Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

Today we’re having one of those slow steady rains, the kind that lasts all day, the kind you sometimes get after an extended hot dry spell, you can almost hear the land sighing with relief. The birds are singing and much more active than they have been, it’s cool and overcast and just what I’ve been hoping for for weeks! It’s also giving me time to finally post on the garden.

We have gotten so much done this season, it probably isn’t as obvious to the rest of the world but we see the work we’ve done and it is looking so much better already.

Here is the truck taking away dumpster #1 which we filled with mixed trash, everything from old rotting stuffed lawn chairs, to broken clothes drying contraptions, to miles of rotting electrical wire, ancient unearthed plastic bags, rusty nails and screws, broken window glass, vodka bottles whole and broken (must have been nearly 100 bottles scattered and buried) you name it, we’ve found it here. This is all stuff that we have slowly been harvesting from the property (courtesy of the old tenants!) as we dig and clear new areas.

Dumpster guy left us another dumpster which we filled with over a ton of rotting wood that was laying around in piles all over the property. I swear this place was like a landfill, we are still unearthing things as we dig planting beds but I think the bulk of it is gone now. We’re talking 2-3 tons of trash…unreal.

So anyway, I’ll give you a little tour of some of what we’ve been planting around here. The pictures all look a bit over-exposed because I took them on an incredibly hot, bright morning a few days ago…too much sun.

Here is a freshly dug bed that runs along the front of the house, next year I’ll fill it with perennials but for this year I’ve planted some sunflowers which will get about 6ft tall. I have also sowed dinosaur kale and raddichio just on the other side of that concrete brick, it is just beginning to sprout.

And here is my long awaited Zephyrine Drouhin rose. It took over 2 months to finally acquire one, I was beginning to lose hope. It is currently about 1 1/2 ft tall and has one very tiny bud. I don’t care about flowers this year, I just want it to establish enough to survive the winter and maybe even reach the first bar of the trellis ;O)

In front of it, I’ve planted 3 ‘Hidcote’ Lavender plants. Everything is so tiny!

This next bit is more of a ‘wildlife installation’. The brush pile has been there since last fall and we have been adding to it this season too. Since early spring it has been taken over by dozens of ground sparrows. I had the pleasure of their company all winter as well, as they spent their days eating all the seed off the ground which fell down from the bird feeder.

The brush pile seems to be a congregating point, a social meeting/mating spot for them. They have built their nests in the roof of the big barn across the street and some are nesting in crevices under our roof as well, but they spend alot of time on the brush pile. I love having them there.

The next addition to my ‘wildlife installation’ was a DIY bird bath. I have felt really sorry for the birds during this incredibly hot and long dry spell so I just used what we happened to have laying around and built this bath.

It consists of a big concrete block that the previous tenants had buried in the ground as an anchor for their laundry thingie, talk about over-building syndrome! Poor P spent an entire afternoon trying to get it out from the bottom of the 4ft hole he had to dug to get to it . He got it out using nothing but long crowbar-like levers and lots of swearing, it weighs a ton.

On top of the huge block of concrete I set a large plastic plant pot bottom, it’s about 2 ft in diameter, in the middle I set a large stone to hold it in place and to also provide an island for any unfortunate critters (like bees) who might fall in while drinking.

It’s not much to look at but the price was right and the birds love it!

Here’s what the studio is looking like currently. The rose to the left has been there for about 3 years but I haven’t been too successful about getting it to climb up and over the roof, I hope the trellis P built this year will make a difference, I’m also, admittedly, giving a bit more attention than I had been doing, it is definitely showing progress so we’ll see.

In the tub in front of the studio I have sown some beautiful pink rose mallow. It’s growing but not fast enough for me ;O)

In the cracks along the stone path I have planted creeping ‘Bressingham’ thyme, also very tiny at the moment.

Here’s a clematis I planted earlier this spring, it’s grown about 2-3 ft since then! It’s an early bloomer, with large lavender flowers, called Mrs. Cholmondeley.

This is a late blooming clematis that we planted on the wood shed, it’s called Jackmanii and has gorgeous dark violet flowers.

These are red currants which are nearly ripe, we only have a few canes currently so I just leave these berries for the birds. Next year we will plant a large berry garden on the other side of the house and then we’ll add more of these so we get a decent harvest.

Apples slowly ripening on our Roter Berlepsch apple tree, these are good eating apples. We also have a Gravenstein which is mainly a cooking apple.

