Tag Archives: spring

Planting in the greenhouse

This is from a month ago, May 1, but I  was so demoralized by how the day ended that I didn’t finish posting.  Until now.

The chickens no longer live in the greenhouse, and it’s time for the green things to go in.  I got in there with the broadfork, breaking up the rows.  Tomatoes first, against the north wall.

After having all the birds wintering in the “chicken dome”, the soil looks, well, awful.  It looks compacted and desiccated.  It would have fooled me.  But that´s not the case. 

The top quarter inch or so is dry, and compacted.  When I crack it with the broadfork, that top crust breaks up in scales, and right underneath, the ground is wet as anything, no harder than anywhere outside where chickens haven´t been trampling, and so very full of worms.

Worms everywhere.

Really big worms.

 

So the hens got very excited.  They were following right on my fork, poking their heads down into the holes to fish out worms, and vigorously scratching up the flakes of crust.  They were feasting.

Until I decided they were being a little too hard on the worms, who didn´t have a fair chance, and I evicted the chickens.

I hung up a sheet of row cover (if there´s anything else around I use for so many things it wasn´t intended for, I don´t know) the length of the greenhouse to wall off the side I was working on from the side I wasn´t going to get to today.  The birds can play on that side.

I let one chicken stay with me – my favorite low chicken. 

She can use some extra worms.  She was actually perturbed at being alone with the others on the other side of the cloth (they could see each other through it), but she was consoled by the worms.

You see, it was a rainy day.  A drizzly morning, forecasted to be a thundering downpour day, so I didn´t have the heart to shut my birds out of the greenhouse to crowd, disgruntled and soggy, under their coops.

The guinea´s thinking about it  Looks drier in there.

As it got wetter, the birds steadily found their way into the vast shelter of the greenhouse. 

Inside, I kept working, attended by low chicken, while the rain drummed on the plastic and the birds all trickled in, chirruping and shaking off, pleased to be let back into the greenhouse.

 

 

 

It was really very cool to spend all day with my birds.  It´s nice to listen to them chat, complain, brag;  I could peek over and see what they´re up to.

They´re always doing something funny: piling up on the hay sacks, trying to have a bath in the roots of the fig tree (naughty!)

Planting the tomatoes out is a big day.

From past experience, I just break up the ground a bit with the broadfork, and plant directly into the ground as is. No turning! After I drew the rows with the broadfork, it was time to plug tomatoes.

Here´s where I found out how well my newspaper pots made out: the answer- excellently.

I tore off the top ring where I had written in Sharpie the kind of tomato, and left that by or around the plant as a marker.  Then I tore off the rest of the paper and was left holding a tall root ball.

On the other side of the wall, the chickens had the time of their life shredding all that scrap newspaper that I´d put in a box, and littering it all over the room, the scamps.

Chickens, I´ve observed, spend a lot of time lounging.  Most of the afternoon is devoted to sunbathing, dirt bathing, combing their feathers, or napping.  On this rain day, they were piled up, murmuring, dropping their heads for a nap or settling right down into sleep pancakes.  Others would be active, picking at something – they never all fall asleep at once, but it seems like someone´s always contentedly napping in the afternoon.

 

At the end of the day, tired, with 70 tomatoes and a few pepper plants planted, I turned in.  It was still pouring rain and the chickens were awake, so I just left them in the greenhouse.  There´d been no attempts on the wall, or breaches, so I was confident.

I was working on this post, before going out to close them up.  There had also been a surge in squawking I was wondering about. …

Disaster!  Carnage!

The wall was breached- one end down, and every single tomato plant was defoliated- not a leaf left!  Just a roomful of puny green stems.  A couple of hens not gone to bed yet, finishing off the devastation.  Next time you can get wet, you ingrates!

Before I went to bed I planted some more tomato seeds, but to say it was a major loss is a major understatement.  I had some spare plants, but not an entire spare crop.  I was NOT HAPPY.  Completely defeated, more like.

As it turned out, despite the significant trauma of being beheaded, the same day as transplanted, almost all the tomatoes survived.  Only five were broken off by the hens and therefore terminated.

