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Honey Harvest

Here I am holding a frame full of honey.

As I sit at the keyboard, I realize that my arms are sticking to the desk.

That’s because we harvested honey today.

We took one super (box of honey) off the Queen Elizabeth hive this morning.

For most of the day, I’ve been straining and processing it.

Since we only have two hives, we decided not to get an extractor just yet.  That meant that I had to scrape the honey and wax off each frame and dump it through a filter before bottling.

An extractor slings the honey off the frame.  I used Plan B which involved placing the frames in a couple of stock pots and just letting gravity do the work.  Very slow but cost effective!

Still life with Honey Harvest and Bee Veil

We ended up with enough honey to make a batch of mead and to keep us in granola for the next few months – about one and 3/4 gallons.

That’s not too shabby since we got such a late start with beekeeping this year.

The girls began to forage as the spring flowers waned and the summer flowers were just cranking up.  The ever popular tulip poplar produced an abundance of nectar and got my hives off to a good start.

Bottling summer nectar seems like an appropriate thing to do here in the last days of summer.

I am thankful to my girls for their hard work and to Queen Elizabeth who inspired them.

But… most of all, I am thankful for my flowers.


 

Purple Hull Peas

Yum!!!

I came home from dance practice the other night to find my husband shelling peas.  He had not planned well and was ensconced in his recliner beneath a mound of purple hull pea hulls.  Eventually he did shell his way out of there.

I do love to eat purple hull peas (or cowpeas as they say up North) but they are labor intensive.

The work begins with the cultivation.  To many in Mississippi, the word “garden” conjures up an image of a never-ending row of peas.  The long straight row recedes into the distance and the unfortunate one at the beginning must either hoe to the end or pick to the end.

Neither is a pleasant prospect.  And at the end of the row… you must repeat the process for an interminable amount of time.

Then there’s the ordeal of pea shelling.  If you run your thumbnail down the seam just right, the peas ripple into the bowl.  My aunt used to shell into a big metal dish pan and spread newspaper in her lap to hold the  hulls.  She had purple thumbs at the end of the day.

Of course after that you must put them up – either freeze them or can them in Mason jars.  Giant vats of boiling water are required.  Canning especially is an arduous task.  The sweat flows freely.  Canners should be required to wear hard hats in case they pass out from the heat.

I have experienced all of these phases of pea processing.  None of them are fun.  But… when I sit down at the table to a righteous serving of peas, I feel particularly blessed.  Especially if there is a slab of cornbread to mop up the juice.  It’s nice if there’s a side of good old slimy okra and some fresh sliced garden tomatoes.   Yum!


 

Anticipation

Richard was happy to find chanterelle mushrooms in our woods.

I am so happy to have some rain.

Last weekend as we tooled around on the nature trails, I spied an orange mushroom.  I checked it out and happily it was a chanterelle.

I knew to expect to see the golden chanerelle (Cantharellus cibarius) after rainy hot weather.  The season starts in July here in Mississippi and is said to extend until September.

We found four of these lovely funnel shaped fungi.  Richard sauteed them in butter.  They were a wonderful appetizer.

Three years ago the weather was just right and our woods were full of chanterelles in late July and early August.  We admired them but were too chicken to eat them.

I’ve since learned how to identify them.  However, it has been so dry for the past few years that none have appeared.

This year with the rain I’m hoping for a bumper crop.

I am also seeing budded Carolina lilies (Lilium michauxii) in the woods for the first time in at least three years.

If all goes as expected, we’ll have food for the table and food for the soul!

Adventures With Bees

Here are my two new beehives sitting next to an ignored clover field.

So I decided to get a couple of bee hives.

Spring is a busy time for me so I didn’t get things in place until the last minute.  I finally decided exactly where the bees were going to go last Wednesday.  I sited them next to our old vegetable garden because it is grown up in white clover.

On Thursday after working at my consulting job all day, I rushed home and rubbed a blister on my hand trying to get the supporting concrete blocks and 4″X4″s level.  Then around dusk I headed off to Philadelphia (Mississippi not Pennsylvania) to pick up my bees.

I brought the bees home in the trunk of my car.  The brood chamber with its top and bottom were duct taped together and the back seat was folded down with access to the trunk.

Tulip poplar flowers occur so high in the canopy that I rarely see them until they fall to Earth.

The only scary moment was when the slow driving car in front of me suddenly slammed on brakes and, of course, I had to do the same.

I expected bees to come pouring out of the trunk at any minute.  But all was well, and it was a good thing that Grandpa and I did not hit any of the five deer.

On Friday morning, I un-taped the entrance, etc. early and then studied the foraging bees during the day.

Late in the evening, I finally decided to believe my eyes and I admitted that the bees were not working the clover patch at all.  So what was their destination when they left the hive?  I looked up at the sky and realized the the tulip poplar overhead was loaded with flowers!

Here are three of our big tulip poplars along the creek near the bee hives.

