Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spring into Summer

So much to catch up on. When last I wrote we were in the grip of a long, hot, and dry spell. Since then, we've had a muchness of rain. Almost too much. But it did cool off for one brief, glorious week. And the rain hasn't been constant unlike the dry spell. On the whole, it's been a bonus. The grass is growing, the wallow is full, the late-planted herb and okra seeds germinated in record time, and mushrooms are popping up all over. Permit me to give you a brief recap primarily in pictures:

The black raspberries (they grow wild here) have been coming in bigger and juicier than last year. The birds are getting most of them, but I snag a few whenever I go out to see the buffs or when I'm mowing the driveway.

House wrens, not known for their stellar site selection, have built a mossy nest behind the old plow head in the right-hand cubbyhole of this storage unit on our porch. You may need to click on the pic to enlarge it.

It's a clever nest design except for the fact that it is exactly at eye level for our dog and is located right next to her water bowl.

Speaking of critters, we found a very recently dead snapping turtle down by the creek. After a few days, nature's clean-up crew had taken it down to the bone/shell. We've got everything but 3 of the legs. Gory? Maybe, but this stuff fascinates me.

Dinnertime? No! This is a very large mushroom that was growing near our hollyhocks. The cap came off the stem before I could get a shot, so I went ahead and laid it out to make a spore print. Spoon for scale not for sampling.

I don't know if the color comes through, but the gills are a nifty shade of green. As you will be if you eat it. Also, you might be dead. If I've identified it correctly, this magnificently monstrous mushroom is none other than Chlorophyllum molybdites (green-spored parasol or green-gilled parasol). Quite impressive to look at but also quite toxic. A good reminder to do a spore print since the gills may not look green especially when it's young.

There were a few glorious days where it wasn't too hot and the sky was a beautiful shade of Carolina blue. The above shot is of the property just down the road from us.

The buffs were thrilled to get up to the main barn again. While I'm not thrilled about having to muck out the barn in hot weather, I did need to let them into this pasture to eat the fast-growing weeds.

Effie trying to keep Eschol from the good stuff. The good stuff being whatever's in front of her at any given moment.

Enjoy it, Effie, you won't be allowed in there much longer.

And stop eating the leaves off the apple tree. That does it! Back to the lower pasture with the lot of you....

Old Creaky has a lot of apples this year. Some came down in the annual June fruit drop but the remaining ones are starting to show a hint of blush as they get bigger.

Thanks, bees, for another great job of pollinating. The New Girls on the Block (my oldest colony) is putting up honey so fast, I've had to add a couple of supers to make sure they don't run out of room now that Sourwood season is upon us. The Blackberry Girls (on the left in the pic) are slowly building up their numbers, so I added a second deep to give them room to grow.

See anything unusual with this picture? Try enlarging it. I was transplanting some herbs this morning when I heard the unmistakable sound of a large number of bees buzzing. I followed the sound to this black walnut tree.

A huge cloud of bees was flying around and I knew that I was seeing a swarm. Sure enough, over the next hour, a cluster formed on the tree branch. At one point, there were two "beards" of bees side-by-side.

But soon they coalesced into one large swarm. I was worried that my bees had swarmed but it seemed unlikely since they weren't hurting for space and I hadn't seen any indications of swarm preparations when I added the supers last week. Ideally, I'd like to capture this swarm but it's 35 feet or so up a tree and the branch is hanging over the creek, so I can't use traditional methods. Instead, I hastily assembled a bait hive within sight of the cluster and am hoping against hope that the scouts will find it and deem it worthy. Unlikely, but worth a shot. I can see the swarm from the windowseat in our house which is both fascinating and maddening. And distracting. I keep checking to see if they've left or if there's any sign of bees checking out the bait hive.

The garden is chugging along. The tomatoes (Roma, above, plus Mortgage Lifters and Mountain Fresh) were going great guns until the rains came. Blight appeared in a flash. I've been spraying religiously and clipping low-hanging leaves so we'll see if they can be salvaged. So far, the Mountain Fresh which is a resistant variety has been doing best though it's got the least fruit.

Greens have done very well. We're still eating tons of lettuce and now the kale (Red Russian, above) is coming along well.

The chard is nearly ready to harvest and I've got several recipes waiting.

Phew! Well, that's a bit of a peek into what we've been up to. The stanchion update will require a whole 'nother post.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ain't It Awful the Heat?

Ain't it awful the heat?
Ain't it awful?
Don't know what I'm gonna do.
What a scorcher.
This is torture.
Don't know what I'm gonna do.

Points to anyone who can name the person who wrote the words and the person who wrote the music for this very apt tune. Apt because we are now in our third week of weather with temps in the upper 80s/low 90s. Up until early May, we were enjoying the warm spring because we were getting lots of rain. The lettuce and radishes came up quickly:

Actually, the radishes came up so fast and got so much rain that some of them split in spectacular fashion before I harvested them.

This is the first year that I've used floating row cover. It has done a wonderful job of protecting my seedlings from flea beetles so the lettuce didn't get devoured before having a chance to put out more than a leaf or two. It also protected the tender plants from the late cool snap (Blackberry winter) we had the first weekend in May. Now that we've entered a dry spell, it has helped conserve moisture in the soil. I think it's the only reason that I'm still harvesting lettuce at this stage.

The downside to the row cover is that I don't see what's going on under the cover as frequently as when I can just glance down at the bare ground. Weed seedlings get more of a foothold when I don't lift up the cover for days at a time. And while water gets through the cover, I think it runs off and pools in depressions a bit more than if I were watering the ground directly. That may have something to do with why I've had a lot of seeds that haven't germinated.

Of course, that could also be due to the scorching heat and lack of rain over the past few weeks. In that time, we've only had one tiny shower and that only moistened the ground but didn't soak it. After a lazy spring where I didn't have to water the garden much at all, I finally hooked up the hoses to the rain barrel last week. It only took a week to empty all 85 gallons of rainwater. Fortunately, I have a second rain barrel but I'm already well into that one and no big rain is in the forecast. I find myself scanning the weather map each afternoon, desperately hoping to see those fabled "isolated thunderstorms" on the radar in our area. We've been teased with a lot of late afternoon thunder but no downpours. On the bright side, I hope to have fewer problems this year with tomato blight given how little rain we're getting.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Little Late for Easter

A few weeks ago, I was getting the last of the seeds into the garden. Thought I'd squeeze in just a few more edamame near the rhubarb.

I reached down to push aside some old pine straw and noticed something odd.

Looks like fur. And a hole. Uh oh. Better pull up a bit more pine straw.

Yup. Baby bunnies. Four of them. They were nearly fully baked--just about to open their eyes--so I didn't have the heart to boot them from their nest. I covered everything back up and monitored it over the next few days to make sure mama rabbit was coming back to care for them. Within a week, they were gone. Thankfully, they didn't stay in the garden.

I'm still not sure how mama got in nor how the babies got out through the chicken wire but they seem to be finding enough good stuff outside the garden perimeter that they aren't devouring my lettuce and other greens. I saw one of the young ones when I was mowing the lawn recently (I had to direct it to a safe place to hang out while the lawn tractor did its thing) so at least one hadn't succumbed to the predations of the hawks and the coyote at that point. Judging from the amount of fur-filled coyote scat that I've found this week, I'm not sure that's still true. Oh well. It's not like we need more rabbits around here. Still, baby bunnies--how cute is that?