Saturday, July 18, 2015

Berry Good Mail

Vaccinium blueberry
'pink lemonade' x 2 and
Vaccinium virgatum
blueberry 'misty' x 2

Berry Good Mail


Our blueberry plants arrived!  We ordered them from Wellspring Gardens. I have ordered from Wellspring before and can attest to their shipping practices (taped soil and sticks that prevent snapping stems). They must know how USPS is as the package was pretty well mangled, but the packaging amazingly kept the plants in great shape!

Anyway, the Sunshine Blue variety was out of stock, so I snapped up the Pink Lemonade and Misty in paired sets for a total of four edible landscaping plants that are expected to get quite large.

We set them up in little plastic containers with a bit of water to refresh them for a day or two.

Mr. Man thinks the back wall would be a decent place to put them, so they'll be adjusting to our climate until we seal up the block fence in preparation for the espalier retaining garden.

We've talked about interplanting the blueberries with some fruit trees. A soil PH around 5 would be decent for the fruit trees and blueberries.

After sealing the block wall, we need to prep the soil when we build up the espalier retainer garden. Good info found:
Blueberries demand a soil pH between 4.0 and 5.5. Correct the pH for blueberries with peat moss (mixed at least 50/50 with your native soil) and perhaps some soil sulfur. The bushes have extremely shallow root systems, so the heavy peat blend need not be deeper than 12 inches. Blueberries need a steady supply of moisture; the water-retentive peat will help with that as well.
One blueberry bush is all you need. In its fourth season it will produce a pint or so of fruit. At maturity, when it's 4 to 6 feet tall, the right variety can produce up to 20 pints over two to three weeks. However, if you've room for three or four varieties, you can stretch the harvest to 8 to 10 weeks, into the fall raspberry season. Although cross-pollination isn't essential, it will encourage larger fruit. ~ Gardening.org
Looks like we're set for blueberries.  Not sure if we will get the Sunshine blue when they're in stock. However, I am a sucker for the odd plants...

Cucumbershop.com owner with an Armenian Cucumber

Cucumber Shop


We had great luck with Armenian cucumbers when nothing else grew (our soil was too alkaline for anything else). Along with the Armenian cucumber, we somehow lucked into a dark green variety, and also tried out a 'real' cucumber, but of the lemon type.

We had a slew of them and made tons of cucumber stuff and our one day refrigerator pickles (warning, it is addictive).  We somehow lucked into a dark green version last year and it had a really good taste.  More like 'regular' cucumber than the melon kind.

Looking for a dark variety again, I found the cucumbershop.com site. We ordered three varieties; Medium-dark armenian; Painted serpent; and a rotund italian Massafra.  These seeds arrived in the mail this week and we're looking forward to another year of not shopping for cucumbers!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Blue Days Ahead

Vaccinium blueberry 'pink lemonade'

Blue Days Are Ahead


Now that we have the dog run set up, we can start planning for our garden again.  One of my all-time favorite fruits is the blueberry. In our climate, there are three very good self-pollinating varieties.  These include 1 Rabbiteye and 2 Highbush varieties; Vaccinium blueberry 'pink lemonade'; Vaccinium virgatum blueberry 'misty'; and Vaccinium corymbosum blueberry 'sunshine blue'. Having two of the three available types (rabbiteye, highbush and lowbush) offer loads of tasty berries, a longer blueberry season and a bit of fun.

Pink Lemonade:


First up is Pink Lemonade.  Pink Lemonade is the rabbiteye variety.  Pink Lemonade is great for our climate because it only requires 200 chill hours to produce fruit, rated for zones 5-9.  Being a rabbiteye variety, it is normal for the berries to start out a nice hot pink, but this particular variety is fun because the berries stay pink when fully ripe.  The expected mature height of Pink Lemonade is 4 - 6', however an unchecked rabbiteye can grow up to 20'.

Pink Lemonade starts off the season with shell pink flowers.  The fruits are reported to be glossy and firm, with a mild, sweet bite. Pink Lemonade produces successive crops until mid-fall.  In fall the foliage becomes the attraction while turning from green to yellow, gold, and finally brilliant reddish-orange. In dormancy, the russet-red bare stems keep 'Pink Lemonade' interesting.

Misty
Vaccinium virgatum blueberry 'misty'


Misty is a highbush variety.  Misty only requires 150 chill hours to produce fruit and is rated for zones 7b - 10a.  Misty's mature height is expected to be around 6 - 8 feet.  Misty will bloom white flowers a month after Pink Lemonade gets going, but the medium to large sized bright blue fruits will ripen before Pink Lemonade.

Misty's fruit is reported to be very sweet, matures early, and continues from midsummer through fall. Misty's blue-green foliage remains evergreen in mild winters or turns brilliant red before falling off in colder climates.

Vaccinium corymbosum blueberry 'sunshine blue'

Sunshine Blue


Sunshine Blue is also a highbush variety.  Sunshine Blue also requires less than 200 chill hours for fruit production and is rated for zones 5 - 10.  Sunshine Blue blooms flowers that start out white, but change to a hot pink which makes for a lot of interest during the summer.

