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April 21, 2015

Today I picked up my “bee package” and parked it in a cardboard file box in my office until I could get it home.

For those who don’t know, a bee package is a shoebox sized cage with 10,000 worker bees (3 lbs) and a caged queen in it. These will hopefully be the initial core of a healthy hive that thrives in my garden; if you properly “install” the package in the hive following the 6 or 7 step sequence, there is a high probability that they will settle in to the nice new home you have provided. Still, sometimes, well, “nature happens”…. you just don’t know, they may bolt (actually swarm is the proper term) in search of another place to set up shop.

Truthfully, I was terrified of handling this mass of bees for fear of doing something wrong and blowing the installation. I’d studied the step by step instructions and watched countless you-tube videos and was comfortable I understood what to do.

Still, until you open the top of a 10000 bee box you just don’t know….

I think I didn’t screw it up (how’s that for a confident statement?). If when I check in a couple days the bees have not vanished and have started drawing honey comb out, I’ll call it a success. More to follow.

Who wants bees up their britches? Not me:






Done (the laggards will find their way up into the hive as dusk approaches.)


Still Here

April 18, 2015

Spring is upon us,  and I’m behind (as usual.)

But contrary to all appearances, I’m actually still here, still trying new things and still full of intentions to make a better effort in posting updates this season.  

The order of business today (a break in the rain for most of the day was a welcome ls development not to be wasted) included finishing and situating a Kenyan style top bar beehive and a little tomato cage sorting and repairing. 

I pick my bees next week.  


Window and “shutter” complete 

Moved and leveled in a sunny spot 



Eggplant Paradise Discovered

September 16, 2014

I thought eggplants were supposed to slack off after peaking mid season.

Apparently I was wrong….

The good harvest my three traditional plants were providing has turned into a ridiculous harvest. Raised beds, drip irrigation and a lot of sun had left me suddenly awash in eggplants. A few days ago a branch sheared off of one of the plants while I was outside; the three large fruits were undamaged but it motivated me to stake the branches later that evening.

After turning the plants into works of suspended engineering art somewhat resembling Maypoles, I counted 37 fruit between the three plants:

Two staked eggplants dwarfing an artichoke transplant

Two staked eggplants dwarfing an artichoke transplant

"Laden"? Is that the word?

“Laden”? Is that the word?

We really like them but can’t eat 37 eggplants over the next week or ten days, so if you are local and interested in taking some off our hands then please get in touch.

Snatched Snake Snack

September 8, 2014

While listening to a football game on the sun porch, something unusual caught my eye on the back of the garden. A peek through some cheap binoculars I had handy confirmed what I thought I was watching, so I grabbed my camera and a 200mm zoom lens and stalked out onto the patio to see if I could get a picture.

Not the best of quality but under the circumstances, these are passable…


One of our local Red Tailed Hawks had snatched up a small snake and was consuming it while perched on the blackberry netting frame. He (or she?) tolerated me observing from 100 feet away and made quick work of the little “snack”.


And with that it took one more glance around then moved on.

I saw it again this evening moving about; I’m hoping it has discovered that my wildlife-friendly garden offers some very healthy tomato-fed squirrels and will become a regular visitor.

Parsnip Greens?

August 24, 2014

I decided to try to grow some parsnips this summer and in hindsight, I have no idea why.

I can’t say that I can remember ever even tasting a parsnip or a dish that included parsnip as an ingredient. Hopefully I like them; I guess that in a worst case I will adapt and find some tolerable dish or soup that includes them.

Anyway…. I learned that these need a long growing season and managed to get some seedlings out of the ground by early May. I also learned that it is best to wait until the first freeze to harvest, so by my calculation these would have something in the range of a 26 week growing season, a modest 10 weeks more that the recommended minimum of 16 weeks. (Hopefully there isn’t an issue with having too long a season; I suppose I’ll learn towards the end of October.)

OK on to the greens…

My expectation was that these would put up greens similar to what I have become accustomed to with the handful of carrot varieties I’ve grown over the years. The carrots all had fairly delicate leaves on stems that reached at most 12 or 16 inches above the soil line. By comparison the parsnip greens are colossal; the top of them come just beyond my belt line:

Parsnip Greens

Parsnip Greens

A friend asked me a while back if the greens were poisonous; she indicated that she’d heard they could raise blisters on some people similar to those caused by poison ivy. I had never heard this and didn’t think about it again until this afternoon… So I asked professor Google and yes, it seems some people are extremely sensitive to some types of parsnip greens.
As best I could gather from the scattered articles on the subject (most with graphic pictures), wild parsnips tended to be the culprit more so than most garden varieties.
I was up to my elbows in the greens this afternoon checking a few of the root tops for girth and thus far I haven’t blistered or raised any sort of rash on my forearms, so perhaps my tiny square of parsnip greens are not toxic.

