Terror on the Ground


I had 12 tons of breeze a.k.a. crusher fines delivered yesterday. I know, I never thought I’d be tackling that particular project again. I started installing the stone on the walkway outside the chicken run since that gets the most foot traffic, and with the recent rain, we’ve been tracking mud everywhere. I noticed while I was putting it down, the hens showed no interest in scratching around in it, and instead would give it a wide berth when going to and fro. Now that it goes right up to the door, they’re trapped in the run. They refuse to walk on it. Not even popcorn or watermelon will lure them out. Yes, this is almost the same exact stuff that was on the entire yard in Albuquerque. And yes,  I have carried them out and placed them on the new gravel to show them that it won’t hurt them. Yet, each one has immediately fled back into the safety of the run. At first I was amused, but their terror is so complete I’m starting to feel bad. And also, do they know something that I don’t? Meanwhile, two days ago a hawk swooped down on them, causing them to squawk and scurry under the shrubbery, but within 5 minutes they were roaming again, without a care in the world. I don’t get it.

Flora, Fauna and Fences

Apparently, despite my best intentions, I’m on the once per month posting schedule. Ooops. Fortunately, I have a steady stream of phone photos I can use to catch us up.

Since the last time I checked in, the new vegetable garden has grown by leaps and bounds.

Thanks to several cool (cold?) misty days, the Fall roots and greens are actually looking pretty lush right now. For the first time ever,  I’ve had success getting rutabaga and Daikon radish established mid-summer for Fall harvest.

I’ve already been pulling the Daikon thinnings as super peppery salad radishes. I guess that’s the trade-off for tomatoes that don’t ripen until mid-August. Speaking of tomatoes, I’ve harvested one Glacier tomato so far, with another one ready today. That’s it, but it looks like within the next week, several more varieties should start to ripen.

I finally have all the vegetable beds prepped. The ones that won’t be planted until the Spring get a cover of compost, paper and grass clippings, but the beds that are planted now, I dig in the compost. I have found that I don’t have a deep enough layer of compost on top for the no-dig method to work here when I want to plant immediately. Anyway, the last bed I prepped received the asparagus transplants I started from seed this Spring. They’ve been hanging around in nursery pots, and I wanted to get them into their permanent home in time to get established before the tops are frost killed. They look so fragile, but I’ve found they are surprisingly resilient.

I managed to get 11 plants into the ground which seems to be the right number for us, but I’ll probably start a few more from seed this winter in case I lose some plants over the winter.

Since I’m finally caught up on the most pressing vegetable garden tasks, I’ve been able to tackle the garden infrastructure. Living in a less densely developed area, with water nearby, means there’s a wide variety of critters that visit the garden. Many of them, like this gorgeous toad that passed through the other day,

or the awesome mantis,

 

are always welcome. However, other creatures are welcome on a more provisional basis.

For instance, this super-cute scampering friend, nicknamed Bunz,

 

was starting to make a habit out of helping me weed the vegetable garden every morning. This was the incentive I needed to finally find the time to install the rabbit fencing. Fortunately I had help, so I was able to get all the lodgepole pine posts set and the welded wire rabbit fence installed, in about 2 days worth of work. I trenched along the perimeter so we were able to set the bottom of the fence about three inches below grade. That won’t stop determined digging, but should deter casual attempts at tunneling under.

I sealed all the posts prior to setting them. Also, we used an auxiliary metal post, ratchet strap and two 2×4 scraps bolted together to tension the fencing before attaching it to the posts. That worked pretty well and I’m quite pleased with the results.
I still need to secure the chain link perimeter and build a couple of gates, but for now, Bunz and all the other rabbit friends, have been staying out of the vegetable garden.

With the fencing installed, I began to pay attention to the inner voice nagging me about how quickly Autumn is approaching. Given that the first Fall frost is probably not too far off, I’ve started installing low tunnel hoops.

I was never very fond of the pvc hoops I used in Albuquerque, so this time around, I’m using 1/2″ EMT. I ordered a 4′ pipe bender, as well as some plastic clips, greenhouse plastic and two weights of fabric row cover to get started. Right now, I have hoops and some old shade cloth over the greens that will be under plastic this winter. I will put fabric row cover over the hardier fall greens and roots, and I will also cover the tomatoes and peppers in a few weeks to provide a bit of season extension. I’ve noticed on my walks around the neighborhood, some folks grow the warm weather crops under cover all summer. Even though we have plenty of searing hot summer days, I think the cool nights slow everything down. I might give that a try next year. Also, next year I will also get a lightweight row cover up over all the Brassicas before they get nibbled to a nub by cabbage moth larva. That’s the other benefit to segregating crop families in the new garden. I will be able to cover the leaf crops without worrying about hindering the pollination of fruiting crops. There are so many new experiments to try – I’m already looking forward to next Spring.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Poking My Head Up

Please forgive my long absence. This has been a crazy summer. A few days after my last post in early July, we finally began the final phase of house renovation: new windows and exterior doors, new roof, interior plaster and floor patches, interior paint, exterior insulation, stucco, and solar panels. The project is about 75% complete – the interior work is done, now we’re just waiting for a break in monsoon season so the exterior work can be completed. Fortunately, this time around, the project is not DIY, however, there’s been the chaos that is to be expected when every room of your home is touched by construction. And, to pile on the chaos, in the middle of it all, I underwent a medical procedure and was required to take it easy for the 6 week recovery. We’re just starting to regain a bit of composure and balance, and now that I can lift and dig, I’m starting to work on getting caught up with the garden.

