Tuesday, June 30, 2009
But we still have much to learn. Our mistakes may have cost us the life of one colony. I hope not. There's still time for our hive to recover. But that's not up to us now. It's up to fate. It's up to nature. It's up to God.
I'd like to thank Howard Mann from the Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association for contributing some really intense photos attached with this posting (the best you'll ever see on this blog). Howard has been nurting bees in his North Highlands backyard for darn near a decade, and is now serving as a mentor for both Venus and I.
The emergency steps we have taken in the past three weeks with Howard's help just might work. Then again, they might not. But at least I can content myself with the knowledge that I've done everything I can to save our hive.
Some of the passages in the book "First Lessons in Beekeeping" by Keith Delaplane stand out rather ominously now. I didn't initially understand the phrase: "75% of all new hives fail in the first year." I do now. That's a true statement.
The first inkling that the Hello Kitty hive was in serious trouble came three weeks ago when I finally built up enough courage to check on the progress of the Queen. It would be the first visit back inside the hive since I removed a large patch of burr comb, and suffered three stings in the process.
Although the stings didn't really hurt all that much (really, they didn't), they do serve as a warning of what can go wrong when you inspect a hive. Three stings can turn into ten rather quickly. But, if I was going to be serious about maintaining a hive in the backyard, the progress check had to be done.
What I found -- and what you see to the right -- spelled a massive jolt of trouble. Those empty combs were a massive disappointment. If you look closely, you can see a male bee -- called a drone -- emerging from his bullet-capped cell. You can also clearly see other bullet-capped cells in the same picture.
But what I should have encountered, and did not, is lots of brown, flat capped cells among the few drone cells. Those are the female worker bees, and its those bees that can mean success, or spell doom, for any beekeeper. I clearly didn't have any. I also couldn't find the queen either.
What I did find during the hive check three weeks ago is a colony severely depleted in numbers. A queenless colony. What happened to our queen? I'm not really sure. I could have accidentally killed her on the night of the previous visit, when I clearly upset the hive by removing burr comb buildup. Or, she could have abandoned the hive on her own. She also could have been killed by other workers.
Any number of things could have happened.
The picture to your left represents what I should have found when I checked the hive. It is what i was hoping to find. This is a frame from a healthy hive. All of those flat, tan colored combs belong to female workers that have yet to emerge. They will breathe new life into any colony. I had nothing like this.
As disappointed as I was by finding a near empty hive and a few bullet-shaped cappings, the news was about to get worse. Others more experienced than me at this business informed me that I might have a "laying worker" inside the hive. That's a death sentence. Laying workers cannot produce other females. They can only lay eggs that will produce male drones. Soon I would have nothing left but hive of male drones, which would eventually die off.
The next bit of advice didn't make me any happier. You cannot "re-queen" a hive that contains a laying worker. The other bees will just kill the new queen. Do you know the only proven way to rid a hive of a laying worker? Every frame of the hive must be removed from the hive -- taken a distance of 80-to-100 feet away -- and then whacked silly to dislodge every remaining bee on each of all ten frames.
The "laying worker" will not have the ability to fly back to the hive (she's too fat), and will die. At that point, you CAN reintroduce a new queen into the hive, provided all those bees you've enraged during the removal process haven't taken their own lives by stinging the intruder destroying their home.
I needed help. Help arrived in the form of Howard Mann. He offered the experienced eye that Venus and I did not have, and knew what steps needed to be taken. Time was of the essence.
The first thing that Howard discovered after closely examing the bees in the hive is that the queen was obviously gone. That, we already knew. But he also delivered some unsuspected good news: the hive did not appear to have a laying worker. There would have been some evidence of a laying worker in LOTS of bullet shaped drone cells.
But, since I only had a few drones, he deduced very quickly that I did not have a laying worker, nor a queen. Even worse, the population of the existing hive had fallen into a near-failure state. Not only would I need to add a new queen to the hive, I would be forced to add new bees as well in what is referred to as a "nuc (nuke) transfer."
A "nuc transfer" is somewhat different from purchasing a "package of bees," which is what I had initially done last April. In a "nuc transfer" several frames of existing brood and bees are removed from a successful hive and directly inserted into a failing hive (like mine).
But, successful hives are hard to find in late June. If you're a beekeeper with a successful hive, you normally resist attempts to split the hive, unless you receive indications that the successful hive is so crowded, that bees are preparing to swarm. Then, and only then, will a beekeeper with a successful hive agree to sell some frames of brood and bees.
