Oh Sweet Spring

I know you are there Dear Sweet Spring ..

and soon you will send your blooms into the world bursting with beauty and color!

spring crocus

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This winter has been terribly severe in the Southern part of Illinois as it has been in most parts of the country.  Moving from the Northern part of the state and experiencing extreme cold winters was always the norm, so the cold temperatures down here didn’t affect me much.  Until yesterday ……  I noticed very little activity on the warmer days from two of the bee hives, so I could wait no longer and had to check on their status.  Sad news = they are dead.  There is plenty of honey in each of the hives so I am guessing it was the damp COLD weather that took its toll on them.  This is my first loss as a beekeeper, since I am relatively new, going into my third year with hives and what an awful feeling opening the hives to find such stillness.

On a brighter note, I have started seeds under the grow lights and have little plants already making their appearance.  Usually I have tray after tray under the lights, but this year I am holding off.  We decided to take a year off from vending at the Farmers’ market and I am hoping to start more in the hoop house without the use of the lights and electricity.

grow lights

The daffodils are pushing through the ground and although today is quite warm in the upper 60s, tomorrow may be a surprise.  The weather report says rain and snow (really? again).  That snow just doesn’t want to take its leave for the season yet!

daffodil sprouts

It is still very warm, in fact, HOT in the hoop house today.  Earlier it was 50 degrees, but is well over 100 now in the afternoon sun.  The sprouting seeds need this warmth and I will keep the back of the hoop house closed up since cold is suppose to appear once again.  Next week I bet I will be unzipping the back to let some fresh air in.  I was able to harvest some baby kale that had over-wintered and had it the last two days in my salad.  Soon I will also have arugula, spinach, mizuna and leaf lettuces to munch on.  I have started several tomato seeds under the grow lights and will move them to the hoop house for extra early growth, but will not be transplanting into the hoop house.  Last year we attempted to grow tomatoes in the hoop house and they do grow fine….but, I feel they do better outside in the natural weather.  They did get very tall and it seemed like less fruit was harvested.  So tomatoes outside this year!

seeds started hoophouseOff to a sad start with the bees this Spring ::: lessons learned and sadness felt.  Hoping that the drought of the last 2 years stays away and we actually have a nice garden growing season this year!

The Weather outside is frightful

chicken in snow

Where’s the grass??

This is the first snow for many of our chickens and they are rather confused.  Yesterday they were out scratching the ground and eating grass and today … it’s all White!  Most of the hens ran right back into the barn after a quick peek, but of course, there are always the ones that are just too curious for their own good.  Goldie and Nelda ran under the truck and refused to come out.  Finally after a few hours we succeeded in convincing them the barn was a much better place to hang out.hoophouse in snow hoophouse temp

The hoop house is chilly with the temps just over 30 degrees – outside we are in the 20s.  Right now there is about 8 inches of snow on the ground and it continues to fall.  The forecast for the weekend calls for more snow and temps to dip really low.  The greens inside the hoop house are starting to yellow if you look closely.  I am hoping to get another harvest or two before it’s over for the season.  With the sun shining tomorrow it will give them a boost.  The greens have been absolutely delicious and I have to say being December I am quite happy with all I have eaten this season.

There was no activity at the bee hives and that is to be expected.  If they ventured out today, they would surely freeze.  Some were out earlier in the week, but today is a different story.
bee hives in snow

How is the weather in your neck of the woods?

For the Love of Sunflowers

sunflower bud

I have grown to love and enjoy Sunflowers for their beauty and for how beneficial they are for our Bees.  Many varieties will grow to an amazing height of 8 – 10 feet tall and I avoided growing them most of my gardening years just for this fact.  They intimidated me and I thought they would be tall and lanky and of little use.

When we moved to our property here, I became interested in growing Sunflowers for their seed.  I did some research and found two varieties which would produce a nice seed for snacking on … the Mongolian Giant and Mammoth Grey Striped.  I purchased both types, planted away and that year the drought hit us hard, so needless to say my seed harvest was minimal.  I held on to some saved seed though.  The following year all my efforts were concentrated on managing the Farmers’ Market of which I became the Market Master.  We also acquired the hoop house and although I planted several different areas of Sunflowers, I wasn’t really paying attention to the beautiful flower until, I noticed…

bee with pollen on sunflower

the Bees on the Sunflowers!!

As I mentioned earlier, the drought hit hard here and this was also the year we first acquired our bees.  My hives did survive and I began to take notice of what flowers were in bloom at what time of the year.  I wondered what my bees were able to find and bring home to the hive.  I did notice bees on the clover and dandelions and the flowers here and there.  I began to take photos and watch with great interest as the Bees flew from one flower to another.  I realized I needed to plant many more flowers particularly Sunflowers since they produce two very important and essential ingredients for the survival of our Bees…nectar and pollen.  The nectar gathered by the bees is used to make honey and the pollen used to feed the developing larvae in the hive.  Sunflowers are a double power house for the Bees!

american goldfinch

Birds also enjoy the seed harvest from the Sunflowers as you can see this American Goldfinch dining on the seeds.  The petals have fallen off and now the seeds will begin to dry in the head, unless they are eaten by some hungry birds!  A method I have found successful for saving the seed is to take a brown lunch bag and pull it up around the seed head and tie with string.  Of course, you should leave some for the birds to munch on as well.

sunflower to the sky

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Grow 1 …. for the Bees!

Or Grow 10, 20 or 30 and watch them sway in the wind!  If you receive heavy winds in your area, you may want to plant along something to brace them when the winds whip up such as a fence or the side of a shed.  The root system is shallow and the weight of the towering stalk and flower will pull the roots out and the stem will topple over during severe storms.

 Make sure to capture some beautiful photos as the Sunflower goes through the growing stages and hopefully you will also capture fantastic photos of the Bees and Birds enjoying a feast!

HomeGrown Pumpkin Pie for the Soul

pumpkins

Food for the Soul is the Daily Prompt and I have to admit this Pumpkin Pie recipe speaks right from my heart and soul!  When I first discovered the Pumpkin Pie pumpkin I was quite excited and knew I had to grow these in my garden.  This variety of pumpkin is smaller than the one most carve for Halloween decorations.  Although the pumpkin is smaller there is plenty to make 2 pies and even some additional little treats like pancakes, breads, etc. If you plan on growing these in your own garden, note that the vines will still spread out and take up a lot of space so make sure you have plenty of room.
ppie collage

The procedure for cooking the pumpkin is fairly simple.  Cut in half, scoop out the seeds and either save for planting (there will be plenty to share with your friends and the Bees absolutely love the pumpkin flowers for pollen) or roast up the seeds for eating.  Place the halves down in a cookie sheet, cover with foil and once in the oven add about 1/2″ water to the pan to steam.    Check on the water level half way through cooking to make sure it has not all evaporated.  This cooking/steaming usually takes about 45 minutes.

Remove the pumpkin and let cool completely.  Scoop out the inside and using a hand blender puree the pumpkin until there are no lumps remaining.  Next you combine all the ingredients and pour into an unbaked pie crust.  This recipe makes 1 pie.

Pumpkin Pie Recipe
1 unbaked 8-inch pie shell
1 cup fresh pumpkin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
Blend pumpkin and spices and mix well.  Stir in remaining ingredients and pour into pie shell.  Bake at 400 degrees for an hour.  Filling may be soft but will set on cooling.
pumpkin pie
  • Grow Some Pumpkins
  • Feed the Bees
  • Bake a Pie
  • Save the Seeds

Food for the Soul for sure!!

Previously posted at Growing Phases Farm