February 28, 2010 · 2:49 pm
I came across an article entitled “It’s Sow Easy” in my Northern Gardener magazine last winter about sowing seeds outdoors in winter. Because I’m always looking for inexpensive ways to increase my perennial collection, I thought I would give this method a try. The theory is to turn recyclables into mini-greenhouses to place outside during the winter months to wait for the spring thaw and germination of the seeds. Seems easy enough and it has the added bonus of using recyclable materials. We’ll see how it goes.
After purchasing potting soil, seed starter mix, seeds, and saving up some gallon milk jugs, I was ready to get the process started.
The first step is to cut the milk jugs in half with a sharp utility knife and poke several slits in the bottom for drainage.
Using a mixture of equal parts seed starter mix and potting soil, I put 3-4 inches of dirt in each container.
Here are all the mini-greenhouses waiting for seeds.
The soil needs to be well-moistened, a “muddy consistency” according to the article. I checked each container to make sure that the water was draining out the bottom.
Not surprisingly, I purchased way more seeds than I had room for in containers. I could hardly control myself at the nursery at all the seed choices of plants that I want to grow or multiply in my garden.
I decided to plant Delphinium, Oriental Poppy, Shasta Daisy and Foxglove with my first set of mini-greenhouses. After sowing the seeds according to the package directions, use clear duct tape to attach the top and bottom back together.
Set the mini-greenhouses out in the snow somewhere that gets plenty of sunlight, snow and rain. According to the article, I can just put my feet up now and let Mother Nature take over until spring, when the seedling appear and more holes will need to be added so that the plants don’t get overheated in the greenhouse. I’ll be amazed and thrilled if this process actually works. And if it does, I’ll start planning huge new perennial gardens and saving milk jugs much further in advance! Stay tuned.
February 23, 2010 · 5:46 pm
Last summer, I decided to give our daughter a kitten for her birthday. Both our dog and our cat were getting older and I thought it would be fun to have a young and lively kitten around for some entertainment. I found a kitten at the local animal shelter that I fell in love with and decided to adopt (another tabby). We named her Nina.
Nina is full of energy, playful, and loving.
She’s also a little weird. I had never seen a cat pant before Nina. She chases our Golden Retriever around relentlessly until she has to stop to take a break…and then she pants. Strange cat.
She also follows our other cat around and he does his best to ignore her.
At the animal shelter, they asked me if we had any other cats when I was filling out the paperwork to adopt Nina. I told them about our other cat, Tiger , who will be 10 years old this August. He was born to a stray cat at the farm the summer we purchased the property and is the only survivor from the litter. They warned me that “geriatric” cats sometimes have trouble adjusting to kittens and gave me some literature on helping him with the transition.
Geriatric? Did they really call Tiger a “geriatric” cat? How can he fall into this category already? It seems like just yesterday that he was a kitten.
I choose to describe Tiger much differently. Mature. Wise. Clever.
Regal. Aloof. Sophisticated.
Above all else, he is a loving cat who knows who he can rely on to sneak him into the warm house in the winter.
So, despite what others might say, Tiger is no “geriatric” cat in our book.
Filed under Animals
Tagged as aging cats, cats
February 22, 2010 · 12:56 pm
It was our understanding as beginning beekeepers that it was possible to winter our hive here in Minnesota so long as we took steps to help them through the harsh season. The first task was to provide the bees with sugar syrup (since we harvested most of their honey) for them to cure for their winter food store. We prepared the sugar syrup (a 2:1 ration of sugar to water) and put it into a feeder in the hive. It was still warm enough that the bees were active and they went to work curing the syrup.
As the cold weather set in, Jesse continued to prepare the hive by building an insulated hive cover to help keep the bees warm and block chilling winds.
Around the beginning or middle of December when Jesse checked on the bees, they were still alive and thriving in the winter cluster. According to our go-to beekeeping information source,“The Beekeeper’s Handbook” by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile, bees form a winter cluster in the late fall and winter that expands and contracts as the outside temperatures rise and fall. The bees remain active in the cluster and continue about their business. However, their activity continues to produce water vapors, which must be allowed to escape the hive.
After the extreme cold snap of weather that we experienced over the holidays, Jesse went to check once again on the bees. The scene was quite different this time when he removed the hive cover. Silence. No bees. No activity. Nothing.