Once again, Howard's experience paid dividends. He knew other beekeepers in the Sacramento area who had queens. He knew others that had brood they were willing to part with. And, after a few phone calls and a quick trip to Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies in downtown Sacramento, I had my new queen (pictured to your left).
Unfortunately, you can't actually see her in that cage. But, trust me, she's there. She's covered with a dot of green paint on her abdomen, which makes her extremely easy to spot.
I also managed to acquire two frames of existing brood and bees, which I immediately inserted into my hive. Do you see the tan or brown colored cappings in the middle of that frame? Each one of those combs represents a female worker bee that has yet to emerge. Those new workers, and the new queen, represent new life for the hive. If you look closely in the upper right of the photo to your right, you'll also spot the new queen in her queen cage.
We were almost there.
Inserting the new frames into an existing hive is easy enough. The old bees mix in with the new bees easily enough. The new bees are immediately accepted because they didn't try to enter the hive. I placed them there. So, to the old bees, it was like nothing had happened. The new bees just sort of magically appeared.
But -- the story was different for the hundreds of bees who were flying around the frames and their new hive. Because they failed to stay on the frames when I inserted them into the hive, they were immediately attacked the moment they tried to enter the hive through the entrance at the bottom.
The old, or existing bees, saw them as invaders. The new bees were simply trying to gain access to the frames they called home. That, unfortunately, set off a Death Match 3000 fight between old and new in front of the hive. It's a match where both bees -- old and new -- would perish. As much as I didn't like it, bees are insects. This is just something that they do.
As for the new queen? Well, she got to hang out in the new hive for a bit -- but still very much protected by her queen cage. She sat in her cage -- held aloft by two frames pressed together -- for a good 72 hours. And then, in the final move of attempting to save my hive, we removed the cork covering the entrance to the queen cage, and laid it on top of the hive.
We waited and watched.
Sure enough -- about a minute later -- the queen emerged. She paid no notice to the beekeepers fawning over her -- no worry at all. She looked about, looked down, and immediately climbed into her hive. She was accepted without question. Long live the queen.
Does this mean new life for the Hello Kitty hive? Possibly. Keep your fingers crossed. I'm hoping and praying that the new queen is laying a bundle of eggs in frame after empty frame. My hope is that when we enter the hive next, we'll see frame after frame after frame of covered brood. Should we see that -- the Hello Kitty hive has got a fighting chance.
Time will tell.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Let's just say that the "Prince of Darkness," aka "Dracula," would have a hard time hanging out in the garage. Because, if the rumors about vampires and strong garlic really are true, the Prince of Darkness would be begging for the stake-through-the-heart treatment right about now.The wife that is Venus is holding our latest harvest from the garden this year -- and this is another "first" for the both of us. Venus is holding onto the world's most pungent and hottest garlic known as INCHELIUM RED.
One visit into our GarageMahal would tell you that there's something very smelly going on inside there. To be perfectly honest, drying 40-50 fat bulbs of INCHELIUM RED garlic does result in quite the aroma.
But I like it.
What is INCHELIUM RED garlic? Hah! I'm glad you asked, because the fine folks at the website LocalHarvest tell us the following:
Hailing from the Colville Indian Reservation in Inchelium, Washington, this garlic is a large and beautiful artichoke variety. The dense bulb can have anywhere from 9-20 cloves and a thick outer bulb wrapper to protect the bulb. The flavor of the Inchelium Red is softly robust but not so strong as to be overwhelming; the flavor often sharpens in storage...
I disagree on one minor point: 49ers Coach Mike Singletary would like this garlic because, quite plainly, it "smacks you in the mouth." This is one good garlic.
We grew garlic and onions together in a couple of raised beds like you see in this photo. This is one of the cheap planter box creations utilizing wood, brackets and screws from the nearby North Natomas Home Depot. Like every planter box in the yard, the soil is a mix of planter mix, steer manure compost and other types of pelleted fertilzers.
Venus and I started with three simple heads of INCHELIUM RED garlic (I can't remember where we ordered it from). And the cloves from just those three heads of garlic resulted in 40-50 heads of garlic that we harvested just last weekend. When the tops and centers of the plants started to die back and whither away completely, we knew it was time to come out.
