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Worm tea and worm castings

Top bin removed before getting castings out from middle bin

A few months ago I bought some worms and made worm-composting bins.  My boys and I have been feeding them kitchen scraps every week or so since then.  It’s been a fairly low-maintenance venture, and worms don’t sting, so I don’t have to don a hot (not figuratively) bee suit every time I need to feed them and/or check on them.

The only real negative was the gigantic fruit fly swarm that materialized mid-August when I hadn’t put enough dirt on top of the veggie and fruit scraps in the bins.  Otherwise, it was just like any healthy composting set-up with no smell at all.

Those redworms have been busy.  I tried to lift up the top bin and almost pulled my back out.  I finally hoisted it off and the middle bin was full of dark castings.

Top bin compared to final product -- castings!

I’d been feeding the worms only in the top bin so they’d pretty much all migrated up, so I only had to fish a couple of them out of there and transfer them to the top.

The bottom bin was about half-full of tea, actually that’s “leachate” — I was informed by James Magee at Blue Ridge Redworms that’s the correct term for the liquid that runs off the castings. ( Worm tea is another form of compost-based liquid that comes from worms, but there’s more involved in making it, including fermenting it with molasses and some other stuff that sounds pretty advanced.  I’ll stick to the liquid dregs for now….)

Adding leachate to raised bed

So, as I’d suspected when we started composting with worms, our system wasn’t big enough to handle all our kitchen’s compostables.  However, they ate more than I’d thought they would — maybe 75% of the stuff that would have gone into our regular compost bins out in the side yard.

I put all the castings into one of my raised beds where I’ve got some dinosaur kale growing.  I poured the leachate around the arugula, mache, and red russian kale in another raised bed.

Putting castings into raised bed

Now it’s time for the worm bins to go back into the basement for winter as we’re getting into freezing temps at night.

And I’ll be keeping an eye on the winter greens on into spring to see how they benefit from our worm composting venture….

Redworms at work in worm composting bin

 

We’ve been robbed…and infested

Our beehive is having a rough time right now.  Not only have they been discovered by a band of marauding robber bees, they’ve also had some freeloading hive beetles and wax moths move in.

Beetle traps, sugar water, pollen patties (cider vinegar and oil to bait the traps)

To fight back, I called John Christie at Wild Mountain Bees up in Madison County and ordered some ammo:  mite strips and hive beetle traps.  And to help my bees re-stock their food supply to get them through the winter, I ordered some pollen patties.

Since we got this hive back in April, tending the bees has been fairly low-maintenance.  I fed them sugar water to get them established, and checked the hive every couple of weeks to make sure they were producing brood and building up a good supply of honey.

All was well till I started noticing the tiny black shiny hive beetles scurrying around in the racks, then I realized every time I’d go in the hive there were more of them.  Then we found some wax moth larvae (eww, vile grubby things) attached to the sides of one of the boxes.  But the most alarming thing was that where there had once been racks full of honey, there was nothing.  And it happened fast.

Robbed!

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent robber bees from coming in.  Robber bees are just bees from another hive who’ve been tipped off by one of their own that there’s a good supply of food in another hive, and they make quick work of stealing it.

One thing we did was to put an entrance reducer on the front of the hive so that our bees would have less territory to defend.  It basically is a strip of wood with a small notch cut out so that only a couple of bees can come in or fly out at once. I also put some grass and leaves over that entrance after a Google search informed me that would confuse the robber bees and they’d eventually give up trying to invade and go back home.

This is not just happening in my urban beehive:  it is happening in all my friends’ hives around the 28801 and 28806 zip codes.  I sure would like to see the hives where the robbers are absconding with our honey.  They must be strong and gigantic.

Mite strips: 7-day treatment

When checking on the hives a few weeks ago we noticed that some of our bees had shriveled-up wings.  That’s a sign of mites.  Despite their flightlessness, the other bees don’t reject them.  (My brother was marveling at this, reminding me that bees will banish the drones from the hive at the end of the season when they don’t need them anymore, but they will “let” these hive-bound bees stay and work.)

These mite strips about knocked us over — they’ve got formic acid in them. I don’t know what formic acid is exactly, but it smelled like the vinegar on steroids.  I felt guilty putting them in the hive knowing the bees would be trapped in there with all those fumes, but I knew that unless we dealt with the mites we were at risk of losing the entire hive, especially since we’re headed into winter.