This is an attempt at making a bumblebee house, but unfortunately no bumble bees moved in. I think maybe the hole is too vertical and so there would be rain getting in and falling on the little bumblebee heads…not good. They do however live in the crevices in this stone wall, so that’s ok, at least they are here. I still haven’t given up on the idea of bumblebee housing, but I think the hole needs to be horizontal. Anyone ever tried this with flower pots? Any suggestions?

And speaking of bumble bees if you look closely you’ll discover that the center of the pink flower is actually a bumble bee bum :O)

I am growing two varieties of cherry tomatoes on my porch. Tomatoes don’t do well here unless they are kept out of the rain, they are borderline greenhouse plants here, you can grow them outside with alot of care and attention but they do so much better in a greenhouse, or under cover. They are doing well for me in pots on the porch so this is what I will do until we eventually get a greenhouse.

And lastly, a few pics of my poor kitties who can’t stand the heat and tend to move from one shady patch to the next until they finally get to where they are going.

Any little patch of shade will do!

Well, that’s not all we’ve done but the rest of the pictures didn’t turn out so well. I’ll give you an update as things grow. Hope you are enjoying your garden too!


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Busy as a Bee

We’re just coming out of a week long cold snap where our temps dipped down to 0° c. at night and right around 10°c. during the day. This is a bit too cold for the bees and so they haven’t been out much which is a shame because we currently have several fields in our area filled with bright yellow canola plant blossoms, the bees love it and it gives them a large part of their spring honey supply. Today our temps are back up and the bees are zipping around like crazy.

Here is a picture of the hives with their additional honey boxes.

Currently there are 4 boxes to each hive, boxes are added as needed for honey storage. In the bottom two boxes the queen lays her eggs and all the new bees are born there. So unless you want bee larvae mixed in with your honey, you have to keep the queen out of the honey storage boxes, you can see in the picture a thin board right in the middle which I’ve marked as “queen excluder”. You place that thin board, which is actually a metal screen, on top of the brood box (where the babies are). The worker bees can pass through the slots in the screen but they are just a bit too narrow for the queen to fit through, so she can’t go up into the top boxes.

My husband has been making good progress with the garbage removal, he’s got the first dumpster filled and we will get another one on Monday which is only for wood. There was heaps of stacked wood left to rot behind the house, we’re not allowed to burn it ourselves so have to pay to have it hauled away.

This mixed material dumpster will end up costing around 500 euro… getting rid of garbage around here is not cheap! The wood container should be a bit cheaper since it only contains one thing.

I haven’t been able to do much around the garden since the weather turned cold so I’m just dreaming about what to plant where :O)

Next year I will plant a large herb garden, but for this year I’m only growing a few things on our bridge, just the stuff we use the most, like parsley, thyme, chives and later I’ll plant some basil.

This is flat leaf parsley that I planted a few days ago.

And here are some plants that I ordered from an online shop. They arrived packed in hay and looking a bit rough but they’ve popped back into shape nicely. I want to use as many native plants as I can, and also insect friendly plants, I’ll probably end up with a yard full of plants that many people would consider weeds, but those are of course the ones that are most attractive to wildlife.

Here I’ve got some lady’s mantle, two types of comfrey, black-eyed Susans, and some hardy “Munstead” lavender.

And these are my catmint babies. Hopefully the cats will give them time to grow before rolling around in them ;O)

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This spring has blossomed for us with new ideas and a new direction. Many things have remained the same, our view of the world and how we wish to interact with it is the same; self-sufficiency is important to us, living as green as possible is very important to us, eating and living a vegan lifestyle is important to us. Doing our best to NOT support the “Evil Empire” better known as “big business” is also very important to us. We’re only two people who can’t really hope to make a huge difference in the world, but that’s not the point, we feel that our efforts, in concert with two other people, and two other people and two other people, is what will make the difference so we do all that we can even though things look fairly hopeless sometimes.

Our dreams of being totally self-sufficient I think were a bit too ambitious for us. In our perfect fantasy we would have the most beautiful and prolific garden you can imagine, free of pests and disease, we would make all our own clothes, candles, furniture, etc. We’d only use bikes or public transportation as a means of getting around, we’d power everything with solar energy, we’d barter for everything else we needed, our land and home would be paid off, we’d be free from money and all the problems is causes. Nice dream, isn’t it… But for us it simply isn’t possible. So, we’ve reined in our dream just a bit, into something we can actually achieve. Some people will say, “you’re just giving up!” But I don’t think so, rather we are being realistic; given our age, our level of fitness, our experience and knowledge, given that we have to work full-time jobs, we aren’t left with enough hours in the day, nevermind enough energy, to achieve all we’d like to…We haven’t given up, we’ve simply discovered what is actually possible for us and being totally self-sufficient isn’t one of those things.