And what came out of ground, quite frankly, surprised us immensely. Big, fat, pungent, juicy heads of garlic pulled easily out of the ground. It looks like my frequent watering trips to this bed for additional irrigation paid off handsomely. I did experiment somewhat in my watering patterns this season, by soaking the garlic and onion beds with either a common garden hose on a slow drip, or gallons of water from a one gallon watering can.
The effort appears to have paid off quite handsomely. Some of these cloves are the size of baseballs. Still others are normal sized. We did pull a few small heads out of the ground, but that was not the norm.
What are we going to do with this wealth of garlic? Good question! Venus and I will save some of the largest heads for the always popular, and always in demand, Roasted Garlic and Heirloom Tomato Salsa canning project. Still others will go into various summer meals. We will also take great pains to save six or seven heads for next year's planting efforts.
That's right, this fall, we'll plant twice as much. Why? Because, even with 40-50 heads drying away in the GarageMahal, it's still "not enough."
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Venus and I planted a LOT of pickling cucumbers this spring, in anticipation of a large canning project in another month or two. And while those plants are now starting to produce -- they're not quite producing in the numbers needed for a large 12-or-24 quart, Boiling Water Bath (BWB), canning project.
So, what does one do with the first pickling cukes that are now more than ready to come off the vine? Save them? Freeze them? Toss them? No my friends, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. And that's exactly what Venus and I did, with the expert assistance of our 5-year old nephew, Marquitos Stromberg.
The answer gardening guys and gals is to your left: Three DILL....LICIOUS jars of a simple canning recipe titled Clausen Kosher Dill Pickles. This is a quick and easy canning project that takes less than 20 minutes to complete from start to finish, and utilizes everything you have growing fresh in the backyard.
For instance, the recipe called for quite a bit of fresh dill. Fresh dill weed you say? Hmm.....Not a problem. You see, Venus planted this patch of dill weed about a month ago, and it's been a big hit with bees and butterflies alike. You'll even see a hummingbird, from time to time, flitting about the flowers.
The rest of this dill, and probably a bit more than this, will be used later this summer for larger canning efforts of various types of pickles.
The recipe also called for quite a bit of fresh garlic, which was again, not a huge problem since the wife and I just last week harvested an entire crop of INCHELIUM RED garlic -- some of the hottest, tastiest garlic I've ever had.
Don't look for it in Raleys. Don't look for it in Safeway. You won't find it there. If you want INCHELIUM RED garlic, you either grow it on your own in the backyard, or if you're very lucky, you might find it somewhere in a Farmer's Market.
This is great fun for a 5-year old boy, who just loves digging about the cucumber patch in search of pickling cucumbers to be used in this project. Marquitos also loves wandering about the dill weed patch (what kid doesn't love digging in weed patches or digging anywhere for that matter?) finding just the right sprig or flower needed.
The rest of the project is fairly easy. Although you do use regular "canning" jars for a project like this, they're not really required. These are also commonly known as "refrigerator pickles." They won't keep as long as a regular canning project, but look at the jar that the nephew is proudly clutching. Do you think those will last past the 4th of July?
Nope, I didn't think so either.
And now, courtesy of the Yahoo Group VeggiePatch, I give you the recipe and instructions for and easy and simple pickling project:
Clausen Kosher Dill Pickles
2 dill flowers
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1- 1/4 (8-10) pickling cucumbers
6 long spring fresh dill
1 tbsp coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup white vinegar
Put dill flowers and garlic in bottom of mason jar, and add as many cucumbers that will fit in the jar (whole cucumbers)
Put sprigs of dill in the center of the cucumber filled jar and add salt, vinegar and fill jar with boiled water that is now cool to within 1/8th of top.
Put on seal and ring, shake to dissolve salt, set upside down on counter away from sunlight and heat. Let sit 4-5 days flipping the jar either upright or upside down each day. Let sit upright 2 more days then refrigerate.
Bill's Note: I live for strong garlic taste, so I used a bit more and crushed the garlic with a garlic press directly inside the jar.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
But it is one fine, lip-smacking tomato. One of the best I've ever had. And last night's harvest of three VEEERRRRYYY ripe Azoychka tomatoes came as a complete surprise.
This is happening a lot in our garden, and will continue to happen for the rest of the summer.
These tomatoes were located near the center of the raised bed and had been completed covered with foilage -- foilage that was starting to turn yellow in color by the way --which is why I missed them (the tomatoes are yellow too).
