The Birds and the Bees…How Appropriate for Mother’s Day!

We spent the last week furiously working in the yard and fields getting ready for what has been a false hope of some rain. I’m starting to think there should be at least two kinds of rain…one for picnickers and another one for farmers. The picnickers will report that it ‘rained’ if they experience a light drizzle under cloudy skies that may have put some dampness on their blanket. That is not rain! We experienced that last week when everyone was complaining about the rain but our rain gauge measured .26 inches after a day of precipitation. Then we were supposed to have a storm on Thursday but got nary a drop. Last night and today we were suppose to have rain but so far, we have had .02 inches and the skies are clearing, much to the delight of the picnickers.  The farmers need an inch a week, preferably not in a 15 minute span of time which also happened not too long ago. Wouldn’t it be lovely to get 1/2 an inch twice a week?

A good rain this time of year would certainly help the allergy sufferers who react to the spring pollens. Luckily, Dave and I are not particularly bothered by the pollens which is a good thing since Seven Oaks has its share of it! When the oak pollen drops there is so much of it that a gentle breeze will gather it in remarkable piles at the driveway’s edges. IMG_5923 The birds are appreciative of a gentle rain as well since it will bring the worms up to the surface and they can quickly bring home a fast food meal to their chicks. We are particularly enamored with the robin babies that hatched about a week ago at the front side entrance. There are three little babies who clamor for food when their parents return from foraging. They are not fully feathered yet and try to behave and hide when their mother is away so it is difficult to get a photo. Here are two of them showing me the backs of their necks with feathers so light on their heads that they look like fur. IMG_5945 The barn swallows at the front door are active too, having built their nest for the second year in a row in the same spot. I have not seen any babies yet but hope there is some activity in that direction soon so that the babies will be old enough to fly away by the time of the wedding which is now only six weeks away!

In preparation for the big day, we have finally gotten some new planting beds in order. Last fall when we were working on the new driveway we had the rear sidewalk reconfigured and it was then that I finally got rid of an expanse of hard-scape that always bugged me. It was no easy task to remove the stones that were laid on a concrete foundation, but at least the heavy machinery did all that work. This ‘opening’ allowed for the plumber and electrician to put in the gas piping and wiring for the outdoor grill area – how convenient! But it left me with all the rock and clay to deal with afterwards. IMG_4681  The setting isn’t that fabulous since the generator, one of the air-conditioners and the electrical meter are all located in the vicinity and require air circulation as well as room for maintenance but I figured I could greatly improve on the look and make a useful little herb garden out of the space. First, my friend Lucy came over and sat in the “hole” with me and we dug out countless buckets of rock and clay while we jabbered away on two recent afternoons. I then filled the space with 50% top soil and 50% compost and made sure it was mounded above grade so that it could settle some. I watered it for a couple of days to encourage the settling since I was eager to plant my herbs. I selected some flat stones from the rock pile (yes, we still have quite a collection of rock on pallets in back of the driveway) to form the design of my Parterre, which is the French word for “a level garden that is planted in sections or patterned compartments”.

I used the stones as a design element as well as a way to step in this carefully prepared soil. I then placed a wrought iron feature in the middle and planted and assortment of herbs and some small, distracting flowers. I’m told the bees will be very attracted to the herbs but I must say I am too! I planted some of the usual suspects: a variety of basil, oregano, parsley, dill, chives, thyme, lavender, but also some plants that are new to me this year such as fennel, horseradish and spearmint. I’m on the look out for garlic which I would like to add and rosemary which the nursery was sold out of at the time I went shopping. IMG_5980     I also managed to plant all the awaiting petunias this week…106 in one day plus many others!  IMG_5921I feed my petunias like crazy so that they bloom their heads off all summer and mound over the pots to the point that you can’t see the pots anymore. This routine is daily and looks like this. I give the petunias two types of specialized food on alternating days. Here are my bottles of food ready to go. IMG_5918I worked on weeding and hilling the potatoes yesterday and they look incredibly healthy! IMG_5960

We also worked on the strawberries which have set on like mad and are waiting for some sun and heat to ripen. I spent one morning weeding out all the wild strawberries. Wild strawberries are not as cute as people think and can just take over like a weed once they get a foot hold. They are a real detriment to the patch and so I was glad to have a chance to pull them along with some other weeds. It looks like it will be a good season for strawberries! Last year we began picking on May 19th and it looks like we might have that same timing this year. I will be interested to see if we get as many fruits this year. It will be hard to top the nearly 160 pounds from last year’s harvest! IMG_5916Here are the berries that are setting on like crazy! IMG_5990I think the bees took their job quite seriously both in the strawberries and the blueberries! I have never seen so many blueberries in this patch, which could be due to the bees as well as the maturity of the plants. If you recall, we have 5 rows with a different variety in each row that ripen progressively so that we are not inundated with blueberries (is there such a concept?) which is why some rows are still flowering…  IMG_5994 While others are already developing nice clusters of fruits! IMG_5991Time for the bee update! It is always a highlight of our day when Jurgen comes to inspect the hives. If you recall, we were waiting to see if the re-queening that took place two weeks ago in hive #10 had worked or not. Jurgen did not want to disturb that hive last week so he was very pleased yesterday to find eggs being laid, meaning there is an active queen working the hive! Yeah! He showed me that the bees are filling out the existing frames quite nicely and had me feel the weight of one of them so that I can imagine how very heavy a box of frames full of honey will be in the fall. IMG_1017With good news about the queen and the nectar ‘running’ (meaning available for foraging), Jurgen came prepared to add more frames to the hives. When he did this, he sprayed the new frames with sugar water to attract the bees into the upper box. He wants them to start to work on developing these frames (making new combs) with the hopes of getting more honey in the fall. The other thing that he did was to take the restriction away from the entrance of the hive. Before this, the opening was just a couple of inches wide and now it is the entire width of the front of the hive. IMG_1022I took advantage of nice weather that morning to mow the area around the hive and Dave used the weed whacker today to further clean up the edges . photo 1Here are the cleaned up hives with the added boxes. IMG_1053Of course any honey that is harvested from these hives will belong to my bee mentors but just in case any comes our way, I am experimenting with some honey recipes.  Today I am making Rolled Honey Spice Cookies using my new cookie cutter which was a Mother’s Day gift from Kate. Can you guess what it is?  IMG_5937


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