Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Pushing Forward / Reaching Out

March is one of my favorite months because plants that have been sleeping all winter wake up and push out new leaves, new growth, new stems to meet the world.  

Virginia Mountain Mint regrowing (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
Of course this winter has been so warm that there was some waking up way too early, but I can just hope for the best.  The worry with too early wake-up calls is that plants come out of dormancy and then get nailed when the temperature drops again. For hardy herbs it is not a problem but tender peach flowers don't like that chill!
Self seeded chervil
Some fragrant herbs have been leafing out, offering us fresh bunches of chervil and cilantro to cook with or chop into salads.

Peach flower buds on a Hale Haven tree

Flowering Cherry

Elderberry leafing out
Hazelwood shrubs are going about pollinating each other right about now.  The male flowers called catkins have been hanging on the shrubs all winter.  Now, they open up and shed pollen that the wind hopefully will carry to other trees' female flowers.  The female flowers are small and red and located right against the branches. Hazelwoods do best with plantings of multiple trees to pollinate each other.  Since this will be our first year getting nuts, I used my finger to help do a little hand pollinating for some extra insurance.

Pollen on a male hazelwood flower (catkin)

Red female flowers on hazelwood

Regrowth of Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Anise hyssop is one of my favorite flowers / herbs.  It seeds itself everywhere which is fine with me.  Its leaves and flowers give off an anise scent when crushed and bumblebees adore its lovely purple flower spikes.  

Ida Joe with purple sage
I am looking forward to Spring and love seeing all these reminders that it is coming!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Insect & Bug ID #1: Four Toothed Mason Wasp

Four Toothed Mason Wasp (Monobia quadridens)
I thought it would be fun this winter to revisit many of the bug and insect photos I took in the garden this year and try to identify those I didn't know and learn more about those I did.  What better way to lift the spirits than imagining all that buzzing, flitting, and energy on warm sunny days?!  So our first insect spotlight falls on this pretty wasp, spotted sipping on buckwheat nectar.  (Fun side note - buckwheat usually only yields it's nectar in the late morning and there is a few hour window when it is absolutely hopping with bees and wasps!), an excellent resource for the bug and insect obsessed, has helped me identify this pretty blue winged wasp that visited the buckwheat in 2016 as Monobia quadridens, also known by the slightly goofy name of Four Toothed Mason Wasp.  I can't help but picture 4 human shaped front teeth inside that little wasp mouth but I'm sure it's not the case.

An even larger black/blue iridescent wasp was visiting the garden last year and I have yet to identify her.  She was very fast, flicking from flower to flower and about 2 inches in length.  I have a blurry photo somewhere that I'll have to dig up and try to start ID-ing her again.

Anyways, back to Four Toothed Mason Wasp territory.  The adults enjoy nectar, and pull caterpillars off plants to bring back to the nest and feed their young.  also states that this wasp usually nests in wood borings, but has been known to take over old carpenter bee or ground nesting bee nests or make itself a nest in a dirt bank.  It separates the cells of its nest with delicate mud partitions.

Wasps are very effective predators.  Once they find a caterpillar party they like, they often won't stop carrying off the caterpillars til the party is over.

What caterpillars does Four Tooth Mason Wasp favor?  Apparently moths.  Snout Moths (grain moths and wax moths), Grass Moths (beneficial and pest garden moths), Grass Miner Moths (whose larvae damage grass blades with mining), Twirler Moths (borers, miners, and grain moths), and Leafroller Moths (this is a big one - includes both Codling Moth and Spruce Budworm which greatly affect commercial crops) larvae are all favorite foods to bring back to the nest.  Many of these moths have detrimental effects on the garden and on stored grains.  It's good to know who this wasp is keeping in check!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Water For Ducks

The trio of ducks we have are Khaki Campbell.  Ducks like access to water, as everyone knows.  A pond would be super but we don't have one (yet?).  A baby pool is a common duck pond, but I didn't want to deal with the pain in the butt of emptying it and the mud that would ensue.  It's pretty much as small as you can go for a "duck pond" but a wash basin will do the trick.  This is back in the summer...the lush foliage!  How I miss it!

Two ducks can fit in at a time (though it is tight) and they are able to splash water over their whole bodies.  They snortle and chortle (and sometimes mate) in the tub and then jump out and spend a good amount of time preening and fluffing and re-oiling their feathers with oil from the gland above their tails.  

