Bees!

This spring has gone a little mad and posting ended up on the back burner.  But here is a little update on whats been going on.  The garden ended up being neglected because of an urban bee project that snuck up on me.  Here is a little bit of that.

Bees arrived 2 weeks ago just as I was completing their hive.  This is a pic of the box they came in.  Just a waxed carboard box with ‘frames’ of bees, larvae, a queen and some honey.  The first night they got to leave the box to orient themselves and stretch their wings after a long drive from Armstrong.  They were installed into my hive the next morning.

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The hive I chose to build is known as the Kenyan top bar hive.  Its a style that was designed for people in Kenya as a transition from what they were doing to the european Langstroth style that we are familiar with here.  I don’t think they ever moved on to the Langstroth.  Recently it has caught on in NorthAmerica as an alternative to the traditional types.  Its more decorative for an urban garden and some say it has pest and disease advantages.  This may or may not be so, but it requires weekly checkins which puts you in touch with whats going on inside.   Its great for me because bees are still illegal in Nelson and no one would ever think that I’m keeping bees in these boxes that look like planter boxes.

The main attraction to these hives is that the honey comes out in combs rather than as a liquid.  You cut out the full honey comb, break it into pieces and eat it rather than spreading it.  Its the traditional way to have honey and you get all the flavours that it was meant to have.  Before extractors were invented, this is how honey was enjoyed.

Taking out the combs has the added advantage of removing pests and diseases.  In Langstroth hives the comb is recycled year after year and problems persist in that comb.  In top bar this doesn’t happen and the hive is much healthier for it.

The disadvantage of this is that the bees have to build comb every year from scratch and the energy expended to do this results in less honey produced overall.  But its worth it for gourmet honey and happy bees.

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Here is a honey comb as it exists in the hive.  It forms the shape of the box that is in.  This is a brood comb that is full of all stages of bee growth as well as some pollen and nectar to feed the larvae and newly emerged young.

 

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When you open the hive the bees erupt out of the crack.  The hive is full to bursting with bees and there are more to come.  Try to stay calm as thousands of bees emerge.  The trick is to move slowly and not allow yourself to panic.  They can smell this and it makes them agitated.

 

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New bees need to be fed a mixture of sugar and water with an additive made from plant extracts.  These bees get organic  cane sugar because they are so special.  Because they are new and have no reserves yet, the sugar will help them survive this current period of low nectar flow.  They are building combs at a rapid rate in anticipation of honey flow and they need a lot of energy in the form of sugar to do this.  Nectar begins in July and the bees will be back to flowers for energy.

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First seeds are up!

And we have lift-off!  Seeds planted just 13 days ago are coming up.  This is about twice the time it would take in summer, but for March its pretty good.

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Hard to see the little guys but they’re there.  My general rule is to plant my next generation as soon as I see germination of the previous.  This is arbitrary in some ways but it means I plant less frequently in spring and more in summer.  This works for me because you can harvest the spring lettuce longer than the summer lettuce so it makes sense that you plant less often in spring.

The peppers I planted are also up and I’m ready to transplant them into the 4″ pots that they will be in for about a month.

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I like to plant thickly into a 4″ and transplant those into other pots when they come up.  Partly because its less work to seed this way initially which means I’m more likely to do it.  At this stage I take a fork and gently prod them out.  Be sure to water well before doing this.

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Then gently separate the seedlings, using the leaf as a handle.  These are the first leaves to come out and care known as the seed leaf.  The third leaf to come out is the true leaf and is not visible in this pepper plant yet.

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Make a hole with your finger and hang the plant into this hole.  It should be big enough for the root to go all the way down without ‘j-ing’.  That is, bending at the bottom.

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Push the soil in around the plant being careful to avoid compacting the soil.

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Water carefully around the plant, avoiding the plant itself.  You don’t want to bury it.

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Put them under lights or in a sunny window.  As you can see the light should be very close.  2-3″ is good.  But take care to raise the light as they grow because its hot enough to burn leaves.

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Signs of spring

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Its happening!   They don’t call them snowdrops for nothing.  For me this is the first sign that I need to get my butt in gear with planting.  Seems crazy early, but I’ve discovered that when these little guys come out, so will most greens like lettuce, kale, spinach, chard, etc.

My coldframe is ready to go so I took a little time to plant a few seeds.  I don’t plant everything at once though.  Just a bit at a time.  You want to successively plant in order to have a continuous harvest of top quality greens.

First thing I do is sprinkle a thin layer of alfalfa meal on the soil.  Get this at your local garden supply or feed store.  Its normally used as horse feed but works great as a nitrogen source.  No need to work it in.  Just let watering take care of that.