I did spot these tomatoes very early on in the growth process -- in late April -- and thought I had located them again. Alas, it was the wrong three tomato set. And while I was waiting for the wrong three tomato set to ripen -- these three had already ripened and were just waiting to be discovered.
Yeah, they were that ripe, that juicy, that GOOD!
The Azoychka is an heirloom, but is also a relatively new tomato to the United States. As you might guess, it is Russian. But the seeds of this variety, like many others from Eastern Europe, didn't start to show up in large numbers until the Wall fell and the Soviet Union bit the dust.
It has a creamy -- somewhat smoky taste. In my opinion? The Azoychka tastes like BACON! It's the perfect variety to use on a BLT -- or top on a burger. Others who are growing this variety haven't picked up on the bacon-type taste, but do agree that is has a smoky flavor that makes it very special.
It's a unique addition to the heirloom tomato garden of Bill & Venus Bird, and judging from the fruit set so far, it's going to be providing ripe, tasty fruit throughout the summer months.
Heirloom tomato season is here at last.
Monday, June 22, 2009
And Virginia Taylor from Letcher, South Dakota is our LUCKY WINNER. She wins a Home Depot gift card in the amount of $100 for anything she wants.
Virginia's response was "Gosh, I never win anything."
Not this time Virginia.
Virginia is a regular poster at a Yahoo Group that I frequent from time to time (OK -- all the time) called TomatoMania. There's close to two thousand tomatomaniacs over there, posting all things about tomatoes -- especially HEIRLOOM Tomatoes. If you love tomatoes as much as I do, I urge you to join.
My thanks to everyone who entered! I wish you could all be winners, but there's just one card, and the wonderful wife that is Venus picked Virginia's name out of a bowl.
Yeah, this was one scientific contest. And, yes, Venus did have her eyes closed.
Congrats everyone! Thanks for taking part!
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Heck, I'm there so much that most of the employees know me by name. Now that's bad.
Are you addicted to this place as much as I am? Do you find yourself going into the Home Depot with a suit and tie on during the work week just so you can get a jump start on that weekend project? Could you shop the drip irrigation section blindfolded? Do you know more about what they stock at your local Home Depot than the hired help?
If you answer yes to all three questions, there's no denying the truth: you're just as addicted to this place as I am.
The fine folks at the Home Depot want to reward you for your customer loyalty in the form of a $100 gift card. Could you spend $100 at Home Depot in five seconds? You've come to the right place, because the blog that is Sacramento Vegetable Gardening is presenting an offer that you can't refuse.
Are you ready to win?
Here's the catch: No money is required. However, you must do two things for me. First, you must click on this very special link HERE. Secondly, you must leave a comment at the bottom of this blog telling the fine folks at the Man's Toy Store why YOU deserve a $100 gift card. The link will take you to the Home Depot Garden Club, where you will find all sorts of useful ideas for the yard.
Am I shilling for Home Depot? You Betcha! Am I getting paid? NOPE! I love this store THAT much, even though the North Natomas branch will ANNOY me to no end by refusing to stock simple items like the Phillips Pan Head 10 X 1/2 metal screws in packages of 100 or more (I hope someone from the North Natomas store is reading this).
Those screws, you see, are essential for building planter boxes pictured to your immediate left. I have about ten of these in the yard now -- set against the fence line. Everything in this box, from the wood to the screws to the drip irrigation to the soil -- came directly from Home Depot. They even cut the wood for me! You can read more about these easy-to-build planter boxes here.
Home Depot is also one of the best places I've found to purchase soil amendments for raised planter boxes. I learned, from experience, last year that brand new planter mix for planter boxes isn't going to cut it. That soil might be brand new, but it still needs various amendments like a bag or three of steer manure compost purchased from the Home Depot for a buck a bag.
Venus and I amended each and every planter box in the backyard this spring, including a test bed in the side yard, using about 40 bags of steer manure compost. Yes, you can say that gardening "smells." It also results in whopper sized tomatoes, radishes and other good stuff from the garden.
So, if you think you're the one for that $100 Home Depot gift card, remember, click on this LINK. Then, leave a comment at the bottom of this blog. You must do both. And, by clicking on this LINK, you can also get valuable information about your region, gardening advice from pros and updates on local gardening events.
The wonderful wife that is Venus will draw the winner on Monday. Good luck!!!
