“I love it when a plan comes together”

Twelve weeks ago, when we were running around trying to find the box that contained our coffee mugs, it seemed complete folly for me to insist on a summer garden this year. However, thanks to my stubbornness and some seriously tired muscles, we are actually on the cusp of eating from the yard. Hallelujah! My first summer squash plant has started blooming, which means we’re only a few days away from a wave of squash.

There are also some heads of lettuce ready to be harvested, and pretty much all of the tomatoes have started to set tiny green tomatoes. I still have a few vegetable garden beds to build, but, in the meantime, I’ve started sowing the fall crops: beets, carrots, rutabagas, etc.

Its kind of crazy the amount of area I’m able to plant: 12 sf of carrots, 6 sf of beets… Did I mention I planted 14 tomato plants this year? In total, I’ve laid out 768 sf of beds for annual vegetables, and I am planning an additional area for perennials.

In contrast to the inter-planted chaos I preferred in Albuquerque, this time around, I’m planning on a more structured and segregated system. I’d like to be able to rotate crops to ensure that there are two years between repeats of crop families to (hopefully) keep pests and disease from taking hold. I’ve laid out 6 pairs of 4′ x 16′ beds and each year the planting plan will move up one pair of beds, so plants in Pair 1 will move up Pair 2, and so on. Of course, it will take a few years for me to dial in how much of each vegetable I should grow, and of course there are always last minute impulse purchases to be tucked in here or there, but for the most part, I’m actually looking forward to having a predetermined plan each year. I based the rotation around the nightshade plants, since what we’ll be growing in the greatest quantity. This year, the tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and eggplant are in Pair 1, and if I had gotten an earlier start, potatoes and more peppers would be in Pair 4. I did some reading on which crops seemed to do better after others, and put pencil to paper until I seemed to have a workable sequence:

Oh, and as an aside, do you see all that corn?

 

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Microcosm

One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is to grab my camera and walk around the yard looking for interesting stuff to photograph. These photographic yard expeditions are a lot more about poking around in the garden and seeing than producing any sort of outcome with merit, however, I think one of the main reasons I started Less is More was to justify the exercise by creating a place to post the resulting images. Unfortunately, while I’ve been spending tons of time outside recently, I haven’t been spending much time hunkered down, looking closely. Its a shame, because there’s always so much to see. Today, I finally took advantage of a cool, cloudy morning, hunted down my macro lens, and started wandering. After checking out the vegetable garden, the beehives and the front flower garden, I spotted the first flower on the self-sown sunflowers along the driveway, and decided to investigate. No bees had found the new bloom yet, but there was an entire world of insect activity on this one small plant. I must have spent 10 minutes watching all the tiny creatures. I tried to snap a photo of each type I spotted:

Insects are so cool. I never understand why folks are so eager to kill all of them.

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Almost 10 Weeks

I can’t believe a month has passed (already?) since I last checked in. The weeks are flying by. Most days my schedule devolves into chaos as I bounce between items on my “to do” list:  establish a vegetable garden, build a predator proof chicken run, unpack all the boxes, build new hives for the expanding apiary, and maintain the gardens and pasture that are already here . . .

However, I think I have finally gotten the upper hand (if we ignore the 18″ tall dandelion patch gone to seed in the front pasture/meadow), and can take a bit of a breather before diving in again.

The vegetable garden is planted with the summer vegetables (minus the giant beds of potatoes and New Mexico chiles that I’ll hopefully grow in future years),

so now I can spend some time working on the rest of the yard before prepping the beds that will be planted with the fall crops.  I still have lots of perennials and shrubs looking for a permanent dirt home, so as soon as the record-setting heat wave is over, I plant to start weeding and expanding the ornamental garden beds.

The 8′ x 16′ chicken run is pretty much complete, although I believe someone was talking about tricking it out with some additional roosts, and a dust bathing area.

The next improvement in Chickenland will be a new coop. I’m planning on building a 6′ x 8′ shed, half for chickens, half for supplies and garden tools. My plan is to start building at the end of August, with the goal of completing it by mid/late September (before the first snowstorm).