It was a definite setback, but in the next couple weeks they regrew some awkward leaves, and then left that early bad memory behind.  Now you wouldn´t know it had ever happened, although they might be a week or two behind where they might have been.

Tomatoes today:

 

 

 

 

Cleaner Bees

I’ve got my bees at work cleaning up the frames that were centrifuged last year to get the honey out.

Since that whole event was a catastrophe of timing, FAR too late, I held these sticky frames over the winter in Rubbermaids, which worked really well.  Now it´s warm I set one out by the hive with the lid off for the cleanup crew.

The frames fit in there like they would in a super

The bees cleaned out this whole boxful in a couple days, except a couple spots.  Licked totally clean, no longer even sticky to touch.

Missed a spot. Bees concentrating on their work.
Bees hanging out at the hive upper entrance, still wrapped in tar paper.

The cleaning job is of an indescribably high quality.    The frames go from this:

Wet, sticky, leftover honey everywhere

to this:

Clear, clean, and dry

Pristine.  And a boxful in a couple days.  They get a snack out of it, too.

 

April summer

The mud season might be very short here in Nova Scotia this year.  Or  else we´re just being served an appetizer of summer in mid April.  20° C and sun sun sun.  I got a mild sunburn on my second garden day.  The ozone layer ain´t what it used to be.

The chipmunks are back!  Where DO chipmunks spend the winter? The birdsong has changed.  Sparrows are here rummaging under the feeder, and the birds that wintered over have moved on to the good wild food.  Swallows have been seen – the rumours are flying, the first tick bite reports are coming in, and the peepers started up yesterday morning.  That means bugs and buds are right behind.

The chickens are all being encouraged out of the greenhouse, although we haven´t lifted their coops out yet, and they are reveling.  Making fools of themselves in a group bath.

Unexpectedly, the Silkies are still hanging out with the layers.  

Or at least, hanging around nearby, like wannabes watching the cool kids.

As usual, the guineas are furtively skulking around in the bushes.  They march around systematically cleaning up (hopefully, vacuuming up ticks).  They look like rocks, with their heads down all the time. 

The pigs are reveling too.  They have dug themselves a nice hole and stretch out with extended hooves, basking in the sun and pig-snoring, but I haven´t been able to catch them at it on camera, they leap up as soon as they hear me, and they have good ears.

Free chickens

Here they come.

The chickens get some time out almost every day now.  Very soon they will be finished with the greenhouse for the year.

They’re getting tetchy in there.  Starting to hate each other.  They come running to the door when I come, hoping I’ll prop it open.

Although eager to get out, they don’t stay out, unless it’s a sunny day.  There’s still snow on most of the ground, and if it’s grey, they find their way back into the greenhouse pretty quickly.

Guineas in the sun.  They find their way back inside too, when done exploring.

Days out

It´s so nice and sunny so many days now, and the ground is exposed, so the hens are getting open-door days!  Spring time!

When I come around, they always pout at me through the screen door:

img_5477
Please! Can we come out?! We’ll be good!

When I open the door they pop out like corks but mill around the door, tentative.

Really? We can come out today?!

It’s so nice to see them outside, in the sunshine.img_5488

img_5486
The leghorn legging it off on her own

In no time, they’ll be sprinting down the path to the house, like the last one there is a rotten egg.

Seedy Saturday!

I got all the seeds I needed for the year (including tobacco!) at Seedy Saturday, hosted by Helping Nature Heal, in Bridgewater.

Nova Scotia’s  “big” organic seed companies were all there vending seeds – Hope Seeds, Annapolis Seed, Cochrane Family Seeds, plus more – Twisted Brook,  Yonder Hill, Storm Cast, and the South Shore Public Library’s Seed Library.

Then there was the free seed table, where attendees dropped off their surplus saved seeds for others to take- lots of flower seeds!

Since I was saving so much on shipping costs, I came home with a few “flights of fancy” seeds (peanuts?!) that will make this year’s experiments.

I met Nikki Jabbour, local celebrity author and year-round gardener, who gave the morning lecture, and there was a delicious soup or chili lunch with bread and popcorn, donations accepted for the food bank.

This was Helping Nature Heal‘s 11th Seedy Saturday, but the first time I made it.  It was packed, unsurprisingly.

