And just like that

it’s Autumn.

I went out of town for a week. When I departed, it was still unseasonably hot and dry here. By the way, I think unseasonable is an adjective that I probably need to stop using, because unseasonable is the new climate change norm, right? Anyway, I returned to full-on gloom. We’re in the middle of an entire week of cold drizzle. I’m trying to embrace the change – we certainly need the rain, and the fall roots and greens are drinking it up and growing like mad.

 

However, no matter how many cold-hardy greens I plant, I get anxious when I contemplate the long cold season ahead. I figure we’re about two or so weeks from the first frost, and then it will be mid-May until I can set out the 2018 batch of summer annuals. Seven months. Eeek. I also become nervous when I think about the effect of the long winter on the honeybees. There’s not much in bloom right now, and they’ll need to rely on their stored honey for food, and for hive thermal mass, until March. I’m thinking each colony needs to occupy 18-20 bars going into Winter. My youngest colony was only half that size a month ago, so I gave them two bars of honey from another hive, and I started feeding them sugar water. Additionally, I participated in the Mite-a-thon a few weeks ago and conducted the sugar shake test on my two oldest hives. My mite count came in at 6 and 9 mites/100 bees. Very concerning, but I have not yet decided if I will treat. Most of the treatments seem to succeed primarily in creating treatment-resistant mites. Ideally, I’d really like to work on creating a mite-resistant apiary, which may mean rebuilding with hygienic honeybee genetics through re-queening or capturing new feral survivor swarms. My current colonies seem to contain some Russian honeybee genetics due to their dark coloring, tendency to build up quickly and love of swarming. I’m hoping at least a couple of colonies will successfully overwinter, despite the mites, due to the winter-efficiency of Russian honeybees, and that the long break in the brood cycle (all the colonies but the youngest have already dramatically decreased the amount of brood they are raising) will help lower the mite load. I guess that’s one benefit of the long winter nectar dearth. I’m also considering adding some screened bottoms to the hives to give the bees a hand at eliminating the mites if they already have some grooming instincts. If I do treat, it will be within the next two weeks while it’s still warm enough to open the hives. With very little capped brood in the comb, most of the mites will at least be vulnerable to treatment if I decide to go that route. Decisions, decisions.

Meanwhile, I’m scrambling to catch up on post-vacation garden chores, and to keep up with preserving giant harvest coming in from the garden right now. I came home to plants laden with ripe tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles and squash.

 

Also, another reminder that soon I will be clearing out my summer vegetable beds: my planting garlic order arrived yesterday. Since I left all my garlic in the ground in Albuquerque, I’m starting from scratch with new varieties this year. I selected a mix of hardneck and softneck varieties that seemed likely to put up with both wet/cold and hot/dry. It will be fun to see which do well here.

 

Another Random Recap

Once again, the only thing I have to share is the random collection of photos that have collected on my phone. 2016-06-24 19.25.10As you can see, Dora, Lemmy and Iris have become horribly spoiled. Technically, there’s a no chickens on the table rule, however, somehow, it’s suddenly not being enforced. I really need to rectify that situation. This photo was taken last week, when they were 12 weeks old, and you can see they are looking quite grown up. Their voices are changing- no more peeping and squeaking. Instead, there’s lots of croaking while they hone their grown up cluck.

I’m still enjoying the front yard totem: 2016-07-06 10.04.11This time of year, breakfast and lunch are usually enjoyed on the cool, north-facing, front porch, and the popularity of the totem ensures there’s lots of mealtime entertainment. And finally, it’s truly summer. The first small tomatoes started ripening last week.2016-06-24 18.17.04As is typical for the Less is More garden, the pretty pink Nichols Heirloom tomatoes have been the first to ripen, with the Amy’s Apricot and Punta Banda following close behind.

Bath Time

Today was a big day for the three week old chicks! I expanded the brooder enclosure out the garage door, and Ezzie and I babysat the chicks during their first exposure to the big scary outside world. It took about 10 minutes for the bravest chick (Dora) to set foot into the expanded universe, but once the first chick crossed the threshold, everyone turned brave and there was lots of running back and forth. Lemmy took advantage of the patch of gravel to enjoy her first real dust bath:

The chicks will probably remain in the garage brooder for another week or two, with more excursions into the driveway. Having a nice big brooder box means I can delay moving them outside. In the past, when I had much less brooder space, I felt like I had to rush the chicks outside before it was ideal. Of course, moving them into the outside coop is contingent on me actually finishing the construction of the new coop. The process has dragged on for a lot longer than I anticipated due to lots of cool, rainy, windy weather and lots of other demands on my time. Spring is always so hectic. I did manage to get the tomato plants in the ground last week: PKS_3346But I was a few days late getting the garden beds covered with bird netting. Once again, my peas were trimmed significantly:

