Monday, January 29, 2018

To bee, or not to bee?

There's gold in them there hills and I've found it!
Three years ago we agreed to host a hive of honeybees at the garden.  That one hive quickly became two but unfortunately we were relatively unsuccessful that first year. Both hives struggled and they never really performed the way we had hoped and we didn't get any honey.  We really didn't do it to get honey as much as we thought it would be a positive for our little ecosystem that we have here.   Honey is just one of those fringe benefits you get for doing something good and positive for the environment.  Luckily for me, failure at first is usually a good sign (if you can believe that) as it only strengthens my resolve to strive for success.  That first year was a learning experience although we really didn't do anything wrong.  We were assured by our beekeeper friend that sometimes the hives just don't do well and to not get discouraged.  Sometimes there is no explanation as to why a healthy hive doesn't do well.  It just happens from time to time.  He was very confident we would be successful the next year and of course I was willing to keep trying.

 The following year we hosted only one hive and it was a strong one from the get go.  The colony was very vibrant, one of the best of the year of the many our beekeeper had.  We really had high hopes that we would be able to overwinter the hive since it was so strong.  We did get a harvest of honey from that hive but they didn't survive the winter.  It was disappointing but by then we were hooked on the idea and knew we would have bees again.  We did and it was good.  Our most recent hive produced two harvests of honey (spring and fall) although the spring harvest was mostly produced by the previous years tenants.  We hope to get this hive overwintered.  We fed them going into winter and we hope it was enough.  Time will tell.  It would be a thrill to get this hive to the other side.  It's kind of like coming full circle.  Husbandry, if you will.  It would then become "our" hive and we would have a real sense of ownership in it.  They would be our bees.

We are gardeners here, first and foremost, and the incentive to have a colony of bees had very little to do with honey.  It had to do with pollinators.  Even though the majority of the crops we grow don't require insect pollination we really felt it would help with those that do.  It is something that is hard to quantify but we feel it did increase some yields.  Of course there is a lot more than vegetables in the garden for bees to forage on.  They do have their preferences and when they find something they like they can get pretty thick.  Often, you don't realize how many there are until you begin looking closely and the more you look, the more you see.  It makes the garden more alive somehow.

We have always had a good supply of bumblebees and mason bees but a honey bee was always a rarity (although not unheard of).  Now, we can't imagine not having them around.  They've become fixtures.
It has been a great learning experience as well.  It's been three years and I'm learning something new about bees all the time.  They are fascinating creatures and I have the utmost respect for them.  Of course I admire their work ethic but also their social structure, sense of community, and their tireless drive for survival.  Examining them up close reveals a focused and highly specialized being.  They quietly and diligently go about their business and unless threatened, are rather docile.  Everything they do is for the greater good.  It's inspiring.

These frames, from this past summer, are nicely capped and full of ripe honey ready for harvest or if left in the hive, a source of winter food.  This is what it's all about if you're a bee, or for that matter, a beekeeper also.  Foraging for nectar is the name of the game.  Pollination is merely a by-product.  It is a by-product that we gardeners covet so having a slave labor camp of 30K on site is a real benefit.  There is also one other benefit.....

The hive still contains some live bees at last check a few days ago and since we've had a pretty cold winter so far, we're optimistic they will make it all the way.  We are keeping our fingers crossed.

This may sound odd but as intrigued as I am with the whole process, I have no real desire to take up beekeeping myself.  It does take some time and effort and I simply can't take on anymore.  That could always change in the future if my hand was forced.  The place just wouldn't be the same without them around now.  So even if this hive doesn't survive the winter the answer to the question of "to bee?" is a resounding YES.  Yes, we will have bees.  Yes, we will be the beneficiaries of it.  And when we need honey in the kitchen, we will have it.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Terror On The Orange Express

The seed catalogs have been rolling in over the last few weeks and with it comes the excitement of planning the 2018 garden.  There is nothing like the fantasy of Spring when it is absolutely frigid outside.  Fantasy and imagination is what sustains us gardeners through what often seems like an endless winter.  We start dreaming.  We look forward.  There it is again, that promise of the future.  That thing we all have.
I keep a mental note of the seeds I may need to purchase for next year while I am doing my spring chores.  Seed dies.  It loses vigor.  It doesn't last forever.  Sometimes, you sow all you have.  In any event, seed needs to be replaced.  It's usually no big deal.  You just buy fresh seed, especially for the staples.  There is always a budget for new varieties, new species, new challenges, but the tried and true staple varieties are more or less a constant.  When you find a variety that works and is perfect for you, why would you change?  It's hard to improve on perfection.  So we fall into a bit of a rut and these perfect varieties become fixtures.  You take them for granted.
Of course, you only realize this when they are taken from you.

I've been growing 'Nelson' carrot for well over 20 yrs., going back to our time in Washington state.  It is hands down the best fresh eating, main season variety out there and I've grown a lot of different varieties of carrots over that time so I know.  A true nantes type, it is incredibly uniform, crisp and sweet.  I haven't found anything that compares.  This year, I needed some fresh seed since what I have left is a couple years old and probably not enough for a full crop anyway.  As I said before, "No big deal".  I'll order new seed just as I've done numerous times over the last quarter century.  I looked to the usual sources but I wasn't finding it.  Not in Stokes, or Territorial, or Johnny's, or even in Jung's.  Now I was starting to get concerned.  I figured I would be able to find it on the net (you can find anything there) but much to my chagrin, I had no luck.  I did a little investigation and came to find out it is no longer commercially available.
My response? ....Sheer terror!
I really couldn't believe what I was reading.  This variety is stellar.  Why would they stop producing it?  Johnny's Selected Seeds has even stated that they have yet to find a suitable substitute.  It's a head scratcher to me but I suppose they have their reasons.  'Nelson' may be back at some point but for this year I'll have to do some trials in hopes of finding a carrot that can hold a candle to it.  'Nelson' is a tough act to follow and to be honest, I don't feel very confident that I'm going to find a "suitable substitute" either.  It's important to note that there was a time before 'Nelson' and life will go on after as well.  For now however, I am shocked and traumatized but I think I'll survive.  As long as they don't take 'Bolero' from me, I'll be fine.  There is a carrot out on the horizon that will become the next 'Nelson'.  One that will have everything and become the object of my gardening affection.  I just have to find it.
Let the search begin!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Oh, Tannenbaum!

