Sunday, April 30, 2006

Artichokes Day 57

I've written before about the artichokes I'm trying to raise this year. On March 12th they were just germinating. Later on March 24th they were still little sprouts with seed leaves. After 57 days they now have four true leaves each. They don't exactly grow quickly, do they? Although I think it is warm enough to transplant them into my community garden plot, I think I want to wait a little longer. My garden is in the middle of a big open field that's at least a few acres in size. It opened a week ago so there is not much planted yet except seeds. I did plant a few broccoli seedlings and most seem to be surviving, but it has been rather cool with a strong steady wind lately and I'm not ready to leave these babies in the middle of a field all alone without a windbreak. The round pots hold about a quart and the square one is even larger so they are not in any danger of becoming pot bound soon.
This is about a quarter of the area of the community garden plots. You can see why I don't want to plant my little seedlings all alone here yet. Give this place another month and it will look very different. There are about 100 garden plots here. The gardens as well as the farm are open to the public. If you're in the area of Lincoln Massachusetts which is only 5 minutes from Walden Pond in Concord Massachusetts, come visit. The web site is

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Pear Pollination

My dwarf Bartlett pear is in full bloom. It looks beautiful and smells wonderful. You would think that having the tree loaded with all those flowers would insure that I will have lots of pears in early September. It may, but not if my pear blossoms do not get pollinated. My crop of pears from the tree last year was only 14 pears. I'm not complaining because they were delicious. It's a small dwarf tree, and I think it easily could have supported 3 times that many pears. I think the problem was poor pollination. As far as I can determine, there are three things that will help pollination. The first is a nearby variety of pear that will pollinate Bartlett. Pears usually require another variety for pollination, but from what I read, Bartlett can be self-fruitfull, although it will do much better with another variety to pollinate it. In all of my neighborhood I only know of one other pear tree. It's a Bosc pear in my neighbors yard. It's the last of an orchard that existed here before houses replaced it in the late 1920s. Most of the houses ended up with a pear tree in the backyard. That means that my neighbors last old Bosc pear tree is probably over 80 years old. It looks it, but it is alive and still blooms and produces a few pears. My neighbor tells me it seems to have produced a little better since I planted my dwarf Bartlett about 5 years ago, probably happy to have a pollinator nearby. It lists and has hollow areas and I fear it may soon be a goner. I hope it hangs on.
Another factor that that helps pollination is nice weather. Rain during the entire blooming period keeps the bees from doing their work of pollination. So, poor weather will contribute to a poor crop. This bring us to what I think is the most important factor in pollination, bees. As bees move from flower to flower, pollen that sticks to their legs can pollinate the next flowers that they visit. In the 3 or 4 days that the weather has been nice an thye tree in bloom, I've watched for bees. So far I've only seen one bumblebee. I've seen NO honeybees. It's funny how something can disappear and not really be noticed. Where are the bees? After doing some internet research, I've discovered that wild honeybees have been decimated by certain kinds of mites. There really are less wild honeybees. I read that honeybees may range up to 3 miles from their hives. I'm hoping that there are some beekeepers nearby and that a few of their bees may be finding their way to my pear tree when I'm not watching.
This has given me an idea about possibly keeping bees myself. I'm considering taking a course in beekeeping and possibly setting up a hive next year. I have a friend who is also interested so maybe we will learn together. I'm not sure if this will be OK with my neighbors. I'll need to investigate that as well deciding if I could develop the Zen-ness of attitude that's probably required to work with bees. My kids think it's a crazy idea. Many pastimes that I have found rewarding in life, my kids initially thought were crazy ideas so I may be on to something here.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

