Mid-Spring Homestead Update 2022

Mid-Spring is kind of an antsy time on the homestead for me. Seedlings are starting to emerge and they take a lot of water and weeding until the garden is in full swing. I have to watch the bees for swarming. Projects need to be done. And the weather is all over the place. I was so grateful for three whole days of rain this week. We desperately need it.

A few weeks ago, we had an open farm day, where we met many neighbors; answered questions about the alpacas, hens, and bees; and sold some dryer balls and greeting cards. We plan to have additional farm days at least once a month during summer and fall. 

In the meantime, here’s what’s going on: 

Bees

IMG_20220430_123903711The Bee & Bee is thriving! My big task at the moment is keeping an eye out for swarm cells and deciding if/when to split them into a second hive. In a nutshell, a honeybee colony is better thought of as a superorganism that reproduces itself rather than individual bees reproducing. When a colony survives the winter like this one did (yay! yay!), their population climbs quickly and they start to think about throwing off a swarm—a new colony. When that happens, they build queen cells at the bottom of frames, and once those are growing new queens, the bees gorge themselves on honey and about half of them leave with the old queen. They usually land on a nearby tree and scout bees fly out to look for a new place to live. Some beekeepers love to catch swarms (free bees!). Queen Leslie Knope II is doing an amazing job and I just spent good money on her in my emergency requeening last year, so I would very much like for them to not swarm away with her. If I see that they are getting ready to swarm, I can split them to try to prevent it. Or I can split them preemptively. I need to decide which very soon, I think.

IMG_20220430_123630717The bees have started to build drone comb in-between the two deep boxes that make the brood nest. Last week during my hive inspection, I was worried that it was swarm cells, but a closer inspection clearly revealed that it was drone cells. Drone (male bee) cells look like bullets. Queen cells look like peanuts and hang down from the bottom of the frame or perpendicular to the rest of the comb. I think they were annoyed that I destroyed some of the drone cells when I pulled the frames out. Sorry girls!

Today during my hive inspection, I found some good news and some bad news. I have been feeding them 1:1 sugar syrup in hopes that they will start drawing fresh comb in their honey super. They weren’t, so I took the queen excluder off last week. I had put it in place so that the brood the queen laid in the old, mite treatment tainted comb could hatch out before I put clean frames in. Today, I saw that they were starting to build comb. IMG_20220506_130806551Yay! It was mostly cross comb, so I pushed it into the frame, wanting them to use the wax to build the comb on the frame instead of out from it. The bad news was that there was a patch of mold on the bottom board. The bee shop sold me some pollen patties a couple of months ago and I put one in the brood nest, but it started to melt and drip onto the bottom board. Clearly, that was the origin of the mold. I could smell that something was off as soon as I opened the hive. It wasn’t as sweet as usual. Fortunately, the spot of mold was small, so I was able to scrape it and flip the bottom board before the mold caused any real damage to the hive or the comb. Phew! Beekeepers, do you use pollen patties? This was my first experience and I’m not sold on them. I am so happy that the hive is doing well! 

IMG_20220506_131504244That One Bee

In general, my bees are very sweet, but often there is one guard bee who just won’t quit. When I take my glove off to take pictures she’s buzzing at my hand. When I go home, she follows me. In an online beekeeping group I’m in, I saw this bee referred to as That One Bee. This year’s hypervigilant guard bee has emerged. When I was filling garden beds (more on that below), she kept buzzing me. I have sat by the hive and watched the bees without having an issue, but that day she was on the warpath. Today, I had a bee hang out on my beesuit for the longest time after I was done. Beekeepers, do you have That One Bee?

Garden

IMG_20220506_122017460I have started to harden off my seedlings (tomato, eggplant, echinacea, verbascum, and pepper) before transplanting them outside. My pumpkin seedlings were looking really good, if leggy, but they withered and died while I was hardening them off. If I am completely honest, I think what did it was that they were sitting on the kitchen counter overnight and, on an impulse, I watered them with leftover coffee and it was tooooooo much nitrogen. Sorry, plant babies. I love you. 

Before those three days of rain, however, I was able to plant corn, green beans, and pumpkins outside in the pumpkin patch and the new raised beds. This year I am growing two types of corn, purple green beans, and a wide variety of winter squash: Porcelain Princess Pumpkin, Mashed Potato Squash, Atlantic Giant Pumpkin, Baby Bear Pumpkin, Naked Bear Pumpkin, Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, Luffa Gourd, Igor Pumpkin, Jack O’Lantern, Harvest Moon Squash, Butternut and Acorn Squash, and Kabocha Squash. 