In the meantime, I’ve been busy in the workshop building new beehives. I thought I was off the hook for the year, as I ended up combining the colony temporarily housed in a nuc box with my other swarm that lost their queen. However, a few weeks ago, the colony that cast off those swarms back in April started building queen cells again. Before I was able to do a divide, they sent out two swarms. The first swarm was a giant swarm with the existing queen, and the second was a much smaller swarm with a virgin queen.

Fortunately I was able to capture both swarms, so now I have 5 colonies on site.

The large swarm is housed in a new hive I hastily built. They’ve already built comb on 12 bars and have filled much of those with brood. The small swarm is rapidly filling the nuc box which holds 7 bars. No signs of egg laying yet, but there is partial comb on all the bars. I’m debating between building another horizontal topbar hive or trying to super the nuc box with a small top bar box. I have about a week to decide and build.

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Plants in the Ground!

Work is progressing on operation Lawn Be Gone. With the assistance of chickens, of course. Earlier this week, I had 5 cubic yards of compost delivered, and I’m gradually prepping planting beds. The soil is even finer, denser clay than that in Albuquerque. I didn’t know that was even possible. The soil has been so wet, I haven’t been working it other than removing the grass. However, we finally had a few sunny days in a row, so yesterday I was able to work some of the compost in (right now it’s mostly serving as mulch) and get my first few edible plants in the ground. I transplanted a small patch of greens: and most of the herb garden: There’s a lot more to go,but today I’m going to take a break from digging to work on getting some temporary fencing in place to protect the vegetables from the chicken scratching and ravenous bunnies.

Posted in Gardening

Four Egg Days

For the past three weeks, several times per week, I find three eggs in the hens’ nest box and one up in the coop. Yes, six year old, “Bigfoot” Ezzie is laying eggs regularly. Since becoming sick, she has occasionally laid an egg or two, but never like this. Despite the less-than-ideal living quarters they’re currently inhabiting, all the hens seem to enjoy the new spread, but especially Ezzie. Whenever I open the coop doors, she leaps into my arms to receive an airlift down onto the grass. I’m a little nervous about a hawk snagging her (the hawks here are impressively large) so she doesn’t get out as much as she’d like, but she does get out most days to peck the dirt, nibble on the grass and take a sunbath. This is a fairly common pose:

Since I don’t have a very good setup for the hens right now, against my better judgement, I’ve been allowing them to free range within the fenced backyard when I’m at home. I will say, their feed consumption has decreased dramatically with all the worms and grubs they are able to scratch up. However, three different neighbors have told me stories of losing their entire flock to coyotes or foxes, so I’m working on building a large, secure run to keep them safe.

Its been slow going, as I’ve been trying to fit the work in between other commitments. Digging to bury the perimeter hardware cloth was the slowest part of the construction, but now that I’ve completed that portion, attaching the framing and wire fencing is going more quickly. When the run is complete, I will move the current mobile coop inside, to keep them safer at night, while I work on building a proper, winter-worthy coop. You know, something that keeps out horizontal snow.

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Flash Forward . . .

. . . and it is snowing again. Although, in the intervening two weeks, we’ve had all the various iterations of weather: hot and sunny, cold and windy, rain, thunder, lightening, sleet and hail. Lots of hail. It’s been a fairly comprehensive introduction to Front Range weather. When the sky allows, I’ve been outside, wrangling with the dirt. I have zero patience to take it slow. I want instant garden. I admit, that’s not really a practical approach. Normally, I advise design clients to take their time, live in a house and yard for a while to get a feel for the new place. But, I’ve never been good at following my own advice. Plus, I missed most of last year’s summer garden due to the various disruptions, and I don’t want to forgo another year. So, I’ve started digging.

Actually, I broke down and rented a power tool for a day; I tackled a significant portion of the back yard with a gas powered sod cutter. Yes, it was loud, polluting and stinky; a crazy shaking beast to steer; and I was just barely strong enough to set it up and wrestle it from one spot to the next. The end result is not a tidy row of rolled sod as you would see on a professional job. Instead I’m left with lots of missed strips and some areas not cut at all due to the uneven ground and grass length I was working with. Most of the cut sod is still laying where it was cut because I just didn’t have the strength and stamina to move it as it was cut. Also, the belt on the cutter slipped with about an hour of cutting to go, so I returned it before completing the job and just couldn’t bring myself to schlep another one home to finish the work. However, even with all that, it was worth it to get as much sod removed as possible in the shortest amount of time. I’m still well ahead of where I’d be if I were removing the grass by hand. Yeah, ideally I would have sheet mulched over the grass for a year to build great soil for future gardens, but please refer to my earlier statement regarding lack of patience. However, all of the cut sod is staying on site. I’m flipping some of it over and using the strips to raise grade where appropriate. The rest of it will be relocated to my compost piles.