Pollen patties on top of racks

So my bees wouldn’t hate me forever after I subjected them to the formic acid treatment, after I took the mites strips out I immediately put in some pollen patties.  Pollen patties look and smell just like PowerBars (I swear I didn’t taste one!) The bees started eating them as soon as I put them on top of the racks.

Trapped hive beetles

The hive beetle traps are great.  They work by luring the beetles in through small holes in the top with apple cider vinegar, then they get stuck in the vegetable oil inside.  These little traps also sit on top of the racks.  One note if you try them:  be really really careful with the oil — don’t spill any inside the hive because any bee that touches it will get all gunked up and won’t be able to fly.

The only things that could mess with our bees now are the giant variety:  bears.  They are roaming all over the place.  They’ve been in our neighborhood the past few weeks.  There was a family about a half mile from downtown, not far from us, just recently:

Mama bear and 3 cubs in tree, courthouse and downtown in background

Bear-proofing

Hence:

To end on a happy note:

October 13th and still coming in with pollen

 

Great front-yard garden design

My friend Amanda Ray turned half of her front yard into this great garden, right here in 28801.  I think a garden really says alot about a person — Amanda Ray’s artistic soul definitely helped shape the space here.  She’s a mom to two boys too, and she’s designed a garden that’s both fun and practical for her family.

I love the layout of this design — you can imagine how cool it is for little kids — it’s a maze, so very inviting.  It also makes tending the plants really easy too, as you can get to them from both sides.

Of course the boys are loving to dig around in the gravel paths…..

Another thing I like about this garden is that it’s right up next to their front porch, so there’s really easy access to the food when it’s ready, and it’s easy to water too.

 

Lettuce is easy to grow (when it’s not hot!)

It’s really a little too late to plant lettuce here in the Southern Appalachians (especially considering that it already feels like early July).

But when it comes time to plant your fall crops later on this summer , here are some great reasons to grow your own lettuce It’s not too late to start thinking about what kinds of lettuce seeds you want to get in the ground in early August — the possibilities are almost endless (and delicious)….

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Bees rock

Bees are just too cool….

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Another 28801 front-yard farmer

Right up the street from Alsace and Candice’s garden you’ll find another cool front-yard, raised-bed garden.

While driving and walking down this street, I’ve watched this garden grow the past few years. I was first intrigued by the design of the bamboo fence:

When you’ve got your garden right up in the front yard, right next to the sidewalk, it is nice to have a little bit of a fence (e.g., keeps dogs – and clueless people – from wandering over into your plants).

I was walking home from picking up the boys from preschool last week and saw the person I thought belonged to this garden, and he (Andy) — like Candice and Alsace — was kind enough to take a few minutes and answer my questions and let me snap a few photos.

Here’s Andy in his garden.  He has managed to turn a rather small space into lots of growing room.  He’s put his composter in the corner of the space, you can see it behind him.

Over the winter, he put down pavers in the paths between the raised beds. That’s an improvement I’ve put on my wish list for next year’s garden.  It keeps the weeds and mud at bay, and it looks pretty cool too.

Here’s a couple more perspectives showing how Andy has turned a very small space, right on the sidewalk into a great garden (I love the city “No Parking Any Time” sign)…..

 

Shocking slugs!

I am sure I’ve mentioned my disdain for slugs.  In all my gardens prior to having raised beds, I’ve been plagued by them.  They can be so destructive, and no matter how diligently I picked them off young plants (or set up beer traps to drown them, or sprinkle slug pellets, or whatever cure du jour I’d most recently discovered online) they always managed to be one of the peskiest pests.

Last year I read about putting up barriers (of varying kinds) to keep them out of my raised beds.  The most ingenious one I read about was copper tape.  It supposedly works by giving the slugs a mild electrical shock when they touch it, so they won’t cross it.

And I must say, it has been very effective as I’ve yet to find one on even the tiniest of my seedlings.  My peppers, tomatoes and lettuce seedlings have been growing along untouched by these spineless, shell-less destructors.

This is what the copper tape looks like when unrolled.  It’s got adhesive on the back so you can just stick it directly onto the wood of your raised bed.

Notice that I got smart this year and wore gloves while putting the tape on the beds.  Last year I must have been in a hurry (or lazy) and I didn’t wear gloves, and I got some of the most wicked, tiny cuts from it.  It’s a fairly thin strip of copper so it was kind of like a paper cut, but with thin metal — ow!

This is what it looked like right after I put the copper strips around my two new raised beds.  Those beds are now planted with my tomato and pepper starts, which are safe and sound thanks to the copper.

