Monthly Archives: January 2013

Stay Warm!

It was -4F outside this morning, with wind chills around -25F. Even colder temperatures are forecasted for this evening and into tomorrow morning. Brrrrrrr!!!!

Our robin continues to visit the crabapple tree every day for a snack and to just hang out.  Poor fellow must be cold, don’t you think?

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Wherever you are today, I hope you can stay warm!

Lynell

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Raised Beds and a New Blueberry Patch

For years, we have wanted to grow blueberries here on the farm.  Last spring we decided this was the year we were going to tackle that project and invest the time and money in establishing our very own blueberry patch.  Turning to one of my favorite resources for Minnesota gardening, the University of Minnesota Extension website, I found some great information on growing blueberries for home landscapes. (See article).

A little research about blueberries and their preferred growing conditions and we knew that they would not thrive, and may not even survive, in our soil conditions.  As I have mentioned before, our soil is heavy clay, with the exception of the area around the barn, and other areas like our front yard and perennial gardens where we have amended the soil.

Blueberries are acid-loving plants that enjoy soils with a pH of around 4.0 to 5.0 that are well-drained, loose, and high in organic matter.  My dad, who has spent much of his life farming, advised me that our clay soil, and even our areas with amended soil, would not have pH levels in that range.

Hoping that we could get by using a stockpile of rich organic soil stored behind our barn, we sent the soil in to be tested at the U of MN Soil Testing Facility.  We have done this before for our vegetable garden and perennial garden areas.  It is actually a very easy process and the report provides great information about the quality of your soil and recommendations for fertilizers or additions to enhance growing conditions for your intended use.

Just as my dad had predicted, the soil test report indicated that our pile of rich black dirt had a pH of around 7.0, which is far too neutral for blueberries.

Since my dad still owned a few acres of farm land, he suggested that we go load up some of the sandy soil from one of the parcels, even directing us to an area of the field that he thought would be more acidic.  Trusting that the soil would be closer to the required pH range, we decided we could make any necessary amendments to increase the acidity to the right levels.  So, we took him up on the offer and Jesse loaded up the skid steer and went to collect some dirt for our blueberries.  We piled the sandy soil outside our pole shed and took more samples to send in for testing to confirm that it was acidic enough.

While we waited for the soil results, Jesse went to work building us some raised beds for the blueberries.  He constructed two raised beds, measuring 4′ W x 16′ L x   16″H.

When our soil test came back, we were pleased to learn that the pH was in the low 5’s.  Knowing that we could go ahead with the planting, we moved the planters outside and I mulled over where to locate them.

After much deliberation, I decided we would place them along the south side of the fence surrounding our vegetable garden.  In addition to the delicious fruit they produce, blueberry plants are attractive plants that have pretty white blossoms in the spring and glossy green leaves in the summer, which turn a lovely red in the fall.  Predicted to reach heights of 36″ – 48″, I am hoping that as the bushes grow taller, their presence will soften the appearance of the massive white fence.

Seeking out cultivars that would thrive in our frigid climate, I ordered some bare-root plants through the mail and picked up some at a local nursery.  Anyone who has purchased bare-roots knows however, how pathetic and sad the little twigs look when you first get them.  I therefore opted to also buy a few potted plants from the nursery for some instant impact.

In total, I ended up planting the following:

10 Northblue (bare-roots ordered through the mail)

6 Northland (bare-roots from a local nursery)

2 Chippewa (potted plants from the nursery)

2 Superior (potted plants from the nursery)

Feeling some sticker shock at the high cost of blueberry plants (even the bare-root ones were as expensive as $10/ twig), we decided that we would plant some strawberries at the end of the planters to fill up the space.  After seeing how the blueberry plants do this coming season, we will decide whether we want to add more plants.

My pictures of the raised blueberry beds are from early in the season, shortly after planting.  The plants grew quite well over the summer, although we did lose a few of the pathetic bare-root plants that we ordered through the mail.  Some of the potted plants that we purchased even produced a few blueberries!