I thought that I was planting them on the early side, but when I checked my records, I planted them on the same exact date last year. I hope to have a good harvest, using the insights about watering I learned last year. Again, fingers crossed. 

About a month ago, when it looked like we were in the clear for frost, I planted summer squash, greens, peas, leeks, and carrots. Plenty of seedlings have started to come up. This weekend, I am planting the rest of the flowers, including several varieties of sunflowers. I am really trying to get the border around the horse run bursting with pollinator-friendly and native flowers this year. My efforts last year did not work out, but I think the soil was too hot, since it was largely made up from old horse poop we had to clean out of the barn. I mulched it heavily over winter to try to draw the nitrogen out. I hope this year things grow better. At any rate, a single grape hyacinth made its way from the front yard to the back, and they are good spreaders, so nature might do the work for me. Thanks, girl. 

Compost

I have been struggling with composting for two years now. I was told that it’s not really that hard, but I can’t seem to get my compost to compost all the way. It didn’t smell bad or anything, it just was not breaking all the way down into good dirt. I spent some time doing research over the winter and came to the conclusion that I was

  1.  not turning my compost often enough 
  2.  including scraps that were too big and 
  3. not giving it enough time. 

After listening to an episode of Gimlet’s How to Save a Planet Podcast (which is very good) called Waste, Worms, and Windrows: Domingo Morales’ Quest to Make Compost Cool, I felt convicted to get my compost efforts back in action. The episode does a good job of explaining why composting is better for the environment and talks about Morales’ efforts to bring composting to New York City on a bigger scale. It’s worth a listen. Since then, I have been diligently turning our tumblers almost every day and putting all of our non-dairy food scraps into a container to go out each day (We don’t eat meat, but if you do, that doesn’t go in compost). I use our kitchen shears to cut fruit peels into smaller pieces and crush the eggshells before tossing them in. It’s a little more effort, but also strangely satisfying. We have two tumblers and I let one rest while I filled the other. The full one is now being turned while it breaks down, but I’m not adding anything new anymore, and have moved to the second tumbler. I can tell by the weight when I turn them that the food is breaking down. Will it turn all the way back into dirt this time? Fingers crossed. If you are good at this, I would love tips. 

Alpacas

IMG_20220409_125333029The alpacas are set for shearing during the first weekend of June. It will be Luna’s first shearing and we are a little nervous about how Miss Firecracker will handle it. She is still very protective of her baby. Luna is almost eight months old. It seemed like Miss Firecracker was weaning her back in February, but Luna is still nursing sometimes, so it is taking awhile. From what I’ve read, when left to their own devices, alpacas wean around 8 months old, so I expect that we will see the nursing sessions continue to wane over the next month or so, until they end completely. Miss Firecracker is not losing weight, and we are not planning to breed her again anytime soon, so we have no reason not to let her follow her instincts. 

The pool is back out for the alpacas. Anytime I get the hose out to water plants, they run over to their pool and wait for me to top it up. They each have at least 2” of fleece on their backs, so you can imagine how hot they get on warm, sunny days. They also like to gather in the shade of the barn by the chicken coop. Miss Firecracker usually gets the shadiest spot. 

Last weekend, I was filling in the new raised beds that Julio and his dad built. I put a layer of alpaca poop on the bottom of each bed as filler and for the added nutrients. As I struggled to get the wheelbarrow, which I discovered too late has a flat tire, through the gate, Moira pushed her way into the backyard to eat the grass. As if Moira wasn’t enough to handle, I took pity on the other girls, who were looking on jealously. I let them eat the yard last year and was usually able to get them back over the fence without too much fuss. This time was different, however. Not only did they leave poor Luna behind, they would not go back to the pasture no matter what I tried. I used a treat to try to bait them into the pasture or barn. I banged on a bucket to scare them. I chased them. I tried to push them. I sprayed them with the hose. I turned on the sprinkler. An hour later, I just charged at them yelling “Go! Go! Go!”, making myself as big and menacing as I could. It worked. Fortunately, I didn’t get kicked or spit at (Theo thought about it) and they looked at me from the pasture like I had lost my mind. It was quite the drama. 

