Harvest 2014 Begins!

Someone must have been listening to my rant about rain in the last posting since soon after that we had the perfect amounts of ‘farmer’ rain. One night last week we had a prolonged, gentle rain that measured  0.50 inches which continued later that day for another 0.12 inches. During the next day or two we got another 0.50 inches that really gave everything out in the fields a nice drink. For once, we were quite happy despite the cold weather that came with it. Brrr, May isn’t usually this cold…it was 39 degrees one morning! As usual, somethings (peas, radishes, spinach, lettuces, etc.) enjoyed the cool weather and other things (tomatoes, beans, peppers, eggplant) were just marching in place, waiting for some sun and a little more heat.

But I have GREAT NEWS! Seven Oaks Harvest 2014 has begun! It is modest by any measure but so far this week we have been enjoying the radishes – Burpee “Cherry Belle” – which are very sweet and round with a gentle flavor. We have been putting them into our salads but these are so nice we just slice them and eat them next to our sandwiches at lunch. We even put them into the fry pan for dinners…see bottom of blog! IMG_6014We also picked the first of the strawberries in the last two days and have just over two pounds to show for it but there are many, many more in the patch waiting to ripen. We will easily eat this quantity of fresh berries as they come in but I do have memories of last year with as many as 8-10 pounds a day (for 4-6 weeks) when I was challenged to just make jam, jam, jam (90 pints last year) or freeze gallon after gallon bags of whole berries which we enjoyed all the year since. Welcome, fresh strawberries!! IMG_6082The blueberries are not far behind! We have been working to renovate the five rows our 5 varieties: Blue Crop, Blue Ray, Jersey, Patriot and Elliott. Each year we do a thorough weeding and mulching and add agricultural sulpher since the berries like acidic soil. This year, our best producer, Blue Ray, needed a super, duper jump start. The reason for this is a bit embarrassing, but I’ll share the details if it will help anyone else in the same situation. When we first planted our blueberries, we followed all the berry books as well as the advice of Sean, from Stark Brothers, on what to do. We made our rows the width and length he suggested and spaced our plants accordingly. We were advised to put down landscape cloth on either side of the plants in 4 foot wide beds and then add 4″ of mulch on top, adding decomposing saw dust to the mix.  We started this treatment with our very best, strongest looking row, the Blue Rays, but we made our biggest mistake with that most precious row. We bought inferior landscape cloth! We didn’t know the difference, but we do now!!! The cloth we used for this first bed was so flimsy that it started to disintegrate immediately…in fact, it happened so fast that we didn’t buy it for the other rows. This year, we decided to replace the old cloth and re-do this row. So, we weeded extensively since the landscape cloth wasn’t helping much. Then we unfurled the replacement landscape cloth (the type we used in the other beds) and got it ready to cut in half to put on either side of the plants. This cloth says it is warrantied for 20 years of “normal use”. Well, I doubt that, but I’m keeping the paper work just in case!IMG_6051Here it is after we cut it an laid it on either side and started to add the mulch. The white “snow” on top of the mulch is some of the saw dust that we mixed into the mulch as advised. IMG_6059 It is important to note that we pin the landscape cloth into place. You can buy metal pins to secure it, but we have learned to make our own. We take a hanger and a metal cutter and snip the ends and the middle and make 3 pins per hanger. Here is how we make them. IMG_6058Here is how we install them with the help of the “Persuader” that nudges them in through the thick cloth and into the soft ground. IMG_6054After all the cloth is secured with pins and the width of the bed is mulched, we install our soaker hoses for the season which are also secured with hanger pins to keep them in place. At the end of the day, we put on a package of new bird netting and our best row of berries is fully renovated and popping with berries. IMG_6071There is a blue jay watching as work the berry patch. He seems to have a great interest in the blueberries and we joke that he is well matched to the food he most likes to eat? We hope that although we have peaked his interest in the ripening berries, we are also circumventing his access to the crop as we have – in the last week – now weeded, mulched and netted all rows save the one which is the last variety to ripen.  We can’t wait for our best crop yet! The pale purple color is only an indication of the deep blue that is yet to come!IMG_6064In other news about the farm, I’ve been continuing to carefully prune away the evidence from the damage of last year’s harsh winter. As you may recall, we installed a burlap wind break on the front landscaping, in an effort to protect the Portuguese Laurels. It is difficult to tell whether the burlap helped or not, but these laurels look a lot better than others we have seen around town this spring. The good news is that all of the plants survived, are putting out new growth and most even have evidence of buds for future blooms! IMG_6078Time for my favorite topic, the bee report. In am learning that May is a particularly busy time for beekeepers. I attended the local club’s monthly meeting last Wednesday evening and listened to a very interesting program about Nectar management, swarming and finally, the main speaker, Corey Stevens, who spoke on “Raising Queens for Backyard Beekeepers”. It was all very interesting, and I wrote notes in my bee book for two hours straight,  but I’m still a bit over stimulated with massive amounts of information that is all new to me. I gladly attended a workshop at the Monsanto bee yard on Saturday morning for beginning bee keepers. We had two good presenter/demonstrators who made it clear that there are no absolutes to beekeeping since everyone’s methods are unique. So it is good to get information from a variety of beekeepers. Here are the club’s 8 hives which are in the bee yard at the Danforth Center across from the main Monsanto campus. IMG_6032
IMG_6033It was a chilly morning to open the hives but I learned a lot since part of the demonstration was to ‘marking’ the queen. You actually isolate the queen of each hive and put an ink mark on her back to make her more readily identifiable. There are 5 different colors used with this function in mind, with one color assigned to each calendar year in an effort to keep track of the age of your queen. This year is green, so we put a green spot on her back and then put her back into the hive. Now she will be a lot easier to identify since one of the tasks of a beekeeper is to check on the status of the queen in each hive. When you can identify that there are newly laid eggs and/or see the queen herself, you call that hive “Queen Right”. See how easy it is to spot her now?queen-rearing-006

