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New bees!

Last November our backyard beehive was raided and torn apart by a few hungry bears.

It’s been sad looking out at the corner of the yard where the hive had been.  I’ve missed those bees and their constant stream of activity that I used to watch from my kitchen window and deck.

This morning I headed north to Madison County to Wild Mountain Bees to pick up my new hive.  In beekeeper lingo, what I got is called a “nuc” —  a small, basic hive (including a queen) that you transfer into a larger bee box where they will produce brood and expand their population.

Nucs awaiting pick up at John Christie's Wild Mountain Bees

In preparation for the arrival of our new bees, I enlisted my brother’s help in getting an electric fence built around the hive site to keep hungry bears out.  Many of Asheville’s urban beekeepers lost hives last fall to bear raids,  and the only solution I’ve heard of is electric fencing.

Now, it’s not as pretty as when I had my simple cypress “cottage hive” without this web of shiny wires, black plastic control box, plastic orange gate latches, and green metal fencing posts — but practicality won over garden vanity here:

In an effort to keep things simple, we decided to use the more common size bee box to transfer them into (with 10 longer frames instead of 8 shorter as I’d had previously).

So I’m saving the old 8-frame boxes with the hopes of catching a swarm again this spring (I’ve put requests out on Facebook for anyone seeing a swarm to give us a call — and have since received one reply from a friend about a hive living in the wall of her in-laws’ house in Montford!  However I think that’s WAY above my beekeeping skill level.  Sounds like a rather surgical removal….)

To welcome the bees to their new home, my 3-year old boy donned his suit and helped hand supplies to us as we transferred the bees from the nuc box to their bigger, permanent box: 

My brother getting ready to transfer bees

My brother getting ready to transfer bees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bees were really mellow for having been closed up in the nuc box and ridden in the back of a pickup through the winding back roads of Madison County and at highway speeds back to Asheville for 30 minutes.  I’m thinking that was due to the low temperatures this morning.  But by the time we’d opened the nuc box it was almost 50 and sun was shining on the new box.  We found the queen quickly:

 

 

 

 

 

 

She’d been “marked” with a yellow dot on her back to make it easy to identify her when inspecting the hive.  I was able to find the queen in my old hive even though she wasn’t marked — the queen has a longer abdomen than all the other bees in the hive.

After we’d gotten the racks of bees transferred, we sat in the yard and were mesmerized watching them flying around the hive and getting their bearings.

Me and my helper! (Note massive headband -- nothing more annoying than having long hair get in your eyes and face when you've got bee suit hat on -- I learned the hard way so the headband is now a critical part of my bee suit ensemble!)

 

 

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Why folks in WNC say “don’t plant before Mother’s Day”

It has been such a lovely early spring with way-above-average temps.  I got lulled into thinking we wouldn’t have any more sub 32 nights.  Mmh-huh.

Oh yep, I’ve already planted 3 tomato starts.  Headed to basement to get hoops and plastic to cover that part of the bed.  Also need to get out sheets to cover our big Japanese maple. 

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

4 pounds of fresh spinach — a good recipe

My spinach has done so well this spring that I’ve been enjoying it for well over a month and have shared it with several friends.  I prefer it raw — in salads — when the leaves are small.  However, it got crazy on me and grew big and not quite tender anymore.

So I looked in my Mark Bittman How to Cook Everything cookbook, found a good recipe for “spinach croquettes”, then picked and picked and picked and came up with a sink full to wash:  

And that was the hardest part of the entire recipe.

Spring greens from the garden — lettuce, arugula, spinach, cress —  have the most labor-intensive preparation than anything else I grow.

I end up washing them a few times then inspecting both sides of each leaf before eating or cooking them.  It’s not the garden dirt that I mind — it’s slugs and cabbage looper worms that turn off my appetite. I know, I know, crawly critters are considered a delicacy and/or protein in some cultures.  And their presence is a better alternative to nuking my plants with pesticides.   Instead I raise our water bill considerably in the spring making sure my greens are critter-free.

My boys love weighing our garden veggies on this old scale that belonged to my grandmother.  It’s a trick great way to get them helping out in the kitchen when Preschooler Witching Hour is nigh (’round about 5:15pm).

Here’s the final product, which was thoroughly enjoyed by both boys (even the picky one) — spinach this way is deee-licious.  It was sweet, not soggy or bitter at all.  (I’d taken the other croquettes out of the skillet before I took the picture — you can fit about 8 in there at at time.  I think the whole recipe made about 18 — I’d doubled it).