I did a bit of research last night and learned that each flower on a tulip poplar can produce a teaspoon of nectar.  We estimate that along the creek and drainage area on our land, we have at least 10 tulip poplars that are 80 feet tall or larger.  I can’t even imagine how many flowers are on those 10 trees.  Not to mention all the young 40 footers!

Tulip poplars are not considered to be the best wildlife trees but they do have some benefits.  They host the Easter Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar and also that  of the tuliptree silk moth.   Nectar feeding birds (like ruby throated hummingbirds) sip from tulip poplar flowers.  Squirrels and some songbirds feast on the seeds during winter.  I’m sure their abundant nectar attracts native pollinators as well as my exotic honeybees.

I am happy that these stately magnolia cousins grace my land.  Now I have one more reason to love them!


 

Blueberries for Every Garden

Last week I gave a talk near Memphis at an Urban Forestry meeting.  I discussed native plants that can be used in combination with trees.  As I delivered the talk and interacted with the crowd, I was frustrated all over again by the lack of availability of native plants.

I can recommend all kinds of groovy stuff but if the plants aren’t available people are not able to use them.   What a quandary!

A few native plants have made their way into the mainstream and are sold in most garden centers.   One of my favorites among these is the rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei).   Rabbiteye blueberries are the cousins of the huckleberries that grow in my woods.  In Mississippi they are not as wide spread as huckleberries and are native to only about 6 counties.  They are, however, adapted to just about any garden situation (except limestone based soils) in zone 7 and south.

If you’ve ever been to a blueberry farm, you’ve probably seen the shrubs lined out in an agricultural configuration.  In a home garden, blueberries can be used simply as landscape plants.  The shrubs attain a height of about six feet and have a graceful form with arching branches.  I use them most often as part of a hedge or seasonal screen.

I incorporate the rabbiteye blueberry into just about every landscape plan that I draw.  It is a beautiful shrub with glaucous blue leaves, white late winter flowers and scattered red leaves in fall.  During late spring and early summer, the tasty cobalt blue berries are produced abundantly.

Most gardeners enjoy picking the fruit or eating it right off the plant.   Those who never get around to harvesting the berries can rest assured that the resident wildlife will feast on it just as the native pollinators seek out the flowers.

I had never noticed how beautiful blueberries were at this growth stage until yesterday when this 'Georgia Gem' fruit display stopped me in my tracks.

Rabbiteye blueberries thrive in sun and acid soil.   At my place, I’ve found that they produce plenty of fruit in partly sunny edge of the woods situations. They produce most abundantly if two or three varieties are planted and can cross pollinate.   The plants are almost pest free.  To encourage the production of plump juicy berries, irrigation and mulching may be needed.

Now that I’m setting up a couple of beehives, I want to add to my blueberry collection.    I already have the varieties, ‘Climax’, ‘Woodard’ and ‘Georgia Gem’.    All three are great plants but I am particularly impressed with ‘Georgia Gem’ which is loaded this year with an obscene amount of fruit.

I was checking out the Dodd and Dodd Nursery website and saw that my friends Tommy and Thayer Dodd are offering two blueberry selections that I have to have.

Tommy’s Dad, the late Tom Dodd Jr., was an icon in the southern nursery business.  He loved blueberries so he seeded out rabbiteye blueberries and selected the seedlings with the best tasting fruit.

I’m looking forward to trying ‘Pop’s #2’ and ‘Red Red’.  Apparently, Thayer named ‘Red Red’ for its outstanding fall color.  So ‘Red Red’ has the double whammy!

I’m not sure if it was the cold winter or the recent rains (probably both) but all my blueberry bushes appear to have set a bumper crop this year.   I’m full of admiration for their beauty right now but am really looking forward to chowing down later.


 

I’m a Sucker for Seed

I’m thrilled to announce that I just finished making an order for my summer vegetable and herb seed.  This is the culmination of an ongoing process.

I started about a month ago with a very long wish list.  I seem to remember that I was hungry at the time.  I tallied up the cost and almost collapsed from sticker shock.  I decided that it was in my best interest to set that first draft aside.

Tonight I started anew with plenty of input from my husband.  Richard is an amazing cook so, of course, he had all kind of ideas about what kind of peppers and squash to order.  He finally tired of the discussion and simply said “Just be sure to get Fortex pole beans.”

Richard is a green bean fanatic and the very delicious variety Fortex performed phenomenally last year.  We had one short (10′) row and were able to eat green beans two or three times a week.

So it’s a done deal – the winter ritual of seed ordering.  Now I can anticipate the pleasure of opening my mail box and gently retrieving my tiny package of embryos.  I’ll sit on the couch and open the potential-filled parcel and smile as I caress each seed packet.

And just in case you’re wondering why I get so excited about a seed order?

  • It’s all about having a chance to make a fresh start.  It’s the equivalent of a gardening New Year’s Resolution.
  • Seed packets are cute.   They are full of tiny plant babies.
  • Seed are relatively inexpensive.  On many occasions, I have ordered everything I wanted from a seed catalog.   However, I have never been able to afford all the plants I wanted from a nursery.
  • I’m a plant nerd, a flower fool and a sucker for seed so I just can’t help myself!
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