Rainy days and Sundays always get me down when I can not garden!

Monday, February 1, 2016


Hard to believe that groundhog day is tomorrow!
Our "Phil" of Phyllis?

And according to folklore, if  "Phil" see his shadow, there are 6 more weeks of winter remaining.  (Since 1886, the groundhog has seen his shadow over 100x).  So, if it's a sunny day on February 2nd, the groundhog will see his shadow and retreat back down his hole for 6 more weeks.  However, in western Pennsylvania, where the famous groundhog "Punxsutawney Phil" resides, the forecast is cloudy skies, which should mean no shadow, warmer days, and a early spring!  Fingers crossed!

Groundhog burrow entrance.
The first day of spring is March 20, however, the average last frost date is April 15, (April 7th has a 50% chance of frost, with April 23 having less then 50% chance of frost).  Some (cold tolerant) seeds such as peas, spinach, lettuce, chard, beets, radishes, carrots, and onions can be direct sown, weather permitting, in the garden, in March.  But you can jump start your spring garden by starting many seeds indoors, to be transplanted later, after the danger of frost or under hoop houses.

My growing zone is 7a.  Knowing your zone assures that you start seeds indoors, transplant, or sow seeds outdoors, at the correct time, based on your first and last frost dates and using the information found on the back of the seed packets. 

Groundhog day is about 10-11 weeks out from the average last frost date in my area.  Indoors, I have already started celery, peppers, and onions (seed) due to their longer growing requirements (12+ weeks). This week I will be starting kale, cabbage, head lettuce, and collards. 9 weeks out, I plan to start cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.  And towards the end of February, eggplant, flowering milkweed, and tomatoes. 

Not good.
   There may be snow on the ground, but there is plenty of gardening to be done in February!

And February 2nd, all eyes will be on a rodent named "Phil"!


Tuesday, January 19, 2016


With the above normal temperatures in November and December, we were seeing a lot of activity in front of the hive, not typical for this time of year.  We watched as bees brought back pollen in December (from where?) and what appears to be orientation flights (20 day old bees) more typical of summer.  Although it is great to see our bees buzzing around (our hive is alive!) , I do worry if they may be a bit confused on what time of year it really is.

December 2015
Now that the weather has turned frigid, the question I am most often asked is "what do your bees do in the winter"?  It wasn't until my husband and I started keeping bees ourselves that I new the answer to this question.

Prior to becoming a beekeeper, I assumed that honey bees died off or hibernated like other cold blooded insects (or went south for the winter!).  With our native bumble bees, newly mated queens hibernate below ground through the winter months.  All workers, males and the mother queen die with the cold.  Come spring the queen emerges and begins again with building a new colony. 

Honey bees never really hibernate or sleep.   Instead, they clusters together around the queen, within the hive, maintaining a temperature of about 96 degrees (and 50% humidity). Within the cluster, the bees flutter their wings, which helps to generate heat.  The queen is always in the center warm and toasty, as female worker bees take turns rotating in and out of the cluster.  (The male drones are kicked out of the hive before winter).  They will remain in this cluster as long as temperatures are below 50 degrees. On warmer winter days, they may break the cluster and venture out of the hive for cleansing (bathroom) flights and to move the cluster upward towards honey stores.  The bees need to re-cluster prior to drop in temperature or risk freezing.

As beekeepers, the goal is for your hive(s) to survive the winter. This may seem obvious to most, but with the loss of 30-60 percent of hives between January and March, not an easy task. In nature, honeybees often build hives in hallows of tree (away from mice and other pest) with a single entrance at the bottom.  They utilize propolis (a sticky resin) to seal up the cracks.  The trunk of the tree absorbs excess moisture, which can be used later if needed.  To give their bees a "stinging" chance, some beekeepers choose to "winterize" their hives.  There is a saying "if you ask 10 beekeepers a question, you will get 11 answers".  So how this is done will vary among hobbyist and commercial beekeepers. 

My husband and I came up with our own "winter survival plan" for our bees. One of our hives was weak with little possibility of coming through the winter alive.  We combined it with our stronger hive, in hopes of giving that hive a better chance of survival.  Before putting our "bees to bed for the winter" we treated our remaining hive for varroa mites.  Varroa are parasites that attach to both adult bees and bee larvae, sucking their blood, transmitting viruses and weakening the bees immune system.  If left untreated, varroa infestation can lead to the death of a hive.  Bees need plenty of "food" (honey) to get through the long winter months.  It's important to leave enough honey in the hive, about 70-100 pounds.  We added fondant or bee candy as a back up food source.  To protect the hive from strong, gusty winds, we put up a tarp to act as a wind break behind the hive.  We also decided to wrap our hives in Styrofoam insulation for added warmth.  To help with excess condensation within the hive (which drips cold water down onto the bees) we added straw, ventilation at the top and a screened bottom board.  A mouse guard keeps unwanted critters out.   

Our set-up
Winter can be difficult time for our bees, and a season of worry for the beekeeper.  I hate "the not knowing" what is happening inside the hive.  If we get a nice sunny day in the 40's with no wind, we will take a quick peak (we do not want to chill the bees or upset the cluster) and take any action that may be necessary.  Although there are no assurances, we are hopeful they will pull through the winter!. 

