First, Friday being Independence Day, I “made” Bookman bake the most American of pies. Yup, apple pie from scratch. And even better, the apples were from our own garden, canned last fall. Oh so yummy! I could seriously eat apple pie all the time but it is probably best that I don’t because bending over in the garden would quickly become difficult.
Along with baking a pie on Friday, Bookman was tasked with helping me build a new compost bin. Our old bin that we havehad for years was one we got for cheap from the city. A black plastic thing whose parts hook together. There is a lid and a door on the bottom of the bin. The door is supposed to make it easy to get your finished compost out. Ha! When we could get the door open we could never get it to slide up quite far enough which meant the easiest way to get compost out was by taking the bin apart which wasn’t really easy at all so we rarely did. We’d just scratch out a little compost from the half-open door and complain about what a bad design it was.
Well no more! We built our own bin from metal stakes and chicken wire and zip ties. We made a two-room open bin so we can actually turn the pile and move almost finished compost to one side. Also, with each side being 3X3 feet (Just under a meter each side, the most productive composting size according to the literature), it gives us enough room to actually get everything into the pile instead of filling up the black bin and then starting a second pile off to the side. We are so very pleased with the results.While we are excited about the new bin, here is the most exciting thing. After Bookman took the plastic bin apart and stuck the fork into the compost pile to move it so we could build the new bin, we discovered there are bumblebees nesting in the pile! Oh, they got a bit upset and we retreated for a while to let them settle down especially since Bookman removed part of the roof of their house. After they calmed down we decided to build the new bin around them. Their nest is in the left side, the new compost pile is now on the right side in the new bin. They didn’t mind us building around them though they did mind the vibrations when Bookman was hammering the metal stakes into the ground. We’d take breaks to let them calm down. Because of the bumblebees it took all afternoon to get the new bin built but it was totally worth it. After we were all done I carefully put dry leaves and grass on top of their nest to keep out rain and sun. They did not mind me doing this at all.
While we were working on building the new bin it was hard to not just stand there and watch the bees all afternooninstead. They are so fascinating! I tried to get a photo but my camera doesn’t do closeups of small things like bees very well, still you can kind of see the bee in the photo, just follow the arrow. I spent what amounted to about two hours on the computer trying to identify what kind of bumblebees we have. There are so many varieties and they all look so much alike that it was hard going. Finally I am pretty confident that they are Bombus impatiens, common eastern bumblebee. They are among the commonly found bumblebees in Minnesota and generally nest in the ground but will also nest in compost bins. They are solitary bees but share a nesting site which can be as large as 400 bees. I have no idea how many bees are in mine. When they were upset after discovery there were as many as a dozen out flying around but that doesn’t mean that was the whole nest because there were probably a good many out foraging for pollen and still more inside.
I don’t have to worry about the compost pile being a permanent hive. It will empty out in October. Most of the workers will die and the queens that hatched over the summer will go find somewhere else to hibernate for the winter. Supposedly. I have to do more reading up on it because if they keep the nest I don’t want to destroy it. I feel like I have been given a big gift having the bees in my garden. I keep going out to check on them and to say hello even though they don’t fly around the compost pile and since I gave them a thatched roof the opening to their nest is no longer exposed and I can’t see them moving around, though with patience one inevitably makes a brief appearance.
It was a week of insects in the garden. While picking peas I discovered a tiny, fuzzy white caterpillar. I think I spent almost as long on the internet trying to identify it as I did the bumblebees. One of the hardest things about identification is not just that there are so many varieties of caterpillars, but also, even when looking at the same kind of caterpillar they can look different. I finally figured out it was a white woolly bear which will turn into a tiger moth. In my searching I discovered that folklore says woolly bears can predict the weather, specifically winter. Most woolly bears are black or black and brown striped and a wide middle brown stripe means a mild winter. If the black stripes are bigger, it will be a harsh winter. But what if the woolly bear is white? A snowy winter of course!
