Monday, January 23, 2012

Will You Bee My Beekeeper?

Last November, I received a flurry of emails and Facebook messages from friends.  A Groupon was being offered for a beekeeping class in my area.  A squeal and a deal later, I was signed up and ready to go.

A couple weeks before the class, I started reading beekeeping books and checking out websites.  I wandered around my back yard debating where I would situate a hive or two.  And wondering if I was quite ready to take the honey-coated plunge.

The big day came.  A good friend and I trundled one city over for our class.  It was full.  Overly full!  People had driven hours to come so I guess we were pretty lucky to have driven 7 minutes.

I learned a lot.

Did you know that honeybees are not native to the United States?  They literally came over with the pilgrims and subsequent immigrants.

That said, "of the 100 crop species that supply 90 percent of the world's food, bees pollinate more than 70 percent."

Our teacher, a man in his fifties, got his first beehive at age 9.  Back then, he said, it was much easier to keep bees.  You basically did nothing but harvest the honey.  Now, he said that he and other beekeepers in our county (he is the President of the local beekeepers guild) regularly lost 50% of their hives every year - due to disease and pests.

Much of that problem is that hives are brought over from many other countries to pollinate American crops during peak season.  For instance, I live in California and apparently March or thereabouts is the time to pollinate the almond trees in our Central Valley.  Many of the diseases and pests have come with those bees brought in from other countries.  As careful as the government often is to prevent invasive species, it boggles the mind that it will ship in beehives and, with them, new diseases and predators, from willy nilly.

During our examination of the hive for instance, he showed us a hive beetle and indicated that he would put out a trap for them.  "These just came over in the last two or three years with the bees brought in from Australia".  Great!

I learned some happier things.  Like beehives can be cute!

Though it doesn't have to be this cute! (It's a vintage beehive on Etsy.)

After the class, my friend and I returned home - heady with honey tasting dreams of bees in our suburban backyards.  I will likely wait until next spring (because you can really only start keeping bees in the spring), to jump, fully suited, into beekeeping.  That gives me a year to read, take my local guild's beginners beekeeping class and learn everything I can about bees.  Besides, this spring's dance card is already full with endeavors like planting in a greenhouse, expanding my garden, creating a water garden, and condoing my potatoes.

So I guess you'll have to wait until next spring to see a picture this cute again. ;-)

* I'm linking to Homestead Barn Hop and FarmGirl Friday for this post.

* Keep up with the other bees in the hive and join the Facebook page. It's full of combs and honey.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Inconvenience of Eating Healthy

The more I read about food, the less I want to eat it.  And the less I want my children to eat it.  I'm thinking, not about the food I grow or purchase at the farmers' market, but the stuff on our supermarket's shelves.  Cow and pig parts in cereal?  BPA in canned soup, canned beans, canned everything?  Genetically modified ingredients in everything from corn chips to baking powder?  Seriously, is anything you can buy at a major grocery store safe to eat these days?  As a result, I've taken a long hard look at what we stock in our fridge and in our pantry.

Convenience rules!  If they have to cut it, wash it, or do anything besides stick it in their mouths, they'll grab something else.  I've taken to prepping my vegetables ahead of time and to resolving to pop up the minute I hear them rummaging in the kitchen.  I cut up carrots and store them in a water-filled air-tight container.  (The water keeps them from drying out). I peel the oranges, cut the pears and apples and bought an apple slicer for those times when I can't cut up the fruit for them *right now!*  Then, they can do it.

Speaking of popping up, an air-popper and some organic popcorn is a mom's best friend!  My kids know how to use ours and regularly snack on this after they've had one good sized snack.

I also try to keep the oven warm - baking muffins, scones, granola bars, and whatnot.  It's not as healthy as fruit but sometimes we need more than just fruit.  Moreover, at least I know what ingredients are in my home-baked goodies.

Finally, I let my dinners do double duty.  Tonight's meal - whether soup, stew, pasta or pizza - serves as tomorrow's lunch or after school snack.

How do you eat healthy in a hurry and keep kids (and yourself) snacking in the right way?