Luna and Clementine need work on halter training and this experience just reinforced that maybe they all need a little work, so we will use that as an opportunity to let them eat the yard as well, but with less frustration getting them back across the fence. 

IMG_20220428_100542801Chickens

The flock has really ramped up egg production and the problem of them eating their eggs is getting better. We’ve been getting 2-4 eggs a day on average. One day we got five! Julio’s theory is that whoever is laying the pale green eggs (Eliza?) is the head hen, because hers never get eaten. One of these days, we really are going to build them that tractor, but in the meantime some afternoons in the orchard await them. 

Orchard

Speaking of the orchard, we think about half of our apple trees are dead. The rest have put out leaves and the pear trees are already in bloom. The rest, however, seem to have a bit of frostbite, or something else went wrong. I am pretty bummed. We watered them (although, in our climate, perhaps they could have used more), fertilized them, mulched, and wrapped the trunks. I am not sure what happened, but I am sad about the loss. We are going to keep watering them and keep our fingers crossed a bit longer. 

Leave Your Dandelions (And a Manifesto Against Lawn Culture)

IMG_20210507_101819446Soon the dandelions will be in bloom all over the lawns of America’s suburbs, and they present an opportunity for you. The blossoming of these little yellow flowers is your chance to help the pollinators without spending one cent or, in fact, doing anything at all. You can be a rebel, a little bit countercultural, and support the health of pollinators in the ecosystem that sits right outside your home. 

As much as people like to prune and tame and labor over manicuring their lawns, they are actually part of an ecosystem, and our human activity can either coexist with the creatures there or work against them. In the spring, dandelions are one of the first food sources for bees coming out of hibernation. Cutting down those dandelions deprives the bees of that meal. Worse, spraying the dandelions with chemicals can kill the bees outright. For the sake of the native bees or your neighborhood beekeeper, please PLEASE do not spray the dandelions. Even better, leave them to grow. 

IMG_20210517_125513971Dandelions aren’t just good for the bees; they’re also beneficial to your lawn and the other plants you grow. The taproot of the dandelion helps to draw nutrients in the soil upward, making them more readily available to green things growing nearby. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can eat the dandelions in a salad or make tea out of them (LawnStarter). They have a wide variety of nutrients, which is why they used to be considered valuable, not a weed to dispose of. 

The humble dandelion is a good example of how the rise of lawn culture put our ecosystems and our relationship with nature out of balance. It used to be that owning land was valuable because of what land provides—a space for growing food. Certainly, land ownership offers other cultural and ecological benefits, but the idea that you would own land, however much, and work hours each week to grow an invasive crop that takes an obscene amount of water and chemicals to maintain, and out of the bargain you got—what—a sense of fitting in? That nonsense, my friends, is a bourgeois display that says you can afford to waste precious natural resources. It all goes back to the French aristocracy (the ones who eventually were beheaded when the people couldn’t afford bread) (Medium). We really can’t afford to waste these resources, either. There are 40 million acres of lawns in America (Salon). Imagine if we did something healthier and more useful with even half of that land. 

Lawn culture is an expensive waste of time, energy, and water. I’d be thrilled if we did away with it entirely, personally. I’m going to tell you why. And then I’m going to give you some ideas of what to do instead. 

Why Manicured Lawns are Bad for the Environment

  • The carbon emissions from gas-powered lawnmowers, leaf blowers, trimmers, etc. are super wasteful (The Week). We have an electric lawnmower and tools from Ryobi that we are happy with. 
  • Grass lawns are a monoculture of a non-native species that does not support the biodiversity needed for healthy ecosystems (Discover Magazine).
  • Fertilizers used on grass are terrible for the ecosystem. They are very high in nitrogen which throws the soil’s nutrients out of balance. If you live on or near water, those chemicals wash into the water, causing an algae bloom which chokes out the sunlight, damaging the biodiversity and health of the plant and animal life meant to live in the water. (Greater Greater Washington)
  • All this grass is potentially very flammable in areas prone to wildfire, especially in drought, which is increasingly everywhere (PBS).