PKS_3350Fortunately nothing other than aphids seem to find fava foliage tasty:PKS_3347
I’ve been managing my fruit crop by thinning the crop of newly formed peaches and pinching off the extra shoots on the grape vines. I pruned the fruit trees and vines back in February – I’m still not super confident in my fruit management techniques, but thanks to the wealth of Extension publications, I feel like I’m slowly learning. I still need to make a second pass at thinning. It’s easier for me to thin twice. It’s hard to have the discipline to remove enough of the fruit the first time around.PKS_3359
Given all the work required to get the edible plants sorted out this time of year, I’m happy that the front yard can cruise along on its own, without much interference from me. Lots of stuff has started to bloom and we’re only a couple of weeks from the full-on riot of spring color:PKS_3357PKS_3354PKS_3351PKS_3348

Growing Up Quickly

PKS_3332These guys are definitely ready to go in the ground.

Oh, wait a minute, you thought I meant these guys are growing up quickly:

Yup, them too. Soon I’ll need to add a lid to the brooder as clearly they’re already practicing for liftoff (sorry about the out of focus phone vid).

Meanwhile, in the land of big chickens, I’m a bit concerned about Miss Kitty. She stopped laying a couple of weeks after she started, and she’s developed a case of messy butt, to put it politely. Of course, these two things could be an indicator for any number of troubles. I’ve been giving her yogurt and apple cider vinegar regularly in case she has a bacterial or yeast imbalance; I’ve dusted the food and coop with diatomaceous earth in case there’s a parasite issue; and I’ve switched to grower rations, instead of layer, so the extra unneeded calcium won’t strain her kidneys (Bandit has access to oyster shell to boost her calcium). Miss Kitty is still eating well, and she seems to be feeling ok, but my fear is that she has started internal laying due to any one of the many issues that can develop in an older hen’s reproductive system, or has developed fatty liver disease (I now remove all chicken scratch and sunflower seed treats from the feed bin when I go out of town because our well meaning chicken sitters tend to get very carried away with the treats) – neither of which I can really do anything about. So, for now, it’s wait and see. Meanwhile, Ezzie is still holding her own, big feet and all. She likes this time of year when she gets to hang out with the humans on the patio a lot more. And Bandit, well, she’s still a bandit. She defends her territory fiercely (you should see her chase the roadrunners out of the yard) and consistently fails to deposit a shell around about 1/3 of the eggs she lays no matter how much calcium she gets. Ok, yeah, we’re pretty much an all-around special needs flock these days.

Almost Over

It’s a beautiful blue sky, sunny, 62 degree autumn afternoon here. Although it’s difficult to tell it’s such a nice day since the sun is low in the sky and hardly any of the rays are hitting the back yard.PKS_2483The bees are flying like mad, but this late in the season, blossoms are few and far between, despite the beautiful weather. Fortunately the rosemary has responded to the recent el nino rainstorms with a smattering of tiny purple blooms. PKS_2477Almost everything else is preparing to close up shop for the season. The leaves are turning on the deciduous trees and shrubs, and normally I’d be cutting back on water to prepare my more tender fruit trees for the cold weather ahead. That plan has sort of been foiled by a couple of recent rain storms, so hopefully the real cold won’t come in too suddenly this year.

Meanwhile, a lot of the summer vegetables are still growing, blooming and setting fruit, albeit very, very slowly due to the short days. I’ve been covering the tomato and pepper beds at night for a bit of extra warmth to try and eek out a bit more ripe fruit. PKS_2482We haven’t had a frost yet, but we’re getting close – I think I have about four days until the nighttime temps dip into the low 30s. There’s still a generous amount of tomatoes on the vine, mostly the small ones, but a couple of big ones too. As usual, I’ll pick any viable green tomatoes before the first frost to use as is, or to set out on trays in the dining room to ripen over the next few weeks. PKS_2485I also have a good crop of mulatto, pasilla (chilaca) and ancho (poblano) chiles that I was hoping I could dry for red chile, but it looks like I may have to harvest it all as green chile this year.PKS_2490Frankly, even though I adore the summer gardening season, I’m ready for the change. The summer garden keeps me pretty busy with the picking and cooking, the watering and composting. I’ll have one or two big work days after the frost, pulling the dead plants, adding compost to the beds, planting the garlic and favas, and setting up the cold frames around the winter greens. After that I get to enjoy a more relaxed daily schedule. And a change of menu- the first batch of lettuce has just reached eating size!PKS_2489 PKS_2479

 

My Apologies

. . . to the local restaurants, but I’m being held hostage by my garden – see you in a month or two.