Friday, June 19, 2009
Last night, our garden provided this dinner for us. It's the first full dinner of the summer season using summer produce, but obviously not the last.
Every item in this stir-fry dinner, with the exception of the chicken of course, came fresh-picked from the garden. What you see to your left is the result of hours of work, hours of planting, hours of tending and about ten minutes worth of harvesting.
Venus celebrated her birthday this past evening -- and rather than go out -- her birthday wish was for a green curry dish utilizing everything fresh from the backyard garden. We also could have used tomatoes, but green curry and tomatoes just don't mix.
Not many asian dishes use tomatoes as a featured item. I'm told, by one friend who grew up in Vietnam, that tomatoes do not grow well in southeast Asia, therefore they are not a staple of the local diet.
Cooking a green curry dish like this one is always an adventure. This one was no different. First off, Venus and I aren't quite good enough yet to make our own green curry mixture. So, we rely on the pre-mixed Mai Ploy brand (one of the best) and some coconut milk to get the job done.
Why is this such an adventure? Well -- one look at this VERY blurry photo to your right will tell half the story. And you run into this kind of roadblock quite often whenever you attempt to re-create a dish from your favorite Thai or Vietnamese restaurant.
I always want to know how much of a particular spice or mixed spices I should use in any creation, so I always rely on the "serving suggestion" advice that is posted on most jars. True enough, there are the words clearly printed in English: Serving Suggestion.
Unfortunately, the suggestions are all in Vietnamese.
I may be a good cook, but I haven't gotten around to learning Vietnamese quite yet. Sadly, the wife hasn't yet either. She does trump me on foriegn languages though, as she CAN read, write and speak Spanish.
But, even Spanish fluency doesn't mean you can translate instructions printed in Vietnamese. Sorry, but we were out luck.
No matter. This is what guessing is for. The dinner is all about the fresh ingredients, not the green curry.
I'm normally not a huge fan of eggplant. I can take it or leave it on the vegetable front. I'm just not wild about it. BUT -- put some eggplant in a Thai or Vietnamese dish? Suddenly, I can't get enough of the stuff. There's something about eggplant drowning in a dish of green or red curry that brings out a special kind of taste.
To put it short and sweet, everything in last night's dinner was a favorite from the garden. Although the peppers are still probably another month away from peak production, the same cannot be said about the bush beans. These things grow overnight.
This is our first year growing bush beans. I've been told that they are not as productive as pole beans. But, whomever told me that must be a liar, because we suddenly have far more bush beans than we know what to do with. I'm almost afraid to go home tonight, because I might be attacked by a bush bean.
These things are prolific.
Although Venus would have no problem with a meatless stir-fry -- I still haven't reached that stage of vegetarian nirvana. I may never get there. And before you criticize, remember this: My diet once consisted of Western Bacon Cheeseburgers, french fries and a large coke -- supersized at that. So, believe me, I'm doing a lot better in my mid 40's with boneless, skinless, chicken breasts.
Meal prep is the hardest part of this creation. Once everything is chopped up and mixed, you can cook everything up with a nice side of rice in 15 minutes or less. And, yes, because we experimented with the green curry, the meal did come out a TAD HOT.
Just a tad though. Do you know what the nice thing about eating hot meals is? It takes awhile to eat. And you get full -- which means you wind up eating a lot less.
Not to worry though. This fresh-from-the-garden creation made for a tasty lunch the very next day.
Monday, June 15, 2009
After doing this during a check of the beehive this weekend (you spray sugar water to keep the bees from flying up and biting you in the keester), I had a digital camera covered with sugary, sticky, GOO!
"No problem," I thought. "I'll just wash it off with some warm water, and everything will be cool!" It was only after washing, did the following question cross my mind: "Hey, are these things waterproof?"
Nope! Now the camera is taking great shots that look like a thick fog bank, and little else. This is why you're getting FABULOUS photos taken with my handy-dandy Samsung phone!
I'm getting just a tad tired of the cool weather that's been overstaying it's welcome in the Sacramento Valley. Yes, I know this cooler weather is causing tomato plants to fruit like nobody's business. I understand that a lot of us have plants loaded with tomatoes. That's good.
But, at some point, you've just gotta have the heat to make a summer garden produce. Tomatoes might be fruiting, but without heat, they're not going to ripen in large numbers. The strawberries will be good, yes, but not quite as good, and the melon plants are anything but happy.