What to Do Instead of Mowing Your Lawn

  • A recent study showed that mowing your lawn every two weeks instead of every week was beneficial to the bees. So a middle road is possible! Just mow less frequently. (USDA)
  • Build some garden beds for wildflowers or a vegetable garden, or plant some trees. Adding diversity to the plants in your yard will boost the ecosystem, especially if they are plants native to your area. Less square footage to mow, too. 
  • Don’t use chemicals. Period. Your lawn might not look perfect. And I’m sorry, I don’t actually care. Grass gets brown when it’s dry out and then greens up again when there’s moisture. That’s how the plant works. 
  • You could also grow a ground cover other than grass. There are plenty of species that require a lot less water, grow slower, and provide food and shelter for insects and creatures. Less maintenance, more biodiversity. Finding the right ground cover for your area will take a bit of research and work, but that’s just time you’d be mowing your lawn, anyway.
  • Read a book. 
  • Take a walk. 
  • Make a jar of “wishes” for your favorite young (or young at heart) person using the puffy seed balls of your dandelions. 
  • Make a cute “Pardon the Weeds. I’m Feeding the Bees” sign.
  • Save money. 
  • Take a nap. 

Lawn culture comes with a lot of baggage in American life. It’s tied up with ideas about prosperity, hard work, good civics, being a good neighbor, sometimes the actual law (The Atlantic). If you have an HOA, there might be little you can do to buck this bologna, aside from mowing every other week. Really, though, it’s all so unbelievably wasteful. 

But, Kasey, you might say, you have a half-acre of…dirt. And that is true. The alpacas eat everything before it can grow much. But in our back yard, we keep it low-maintenance, mowing about once a month, letting the alpacas eat the grass, not wasting water on it, and focusing our energy instead on the pollinator and vegetable gardens. We have a lot going on on the homestead, and, frankly, not spending a lot of time tending to the grass—easily the least useful plant we grow—is a relief. 

Join us, won’t you: let the dandelions grow, mow your lawn less, and have a beer instead, you rebel, you. 

Sol Homestead in Winter

Miss Firecracker

Winter is allegedly a quiet time, when the garden and apiary are done for the season and I am all cuddled up reading a mystery novel. There’s always something to do, though, between the toddler, the chores, and keeping all of us living things warm, fed, and growing. 

Animals

The hens went on “sabbatical” for about six weeks and egg production is slowly ramping back up. They molted starting in November. When hens molt it can be a “hard” molting when they lose their feathers all at once and look awful for a minute before they grow back. Our hens did a “soft” molt. Aside from feathers blowing everywhere on the property and Eliza looking a little naked around her neck, you’d not really guess that they were molting. The energy needed to produce new feathers, plus the very short days probably caused them to stop laying eggs. Someone is also eating eggs if we don’t get to them soon enough. This would indicate that they might need a little more calcium in their diets. Oyster shell it is! 

Freeloading chickens Angelica, Persephone, and Peggy

The alpaca herd is doing well and getting fluffier by the day. Little Luna has grown so much. She is four months old and almost as tall as her mama, Miss Firecracker. We didn’t really notice how much shorter Miss Firecracker is compared to the other girls until Luna started to catch up to her!

We still have two 200 yd 2-ply worsted weight skeins of Miss Firecracker’s yarn left for $35 each. Send us a note in the contact tab if you’re interested!

Bees

A couple of weeks ago, we had a three-day stretch of temperatures in the mid-50s, so I decided to get into the hive for a couple of quick chores. I had seen bees out flying occasionally and I could hear them when I put my ear to the hive, but still, I was nervous that when I opened it I would find that they had blitzed through their food or that there would be signs of too much moisture or too few bees. None of the above happened. I didn’t pull any frames out, but it looks like they have most of their honey left. I added sugar to the feeding shim just in case they do run out of food (the Mountain Camp Method), as I am not planning to open the hive again until spring. If they don’t use the sugar they will just haul it out eventually, but in the meantime it will help absorb moisture.  

A big winter cluster still!

I also did a quick Oxalic Acid dribble just in case the previous mite treatments weren’t sufficient. I wanted to do it when it would be warm for a few days so that the moisture had time to dry out before it got cold again. I have read over and over that this year was an especially gnarly mite year. I think I got out there just as they were heading out for the day, which was the perfect time because they were still mostly in one place for the treatment. There was just one little hiccup. To dribble the OA in the lower deep box, I just tilted the top one up, as I was trying not to disturb the hive too much. Just as I was dribbling the solution along the last frame, the top box slipped and almost fell to the ground. It was heavy and I was holding it one-handed, but somehow I didn’t drop it or smash anyone. 