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Great Potato Debate

I'm lucky enough to live in a temperate climate.  That means, along with other things, I can grow potatoes three times a year.  Including in January and February!

I'm just about to roll up my sleeves and get chitting but I figured I'd better review the results of my last potato planting.  In August, between pounds of tomatoes and peppers, I debated getting my winter garden on.  I had ordered potatoes but not figured out where I'd put them.  All my allotted garden space was occupied - with tomatoes, summer squash, winter squash.  What was a potato to do?

My dreams of chic burlap sacked potato towers were dashed by this post.  So, instead, I gathered containers from through out the yard - large terra cotta pots left by the previous owner, 15 gallon black nursery pots from a few of the fruit trees I had planted in the spring, and a bushel basket that had been destined to corral books instead of apples or potatoes.  I also requisitioned some chicken wire and stakes.  I promptly prepped my potatoes - fingerlings because they are so good, expensive to buy and hard to find.  Planted, covered with compost, and more compost, and more compost. (Seems like an awful lot of compost!  What do you use to cover your taters?)

Several months later, I harvested.

The chicken wired potatoes fared the best.  Followed by the black plastic pots, with terra cotta and bushel baskets (which truthfully weren't watered as much) bringing up the rear.  Oddly enough, only my La Ratte fingerlings grew.  The Ruby Crescent not so well!

This time, I've opted for La Ratte and a French fingerling.  Fortunately, Mr. Green Bean gave me the second best Christmas gift ever - a potato condo.  I'm hoping to hit the potato gold mine between the condo and using the chicken wired tower method again.  Wish me luck!

potato condo

* I'm linking to Homestead Barn Hop for this post.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thrifty Is as Thrifty Does

We moved into our new home a year and a half ago.  Since then, we've been in the process of finding furniture that actually fits in this home - without spending a ton of money or sucking up a lot of resources.  That process lead me to wax poetic about Craigslist and other second hand avenues.

But then I fell in love with these chairs.  

Gorgeous, aren't they?  Made in America and I'm all about keeping my countrymen employed these days.  Offered by a company that promotes sustainability.  And $300 a piece, plus tax and delivery.  Doh!

Every dollar our family spends is spent with purpose.  Toward local and green.  But I just couldn't spend that many dollars.

Instead, I hooked up with this little duo at a garage sale for $25.

After hitting them with a couple cans of (non-eco) black spray paint that we had lying around,

I ended up with this.  A second hand work station that has first class style.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Whose Greenhouse? Mine?

In case you missed it on the Facebook page, I got a greenhouse for Christmas.  (And a potato condo though that is the topic for another post).  Is my husband the King of Romance or what?!?

He built the greenhouse in a place that gets a good amount of sun - but didn't steal my favorite sun spots which are reserved for pumpkins and the like.  It is beautiful.  With vents and a dutch door and it is made from recycled plastic.  Love it!

Except . . .

What do I do with it now?


I'd read a while back about people just directly planting, in the ground, melons or other warm weather crops in their greenhouse.  That seems relatively low maintenance and doable - until I read that I'm supposed to use indoor potting mix as soil and not the real dirt that is in there.  And it should be in some sort of raised bed.  Or pot.  And I should replace the soil yearly.  What?

So, for anyone who knows anything about greenhouses, what would you recommend?  A traditional wooden raised bed built in there?  A galvanized trough (which I've been saving for a water garden for six months)?  A handful of wine barrels or large pots?


Okay, so I've got a vision of melons growing in some sort of soil but what else?  I do not have any electricity or heat out there at this point.  How helpful would it be for starting seeds?  As far as growing from seed, my only experience and success has been with direct seeding.  I could see having seedlings in there as a transition point before they go into the real dirt but beyond that?


There is already white mold stuff growing on the bare dirt in there.  In researching what that might be I read that you need to be careful about watering in a greenhouse.  So misters?  No?  I'm thinking drip in the bed or pot for the melons and a hose connection but . . .

Any other tips for a total greenhouse newbie who is so paralyzed by doing the wrong thing with her pretty new greenhouse that she won't even step inside?

** I'm sharing this post with the Homestead Barn Hop.


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