Thursday, November 14, 2013
I have wanted a backyard pond for a very long time. Some people think of a pond as a 1/4 to a 1/2 of an acre or larger. I plan on putting in a small pond, something around 15 ft wide x 30 ft long x 1-6 ft deep. A small pond that size will hold an amazing amount of water, in this case over 10,000 gallons.
There are many reasons other than aesthetics to put in a water feature on your property. You will increase the bio-diversity of your property instantly. Frogs will start showing up, birds will stop by as well as insects, spiders, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, fish and mammals. By adding a water feature to your landscape you will create an environment that really can't be measured by a metric I know of. Water is truly the catalyst of life. You will have a healthier more diverse property if you create aquatic habitats.
A pond allows you to fish for your dinner as well as grow many water loving plants. I plan on growing many things in my pond. Did you know you can grow water chestnuts in the midwest? You can grow duck-weed to feed your livestock and to support the fish and other life in your pond. I will put in cattails which are almost completely edible, and what you can't eat can be composted. So even if the only thing you can do is put in one of the plastic ponds from your local big box store, I hope you will put some sort of water feature on your property.
One of the first things you should do is locate an area that will best support a pond. Things to consider are drainage areas, soil composition, low lands and proximity to buildings and septic systems. You don't want to locate your pond close to a building or a septic drain field / tank. My pond will be about 20 ft from my garage and 40 ft from the closest drain field. I am sure there are regulations on these distances from your local government overlords so check your local code.
The area I am locating my pond happens to be the lowest area in my backyard. When it rains a lot this area holds surface water for a couple days. Once you locate the best area on your property for a pond, you will want to dig a test hole. This will let you know what type of subsoil you are dealing with. About one foot down my sub soil turns into a nice clay layer. Clay is good, if you find your sub soil is gravely, you will need to seal your pond with a liner or bentonite clay. I have seen some people use old carpet, it works, but I know what goes into the manufacture of synthetic carpets, so I would pass on that.
The other purpose of a test hole is to see if your ground will hold water. I dug this hole as deep as I could with a post hole digger. I ended up getting it around 4 ft deep. Next you want to fill the hole up with water. Now you just wait to see how long it takes for the water level to drop. If you walk away to grab a beer and when you come back the hole is empty, then you may have trouble putting in a pond the easy way.
I checked the hole the next day and it had gone down 2 feet. The ground was dry when I did this experiment, so I filled the hole back up and it dropped about two feet in 24 hours. I assume this is because the top 2 feet of the hole allowed more water to seep into the ground than the tighter packed clay on the bottom. After about a week there was only a foot of water in the hole. I am going to ask my neighbor if he sealed his pond, but I don't think he did.
I am going to plumb the downspouts on the back of my garage into a water catchment system eventually. I will take the overflow from that, and using french drains, have the system drain into the pond. More on that in the future.
One last thing, put something like a board over the test hole you dig in case someone is walking around your backyard and doesn't know it is there. It would be quite a surprise to step in this hole and have your foot go down a couple feet.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
We have had bad luck keeping bees these last two seasons. Out of the four colonies we have bought and installed in our hives, we have one colony left. And that colony is not very robust. I believe part of the reason is the bees we buy come from Georgia. Our local bee supplier drives down to Georgia every spring and brings back hundreds of colonies. These bees are acclimated to a southern climate with mild winters. I have yet to get one of these colonies through our more aggressive mid-west winters.
I am planning on trying to capture locally adapted colonies this spring. I have done a lot of research and I feel confident that I can build swarm traps this winter and catch some swarms this spring. I will do a more detailed post on swarm traps and the process of catching swarms after I build the traps.
I have reservations about feeding bees sugar syrup as a general practice. My feeling is if your colony grows accustom to getting some of their food inside the hive they will be less robust foragers and you will breed this trait into them over time. That said, the hive I have left this year has completely eaten through its honey reserves for the winter and if I do not feed them I might as well just empty the hive. I will not buy another colony again. I will try to get this one through the winter, but if they do not make it, they will be the last hive I pay money for.
If you need to feed your hive you can do it very easily. The only equipment you need is a couple mason jars with lids and something to hold them upside down. I bought a couple holders made for this purpose from my local bee supplier, they were cheap and very good at what they do. I took the plastic holders and screwed them to a piece of wood. The mason jar lids need tiny holes in them to let the sugar syrup slowly drip out.
