Monday, October 31, 2011

Tomato Mahal 2011

Well, tomatoes, eggplants and capsicums are IN and have survived two nights and a very cold below 4 degree night last night. Behold the Tomato Mahal 2011.  Yes I know, every year there is a new structure. But as we also know, tomatoes are VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS around here. So why the tunnel? Well, the community garden is just on the edge of a frost hollow. So, night time temperatures are always a couple of degrees cooler and that my friends means there is always a risk of frost.......AND, since the bush fires, the garden is exposed to the PARCHING ONCian westerly / north westerly winds. So the tunnels protect  my little babies from the frost and the wind.

I am particularly happy with the seedlings this year. The earlier ones look a bit longer (taller?) than one might like, but that is OK with marties because you can plant them very deep and they will shoot roots from the sides. I think there was a light issue while they were upstairs in the mezzanine level. I have been experimenting with a biological product from VRM the company I do some work for. I LOVE these guys. I LOVE learning about soil biology. It does my head in but I LOVE it. Anyway the product I have been using is called XLR8 Ca (link will download brochure) and it is especially designed to help make calcium available to plants. Which means they are tougher and hardier and stronger and less sappy and less irresistible to the 44578902987 insects pests and diseases that like to pounce on weak seedlings.

And lets face it, pretty much anything bad that happens to tomatoes (blossom end rot, fungus, wilt etc) happens because of problems with calcium deficiency or uptake issues. Well, Calcium and other micro-nutrient issues like Boron. Oh, and except for the strange affliction that suddenly comes upon one's tomato, pumpkin and eggplant seedlings especially when they are outside in the sun "hardening up" for which I think the technical term is "duckus proximinatus". Yep, that is BAD. But only seems to affect the plants on the edge of the benches.......

Now they are all in, I will start using VRMs  XLR8 P for phosphorous uptake, and possibly the nitrogen one as well, to help boost flowering and fruiting.

This poppy thought you might like to admire her........Poppies self sew down at the community garden. We have the most amazing colours. They pop up in the weirdest places but they are lovely. You just have to remember not to weed them all out when they are little.

And here are some vista bella apples. These are a very early variety.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I love everything about this gal!

You can read more about Itty Bitty adventures here. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sweet joys of working at home

This is my office. Here is Ziva. She likes the warmth from my desk lamp. I had to give her my felted laptop cover to sleep on. Previously she insisted on sleeping on my mouse mat....which made life a bit difficult.

Once we get over the daily cable chewing and mouse hand pouncing, things settle down and we get on with it.

The weather has turned a little wet and cool. But it is cosy in here. Over my desk I can see the ducks preening themselves in the rain on the lawn.  The seedlings that were on the deck are safely hanging out on the dining room table. The others are squished back into the glass house. Standing room only in there. And no room for humans.

Well, I had better stop procrastinating and finish this report. Perhaps after a pot of tea......

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bragging Rights

Ok, I am trying not to be too smug here.....but here is the first tomato at duck herder central ripening on the vine. 

 Yup. In the glass house we have an apollo and a cherry tomato growing in large pots, sitting in a tray of water so they don't dry out. Being coddled and loved and fertilized and covered and double covered and well, here we are.

On the other side of the glass house we have tomatos slowly replacing auto pots of winter salad greens. The Auto pot system is great - only kind of hydroponics because you can grow the plants in soil rather than a non soil medium.

Meanwhile, the main tomato, eggplant and capsicum seedlings are hardening up outside.

Today is very windy - so they are being extra hardened up!

Just one more shot - of my lovely capsicum seedlings - these are "cherry time" - a small red cap. Everything looks very healthy. Growing veggies from seed is very rewarding. It also teaches you a LOT about soil and plant nutrition and soil biology and balance and health. It is all love.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bee Keeping for Complete Idiots

OK, so, today was/is lovely. Was because I have mucked around all morning, and most of the afternoon, and now I MUST chain myself to the 'puter and do some work....because I have a report due for a client this week, and because I won't get paid if I don't deliver!

SO naturally it is time to blog......

I thought more about the crazy comb, and decided on two things......

1) to minimise the chance of crazy comb happening in these new boxes I just added to both hives
2) to see if it is too late to salvage that box of crazy comb before it gets full of honey
OK, so, strategy 1: I did a thing called pyramiding...which involves pulling out one or two nicely built combs from the box below the one you are adding, and placing these in the centre of the new box which gives the girls something to work from when they draw out the rest of the frames......

Then, on the box below, move the frames all inwards to fill the space, and add empty frames to the outside to fill the gap.  Clear as mud.

Queen Malina on the Front Deck has plenty of lovely straight frames...... so I took an extra one for Queen Aprilia of the Crazy Comb.

Now both lots of bees have new boxes with at least 1 very straight well built comb so that they will hopefully build out all the remaining frames in the same way.

Which leaves the crazy comb box......the girls have not only half filled this box with random cross frame combs.... they are filling these up with honey as we speak. So, this box is already half full of un capped I am leaving it on.......and will deal with it later......Because if I trash it now, they won't have anywhere to store the honey, because there is no spare comb until they build it..... see my problem?

Sheesh. Some of you may realise that I do not seem to use conventional beekeeping methods. And you would be correct. I let the bees make their own comb - what ever size they like. I do not force them to use commercial, chemical filled foundation.......I do not mind if they need to spend extra energy and time building their own combs because I think they like it. I have a secret theory that this time of year especially, bees like to build comb....and if they don't have room to do this, then they are perhaps more likely to swarm. I do not know this for a fact. And, I do not particularly need or want to prevent the girls from swarming - I don't mind a bit. And it is just a theory.

Anyway, I model my bee herding methods on these folks here:
Yes, I am a backwards beekeeper! Who are we?

We're a group of organic, treatment-free beekeepers in Los Angeles, with branches now forming in other cities.

We're "Backwards" because we rely on observation and natural practices to keep our bees thriving rather than pesticides, chemicals, or treatments of any kind.

There is a really cool book you can buy which I think it s very handy resource. It is called Bee Keeping for Complete Idiots.

For any Oncian Urban Homesteaders - I have a spare copy if you would like to borrow it.

Anyway, this is my third year of bee herding....(or is it my fourth?) . So I am still a beginner - although I guess you always are.......and I love it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Bee Crazy

OK so it wasn't quite the weather for it, but I snuck a look in both the bee hives today and popped another box on each. Both colonies have come through winter very strongly. What different operations those girls have going. Queen Malina on the Front Deck has used up all the honey I left her - I am glad I left that extra box of honey on for winter. It is all cleaned out and hopefully ready for a bit of a spring nectar flow. There are a few gum trees coming into flower - some iron barks and a couple of fingers crossed we will get some more of the sweet stuff soon. her hive is mostly well organized with neat combs that follow the frames making having a look see and harvesting a breeze.

So now to Queen Aprilia - what a MESS. I left them some stickies from Queen Malina's hive in autumn....which they have cleaned up....and they are way ahead starting to build lots of lovely new comb already this season .....but they are building it across the frames - CRAZY comb! The bees don't give a shit, but it does make it more exciting to harvest as it is impossible to pull out combs individually without making a huge mess..... hee hee. I like their anarchic style!

 Here is Queen Aprilia's hive with the lid off - the girls are building in the lid cavity....AGAIN.

And here is the top box with the hive mat taken off - you can see how the combs are being build across the frames..... I need to think about how I deal with this - whether I take this box away, clean it out and start again......or leave them to make a big heaving mess......

Happy swarm season!