Sad bee news

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Lilies and trilliums

Over the last several summers we’ve hosted honeybee hives in our backyard. Having the hives was beneficial for everyone: the bees had a safe (pesticide free) place to propagate during the summer, we had an ample supply of pollinators for the raspberries, apples and zucchinis, and we enjoyed our own honey all winter. The hives were literally the life of the garden and we loved watching the bees as they buzzed around the hive.

I’m not the Hive Mama, but sponsored the hives from Bryn Jones in Langley. He delivered the hives in the early spring, visited the bees during the summer to check on the health of the bees and to add honey boxes. In the fall he picked up the hives and returned them to Langley, where they were cared for in the winter.

Unfortunately, most of Bryn’s hives didn’t survive the unusually cold, wet winter we had here on the Wet Coast. Colonies were weakened by the cold. Some hives didn’t have large enough clusters of bees to keep the queen warm, while others didn’t have enough pollen and honey stored. A fungal disease called Nosema apis spread through many of the hives. Of 105 colonies, only 25 survived the winter.

Although we’re disappointed about not hosting hives this year (and are currently hoarding our remaining supply of honey), mostly we are just heartbroken for Bryn and his bees. He is meeting with the provincial bee inspector to determine which colonies are salvageable and to make a plan. He has purchased 35 new colonies from New Zealand and will keep most of the hives on his property to propagate new queens and to rebuild the remaining colonies. We look forward to hopefully hosting some of his hives again in 2018.

Fava beans and the pea war

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Favas and a few rows of radishes. Self-seeded cilantro is sprouting between the fava plants.

The fava beans planted in February are growing well. Despite a promising start, the fall-planted favas all froze and turned black during the winter. Most of the seeds planted indoors are thriving, including pumpkins, cucumbers and zucchini which I have transplanted into larger containers.

This year I planted peas in The Man’s tomato planter in February. When we returned from our vacation in March, I was happy to see the two inch sprouts and I removed the wire frame that I had used to cover the pea sprouts (big mistake). Within a few days, most of the pea sprouts had been rudely pulled up from the soil and the pea seeds eaten. Of course the green sprouts were left behind to mock me. I replanted the peas, put wire around the bed and also added a climbing net for the peas which has diverted the racoons from their regular route. Hopefully they will stop using the pea planter as a buffet.

Yesterday I noticed that someone in point grey had planted their boulevard with what looks like mixed grass and peas. I was on the way to a meeting so didn’t have time to stop, but I am going to swing by on my bike later this week to check it out and take photos. Their peas are already six inches tall. At first I thought that they had planted corn for the peas to climb on, but it is far too early for that.

Water barrels

With climate change, mosquito-bourne diseases are moving north. This weekend I finally covered the small holes that drain the rain water collecting on the concave lids into the barrels. The original plan was to glue patches of screen to cover the holes, but instead I found some fibreglass screen repair tape at the hardware store. Very cool stuff. I could just dry the lids, cut a patch of the tape, remove the adhesive from the centre of the tape and then cover the holes. I expect that I will need to replace the tape occasionally, but for now it seems to be working well.

 

 

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It’s time to get the garden supports in place.

Spring is almost here and within a week the first cherry trees will start to blossom. I can’t wait. Because of our long cold winter, everything is behind. However, I was glad to notice that the peas are now starting to sprout as are the radishes and some of the favas. Time to get the garden supports in place.

Peas. For the last few years my peas have climbed far beyond my too-short metal trellises (trelli?) and fallen over. This year I planted them in The Man’s raised bed that he built for his tomatoes. I hung a net over the six foot high frame at the top of the bed, so hopefully the peas will be able to climb and reach their full height.

Peonies. My wedding bouquet was made up of peonies, and I look forward to mine blooming in time for our 25th wedding anniversary. Peony rings can be placed around the dormant plants now. Some of mine have wide metal grids that the plants grow through. Later, when the flowers become too heavy and start to droop, you can gently pull up the rings to help support the blossoms.

Soaker hoses. Arg. My intention was to get new soaker hoses for the raspberries, but I think that I’ve left it too late. I don’t want to be moving through the canes now and risk damaging the little leaf buds. I did notice that there is a big pile of new soaker hoses in the garage….I wonder if I can borrow these ones and replace them with some other ones that I get from the store on the weekend…..hmmmm….

Last week I planted one more row of radishes, a row each of adagio and wild arugula and “winter blend”  mescluns. Inside I started basil, zucchini, kale and cucumber. Although kale can be planted outside now, it seems to be a slug favourite, so I am starting it inside.

Happy Spring everyone!

