Tuesday, March 25, 2008


This is a tough time of the year for me... the kind of waiting game, knowing that I'm about to have a ton to do with planting, etc. but still not quite warm enough to be doing it. I'm chomping at the bit, looking for little projects, avoiding some others, waiting for bigger things to get done like the plowing, waiting for the weather to cooperate and the soil to be dry enough. Waiting. And trying to find little things to occupy my time.

But little doings add up, too, and it's not just the big stuff that keeps one ahead of the game come season. Of course, many of these things involve spending money rather than doing work, but still... here's a list of some of those little things:

  • ordered bee hives:
    After much hemming and hawing over size, I ordered two standard deep hives from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm in North Carolina. A standard hive full of brood and honey can weigh up to 100 lbs, so I was seriously contemplating going with a medium hive instead, which will weigh around 60 or 70 lbs. Ultimately, I decided to go with standard equipment in the hope that it will make life slightly easier in the long run, although it seems nothing is completely standard in the bee world.

    Brushy Mountain offered free shipping to beginning beekeepers enrolled in a bee course this year, so I took them up on the generous offer. Unfortunately, things are backordered and they're running a bit behind schedule, so I'm hoping to have enough time to assemble the hives before my nucs are ready, around the 2nd week of May. I'm pretty sure that the only things I'll need to assemble are the hive frames, so it shouldn't take too long. Of course, there are 40 of those, so...

  • ordered amaranth and quinoa seed:
    This year, we'll be planting three test plots of grains: hulless oats, amaranth, and quinoa. I was able to get my oats from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, my favorite local source, but I needed to do some shopping around for the other grains and ended up getting a pretty good deal from Wild Garden Seed out in Oregon. They're not local by any stretch, but they look to be a good company, and they sold the seed in bulk rather than by packet only.

    I ordered 1/4 lb of burgandy amaranth, an ounce of Hopi red dye amaranth, and 1/4 lb of red head quinoa. I also decided to try a packet of huauzontle, a grain I'd never heard of before, based on their description. A chenopodium like quinoa, it's related to lamb's quarters, but is an ancient Aztec green/ grain version that is supposed to be more reliable than lamb's quarters in addition to being a beautiful red color. I'm not sure yet how I'll grow it with regards to cross pollination, but I wanted some nonetheless; I may use it solely for microgreens and salad greens.

  • ordered 25 tulip poplar trees and 25 hybrid willows:
    We live on such a small acreage that I've been searching for some way to produce at least a portion of our own wood fuel, and while these are both soft woods, making them less ideal than traditional hardwoods like oak, they also grow quickly—about 6' per year—making them good possibilities for a staggered yearly harvest. Willow, in particular, can be coppiced, the practice of cutting the trunk to the ground, allowing multiple side shoots to grow, which can then be harvested for firewood.

    Another advantage of planting these species will hopefully be to provide quick-growing shade in our pastures for the livestock, something we've been wanting to do since we moved in. Our land is primarily pasture, with a long hedge-row running along the back that provides some morning shade, but no afternoon shade. The pastures can be brutally hot during the high summer, often about 5-10° hotter than the house yard. The hedgerow, too, is overgrown with several invasive species, including honeysuckle and Chinese sumac, which we've been working to clear since we moved in to enable the native Eastern cedars and staghorn sumac to gain footholds. We're hoping to use our goats to help with some of this now that Jim's pulled the fenceline through the tangled mess.

    I opted to go with native tulip poplars rather than the faster growing hybrid poplar because this native species is such an important food source for wildlife like the Eastern swallowtail and my bees. In fact, both poplar and willow are great food sources for honeybees: the willow will provide one of the first important sources of pollen, while the tulip poplar will provide a key nectar source. So, my hope is to accomplish several things with these two species of trees on our property.

  • transplanted and divided some ornamentals:
    This is just typical gardener fare, moving and dividing and tweaking the gardens up by the house. Nothing terribly exciting, but it lets me get my hands in the dirt and feel like I'm actually getting stuff done.