An undertaker bee at work

Once I reassembled the hive, I brushed as many dead bees out from behind the mouseguard as I could and then watched the bees coming out to relieve themselves and do their chores. I got to watch some undertakers at work. I did help them by brushing the dead bees off the landing board before I left. 

Overall, I am really encouraged by the size of the cluster and how tidy and well-stocked the Bee & Bee is looking. The average overwinter survival rate is ~40%, though, so I’m still keeping a close eye on the hive on sunny, warm days.

Orchard

IMG_20220113_154658038We are hoping to see more growth out of our orchard trees in the coming year now that they are fenced in and safe from alpaca attacks. We need to be more regular about watering them, but for now, the blanket of snow is taking care of that. Our little orchard trees have stood up to some brutal winds this season, assisted by a slight windbreak created by the barn. 

Ideally, I should have wrapped the trunks on the trees around Thanksgiving, but I got to it around New Year’s Day. Hopefully the little guys are okay. I wrapped each trunk in felt, which provides breathable protection from the harsh winter sun in the absence of leaves. They look like they are wrapped up in little scarves. I saw tiny buds on one of the trees when I was wrapping it, and that little glimpse of spring was encouraging. Colorado is not the easiest place to grow fruit trees. 

Garden

I am getting ready to start seeds in about a month, and the first order of business was organizing the seeds I have left over and the new ones I ordered on sale last month. The result was too many seeds! My big goals are to expand the pumpkin patch and get the pollinator garden blooming this year. I think the soil was too hot last year, since the beds had a layer of old horse poo under them, so I put down a heavy layer of mulch to try to cool it down. In order to make everything fit, I am expanding the container garden on the patio, using some pots left by the previous owners. In terms of seed starting, last year was a total flop, so this year I am adding heating pads and humidity covers to try to get some little plant babies growing! These additions should be especially helpful for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Any tips, master gardeners?

First attempts at spinning

Spinning

I am learning how to spin. After almost a year with little progress, I decided that I needed to put a deadline on myself to get the ball rolling, or the spindle spinning, rather. I decided to use the pretty merino fiber I had to make Christmas gifts for my grandparents. I was really pleased with how my first two yarns turned out, but I got less than a third of the way through knitting a cabled headband before I was out of yarn. That’s when I learned how to measure a skein using a niddy noddy, and discovered that I had only spun ~30 yds out of 4 oz of fiber. Yikes. I had to learn to spin thinner!

My first skein. So fluffy and pretty, but only 30 yds!

I eventually managed to spin three 2-ply 100 yd skeins of bulky weight yarn and I thought they turned out nicely. I know they are durable too, because I had to restart one knitting project three times due to some technical mistakes, and the yarn held up splendidly. Now, I am working on spinning thinner, more consistent yarn and finishing skeins so that they are not just usable, but saleable. A huge help in all of this was the book and DVD Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont and the Youtube channels MeganERisk Tutorials and JillianEve. I’m spinning every day now, for at least a few minutes and I’m enjoying it, which is a huge improvement from just a few months ago. 

Home 

Spinning thinner yarn with leftovers from Moira.

Aside from holiday festivities, things have been quiet around the house (knock on wood, throw salt over your shoulder, whatever it takes). We have been enjoying our repaired fireplace and trying out some new recipes. We are vegetarians, and each winter I am on the hunt for new veggie comfort food. This winter has had some real hits. 

Some of our favorite new-to-us recipes this winter have been:

In a few weeks, we will be putting up a new fence, to provide some more privacy and deaden the road noise in the backyard and pasture. That, we hope, pray, cross our fingers, is our last big house project for some time. 

What do you do during this winter season, for fun or around your own homestead? Let us know below. -Kasey 

The Fiddle Leaf Fig Who Could + Tips for Growing Fiddle Leaf Figs

IMG_20190623_072110521_HDRThe first Father’s Day after my father died, I was having a low-key, but difficult day. Nothing dramatic, no great outpouring of grief, just a sad day spent mostly on the verge of tears that never really came. That afternoon, Julio went on an errand and came home with a Fiddle Leaf Fig that he named The Last One. I had been filing our apartment with houseplants and he had made me promise that I wouldn’t bring home anymore for a while, but I really wanted a Fiddle Leaf Fig. So here it was, the last houseplant. (Or so he thought.)

