, and the pumpkins, green beans, tomatoes, and the bees, are all closing down as the day-length contracts and we move inexorably toward the winter solstice. We’ll see just over 8 hours of sun on December 21st vs. exactly 11 hours today.

Our bees have had a rough summer. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why there were so many corpses lying around (drones? disease?) the hive entrance, but I finally caught the culprit – we have predators! Bald-faced hornets are a North American species known for their large paper nests and for stinging aggressively in defense of their home turf. I’ve noticed them hanging around the fruit in the compost heap, but they have also been attacking the weaker of our two hives, robbing the honey stores and larvae and impeding the growth of the colony.

I picked up an old monograph on beekeeping at the Jesup Library book sale a few years ago. The cover is missing, so I can’t credit the author, but it includes some basic information about combining colonies when one is disadvantaged. The author suggests that this is easier on the bees when they have a common enemy – approaching cold weather, for instance, or predators. We have both, so I decided to give it a try. The weaker colony isn’t going to make it through the Maine winter by itself in any case.

I opened both hives and found that “Vanilla” (we name the hives for the color of their paint!) had not yet built out the outside frames with eggs or larvae. I removed those and then slid the active frames all the way to the outside wall on one side. Then there was just enough space to drop in the four active frames from “Pistachio” – it was a tight fit – against the other hive-box wall, with a section of newsprint between the two, formerly separate, colonies.

Merged frames

There were crowds of bees in the air during this maneuver, but I didn’t get stung and everything seemed to settle down rather quickly. I put on some sugar cake and buttoned everything back up with a Styrofoam box feeder on top (for a February syrup feeding). I left the Pistachio hive open, but empty of frames, figuring that workers might still be returning to that box. I may have sacrificed the field bees with this move, because the guard bees from Vanilla won’t be inclined to let them in.

Later in the day I found a moderate amount of activity but no fighting or new corpses. I imagine there will be some evidence tomorrow as the hive cleans itself out. I reduced the main entrance to provide more security and closed the top entrance loosely with grass that the bees can push away if need be. There were guard bees behind the reducer and they repelled a wasp while I watched, so that’s a good sign!

hives after merging

So now we wait and see – pretty much the gardening motto around here. I will no doubt be driving up to Skowhegan to Abnaki Apiaries next spring to pick up a new nuc hive, and return the boxes from this spring. Onward!