Garden

First Check on the Spring Garden

Wanting to let the sun heat up the farm and beehives, I planned to perform the desperately needed landscaping maintenance on the garden aisles. However the weedwacker would not continue running instead shutting off a after about 40 seconds of idling, or whenever I opened the throttle at all. The blisters on three fingers and the intense DOMS in my shoulder blade attest to how many times I got it started. Was it bad gas mixture that sat all winter? Was it the carburetor that a knowledgeable mechanic found to be on its last leg a few months ago? Either way, my desire to be independent from petroleum powered machinery was reiterated and the most time-consuming task on my to-do list was not attainable.

So I spent the time wandering and weeding the garden beds. The hops and asparagus were already sending shoots out of the ground while the buds of grapes and blueberries were beginning to swell.

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Emerging Asparagus

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Emerging, nitrogen hungry hops with symbiotic, nitrogen-providing clover companion planting

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Swelling grape buds

Notice the similarities between young hops and asparagus shoots? They can be harvested and prepared in the exact same manner. I will elaborate on this more in the future.

 

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Garden

Absentee Gardening

This year the plan is to set and forget. I am going to deeply mulch the garden beds and leave them be as I will only be able to check in once or twice a month. I’ve got a plan for produce self sufficiency that I will expand upon in the future.

Other than groundhogs, water will be the anticipated issue, does anyone have any suggestions for plants don’t require much in the way of thirst?

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Garden

El niño year causing garlic top growth in winter

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This photo kind of hurts my eyes. I must have had HDR on for some reason so I apologize for that!

Fall planted garlic is not supposed to form top growth until spring! Winter has finally arrived after much of December seeing temperatures in the 70 degrees F.

If you are concerned about the effect of unseasonably warm winters on the success of garlic, fear not. Most reading I’ve done on gardening forums has assured that the top growth will die back in when cold finally sets in only to regrow in the spring causing no harm to the clove-bulb development that we seek.

Anyone else seeing this? Or has anyone had this happen in the past and want to provide some additional reassurance?

 

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Garden

Drying and storing hops

I’m using the hops that I didn’t send to the local brewery to practice the drying process. Once picked, hops need to be dried so they don’t mold while also kept from exposure to light. The latter needs to be observed all the way until the finished beer is consumed. Light exposure activates the photosynthetic tissue in residual hop matter that flavors or bitters beer resulting in the distinct “skunk” flavor that has actually become a characteristic flavor of some European beers packaged in green bottles then shipped to the US.

So I use discarded beverage trays lined with discarded screen in combination with time to dry my hops. Mild heat or airflow can be used to speed the process but I avoid mechanical processing and strong airflows that might dislodge the pollen looking resins that contain the desired acids/flavor/aroma compounds. This is only mentioned because some people use tumble driers or even clothing driers!

I start by weighting a specific amount of hops that will be kept together through the entire process. The process is to fill a tray loosely with a layer of wet (aka fresh) hops. Then repeat by stacking the next tray atop the previous tray:

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When the test sample of hops loses 80% of it weight, I store them in ziplock bags, squeeze the air out then freeze. If I’m feeling less lazy, I’ll vacuum pack the hops in a food saver. When I am feeling conditionally lazy like with this batch, I’ll spend 5 hours brewing a batch of beer just to avoid the 20 seconds it takes to toss the hops into a freezer.

Note: this is just my casual process for harvesting poor quality first year hops. Usually hops are mostly green, but my centennial hops were overripe thus overdried on the vine while the cascade hops were underripe with the first frost bearing down that weekend. So I harvested and processed them together!

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Uncategorized

Planting trees to play tricks on potential customers

I love hops as well as the creative beers in which they are used so I aspire to to be a small hops producer. I have good relations with various breweries in the area and hope to court those that are sustainably oriented.

But I also want to instill some good natured confusion upon those that visit the farm.

A cool tree that stuck with me from studying forestry in college is the Hophornbeam, Ostrya virginiana. Its flowers resemble green hops and turn brown as the flowers sheath the new fruit.

From wikipedia:

“Ostrya virginiana 2” by Eric Hunt – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ostrya_virginiana_2.jpg#/media/File:Ostrya_virginiana_2.jpg

I will plant a pair of these at the farm entrance. Think of the possibilities! I can jest that I’ve grafted hops to a birch tree and am the first ever producer of tree hops. These trees will serve as a good conversation starter!

 

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Garden

My go-to garden ground cover

Many, many times previously, I’ve mentioned my prefered ground cover of buckwheat and clover. Since even immature buckwheat helps soil structure, I tried to sneak in one last planting before frost with seeds from the earlier plants:

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To be completely honest, I’ve planted a few different clovers and I’m not longer aware which variety is depicted above. It is either dutch white, crimson or medium red clover.