But, one crop starting to produce in fairly large numbers now are the bush beans that Venus planted from seed about a month ago in one of the raised beds. We tried growing these last year, and I'm sad to report that we were the only gardeners on the West Coast who FAILED to grow bush beans.
How can you screw up bush beans? I'm not sure, but Bill and Venus Bird are living proof that "you can."
But that was last year. This year is somewhat different. The beans you see to your left came out of the garden just last night, and made for a tasty side dish to the main, extremely high-class, meal of "Beer Can Chicken."
These things grow fast. I mean, real fast. How fast you say? It's almost like one minute there's nothing there, and the next time you look at the same spot, you've got loads of bush beans.
My early favorite is the "Dragon's Tongue" bush bean. I mean, how can you not like something out of your favorite nightmare? The redish-streaked beans are also easy to spot, which is both good and bad. Why bad? As it turns out, honeybees are attrached to bush bean flowers. And, if you grab a handful of beans, chances are, you've also grabbed a bee or a small army of them.
The bush-bean "haul," our first by the way, also included the standard Italian bean, and two more varieties called "Cherokee" and "Hurricane." This is just a start, of course. The bush beans are now just starting to produce. And soon, the pole beans planted nearby will star producing record numbers as well.
At least, that's the hope. The goal is to can these suckers for later use this winter. I've had more than one person tell me about fist-fights that have erupted over a jar of pickled bush or pole beans.
Time will tell.
The garden is still throwing out lots of interesting produce, including a few tomatoes, but these have been overshadowed recently by the radish discoveries the wife has been making on a daily basis. Last week she pulled up a pink radish the size of a baseball.
This weekend she pulled out two white radishes that, while not quite baseball sized, still managed to raise a few eyebrows. I'm not exactly sure what the wife is doing to that radish and chard seed, but I know this much: I can't argue with the results.
Pray for my crummy digital camera. I might be forced to run out and buy another crummy one. Why not invest in something good? Something that will take decent pictures? Yeah, I could do that. But I know better. Bill Bird is the proverbial bull in a china shop.
In other words, I'll just break it.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
One day while visiting Archie in his garden he gave me these seeds by pressing them into my palm and said, "Here, Gary, these are for you. I've only shared these with friends and family. This is the best tasting tomato of my 50 years of growing tomatoes. Name it what you want. Share it with others."
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
I was going to brag you know -- about pulling FOUR ripe tomatoes out of ye olde tomato garden, including the likes of a Clint Eastwood's Rowdy Red (it was begging to be picked), a Druzba and two more Bloody Butchers.
But -- as it turns out -- a common red radish stole the show. Here are the tomatoes to your left. No, we did not run out to the store and buy them (as some have alleged). Those are vine-ripened, heirloom tomatoes. Each and every one. I have never in my life witnessed heirlooms ripen before any other variety, including cherry tomatoes, but this is one heck of a strange year.
Not that I'm complaining. I'll take vine-ripened or tree-ripened anything, any day of the week. But, as good as the tomatoes will be for dinner tonight -- the star of the show isn't tomatoes.
Venus and I were out harvesting greens for dinner, plus radishes and tomatoes, when she discovered a whopper growing near the back of the garden. This was totally unexpected. This radish has been in the ground for the exact same time as the other, normal sized radishes. It's not woody. It's not old. It's just a baseball sized radish.
Quite frankly, I've never seen a radish quite this big before. Don't get me wrong. We've pulled some whoppers from the garden before. But a radish the size of a baseball? Planted at the exact same time as the normal sized radishes?
The garden will contribute quite a bit to tonight's dinner. The fresh greens, tomatoes and radishes will make one whopper of a salad. The potatoes we pulled out of the potato bed will be tossed with oil and other seasonings -- making for a nice potato dish.
The London Broil steak that would normally be the star of tonight's barbeque? Eh -- I can take it or leave it.
I have the radish that swallowed Natomas.
This is the sad state of Bill & Venus' Artichoke Garden I'm sad to say. The patch of dirt that had been yielding delicious offerings of nightly artichokes looks dried out and sad at the moment. This is the way it always looks at the end of the season I must admit. It's just that -- thanks to some unseasonably hot weather in April and May -- artichoke season came to a close a tad early this year.
It's also painfully clear, judging from the purple artichoke flowers, that we should have given away far more than we did. Although one of the plants is an ornamental, there are probably another 20 artichokes that could have been steamed and then consumed by a lucky neighbor/friend.
