Category Archives: Planting

To Save The Bees (Part III) Provide Food

This is the final post in the series that was published in 2016. Click to see Part I or Part II. After reading it again I realized that I have discovered a few things since it was first published.

We have grown some more plants that I have observed the honey bees foraging on heavily. They include chamomile and chives which blooms in the spring, oregano which blooms throughout the summer, and spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint and anise hyssop which all flower in late summer and fall, so these can be added to the others you will read about in the original post.

The other thing that I recently read and thought would be worth including with this post is that honey bees will only forage one type of plant during a flight. Knowing this it stands to reason that they would be foraging a type of plant that is plentiful in the area. Thus if you are planting with honey bees in mind it would be better to plant several of one type of plant than to plant only one of several types of plants.
I hope you enjoy the original post.

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Since we decided to become beekeepers I have read many recommendations about what to plant for the bees including the above picture. I feel very strongly that it is important for the health of the bees that they have a variety of foods (plants) to forage. Although it is not our only consideration when deciding what to plant, planting for the bees is something that we have been doing since we bought the farm and decided to become beekeepers.

Other things we take into consideration are:

1. Is the plant annual or perennial? Except for food and herbs we usually don’t plant annuals.

2. To know if a perennial will survive it is important to know the hardiness zone that you live in.  Some plants that are perennial will not survive the colder temperatures of our winter and some will not even grow long enough to blossom.

3. It is also good to know the growing conditions that the plant requires – type of soil, wet or dry, and sun or shade are all important considerations when deciding where to plant something.

4. I love things that have multiple purposes. So I consider other uses for the plant – are they edible, medicinal, a good cover crop that will nourish the soil, or simply planted for their beauty ?

5. I also have to consider what critters will eat these plants before either we or the bees can benefit from them. I have found some plants that the deer and rabbits simply don’t bother with, yet there are many others that have to be fenced in order to protect them.

6. When planting for the bees, another thing to consider is the bloom time of the plant. It is good to have plants that blossom at different times of the year. Early spring is probably the time when the bees are most in need. As they emerge from their hives in the spring, their winter food stores are running low if not depleted, they need to be able to find food in order to survive.

What we have planted:

Lavender  was a plant of choice before we ever knew we were going to become bee keepers. I originally planted lavender at the house  because I loved the plant, loved the fragrance, loved the dried flowers that could be made into sachets, sleep pillows, tea, or infused into oil. I also add them to my chamomile/lavender soap. It was on the plants at the house that I first observed honey bees foraging and realized what a good bee plant it was. When we bought the farm, planting lavender was a no-brainer and it is now a large part of our prayer garden. Another thing that I appreciate about lavender is that deer and rabbits leave it alone.

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Our Prayer Garden

Thyme is also grown in our prayer garden. It is a low creeping plant that makes a nice ground cover. It has both culinary and medicinal uses. http://www.delallo.com/articles/thyme  Last spring, when the thyme was flowering, I noticed that the honey bees were all over it. I was happy to see this because thyme essential oil is recommended as a natural treatment for varroa mites. While I haven’t seen it written anywhere, my theory is that by feeding on thyme, perhaps, the bees can extract the thymol that is reported to be effective for controlling the varroa mites, thus not requiring human intervention.  Thyme is another plant that is not bothered by deer or rabbits. This year I will divide the roots and spread thyme throughout the  prayer garden.

Sage and Salvia are of the same family. This link provides a growing guide for the different types. http://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/guide-to-salvias/    When planting sage/salvia it is important to note the hardiness zone for the variety you are planting. I have grown several varieties of sage. They grow well during the summer, and I have been able to harvest their leaves, but since they are not hardy in our (zone 6) growing area they have never blossomed and some have not survived our winters. Since they do not flower they are not useful to the bees. On the other hand I do have a salvia plant (I’m not sure what variety it is) that has beautiful purple spiked flowers in the spring and summer. I have had it for three years and the honey bees love it. Salvia and sage seem to be plants that the deer and rabbits leave alone.