Now that the sod is cut, I’m starting to delineate planting beds, fence lines and future patio areas. There’s a ton of work ahead, but I’m tackling the most critical areas first: I’ve edged and dug the herb garden (the half-circle area in the above photo), and started on the vegetable beds. I’m hoping to bring in a couple of loads of compost and manure next week, so, you know, if it stops snowing, I can start transplanting my stockpile of plants. I have a considerable collection of plants waiting for a home. I have several batches of vegetable seedlings I started prior to the move and drove up here. There are all the herbs, perennials and shrubs I mined from the Albuquerque garden. There are also the plants I purchased here. I took a day off last week to attend the Denver Botanic Garden plant sale. There was a great variety of plants for sale, and I was able to procure a good selection of both perennials and annuals. There were a few things that I didn’t find at the sale, of course, so I took a field trip to Boulder over the weekend to check out Harlequin’s Garden – a great small nursery that smells like dirt and flowers, not that chemical odor prevalent at so many garden centers. It is a bit of a drive, but worth it. Ok, well, there’s a lot more to catch up on, but don’t worry, with another snow day in the forecast for tomorrow (sigh), I might actually have some time at my desk again.

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This is why …

… the safe planting date isn’t until mid-May. I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around the much shorter frost free growing season here.  Although, actually, I believe Albuquerque saw some flurries today, so I’m sure many folks were scrambling to cover the tomatoes.

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First Things First

I’m checking in quickly via cell phone because my computer is still in pieces on the floor of my new office. Hands down, this was the most disorganized and physically grueling of my household moves. Partially because this is the first time I was moving critters, gardening stuff and a complete garage workshop, but also because we were simultaneously trying to complete home repairs to make sure we were handing off the house to renters in good working condition.
Anyway, by the skin of our teeth, we exited Albuquerque and have started to settle in here in Arvada. The first priority was setting up the beehives. The apiary is a little ad hoc right now, but the bees seem happy. Loading them into our truck camper to get them up here was fun. First off, you’ll notice 3 hives and a nuc box in the above photo. The colony I split sent out 2 swarms with virgin queens the week before the move. Fortunately both swarms clustered nearby, one in my vegetable garden,  the other in my neighbor’s juniper tree. Of course I collected the swarms, so we ended up loading more boxes than we had anticipated. Also, it had been a warm day before the move and the bees bearded on the hive entrances for most of the night. I had to get up in the wee hours of the morning to screen over the entrances, but by the time we loaded the hives, each entrance had collected a small beard of foragers that had been out overnight and were returning first thing. We ended up with quite a large number of loose bees in the camper, which seemed to alarm other motorists. Apparently one passing car passenger held up a sign “bees in truck”.

Unfortunately, I missed that humorous moment as I was driving up with chickens in the back of the Subaru Forester. I was convinced that this was going to be a nightmare, but it ended up being fine. I created a well-lined 3′ x 4′ enclosure in the back of the car complete with the normal feeder and nipple waterer. I draped shade cloth over the whole thing so they’d stay cool and maybe be convinced by the dim light that it was bedtime. Honestly, they were so terrified they just huddled in the corner in a chick pile for most of the 7 hours, although Iris did lay an egg towards the end of the trip. Anyway, the 7 hour, skull-splitting bawking fest I had anticipated did not come to pass. For now, things are still a bit disheveled in chicken-land as I prep to build the predator-proof run. However, the hens are in love with their first lawn-side living experience.

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Frenzied

As predicted, with only ten days to go before we depart LessisMore south for, literally, greener pastures, things are super hectic. To make things even more complicated, I’ve been mining my existing gardens for plants to transplant into the large, mostly grass, yard in my future. I’ve been dividing as many herbs as I can, while also digging out seedlings and extra native perennials and shrubs.