It was a sweet gesture, tacitly acknowledging that he knew I was down in the dumps and that there was nothing he could do about it except to bribe a smile out of me with a houseplant. As we sat on the balcony admiring our new addition, I explained to him that I wanted the Fiddle Leaf Fig because it was notoriously finicky—a real challenge to my fledgling gardening skills—but if kept happy, it could grow to the ceiling over time.

Fiddle Leaf Figs are native to Africa and love humidity. We technically live in a high desert climate so, even running a humidifier, I was never going to be able to convince this baby that it was in the jungle. I had also read that you could kill a Fiddle Leaf Fig just by breathing wrong near it. I was determined, however, to keep The Last One growing.

IMG_20210905_095052250I bought Fiddle Leaf Fig fertilizer, dutifully applying it once a month through the summer, and watered it exactly one Ball jar a week on Saturdays. I soon deduced that the humidifier was unnecessary, as it made no real difference in the humidity. I opted instead just to keep my tropical plants clustered together, sharing the sunlight and the moisture they “exhaled.” Over the summer and fall, the Fiddle Leaf Fig grew about a foot. I was delighted. I celebrated every new leaf that emerged, first as a tight coil, gradually unwrapping into a bright green, tiny leaf that, over time, grew and darkened into a deep green violin shape.

Screenshot_20220113-102028-161In January, we moved to our house. I was prepared for the Fiddle Leaf Fig to drop some leaves in response to the change in environment as everything I read about the plant suggested that big changes could stress the poor thing out. At first, it seemed to be enjoying its new home next to a sunny South-facing window. Then, I came down one morning and leaves had dropped to the kitchen floor. They were weirdly far away from the plant, but I thought the dog must have accidentally dragged them away with her tail.

A week or so later, I came downstairs in the morning and discovered that the top half of the plant was missing, leaves and all. My once lush Fiddle Leaf Fig was now a potted stick. There was nary a leaf in sight. Something did not add up.

I was in the midst of the first trimester of pregnancy and we had just moved and murmurs about a possible pandemic were starting, so I did not think much about the plant. I didn’t throw it away, but I put figuring out what happened on hold.

A couple of weeks later, now under lockdown in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Julio was coming upstairs one night when he saw a rodent dart from the dog’s bowl to hide behind the refrigerator. The following night, I dusted the area with flour to confirm what he saw. The next morning, tiny footprints were in the flour. Julio was thoroughly creeped out, but I had an a-ha moment. When Julio moved the refrigerator to see if there was a hole there allowing a rodent to enter the kitchen, he found a hole and I found a few pieces of Fiddle Leaf Fig leaf.

IMG_20200317_094918587_PORTRAITGetting rid of the packrat that was breaking into our home each night through a gap under our balcony was a long process and a different story, but now I had an answer on the plant. It wasn’t dying; it had been robbed. I moved The Last One and the small orange tree we were given as a housewarming gift to the west-facing window in our bedroom and leaves and fruit stopped disappearing. A month later, the Fiddle Leaf Fig had a handful of tiny leaves. It kept growing and I kept fertilizing it once a month and watering it deeply once a week. A year later, I repotted it into a bigger pot. Almost two years later, it is hip-height and still thriving.

IMG_20220113_101816554_HDRI watched the resurgence of The Last One with awe and amusement. I am generally pretty successful with my houseplants. I only lost one, a pothos, to the move, and I subsequently killed a young Parlour Palm because I couldn’t find the right spot or the right watering routine. Other than those losses, however, my little indoor jungle has done pretty well. None, however, have thrived like The Fiddle Leaf Fig who could. This plant, known for being easy to kill, so challenging to keep that Julio joined a Fiddle Leaf Fig support group on Facebook when he brought it home, has proved itself resilient beyond what I thought possible. I do not exaggerate when I say it was at one point a potted stick. The rat took all of the leaves and the young portion of the trunk. I couldn’t imagine that it would start producing leaves again without any way to take in sunlight. I am thankful that I neglected the plant in those first days after its losses, too distracted by another new life to count the plant as a loss. That pause gave it time to start again, growing back with vigor. Fickle who?  -Kasey