Since the first frost occurred, all of the buckwheat is gone as I explained here. Yet the clover is still thriving and a deep green!

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Garden

Anecdotal: Basil + Asparagus = ladybugs

Here is a ladybug nymph molting on my asparagus fern adjacent to the bolted basil:

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There are hundreds of nymphs in the asparagus beds, including the one without basil so I’m not sure how much the basil has to do with it. I decided to bolster the predatory insect population with additional mail order ladybirds. That discussion will be saved for the off season downtime!

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Garden

The virtues buckwheat in organic farming and gardening

Buckwheat is not a new development. It has been used for centuries including being found in correspondences regarding its weed suppressing powers between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two men notoriously obsessed with gardening. As the practices of agriculture changed along with the economic forces driving modern farming, buckwheat is no longer a widely cultivated crop.

However, those same forces of economics are also reviving buckwheat due to its weed suppression powers that require very little labor or inputs to harness. Growing in partially decaying organic matter is the property that causes buckwheat to be recommended as the first crop cultivated on idle or reclaimed land. By watering a few days before sowing, weeds germinate to then be smothered out by the fast growing buckwheat resulting in the permanent removal of those weed seeds from the soil seed bank.

Those weed suppressing powers coupled with its quick lifecycle make buckwheat a fantastic cover crop to prevent a summer annual weed infestation. Buckwheat takes 10 weeks to go from germination to seed and is a heavy phosphorus feeder. If only soil conditioning and weed suppression are desired with no consideration required for harvest, it can be mowed before maturity and the plant matter rapidly deteriorates releasing mineralized phosphorus into the soil for the next crop of plants. All together, buckwheat can usually be raised to a full crop between spring and fall plantings of other crops, or as a second crop behind long season crops like grains, corn, etc.

Looking specifically at the soil conditioning properties, buckwheat forms a dense network of very fine roots. While it cannot penetrate hardpan soils, buckwheat will leave all other soils mellow for a short time. This lightened soil can be taken advantage of immediately but immediate planting of the next (non-buckwheat) crop or the changes can be made more permanent when followed with a planting of something like ryegrass that forms a mycorrhizal root system.

Buckwheat nourishes the native and farmed pollinators. Recently, an alarming trend of unpredictable pollination damaging the yields of insect-pollinated crops has become apparent (Source, page 41). Buckwheat can be grown directly as a honey crop for beekeepers, or alongside other high value crops that require insect pollination. In the latter scenario, buckwheat attract the pollinators to the other crops to encourage thorough pollination.

Lastly comes the beneficial nutrients. Buckwheat is rich in protein at 18% crude, typically around 12% bioavailable (Source) making it an important source to those who do not consume much animal proteins. It’s high amino acid content is even more important as most cereal grains lack these important nutrients; most notably lysine, threonine, tryptophan, as well as non-amino acids in tannins and fiber (source). Thus buckwheat can supplement the nutrition of grain noodles, breads, etc. and most resources I have read recommend 20% replacement of wheat flour in baked goods or 50% in pancakes. Apparently buckwheat pancakes are delicious and uniquely flavored. I can’t wait to try them!

In terms of animal feed, lysine cannot be synthesized by animals meaning it must be sourced in feeds. As a result, lysine has become the limiting growth factor in animals raised for meat. Including buckwheat in feed rations supplies lysine among other nutrients and limits the need for lysine produced industrially via genetically modified bacterial fermentation which is now a $1.22 billion dollar industry.

To conclude, this plant conditions the soil, suppresses weeds, depletes the stored seed bank of weeds in the soil, boost nutrition of common foods/feeds, provides honey and encourages pollination of its neighbors. I think it is worthy of high praise in the organic gardening world.

PS: Buckwheat hulls do not conduct heat as much as many furniture fills. They are gaining renown as producing cool pillows when used as fill compared to many synthetics. However they contain an allergen that can aggravate asthma if you suffer from that condition. I am certainly going to experiment with this as well because I am always searching for the cool side of the pillow at night!

Cornell University has the most extensive buckwheat resource I have found.

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General Pasture

A bad psychedelic trip from 1705

Along with the strategy of leaving broadleaf weeds comes need to satiate my intense curiosity of everything around.

A beautiful but sad looking flower caught my my eye. Striking white and purple flowers have a mesmerizing shape but they never open fully giving them a wilted, mournful appearance.

I keyed it out to Datura stramonium aka Jamestown Weed.

Turning to google, I came across this excerpt from The History and Present State of Virginia, 1705 retrieved from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take to be the plant so call’d) is supposed to be one of the greatest coolers in the world. This being an early plant, was gather’d very young for a boil’d salad, by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion of Bacon (1676); and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows [grimaces] at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll.

