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Posts Tagged ‘Spring’

Block Island, Rhode Island

Irvine, California

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I wrote this list for the colder Western regions, but Barbara pointed out that it works equally well for March gardens in Southern California.

In the Rocky Mountains there’s a good chance you still have snow on the ground, or if the snow has melted you are dealing with frozen ground that turns muddy for a few hours during the day and then freezes again. But it’s time to start getting ready for spring and here to help you get going is the beginning of a garden to do list.

March

Get your soil tested once it’s workable. I’m going to do this again this year. I haven’t tested my soil since 2002, so it’s time for another one. The lab will do a complete study of your soil and it’s all very interesting. It will give you a good start in your garden by taking away the guess-work about what your soil needs to produce healthy plants that will be able to ward off diseases and pests.

Make a list of garden goals. For example; I want more vegetables this year! I’m going to expand the vegetable garden and add vegetables I didn’t have last year. I love this potato bin. Also, I’m going to enclose my vegetable area with hoops and chicken wire to keep out deer and other critters and later on I can drape row cover cloth on them to extend the season. I have a few more goals, but the veggie garden is my priority this year.

Buy and start seeds. I noticed all the garden sections in the box stores are filled with garden supplies for seed starting. A sure sign of spring if anyone around here had doubts that it was ever going to come. Check out our Resources page for a list of seed suppliers.

Start your garden journals and actually use them through the season! Don’t forget to add photos to help you spot and remember problem areas, or if you just want to remind yourself in the winter that there actually is a beautiful garden underneath all that snow.

Make a commitment to go organic this year. I mean really all the way. Find alternative, safe ways to combat diseases and pesky bugs. Gather up all your pesticides and herbicides and find a safe way to dispose of all those nasty chemicals. They are harmful to you, your pets, children, and the environment. Call your local extension office for information about where to dispose of them.

Clean, sharpen and organize tools. I’m pretty bad about putting my tools away for the winter and I still have to gather up all my hand tools that were left scattered about in the fall. Actually, some will have to be searched for after the snow melts. I saw a handle of one the other day sticking out of the snow. Oops!

Prune deciduous shrubs. Make note of the spring blooming and wait until after they bloom to prune.

Care for trees. Those that have winter damage should be attended to, but leave the big branches to a professional.

Cut back perennials and grasses and finish clean up in garden beds.

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Mary Beth: This will be my last bee update from Block Island for a while because Ray and I are on the road. Durango, here we come!.

Monday, May 3: The apple trees are blooming on the Island. The buds started opening up around April 27th, which is really early. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this season everything seems to be about 3 weeks or more ahead of schedule.

I’ve had a nagging feeling that the nectar flow would be early this year. I also have a feeling it’s going to be a strong one. Last year it rained a lot and my girls were cooped up for so long during the bloom that they missed most of the early nectar. This year our weather’s been great and the bees may actually get to the apple blossoms.

So what’s been nagging at me is if my bees remain healthy, they’re going to need more room than they currently have in the Top Bar Hive, but I’m not going to be around to remove the combs if they get honeybound. Sooo… I built a super on my TBH! Yes, with all the spare time I had in between packing, weeding, pruning, cleaning, answering last minute calls from my clients, and a million other things, I decided to make a super to fit my TBH. I’ve been wanting to try it since I read Mistress Beek’s blog post last year about putting two supers on her TBH. (Great blog by the way.)

Here it is folks, it’s not pretty since I didn’t have time to paint it or, better still, to convince Ray do it and it’s a little rough around the edges to say the least!  (You would never know I was a carpenter for a few years.)

Here’s what I did:

I cut a Langstroth hive box down to fit on top of the Top Bar Hive — kind of like a bee penthouse.

I made two small ventilation holes for when the weather warms up. Then I cut off part of the cover of the TBH so the super could sit on top of the bars and made an inner cover, a new top and spacers for the TBH.

Next I cut some of the Langstroth frames to make bars with starters strips of wax and nailed on spacers.

I pulled a bar from the TBH that had a little comb on it and placed it into the new super to entice the girls to move “upstairs.”

It went pretty well except for dropping a few spacers into the hive which I did not remove because the girls were in good mood and I didn’t want to stick my hand in and piss them off.

Then I put the super on, snugged it up to the newly-cut edge of the old cover and viola!

What I’m hoping will happen is that the bees will begin to create comb in the super and store their honey in that. That should give them enough room so they won’t feel the need to swarm.

While I was looking through the observation panel on the TBH, I saw the weirdest thing. I saw the queen, twice. It’s weird because in all the many (many!) times I opened the panel to peer into the hive, I’ve never seen her. A couple of thoughts ran through my paranoid mind. Are they running her around because they are preparing her to swarm? (Bees will run the queen to make her lose weight in preparation for the swarm flight.) Or, did she run out of room to lay more eggs? Neither of those options is good so let’s just hope I was lucky enough to see the queen before I left and leave it at that.

One bit of good news is I haven’t spotted any more mites, although I have noticed more dead bees than usual. It’s hard to say what any of this means. I’ve done everything I can think of to prepare the hive, so I’ll just have to wait it out and get the occasional report from my beesitter.

I’ll try to send updates from the road. I’m so excited to get back to my garden in Durango and by the time I’ve traveled across the country I’ll have redone it at least three or four times!

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Here’s a fascinating set of tips courtesy of Mother Nature. Using Nature to let you know when to plant crops by observing bud break on plants, the first appearance of specific insects, or the migration of birds is an age-old gardening/farming technique. The study of this practice is called phenology. And although it can sound a little like hocus pocus, there are real, measurable phenomena that signal the ground temperature and day length changes that are critical to successful gardening.