 

New bee boxes

I’ve been assembling  bee supers and frames.  They look so nice, all fresh.

The idea is that if the bees are ready to swarm this year (so far they are thriving and vital, so I’m hoping for the best), that there will be a move-in-ready apartment conveniently right next door!

My idea is to leave the bottom super empty, maybe a couple frames in the top box, to be spacious like a swarm box.  Since I haven’t built a swarm box yet, I need to build supers anyway, and I want to have something ready in the event of a sudden swarm, then this is a better-than-nothing measure.

I was assembling frames in my tiny camper, and stocking them outside, when the robber bees arrived.  They were doing their nervous, zigzag robber bee thing, investigating the new wax frames with enthusiasm.

20160526_154105

More and more bees arrived (they were uncannily camera shy though).  I started to get nervous, and promptly put up a box in the field for them to inspect.

20160526_184727
Immediate investigation

They haven’t made any moves on it, but they know it’s there.

This has been such a drab, cold!, protracted spring, that there hasn’t been a day warm enough for me to make a full hive inspection.  I feel like I should.  I am heartened that it takes a long time to find a Varroa mite on the bottom board, they are sucking back the syrup I give them, and they have at least doubled last year’s numbers, judging by the comings and goings.  So far they seem to be caring for themselves quite well.  I hope I can give them a third super in time.

The bees are thriving

Everyone has been asking:  Are your bees ok?

Happily, they are doing very well.  Not bad, since I thought this hive sat on the edge of 50/50 winter survival chances.  They are vital and exploratory, polishing off a jar of syrup every few days, and making appearances at the neighbours’.  The pollen du jour is now bright orange.  Dandelions, perhaps?

Even though I can’t inspect them thoroughly yet, I gave them an empty super, sure that they were gonna bust their seams any moment.  All that pollen has to go somewhere.

H.W. has taken more of an interest in them, watching them every day, and reporting that the bees HATE the “door” (the entrance limiting stick).  We’ve been having warm days, and the inbound flights start bottlenecking at the entrance mid-morning.  Then he pulls out the stick and “the bees BOIL out!”. It takes a few minutes to rebalance, like traffic after an accident is cleared.  Then the bees come shooting in and out like a time lapse video of La Guardia at 16x speed.

The bees have decided to share the chickens’ canteen.  I don’t understand; they have their own perfectly good bowl.  But they line up on the edge, drinking.  Every night I have to go and fish out (usually three) soggy bees and deliver them to their doorstep.  In the day they can pull themselves out of the pool and dry off and warm up in the sun, but at night they are too chilled to fly home.  I hold my finger with three bedraggled bees by their door.  The evening arrivals are zooming in and they land on my hand on their way in.  I can feel the warm sweet air of the humming hive coming from the entrance, and the grateful swimmers perk up in the warm draft, drag themselves off my finger and indoors.

20160514_182727
Bees have pushed the stick open themselves

I tell H.W., who is sympathizing with bee frustration, that the stick still has to go back in at night.  “But they hate it!”  As it turns out, the bees are more than capable of opening the door themselves.  They just don’t shut it.

 

Pollen baskets!

The bees were coming home loaded today with pollen baskets.  A soft snot-green colour- I wonder what is the source.  Bees at the end of their workday were zooming in every few seconds with payloads, as the sun ran out.

They are still in winter wraps, but are very lively with this warm early spring we’re having, already polishing off bottles of syrup within a week and thoroughly exploring, sometimes a little too adventurously.

I do a fair amount of bee rescue, returning bees who have got themselves in trouble to the hive.  I find them in buckets, or frantically lost in the house, raging at the windows.  Half drowned, half froze, half exhausted-  I run them back to the hive, transfer them from my finger to the doorstep, and watch as they wearily drag themselves back in the door, or are helped.

Today I had my face quite close watching a sodden bee (who could at first only wave one antenna to let me know she lived), pull herself back inside when a small black flying insect landed on the bee porch for a rest- just a little gnat.  A guard bee dashed out, snatched the insect up with her bee forelegs, and then seemed to throw it.  It flew away with alacrity, lucky to escape.  A beat after she chucked it she zoomed at me.  Hey git out of here!  You’re too close for comfort too.