Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Archive for the tag “Devil’s Club”

What happened to June?

Summer solstice sunset

Summer solstice sunset

Like, where the heck did it go so fast?  I looked at the calendar today and couldn’t believe that we’re in the last week of June, with only a week until July 4, Independence Day and a national holiday here in the U.S.  I suppose part of the reason it feels like it went so fast is because I’ve been busy, and can hardly keep up with everything.  This time of year is a challenge, with the urgency of planting season and pruning back the jungle like two monsters threatening to devour a city, all while working 9-5, caring for a few dozen animals (livestock and house pets), trying to keep up with housework and errands, socializing and the holiest grail of all: down time.  I’ve written about the juicy jungle growth of June before; you think I’d get used to it but the explosion of vegetative growth is stunning every year.  Right now my driveway to

Welcome to the jungle.

Welcome to the jungle.

the gate looks like an abandoned logging road, with the salmonberry, thimbleberry, Indian plum, reed canary grass, trailing blackberry, bracken fern, sword fern, filbert trees, nettles, fringecup, manroot (wild cucumber) and Himalayan blackberry creating a wall on either side of the drive, and down the middle the plantain, grasses, buttercup, and self-heal tickle my car’s underbelly as I drive up (and I’ve already weed whacked it once).  It looks totally abandoned.


Oink. Oink.

Inside the gate, though, the sheep have kept everything mowed down and pruned back.  The piggy BWM boys’ summer job fell through this year (they were usurped by miniature horses), so having the entire flock of nine on site all summer means that I really have to manage the grass crop.  I let them out every evening, and much of the day on the weekends, to mow and munch on pretty much everything on the property.  For the first time in the three years I’ve been here I haven’t needed to mow or weed whack the grass around the house.  The hillside behind the house is almost putting green short (overgrazed, yes, but I’m not trying to grow pasture there).  They keep the grass cropped and sample and prune most everything they can reach.  They don’t like stinging nettles (unfortunately, as I have a bumper crop every year) but they do like Devil’s Club – a wondrous, and wickedly spiny, 4 – 6 foot high

Devil's club

Devil’s club

shrub that grows in little colonies.  Thankfully they aren’t mowing that down (perversely, I love the Devil’s club – it has a magical energy).  They’ve learned to walk into all their favorite understory shrubs, pushing the plant down as they walk into it, and lowering the yummy leaves to where they can eat them.  They’ve kept the salmonberry and sword fern bordering the open area around the house from making further headway in the vegetative master plan to engulf the house.  Everything is pruned at sheep’s head high, and the plants on the edge completely denuded as they employ their new trick.  Still, it feels like a jungle out there.   We had some rain this past week or so, after almost two weeks of solid sun (loved it!), which will help the pasture to recover and regrow.  In the meantime they’re in their confinement area and I’m filling hay nets every day.  Ugh.  I probably should have pulled them off the pasture two weeks ago, given the dry spell we had, but it’s not hideously overgrazed, so will hopefully recover quickly with the recent rain and coming sunshine.  No need to hire the pasture mower this year!

1102I have the garden about half planted.  I think I’m even further behind than I was last year, but I’ve decided it’s all okay.  Local farmers are harvesting lettuce and kale and onions already while mine are just sprouting.  Tonight the soil was too wet and soggy to work after a week of rain, so I wasn’t able to get out there.  This weekend will be perfect for finishing up planting and transplanting, and I’ll have a lovely fall garden in two or three months.


Juicy Jungle June

The best of intentions have been waylaid once again.  Life has a way of happening – time marches on and all that – and before you know it an entire month passes by.  There’s no question that the month of May into June is a busy one in the Northern hemisphere, and especially if you’re at all outdoorsy or garden-minded.  And here in the Seattle area, it’s almost like living in the tropics (well, except for the cool temps) – the vegetative growth this time of year is just phenomenal.  The jungle-like growth peaks in late June (solstice) and from here on out it will slow down as the flowers and seed pods begin to form, just as much going on but not quite so frenetic feeling as the juicy spring growth. 

This is, of course, a long winded entrance to saying that I can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last post here!  Despite my best intentions to stay more current and conversational with frequent short posts, I’m once again playing catch up here on interests, doings and updates.  A lot can happen in a month, and here are some of the things I’ve been up to (I’ll probably miss more than I’ll report on!). 

The weather continues to be a major player, with most of May being unseasonably cold, and plenty of the wet stuff too.  June followed suit, and while it is a skooch warmer, it’s been rainy and cool for much of the month.  The bees are hanging in there.  I had a scare a couple of weeks ago where I thought I’d lost my queen, but things seem to be okay.  I did an inspection were I saw no larvae at all (compared to my jam packed frames of mid-May).  A more thorough inspection (like, every single frame) the next day showed a handful of small larvae on one (just one!) frame.  The rest of the frames that had comb (only about 50 percent of the frames have comb built so far) were capped cells, with some burr comb that looked like supersedure (queen) cells.  I also saw a large number of dead drones on the stoop below the landing – obviously there’d been a good sized hatch at some point.  