I had to relocate or remove about 25% of my vegetable garden in July, to provide access to the back of our house, so this hasn’t been the most productive year for homegrown vegetables. However, even with the disruption, we’re harvesting a pretty good vegetable supplement every day. Also, this was the first year for a real fruit harvest: 5 pounds of grapes which I converted to raisins, and about 10 pounds of peaches. The last pound or two are still on the tree, but so far I’ve made a small batch of jam, frozen some, baked some into a galette, and eaten quite a few with my morning yogurt and muesli.

As I alluded earlier, we’ve had a somewhat unrelenting monsoon season, which is quite welcome, despite the construction delays. As a result, the yard is quite verdant (a.k.a weedy) and it’s been a good year for spotting garden visitors. This morning, while I worked, there was quite an assortment of birds keeping me company. Besides the usual throng of house sparrows, I spotted a Curved-bill Thrasher: pks_3621A Lesser Goldfinch (his mate was here too):

lesser goldfinch

and, of course, a Roadrunner: pks_3628Oh, and I almost forgot the big news. We have fresh backyard eggs again! Dora started laying a few weeks ago, at the very young age of 20 weeks, and Iris laid her first egg yesterday. Meanwhile, Lemmy is still showing no interest at all in the nest box.

 

Odds and Ends

I’ve been meaning to post on various topics for the past 10 days, but things are so hectic here I haven’t had a chance to pull out the camera to snap any decent shots. So, instead, here’s an update based on whatever photos I can find on my phone.2016-05-15 10.00.07
2016-05-15 15.59.33

The new coop is finally done enough (I still need to  build the storm hatches and nest boxes) that we could relocate the six-week-old pullets yesterday.  I’ve moved Ezzie in with them and she seems pleased to have the company, although there was a bit of growling and gentle pecking at first. The little ones have no sense of personal space, of course,  and it took her a while to teach them that pecking food debris out of her mutton chops is definitely not allowed. Meanwhile, the two Wyandottes are all out of sorts about the addition. They kvetched non-stop all day yesterday, to the point that someone (not me, of course) may have threatened them with the stew pot.2016-05-15 13.08.56

The garden is very full and starting to produce small bits of new interesting things. The cool weather greens are starting to wilt in the mid-afternoon heat, despite the shade cloth, so it’s time to start pulling the turnips and mustard greens, whether they’re ready or not. Yesterday I pinched off a handful of shallot scapes (I think this is the first time the French Red shallots have sent up bloom stalks) which, along with a bundle of herbs and a handful of fresh fava beans, made a great pesto. I’ve been snagging an occasional snap pea snack, with the shelling peas only about a week away from the first harvest. Also, I took advantage of the grape vines needing a bit of a trim, and used the nice big tender leaves I scavenged for a small batch of dolmas (the veggie version, typically served chilled). I followed Claudia Roden’s recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and they were, hands down, the best dolmas I’ve eaten, due in part, I think, to the fresh grape leaves.2016-05-15 16.14.05

Finally, here’s a progress shot of the “giant asparagus” from 2 days ago: 2016-05-14 08.54.39Makes the Jack and the Beanstalk story seem totally viable, no?

When Did this Happen?

 

PKS_8745

Is is just me, or has Less is More taken a turn towards the picturesque this year? Maybe its the addition of the beehives. Or that all the vegetables have gone to seed. Despite it being a little too quaint for my taste (why did I select so many pastel colors, I wonder?), it’s strangely satisfying, particularly in the low light of evening, to look out across the little urban farm-lette. It’s taken a while for things to look and feel established in this water-saving, barely irrigated garden, but I think we’re finally getting there. It sort of sneaks up on ya, though –  know what I mean?

Bee Ready

The first Less is More top bar hive is complete, minus the honeybees:

PKS_8103

I spread the work over two weekends, in between other chores, but I think it took me about half of one day to cut and assemble the box out of 1×10 and rip one 1×10  into 1-3/8″ strips for the top bars.

PKS_8106

A second day was spent cutting and attaching the 1/2″ splines to the top bars, building the lid, assembling a follower board, painting the exterior, and brushing melted beeswax onto some of the top bars. The resulting hive is 44″ long, and accommodates 30 1 3/8″ x 18 1/2″ top bars. There’s an entrance on opposite sides of each end (one of which will be closed up before installing the package) in case I ever need to house two colonies in one box.

PKS_8109

Prior to building the full size hive, I put together a 7 frame nuc box. I’m not a very good finish carpenter, so I wanted to learn any lessons on the small scale prototype, before I tackled the full size box. Fortunately, thanks to years of diy renovation work, there’s a garage full of tools that made the project go fairly smoothly. The miter saw, table saw, jig saw, drill, driver, and brad nailer were key.

I’d still like to build a second hive, in case I’m lucky enough to catch a swarm. It seems the consensus is you really need to run more than one hive at a time  so you can learn by comparing the colonies. Also, with multiple colonies, you increase the odds of surviving the winter with at least one healthy colony that can be used to repopulate the apiary, if necessary.

Anyway, after scurrying around like a fiend to complete the hive on Sunday, I learned the arrival of the bees will be delayed. Wet weather in CA will prevent the bee breeder from packaging until the end of the week. Looks like it will be 6 or 7 days until the bees reach NM.