So for now, we hibernate inside the warmth of our house, sip hot tea with honey and wait for springs arrival!
Infra-red sensor on a I-phone.  The large red area is the bee cluster. 

Monday, October 19, 2015


Tomato plants do not like it when the temperatures start to drop below 55 degrees. (They like it even less if there is a frost).  The ideal growing temperatures for tomatoes are between 60 and 90 degrees.  When temperature drops below 60 or rise above 90, the vines start to suffer from stress.  This causes the blossoms to drop off (blossom drop) with out developing into fruit.  
Tomatoes are a subtropical plant.  Even a light frost can damage or kill the vines.  When temperatures drop near freezing, condensation forms on the plants, resulting in frost bite. In addition, the fruit on the plants may be damaged as well.  

My cherry tomatoes were prolific this year!

I decided to pickle them.

Sanitizing the lids......

....and the jars.

Fresh Dill from the garden.

Also, jalapeno's and garlic (from the garden), along with pickling vinegar and salt, mustard seed, and peppercorns for the brine.

Fill clean sterile jars and add the brine, leaving 1/2 inch  of head space.   Check for air bubbles and wipe off  the rims.  Center lids on jars and tighten , using the "3 finger" tightening method.  

Place the jars in the water bath, making sure the jars are not touching and there is 1-2 inches of water covering the tops.  Bring to a boil and process according to instructions (I did 15 minutes).

After the appropriate amount of time, remove the jars from the bath and place on a towel (listen for the pop).  Allow the jars to "rest" for 12-24 hours, after which, you can check the seals.  Wait a week before eating, giving the flavor a chance to settle.   Label and store remaining jars in a cool, dark place (like the basement) for up to a year.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


 I thought I was being clever when I decided to grow cucumbers and herbs in the same pots.  BAD IDEA!!!!   For starters, my pots were to small to accommodate both a herb and cucumber plant.  (To add insult to injury, I threw in a few zinnia seeds!)  In addition the watering needs varied between the herbs and the cucumbers.  I struggled to keep the basil/cucumber combo well watered. However, the oregano/cucumber combo was to wet for this herb.   But more important, I never checked to see if herbs and cucumbers make for good companion planting (plants grown near each other to attract beneficial insects, deter pest, and provide support, shade, nutrients etc.).  They do not!  Cucumbers do not do well with herbs that have a strong aroma!

A pot that is about 12"-16" inches deep or about 24" in diameter can can grow 2-3 cucumber plants.  . (5 gallon buckets also work well and hold 3 plants.)  Cucumbers have deep roots and need a steady or constant amount of water. 

Herbs on the other hand have either shallow (oregano) , medium (parsley) or deep or long roots (basil).  A 14" diameter pot works well for most herbs. Basil and parsley needs lots of water, where as oregano doesn't.

Cucumbers rely on insects/bees for pollination.  A cucumber flower remains open for one day and pollination must take place in that day.  It takes about 9 visits per a single flower to adequately pollinate/transfer pollen.  Low yields and misshapen cucumbers are often the result of poor pollination.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Did you know that PESTICIDES & SPRAYS that harm or kill ANTS also harm BEES?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


What does scallions, green onions, spring onions and onions have in common?  They are all part of the Allium (Latin for garlic) family along with garlic, leeks, shallots, chives  etc.  Allium are edible perennial plants. Although it is unclear how many species exist, the average is about 750 (250 on the low end to 900 on the high end).  About a dozen are of importance to the gardener or farmer.  Others are important for their ornamental value.

To me, scallions are just underdeveloped onions, sort off.  Very young onions are scallions in which the white root part has not developed into a bulb.  Green or spring onions are slightly more rounded then scallions and are on their way to maturing into fully grown onions.

All can be eaten raw or cooked (leaves to root), however, there are differences in taste ranging from strong to week.  Scallions are milder then onions, but stronger in flavor then chives.  Green onions take on the flavor of their fully grown counterpart.

 Never feed dogs or cats Alliums due to its potential for toxicity!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Turnip Cabbage, German Turnip...

Also known as kohlrabi, it is a  member of the cabbage family.  With a look of a turnip (growing above ground), the spherical shape bulbs are actually swollen stems. Both the bulb and leaves are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked.   Although there is debate about its origins, the name comes from the German "Kohl" (cabbage) and Latin "Rapa" (turnip), and is a staple in German speaking countries.  Kohlrabi is low in calories, a good source of fiber, calcium and potassium, and a anti-oxidant, with Vitamins A & C.  

When the bulbs reach about 3" in diameter, it is time to start harvesting your Kohlrabi.  They can be cut about an inch below the bulb or pulled.  Remove the leaves (to be used later) and any remaining root.  Peel back the outer, fibrous layer before eating or cooking.  (Unpeeled bulbs can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 weeks).  

I find the vegetable easy to grow and does well in early spring and in the fall.  Although is can be started indoors and transplanted into the garden, I have good success with direct sowing in a sunny location.  Floating row covers can be used for pest management, if needed.  

The biggest problem I find with growing Kohlrabi is that the groundhogs love it!!!  Luckily, some of the leaves can actually be removed prior to harvesting the bulbs for sauteing etc.  So, although the damaged looked bad, the actual veggie was fine. 

Caught in the act!


The "damage"

Ready for harvesting.

Root and leaved removed.

Peel to reveal a crisp fleshy 

I decided to eat them raw!