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.

 

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.

Breakfast Buffet

I’m afraid a prying mantis has discovered that the beehive entrance is good hunting territory.

PKS_2231Figures, with all the insects available to eat in the yard, the mantis prefers honeybees.

Always Something New

What a great gardening year! My apologies to the smoldering Northwest, but I think we have a little bit of your weather. The slightly cooler, slightly damper, atypical summer in New Mexico has been a nice reprieve. And the plants are happy. This is a pretty good morning harvest for the end of July: PKS_2045 I’ve also been harvesting carrots and leeks. Stuff that’s usually far gone for me this time of year. Oh, and look at the pretty eggplant: PKS_2002 The critters are also out in full force. I’ve been seeing some larger raptors in the ‘hood – larger than the usual hawks, as well as lots of tiny little creatures too. Look at this pretty crab spider:PKS_2036 There’s a bee back there too:PKS_2040Speaking of bees, the two small colonies with new queens are slowly building up. Here’s a photo of a comb from H002-1:

PKS_2027Recently a friend was asking me about inspecting my hives and how I am able to identify the queen. I explained how she looks different, and also moves differently. When I see her, it’s usually the movement that catches my eye first, then the confirmation of the different size and color. You can see the queen in H002-1 at the very bottom right of the photo above. Most of the time I don’t worry too much if I don’t see her, so long as there are signs of her in the hive. Although it is always nice when I do catch sight of her, just as extra confirmation, and yesterday I found myself looking very closely for a queen when I was inspecting H001-1, my queen-right split. I was almost done with the inspection when I had a nagging suspicion that something wasn’t quite right. Then it dawned on me that while I had seen a lot of capped brood, I hadn’t seen any young, uncapped larvae. I quickly went back for a second look. Not only was there very little uncapped brood, but what there was, looked like this: PKS_2031Two larvae in one cell – a classic sign of laying workers. I have no idea what happened to the queen ( I never did see her). This is the hive that has the other split at the back. I noticed the follower board hadn’t been well seated after the last inspection and bees seemed to be squeezing through, back and forth. I wonder if the pheromones from the young queen interfered with the front colony. I have no idea if the old queen died, was killed or took off with a swarm. However, since it looked like there was already communication happening between the colonies, I took out the follower board and placed a piece of paper between the colonies as a very penetrable barrier – hopefully the two colonies will become one in a few days without any violence. There’s always something new and fascinating to observe when I open the hives. You know, I never had any inkling that beekeeping might be my avocation, but I’m beginning to suspect that I will I could easily spend the next few decades learning from the hives.

Tomato Season!

It’s officially tomato season here!PKS_1958

The Punta Banda tomatoes have been ripening – the first harvest was about 10 days ago, and a slow trickle of small ripe tomatoes has followed. I also harvested the first Nichols Heirloom yesterday. As always, you’ll notice most of the plants have yellow leaves towards the inside and bottom of the plants. This year, I’m pretty sure all the damage has been caused exclusively by these guys:PKS_1984Do you need a closer look:
PKS_1984-2Yup, spider mites. They seem to do the most damage to the bean, tomato and cucumber plants (you can see all the little yellow spots from their sucking). This year, I’ve been trying to spray the plants with the hose every couple of days, in the evening. That seems to be keeping things somewhat in check, as in lots of plants are showing damage, but none have totally succumbed. Things are a little bit worse right now since I was out of town for over a week and the garden was left to its own devices. Fortunately it has been relatively humid and rainy, which I think helps, as the mite population seems to decrease as monsoon season builds. Mostly, I’m just trying to keep the plants happy and growing, so they can overcome any damage and keep producing.

There They Are

After spending 20 minutes picking potato beetle eggs and larvae off of my tomatillo plants (btw, I think that tomatillos would make a great potato beetle trap crop, as the beetles totally ignore my potato plants in favor of the tomatillos), I decided to go looking for a more rewarding larva interaction:

PKS_1771I’ve seen lots of swallowtail butterflies around lately, and finally, some offspring have hatched out on the fennel.

Insectarium

PKS_1735There are lots of critters hanging around Less is More right now. Some don’t stay long – as soon as this swallowtail was warm and dry, I lifted the bird netting so it could escape and flitter away. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if I soon spot some caterpillars chomping away on the bronze fennel. Meanwhile, others insects will make themselves at home far longer than they are welcome. Hard to believe this tiny little creature, dwarfed by a garlic leaf, will soon be a giant menace:PKS_1698Fortunately the roadrunners like to snack on these guys. Soon I’ll need to start lifting up the bird netting every day so the predators can go to work.

 

Fritillarying Away My Time

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People think I’m nuts for watering the garden by hand when the rain barrels are full (it’s been a weird rainy spring, which means the barrels are full!), but one of the reasons I’m happy to do it, is it gives me a very good excuse to spend lots of time in the garden. Spending time in the garden means I get to enjoy all the benefits, like watching a fritillary decide whether she prefers blanket flower or chocolate flower for breakfast. Chocolate flower seemed to win out, of course!

Intoxicating

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This time of year, when I need a break from whatever I’m doing, I like to wander around the front yard and peer into cactus flowers. There’s always something happening inside – usually what’s happening is a bee, wallowing. They’re always covered in pollen and look as if they’re drunk on nectar.