Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Summertime Drought

According to the U. S. Drought Monitor, our corner of Massachusetts is officially in a severe drought.  This is a classic application of Murphy’s Law, since we actually planted grass in the front yard this spring. Those efforts were doing reasonably well a few months ago, but we haven’t had a good rain in what feel like forever, and now things look like this:

In case you were wondering about our garden irrigation habits, I aim to make sure that the productive food areas get an inch of rain per week, while ornamentals, herbs, and the grapes get a half inch. I keep an eye on the rain gauge and make up the difference with water from the rain barrels or the hose. 

Things are so dire right now, though, that I will have to start watering the flowers more regularly as well. To wit, the hydrangea I planted last summer:

And that’s in a shady spot. Did I mention that we are also on something like Day 5 or 6 or a heat wave? (Well, Boston is. Newburyport gets the benefit of some cooling sea breezes if we’re lucky, so it has’t been an unmitigated disaster as far as temperatures are concerned.)

You know it’s bad when even the lamb’s ear patch can’t take it anymore:

On the bright side, the hot, dry weather is perfect for curing onions in place:

It’s much easier to just let the leaves die back naturally and give the onions a little pull to uproot them — and then let the sun do the rest. Rumor has it that we might get a little rain and a break in the heat on Friday, So I’ll have to bring these in before then to keep them dry for storage. Many of these should be dry enough to cut the leaves and store by then, thanks to the intense sunshine and heat we’ve had for the past two weeks.

I’d also be remiss not to mention that our garden would be in very bad shape if not for the generous hands of friends and neighbors who came by to gather eggs, feed the cat, and generally keep Death’s scythe at bay while we were on vacation. It’s been a difficult growing season, but hopefully we’ll have a harvest to share with our helpers soon!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Broken Bees

When we got our bees back in April, we were hopeful that they would get a nice head start this year since there was still a good deal of drawn comb from last fall’s hive. But there were problems from the get-go, and it seems that this colony has also failed. 

When we went check on the queen to make sure she was out of her cage, we couldn’t find her, and there was no evidence of her laying. We called the person who sold us the bees right away knowing that if the queen died or failed we would need another right away.

He was not sympathetic. 

The whole thing was incredibly frustrating. You hear a lot about beekeepers being excited to teach other people about keeping hives to try to help protect honeybees, blah blah blah. We had quite the opposite experience, dealing with someone who clearly thought we were stupid and should just wait it out because we didn’t know what the queen looked like.

Long story short: we were right, our queen failed, and then the bees died out, since they couldn’t be replaced in a timely manner.

We had workers laying to try to make up the difference — you can tell because they lay many eggs in one cell — but the hive is pretty well empty now as the bees died out before more could be born to replace them. Here are some of the last ones standing from back in May:

So now we’re out $135 and have learned that we’ll clearly need to find somewhere else to buy new bees next year, since we received no support when we knew we had a problem. That’s the part that’s been really frustrating. So this year we’ll have no honey, no more wax (though I could harvest some of the old comb, I suppose), and we’ll be without our pollinators — we’ll see the difference that makes in a few weeks when tomatoes and other fruits start coming in. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Sunshine Spritzer

Early summer is when our mint is at its best, and there’s a whole lot of it:

Usually we don’t do all that much with it: throw it in a few salads, and ... well, that’s about it. Kirk wants to make mint ice cream, but we haven’t ever gotten around to that. He’s the only one who would eat it.

Anyway, I was on the hunt for a refreshing drink with dinner the other night and was pleased to recall that, in addition to a garden full of mint, we had a bottle of homemade limoncello just chilling in the fridge:

It was much fuller at the beginning of the week, and now I barely have any left, but that’s because I believe I’ve found its higher calling: a drink I’m calling Sunshine Spritzers. So light and refreshing, sweet but not too syrupy. It’s perfect for July.

This homemade limoncello was a gift from my friend Betsy, who was kind enough to share her not-so-secret recipe for this. It will last forever (ok, I can vouch for two years) in the fridge, and it’s a lot like making Cherry Bounce. Steep and wait. 

And it is well worth that wait, because then you make this:

Sunshine Spritzer

5-6 mint leaves (a nice, mild spearmint will do)
3 oz. limoncello
1 lemon wedge
a handful of crushed ice
5-6 oz. plain seltzer

Muddle the mint in the bottom of the glass and leave it there (I recently had a weird mojito in which the mint was inexplicably removed by the bartender, which is why I mention it). Add the limoncello and a squeeze of lemon, and drop that in too. A handful of crushed ice comes next. Top it all off with seltzer. 

This is really good with food, especially a light salad or something from the grill when wine seems like too much. I mean, it’s fizzy! It’s lemony! It’s my new summer drink.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Make the Garden Great Again

Insects aren't our only problem this season: we’ve also got some border enforcement issues:

All of our butternut squash (above) has been nibbled on, as have our pumpkins and black beans (below):

While these aren’t completely destroyed, the same can’t be said for our green beans:

Also coming under heavy fire: sweet potatoes, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, and lettuces — all of which are in the quadrants farthest from the house. We’ve seen a groundhog around as well as a skunk, and both are good suspects. The damage is all pretty dainty, though, and some of it was done by scurrying under a very small gap beneath the temporary (and ineffective) chicken daycare cage. We’re thinking rabbits running bold, thanks to a barn cat who is rather timid about hanging out in plain sight in the yard during the day (though he has left plenty of evidence of mice and bird kills — and is coming a little closer to us every day, so we remain hopeful).

Anyway, it’s time to build the wall. Actually, several of them — lots of chicken wire on the scene today:

Above you can see fencing around our lettuces and cucumber — there aren’t many left in that bed in the foreground, though we did plant some new seed. Behind that is the cold frame (minus glass) around the okra, which we kept in place as a deterrent. That’s next to the chicken cage, placed more snugly over a new planting of green beans (my third or fourth sowing).

From a different angle, you can see that there’s more chicken wire behind the chicken cage — that one’s around new Brussels sprouts transplants, since my seedlings have all been eaten. In the foreground is yet more fencing around the pole beans and squash.

And here is the other quadrant, where rows of cabbages and broccoli have been caged for weeks. We also added row cover flat on the ground over our sweet potatoes, which should be enough to confuse whatever rodent is nibbling on them. 

Now that everything tempting has been walled off, it remains to be seen if our less-enticing peppers, eggplant and tomatoes will be the next target, or if these are just crimes of opportunity. The carrots and parsnips are very near the house, which hopefully keeps the off-limits. We’ll keep an eye out — there could be yet another trip to the hardware store for more chicken wire in our future.