Posted by Gordon | Posted in News | Posted on 14-05-2016
GENERAL GARDEN REPORT
It must be the exceptionally pleasant weather, the well composted horse and chicken manure with an addition of 31-0-0 fertilizer to combat the nitrogen drain caused by the manure because the garden reminds me of Jack and the Bean Stalk fantasies. Everything, and I mean everything, is growing well and promises to produce more that we can consume. The greens ( lettuce, collards, kale and chard have already exceeded our abilities to keep up with it. The peppers are starting to bloom among the volunteer Malabar spinach and are barely above the radish greens. Our giant mystery rape plant (6 feet) has finally gone to seed and has produced thousands of seeds for us.
There are a few vegetables that when grown well in the garden really show their stuff. Cabbage is one of them and although I only have a dozen planted they dominate their section of the garden ( I doubt that I would have room to grow more as they take up so much space but I enjoy cooked cabbage and slaw so they will always have a place in the garden).
I planted a dozen replacement artichoke plants to remedy the loss resulting from our accidental removal of the plants last year. They are as big as the one remaining original plant and will soon start their bloom. The carrots are having trouble getting enough sun because everything else is shading them. I am going to have to find a safe sunny place for them. This year we have both the rainbow and green variety of Swiss Chard and both are doing exceptionally well. We are not harvesting fast enough. Cucumbers are starting to climb the trellis and the Brussels Sprouts are starting to form sprouts along the stems.
This year I obtained from a friend (who obtained from the Clemson University experimental station) a variety of European Lambs Quarter. Unlike the Lambs Quarter we have here in America, this one has a rim of purple around the top leaves which does not fade when the plant is cooked which makes for a very colorful cooked vegetable.
Our sugar peas are about finished and they were delicious but I have now planted cucumbers next to the trellis they were growing on and okra on the others side of the row. I have dug and prepared two 50 foot rows for the Kentucky Wonder pole beans and planted 5 mounds of squash under hoop protection from the squash bore moth.
Blackberry and Blueberry are starting to swell and the figs are starting to appear at the leaf junctions. We had a wonderful citrus bloom this spring and the trees set a lot of tangerines and oranges. Not many grapefruit nor naval oranges and lemon seem to have set. I have planted two new lime trees (two varieties) which should produce in a couple years.
NOW FOR THE TOMATOES!
I planted 40 tomato plants in straw bales this spring as an experiment (I had heard it was a good way to grow them here and they did not get many of the ground-born virisus tomatoes get. I also planted 20 additional plants the standard way in the garden beds just as a precaution. In order to get the hay/straw bales seasoned so as to be ready for the plants, they have to be partially composted. This is done by digging holes in the bales and placing every two days a half cup of high nitrogen fertilizer into the holes. This starts the breakdown of the straw bale and in two weeks it is ready to have composted manure added in the holes and to plant the tomato plant. All went well as can be seen in earlier photographs. After about two weeks of normal growth, something happened that turned the plants into monsters. They are 8 feet tall and are said to be able to reach 10 feet. I have stopped adding anything to them in the hopes of slowing their growth. One of the things about tomatoes is that they can become very vegetative. That is to say that they can be big and tall and very strong plants with very few tomatoes. I want tomatoes! I have read that it only takes about 5 leaves on the top of a branch to supply a big bunch of fruit with enough energy to grow and the thinness of the leaf cover allows the sun to ripen the fruit. Some specialty growers actually prune the leaves off their plants to allow the fruit to grow. My plan is to thin the leaf cover from some of the straw bale plants and test the theory. My plants are starting to set tomatoes so This is a good time to start the experiment. I will only prune the plants on the bales as the raised bed plants get a lot of sun.
I have been keeping bees for almost 50 years. When I was a young biology teacher, I used honey bees as a teaching tool when I taught animal behavior courses. I had an observation hive in my classroom with a connecting tube through the wall whereby the bees could access the outside environment. We would slide the observation panel away from the glass side and watch the bees do their thing – waggle tail dances, egg laying, rearing brood, superseedures and making new queens. All the good stuff.