Alas, a missed opportunity. These chokes are nothing more than a good flower show now.
One man's trash is another man's treasure!
It has been the source of mock disgust, of course, to watch the bees I acquired to pollinate MY garden, fly over the fence to pollinate the NEIGHBOR'S garden. Bees, of course, have no respect for property lines. The hive may be in my yard, and I may feed them generous helpings of sugar water, but bees are bees. If they find a source of pollen somewhere else -- that's where bees go.
So, for the past month, I've been watching my bees take flight out of the hive, only to fly over the fence. I have witnessed this day after day after day, even though my yard is populated with plenty of flowers and pollen. Apparently, there's better stuff to be had somewhere else.
But, when I noticed the artichokes start to flower, I also noticed they were thick with a white pollen. Each purple stem was coated with enough pollen to sustain five colonies of bees, and sure enough, it appears to be to my hive's liking.
And not just my hive either. Each artichoke flower is covered with bees, hornets and even a massive leaf-cutter bee that appears big enough to eat one or all four of my cats. I know leaf cutter bees are large -- but battleship large?
Oh well, beggars can't be choosers I suppose.
The photos from my ultra-cheap digital camera don't do a whole lot of justice -- I know. But trust me when I tell you that each artichoke flower is covered with a multitude of bees. Not only that -- I can also see the line of flight between the hive in my yard and the bees that are making a beeline for the for the artichoke bed.
I hesitate to call them "my bees" because bees belong to themselves. They're just hanging out in the yard.
But -- for now? I have a sense of pride and accomplishment. The artichoke bed that gave us more artichokes than we could possibly handle earlier this spring, is now supporting a wide variety of nature's creatures.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
Friday, June 5, 2009
This is a first for us -- in fact this year represents a year of many firsts for us -- as our garden plantings literally tripled from last year. A combination of raised beds and other planting areas made for a lot of extra room -- and we're making good use of it.
For example, last year I grew a variety of watermelon called the Sweet Diane. But this year? Thanks to the extra room? We are growing THREE varieties of watermelon, one variety of cantaloupe and yet another melon called "muskmellon."
What's a muskmellon you ask? I have no idea. Never had a muskmellon. At least, I don't think I've ever had a muskmellon. Perhaps they're like Snozberries? And, if you don't know what a Snozberry is, I'm sorry -- you're beyond hope.
Another new entry in the Back 40 Garden of Bill & Venus Bird is (drum roll please): Pumpkins. Not just any pumpkin mind you. Oh yeah, we're growing those as well.
But.....We're also growing something kind of "special."
Courtesy of South Natomas gardener Nels Christenson, I give you: GIANT PUMPKINS. Not just any old pumpkin mind you. But seeds that are specifically designed to produce pumpkins the size of a VW Bug. Or, at least that's what I'm told. I'm not really sure to be honest. I mean, I've never grown a Giant Pumpkin before. Have you?
Nels obtained the seeds last summer while attending a class on -- surprise -- growing Giant Pumpkins. The class, offered through the Consumnes Community Service District, not only offered tips on growing giant pumpkins (according to Nels), but also resulted in the collection of some mighty interesting pumpkin seed.
This isn't your ordinary Halloween pumpkin seed. Not hardly. The two varieties that Nels acquired are called Wallace, and another variety that may be local to the Elk Grove area: Urena-Glasier.
How special is this seed? The photo to your immediate right should give you a pretty good indication. There are two pumpkin starters that germinated from seed. The first, purchased from Lockhart Seed in Stockton, is a variety called the "Hallow-Queen." But to the left of the Hallow-Queen is the Giant Pumpkin known as Wallace.
Can you see the difference between the two? Amazing eh?
I had intended to research both varieties of Giant Pumpkin Seed before writing this blog posting, but that's just a tad difficult. Type in the words "Urena" and "Glasier" and even the reliable GOOGLE has a brain fart. Try typing in the terms "Urena" and "Glasier" and "pumpkin" and Google returns with the message of "No Habla Ingles."
I knew that couldn't be true.
To put it short and sweet, finding information about these varieties isn't easy. However, I did run across a website called Pumpkin Nook during my quest for answers, and that took me to a special page called the 1100 Club.
It was there where I discovered the names of Elk Grove pumpkin growers Leonardo Urena and Pete Glasier. Both are record holding GIANT pumpkin growers (Urena clocked in with a 1200 lb. giant in 2005, while Glasier contributed an equally impressive 1195 lb. monster).