We mulched the blueberries last fall with a thick layer of pine needles, which are acidic.  We are anxious to see if the plants make it through the winter and how they do this growing season.  According to the experts, the flowers should be removed in the spring in the first two years after planting to encourage stronger vegetative growth.  After waiting this long for blueberries in our garden, I do want them to thrive, so I will grudgingly follow the advice and pinch off the flowers come spring time…at least on most of them.

In addition to being expensive, blueberry plants are extremely long-lived plants (30-50 years), so it is well worth it to plan carefully when establishing your blueberry patch.  We are hoping the research and time we put into creating our new blueberry patch will pay off and reward us with bountiful fruit over many years.

Lynell

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Back to Blogging?

Here I am again, with six months passing and no posts.  Time goes by so fast and life just seems to get in the way of sitting down at the computer to keep our blog updated.  It isn’t because nothing has gone on around here…our summer was just as busy as past ones.  So, since the holiday chaos has passed and the cold temperatures have me trapped indoors, I am feeling inspired to finish some posts about some of our projects around the farm last summer.

The funny thing about blogging is that it is easy to get hung up on putting together the perfect post with great pictures and clever writing.  I have to remind myself that the reason I started this blog was simply to share our experiences and to connect with others who have similar interests, and to create a history of our projects and improvements.  Keeping that in mind, I will just plow forward and try not to worry too much about the details, so bear with me.  🙂

We are well into winter here in Minnesota.  We have had several subzero days in the last week.  Even with the cold temperature and snow on the ground, there are some pretty sights  to behold on the farm.

Have I mentioned how much I love our barn???  No matter the time of year, it is one of the most charming parts of our landscape.

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But anyhow…back to last summer.  We enjoyed three separate home visits by our oldest, the West Point cadet.  He came home during his breaks from his summer military training and it was such a treat to have him around.  As you will see in upcoming posts, we put him to work and he helped us complete some fun projects.

We also had a roller-coaster of a summer with our bees.  After being so thrilled that we had successfully wintered our bees for the first time since starting beekeeping, we were devastated to discover that they had swarmed in May because we waited too long to divide the hives and they became too crowded.  The early spring and warm temperatures moved everything ahead and in our inexperience, we missed the signs that they were preparing to swarm.

All was not lost however, because when bees swarm they leave behind a portion of the worker bees along with new queen cells, one of which eventually becomes the new queen.  We observed the hives over the next few months and it appeared that things were back on track, they had a new queen, and were rebuilding their population.  Of course, the hives were not nearly as strong as they would have been had they not swarmed, but we knew we would still get a honey harvest.

The honey started flowing and the bees had built up a good amount of supers of honey.  Once again, our optimism for our honey harvest was shattered in October when Jesse went out to the hives to check on them and discovered they had been robbed!  Yes, hives can be robbed by feral bees.  All the frames that the bees had worked so hard to fill all summer long were stripped completely clean, as if they had never had a bit of honey in them.  The other unfortunate effect from robbing, is that the honeybees usually die in the process of defending their hive against the invaders.

Needless to say, we lost both hives of bees and only ended up with a very small amount of honey to harvest…another year of learning about all the things that can go wrong beekeeping.  We have just put in our order for two nucs of bees this spring.  We are not giving up; we’re just starting over again.

In the garden, we added two raised beds with blueberry plants, something we have wanted to do for some time.  More on that later…

My perennial garden, particularly my Echinacea (coneflower) plants were hit with yellow asters and I decided to pull every one of them out in trying to rid my garden of the disease.  I was a very sad gardener.

Our vegetable garden was very productive and we enjoyed fresh veggies for months on end.  We decided to forego any preserving this year and to just enjoy the bounty as it ripened.  Now that we are in the depths of winter, I am questioning that decision.  I think we will take the time to do at least a minimal amount this coming season.

Around the first of the year, the seed catalogs started arriving.  I have started pouring over them, marking pages, and making my wish list.  I plan to expand my winter sowing into some annuals and vegetables this spring and am anxious to get started.

DSC_0002Like every other gardening nut out there, I cannot wait to get back out into the gardens and start digging in the dirt.  In the meantime, I will share some of the projects we accomplished last summer.  To be continued…

Lynell

 

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Filed under Bees, Daily life, Miscellaneous