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Small furrows about 6″ apart.  I have a few plants overwintered from last year that I’m working around here.  Sprinkle in the seeds about 1/2″ apart.  This is arbitrary and depends on how thick you want your greens.  For smaller leaves plant  closer and for larger leaves plant further apart.  Another consideration is pests.  If you expect a lot of slugs to visit, plant thickly so that some will seedlings will survive.

Cover lightly and water.

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The other thing I do this time of year is plant the peppers.  Sprinkle seeds on top of your potting soil and cover lightly.  Water sparingly.  Place in plastic bag and preferably on a heating mat.  Start watching after about 5 days to see if they are emerging.  Once half of them are out, I take them out of a bag and put under a grow-light.  When they are large enough to transplant, I carefully take them out and plant in individual containers.  Stay tuned for this delicate operation.

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This is my soilmix.  Its all organic and very slow release.  If your planting in large pots for the summer or just starting for the spring, this is the solution.

Put all ingredients on a tarp and mix thouroghly with a spade.  Water it as your doing this.  When its nicely mixed, put it in large containers like garbage bins.

1 Bale sunshine mix #2
8 cups bone meal
4 cups blood meal
1 1/3 c Epsom salt
3-4 cups dolomite lime
4 cups kelp meal
25lb bag pure unsterilized wormcastings or compost

Hot Bed

Todays project was the completion of a heated starting table.  This is a concept used in commercial greenhouses.  Its simply a table with raised sides that has some kind of heat-source covered in sand.  I will be using a heating cable that is sold for melting ice on roofs.  The heater warms the sand which in turn warms plants sitting on the sand.  Very much like in floor heating in a house.  This table can be covered with an insulated box to trap the heat, making it a very efficient way to start seedlings in the greenhouse.

Start with a sturdy table.  I’m using my old starting bench that was already in the greenhouse that I’m currently in the process of remodeling.  Add sides to the table.  I used 1×4″ material known as strapping at Maglios Hardware.  I screwed these pieces onto the table to form a ‘box’.  You may need to add 2×2’s around the perimeter underneath the tabletop to give the edges something to be screwed into.  The table is tilted slightly to allow for water drainage.  I left a gap on the lower side using a spacer to let the water drain out.

This is the front edge of the table.  I used a piece of 1/4″ plywood (left) to create the gap.  You can see the gap to the right that will allow water to seep out.

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Cover this gap with a strip of landscape fabric or other porous material.  This will keep the sand from eroding through the gap in the event of a heavy watering.  Staple it in place.

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Next I laid down some bubble wrap insulation to keep the heat moving up into the sand.  This is the stuff used for covering hot water tanks.  It has reflective material over bubble wrap and is R5.

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At either end of the table I put in 1″ screws at 1.5″ intervals.  These will hold the heating cable in place.

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Wrap the cable back and forth over the screws.  The distance between the screws is determined by two things.  Firstly you don’t want the cable touching itself.  Secondly, you want to calculate the length of your cable and the size of your table and base the intervals accordingly.  You want to just cover the table. This may take some trial and error if you are mathematically challenged like me.

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Now your are ready to dump the sand on the table.  I just went to the beach and filled a couple of buckets with sand.  Make sure your table is sturdy enough to handle the weight.

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Next project is to build a mini greenhouse over this table.

Cold frame

Life has been busy around here and I’m realizing its hard to make time to post when you spend so much time doing. Today I just want to show the pics of the cold frame building process. Cold frames are used to extend the season and come in various shapes and sizes. This post is about the most attractive type in my opinion. They are very functional, can take snow load, keep out cats looking for places to dig in spring and are not overly challenging to make. This project does require some carpentry skill however.

This is a good plan that I found online http://www.vegetablegardener.com/item/5754/cold-frame-and-lightweight-cover-plan.  It also has an interesting idea for the hinge which I didn’t use.  I’m just using regular hinges.  He uses plastic for the top to make it lighter.  I like the glass for my project because it looks better for the high profile location it will have.  Both work well.  He uses treated lumber for the bottom which I disagree with.  Its toxic and has no place in a vegetable garden.  I used fir for the whole thing and put cedar 2×2’s on the bottom instead.

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I was given a sheet of tempered glass about 6′ long and 2’wide by my neighbour last summer. I decided to make a frame for it and use it for my cold frame. The frame is 2×2″ cedar with a groove cut into it to hold the glass. I just used two deck screws on each corner to tie it all together.  Use a table saw to cut the groove.  You will have to do 3 passes with the blade to get the groove wide enough for the glass.  Once down the middle and then adjust the fence to swipe on either side of the groove.  You can also get a wider blade to do it in one pass.