                                               Merry Christmas from Sillydoggarden!
 As gardeners we are never too far from the plant world in thoughts and deeds.  There is no such thing as a day off.  With family so far away our Christmas celebrations are rather muted.  We don't really do too much.  This year we decided to give an old struggling and pot bound Ficus tree a new lease on life.  Now that the solstice is past the days are going to be getting longer and that is good news for houseplants.  Active growth will be resuming soon so it is a perfect time to repot.  We have had this tree for so many years, we have forgotten how long we've had it but I do remember that it was just a little plant no more than 2-3 ft. tall when I bought it.  It is nearly 10 ft tall now!


With temperatures hovering around -10 F outside, it was nice to do a little gardening even though it was indoors.  This Ficus will most certainly appreciate it's new leg room.  Getting something positive accomplished is always satisfying.  It was a nice way to spend an afternoon.
It is Christmas and this is a tree and since we didn't have a traditional Christmas tree this year, I guess we can call this our Christmas tree.
Oh, Tannenbaum!

We wish you all best wishes for a productive and successful gardening year in 2018.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Labor Of ........

Being a gardener in Northern Minnesota is not for the faint of heart.  Sometimes you really have to dig down deep within yourself to keep from being totally discouraged.  This has certainly been the case recently.
Winter has arrived early here this year with several rounds of snow in the past couple weeks.  It was a sudden transition and a bit unexpected for most of us.  I have spoken to several fellow gardeners who still have crops in the ground.  Often the first few snows are short lived and it doesn't hang around for long.  Not so this time.  We've gotten enough snow so that, despite mild temperatures, significant melting hasn't occurred.  It's a double edged sword though.  I still have several hundred bulbs to get in and I was hoping (and expecting) the snow to disappear so I could see where I planned on planting them.  That hasn't happened.  On the other hand, the snow cover has insulated those crops still in the ground thus making harvest still possible and a little more relaxed.

Potato 'Valisa'

Unfortunately, my list of crops is quite long.  I've been chipping away at it but still have celariac, leeks, carrots, parsnips, and one variety of potato left to harvest.  The clock is ticking.  Extremely cold temperatures always arrive here, it's just a question of when.  It will get done.  It always does.  Somehow, someway.

Bulbs will also get planted.  They have to be.  My order arrived a little later than usual but the snow arrived earlier.  Planting bulbs has been a challenge this season to say the least.  We started with about 800 and we are a little better than half way through.  It has not been an enjoyable task.  Cold, wet, and sloppy are the conditions we are facing in order to have some spring beauty out by the road for the passersby next spring.

I don't know what compels us gardeners to put ourselves through all this.  Perhaps we are eternal optimists with an eye to the future at all times or we just like being patient or operating under a tight deadline.  Or maybe we're just a little bit crazy.  I'm not sure what it is.

Whatever it is, it often results in an enjoyable environment that you actually want to spend time in or some incredible food further down the road.  Some years it's a breeze.  Most years, it is anything but.  Adversity seems to be the only constant in gardening here.  Be it weather, wildlife, or conflicts with work, it is always a challenge but one we gladly accept.  There is something to be said for putting your heart and soul into something with hopes of a big payout later even though there are never any guarantees of it.  Often, it is giant leap of faith.  In a year like this, your faith is tested.
The clock certainly is ticking and this labor of love has turned into a labor of necessity this fall. You know you're addicted when you trudge through it even when it isn't that enjoyable.  That really doesn't matter.  What does matter is that we do it because we have to and we have to even when we don't want to.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Culinary Harbinger

It doesn't take long before you can start using things out of the garden once spring finally springs around here.  You have to be fleet of foot if you don't want to miss it as it doesn't linger for long.  We tend to go straight from winter to summer here with only a brief pit stop called spring.
One of the harbingers of spring is sorrel.  It is only useful early in the season and I almost always try to do something with it before it is past prime.  It has a sharp, lemony flavor and naturally matches well with fish or poultry.

One way I like to use this herb is in a cream sauce.  A simple preparation of sweated shallots or onions in butter, add the chopped sorrel then add some white wine and reduce.  A little lemon juice and then heavy cream.  simmer until reduced to a sauce consistency.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Tonight I used it to top a couple of pieces of beautiful baked cod fillets.  So simple and so good.

If you don't have sorrel in your herb garden it is well worth trying.  Easily grown from seed and perennial, it is a carefree plant.  Although it is really only usable very early, it's a nice option to have available if it strikes your fancy.  If not, there is always next year!  It's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Rite of spring

A spectacular show of crocus from about two weeks ago. We've had good luck in recent years--decent weather and the system of bamboo and bird netting keeps the deer and rabbits out.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Amaryllis in April

A bold shot of color inside against the remnants of dirty snow outside. Easy-to-care-for amaryllis: Cut off the flower stalk after blooming. Fertilize regularly and summer outside in semi-shade. Bring inside before first frost. Reduce watering and cut back before placing in cool, dark closet for a couple of months. Bring back into the light, water and wait for the show.