Sunshine Blue grows in a compact 3 - 4 foot tall and wide bush variety.  For such a small plant, the yields are expected to be 5 to 10 lbs. of fruit per bush and about 80 berries per cup. Stated to taste excellent fruit and wins with productivity.

Commonalities
Blueberry plant hedge in spring


All blueberry plants require an acidic soil with a PH around 4.0 to 5.0 with good drainage. These particular varieties can stand soils that are a bit less acidic.  The blueberry plants spread out shallow roots so watering may require additional watering in our area.

While these three varieties are self-pollinating and do not require any other plants to produce some tasty fruit, additional plants will increase the productivity.

For landscaping, the blueberries can be set as an attractive and productive hedge for year round interest.

Blueberry plants in fall
In our southern climate, we may not get such a vivid red show as many other people would get from the lovely blueberry plants, but I have witnessed some colorful tinging around the edges of the leaves which does add a nice warm tone during the cooler weather.

Not many plants tolerate the acidity level the blueberries enjoy so these plants will need suitable companions or be on their own.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Dog Day Afternoon

A Dog Day Afternoon

It's official!  The dogs have their own separate area with a gate that automatically swings shut!  Woohoo!  We finished the major work today and still have finish work to do.

Mr. Man is super handy and did a wonderful job with the design and all the hard work.  We started out with plain steel tubes of various sizes and lengths, then Mr. Man set up the arbor, added the fence panels with the decorative knuckles and also included the circles to define the gate from the rest of the fence.

Finish work includes adding the stainless steel cables
Steel cables typically used for
stair railings or balconies
between the posts for growing vines or veggies.  The end result will be similar to the photo to the right.  A new twist on an old concept.  Our cables will be 8 inches apart for a total of three cables for vines above the easily visible fence line.

We are contemplating vines that will be good for the dogs, good for us and good for the bees, all while being able to survive our very hot temperatures and direct sunshine and/or dappled sunshine (before and after the Texas Ebony grows up).

Vines

HONEYSUCKLE:  


We like the beauty, fragrance and sweetness offered by the Japanese Honeysuckle, also known as Halls Prolific.  EatTheWeeds reports that Lonicera japonica 'Halliana' is a variety that is reasonably safe to eat:
It is the honeysuckle kids grew up with, picking the  flowers for a taste of sweetness. Young leaves are edible boiled.
...Nectar sucked off the ends of the flowers, young leaves boiled. In China leaves, buds and flowers are made into a tea but the tea may be toxic. Proceed carefully.

It is considered an invasive plant, but being on it's own little island of a trellis, it may be a great benefit, look gorgeous and work well in our climate.   It should also attract hummingbirds.

JASMINE:


The second vine we like is jasmine for it's tea potential.  But it must be Jasminum officinale.  According to an herbalist's site:

... Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) is a very widely known flowering shrub famous for its amazing beauty and mesmerizing aroma. This is one of the most characteristic herbal remedies of the Mediterranean region, which has been highly valued in folk medicines and used for numerous herbal preparation for many centuries. 

While these both look quite similar, jasmine will probably not be as tolerant of the direct sunshine as the honeysuckle.  Mr Man likes the honeysuckle more than the jasmine, so we'll probably plant honeysuckle on the trellis along with annual vines.

The honeysuckle flowers will attract the pollinators, look good year round and provide some coolness once established.  Interplanting annual vines among the honeysuckle will ensure more pollination of our vertically grown vegetables and gourds and maintain a level of attractiveness while the annuals complete their life cycles.



Thursday, July 2, 2015

Late For Expansion

Less Bees following the split

Stuffed Beehive

Things aren't always as they seem, especially as related to a beehive and new bee hobbyist eyes.  Following the split, there is much less external activities at the entrance.  This is true.

In our last post we assumed that a lot of comb dropped.  We didn't get a look inside to verify the truth of this theory because we pretty much bungled our last thorough inspection and felt the wrath of a probably queenless hive for a month.

Based on timing and activities, we're pretty sure we either maimed or killed the queen bee when we aggressively inspected the hive and accidentally broke some comb.  We had to be careful outside for a while.  Just about every time we went outside, Mr. Man was stung and we couldn't get near the hive until a new queen was created (we believe).

Dropped comb on far right
After the split and a few weeks of calm "beehavior", I finally ventured to open the window of the hive
to see how bad the comb drop was.  The discovery is there doesn't appear to be much comb drop.  It looks more like they're stuffing the hive to maximum capacity with comb and it crossed and tweaked at the right side.

Under view of beehive
The bottom of the hive shows the comb is getting built straight to the bottom of the hive where we put mesh for ventilation.  Perhaps the bees will cover it with propolis to prevent the ants from getting in this way.

It looks like the building to the very bottom of the hive is creeping towards the front of the hive.

We're planning to build a queen excluder and replace the partition on the right of the hive.  This will allow the queen free reign of the front portion, workers and honey making on the right side of the hive.  This will be close to a 50/50 split of the hive.  This will eliminate the potential of maiming or killing the queen in future hive inspections and eliminate baby bees being in the honey when we collect it (next year).

CLOSE UPS