My Tips for Maintaining a Fiddle Leaf Fig

  • Choose the right size pot and establish drainage. For the first year or so, keep the plant in the grower pot it comes in. I simply set the grower pot inside of a prettier pot. This ensured that excess water could drain out because the Fiddle Leaf Fig hates getting soggy.
  • IMG_20210410_103212768Repot the plant once it is rootbound. One way to tell is if roots start to come out of the drainage holes in the grower pot. Make sure the new pot has adequate drainage. Choose a new pot that is one size up from the current pot. For example, an 8” pot after a 6” pot.
  • There are different philosophies on watering. What has worked well for me is to water deeply once a week, no more. I have occasionally gone longer, for example when we traveled, but underwatering is easier to correct and to spot than overwatering. For example on one very hot day, I came home from work and the leaves were all drooping significantly. I watered the thirsty plant and within two hours, the leaves perked back up.
  • To water deeply, water the plant evenly until the water starts to run out of the drainage hole, then stop.
  • Make sure that the Fiddle Leaf Fig gets several hours of direct sunlight a day. Mine has been happy in windows facing both South and West. If the sun is too hot in your area, placing it slightly back from the window or using a sheer curtain could help.
  • Once a month, turn the plant a quarter turn so that the stem grows straight and even. I forgot to do this for a couple of months and my plant developed a big curve in its stem. I have since staked it up, trying to correct the curve before the trunk hardens.
  • Occasionally, give the plant a wind bath by placing it outside on a breezy day or gently shaking the stem with your hands. That helps the trunk develop strength.
  • Occasionally, dust the leaves gently with a cloth. The leaves can get dusty, which can prevent them from taking in the sunlight properly.
  • Enjoy your plant and have faith in it! These babies can grow to 40 feet tall in the wild. We only think they’re fickle because we’re trying to grow a jungle baby in a climate where it snows.

IMG_20210410_103815476

Lessons We Learned In Our Second Year

IMG_20211030_173737939_HDR

We are having an unseasonably warm autumn where we are, with temperatures still consistently in the upper 50s. We’ve even had some days in the 70s lately, which has been great for the bees and for giving us a little leeway as we break things down for the winter. 

As we work on winterizing the garden and the beehive, it has been natural to think about what we learned this year, primarily by making mistakes or making things harder on ourselves. So, here are the big lessons we’ve learned. 

IMG_20210825_135914620_HDRBrush the Alpacas Before Shearing Them

During the first week of June, our alpacas were sheared for the first time at our homestead. They were so ready for a haircut! Before we sent the prime cuts of their fleece to a fibermill to be spun into yarn, we had to skirt the fleece—that means picking out the hay, debris, and matts. I don’t know if you know this about alpacas, but they like to roll around in the dirt and hay. They were pretty dusty and dirty and skirting their fleece was a nightmare. Kasey is still working on getting their second and third cuts ready to spin and it is just so full of hay. 

We contacted our mentor to ask him if there was anything that we could do to keep them cleaner. Some really serious farms keep their alpacas in coats so that they can’t get hay, etc. stuck in their fleece, but that is too hardcore for us. And Moira is always hot enough as it is. We also knew that brushing them could destroy the structure of their fleece, which is meant to have a beautiful crimp to it. We visited our mentor during Alpaca Farm Days and he showed us a bucket full of different brushes that we could use before shearing. If we are shearing them to spin the fleece into yarn, it is okay for us to brush them then, because spinning destroys the crimp of the yarn. Of course! So, we hope that next year that will be less of an issue for us. 

Get Beekeeping Timing Right

IMG_20210616_134653790One of the biggest disappointments we had this year had to do with the beehive. Kasey keeps our bees and this is her first year. She got the bees on May 2nd and now wishes that she had immediately tested the bees for mites and treated them, but she was new and nervous about it and it took a few weeks to get used to working with them before she was ready to check for mites. She did so the third week of May and the mite count was really high. If she had understood her options better, she probably would have used Formic Pro, but she didn’t understand that the temperature restrictions were just for the first three days. Knowing that it would soon be really hot, she instead used Apivar, adding it May 25 and removing it on July 20th. 

Apivar cannot be used with the honey supers on, because the treatment creates residue in the honey and the wax that is not safe for human consumption. When the treatment was added, there were no supers on, but there were two deeps. It was a killer honey flow this year, though, and so supers were needed after a couple of weeks so that the bees didn’t run out of room. Long story short, they filled two medium honey supers with honey, none of which was safe for human consumption. It will get fed back to the bees, but by the time the treatment was done, the honey flow was over and summer dearth had set in. So many mistakes. 