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Manurefest 2017

img_6354Yesterday was mushroom manure delivery day: 60 – 40 pound bags of manure stacked in neat piles on my driveway, 2000 pounds in total. I asked one of my sons if he would be interested in helping me move the bags to the back of the garden for 50 cents a bag. Before he could even respond, the other son was out the door, trying to get a head start. It became a big competition (like many things are for twins) with my sons running from the front yard to the back, carrying bags under their arms or on their shoulders. Less than 30 minutes after I took the picture above, all the manure was (neatly!) stacked in the back of the garden. They decided to split the earnings equally, and I gave them each a big tip.

I don’t move quite as fast as they do, so it took me the rest of the afternoon to top up each of my garden boxes – soil levels were down about six inches. I spread the manure through the raspberry patch, I top dressed the flower bed in the back where I grow delphiniums and borage, around the rose and hydrangeas and around the roots of a few tress. I think I only spread 20 bags before it started to get dark and I went inside.

Yesterday was cool but not unpleasant, and it was nice to see that the tiny green tips of the raspberry leaves are starting to show.  I pulled a lot of weeds that were starting to come up as well as the crab grass that is creeping in everywhere. I’m glad I spent so much time out there yesterday because this morning (and most of today) it snowed. The snow drops love the cold weather and have been blooming continuously for almost two months, but I worry that some of the other flowers and plants are going to be behind schedule.

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Rites of Spring

img_6285The weather has been bipolar: a month of snow and ice, followed by unseasonably warm weather, more snow and ice, and now more sunshine.

In late January, I took advantage of the dry sunny weather to spray dormant oil on all of my fruit trees and my single rose plant. I followed the instructions exactly and lavished the most attention (and lime-sulphur) on the old apple tree at the back of the garden. I spent a few warm afternoons removing broken branches and weeding, and admired all the snowdrops, tiny pink cyclamen, the first daphne buds, and budding rhododendrons. It was even warm enough to sit outside with a glass of wine (see above).

The day after the groundhog predicted an early spring, it snowed: hard and heavy. The cypress and hemlocks seem most susceptible to snow loading, and I used my sons bo-staff (think: Obi Wan Kenobi) to knock the heavy snow off the branches. There was so much snow that my kids built an igloo at the back of the garden equipped with speakers and wifi (see below).

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img_6307Today, it was brilliantly sunny again, but not warm. I cleaned out all the bird houses and put them up facing “east-ish” using zap-straps. I intend to take them down each fall, so the zap straps make the bird houses easy to remove and don’t damage the trees. I was so happy to see that a chickadee checked out two of the houses immediately after the houses went up.

I’m hoping that it is finally Spring for real now.

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Big Freeze 2017

 

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Raspberries in the snow

Snow has covered the garden since early December and temperatures have been persistently low. Complaining about -2° Celsius makes us Vancouverites sound like wimps (and I can hear the Albertans snicker), but so be it. This is definitely not typical weather for this part of the world and the plants are suffering. Never mind the people.

We were careful to shake off the hedges, shrubs and branches after the first few snow falls, but we were away during the last one and by the time we got home everything froze. The hemlocks and the cypress sustained the most damage, with branches weighted down to the ground. Many of the bay laurel and boxwood branches snapped right off. I worry about the lavender and rosemary; the last time we had a cold winter, our rosemary died as did the entire line of lavender plants at the front of our property.

The upside of this weather was that for the last several weeks, the skies have mostly been clear and sunny. Over the last month I’ve spent a lot of time walking outside enjoying the changed landscape. We have been trying to tie up some bent branches and have cut off others. Since everything is frozen, the only other things I’ve really done is taken down the birdhouses which I am going to clean out before putting them back in the tress. I’ve also been cutting branches of forsythia to bloom indoors. The Man has been feeding the birds regularly, including the hummingbirds.

Although we enjoyed fresh kale fairly regularly throughout the fall, our last harvest was on New Years Day. The leaves were starting to get sparse and during the last cold snap, those remaining froze solid and are now limp and unappetizing. Despite what everyone says, I haven’t noticed that kale tastes sweeter after a frost. Our garden has given us herbs all winter including bay leaves, thyme, sage and rosemary, and we only ran out of garlic last week. Although the new garlic and the fava beans are already planted and sprouted in the fall, the beds are still covered with frozen snow, so I hope that the plants are well protected.

The forecast for the next week is for warmer temperatures (6-9 degrees above zero) and rain, so the Big Freeze may finally be over.

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This is what the kale plants looked like before the Big Freeze. I would eat this gladly. 

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A big handful of kale, harvested for our New Year’s Day dinner. 