The sugar syrup is pretty simple to make. It is a 2 : 1 ratio of white table sugar to water. This will be thick and will slowly drip out of the holes in the lid when turned upside down. Once the bees find it they will constantly harvest it until it is gone.
The reason I screwed the jar holders to the board is so I could use them in my top-bar hives. The plastic holders are specifically made for Langstroth hives, but with a little modification and they will work in top-bar hives. The bees will find the sugar syrup pretty quickly and start to bring it over to the comb in the hive. I have drilled holes in my follower boards to let the bees come and go through them. However, there is a gap below the follower boards that the bees use instead. That is a design flaw in the way I constructed the follower boards. No big deal in the long run though.
I put one pint of sugar syrup on each side of the main hive. You can't see it in these pictures, but the top-bar next to each of these feeders has a board hanging down similar to the ends of the hive, the follower board. This keeps the center of the hive small making it is easier for the bees to keep themselves warm through the winter. I will have to replace the sugar syrup a couple times throughout the winter if I want the colony to make it. I will only open the hive on the warmest day in the forecast so I do not freeze the bees out. Here is hoping they make it through this winter.
Friday, November 8, 2013
After much procrastinating I finally got around to planting the garlic I harvested earlier this year. In any climate zone, garlic should be planted after the first frost when the ground has cooled. If you do not have a first frost, or any frost for that matter, I guess you can plant whenever. The recommendation is to plant in the spring in those climates.
All of this garlic came from six bulbs originally. On the left are my hard neck varieties and on the right are the soft neck varieties. I am going to have so much garlic at the next harvest!
This is one of the hard neck varieties. If you look at the one on the right you will see a twist in the center stalk. I found the easiest way to get the stalk out was to twist it until it broke. The stalk is very tough. I didn't get a good picture of it but the twist went up the stalk and reminded me of braided twine. I bet you could use them for cordage. I may try to make some and post about it later.
I missed some hard-neck scapes when I cut them back earlier this year. A bulbil will form if you let the scapes mature. You can grow new garlic plants from these if you want. I opted to plant the actual bulbs. If you want to use the bulbils, you must "chill" them before you plant to pull it out of its dormant state. This is according to my Father and the internet. In fact my dad thinks I am crazy for planting the actual bulbs. Most people will put them in the freezer over night to "chill" them. I have never tried this, so don't yell at the idiot blogging on the interwebz if it doesn't work.
Here are the viable cloves. Some of the cloves went bad as they were curing. This only happened to a few cloves, so I had a pretty good harvest of usable cloves. Not to mention a bunch of dry tinder to start fires with. It took me about an hour to separate the cloves from the bulbs. Do not peel the cloves, just separate the cloves from the bulbs. The cloves will be perfectly fine planted with the skin on.
This is the bed I grew garlic in last year. Since I had less soft-neck cloves than hard-neck, I decided to use this as the soft-neck bed and build another bed for the hard-neck. I had to fight the oregano in the bed next to this, it decided to expand its borders. So did the creeping charlie I let run wild in the garden area. You can see mint creeping its way in from the bottom right. Nature abhors a vacuum.
I mulched the bed with a layer of straw then a layer of pine needles. Once the garlic starts to come up I plan on putting a layer of shredded leaves on to prepare the bed for the winter.
I put down a couple layers of cardboard I salvaged from work. They seriously just put it in a trash dumpster and send it off to the local dump. I try to get as much as I can. I always seem to have a use for more cardboard.
Whenever I establish a new bed I typically make my own soil mix depending on what I plan on planting. In this case I used a 60 / 40 compost to peat moss mixture. The bed I put in last year for the garlic had the same mix, and the garlic did very well. It was also very easy to harvest because the peat moss makes a loose soil.
I wanted an even distribution so I gridded out the bed and then planted. I am planting a little closer than I did last year. Most instructions say to plant the cloves 4-6 inches apart. I think you can bring that down to 3 inches and still get large bulbs. But, I have not tried this before, so maybe wait until my experiment is over before you plant your garlic this close. I will let you know how it goes in next years harvest post.