Basil – I have grown basil for many years. I use it fresh during the summer and dry it to have on hand year round. I pick the leaves off before it begins to flower and continue to pick them until I want it to flower and go to seed. Late last summer, when I let the basil plants flower, I noticed the honey bees were heavily foraging them.

 

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Sunflower  is one of the annuals that we grow. I can not speak for all varieties of sunflowers but our bees visit the Grey Stripe Mammoth   and black oil seed varieties often.

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Once you plant sunflowers, don’t be surprised if they come up voluntarily the following year in surprising places as these did. They always made me smile 🙂

Coneflowers – Also know as Echinacea, known for it’s medicinal properties, is a plant that the bees also like. http://www.gardenexperiments.com/echinacea-species-flowering-plants-for-bees-butterflies-and-birds/

Asters grow wild in our field. They blossom in the late summer and fall and last year we witnessed the bees feeding heavily on them.

Clover is the one thing that we plant most often, that is great bee food. We sometimes use clover as a cover crop to nourish the soil for future crops, but most often we use it combined with grass seed when we landscape areas.  Call me crazy, and you might if you’ve been paying a lawn care company to keep your lawn weed free, but I feel that white clover compliments the grass. It grows at a similar rate, it fixes nitrogen that helps the grass grow, and it is soft to walk on. I also like that if I mow the white clover when it is blossoming, it will blossom again.

Buckwheat – Another plant that we have used as a cover crop that the bees seem to enjoy. Buckwheat makes a dark honey with a strong flavor. It also makes a good cover crop as it grows fast and is said to choke out competing weeds.

Last summer my husband and I were in the garden center department of one of the local home improvement stores. I was looking for more of the salvia plant that I have, but was unable to find any. We noticed honey bees visiting several different flowering plants. You should probably know that for me going to a garden center and not buying plants is almost like going to the Dairy Queen and not buying ice cream. I absolutely hate shopping and the only exception is going to a green house or garden center. I could spend way too many hours and way too much money in these places. That being said we ended up buying some of the plants that we saw honey bees visiting.

They included a Coreopsis also known as Tickseed.

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Tickseed

 

A Mallow

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Mallow

and a Balloon Flower that I don’t have a picture of. After planting these in our prayer garden I didn’t notice any bees on them. I suspect that there were so many other things blossoming in the area that the bees did not pay any attention to these flowers. Thus, the lesson I take from this is that my focus should be on sticking to what we already have. I will add more lavender, (I started some by seed) I will divide the thyme and let it spread, and perhaps I will divide my salvia in order to have more plants. I will cherish the clover, the asters and the golden rod that grow wild in our field, and I will not curse the thistle (much).

2020 update – While the mallow plant pictured above did not come back the following year, the balloon flower has continued to grow but I have never observed bees on it. The tickseed has continued to grow and spread and last summer I often saw bees foraging it.

Will you be doing any planting this year? Have you observed bees foraging on specific plants in your area? I would love to hear from you.

Happy Planting! 🙂

 

55 Things #10 – The Moon

Click here to learn more about my “55 Things” and here to view previous posts in this series.

The nearly full super moon was only intermittently visible through last night’s cloud cover. It is the first of three super moons that we will see this spring. The March full moon is also known as the worm moon, named this by Native Americans, since this is the time of year that worms begin emerging from the ground. Learn more about it here.  I attempted to take some photos but since my photography skills’ are lacking they are not nearly as impressive as it seeing it in person.

The following photos are unedited and are posted in sequence as taken. I am not sure what happened in the second photo, but while I would like to think that I captured some stunning other-worldly event, I suspect there is some type of technical explanation.

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While the actual full moon will occur tonight (March 9) the thick cloud cover will prevent us from viewing it. I guess I will have to try again in April.

This awareness of the full moon did remind me of a gardening method that we have talked about trying in the past but have not yet done. Since we have not yet started planting, I think this is the year to try planting by the phases of the moon.

This article from explains what types of plants should be planted during each phase of the moon.