 

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Rogue potatoes and bee transplants

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The queen bee is on the left of the frame (look for the white dot)

The last few months have been busy – in the garden and in life – and I haven’t had time to blog. Our early wet spring has become an early dry summer (the calendar says May, but it feels like June) and we are spending lots of time drought-proofing the garden by deeply watering and mulching both trees and shrubs and by adding a few extra rain barrels to collect any rain coming off the roof of the house.

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Rogue potato plant crowding out the peas.

Many of the over wintered vegetables such as fennel, Swiss chard and kale have bolted in the heat. The summer veggies including squash, pumpkins and beans are already coming up.  This year I made the decision not to plant potatoes because they take up a lot of space and plus I had a few other things I wanted to plant this year. Well, nature had other thoughts and three of my garden boxes have rogue potato plants (forgotten potatoes from previous years harvests) sprouting in among the other veggies. The potato plants are growing faster than the peas and will likely crowd them out and are already over-shading the lettuce. I don’t mind very much as this means we will have some potatoes at the end of the summer.

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The hive is two boxes high. Notice the honey cells on the inside of the lid.

Our hive, which Bryn dropped off just over a month ago, is thriving. The first time he came to monitor the hive, we were able to identify the queen (marked with a white dot on the left side of the frame in the picture below). The queen is laying lots of larvae and the population of the hive is increasing. At both visits the bees had built honey cells under the roof of the hive, which we scraped into a container for early-season consumption.

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Honey scraped off the inside roof of the hive.

On the second hive visit last weekend, Bryn removed a few of the frames from my hive (which contain mostly larvae) into a box so that he can transplant them into other, less lively hives. He replaced them with empty frames which we expect that our bees will fill with larvae and honey. He also added another box on top of the hive to give the bees more space.

The bees in our hive are very docile and when Bryn opens the hive, I like to stand close to the hive and watch. If you stand still, bees land on you (especially in  your hair) then fly off again. Although I am allergic to wasp venom (as I found out last summer when I stepped on a nest in the front) I had assumed I wouldn’t react to bee stings. Unfortunately, yesterday I must have brushed a bee when I picked up some laundry that had fallen off the line (line-dried laundry is my idea of a summer luxury). I felt pain in my finger, and there was a stinger and a venom sack on my cuticle.  Although I didn’t get a full dose – the stinger didn’t penetrate very far and I didn’t have a local reaction- I started to feel my face swell and so I took a  huge amount of antihistamines and was fine. This is going to seriously change the distance I stand from the hive in the future.

If you want to read more, click on this link to read about venom allergies. Big thanks to my Best Text Friend (BTF) for forwarding the link and talking me through my reaction.

 

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Wet Spring

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Snowdrops in the rain.

The gardening season is well underway in Vancouver. Already the snowdrops, daphne, camellia, cyclamens, hellebore and the first crocus are in bloom. Lupins and delphiniums are starting to sprout. We’ve been hard at work clearing out the dead foliage from last year, pruning some of the larger shrubs and making decisions about what to plant or remove this year.

Last weekend I planted five new raspberry bushes to fill the empty spaces in the rows: four heritage plants and one late-blooming hybrid. I also planted fava beans in half of one raised bed and in two long rows beside the garlic. Although it is too early for peas, I planted two rows, with plans to plant many more in the next few months. Both peas and favas will require support, so I am going got get on that much sooner this year.

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Garlic in the rain.

Favas were the winning vegetable this winter; they were frozen in their skin so were easy to thaw by dropping into boiling water for five minutes, then the skinned beans were added to paella and casseroles. The other unexpected winter winners were the herbs. We enjoyed a steady supply of rosemary, sage, thyme and bay leaves throughout the winter. Before dying in last summer’s heat wave, the chervil plant must have seeded itself throughout the herb bed because as soon as it started to warm up last month it began to grow everywhere, so we have been adding it to everything. Parsnips and kale also lasted well into the winter, however only the well-established kale produced a sufficient amount to eat; the kale seeded at the end of the summer and the kale that was planted in September grew too slow.

This year I plan to plant most of the same vegetables as last year, except I am going to start most of them indoors if possible. By giving my plants a head start, they can hopefully outgrow the slugs. We are also looking forward to bees again. This time Bryn is proving two hives per garden, so we are going to place both hives near the dogwood, between the raspberries and the flowers. This year I am also planning to plant a lot of edible flowers as they were popular last year.

Finally, it is time to order manure. The Thunderbird Track and Field club is having their annual manure fundraiser. You can order online here: http://www.thunderbirdstrack.org/manure-sales-2016/. Early bird prices are in effect until February 22nd.

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Daphne in the rain.

 

 

 

 

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