  • trying to get hens to set on collected fertilized eggs:
    And not being terribly successful, I must say. The hens have their own ideas and timelines and seem to be completely ignoring mine. So, I may be ordering chicks again this year as I try to identify which hens will be willing to act as my broody hens next year. I think, too, that I'll do a better job keeping the roosters separate to prolong our fertilization window. Unfortunately, this year, one of the roos got out into the general hen population, messing up my careful segregation. Live and learn.

  • over-seeded pastures:
    With our rotation, we pull all the animals off the pastures sometime after Thanksgiving, giving the land a chance to rest all winter long. This also gets the animals closer to the barn, making winter feeding and watering much easier. We'll be turning them out into rotation in the next couple of weeks, keeping them off the parts I over-seeded for another couple weeks. The drought hit the pastures pretty hard last year, so I'm anxious to see how the grass comes back. Right now I'm seeing the cool season grasses but won't see the warm season for a little while yet.

  • continue to water seedlings in high and low tunnels:
    I have several sowings of radishes, as well as tatsoi, turnip, beet, kale and chard growing now. Our temps are still dipping into the 20s at night, so the plastic will stay on for at least another week.

  • planted two rows of peas in market garden:
    It's been too wet to plow on the weekends, so I had Jim use the walk-behind tiller against the fenceline to allow me to get at least the first sowing of peas in the ground. Hopefully either this week or next, he'll get the whole garden plowed, and I'll be able to begin some serious planting. Our seed potatoes won't be shipped out until the first week of April, so we should be able to get them in the ground shortly thereafter. I need to get the broccoli, onions, and carrots in asap, though I do have a round of carrots maturing now for harvest in the next few weeks.


El said...

You know, this time of year is really frustrating, at least for me: I swear I have ADD in the spring! However, lists are really helpful, especially if you (ahem) make them somewhat public, as you have done, Danielle. Like, by putting it out there, you have even more incentive to get it done.

But 1/4 lb of amaranth seed, and quinoa too! Wow. Would that cover acres, you think? I planted a small row (30") of amaranth 2 years ago and then transplanted the seedlings around the farm. They were sunflower huge by the end of the season. I had maybe 2 lbs. of seed from that harvest.

Well, happy spring!

Christy said...

I'm interested to see how your amarath goes and what you think of it. I ordered some seeds this year to plant after we move. I like the idea of growing my own grains. My friend put untreated seeds into her sheep feed and let them seed the pasture for her. She said it worked great.

shannon said...

find the honey supers too heavy (around here we call those deep supers_ you can always use any "extras" as part of a new hive body and get yourself a few shallow supers for honey you'll be harvesting off the top of the hives...

Danielle said...

El, the recommended seeding rate is 2lbs/ acre, though I did find one study that said they found no difference between 1/4 lb and 4 lbs/ acre, which is interesting. At any rate, yes, I'll definitely have extra seed, which I see as a good thing. It'll be interesting to see how harvest goes! I may not think it's such a great thing afterward. ;)

It would be great if I could use some of it for animal feed, but there seem to be mixed reviews on that. Most say as long as it's not more than 20% of their diet, it should be okay.

Christy, that's an interesting idea. Do the sheep actually eat the grain? I don't grain my ruminants, but they do get minerals and such.

Shannon, I'm talking (at least I think I am!) about the hive bodies themselves, which do get rotated during the year. I won't have to move them very often, but at one point at least, I'll be shifting the top one to the bottom to facilitate the upward mobility of the queen... if that makes any sense. I'm new to all this, so I imagine I'll have a better sense of what I'm talking about this time next year. Hopefully I'll still have my bees!

nita said...

Lists are important - to make us feel like we are accomplishing at least something while we are itching to get our hands in the soil.
If you haven't ordered from Wild Garden Seeds before - you will be pleased with the vigor their seeds have. Thanks for buying from a small company. They are doing important work.

Christy said...

She gives her sheep a small amount of grain sometimes. Her sheep love grain, it is how she gets them all to come when she needs them.

