Updated: May 19, 2019
The cold-hardy flowers we planted so long ago are flowering at last! Concetta has been gathering bouquets from them for a few weeks now. This week, Lilly and I joined her for the first time in the cool evening and filled buckets with blooms.
Except for Queen Anne's Lace, a familiar white firework from summertime fields, all the flowers are new to me. Honeywort curls blue leaves over purple flowers, and calendula smells bright and sweet when cut. Bachelor buttons arrive in navy blue but also in deep violet and soft lilac. Each new bloom offers a novel beauty, and there are many more to come.
Our oldest flowers are reaching peak bloom. We harvest about twice a week. I still have to get used to cutting flowers instead of just identifying them. It helps to remember that cutting stems and dead-heading is actually essential to ensuring a long, full harvest.
As our vegetable garden matures, so does it's ecosystem. That's a nice way of saying the pests have arrived.
Aphids have crowded onto the young pea leaves. Fortunately, ladybugs are on the prowl. There's about one ladybug per plant, so hopefully they'll keep our peas relatively safe.
Our potatoes face a much larger foe; potato beetles. These pests munch on the above-ground portion of the plants. If too many leaves are eaten, the potatoes won't form properly. Potato beetle larvae look like coppery bird poops, though they mature into a rather handsome bug. Because humans have been at war with these bugs for so long, they are resistant to most pesticides. We don't use pesticides anyways, but it's satisfying to know that flicking the bugs into a baggie is as effective as any treatment gets.
It's strawberry season, so we've gotten several baskets full of local berries and set them up as jam. First the berries are cleaned and cut, then mashed, then boiled with pectin and sugar until they dissolve into jam. Then the jam is jarred and sealed.
The crucial element of putting anything into a jar is cleanliness. Concetta boils her jars and sanitizes anything that's going to come in contact with the jam. It's a pretty long process, so I just abandoned my mom and returned for the best part; when the cooling jars vacuum seal shut with a pop!
Planting and Harvesting
The danger of frost is long passed, so we can sew seeds directly into the garden now. We have to keep planting so that as early plants stop producing, new plants will be ready to take their place.
Lilly prepped the beds and dug shallow troughs, and I followed behind with sunflower, zinnia, amaranth, and other seeds. Every plant has its own preferences for depth and spacing. The littlest seeds, like the amaranth, are simply placed in the trough and patted, not even buried at all.
Our vegetable garden is growing greener with each day. Weeding and mulching feels like a full time job, but the rewards are already appearing: lettuce, parsley, spinach, and tiny, flavorful strawberries, rare but marvelous snacks.
To help boost some of the plants' growth, Lilly made a compost tea out of comfrey leaves. In water, the leaves dissolve into dark, nutrient-rich goo, which we pour around the plants' bases.
Lilly and I brought our own little home flock to the the land, and they are living with the young chickens in a large yard. We mowed some areas and let others grow wild. Apparently 2 dozen chickens can disappear quite completely into a patch of tall grass.
Our five adults are tolerant of the young flock, but consider themselves a separate family. They live in their own shelter and hang out together. A few of them were showing signs of scale mites, so we dunked their legs into rubbing alcohol and coated them in a gel meant for baby diapers. It'll suffocate the mites, and it's safe in case the chickens try to eat it. On principle, chickens hate being chased, but once caught ours rather like to be held. Our hens didn't even try to get away while we dunked their legs. The littlest ones will contentedly close their eyes at a good snuggle.
Bees are infinitely complex creatures, and require equally complex care. Concetta has taken classes and gained experience, but to me our hives retain a sort of magical mystery. I stood nearby as she worked, wearing (perhaps foolishly) no protective clothing beyond a baseball cap.
Hives are basically boxes, or supers, stacked on top of one another. In the hive, frames hang vertically and provide the foundation for the bee's combs, which they fill with honey or with baby bees.
One of our hives is doing well, so Concetta installed a plastic grid that will keep the queen from moving up into the newest super. Since she can't fit through the grid, but her workers can, this super will hopefully provide our first harvest of (baby bee-free) honey.
The other hive isn't thriving, and Concetta hasn't observed many larvae cells, so she decided to introduce a new queen. A stronger queen will increase the population of the hive, but the workers have to accept her first. To give them time to do so, the queen is introduced inside a little white container. There's a few workers in there to take care of her. The container has a candy cap which takes the bees a few days to eat through. By then, hopefully, they will have acclimated to their new queen.
Lillian and I are officially graduates of Clemson University! In a few days we'll start working on the farm full-time. There will be more to do than I could hope to fit in a daily blog, so I'm going to try and make the blogs weekly from here on out.