In this frantic condition they were confined, lest they should, in their folly, destroy themselves — though it was observed that all their actions were full of innocence and good nature. Indeed, they were not very cleanly; for they would have wallowed in their own excrements, if they had not been prevented. A thousand such simple tricks they played, and after eleven days returned themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.

Fortunately, it sounds like those soldiers had a good guardian keeping an eye on them!

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Bees, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees for Bees

I am a huge advocate of planning trees ahead of time, especially if they are to be established where turf dominates. By laying down a biodegradable barrier like cardboard and covering it with mulch, the turf is smothered while the mulch encourages the fungal dominated soil in which woody-stemmed plants thrive.

In regard to honeybees, the small volume of garden plantings of flowers sadly do little in the way of nourishing the hive. After all, a single bee visits 50-1oo flowers per day, and 2,000,000 flowers to produce 1 pound of honey of which 100 pounds are produced per healthy hive in a good year. Bee-attracting flowers still feed smaller native bee populations and lure bees to your valuable crops so there is still great value in a pollinator garden!

Trees on the other hand, are a different story. And would you expect anything else from me? With my passionate love of trees, I plan to use them instead of (well, in combination with) pasture to feed humans, animals and insects alike. Honeybees focus their foraging efforts on areas with a high density of blooms as evolutionary biology encourages as efficient behavior as possible. So blooming trees are an ideal nectar source.

The trait of cyclical production of trees that affects fruit yields holds true for nectar yields as well. Where fruit trees see bumper crops followed by small yields the next year(s), trees follow a cycle of 2-8 years between massive nectar flows. So like always, diversity is key. This resource produced by NASA is great for determining what is blooming in your region.

Take the basswood for example. A single Tilia americana tree can produce huge surpluses of top quality honey during a 2 week bloom in June or July. I’ve seen numbers of 20 gallons per mature tree, or 800-1,100 pound per acre of planting.

The next tree to consider is one I have fond memories of from college Dendrology class. The class was once per week for 4 hours outside in ANY weather. Finals week of the fall semester in the mountains of southwest Virginia is when the whether turns from crisp calm autumn to blustery cold winter. As it happened, our outdoor dendrology final was in the midst of a brutally cold freezing rain storm. People cried, hands were numb, scared mumblings of frostbite were uttered but only when the “Rain-proof” paper started dissolving did the teaching staff take action. The next tree was to be the last!

One of the useful traits for identifying plants is taste. Obviously with Toxicodendron radicans being one of our subjects, a compromise was made where we were allowed to ask the teachers if a leaf from the quiz subject was safe to taste. Carefully tiptoeing the line between an B+ and an A- in the class, the last quiz tree of the final exam was critical. And I was stumped.

Most of the other stumped students just wrote Black gum, which was our default for generic looking tree, in haste to return to the warmth and dryness of their vehicles. After milling around trying to control the nerves and adrenaline leaving me as the last remaining student, I finally asked the instructor if I it was safe taste the long, ovate brilliantly red leaf. With a smile that revealed the answer, I wrote Ericaceae Oxydendrum arboreum Sourwood to secure an A- for the semester.

Once I started researching sourwoods, I found that they are quite beautiful when flowering and as I already knew, a brilliant red in the fall as this image from Oregon State university demonstrates:

Better yet, they are shade tolerant which will be an important attribute in my design. Even their slow growth rate is advantageous.

Sumacs are another tree that requires consideration for both honeybees and the native pollinators. For both types of pollinators, the three months of bloom supplies ample pollen and nectar. Here is a study that recorded bee activity on staghorn sumac stands in canada. It found that bees worked the male flowers for pollen in the morning and female flowers for nectar in the evening. For the native bees, the soft pithy stems of Rhus trees/shrubs provide nesting sites as the wood is easily bored. With aesthetics in mind, sumacs also turn a brilliant red in the fall.

Tulip poplars produce so much nectar that it stains concrete walkways beneath urban plantings. The beautiful cup shaped flowers of the Liriodendron tulipifera give bees a nice platform to land and drink from as they resemble tulips, hence the common name. It blooms early so it helps feed colonies and pollinators as they build up their nests and populations in the spring.

Black locust are already all over my pasture and the surrounding woods. In fact the time that my bees lost interest in the provided feeder coincided with the locust bloom. No additional considerations will be made for locust plantings as they are already numerous on the farm. I also let most locust trees grow because they fix nitrogen into the soil as they are a leguminous tree and they provide wood that is incredibly hard and rot resistant. On my land at least, the black locusts commonly lose limbs and break apart negating the need and labor required to fell them. Out of the local natives, locust wood makes the best fence posts and firewood.

I’ll expand on these trees and my plans for them in the near future!

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