And here’s the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything:

SPINACH CROQUETTES

MAKES:  4 servings  TIME:  30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • Salt
  • 2 pounds spinach, trimmed of thick stems and well washed
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere, cantal, or other fairly strong cow’s milk cheese [none of which I had so I used some mozzarella instead]
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs [I used panko crumbs]
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter (or use more oil)

1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Add the spinach and onion and cook for just about a minute, until the spinach wilts.  Drain thoroughly and cool a bit.  Chop the spinach and put it and the onion in a bowl, along with the eggs, cheese and bread crumbs.  Mix well, then add salt and pepper to taste.  If the mixture is too loose to form into cakes, add some more bread crumbs; if it’s too dry, add a little milk or another egg.

2.  Put half the oil and butter into a large skillet, preferable nonstick, over medium heat.  Form the spinach mixture into small cakes and cook, without crowding — you will have to cook in batches — until nicely browned, adjusting the heat so the cakes brown evenly without burning, about 5 minutes.  Turn once, then brown the other side, again about 5 minutes.  Continue until all the spinach mixutre is used up.  Serve hot or at room temperature.”

 

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This video is from Western Michigan, but I wonder if the same phenomenon is occurring here right now….

Bees and flowers out of sync

 

 

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3 weeks after planting, and everything’s going wild

It’s already so warm that everything’s starting to bolt — my spinach leaves are getting unworthy of being eaten raw, I’m seeing the little broccoli-looking florets on some of my greens (like mizuna), and the lettuce is looking similarly bothered by this early, fast spring.

Y’all come by and pick a bag (or ten) of greens — they’re getting out of hand!

Mizuna is now taller than my 3 year old

Garlic coming up

 

 

 

 

All the seeds and sets I planted back on March 7th have come up in full force.  We’ve had ample rain, warmth and sun to coax everything up.

Beets and snow peas are great seeds for kids to help with the planting -- they are big and easy to handle

Snow peas

Garlic and radishes

Yum, shallots

Radishes

And no frosts or freezes to kill everything back — yet.  I just keep waiting for a weather report calling for a late-season blizzard or something (wasn’t Asheville’s Great Blizzard of ’96 at the end of March??)

If that does happen, I can cover 4 of my raised beds, but there is so much in the yard that we’d need to buy truckloads of plastic sheeting to cover all the trees and shrubs that are already flowering.

So while this unseasonably warm weather is unsettling (I keep thinking of flooded islands, melting ice caps) now I’m kind of hoping it stays this way — at least for my garden’s sake!

Raspberry canes

Blueberry blossoms

Jonafree apple blossom

Jonafree apple blossom

Honeycrisp apple blossom

 

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Veggies to plant in early spring in WNC

One of my biggest challenges in gardening in raised beds is finding enough room for everything I want to plant.

Right now one of my 6 beds is full of spinach, carrots, cress, mizuna and mache — I planted all from seed back in the fall, and our mild winter and early warm spring days have blessed us with lots of big green salads lately.

The other beds have random plantings like a couple rows of spinach, red russian kale, beets and leeks that overwintered.

I’ve been thinning out the leeks and transplanting them around the end of the bed they’re in.

I have a hard time with thinning out plants.  It’s a gardening angst I’ve realized about myself over the years.

This, of course, adds to my problem of not enough room in the beds, as I’d rather re-plant than chuck them….

Along my fence, I planted a row of snow peas a few weeks ago. They’ve not sprouted yet, but the radish, arugula, and beet seeds I planted are starting to pop through:


And I’ve also recently planted garlic, red onions, and shallots.

Sow True Seed, Reems Creek Nursery, Jesse Israel’s, N. Asheville Ace Hardware all have cool-weather veggie starts too.  I got cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce (buttercrunch and romaine) and dinosaur kale starts for my beds from these places.

The cauliflower starts got a little frostburned one night last week when it got into the mid-20s but I think they’re going to be OK.

Sow True Seed has a great planting guide you can pick up at their downtown store.  It is a nice reference for what -and when — to plant right here in WNC.

Planting red onions

 

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My fast-thinking friend Melissa got it — it’s a soldier fly larvae.  Now Melissa, how do you know about these interesting, and beneficial critters??

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

 
 
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