The frames all felt lighter than they did just a few weeks earlier, but at the advice of another beekeeper I waited and did another inspection a week later (rather than run out to purchase a new queen to introduce).  He felt that perhaps the lack of larvae was just the fact that the queen had nowhere to lay eggs – yet.  As a new hive this year, the bees have been working around the clock to build comb, as well as tend brood, collect pollen and nectar and all the other myriad things they do to keep the hive going.  On my next inspection I found more larvae and even eggs (normally hard to see) in many open cells.  The capped brood had hatched and there was now room for more laying.  More hatch means more bees to build more comb and collect more nectar, etc.  The collecting nectar part has been a little weak, due to the previously mentioned wet, cold weather.  The bees can handle one or the other, somewhat, but the combination keeps them in the hive and grounded.  

A chance conversation yesterday with another beekeeper at the local hardware store (I knew one of the employees there had hives, but hadn’t run into him before) made me realize that my bees were hungry.  I took out the feeder back in May when they were going great guns (lots of brood and lots of honey being made), but the ensuing wet weather, large hatch, and lack of available nectar had them surviving on the honey stores they’d just begun to make.  The light bulb came on as he talked – my frames were so light…no wonder!  I put a pint of sugar water out there yesterday evening and it was drained by midday today.  I checked to be sure it hadn’t just leaked out (nope) and filled it up again.  This weekend has been very wet, though today it’s been merely overcast, not raining.  As long as they’re draining it like this, I will continue to feed them.  We’re a couple weeks out from blackberry blooming – the annual nectar bonanza for bees in this area – and by then I’ll hopefully have plenty of healthy bees ready to maximize the abundance and store enough honey to see them through the winter months. 

The garden is coming along slowly too.  I finally got all the compost spread and planted some seeds a few weeks back.  When I planted what seeds I had, I realized how gi-normous the garden plot is (~765 sq. ft); while I’ve had larger vegetable gardens before (I’m thinking of the Jack-and-the Beanstalk bounty of when I lived along the Issaquah Creek – fertile bottomland where you basically just dropped a seed and stood back), but this one is my first with ‘just me’ and exclusively for veggies.  Most of my gardening in the past decade or so has been medicinal herbs and edible landscaping beds versus a true vegetable garden plot.  I have it about half planted now, and need to get a few more things in the ground before it gets too late.  I have some stuff for fall planting, too, so there’s time, but with solstice just a day away, it feels more urgent.  And of course there’s the maintenance of weeding and pest control.  Slugs have been dining on my lettuce sprouts, as well as my pumpkin and green bean seedlings.  I go out at night with a flashlight and collect the offenders, then feed them to the ducks the next day.  

The critters are all doing well – the sheep are happy on their green pasture and plenty of browse.  The pasture needs mowing right now, as they tend to ignore all the seed heads in favor of tender sprouts and leafy browse (the mowing is scheduled for next Saturday).  I let them out to graze the rest of the property too, though they usually end up on the front lawn.   The littlest sheep, Pebbles, is especially goatlike in her foraging.  I see her standing on her hind legs trying to get up to low hanging branches of the maples and fruit trees.  She loves any pruning trimmings, and of all of them seems happiest with the variety of browse to graze.  My friend Susan came by a few weeks ago and loaded up Bo and Curly, the two horned boys.  She’s the one who kept them for me last summer until I got my pasture fenced.  It’s a win-win for us both – she gets her steep pastures mowed and my pasture isn’t overgrazed.  And the other three – Pebbles, Cinnamon, and Conan (Coco) – aren’t bullied by the two more aggressive ones.  When they come back from their summer mowing job it’s likely that one or both will go to the butcher.  Bo can be a jerk – butting the others over food as well as the fence, gate, wall, etc.  After a couple months in the confinement area (during the winter they are off the pasture to prevent overgrazing) he starts making moves at me too, which will earn him a trip to the freezer this year.  Since he’s super aggressive with the dogs, they can have the last laugh dining on him all winter.  

The ducklings have been growing and thriving – they’ve been out in the chicken tractor for several weeks now and are loving it – a fresh patch of grass every day or so, and a pan of water to swim and play in.  They are beginning to look like ducks, feathering out and are even growing wings now.  Chicks grow wings pretty much immediately – within the first week or so they have feathered out wings and usually tail feathers too, even while the rest is just fuzz.  Ducklings’ wings are just useless stubbies until about four or five weeks, when they start to grow longer and even grow wing feathers.  Right now they have juvenile plumage, which means that they all look like females.  They are all still mostly peeping, but every once in a while I hear a quack, so I know there’s for sure at least one female in the bunch (male ducks don’t (can’t) quack). They continue to be very wary of me, but the dogs don’t faze them.  Pal loves to point on them, when he’s not pointing on the chickens or hunting moles (he’s a champion mole hunter – at least two so far! – he’s lucky I don’t mind the pits he digs on his hunts. 

One or two other things I’ve been up to…

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