New Garden Bed

One of the things on my to-do list yesterday was to buy lumber and make a new garden bed in the back yard. Most of my vegetable gardening is done at a community garden. There I have a plot that's about 25 by 25 feet. Of course that's not enough for me and I'm on the list for another plot. There are many people on the waiting list for their first plot so I won't be getting extra space there soon. Because the farm that owns it, tills it each spring, it's not open for gardening until the about first of May. Cold weather crops can be planted earlier than that. My back yard has a lot of shade, but I noticed that in the very middle there are about 6.5 hours of sun. I decided that I'd try making a bed or two in the the very middle. I made the frame from 2x6 inch lumber that I put together with screws. It's 8 feet long and 42 inches wide. Part of me wanted to make it 48 inches wide to have more space and not to waste lumber, but I think the narrower width will be easier for me to work. I figure a well weeded 42 inch bed will grow more than a weedy 48 inch bed. My plan was just to build it and turn over the soil in it. I took the first photo whan I was done with my task. I planed to fill it with compost the next day and then sow and transplant. In the late afternoon I heard that it was going to lightly rain yesterday evening and into this morning. That would be perfect transplanting and sowing weather! I rushed to fill it with compost, that I hauled there from the composter one 5 gallon pail at a time and then transplanted broccoli, parsley, and lettuce from the cold frame. I also sowed some beets and broccoli raab. It was now past supper time and about to rain so I rolled some chicken wire around it to discourage the dogs or chickens from destroying it. Last night was warm with a gentle rain. The transplants look like they are off to a good start and I never had to water the seeds. I'm now eyeing my front yard as potential bed space.
Oh, if you are wondering why my back yard is "landscaped' in mulch hay, it's to cut down on the amount of mud that the dogs bring into the house. The crabgrass that makes up the lawn of the back yard doesn't come up until late May so the yard is bare now. In late May I'll remove the hay into the mulch pile and start mowing whatever grows along with the crab grass and it will actually look like a lawn. It's very had to grow regular grass in a yard that is a play yard for young dogs. I've discovered that it works best to just mow whatever grows. This it the first year I've put the hay out. It's helping quite a bit with the mud. I'll be curious to see if it adds any seeds to the lawn or if the chicken have eaten them all.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sign of Spring

This is a picture of the egg bin in my refrigerator. As you can see the eggs are piling up. That's because it's spring and my four hens are on overdrive laying eggs. In the last 4 days they have layed 14 eggs. I can't eat them that fast. Today I had 2 for breakfast. My two dogs and my daughter's dog who was visiting had 3 each and I sent home about a dozen with my son-in-law when he picked up his dog. I'm back down to about 1/2 dozen.
I remember once when someone was visiting and I gave her all the eggs I had at the time, maybe eight, to take home. She didn't want to take them all. She protested saying, but you won't have any for your breakfast tomorrow. I told her I certainly would that there would be fresh eggs waiting for me when I went out to the coop. She then was willing to take all the eggs.
Today I had my two eggs over easy. I think tomorrow I'll try them scrambled with some of the chives that have started to come up in the garden.
I recommend a small flock of 3 or 4 hens for almost anyone. They are happy roaming even the smallest of yards, require a coop not much bigger than a large dog house, are very interesting to watch, and the eggs taste fantastic. Also if you are a gardener like I am, there are other great benefits from the chickens that help my veggies grow.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Funny Pepper Seedlings

This year I vowed I would label all my seedlings. For the most part I have. Apparently I didn't always labeled them correctly. After planting new tomato seeds Friday to replace the seedlings that I froze last week, I came across these among the real peppers as I was rearranging pots. I was overjoyed to see them. Based on their potato looking leaves, I think and hope they are a Franchi Seeds variety called cuor di bue (ox heart) tomatoes. I've never tried them before and am afraid that the one I just re-planted would be too late. Had I discovered these seedlings before I froze most of the other tomatoes I probably just would have snipped off the weaker ones and kept the four stronger ones. Instead I carefully transplanted each of the nine that were growing into individual cells. Now the big question is when do I dare put these new seedlings into the cold frame?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Tomato Frost :(

This week it snowed. It didn't really stick, but that night the temperature dipped down to about 29. That, coupled with the lack of sun for a few days allowed the cold frame to get rather cold. The min/max thermometer read 33 as a minimum temperature even with the cellar window cracked open that night. If you click on the photo and make it larger and look in the lower right you'll see that most of the tomatoes in the two tomato flats are dead. I knew it would be cold and I thought about taking the tomatoes inside, but I guess I wanted to see just how far I could push it. I had started them far too early anyway. It's not too late in the season so I've started some new ones. I do feel bad about killing the tomatoes that my neighbor gave me though. I walked over to peek into his cold frame this morning. He was not foolish enough to have put his tomatoes in there yet. My peppers and basil are still safe inside the house and are doing fine.
What I've learned is that if it's been a sunny day then the coldframe will retain the heat and weather slightly freezing temperatures staying 7 to 10 degrees warmer than outside. However if there have been a number of cold cloudy days in a row, the temperature in the frame at night will only be a few degrees warmer that outside. I'm suspecting that having the frame against the house is not helping much. In addition the chicken litter that is under the seedlings has stopped composting and is now providing no extra heat. For the rest of the spring, I'll keep track of how many days a tomato killing frost in the cold frame happens and if there are any frosts cold enough to the kill the cool weather crops. My idea is not to have a cold frame that requires a lot of supplemental heat, but if having heat tape or lights a few nights in a season will gain me weeks, I'll consider it. So the cold frame experiment continues...