So we finally gave in and bought a new car which we hope will last us for many, many, many years. It’s a Twingo, the tiniest most fuel efficient, environmentally friendly (ha!) car we could find. We try to only go through 1 tank of fuel a month which means quite a bit of bike-riding during the week for my husband to and from work. It adds about 1 hour a day to his commuting time, but it also adds fresh air, exercise and beautiful scenery and a peaceful quiet time each morning to just think and enjoy being outdoors without the stress and frustration of traffic jams.


We hope this year to increase our bee hives. We’ve had a few rough years where we had weak struggling hives and ended up losing some of them over the previous winter. We never take much honey from our bees even at the best of times, honey isn’t the main goal for us, we mainly just like having the bees here and knowing that they are helping to improve the land around us which is a good thing for the planet in general. But we haven’t harvested honey from our bees at all in the past 2 years trying to give them the time and resources to build themselves up again. I think those efforts have paid off because our two remaining hives came out of this past winter very strong, healthy and hardy. We should see some swarms from them this summer which will give us the opportunity to create more hives. We will probably take a bit of honey (20-30 jars worth) and leave them the rest which will be quite alot.

This is a shot of our two hives taken about 1 month ago, as they are just starting to wake up and become active. We have since added additional boxes to the top of the hives for honey storage. We had to add the boxes much sooner than usual this year as they are collecting so much. :O)

Our plan is to hopefully move the bees into Warre’ style hives  as I have mentioned before, and to increase to as many as 6 hives during this season. We also want to build 2 or 3 Kenya Top-Bar style hives and keep those on the other side of the property under our apple trees. Those will be my hives :O) It should be an easier system for me to work with, with much less heavy lifting and shuffling around of boxes. Both of the systems we will use are in general less intrusive and hands-on so that we don’t have to disturb the bees as often as is necessary with the more common/commercial style bee hives.

One problem is that we have always had trouble catching our swarms because our bees insist on sitting in the highest branches of the tallest trees on our property, there is absolutely no way we can reach them. So this year we are doing a little experiment, we anchored an empty Warre’ hive to the roof of our porch, we’re hoping that maybe a swarm will move into it (not necessarily a swarm from our bees because when bees swarm they instinctively move a greater distance from the mother hive so they will have enough food, but there are also 2-3 other bee keepers in the area so we might possibly attract one of their swarms, just as they might acquire one of our swarms… it all works out in the end  ;O)

You can see the hive up on the roof in this picture. The box behind and slightly above it is a bat house…we love having bats in our area and will be adding more bat houses on our property in the coming years.

We’ve decided that our main focus crop-wise is going to be fruit. Fruit trees and berries. The reason for this is that for one thing, it’s the perfect thing to grow with bees. Another reason is that not as much space is required for the yeild you will get, we don’t have much space here. And another reason is that fruit is so very expensive! We eat alot of fruit over the growing season and around here we are paying 4 euro for a tiny 1 cup container of berries, it’s really quite insane! Vegetable crops require alot more space and effort to actually make a substantial difference and besides the prices are pretty reasonable by comparison, so growing fruit makes the most sense for us.

We will of course grow a few select vegetables in and amongst our future flower beds and in containers, but not many and nothing formal. I’ve decided that I don’t want any straight lines in the yard, no square beds, no straight rows, which carry the feeling of being man-made and controlled. I want a very informal arrangement which doesn’t feel forced or “contrived”, but which feels natural. Lots and lots of flowers and flowering bushes. In short, we’ve decided to create a cottage garden which will be created in such a way that it will become a sanctuary. Not only for us, but for the local wildlife as well, including the insects as well as the birds and animals.The wildlife in our area has a very rough time these days  just as it does most everywhere on the planet with all the farming, building, pollution, hunting and the ever increasing intrusion by man into their habitats…really, they need all the help they can get and it is what I want to spend my energy and space helping them with. I want to do what I can to create a place which helps and doesn’t hinder them. Of course with our limited funds, time and resources, this is going to take years but now that we have a clear goal and vision, we are off to a good start.

