Friday, March 13, 2009


I captured the first swarm of the year that I have heard of happening.  My feelers are out in as many places as I could put them to notify people that I wanted a swarm.  The hive that produced the first swarm is in the perfect location to collect warmth against a stone wall in a well protected back yard.  They were very docile because the swarm was only a couple of hours old and full of honey, warm, and with no hive to protect.  Having landed on a loquat branch about 3 feet off the ground it was a simple procedure to capture them just by clipping enough leaves off the branch until they had all dropped into the hive sitting on a table below them.  The hive had seven foundations (this allowed room for the leaf drop and bees) in it that had been used by a previous colony so once they were in they had no desire to flee and set up pheromone producing bees immediately to signal all their bees that a home had been found.  It was the first time I had collected a hive so I was glad it was a very fresh swarm (a wet swarm) and everything fell into place so easily.  

It was my first time to collect a swarm but I came prepared with two sizes of ladder, loppers, rope, toothpaste, plastic card, cell phone, and all the clothing that a rational, well-read person would wear (all white, baggy, sealed at wrists/ankles) with rubber banding at ankles/wrists and a bee hat.  The reception box was roped shut and the entry blocked once the bees were inside for safe transportation.  Looked like I knew what I was doing, anyway.  It was fun. The main things to remember are to have a calm demeanor and know what you are going to do next no matter which way the situation progresses.  (Running away screaming is not one of them.)  

"What happens if..."  This should be going through your head at each point of possible divergence in probable activity.  Choke points...

Rain total to date:  17.5 inches.  Average rainfall is about 30 inches.  Official rain season ends June 30.  Usual rain season is from early October to the end of March.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dormant Oil Spray

If you have had problems with aphids or scale the prior year, you may want to apply a dormant oil spray to fruit trees.  Now is the time to apply it for apple trees and pear trees.  Pick a day when the sun is out and the weather is warm so all the eggs and overwintering adults you are trying to kill will be respirating at maximum potential.  They smother better that way.  If you are growing nectarines, which are already blooming by now, you have to apply in early January before they flower and include lime sulphur and a copper containing Bordeaux to kill the inevitable fungus that attacks them, Taphrina deformans (peach leaf curl).  But you have to spray anywhere the rain can splash a fungal spore onto the tree, too.  Some people put paper down under the tree to keep spores for splashing out of the dirt.  It's a mess and it never worked completely even though I was meticulous about it.  I gave up on nectarines.  The fruit is too attractive to all the animals and fighting the fungus got old.  Besides that, we could never figure out what to do with them besides pies, canning and eating out of hand.  In addition, the fruit is a mess to deal with compared with anything else.  The tree was very agressive and grew too fast, second only to the kiwi in growth rate so that was not a plus.  In the end, it made good wood for the smoker.  It was an education for a few years.  Ours grew true from a discarded seed.  

Apples, of course, won't breed true to the parent from seed.  That's why the apple represented democracy and the people in colonial America to the early colonists (E Pluribus Unum, from many one).  Each seed was unique in quality although still an apple variety of some sort.  To become a "millionaire" in the colonies was to find a good tasting apple from a random seed that everyone would want to have for themselves(from many one).  Because the seeds won't run true, everyone would have to take a twig (scion) from your tree to propagate (graft onto their tree) themselves.  Colonists could charge what the market would pay for a good apple or scion and make their fortune.  The Northwest territory was settled using apple tree plantings and this is where Johnny got his fame peddling apple seed and scions to the settlers along the Ohio River so they could provide proof of occupation and working of land claims by having an apple orchard of a size regulated by the government.  Apples were the only way to make alcohol for yourself and a good way to add value to your crop.  George Washinton did it every year at Mount Vernon.  But I digress...(See:  The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollen)

Comice and Asian pear trees.  Today is the day the first flowers appeared.  I usually time the dormant spray to this.  However, having had no problems last year I will not apply it.  The spray also kills the overwintering stages of beneficial insects and mites.  I like to keep any beneficial organism be it nematode, fungus, collembola, insect, mite, bird, mammal, etc., around as much as is possible.  They make a huge difference in the amount of work you have to do to control pests.  

Rain total for last four days:  1.5 inches.

Total for the season is 17 inches.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Spring is almost here

The Equinox cannot be far behind when the Mandarins are all ready to harvest and the Blueberries are flowering. 

Top pics: Juicing in process.  Mandarin/bronze fennel ahi marinade, left, with finished juice.  Fegs ready to yield 2.5 qts juice.

Over the past week:
Raspberry shoots have come out of the ground in profusion and leaves are coming out on old canes.
Sangiovese (main component of chianti) grape vines pushed leaves.
Blueberry varieties are moving.  Earlyblue and Blueray are pushing leaf past the bud.  Bluecrop is beginning to leaf out but no flowers.  Oneal and the Yard Sale Unknown have foliage and are in full flower.  Southmoon has foliage and is now beginning its flowering.  Only the Herbert is sitting silent and bare.  
Fourth pic:  chickens fenced with mandarin tree (click on pic to enlarge it)

Stripped one mandarin tree and juiced the crop.  Yield is at least 40 pounds (conservative estimate) of fruit for the tree this year.  100 pieces pulled form the tree without calyx equaled 7.5 pounds.  Tree size is six by six by six feet and is pruned about 1.5 feet off the ground at the drip line and looks like a miniature maple tree.  Twenty pounds of fruit was juiced to yield 5 quarts.  After peeling, fegs were put through a Champion juicer.  

The mandarin/bronze fennel leaf marinade for the ahi was spectacular.  Marinated the ahi for a few hours, turning it occasionally because the juice tends to separate, then cooked it in a stove top smoker with hickory chips for 15 minutes.  A few minutes on high and the rest on low flame.  Highly recommended.

Snails make fungal infection of the fruit common.  Keeping the snails out of the tree usually just involves triple banding the trunk with thin copper strips about 1/4 inch wide for each band.  I had tree leaf/oxalis leaf(ground "weeds") connections at the drip line of the tree this year, a mistake.  Also had oxalis touching the trunk above the copper banding.  If snails can climb above the bands using the ground cover, the copper banding cannot work.  I now have to spray the tree with high pressure water to knock off the snails then the chickens are in a tractor (a movable enclosure) under the tree to finish the job until the ground cover is gone.  Should take about a week with only two chickens.  Should have done this before the snails got into the tree, of course, but I got lazy and rationalized it looked so picturesque with the yellow flowers beneath it.  Not so much, now.  Tossing some scratch (cracked corn) in with the chickens keeps them digging up the greens otherwise they just stand there looking at you and thinking about escape.