By putting two and two together, I can only surmise that somehow Nels got his hands on seed from those record pumpkin growing efforts. It's just a guess, of course, but it's the best guess I can make.
The Wallace, however, appears to have a completely different parentage. Google shoots back with a picture of a kilt-wearing Mel Gibson when you query "Wallace." It's not the Wallace I was looking for to be honest, but I came to learn that it is the "pollinator" I will need for growing Giant Pumpkins.
Further research shows me, what I am probably growing in the Back 40, is, in some way, related to the Dills Atlantic Giant, which is billed as the "World's Largest Pumpkin Variety" (just ask them).
This MONSTER variety, as the website claims, "is the grand-daddy of all giant pumpkins. The present day record, for this variety is an amazing 1689 lbs (767.7 kg) and it is common for the variety to produce 400- 500 pound (180-230 kg) fruit consistently. Used mainly for fall fairs and International pumpkin competitions that are becoming increasingly more popular around the world. Also perfect for huge jack o'lanterns and fall displays!"
I'm still not sure why I'm growing Monsters in the backyard yet, but it's true that I'm one of the few backyard gardeners in the Sacramento area to actually have the required room. So why not give it a shot? Why not do my best to grow the biggest pumpkin I've ever seen in my lifetime?
Just one question?
How am I going to get it out of the backyard?
Monday, June 1, 2009
It's also a question, in restrospect, that I miss and could hear over and over again.
The wife that is Venus and I hosted our niece and nephew this weekend at our North Natomas home. The parents of the 2-year old girl (think TERRIBLE TWO'S) and 5-year old boy needed a bit of a break to be honest. We were more than happy to help them out.
Venus and I both know that the seeds that bring about a love for gardening must be nurtured at an early age. Our niece and nephew had never planted a garden before, until this weekend, and they seemed to enjoy it immensely.
I think they also loved running from "The Scarecrow" monster, a motion detection system that shoots a stream of water at whatever crosses its path. Still, they seemed to have a lot of fun planting the final crops of the 2009 garden -- a bed for our pickling cucumbers.
While little Celina loved running about the garden, she was most interested in the cats. And she simply could not understand why they would run in terror from this shrieking little girl. And so, throughout the weekend, this innocent little girl would look me straight in the eye and ask: "Why Kitty Hide?"
I learned that there was no good answer to this puzzling question. In fact, it didn't matter what answer I gave, as it usually prompted the response of: "Why Kitty Hide?"
And not just any kitty, but all four of them.
So, while we did our best to distract Celina with efforts such as planting pole beans, she still couldn't get over the fact that these flurry, fluffy creatures didn't want to come anywhere near her. That's why I hear the question over and over again today: "Why Kitty Hide?"
As it turns out -- both little Mark and little Celina do have a bit of that gardening gene in them. Celina, however, isn't quite ready to put anything harvested from the garden in her mouth at this point (not many 2-year olds are ready at age 2), but Marquitos was a different story. I was surprised.
It took a long time before Bill Bird would let a tomato come near him. I certainly wasn't eating garden produce at age 5. It would take several more years of cajoling and outright threats from my mother before I dared eat a slice of cucumber. But -- little Marky? He's different.
But it didn't stop there. Not hardly. Mark was to discover the next day that he actually liked fresh peas from the garden. You could have knocked me over. I never would have believed it. A five year old boy picking pea pods, splitting them open, and devouring every pea inside? It took me years to get to that point.
Venus and I do not have children, yet. For most couples, acquiring children is akin to falling off a turnip truck. But for other couples, well, it can be a struggle. Put us in that "struggle" category. And, I think it's then that you come to realize that children are really God's greatest gift.
There is really nothing like teaching a child to dig a small hole for a starter plant or seed. The joy of watching a young child tear into a pea pod, or hunger for something else you have just harvested from the backyard is hard to describe. But there is a sense of satisfaction. The hard work of previous weekends is paying off. It's paying off in ways you never imagined.
I know that the weekend we spent with our niece and nephew helped plant the seeds for future gardens in future years. I know that they look forward to coming back later this summer, when they will see the seeds that they planted this spring flower and produce. Hopefully, they'll get to sample their work, and begin to understand the answers to some of the gardening questions they have.
But -- there is one question that can probably never be answered.
Why Kitty Hide?