Kasey feels pretty annoyed and let down by this mistake. She didn’t plan on harvesting honey this year, but with such a good season, it would have been nice to be able to harvest a couple of frames to give as Christmas gifts. Then, in late summer, she did use Formic Pro, and the queen ended up dying. More on that in another post. The most important thing is that the bees make it through the winter, but this was a steep learning curve and the mite treatment was the only part that was really frustrating.

Gardening Lessons 

IMG_20211009_152353403 (1)The garden grew SO. MUCH. BETTER. this year overall. We grew a delicious assortment of winter squash and pumpkins, patty pan squash, zucchini, greens, some tiny carrots, green beans. The Harvest Moon Squash was a variety we’d never tried before and it was delicious when stuffed and baked. 

But there’s still room for growth (pun intended). We realized that we want more room, so next year we are most likely building four more raised beds to create a natural buffer in front of the beehive and extend the garden’s footprint. 

We also learned that our watering strategy was insufficient. Although we got many, many squash and pumpkins, our Jack O’Lanterns and corn were puny and we think that was in part due to shifting too late from the type of watering we were doing to encourage the seedlings to grow to the deep watering that the plants needed to form fruit. We will also be watering the orchard more. 

IMG_20211009_114345683_HDRWhen we cleaned out the barn, it produced a giant mound of old, old horse manure. We were able to give a lot of it away for people to compost, but Kasey also used a lot to create a base layer for flowerbeds around the edge of the horse run. The plan was to grow wildflowers there to support pollinators. Her dream is to have lush perennial wildflower garden that takes not that much maintenance. She planted lavender, sunflowers, apache plume, Veronicas, and cone flowers there. The lavender was really the only thing that grew. Everything else scorched. She needs to test the soil, but it seems like the soil is too hot. The plan is to mulch it over the winter to draw out some of the nitrogen, but it was a good lesson in checking soil PH. 

There were so many lessons this year, but these were the biggest ones. What did you learn this year through trial and error? Let us know below. 

Garden Update

As a very wet May turns to June, there is a lot going on in our garden! In all, the garden is going much better this year. I’m going to give credit to the alpaca beans we amended the soil with. ($1/lb if you need some!) IMG_20210604_181027748 IMG_20210605_095331361There’s a lesson to be taken from my garden this year about being patient. First there were the seedlings that sprouted randomly in the containers I dumped my soil from failed seed starting into. The mystery seedlings are still going strong. Then, in the patio garden, I had some squash seeds that I didn’t think had germinated, so I did a second pass and now I have a crowded, random batch of plants. I will probably have to move some once they get bigger. I am very proud of how tidy the rows of greens are. I can be a bit of a chaos muppet, as evidenced by my carrots and onions, but those neat greens make me smile every time I see them. IMG_20210605_095219486 The corn is growing! Last year the seeds did not germinate, so I am very excited. This Indiana girl is hoping to see it knee high by the 4th of July. Last week, I planted a second type of sweet corn and some more beans to fill in gaps where seeds didn’t start. It has been so wet this year, that mushrooms have come up in a few places in the garden. It was one item on the long list of things we’ve had to check to see if they are toxic to alpacas now that we let the girls graze the backyard. (On that list, the Columbines, poppies, and, yes, the mushrooms.) I planted three packets of sunflower seeds and they’re starting to pop up in a lot of borders and fence lines. I’m feeling very protective of them and managed to chase Clementine away from one just in time yesterday. I am excited that one of the Icelandic poppies is getting ready to put up flowers again. I put four plants in that old trough. One died, the other hasn’t started to bloom again, and then the fourth has seemingly transformed into an entirely different plant. I am mystified and letting it grow, hoping that eventually it will reveal what kind of plant crowded out that poppy. I am also excited that the wildflowers I planted in pots last year are coming back. The seeds I put by our front door did nothing last year, but they are sprouting this year! They look like weeds for now, but I know better and am pleased as punch. IMG_20210605_103853174The rabbits have dug the entrance from their warren into our pumpkin patch again. I filled it in again. I keep seeing the snake by the raised pumpkin beds. I spent some time on a website about Colorado snakes yesterday. I think it is either a garter snake or an Eastern racer. Either way, it poses no threat to anything unless in the unlikely event it decides to climb into the beehive. I spent some time this morning on my own and then with my little helper watering, weeding, and doing succession plantings or “try again” plantings of almost everything, including greens, herbs, corn, beans, cucumbers, and several types of pumpkin. The pumpkin patch is starting to show lots of growth, so hopefully we will see you in October!  -Kasey