Spring seems to come earlier and earlier. We’re not going to debate global warming, but gardening journals all tell the same story. Mary Beth looked at her journal and found that last year her signal plants bloomed a year earlier than in 2008 and this year it was three weeks earlier. Out here on the West Coast I’ve heard the same things from other gardeners and, if I’d be more diligent in keeping my journal, I could reliably report a similar trend.

So planting by the calendar can get you in trouble, but by using phenology you will be planting based on signs in your environment that conditions are right for seed germination and plant growth.

Tip #1 When to Plant

  • Plant peas when the daffodils and forsythia bloom.
  • Plant potatoes when the daffodils bloom.
  • Plant beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce, and spinach when lilac is in full bloom.
  • Plant corn when apple blossoms start to fall.
  • When lily of the valley is in bloom, plant tomatoes.

Tip # 2 When to Watch for Pests

  • Eastern tent caterpillar eggs begin to hatch when buds break of flowering crabapple.
  • When chicory begins to flower, watch for squash vine borers.
  • Japanese Beetles begin to arrive when the morning glory vine starts to climb.

These are just a few of many tips that you can find when you search phenology on the internet. Better still would be to start your own journal and record the signs in your environment, after a few years you’ll start to sound like a soothsayer!

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Things are happening fast in that garden of yours, so let’s get right down to business.

Tip 1: Sharpen Your Tools

Sharpen your pruners more than once a year! Have a flat metal file in your tool bucket and use it often. Position the file at a 45 degree angle to the blade, start at the bottom of the blade where the handles are and draw the file in an upstroke towards the tip. Important: file only in one direction. Repeat until you have a nice, sharp edge. Since that file is out, sharpen your edger, shovel and loppers as well.

Tip 2: Sterilize Your Pots

It’s important to sterilize your pots so you don’t spread a nasty organism that might stunt or kill you new plant, but many people don’t like using bleach (and it’s not good to use on clay pots which can absorb the bleach solution). Here’s an alternative to bleach: wash your pots well in warm soapy water and rinse with 1 cup white vinegar in 2 gallons of water. I buy white vinegar by the gallon, it’s cheaper and I always have it on hand for cleaning.

Tip 3: Edge Your Beds

Spruce up your beds with an edger and mulch — nothing looks better than a bed that’s just been edged and mulched. Edging keeps grass from creeping into your plant beds. The mulch will keep weeds down, retain moisture, and moderate soil temperature reducing plant stress especially in hot weather. Using an organic mulch encourages beneficial soil organisms and worms. And, as the mulch decomposes, it adds organic matter that will improve both the texture and fertility of your soil.

Before cleaning up the edge.

After — that looks so much better!

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Mary Beth: With the weather calm and warm since the heavy rainstorms came through last week everything is exploding into life.

The bees aren’t drinking as much sugar syrup and they’re beginning to bring in large amounts of pollen. The major source seems to be the red maples. I added a few bars to the TBH (Top Bar Hive) to give the bees more room since they’re starting to build the comb up.

Next week I’ll be checking to see if the Queen is laying eggs. If she is then I’ll have no worries that this hive has made it through the winter in good shape. (Phew!!!)

Barbara: Ever wonder what it’d be like to spend some time with the bees? Mary Beth’s great photos made me feel like I was right there — a “bee’s-eye” view!

Bee Meeting

On a Mission

Back With the Goods

Coming in for a Landing

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Spring has sprung in the West and it’s on its way in the East — although with that crazy weather you might find it hard to believe. This week’s tips focus on roses and weeds.

In the Garden

MB: Whip up a batch of my version of Rose Tea for a quick boost. I make this tea for roses, but irises love this as well. In my garden the blooms are huge and plants just thrive on it. I usually make a large garbage can full of this and let ferment for a week. (Be warned — it smells really bad! )

This recipe is for a 5 gallon pail for those who don’t want to have a surplus of stinky tea in their backyard. Multiply as needed for larger quantities.

Rose Tea
2-3 cups alfalfa pellets or alfalfa meal with no salt added  (inexpensive at an AG store or farmers co-op)
5 tablespoons fish emulsion
1 tablespoon of liquid seaweed extract or 1/2 cup kelp powder  (I use Stress X)
1/2 cup Epsom salts (buy it at the drug store — way cheaper than at the garden center)
3 tablespoons molasses (supposed cut smell down)

Mix all the ingredients in the pail then fill with water to the top. Stir, cover and let sit for a week. Feed roses twice a month with tea, about 1/2 gallon to 1 gallon for each plant. The sludge that remains on the bottom of the pail can be spread around plants. Scratch it in a little to prevent a crust from forming.

Another quick rose tip: bury chopped banana peels and eggshells around your roses.

Weed Control

B: With the rains come the unwelcome abundance of weeds. Knock down the first spring flush and you’ll have less to deal with later on. Knock down the lesser second and third flushes and you’ll be living easy the rest of the summer. Well, I’ll be honest, it’ll be easier. With weeds it’s all relative, but less is ALWAYS better.

Annual weeds reproduce exclusively by seed, so the best time to control them is at germination or shortly thereafter, but especially before pollination. After they’ve dropped their seeds, you’re in for a whole lot more weeds.

Perennial weeds are harder to control. Hand weeding in early spring will eliminate a lot of them, but you have to be sure to get all of the roots and runners.

These are good IPM (Integrated Pest Management) practices for controlling weeds and it’ll make it much less likely that you’ll have to resort to chemical means of control later on.

A good resource for identifying weeds and methods of controlling them is the University of California IPM site. You’ll find weeds that are common in gardens across the country, but if you’re in a state other than California and you don’t see what you’re looking for, I suggest going to your local university cooperative extension’s website.

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