Saturday, January 14, 2012

Garden Planning

I suppose it’s time I got thinking about what to grow in the garden this year. It may only be the middle of January but with the way time flies when I’m having fun seed starting time will be here before I know it.


Last month I did an inventory of the seeds I have on hand with notes on quantity and age. Armed with a list of crops I’ve run out of and want to grow again as well as a wish list of new things I’d like to try I’ve been perusing the pile of seed catalogs. Some varieties are common to several sources and some are available at only one place. Clearly I’ll have to place more than one order, but I’ll check the local garden centers first, of course. I’m also anxiously anticipating the arrival of the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook that should be mailed toward the end of this month. I joined SSE last year for several reasons including access to that catalog of nearly fourteen thousand varieties. My hope is that some of the more unusual vegetables I’ve been reading about in nineteenth century garden books might be available there. And in addition to those sources, my seed guru will be offering up some goodies.


The part of the planning I don’t relish is trying to figure out how to rotate crops. In order to avoid depleting specific soil nutrients and to confuse overwintering pests one should avoid planting things from the same family in the same spot for several years. I like to think of myself as organized but when I look around online and in books at the way some people garden I wonder if they’re putting me on. I see a lot of plans where each bed has been assigned a neat succession of plantings to take it through the season. There’s even a nifty program that will help you in planning rotations. I couldn’t use it because I just don’t garden that way. 


To the extent that I do plan, I try to avoid egregious mistakes like planting all the tomatoes in the same place two years in a row. This year, for example, in the half of the garden we’d newly acquired I planted the tomatoes where I was fairly sure the previous gardener didn’t plant hers. Good so far. But I had too  many plants for that area so three additional plants found homes in three different rows of beans. I managed to get my Brassicas in a bed that had been mostly Brassica-free in 2010, but when some plants croaked early on I decided to fill that spot with another pepper. See the picture? Instead of neatly grouping plants like in the idealized plans, I’ve got random, single plants tucked in here and there wherever the opportunity arises. I can look back on previous years’ plans—which are actually records of what went on, not what was anticipated—and try to place things in the best spots. But it becomes something of a puzzle.


Maybe I just won’t worry about it too much. I’ll use my records to keep from putting entire blocks of plants where their relatives have grown for at least a couple years. But there’s inevitably going to be some overlap. If nothing else, I can use that as an excuse if something doesn’t grow as well as it should.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Beekeeping Planning

The preparation for starting our beehives is proceeding with what feels like increasing speed. When we first decided to undertake the pastime I had already been doing some reading, watching videos and listening to podcasts. At first I was all “this isn’t so complicated once you understand bee biology.” Since the three of us all have backgrounds in science I figured we could understand enough to get started and then learn from our inevitable mistakes.


Then I ramped up my reading, consulted more sources of information online and looked into some of the seemingly endless variations in hive construction and management. Information overload set in with a side order of analysis paralysis. I became overly concerned with doing everything the right way from the start. The problem, however, appears to be that there isn’t one right way, but probably many.


Bees on CloverA little peace of mind came from the local beekeeping association. At the last monthly meeting we finally had a chance to chat with several members who were more than happy to inspect the trial hive body the other Mark had made and talk with us about the ins and outs of getting started. We also visited the home of one of the members where she enthusiastically showed us how she builds her equipment and tends her hives. By the time we left we were charged up and ready to settle on the equipment configuration we will start with.

  • All medium depth, home-made, 10-Frame Langstroth hive bodies. My thinking is that most of the people we’re going to be learning from at this point in our beekeeping careers are using Langstroths and so will be most knowledgeable about them. I do reserve the right to try out some of the other styles once we get the basics down.
  • A mix of home-made and purchased foundationless frames. We’re hoping small, natural, bee-sized cells will help hold the Varroa mites back a bit as has been reported.
  • A screen bottom board. Again, Varroa defense allowing the little buggers to drop to their deaths. An insertable white board will allow us to do mite counts when we want to. The screen will provided more ventilation, too.
  • Buying package bees, most likely three pounds per hive. We’re having a bit of sticker shock now that we’re shopping for these. I don’t know where I first read prices way last summer, but what we’re seeing quoted now is more than twice what I had been expecting. Consequently, we’re most likely starting with two hives rather than the five “someone” was hoping for. Nucs are way out of our range at this time.

As for plans/hopes for the probably more distant future we’d like to try our hand at queen rearing if we wind up having some good survivors. The thrill of the swarm capture is also appealing. And, as I mentioned before, we’re interested in building some other hive designs. Now the more I learn about beekeeping the more I see it as having potential for lifelong learning and experimentation rather than being completely unapproachable.


[For the record, I believe the pictured bees are wild native bees, not honeybees]