Jessica said...

I just came across your blog and am excited about learning from you. Thanks for the knowledge and experience you are passing on.


linda said...

For fast growing firewood, you may want to plant some Black Locusts (http://www.treehelp.com/trees/locust/locust-types-black.asp).
We (((love))) locust for firewood. It burns hot, and when seasoned (cut, split, stacked, and covered for at least 4-6 months) burns very cleanly (and it's the chimneysweep in me speaking here).

Hope you'll post a list (like you did last year) of what seeds you ordered this year, and where you're getting them from.
For those of us who live too far away to drop by regularly and admire your beautiful calendula or taste the chard... it would be nice to try to grow a little of our own.

Danielle said...

Nita, it's good to have your recommendation on Wild Garden Seeds. Now I feel doubly good about ordering from them!

Christy, there's quite a debate whether ruminants should get grain and when, and I think it's worth reading through to make your own decision. Eatwild.com is a good place to start.

Jessica, thank you for the compliment! I'm glad you took the time to leave a comment.

I chose willow and poplar because they're not toxic to livestock. We do have some black locust, but it has cyanogenic properties. Plus, I don't like the thorns. The flowers are beautiful though.

I figure we'll still be purchasing about 2 cords of hardwood, so we'll be mixing our harvested softer wood with those. I know it's not ideal, but...

Danielle said...

Ooops, forgot to add the link to my seed order for this year. Installment #1 anyway.

Ren said...

You don't have to shift the hive bodies at all. Two hive bodies and then a queen excluder on the top and two shallow supers above that should get you plenty of honey.

That's pretty standard. I see no reason to move a filled hive body because she DOES move upwards. Just put a queen exluder above the space you give them for raising brood or else you'll get brood in your honey comb...ack. Not so great if you want honey of course.

If you did move a hive body, you can take one frame out at a time. I don't know anyone that does it that way though.

I answered you at my blog without realizing you'd already contacted Brushy Mountain. I didn't realize they were so far behind in orders! Dang.

The hive bodies go together pretty quickly. I purchased pre-made frames because I chose the old-fashioned crimp wire style with wax foundation after hearing lotsa mixed reviews on the plastic foundation. Anyhoo, the Brushy mountain folks should take good care of you...I've heard good things about them and enjoy their catalog.

You'll love the bees. Some of mine are coming back with pollen sacs loaded...it's amazing.

Ren said...

Oh, and the bees love tulip poplar by the way!:)

Danielle said...

Ren, switching hive bodies is a recommended spring maintenance thing to help prevent swarm. The idea, I guess, is that the bees have all clustered together for winter warmth in the center of the hive. Reversing the position puts the queen lower in the hive at the beginning of the season, taking advantage of the bees natural tendency to work upward.

I'm sure one doesn't "have" to do it. There are lots of different (and often opinionated!) perspectives out there. I think for each bit of advice and experience it'd be easy to find someone that recommends exactly the opposite.

I took a beginning beekeepers course here, which was helpful, and the best part is that we've been given mentors so I'll have some experienced beekeepers to call upon. My mentors are actually the folks I'm buying my nucs from, and they're both master beekeepers. They're also local distributors for Brushy Mountain, and he's a state bee inspector. They pretty much just do bees—it's a livelihood not a hobby for them, and they have very definite opinions about how it's done.

Ren said...

Yeah, but what a pain in the butt for preventing swarm! There are other ways to do it....and the reason everyone is so bent against swarm is to prevent reduction of honey. I'm not as worried about that part because we aren't going to be commercial.

Bottom supering helps. Re-queening is supposed to help. I have no plans to reverse my two hive bodies but I will be bottom supering to keep them moving upwards. 'Course, I could change my mind!:)

You could always switch out frames to give more space rather than switching the entire body. But I'm not bent on honey production either....though I do want some jars on the shelf eventually.:)

The Nuc's are great on so many levels...you've already got the brood building that my hives are just getting started. Very nice that way. I can't wait to hear about them!!