I’ve seen the black and brown woolly bears around here before but only in the fall and they were huge. My white one was small, probably just recently hatched. I hope it hangs around and doesn’t get eaten. I’d like to see it grow bigger so I can actually get a photo of it.
Also in the garden I’ve been keeping an eye on a big red beetle that has been hanging out in the milkweed. Whenever I bend over to try and get a look at it, it sees me coming and retreats. But with all my half-looks I was finally able to get a decent idea what it looks like. It was easy to identify when it came down to it. Googling “big red beetle on milkweed” took me to the red milkweed beetle. If only the bees and caterpillar had been so easy! The beetle is a handsome critter even though its long “horns” kind of give me the willies. But identifying it makes me grow rather fond of it instead of being nervous about it. It isn’t going to jump on me and bite me so I have nothing to worry about.
A friend and former coworker told me last week that she had had a dream about me and in it I had a baby (since I have never been pregnant this kind of freaked me out a little bit). She was surprised about the baby but then hadn’t seen me in awhile and then recalled that she had indeed seen me pregnant a few months prior to this dream meeting. These are the kinds of dreams other people have. What do I dream about? I woke up about 5:30 Saturday morning and Bookman was still sound asleep and the cats were curled up asleep around me. I dozed off for about 20 minutes and during that time I dreamt that Bea the honeycrisp apple tree was not doing very well. That Walter the crabapple was doing great and gettingpollinated, obviously since there were loads of apples, probably from the apple trees in the front yard. But for some reason Bea was not flowering. We decided there was something wrong and instead of getting another apple we would get a peach or cherry tree instead. When one of the cats stretched and woke me up I was debating peach or cherry and had a list in my head of all the benefits of each. In my dream I decided cherry but when I woke up and realized what I was dreaming I was surprised at my choice because conscious me would go for the peach without a second thought. I am sure there is nothing wrong with Bea, but if I ever get another chance to plant a fruit tree it will be a peach.
I have a big bowl of peas in my refrigerator and I have been eating them as much as I can. Almost all the pods on the vines are picked now and they have started to put on new growth to try and make more peas. We are entering hot and humid summer now so I am not sure if they will manage to make more peas before the heat becomes too much for them. I hope they can, I want more peas!
The beans are doing great. The Jacob’s cattle beans in the polyculture bed have big long pods on them. These are drybeans for soup so I leave the pods on until they turn brown. Same with the black beans in veggie “M” garden. For eating beans we did the yellow wax beans the purple beans again. The purple beans look like we might be able to start picking in a week, maybe two. The yellow beans will start a week or so after that. I have pole beans climbing up my corn. Those haven’t even flowered yet and won’t for another few weeks. I think the timing might work out that the pole beans will be ready about the time the bush beans are finishing up.
And the corn is doing really well. There is a saying around here about corn, “knee high by the fourth of July.” That’s how tall you want it about now. As you can see most of it is close to that or even taller. I’ve not figured out yet how to keep critters from eating my corn and since in another month or so I’ll have some I had best get on it!My lettuce is still going, hasn’t bolted yet. But I have a feeling it will start heading that way soon given the warmer weather these last few days. The forecast for the foreseeable future says hot summer so I will be picking a lot tonight for a big dinner salad and if it starts to look like bolting will happen I will go on a crazy lettuce picking binge and take as much as I dare and eat as much as I can, keeping the extra in the cool fridge for as long as I can. This is the first year we’ve ever managed to have so much lettuce and actually be able to regularly make larges salads as well as add it to sandwiches. It tastes so good just picked and we are so pleased about it. We planted leftover lettuce seeds in a shady corner of the garden and hope they sprout up for an end of summer lettuce fest. Fingers crossed!
I’ve included two full garden view photos in this post to give you an idea about how the whole thing is looking these days. I actually have a video camera now. Would a garden “tour” video be of interest?