In the meantime, I also have a honeybee split to keep an eye on. Due to my travel plans, I ended up making the split under less than ideal conditions. I didn’t feel like they were quite ready, but also didn’t want to chance losing a swarm while I was gone. So I split, and as it turns out, I think everyone is doing well. I couldn’t find the queen when I did the split, so ended up pulling out 12 combs of mostly capped brood and wet nectar, but also some younger brood, and a couple of combs with queen cups. I pulled 12 bars total, and left 16 in the original hive. I opened that hive when I returned, eleven days later, and was pleased to see uncapped larvae, and then, of course, no surprise, the queen. The split seems content. They’re expanding and the queen still has a nice even laying pattern. In the meantime, I think a new queen has successfully hatched in the old hive – I spotted what looked like the discarded tip of a queen cup dragged out onto the landing board two days ago. I did a very quick partial inspection of that hive when I returned, as well, and saw, three bars from the front, a cluster of capped queen cups, supercedure-style, on the lower edge of a comb. I didn’t inspect past that point, to see if there were more, but I was happy to see at least a few capped cups. Although, given that they were clustered in that one spot confirms my hunch that I was a few days too early with the split, and the preexisting queen cups were not yet occupied. Instead, the bees had to up-size some existing larvae cells when I stole their queen. I’ve been keeping close tabs on the hive to see if they decide to cast out a virgin queen swarm despite the split. The hive is still bustling with activity. Every afternoon the two colonies send out the new foragers on an orientation flight around 2 pm, and there is quite an impressive cloud of bees in the air:

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Ready, Set, Go

Welcome to Spring. My apologies for disappearing again. A few weeks after I last posted in November, I was thrown another curve ball when Non-Gardener came home from a trip to California and asked “How do you feel about moving to Denver?” December was spent answering that question. Even though I love living in Albuquerque, and the timing is not great (it would have been nice to enjoy a full year of living with insulation, good windows and solar power), I am a big fan of change (and projects, I guess), so, we are indeed moving to Colorado, although not Denver proper. Our initial intent was to find a property in Denver similar to what we have now: a house just large enough to accommodate two home offices in a walk-able neighborhood with just enough yard for a small vegetable garden and a beehive or two. Unfortunately, January is not a great time of year to look for property, and it soon became clear we were not going to find the holy grail house during our window of opportunity. Instead, we ended up fixating on a house that was almost the complete opposite of what we thought we wanted. A suburban split-level house on a full acre of land that requires a 5 mile drive to get anywhere. Ugh, I hate having to drive all the time, but, did you catch that? An entire acre of land. And it’s zoned for “country estates”, which means livestock is allowed. The neighbors have alpaca and sheep, there are goats further down the road, and there are enough chickens in the hood that my noisy birds won’t stand out. Yes, as it turns out, the chickens are moving to Colorado too.

 And the honeybees.Yeah, I’m not a big fan of trucking bees around the country, but. . . I want to hit the ground running, and the colony that moved into my empty hive last year is tremendous. They’ve been actively foraging for a month already (in early February they were already returning to the hive with pollen) and when I opened the hive this morning for the first time this year, they were already building comb on the last empty bar before the follower board, which means they are currently occupying 20 bars. Yes, they’ve almost filled the hive in March. Of course, they’re also starting to build queen cells. I will be keeping close tabs on them for the next few weeks, and I’m prepping my empty hives to receive splits. Based on my previous experience, it looks like I’ll be splitting the hive in about 10 to 14 days, so the new queen(s) should be hatched and mated before we move in early April. Yes, I know, this sounds totally insane: splitting my hives, so I have more living creatures to move or re-home. On the other hand, opening the hive today and seeing all those healthy bees spill out was a very welcome sight, particularly in the current environment in which good news is a rare commodity. By the way, there is nothing like the hummmbuzzz of a healthy, active bee yard to buoy the mood.

Anyway, despite being a little overwhelmed sorting out the moving logistics, I will try to be a bit more present here in this space. I thought about shutting down Less is More, but the journal has been an invaluable resource for me, and maybe, occasionally, it helps someone else too. And now with a new project on the horizon, I will have a lot of lessons-learned-the-hard-way to share. I’ve been reading and watching videos, and I’m already sketching ideas for the new place. Did you know that Arvada, CO receives an average of 18″ of annual precipitation? Twice the rainfall almost makes up for losing 60 days of frost free growing.

 

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