Currently we are working on clearing the land of all the garbage that has collected over the years, left by two generations of homeowners who lived here before us. They were anything but kind to the land here and used it as their own personal landfill. It will take alot of work to replenish the soil and just get the place cleared of junk so we can start planting. We rented a huge garbage container this week and are working to fill it. It will probably take 1 or 2 more containers before we’re done. Unfortunately these things aren’t cheap! But we can’t do much until the garbage is gone.

Another goal for this season is to plant the rest of our hedge, it will cost about 500 euro to finish. We started our thorn hedge about 4 years ago but couldn’t finish it until this year. The hedgehogs, birds and other little critters especially love living in thorn hedges. We’re using hawthorn, blackthorn, wild dog rose, wild apple and wild pear plants to create the hedge. The hedge flowers in early spring which is good for our bees since not much else is flowering at that time. It will take about 4 years until it starts looking like a proper hedge.

One of the things I’d like to grow aside from fruit trees and berries is tomatoes which are also quite expensive. I’m experimenting with cherry tomatoes in our veranda this year, tomatoes don’t do very well here without being covered or grown in a greenhouse so I thought they might do well in our south-facing veranda.

Well, this post is getting quite long now so I will wrap it up here. I’ll continue to post on our progress over the season and share pictures with you. I will leave you with this shot of a trellis my husband built the other day. One of the first plants I bought this year was a climbing rose called “Zephirine Drouhin”. No true cottage garden would be complete without a few climbing roses. So we’ve made a beginning! The rose hasn’t been delivered yet, I had to order it,but it should be here and planted by next Monday :O)

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This is a subject that literally leaves me feeling sick inside. It infuriates me, it scares the Hell out of me, it makes me despair for the future of this planet, it leaves me feeling sad and confused as to how and why any sane, rational, caring human being could involve themselves with this. Something has got to be done about this company…

Many countries are resisting, they are banning GMO crops and Monsanto’s products and technology but it still creeps in around the edges. Many countries have tried, but are now losing the battle. Globally, thousands of farmers have had their lives destroyed by this company. Many cultures have lost their native crops, they’ve become ill and have unwittingly become dependent on Monsanto for their very livelihoods.

Hundreds of seed companies are now owned and controlled by this company and thousands of plant varieties are disappearing, never to be seen again. Thousands of people are sick and dying due to illnesses caused by the pesticides, chemicals and animal growth hormones made by this company. Why aren’t more people talking about this? Why aren’t people doing something about it?

I think many people simply don’t know the whole story, don’t realize how serious it is. And what can the average person do about it anyway?

I think that voting with your wallet and your fork, is a step in the right direction. Buying locally grown food from small farms will help, support your local farmer’s markets and CSA programs. Avoid pre-packaged, processed and refined foods, most of them contain GMO ingredients. Avoid fast food restaurants. Prepare more meals at home using fresh, local, whole food ingredients. Cut back on, or better yet, eliminate all meat and dairy products which are full of cancer-causing hormones (not to mention antibiotics and other nasty things). Let your representatives know what you think. Be vocal about it! Stay informed and do your research. If possible, join and support organizations created to fight against this company (see links below). This problem really does affect us all. So assuming that lack of knowledge is the biggest factor, I’m providing a link to this in-depth documentary. Please watch it and spread the word, we can’t continue to sit by and let this happen!

“The World According to Monsanto”
This is part 1 of a 10 part documentary. You can watch the other parts on YouTube, just click on the video screen below. The whole thing is about 90 minutes long, it’s time well spent!

For more information, check out the following links…

Millions Against Monsanto Campaign

The Campaign – Grass Roots Political Action

The MonoCulture of the Mind

Farmers Launch Anti-Trust Lawsuit Against Monsanto

Global Research – Biotechnology and Gmo

Films and Documentaries:

Food, Inc. (at theaters and on DVD)

Food Matters (view online, DVD)

HOME (view online, DVD)

The Future of Food (view online – USA only)

GMO Trilogy – Unnatural Selection (view online)

Seeds of Deception (view online)

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woodball1I know many people don’t like wasps but they really are beneficial. I find them just as fascinating as I do our honey bees. It’s true that they do kill a few of our honey bees, but so do many other things. The wasps don’t take that many and we’ve all learned to live together peacefully. The wasp in the picture above is a German Yellow-jacket, I’ve found them to be very peaceful and non-aggressive. We have quite a few living in our area and have never had any problems with them. In fact I’ve gotten more stings from our bees (3) than for these guys (0).