The copper strips I put around the 4 raised beds last spring are still holding on tight.  They have a slight green patina to them, but they haven’t peeled off a bit, despite a harsh winter and torrential spring rains.

One thing I did read about in a gardening forum is that you must keep weeds and other plants from growing up over the copper strips, because the slugs will use it as a “bridge”  to avoid getting shocked and get to your plants.  Which reminds me, I need to go out and weed right now…..

 

Bees! We got bees!

Easter afternoon we were driving over to a cookout at James’s cousin’s house.  Right around the corner from our house, I saw a person in a beekeeping suit in our neighbor’s yard. Well, I figured there must be a swarm so we pulled over to check it out.

The swarm

Sure enough, our neighbors had a swarm in their backyard.  We told Andy, the beekeeper, that we had an empty bee box in our yard and were on a wait-list for getting bees this spring.  He told us he’d captured 3 swarms in the past week, so he was all set on hives, and he offered to give us these bees.  Woohoo!

He got them all corralled into his bee box, stapled some screen over the entrance, put them in the back of his pickup and followed us back around the corner to our house.  He told us what we needed to do to get them transferred over to our bee boxes — I was listening intently, but not understanding much, with the notion in my brain that I’d call my brother ASAP to get him to come over and show me what to do with them later.

Andy getting the swarm into the box

Well, later came around, Craig got over here and we donned bee suits and transferred the racks from Andy’s box to ours.  I was a little nervous as that was the first time I’d worked with bees since my one or two feeble teenaged attempts when my dad started tending a few hives in our backyard (I’m sure I was more scared of other teens seeing me in a bee suit than I was of the bees).

Craig and me, ready to go

Anyway, it was amazing.  They were pretty calm but their collective buzz was steady and loud.  I felt safe in the bee suit even though they were flying all around us.  We got them all transferred, added a sugar water feeder to the front of the box to help feed them till they get established (in bee-speak, I think that means they’ve got to build their wax honeycomb cells up enough to be ready for them to put honey into…I think).

Bees in Andy's box on right, prior to transfer to our box on left

Of course, the boys were totally taken with the entire process — especially the bee suits.  How cool to be able to look like a spaceman/alien and it doesn’t even have to be Halloween!  They didn’t get too close to the hive but were watching what we were doing.  They’re only 4 and 2.  I wonder if it was instinct helping them keep a safe distance, or if they were following James’s lead (who didn’t have a suit but was also trying to watch from a couple yards away).

Amanda reloading the smoker

The next day, my brother and I had to go to Greenville for family business(not exciting stuff). We went to my Dad’s house while we were there to check on his four hives.  When we got there, our friend Amanda was already there, suited up and checking the first hive.

Now, I am a complete beginner.  So this might not all be exactly right.  But, I learned that “checking on a hive” means that you’re making sure the hive is healthy:  you go into the boxes, pull out the racks and see what’s going on.  You look for brood cells, pollen cells, and of course cells filled with honey. (You also check for ick things like wax moths and some kind of parasitic beetle that can harm a hive.)

Opened bee box, checking racks

Amanda at work

You also look for the queen — my favorite part of the entire activity.  I’d always envisioned the queen as just kind of sitting still in one place, immobile, while the drones and worker bees helped move her around so she could lay eggs in the cells.  Nope, the queen of the hive I first looked in was just as mobile and busy as all the other bees, moving around fairly nimbly for having a much longer abdomen than the others.  We saw the queens in the other hives too and they have been working hard, making healthy bees and hives.

Learning by doing, baptism by fire — whatever this crash course in beekeeping was, it sure was fun.  I did get stung once through my glove but it wasn’t too bad.  I guess I was distracted by all the activity.

Here I am trying to figure out how to get the smoker to work, loading it up with sticks I’d carefully picked up from among a ridiculous amount of poison ivy in my dad’s yard.  It is a true miracle I didn’t end up with a major PI problem. Thank goodness for the full coverage of the bee suit!

Amanda explained to me that the smoke confuses the bees by masking the pheromones they emit when they get mad (i.e., when people get in their hive), so they stay calmer.

Back in Asheville the past couple of days,  I’ve been intrigued by these new residents in our backyard. I can see the hive from our porch.  There’s a lot of activity right outside the entrance, but Craig assures me they’re not getting ready to swarm and leave.  He says they’ve got to get their bearings, and he’s confident they like their new home.