  • First quarter moon cycle (new moon to half full) – Things that are leafy, like lettuce, cabbage and spinach, should be planted.
  • Second quarter moon cycle (half full to full moon) – Planting time for things that have seeds inside, like tomatoes, beans and peppers.
  • Third quarter moon cycle (full moon to half full) – Things that grow underground or plants that are perennials, like potatoes, garlic and raspberries, can be planted.
  • Fourth quarter moon cycle (half full to new moon) – Do not plant. Weed, mow and kill pests instead.

The article also says that while several studies have shown evidence that gardening by the phases of the moon can have positive effects there is no actual proof that it does.

In order to at least start planning for planting I found this handy chart which tells the date of that the moon enters each phase throughout the year. Planting season will begin soon. 🙂 Wish us luck.

Did you get to see the full moon? Have you ever planted by the moon?

Thanks for reading.

 

At Least We Didn’t Get Skunked

Term “skunked” is sometimes used to define an overwhelming defeat.

If you read my post from last Thursday I am sure you remember that I was quite discouraged about all the rain that we have been having and concerned that we, like most of the farmers in the area, had not been able to get any planting done.

After a dry Friday, but with more rain in the forecast for Sunday night and the week to follow, my husband decided it was now or never – he must try to get some planting done. He hooked the rototiller to the tractor and was able to till up a portion of the garden. YEA!!!! Then while he worked on planting some cabbage and tomato plants I worked on cutting grass.  What a relief it is to at least have the planting started.

The term “skunked” is also used to describe going fishing and catching nothing.

Feeling good about what we accomplished Saturday, and wanting to used some of the worms he collected while planting in the wet soil, we decided to do some fishing in the evening. We took our poles and the worm bucket out in the boat and loaded worms on our hooks. I dropped my hook in the water and seconds later had my first bite. It ended up being a 4 inch perch (although my husband remembered to bring the tape measure I neglected to bring my camera).

He caught the next fish – a 10 inch bass. It was not our intention to have bass in our pond. We originally stocked it with perch, a few walleye, a few catfish, a few pike and lots of minnows. We intentionally did not include bass. They showed up anyway. How does that happen??? Apparently water birds like ducks, geese and herons can get fish eggs stuck to their feet in one body of water and deposit them in another. Well we have had plenty of ducks, geese and herons visit so that explains it.  After seeing the bass my husband said we probably needed to get more pike as they are predators that would help keep the bass population under control. We had originally only put a few pike in there and hadn’t caught one in several years.

As we continued fishing we caught a quite a few 2-3 inch perch, then we each caught a 9 inch perch. We released them this time, but one day the are going to make a nice dinner. I got the last worm of the night (a very large night crawler). Since we didn’t want it to get nibbled away by small fry my husband peddled the boat around the deeper waters. Suddenly I got a bite. I could tell it was a large fish so I let it play on the line a little and waited for it to relax a bit before reeling it in some. When it got close enough I could see that it was neither a perch or a bass. It also wasn’t a catfish. When it got close enough my husband grabbed the line as I held the fishing pole. As he lifted the fish out of the water “it’s a pike he announced”. Just as he did the fish wiggled and got off the hook. Splash! back into the water it went. We didn’t get to measure it but is was significantly larger than the 10 inch bass he caught. Now we know that the predator fish in there.

Skunked? Not even close! Our Saturday was full of wins!

The term “skunked” can also be used to describe getting sprayed by a skunk.

Sunday morning as my husband and I arrived a the farm we noticed something strange near the pond. The colors were such that, despite never seeing a skunk close up in the daylight before, I knew immediately what it was.

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We had never seen skunks on the farm before, but a couple of years ago Trooper had a smelly encounter with one in the field next door.

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This momma seemed to be as surprised to see us as we were to see her.

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We stayed in our vehicle and watched as she tried to round up her three little ones then hurried them out of sight.

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I suspect our saving grace that morning was that we didn’t have Trooper with us.

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Trooper is a watch dog and would be certain announce to us that he saw something that didn’t belong there. He would do this by barking loudly and incessantly. His barking quite possibly would have made this momma feel threatened. Even if momma and baby had scampered off, Trooper, despite his prior experiences with skunks, would have certainly went looking in their direction once he got out of the van.