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Next I used 2×8’s to create the box part, using a 2×2 piece to tie the boards together.  Notice the triangular piece that will form the angle of the window.

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The box is complete.  Top boards on front and back were beveled on the table saw to accommodate the angle of the window.  My angle was 22 degrees but this will vary depending on the size of window and the height of front and back.  There are no hard and fast rules about these measurements.  If you want to grow lettuce it can be low profile but if your using it for tomatoes it will need to be higher.  This one is 15″ in the back and 7.5 in the front.  This was just convenient as I used 2×8 material.Picture 253

I finished the box off with 2×2 cedar material on the bottom where it will be touching the ground.  This is to keep the fir from rotting when in contact with the wet soil.  The cedar will eventually rot as well but it can be easily replaced without having to rebuild the box.

I used a product from home hardware called Broda to stain the wood to match the house.  This product is said to be non toxic and is very easy to work with.  Be sure to sand the fir boards well with 60 or 80 grit before staining to ensure that they take the stain.  New boards can resist stain due to the planing process that closes the pores of the wood.

Look closely at the bottom to see the strip of 2×2’s that will protect the fir from rotting.  The entire project can be made of cedar but using fir is a cost cutting measure.

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What do you think?  Does it work with the house?  This is a prominent south facing spot in front of my living room that is both beautiful and functional for gardening.  I like growing early lettuce and spinach here when the sun starts to hit it about this time of year.  I’ll post more pics later of the inside which will be planted this week!!!

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Greenhouse reno

I realize that we are still in the depths of winter and I should be curled up in a blanket with a good gardening book thinking about the upcoming garden season. But my delapitated greenhouse kept calling to me and crying for attention. My first project of the year will be rejuvinating this space and making it more functional than it has been. A common mistake that urban gardeners make, myself included, is to try to do too much with their space. Otherwise known as ‘crowding’. My 200sq ft greenhouse was home to a heated starting area, winter greens production and summer tomatoes growing up to the roof. As a result nothing really did well and it was hard to maintain the structure. The project this spring is to do some much needed repairs, stain the structure, recover the plastic, build raised beds with 2×10 fir boards and upgrade the heated start area.

I will document the process as it happens with photos. Feel free to ask questions for clarification.

Here are a couple of before pics. This is what is known as an inflated poly tunnel. There are two layers of plastic with a fan that blows air in between the layers to keep it inflated for extra cold protection and wind resistance. The plastic has torn inside and cannot be inflated at the moment. The pics of the recovery process will hopefully clarify how this thing works.

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This is the before pic of the inside – the plan is to give it a cleaner, more ergonomic and professional look by the end. Lots of winter lettuce, spinach, and kale here. These were planted in late summer and harvested through to christmas. They are dormant now but will soon spring to life and provide delicious spring greens. The challenge is to renovate around them without disturbing.

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Here you can see some of the dormant lettuce close up. A couple didn’t make it as you may be able to see from the spaces, but still lots of potential for the end of the month when growth starts again.

These greens are planted in August and September and covered with a low tunnel of plastic or Remay. Stay tuned for pics of this setup when things are looking more photogenic after the reno. Hopefully you will see new growth coming out of them by then.

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The bed building is the first step in this process. I’m digging a trench around the existing bed and building a box to go into the trench. This will effectively raise the bed and keep it from eroding into the pathways.

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Day One – Intro

wistfully, longing for warmer days and lush gardens

wistfully, longing for warmer days and lush gardens

I told a friend that I was going to start a gardening blog and realized instantly from the look on her face that I’ve pretty much missed the boat on blogging – probably too busy gardening to notice the trend. Apparently everyone and their dog has had a blog and moved on to bigger and better things. So I felt a little silly about my little blog but it made me really consider what my intention is with this. Firstly, I’d like to document what I do throughout the season for my own reference. The more I can record, the better my next season will be. This is something I’ve always considered important but have never been able to do consistently. I suspect that having an audience will keep me consistent because people are expecting me to share. Secondly, I want to provide a weekly guide for other Kootenay gardeners to follow. Do what I do and it will take the guesswork out of those critical timing issues that are always a problem. I’d like to share what I know works in the Kootenays from a decade of practice and hopefully learn a thing or two in the process. I have an intuitive approach to gardening and I believe that documenting it will help me to make this more concrete to myself and in the process will also serve as a guide for others.

Stay tuned for some really early spring gardening Kootenay style!