Later, a friend and I had 50 hives here in Beaufort. It was not a case of our becoming involved in a commercial honey business but more like a failure to know when to say we had enough hives.
Today, I have three standard (Langstroth) bee hives. Each are made up of two deep brood boxes.
I have stopped stacking supers on top of the brood boxes as I don’t spin the honey out any longer. At my age it is to difficult to lift a 50 lb brood box or a 35 lb super full of honey comb with 10,000 bees flying around looking for a vulnerable spot to investigate. In fact, I don’t even eat honey any longer due to my per-diabetic condition. So one might question why I keep bees. The answer is simple. I enjoy working with them. I also am worried that our bee population is crashing due to the miracle insecticides created by the likes of agricultural giants like Monsanto (they contribute or are the primary cause of the disappearance of many other beneficial insects like the Monarch Butterfly).
An off topic comment is to ask you if you have noticed any difference when you drive today as compared to when you were younger. I used to drive between Myrtle Beach and Columbia, South Carolina when I was in college. When I got to my destination, I had to wash all the smashed insects from my windshield or I would not be able to see. Today, I will often not hit one insect when I drive between Beaufort and Columbia. Wonder why?
I have bees so that they can pollinate the Sea Island Garden. It seems that my production is substantially better when they are present. If I did not keep them, I would have none in the garden. Today, I went to Grayco (about 8 miles from the garden) to purchase small hinges (more on this in a minute). There was a profusion of Ligustrum blooms on the many shrubs in the parking lot. The fragrance was almost overwhelming much like a citrus bloom. There was not one honey bee on the blooms. I have never seen a Ligustrum bloom devoid of honey bees. It brought home the fact that we are loosing our pollinators. If that happens, as many as 1/3 of the human population on earth will starve to death. That is 3 to 4 billion people.
The first limiting factor to the human population was the inability to fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants could use. That problem was solved by two of Hitlers scientist. Nitrogen is also used to produce explosives and gunpowder. Items Hitler needed. Aside from fueling the second world war munitions, the process also made it possible to add several more billion inhabitant onto the earth which could now grow enough food to maintain the extra billions. Today we are facing a second limiting factor to the human population – producing enough food to support our masses. We might be able to grow the plants but we can’t get to the fruits, grains, vegetables, etc. without the pollinators, also called honey bees.
Since I don’t actively expand the size of my hives to allow for additional storage of honey, my hives fill up to capacity and the queens then form a swarm with all the older bees in the hive and leave en mass to find a new location in the forest (or in the eves of your home). They leave a new fertile queen with all the young bees and those to emerge soon to maintain the old hive. It is called a supersedure and is the natural way by which bees expand their numbers in the wild.
This Spring, my three hives produced 7 swarms. More to come later in the season. I was able to “hive” two of them. The rest escaped and went into the forest to replace those that have been disappearing.
Aside from replenishing the wild stock, this was a good thing because I had decided to switch from the old Langstroth hives to the newer, more easily worked and less disruptive hive style – the top bar hive. Originally designed to be used by the Peace Corp in Africa to help expand small business opportunities. It is cheap to build and easy to work.
I ordered a hive from eBay (firstname.lastname@example.org) and was delighted by the quality craftsmanship of the product I ordered a second hive from Joe and used it as a pattern by which I could make my own. I have built two additional long (30 bar) hives and two smaller “nuc” hives(12 bar). This makes 6 new top bar hives (time to stop making hives).
My plan is to keep these six hives and once they are self sufficient to sell the three Langstroth hives (with bees).
I have placed the new hives into the garden apiary and installed the two swarms. I will divide two of my existing hives into the other top bar hives. I have designed a hinged top for the top bar hives so that all I have to do is swing the top open and remove a top bar from the hive and cut off 5 lbs of honey comb when ever I want. As I stated above, I don’t eat the honey any longer but a lot of my garden friends do.