Though they are incredibly cute skunks might not be an animal we want inhabiting our farm. Beyond the threat of an encounter with a curious watch dog who doesn’t learn from past experiences, skunks could pose a threat to our chickens. They may not prey on our full grown birds but chicks and eggs may be at risk. Since skunks are generally nocturnal animals and our chickens are closed in a secure coop each night the risk may be low.

Skunks are also know to dine on bees – potentially even honey bees. Again since skunks are nocturnal and honey bees retreat to their hive at night the risk again is somewhat low. As a precaution against wild critters my husband places a brick on top of each bee hive so the critter would first have knock the brick off then knock the top off before being able to get into the hive.

Fortunately the skunks should have a more than adequate food supply on our farm without having to bother our chickens, eggs or bees. There may even be some benefits to having them around according the following excerpt from https://www.nativeanimalrescue.org/got-skunks/ . “Despite their smelly reputation, skunks are beneficial to people. They are opportunistic feeders with about 70% of their diet being insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and wasps. They eat a huge number of agricultural pests, such as army worms, potato beetles and squash bugs. One of their favorite foods is grubs, which they dig up from the soil. A hungry skunk can save people lots of money in terms of the amount of pesticides they might use if the skunk was not at work all night. Skunks will also eat spiders, snails, earthworms, carrion, berries, nuts, roots, small rodents and garbage. An easy source of food will quickly become their favorite, so avoid leaving dog and cat food out at night, which will draw skunks and other unwanted wildlife to your home. Skunks are shy, nocturnal creatures and would rather avoid you than spray you.”

After reading this it is my hope that we can have a peaceful coexistence with these critters – and again we didn’t get skunked.

Life Is Happening Faster Than I Can Write

There are so many things going on that I have wanted to write about but it seems there has little time left for writing. Thankfully I have been taking some pictures along the way to remind me of what I want to write. I have decided to combine many things into this post.

BREAD BAKING

I will start with an update on my sourdough bread making. IMG_4878

This loaf was made the same as my previous breads but I reduced the oven temperature to 425 degrees F and baked it covered for 35 minutes. I then removed the cover and baked it for about 25 minutes more. I am very pleased with the results. 🙂

SPRING AT THE FARM

It seems like a slow transition into spring but it may be better that way. When warm weather comes on quickly and all the plants begin to flower there is an increased risk of losing them to a spring freeze or heavy frost.  Here are some of my observations of our world awakening from it’s winter nap.

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The hickory buds are swelling.

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The maple trees are flowering. They provide pollen for the bees.

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The lilac buds are getting ready to open.

 

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The garlic is about three inches high.

 

 

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This time of year the back corner of our farm is a swamp. It becomes the noisiest spot as the chorus of frogs announce the arrival of spring. I love to hear the frogs sing 🙂

PLANTING

While it is way too soon to do any outdoor planting. We have a lot of stuff growing indoors.

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My husband started two varieties of tomatoes, five varieties of peppers, cabbage, basil and parsley.

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Several years ago we constructed this grow shelf by attaching florescent lights to the underside of  each shelf . As the seedlings begin to sprout we place blocks or boxes underneath their trays to get them closer to the light. We then gradually lower them as the plants grow taller.

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Having them closer to the light helps them grow stronger stems. We also have plants growing near many of the windows in our home.

While I normally don’t plant many annual flowers this year will be different.

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My husband took a job at a greenhouse for the season. They are a wholesale supplier of annual flowers. For various reasons not all of the plugs make the cut, so my husband has rescued many that would have otherwise been discarded.

We shared some with neighbors and family members and even donated several flats to our friends at Special Dreams Farm. Once the weather warms I will be planting Marigolds, Geraniums, and Phlox in our flower beds.

BEES

This year our son-in-law, Ken, decided to become a bee keeper. Since he does not have property of his own to set up a hive we welcomed him and his bees to our farm. Ken said he has been reading about and studying bee keeping for a couple of years now. After doing so he decided to design and build his own hive and feeders. I can’t describe all of the bee-friendly features that this hive has, but if it works out well perhaps Ken will do a guest post to share his hive design.