I give them fresh water daily and the tub is small enough, I can just kick the dirty water over and it waters the raspberry patch and doesn't cause much of a mud pit.  It really keeps them happy and clean.  For me, the pros of this system are:

1) Their water stays clean since it is so easy for me to change it
2) The water isn't getting is watering the raspberries (and fertilizing them)
3) It's good enough for now.  Small water is better than no water or dirty water. 

Actually..... you can go a little smaller than a wash the winter a large dog bowl is even easier to fill when hauling water from the house is less than fun.  They seem pleased enough with it.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Winter Garden

The winter garden under snow.  The kale is still kicking and should hopefully overwinter.  I tried something new for our fig trees this year.   We shall see if it works. 

My largest fig tree - about 12' tall
This fig is tied together with twine, the space between the branches stuffed with leaves and then wrapped in plastic sheeting and a tarp.

Raspberry canes after ice storn
 Jason and I thinned out our raspberry canes this fall to avoid congestion in the patch.

Hardy Kiwi male and female (2 vines)
 This hardy kiwi is in need of some late winter pruning.  Ideally these would be grown on a super high T trellis and trained quite specifically.  Since this lower trellis is what we have to work with, I will definitely be experimenting.  The hardy kiwi experts say "Never let the vine wrap around the support" (note the vine wrapping around the support) and "Prune to one main trunk" (Note the multiple trunks).  The good news is, they are called hardy kiwis for a reason and seem to thrive on heavy handed pruning so they don't run amok.  I've got my work cut out for me with re-directing these young kiwis come February.  That's the fun though..."I'll try this and see what happens..."

Winter asparagus, shrubs, and apple trees

Gray Dogwood after ice storm

Kale patch still kicking

Winter Ducks and Chickens

We got our first real cold snap this past week.  Temperatures dipped down into the 20s and the ground froze hard for the first time this winter.  We got a beautiful snow that clung to the trees.  Then we got 3 days of temperatures in the teens during the days with single digits at night and wind chill below zero.  And last night came an ice storm that sadly broke some limbs off our pine tree.   For winter poultry care - the ducks' bathing tub has been downsized to a tiny basin they can fit in one at a time that is easy to fill.  Feeders and waterers are in a plastic hoop I built that I am hoping can double as a wee hoophouse for hardening off seedlings in the spring. 

Khaki Campbell trio preens and bathes

Winter duck bath

Poultry hoop
Winter feeders and heated waterers

Poultry Hoop

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Side Lot Shaping Up

Side Lot
The side lot is coming together.  The beds are in place.  The Red Horse apple tree and Whitney Crab I planted are blooming.  It's going to look nice by the end of this year I think.  The big pine tree at the back of the lot looks way healthier than when we moved in.  The wood chip path winds through the space like we envisioned.  Things are heading in the right direction.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Former "Victim Hen" adopts 3 Ducks and becomes Matriarch

Our flock of chickens is living at my workplace for the summer.  I am there a lot, there is a big shade tree and lots of weeds for them to eat so they are happy.  Except that the move there threw some mysterious hen dynamic off, and they started really going after one hen.  They pulled her feathers out, ripped her comb and wouldn't let her eat or drink.  So, back home she came to live here on the homestead.  After her departure, all became calm again with the main flock.  Who knows...

Chicken plus duck
Chickens are flock animals, not solitary creatures, though I thought a lonely life was better than death by pecking.  She actually seemed to be enjoying herself.  She had the whole property to roam, and gained weight eating bugs galore.  Then, the ducks moved outside, and I had hopes that they might all bond.  At first, I kept the duck trio in their own pen when they would come out, and she didn't show any aggression to them.  Then, when it was warm enough, I popped them in the chicken coop and there they stayed.   She didn't seem to mind them.  I'd let them out and they would excitedly run around and forage, and she would saunter up like she didn't really care about them, but just happened to want to forage in the same place.

Now they are free ranging, and follow her around the place.  They are quite a motley crew, but a content bunch, as far as I can tell.

Time for a drink
The trio of ducks is always together.  No matter what they do, it is with company.  And if they need a clue on the ways of the world, they just find their chicken.

Lounging under the elderberry bushes