This afternoon I told my 4 year old that we needed to go to the store.  He asked, “Are we going there to get my bee suit?”  I looked online and sure enough there’s a place that sells bee suits for kids.  I think it’s great, but I know it will start World War III if my 2 year old doesn’t get one too (they don’t make them small enough for him)…he’ll just have to wait a little longer….and enjoy the honey in the meantime!

They're all in! (Sugar water feeder on the front helps them get established)

 

Getting plants from TV land

This was on my doorstep a few days ago:

What in the world has my mama sent me now?  I love my mom.  My mom loves me. My mom also loves to shop — at thrift stores mostly, but being a night owl she also gets into shopping on TV.

Every once in a while she’ll find something on one of those cable shopping networks that she’ll order and have shipped to us.  Usually it’s something like a space heater or air purifier, but in the past few weeks, one of these shopping channels has started offering all kinds of gardening stuff — including plants.  And Mom is way into it.  Not for herself as she doesn’t have much space for gardening, but for us.

Last week I received a box of 8 dwarf butterfly bushes she’d ordered from one of these channels. Mom is very thoughtful — she’d heard me mention that we’re thinking about getting bees, so she ordered the butterfly bushes knowing they attract insects (not sure if bees like them though, but it’s the thought that counts.)

I had no idea what was in today’s box, but I noticed a distinct smell as I was cutting through the tape — tomato plants, and “heirloom” varieties at that:It’s so weird to me that tomato plants can be sent through the mail.  They all arrived looking fairly healthy, though.  And they came with tags too.

I’m going to have to find some space in the raised beds to plant these — I hadn’t planned on having any more tomato plants than the ones I’m growing from seed.   However, I just can’t not plant them — feelings would be hurt.

And while I didn’t inherit my mom’s shopping gene, I do share her trait of having a hard time getting rid of things.  In my case, it’s plants.  My house plants have to be on death’s door before I can toss them.

Thinning seedlings causes me mild angst, but fortunately I’ve learned to toss them into salads so I don’t feel like I’m wasting them:

Above are some of the romaine starts James planted several weeks ago.  I’ve been picking the outer leaves and mixing them with the explosion of spinach leaves (at right):

And here’s a photo of part of the front bed with seedlings grown from Sow True Seed:

I’ve been thinning these lettuce plants out and putting them in salads.  The really tall plants in the back are Asian greens that are also great in salads — and I’ve used them in a couple stir-frys.

Anyway, I’m wondering how the mail-ordered-from-the-TV tomato plants will do compared to my grown-from-seed tomatoes from my local seed company.  July will tell!

 

Ramp time

Here in this shady little corner of my backyard there are a few random hostas and some ferns growing underneath a dogwood tree.

I had totally forgotten that I’d also planted some ramps back in there somewhere last spring.

Then, a few nights ago we met our friend Brook out for pizza.  He brought us some ramps he’d harvested with his dad at their home over in in Clay County.

We were eating these ramps along with our pizzas when the taste sparked a memory that I’d planted some last year, somewhere in the yard.  I just couldn’t remember exactly where.

I’d planted them because our same friend had given us some, and I just wanted to test and see if I could get some of them to grow — ramps are pretty particular about the kinds of conditions they like, so I was feeling the challenge to get them to grow here.

The more I ate, the more that pungent garlicky-onion taste made me remember that I’d planted them in the only really shady, damp and leafy spot we have in the yard.

With Proust, it was the madeleline that brought up images of the past.   Imagine how much – and what all – he could have recalled had he been chomping on some good ol’ southern Appalachian ramps (had he eaten them as a kid!)

Ramps are strong stuff — strong enough to pierce my sleep-deprivation fog (thanks to my 2-yr. old’s vampirish sleep habits) that’s wrecked my memories of where I’ve planted things in my yard, among many other things…

But strength aside, ramps are an absolute delicacy to me.  I’ve been ramp hunting with the Wood family over near their home in Clay County, and the process of finding them is just as fun as eating them.  There’s definitely ritual — look at all the ramp festivals each spring this year running up the spine of the Appalachians. Winter is really gone!!

Now, the ramp patch going in our backyard is tiny.  Hardly even big enough to call a patch.  I googled around about harvesting them and found out I need to wait another year till digging some up.   I’ll just have to admire them for now, make sure the English ivy doesn’t invade, and — most importantly — put a plant marker back there so I don’t forget where they are next spring.

Oh, and for the rest of the ramps leftover from our pizza outing — I’ve got them ready to go to scramble tomorrow morning with eggs from my friend Anne’s hens — thanks yall!

 
 
 
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