This one is collecting wood for her nest. She is nibbling off very thin strips of wood and rolling it into a ball so she can more easily carry it. I love to watch them do this.


Now she is picking up the ball of wood and getting ready to fly back to her nest.

We also have a variety of very tiny wasp, I’m not sure what they are, they look like this wasp but are much smaller and very non-aggressive. They usually set up a nest on our porch every summer and don’t mind at all when we sit just beneath the entrance to their nest  in the evenings, they come and go and mind their own business so we don’t mind them living there.

Another wasp that we are lucky enough to live with is the giant European Hornet. These guys are rather scary looking because they are so big! They measure approximately 1 1/2″  long. They have a very distinctive drone, very low and deep. I can generally tell just by the sound whether it’s a honey bee, wasp or a giant hornet flying by the window. Though the hornets are big and intimidating they are also very non-aggressive. They are rather rare here and I believe they are protected so we feel very lucky to have them living in our area. In the early spring we usually see the queen flying around and she is truly an impressive sight!

Photo by Richard Bartz

Photo by Richard Bartz

This is a picture of a European Hornet with a bit of captured prey that she will take back to feed to her growing larvae. I think she is just beautiful!

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I love to watch our bees drink, it’s something you don’t see everyday. Long periods of time can go by without noticing any bees at all near the water barrel and then one day you wake up to find 30-40 bees all drinking at once, and they will usually spend the next several days drinking. Peer told me that this is a good indication that they are breeding. They are hauling water back to the hive. He says that they use the water to drink and also to regulate the temperature in the hive. Here is the place that our bees like to drink.


Inside the barrel we have a piece of styrofoam which is like a raft for the bees. All those black dots on the styrofoam are bees. One thing I’ve discovered is that bees do not do very well around water, they fall in and drown really easily. They do much better with this big raft. The styrofoam is not totally flat and smooth, I picked out shallow holes in the surface so that water can well up and make little shallow ponds on the surface of the raft, then they can drink in relative safety. Here are some close-ups of the raft.


That same raft has been in there for more than a year, they hold up well. You can see a bit of algae has developed but the bees don’t mind, there are many other places they could get water from, but they seem to prefer this spot.




We’ve got lots of stuff blooming in our area right now. The cherry trees started blooming over the weekend and that is when the beekeepers around here put the honey boxes on the hives. That’s what peer did yesterday. He also set up 2 of our Warre hives in the hope that when the bees begin to swarm that they will just move into one of the empty hives. We have a hard time catching the swarms otherwise, because the hives are surrounded by several really tall trees and of course when they swarm they go to the very top where we can’t reach them.


I forgot to tell you that we did end up losing another hive so we are down to three right now. The one that we thought was just weak was actually dead. The bees we saw going in and out were bees from the other hives raiding it.

and so that’s about it for now, I’ll leave you with a few photos…


These are my swamp marigolds, they live in the water-trough next to the barrel where the bees drink.


And this is my favorite picture from yesterday. These are my basil seedlings coming up.

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I’m not sure how well known this show is so I wanted to mention it here  because I think it’s wonderful. Peak Moment Television originates from the west coast of the US. The birth of Peak Moment Television was “in response to awakened Peak Oil awareness” and all the issues surrounding it…Peak Moment Television is a series of “conversations” with local residents and educators which offer “perspectives and initiatives for local self-reliant living in the face of energy, climate, and economic uncertainty.”  It’s a weekly 28 minute show which airs on public access tv. Or you can watch it like I do, on YouTube.

For those of you who want to walk a bit more softly and self-reliantly, and who want to see the words “local” and “community” actually mean something again, I think you will find this show informational and inspiring. I’ve linked to just one episode here, one of my favorites, just to give you a taste of what the show is like.

Peak Moment episode 87: In summer 2006 Judy Alexander embarked on an experiment to see how much food she could grow, and how many neighbors could benefit from the garden around her house. Check out her homegrown rainwater collection and irrigation system – watering her 60+ edible crops. Meet the bees, the chickens and the worms. And catch her joy in producing so much food for so little effort.

If you enjoyed that, you will find another 141 episodes available on YouTube. And here is the Peak Moment main website. And here is Janaia’s Blog. If you’d rather watch this on tv you can check here to find a station and viewing time, in your area.

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