With our limited knowledge and experience, we have concluded that the bees did not have adequate ventilation and that too much moisture built up inside the hive. Another possibile reason for the loss of the bees is those extreme holiday temperatures. In any event, despite our best efforts, we failed our bees.
We went out to the hive yesterday to take a closer look. After taking off the cover and lifting off the boxes, we saw the carnage.
All of our wonderful, hard-working bees…dead.
So we end of our first year as beekeepers with feelings of mixed success. We managed to make it through the summer and fall with no failures in the hive or diseases. Most importantly, we enjoyed a moderately successful honey harvest for our first year. After these successes, the loss of the honeybees this winter is quite disappointing.
Like all failures, however, there are lessons to be learned. Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby and we intend to continue our education and become more knowledgeable in all aspects of managing bees. We have already placed our order for two packages of honeybees to arrive some time in April. We will also be attending a one day course offered at the University of Minnesota on beekeeping in northern climates this spring. Hopefully our next year with honeybees will have a better ending than our first year!
Filed under Bees
Tagged as beekeeping, Bees, hive, winter
February 14, 2010 · 4:05 pm
I am definitely not a fan of winter, especially in Minnesota. It seems to go on forever. By the time February rolls around I am completely ready for it to be over. My impatience with winter grows each year that passes and I dream of living somewhere much warmer and milder some day. There are those moments, however, that the beauty of winter catches me by surprise and my negative view of winter softens…at least a little. Yesterday was one of those days. We had a light fluffy snow fall over night and the sun was shining bright in the morning. It was sparkly and magical looking outside with the snow glistening on the ground and in the trees. I decided to take my camera out and take some random shots of this winter wonderland. Soaking in the winter sunshine also does wonders for the spirit! Happy Valentine’s Day!!
A view of our hayfield behind the house.
Lonely Liatrus plant standing in the garden.
Undergrowth in the woods.
Oak leaves hanging on until spring.
A view towards the river.
Coneflower seed heads ready to burst.
Standing on the back deck.
February 12, 2010 · 10:58 am
After our first summer as beekeepers, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a moderately successful honey harvest. Jesse collected the full frames from the hive and we brought them into the house to start the messy process of extracting the honey from the comb. Using an electric uncapping knife, we sliced away the waxy caps of the honeycomb to allow the honey to drain out.
The hot knife cuts right through the wax. You can see it starting to ooze out already.
Furthering our investment in beekeeping equipment, we purchased a honey extractor from Mann Lake, Ltd. The extractor holds three frames. Once the frames are uncapped, we placed them into the extractor for spinning. We learned from a demonstration at the State Fair to only partially spin one side out and then turn the frames around and spin the other side out.
The extracted honey sits in the bottom of the drum until opening the drain valve. Passing through a double-strainer, the beautiful golden honey drained into a five-gallon bucket.
After finishing with the extraction process, we were ready to put our honey into containers. We ordered 25 of these great honey bottles from our favorite bee supply company.
The final total for our bees was in excess of 50 pounds of honey. Not too bad for beginners!
February 1, 2010 · 6:36 pm
The kids thought their dad was a little weird when he told them we were getting bees last spring. This came as no surprise to us because what kid doesn’t think their parents are weird at some point? Jesse originally thought he would focus on getting our youngest son involved with the bees as a special project they could do together. They checked on the hive together and Jesse shared with him all he was learning about bees through reading and talking with his bee mentor, Paul.
As the summer progressed, however, an interesting thing happened. The other two also became interested in working with the bees. Eventually, each time Jesse would say he was going out to check on the bees a discussion would ensue about whose turn it was to accompany him. We purchased a second beekeeper suit and they each took turns working the bees with their dad.
Smoking the bees encourages them to gorge on honey, which makes them calm. Calm bees are a good thing when you are pulling out frames to inspect.
Our youngest takes his turn.
Even our oldest, a genuine teenager and huge XBox 360 fan, wanted a turn working the bees. We couldn’t have been happier.
Brushing the bees off to get a better look at the frame. The bees are making good progress in capping the combs filled with honey.
And so the bees have turned into a family project. These amazing little creatures have attracted the interest of our teenagers enough to lure them outside and away from technology. For that, we are grateful.