Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Benefits of beneficials

Last week Gabe and I were in the yard removing the plastic and agribon covers from the garden beds (finally!) and some of the agribon was pretty beat up so we decided to throw it away. Gabe went to do so and noticed a large swarm of bees around the maple tree in our neighbor's yard. Our yard is just the other side of the fence in the photo below. We have two young kids and having a 'wild' hive really close to our backyard isn't exactly desirable. That said, these guys are pretty darn docile. Gabe contacted the head of his Master Gardener group and county extension agent, who also happens to be an entomologist, to ask what we should do. She gave him some names of 'bee people'. Jerry Morris is who Gabe ended up calling. He's set up this contraption (a medium super) to move the bees from the tree. All told it will take 5 weeks. We wish we could keep the hive in a super in our yard, but alas, we'd have to fence the yard with 'solid fencing at least 6 feet in height' to meet Norman's zoning requirements. Not something we can really afford to do right now.

This year we have had quite the stand of primrose appear (reseed) in our front bed. In addition to shading out some of the more noxious weeds that had tried to take over in recent years this stuff is teaming with beneficial insects and wildlife. One evening we spotted what we thought was a tiger-striped hummingbird. Turns out it was a sphinx moth and the primrose is its host plant. There are many other moths, butterflies and bees flitting around as well. And just this afternoon I spotted a Common Yellowthroat amongst the primrose. While, yes, these are 'common' we don't see much beyond Cardinals, Robins and Pigeons around here. More often than not we are inundated with Starlings and Grackles, so it is pretty nice to see something so striking and so different.

They say it takes around 7 years to heal a piece of land. And this was an abused, compacted, monoculture of suburbia when we took ownership in 2006. We've been here 7 years as of February and I finally feel like we're seeing some lasting positive impacts from our homesteading and permaculture efforts.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Fruit? Yes, please!

Despite all the crazy weather, 80 degrees one day and freezing temps the next, it appears we may actually get some fruit this year on the homestead.

Our neighbor has two apricot trees and one pear along our shared fence line. He has repeatedly told us to take all the fruit we want. These are mature, dare I say, 'old' trees - but they still produce like crazy, and we're happy to have the bounty.

A Ladybeetle visits one of the apricot trees.

Cherries are a personal favorite of mine. We purchased two fairly large cherry trees (probably at least 2 years old) from Marcums Nursery in Goldsby. These are growing up against the house. The idea is to espalier them to the brick, but we have yet to actually affix them somehow. They seem happy anyway. We planted two different varieties of cherries, and I don't remember what either of them were - bad homesteader!


Buffalo currant, clove currant...whatever you want to call them we're delighted to see tiny fruits on these plants. They have beautiful yellow flowers in very early spring that some say smell like cloves. I think they smell like spring, almost like hyacinth flowers.

Buffalo currants (Ribes odoratum)

Baby nectarines! Nectarines are another personal favorite of mine. This tree actually produced some very small fruits last year, but, unfortunately, a case of brown rot took root and they all started falling off before maturing. Luckily Gabe was diligent about picking up all the leaf litter in the fall and has been preemptively spraying the tree with Serenade this spring to try to stave off the brown rot. Our fingers are crossed we get to taste some homegrown nectarines this year.


Not pictured we also have four varieties of apple trees (loaded with flowers - hoping for some fruit this year), blackberries, strawberries, sand plums, paw paws (Asimina triloba), grapes, all-in-one almond and Chickasaw plum. The paw paws are relatively young and we won't see fruit from them this year. The sand plums were transplanted late last year and we're hoping they catch up. They have yet to leaf out, but the wood is still green so there is hope for them yet. The all-in-one almond is also a new addition and has just started to bud out.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Spring in Oklahoma

Things are always interesting in the spring here in Oklahoma. Yesterday was unseasonably warm and humid, today it is freezing with tons of rain. Here's a fun map showing wind chill and heat index at the same time as the cold front made its way through the state.

So what's an urban farmer to do when the weather forecast calls for 2" hail, lots of wind, freezing temps when the weekend before you hedged your bets and planted 9 tomatoes, 7 peppers and 2 basil plants? Scramble like crazy to protect them! Yes, that is our newest addition to the homestead (baby O) looking on as I stand on the conduit bender while Gabe bends the EMT needed to protect our newest double dug bed. We ran a little short of tufflite (thick plastic), and the snap clamps used to hold everything down so we had to improvise.

Prior to all the scrambling to protect tender plants I harvested some lovely lacinato kale that's been growing in our strawbale bed under row cover all winter. I noticed quite a lot of aphids on the kale I harvested. Feeling rather defeated (aphids are the bane of our garden) I pulled the badly infested leaves off and fed them to the chickens and took the rest of the kale inside to clean it for dinner. Then I spotted bright yellow eggs on the stem of some of the kale. Ladybug eggs! Carefully, I returned the bunch of leaves and stem that had the eggs to the strawbale bed, and sure enough, there was a mature ladybug on some of the remaining kale. Nature is so awesome. A couple of days earlier the boy and I spotted several ladybug larvae on the garlic growing in our remaining raised bed. Go beneficial insects! We are hoping to attract some other beneficials to the garden this year by planting a bunch of flowers and installing some mason bee blocks.

Baby O looks on while we bend conduit

Improvised cover for tomatoes and peppers

Ladybug eggs on kale

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ladybugs and Chickens

It's February and the boy spotted a ladybug in our cover cropped bed. We must be doing something right.

A couple of our original birds went through a soft molt. Bacon, our Rhode Island Red is still coming out of it, looking a little sad.

William Shatner, our Barred Rock rooster that wasn't supposed to be a rooster will soon be a tasty chicken dinner. He's let out a few squeaky practice crows and is almost 22 weeks old.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Simple Things

Give the kid some string and old bean teepee and he's set for a long time.

The row cover is already on one of the beds, the other has the chicken tractor on top.

We also harvested the last of the peppers, tomatoes and eggplants before the first low, low temps of the season last week.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tiny Grape Harvest

This poor grapevine has taken a beating and has been pretty much neglected. Yet, it still gave us (and the birds) some sweet, tasty fruit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Can You Dig It?

At the most recent Beginning Farmers class the summer interns Katie Kilpatrick and Jacob Delahoussaye at the Kerr Center demonstrated John Jeavons' Double-Digging method and bio-intensive garden layout.

I can't wait to give this a try in our yard! We've ordered Jeavons' most recent edition of 'How to Grow More Vegetables', and have the perfect spot to try the double digging method. We'll be doing a 4-foot wide (not sure how long yet) bed in the spot we had originally cleared for our small greenhouse. My folks have graciously said we can put the greenhouse in their backyard so that leaves us more room for growing beds. Right now the area has a few bean teepees (which are pretty well drying up in this heat) and is mostly covered with mulch. So we'll have minimal weeding to do to get started.

We also learned a lot about pest and weed control in organic systems. As well as different methods of staking tomatoes and wheel hoes for cultivation and weeding. Can't wait to get a wheel hoe!