Here is the finished product. I mulched it with a layer of straw followed by pine needles. I will cover this with a layer of shredded leaves once the garlic gets a couple inches tall. You can probably still get away with planting garlic this year if you are in my climate zone. I planted at the end of October. If you plan on planting and have not done so, do it asap. If you are reading this in the winter sometime, you can grow garlic indoors if you have deep enough pots for proper bulb development.
I will have plenty of garlic next year so if you are anywhere near me, and want some heirloom garlic, just drop me a line next fall.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
This Broccoli was planted way back in the spring as soon as the ground was thawed. We let it go through the summer because when a brassica plant flowers it bring in all kinds of beneficial insects. When we checked it the other day we were surprised to see nice full heads of broccoli waiting for the dinner table.
This cabbage was planted early spring as well. The heads did not tighten up and get big enough for harvest in the spring so we let it go through the summer. In our experience, cabbage will put on a good tight head at the end of summer into fall.
This Eucalyptus is a new addition to our garden. Eucalyptus cinerea is very hardy for a Eucalyptus plant. One source says this variety is hardy down to -4 degrees F. Zone 6a, where we are, has a average temperature low of -10 to -5 degrees F. I hope this perennial tree will establish itself. The lady in the booth at the plant show where I bought the plant seemed to think it was completely fine in our climate. After doing some research on it, I think it may die back over the winter and come up again in the spring. It may be to cold for this plant to establish as a tree in our climate. But the tag it came with says it is hardy down to USDA zone 6. So we will just have to chalk this up to a experiment. I will let you know how it goes.
I got this fig tree from my friend Mike B. Not sure what variety it is. It is suppose to be cold hardy in our climate. He is growing figs in Newport KY and they went crazy this year. He had so many figs on every branch, I was truly amazed. We tend to be just a little bit colder over the winter here in SW Ohio. I hope this tree gets established and I get as many figs as my friend did this year.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Fall is my second favorite season, spring is by far the best season, in my opinion. There is something about fall that makes me happy. It reminds me of pumpkins, jumping into giant leaf piles and Harry Potter marathons. Not only is the forest around us turning beautiful shades of red and orange, our perennial plants are giving us a show.
Hazelnuts turn a wonderful yellow-orange in fall. I thought we were going to get at least three hazelnuts this year, but the squirrel farm in our oak trees has seen to that. It's okay though, I know we will always have dinner for at least a week with our self sufficient squirrel colony.
Blueberry leaves turn a dark red in the fall. I think we are up to 13 blueberry plants now. The key is to get them ripe before the birds have at them. I saw a cardinal come day after day and eat our ripe blueberries this year. Once these plants get big and bush out I won't mind sharing a little with the local wildlife.
Here is the Russian mulberry I planted last summer. It has quadrupled in size in just over one year. The leaves are just starting to turn. They look like they are variegated. I can't wait for this tree to get taller than me and produce a ton of berries for my future chickens and or my wine operation.
I have not identified these mushrooms yet. They are completely ringing one of my white pine trees. It reminds me of a fairy ring. And no, I am not going all hippy on you, a fairy ring / circle is a real phenomenon, check it out here. I should go out and do a spore print. I am sure they are not edible, but I would like to know what they are.
They are seriously everywhere around the white pine. I wonder if it has anything to do with the large amount of straw I have had next to the pine for a couple years. The mushrooms are no where else on the property. Any guesses as to what they are?
Monday, October 21, 2013
We are not sure what the deal with our garden is this year. Last year we had such an abundance and this year it has been a bust for the most part. I know part of it was not weeding and watering as much as we should have, we are not going to make that mistake next season.
So here is our best harvest this year. We got other things like zucchini, strawberries, mouse melons and peppers, but this has been the most photogenic harvest this year. Dara fermented the cabbages in this picture. She made a fermented apple cabbage stew last night. Now if we could just find some canis root for tea...
Here is our friends Mike and Heathers dog Rhododendron Maximus (Rhody) relaxing in the sun. This picture doesn't do justice to how close those balloons were. It was pretty surreal watching them float by the house.
We could hear the gas being turned on and off on the balloon like it was in the back yard. I assume they had to land somewhere near our house judging by the decent angle. One day we will go up in a hot air balloon, maybe we will fly over our house.