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He decided to keep Buckfast bees, a breed that we are not experienced with. His bees arrived on Saturday, April 6 and we were blessed with perfect weather for hiving bees. Since the Buckfast bees are known to be a gentle/non aggressive breed Ken was comfortable not wearing a full bee suit. (He only got stung once.)

My husband was there and walked Ken through the process of hiving the bees. When I spoke to Ken later he said that he was thankful for the help and probably the best thing my husband told him was to take his time. I understand this because standing amidst  10’s of thousands of bees can be unnerving.  It is important to stay focused and not to rush to get things done. That is how mistakes happen.

Our hive is doing well as evidenced by the number of bees coming and going on warm days. Since there is not much in blossom for the bees to forage my husband set up an outside feeder for them.IMG_4857

He poked small holes around the bottom of the ice cream bucket. He then put honey in the bucket. The honey is thick enough that it does not run out of the holes but the bees can suck it out.

We have ordered five packages of bees. They are scheduled to arrive on May 10th so I expect I will write a post about setting up five new hives.

CHICKENS 

I saved the best story for last.

Our first batch of chicks, the ones I said won’t be with us long, have moved to the farm. We had decided that once they were out of the brooder we would get a second batch. Rather than the Cornish cross chickens that we got the first time around and are normally raised for meat birds we decided we wanted a breed that would forage for it’s own food.  Jersey Giants was the breed we selected. I had spotted some recently at our local farm store. As their name suggests Jersey Giants are said to be the largest true breed of chicken. They are know as dual purpose birds being raised for either egg laying or as meat birds.

Our plan was to go last weekend to get some but that just didn’t happen, so when Monday came around I offered to go get them, “or we can go when I get home form work” my husband suggested. We eventually decided he would stop on his way home from work to get them. “How many should we get?” he asked. “Eight?” I said. “Eight sounds right,” he agreed.

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When he got to the farm store and found the brooder containing Jersey Giants he discovered there were only eight left. Perfect timing!

While he waited for the customer service person to assist him, he noticed a women holding a very small chick. “The others were picking on it,” she told my husband as she showed him the sore area on it’s foot where they had been pecking at it. “My husband won’t let me rescue it,” she said.

“My wife will,” he replied as he took the tiny bantam chick from her. “Let me take this one home,” he said to the store employee. She agreed.

We have never raised bantam chickens before so I had to do a little research to find out what we had. I learned that bantam chickens are small breeds. There are several breeds that are “true” bantams but each regular breed of chicken also has a bantam variety. Other than a small incredibly cute chick I still have no idea what we have. In fact these chicks are not sexed before sale so we may even have a rooster.

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It seems a dichotomy that this tiny little chick that was being abused by it’s peers has been accepted by this group that is 3 or 4 times it’s size.

“You get to name it,” my husband said to me.

“That is tough,” I replied “when I don’t know if it is a male or female.”

“Pick a name that could be either or,” he said.

After a few minutes of thought it came to me…

 

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Let me introduce you to Big Bird! LOL.

 

Do you also feel like time is flying by?

Are you experiencing nice spring weather and the beauty that comes with it?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

 

Spring Happenings

The last weekend in May is known as the unofficial start of summer and the weather last weekend played right along. Temperatures were around 90 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. Time seems to being going so fast that I am wondering how I missed spring.

I went back and looked at some of my photos from the last few weeks for a reminder.

IMG_4094The fruit trees, including apple, pear, and tart cherry all blossomed and are now setting fruit. Berry bushes, including our blue berry, raspberry, currant and grapes are setting fruit as well.

IMG_4091The dandelions blossomed and my husband helped me pick a bunch for soap making before they went to seed. I have enough for two batches of sweet dandelion soap. Trooper didn’t help pick dandelions but he enjoyed being there.