We were also given a tablet of Hive Inspection Sheets that the club produced to encourage good book keeping methods. I keep a composition book where I take notes on all the workshops and meetings I attend as well as the hive visits here, but this form does promote good record keeping so I will include it in my files as well. IMG_6092Jurgen also paid us a visit on Sunday morning for a hive inspection at the farm. He now tends 19 hives and plans to get some more soon so there is a possibility that we might add some more too which is exciting. He decided to use his smoker this time around so he demonstrated his lighting technique. He uses a combination of cedar and wood chips and has an extra large smoker so that he can light it once for a day of hive visits. IMG_6046He was pleased that the bees had started to work on the second deep box that was added last week on hive #10. He put one frame of brood in the upper chamber last week to encourage this activity and we saw evidence that they are drawing out the combs, making honey and also new eggs were present. So although we didn’t see the queen, this hive was ‘Queen Right’ due to the larvae present. When we inspected hive #11, the bees had not really started to work on the upper box of frames so we needed to check down in the first deep box to confirm that the queen was present. Jurgen found the queen right away and isolated her so that he could do some re-organization without the fear of damaging her. Every time you open a hive, there is some degree of bee fatality so you want to work very slowly and gently to insure that above all else, you do not damage your queen. So this time, he played a bit of musical chairs with the frames and made sure that one of the upper frames had brood in it. This will encourage the bees to ‘move to the second floor’ to work on filling out those frames. IMG_1060 2He also did some maintenance and removed wax comb from the edges of the frames so I got a nice little souvenir of the day…fresh beeswax! IMG_6073At the end of the day we rewarded ourselves with a dinner that included 3 types of freshly picked spinach that was sauteed with fresh radishes from the garden. Spinach…IMG_6086Added to the sauteed radish, scallion and bacon bits… IMG_6088Equals yummy with a bit of feta on top!!! This serving of iron will help us have the energy for another day’s work! IMG_6090

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