Every morning, while it is still cool outside, I take a cup of coffee into the garden to assess and harvest. This is when I plan what needs to be eaten or preserved today, and what will be ready in a day or two. I know it doesn’t look like much, but it is amazing how these modest morning harvests add up:2015-08-31 07.58.56

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I’m slowly filling up the larder with all the stuff we can’t eat right now. I’m fermenting a handful of cayenne peppers for a small batch of hot sauce:2015-08-28 14.35.13And I’m roasting all those San Marzano tomatoes, one baking sheet at a time, and blending them with garlic, basil and salt for an easy freezer stash of red sauce:2015-09-01 09.31.28

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to work in these small batches of preserves while I’m doing the daily cooking, particularly since, with ingredients this fresh, the less I cook, the better: Padron peppers really only need to hit the hot olive oil for minute or two to create the classic tapas dish:
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Or, when in doubt, just pile a mound of grilled and raw veg on a piece of flat bread with hummus, oil and vinegar:

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This flood of produce won’t last long – maybe another 4 weeks or so. But, until it ends, I’m afraid I won’t be getting out very often. Although, It’s a nice problem to have.

Exhibits #5, #6 and #7

In the winter, when I ask non-gardener what I should grow in the summer garden, he always answers “tomatoes”. In the summer, when I ask what he wants for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, he answers “tomatoes”. I suspect you’re detecting a pattern, yes? This year, for the the first time in a while, I’ve been able to fulfill his request for breakfast, lunch and dinner tomatoes.

For instance, early in tomato season, a breakfast of masa cakes, fried eggs and black beans might get a bit of cherry tomato on the side:2015-07-31 09.52.14

And lunch is always served with a tomato salad, whether it is a tomato feta salad next to rice pilaf with sauteed carrots and herbs:

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or simply cherry tomatoes doused in red wine vinegar and olive oil to accompany braised rattlesnake beans and onion served  over cheese grits:2015-08-05 11.48.24The big impressive tomatoes are usually saved and served up with an al fresco dinner. Non-gardener would be most pleased if I’d just put down a plate of tomatoes, a bottle of good olive oil, and a dish of Malden salt. However, while that does happen on occasion, usually I’ll insist on at least adding some cheese and bread to fill things out. I can’t imagine anything better for a Saturday summer dinner than a platter of Caprese salad:2015-08-01 19.08.19By the way, not all of the garden tomatoes are consumed raw. They do find their way into braises, curries and pasta dishes, although I guess they’re not as photogenic as I don’t have any pictorial evidence.  Also, there are the tomatoes that are roasted and stashed in the freezer for winter use. This week I accumulated my first tomato harvest excess and was able to put up my first little bit of future winter eats.

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.

Filling Out

I was very happy to see queens in all three colonies when I inspected the hives today! Here’s the new queen in H002. Her wings look quite battered. Hopefully that didn’t happen before her mating flight. She looked like she was actively laying eggs when I spotted her, with the nurse bees telling her where to go next – I could sit and watch the bees all day. There’s always so many things happening in the hive and so much communication occurring.

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The small split in the back of H001 also has a new queen  – she was running back and forth, here and there, when I saw her, with no sign of laying yet. I was still maybe a day or so early to spot eggs, but I had time and weather on my side for an afternoon inspection today, and didn’t want to squander the opportunity. I’ll check again next week for signs of brood.

Meanwhile, that nice cool damp spring we had is over. Weather has returned to a more normal pattern with a good bit of heat happening in the afternoons. Even with shade cloth, the peas and lettuce are probably on their way out and I’ll be in the time of dearth (user error again on getting enough spring greens going) until the tomatoes and beans start coming in. Fortunately, the tomatoes are doing well, and I’ll be able to harvest the first few by the first of July.

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Looks like Punta Banda will be the winner again. Unfortunately, like last year, it is also showing early signs of disease – yellow shriveled leaves at the bottom. Last year the Punta Banda plant eventually recovered, unlike many of the other tomatoes, and I ended up getting a second flush of fruit.  This year, I’m pretty sure the damage is being caused by spider mites, so I’ve been hosing off the plant leaves every evening. I hope this helps. I have ten plants in the ground, green and growing right now. I’m really hoping its a tomato year – the sort of tomato year that requires me to bust out the canning jars.

By the way, despite looking ahead at a month of slim pickings, the garden is actually looking pretty good and full right now:

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