Speaking of Sweet Dandelion soap, I had just made a batch in May when I received the Mother’s Day gift my girls bought for me. It is a soap stamp. So I began playing with it as this batch was curing.IMG_4128It will be tricky to figure out when the soap is the correct degree of hardness for the stamp to work just right and challenging learning to apply the right amount of pressure to the stamp so I don’t squish the soap. I thought about using some type of coloring to add contrast, but it has to be something natural since I do not use artificial coloring in my soap. In the above photo I used cinnamon in one and turmeric in the other. Learning to use this will be a lot of trial and error.

The dandelions have now gone to seed and last week when I was mowing the lawn I was getting bombarded with dandelion seeds. They were flying everywhere and they were stuck to my clothes and in my hair. I told my husband I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up with dandelions growing out of my ears. He thought they would probably grow from my belly button because “you know everyone has a little dirt in their belly button.” LOL!IMG_4106We have been hearing  pheasants a lot on the farm and in the neighboring field and every now and the we get a glimpse of one. We are glad to see them as it had seemed that the pheasant population had all but disappeared over the last thirty or so years.

IMG_4102We have spotted many new nests around the farm this spring mostly they have been empty when we looked but one had robin eggs in it and I did spot this momma sitting on hers.

IMG_4127We also have a pair of ducks who have been frequenting the pond this spring. My husband and I agree that we will not be surprised if we find out that they have a nest in the woods next to the pond. I guess we will know if they show up with babies.

IMG_4097This past winter was a bad one for bees in our area. We lost four of our five hives so we bought two more packages and installed them into hives. Since my husband installed them on his own I didn’t get any photos.

The garden has been planted. We have tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, egg plant, potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, cantaloupe, water melon, lettuce, Swiss chard, celery, basil, parsley, carrots, beets, green beans, corn, winter squash and pumpkins.

Along with the hot weather came a dry spell – we weren’t really expecting it because the weather forecasters had predicted that we would get rain and storms as the remnants from tropical storm Alberto made it’s way North into our part of the country. Somehow all that rain missed us.

IMG_1233Fortunately my husband had put the pump in the pond and we were able to take advantage of the wind that we had last week to get the tanks filled and keep things watered as we awaited the rain.

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We finally got rain this morning and what a blessing it is. Not only will it give all of our crops the boost that they need right now, and give us a break from watering, it makes pulling weeds much easier. Pulling weeds is one of the thing we have been spending much time doing this past week as weeds were threatening to take over the strawberry patch, the garlic field and the asparagus patch. Pulling weeds out of dry clay soil is next to impossible so that task will go much quicker now.

IMG_4124.JPGSince the temperatures were so warm (hot) I did spend some time last Friday raking the beach area. If I have to work on a hot day cleaning the pond is the perfect job. 🙂 After I raked the leaves out of the beach area and used our small rototiller to rough up the sand we set up our beach chairs and umbrella. Woo hoo we are ready for summer!!!

The following day when the sun was high in the sky and temperatures soared, a dip in the pond was a refreshing treat.

Thus far we have picked and eaten and froze lots of asparagus and I picked some rhubarb and put several packages in the freezer as well. When I was freezing the rhubarb I discovered one small package of rhubarb from last year. I decided I needed to use it up. I also found the last of my strawberries from last year – another small package. Since there were only about a cup of each there was not really enough to make this into a pie or crisp, so I decided to make strawberry-rhubarb sauce. I put both the strawberries and the rhubarb in a sauce pan then added a bit of water – maybe a half cup. I wasn’t too worried about having too much because I could cook it off to get the sauce to thicken. I simmered this until the fruit was soft. I then mashed the mixture with a potato masher. I continued cooking it until it was thick and added sugar to taste. I can’t really tell you how much sugar to add because everybody likes a different degree of sweetness and some strawberries are much sweeter than others. I just started with a couple tablespoons and tasted until it was right. While this fruity dessert was good eaten plain, my husband used some as an ice cream topping and I mixed some with some vanilla yogurt as well.

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and I have always believed that time seems to go faster as I get older, so I think both of these combined explains why it is June already and I feel like I missed Spring. Thanks for sticking with me for this recap.

Just curious – does time seem to be flying by for you as well?