If you are curious about the sort of blistering some people have suffered click here or in a more detailed description of wild parsnip issues click here.

A Helping Hand

August 18, 2014

“Cicada killer” season is winding down and this year’s colony has been spread mainly towards the back of the boxwood garden.
The cicada killers still around at this point are the last of the hard working females (Check this archived post out to see just how hard they work), who dig their burrows then drag paralyzed cicadas down in order to lay an egg on them then entomb them both in a chamber. They are constantly reappearing from the surrounding trees, approaching in lumbering flights with the much larger cicada in tow underneath; in between they hover and put up a pretty good bluff to try and intimidate you to move away from their burrow.

The other day I noticed something odd; I was viewing the abdomen of what appeared to be a cicada having a seizure just under the edge of a shed door (pardon the hastily snapped phone pic’s focus):

As it wobbled back and forth it became obvious one of my hard working cicada killer gals was struggling to pull her prey into the shed. So I opened the door and there she was with this cicada and a couple others that she had given up on trying to get through the crack at the edge of the shed floor.

They like to select areas with dirt surfaces for their burrows’ gateway; I’ve had them come under the door of one of my workshops and dig burrows a couple of feet into the shop. This one was pretty clever to figure out she could slide through the crack and have a sheltered burrow entrance underneath the shed floor. Unfortunately, she didn’t measure her gate ahead of time to insure her fatter bodied cicada prey would fit through as well.

I felt bad for this little insect and had to help her out. A handy shovel was enough to to pry the crack open just a little bit more, all the while with her buzzing around in front of my face trying to scare me off. Just as soon as the crack creaked open slightly, I stepped back and she went right back to work, quickly grabbing the freshest cicada and disappearing underneath to her burrow.


She still doesn’t like it much when I come in and out of the shed, but as usual she is all buzz and no bite.

And this concludes the 2014 cicada killer update.

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

July 30, 2014

First, the “good”:

The overall size & quantity of the first waves of Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter & German Yellow tomatoes has been above average; Mrs cohutt has referenced the “early pumpkin harvest” on more than one occasion.

Brandywine & German Yellow tomatoes

Brandywine & German Yellow tomatoes

Another “good” is the ample supply of eggplants we have been harvesting; the flea beetles are around but I’ve kept them at bay with an occasional light dusting of diatomaceous earth on the leaves at dusk. (I have rinsed it off in the morning to keep wind from spreading it where I don’t want it.)
A week's eggplant harvest

A week’s eggplant harvest

Likewise, the first waves of soy (type “Envy”) have been good and more productive than last year’s initial try.
First soy harvest of the season ("Envy")

First soy harvest of the season (“Envy”)

The “bad”:

I have a serious tomato plant problem that is probably Fusarium or Verticillium wilt. If I confirm one or both of these is will have a serious impact on the garden over the next few years due to limitations of what can be planted in infected soils. (More on this in a future post, should I manage to figure it out.) Basically the leaves are dying very quickly from the bottom up- right now there are few if any live green leaves in the the first 4 feet of the plants. This has left little shade on the developing fruits so I have a lot of cracks and sun scalding on those tomatoes harvested so far. Unfortunately this will also limit or eliminate the 2nd large harvest wave that usually follows in September.

Wilted Brandywines

Wilted Brandywines

The “ugly”:

My garlic harvest was hit with onion maggots, which has given me the disgusting aroma of rotting garlic wafting everywhere as I have attempted to cull the infested heads. The worm is pretty much undetectable until the clove or cloves it has been eating tunnels through begins the inevitable hidden festering rot process. The nose knows first; rotting garlic has a way of letting the whole house know.

(If you are reading this @ mealtime, you might pass on the remaining pictures.)

The culprits:

Onion Maggots in Inchelium Red Garlic

Onion Maggots in Inchelium Red Garlic

The resulting damage:
Inchellium Red garlic rot induced from onion maggots

Inchellium Red garlic rot induced from onion maggots

Another example of onion maggot damage (Inchellium Red garlic). NASTY!

Another example of onion maggot damage (Inchellium Red garlic).