Holy moly we have been productive over the past two weeks! Between the warm weather and the help from my parents, we have knocked out everything on our to-do lists plus some items on our extended to-do lists. It is worth mentioning that we’ve been motivated by the fact that we will be away from the farm next week celebrating our anniversary. We picked a wedding date before we were super serious about this hobby farming thing, and although April is a fabulous time of year to take vacations, it is also one of the busiest times of year on the farm. This is the first year that we are not only caught up on our lists and tasks before leaving, but we are actually ahead of schedule so that when we come back there will be no catching up, just picking back up where we left off. Here’s what we’ve been up to:
In the garden: all of the empty beds have been completely turned over – compost has been raked into the soil and ground cloth has been applied. We harvested the remaining broccolini, pulled all of the plants, removed the old ground cloth, weeded the bed, and covered it with compost all within a few hours one afternoon last week. We still have kale, swiss chard, and cabbage occupying some of the garden beds and our plan is to let them grow until we return from our trip. At that time, we will harvest all of the remaining winter crops and turn the beds over to prepare for our later start summer crops such as cucumbers and various squash varieties.
Our pole beans have grown so fast in their soil blocks that we had no choice but to transplant them last weekend and I’ll tell you what, they look fantastic! They did look a little wilted and sad for about an hour immediately after transplantation, but they perked back up faster than any beans that we’ve ever transplanted in the past. Typically in the past, our beans would go through transplant shock and be stunted for days. Not these soil blocked beans! They are thriving and even starting to climb the hardware cloth trellis. The only problem we face now is that we will have two nights of temperatures in the low thirties at the end of the week which means that we will have to tarp the beans and hope for the best. Actually, I should say that we will tarp the beans one night and my parents will have to tarp the beans for us on the second night because we will be gone – hey mom and dad (we know you’re reading!), have we told you how grateful we are for you yet?! We had been keeping an eye on the extended forecast and wouldn’t you know that it has only gotten colder and colder since last weekend. A week ago, temperatures were projected to be chilly but not frost-worthy so we decided to gamble on the pole beans and put them into the ground. If we weren’t going to be gone, we would have just waited for the two cold nights to pass to plant the beans, but by the time we return from our trip the beans would be overgrown and entangled in a gigantic mess in the greenhouse. In these situations you just have to make a decision, do what you gotta do, and hope for the best. Hopefully the beans will survive the two cold nights, especially since they are doing incredibly well so far. If worse comes to worse we will just restart them and have a little bit of a later bean harvest. Luckily beans germinate super quickly, so it shouldn’t be a total loss either way.
We also harvested all of our overwintered radishes last weekend. Originally we were planning to leave the radishes in the ground until we returned from our trip. With the warm weather, they were starting to look like they may bolt so we harvested a large basket of radishes and covered both of the radish beds with compost. Once we return, the compost will be raked into the soil and a new round of radish seeds will be direct sown. On another note, I’m happy to report that the questionable tomato seedling in the greenhouse that fell victim to my poor thinning practice has survived! It has even started to grow its second set of leaves. It is markedly stunted but that’s ok, it clearly has the will to live so it has earned a spot in the tomato garden. I think that’s it for gardening updates.
Around the farm: we completed our orchard maintenance a few weeks ago which consisted mostly of weeding and cleaning up the blueberry bushes as well as cleaning up and prepping all of the raised beds. We also direct sowed the tea garden raised bed in the orchard. Last year, we tried starting our agastache, hyssop, chamomile, and other medicinal plants in our tea garden from seed in the greenhouse. We had decent germination rates considering that it was our first time ever surface sowing, but transplantation was a major pain and the tea garden only half turned out how we had hoped. So, this year we decided that we would direct sow the tea garden, and that we did! Most of the tea garden seeds require surface sowing, so we basically broadcasted out a ton of tiny seeds all over the bed, packed them down with our hands so that they didn’t fly away in the wind, and now we wait to see what happens. It will be a fun little experiment. Many of the plants we grew in the tea garden last year are perennials or self-seed (yarrow, hyssop, bee balm, mint, coneflower) and have already started growing back this year. Hopefully this year’s tea garden is at least as successful as last year if not more.
It’s also officially the time of year where we get the crap scared out of us by the carpenter bees every time we do anything outside. We have quite the tribe of carpenter bees around here, and they especially love our chicken coop. They haven’t caused any major damage so we let them reside in the walls of the coop in exchange for the pollination that they provide to our garden and our flowers. We even have one carpenter bee who is obsessed with the greenhouse and is always waiting for me right at eye level every time I open the door to step out onto the greenhouse deck. He was there all last year and has decided to return again this year. Not sure if he’s confused and wants to live in the greenhouse or if he just enjoys making me jump every single time.
Speaking of bees, one of the big projects we completed last weekend was moving our bee hive stands to a different location on our property. When we were originally preparing to get bees, we decided we would position the hives right next to the garden so that the bees would have access to all of the blooms and blossoms in the garden. Sounds like a great idea, right? Well let me just start off by saying that we made lots of mistakes during our first two years of beekeeping, with our hive location being one of them. Our other big mistake was trying to be as “natural” as possible by not routinely using smoke during hive inspections. If you are reading this and you are thinking about getting bees, listen to me when I say to smoke your hives during inspections. Get good at starting the smoker and keeping it lit, and use the smoke consistently (not aggressively) during your inspections. Our lack of smoke usage led to our bees learning our scent which led to – you guessed it – getting stung and chased out of the garden. Since our apiary was located directly outside of the garden fencing, all of the bees returning to and leaving the hives had to fly through, over, or around our garden. Mix in the fact that they associated our scent with danger from our many smokeless hive inspections, and you can just imagine how fun gardening was for us last year. There were many days that I had to start a fire in a large pot to act as a giant smoker to mask my scent in the garden. That method was effective, but do I want to have to do that every time I go into the garden? Heck no. We also had many instances where we would be standing next to my parents in the yard or garden and the bees would come after us and completely leave my parents alone. That is what really clued us in on the problem being our lack of smoke usage.
Since we lost both of our hives last fall – one absconded and one went queenless late in the season – we decided that now would be the perfect time to move the location of the apiary. Although I did love being able to watch bee TV so closely when I was in the garden, the stings and anxiety related to the bees aggression just isn’t worth the hives being so close by. Also, just to clarify any confusion, honey bees are not naturally aggressive creatures. The reason why our bees were aggressive towards us is because of how close we were constantly getting to the hives while we were in the garden and because of our lack of smoking during hive inspections. We ended up moving the hives to a small cutout in the woods right at the edge of our yard. We’ve wanted to do something with this space for years now, and we even toyed with the idea of digging a pond back there at one point, but the space has ultimately become our new apiary. In their new location, the hives will still be east-facing so that the early morning sun will shine on them first thing. The hives will also have an even better wind break thanks to the surrounding thick woods. Not to mention that the bees will have plenty of their own space and won’t feel threatened by us being so close to them all of the time. Over the weekend, Doug and my dad dug up the hive stands from their original positions and got them concreted into the ground in the new location. We had to do some brush clearing and land leveling to get the hive stands and inspection stands all set up, but we are really pleased with the new location of our apiary! We are looking forward to starting over with our new bees this year, and we are excited to be able to work in the garden peacefully once again. It feels like harmony has been restored! Since we use a local bee supplier, our packages of bees likely won’t be ready until late April or early May which works out nicely with our travel plans and other farm obligations. We will definitely dedicate some upcoming posts to all things bees while we prepare to bring bees back to the farm!
I think that’s about it for this two-week update. We will check back in after we return. Have a great week!