Garden/Quail Plans for 2014

I mentioned briefly in my last gardening post that I am seriously considering getting a honeybee hive for the garden.  “Seriously considering” has now pretty much become a certainty.  I’ve been researching like mad (one favorite book is The Thinking Beekeeper, by Christy Hemenway) and now I really, really want bees.  I always was mildly interested, but freaked out about bees swarming me and stinging me.  Since then, I’ve been stung three times (each time was completely my own fault) and it’s not a big deal, getting stung.  I’m clearly not allergic, and there was really no swelling or pain involved.  Plus, in my research, I’ve discovered that if you handle the bees correctly and kindly, you have little or no risk of being stung.  Most beekeepers say they are stung around 3 times a year – and always it was their own fault.  They were careless, and squished a bee, or something like that.  Most beekeepers recommend wearing a net around the face, but almost all don’t even bother wearing a suit, and actually say wearing gloves is not a good thing.  It makes you clumsier in handling the hives, and clumsy is what’s likely to get you stung.  Bees (at least the domestic variety I would get) are simply not aggressive.

I mean, look at this guy!

This is the type of hive I will get.  It’s a natural type of hive (called a top bar), and it allows the bees to do their own thing, thus cutting way down on problems within the hive.  Animals should always be allowed to do their own thing, as much as possible.  Man may think they know how to manage nature, but God’s plan is always best.  Just look what we’ve done to the bees!  This whole colony collapse/disappearing bee thing – that was ALL man’s fault.  They created it, with their poisons and interference.  My entire philosophy in keeping animals is to figure out what they like best, then figure out how to make it work for both of us.

Honey beekeeping isn’t in the cards for at least another year, though.  In the meantime, I’m getting mason bees.

Male-mason-bee1-300x279They don’t produce honey, but they are incredible pollinators – better than honeybees.  And, while honeybees aren’t native to the US (they were brought over from Europe by the pilgrims) mason bees are native.  We need to encourage these little guys to stick around in our gardens!  I’ve purchased a mason bee house, and in February, I’ll be able to purchase the bees themselves from my local nursery.

Along the theme of figuring out what animals want, 2014 is going to be the year of the quail.  When I was first researching these guys, there was very little quality information available.  Much of what there was either contradicted itself, or was patently, obviously wrong.  “Quail like to live in small wire cages”.  “Quail won’t hatch/raise their own young”.

My quail are so charming to watch as they disprove these “experts” and teach me about how quail actually want to live.  One thing I have discovered (to my sorrow) is that you can’t keep two males together in the same pen.  It doesn’t matter if there is plenty of room and plenty of females.  During breeding season, they will fight, and/or pick on each other.  So…I now have two colonies of quail.  One is living in the original coop (Peabody and his girls) and one is living in the former Bachelor Pad (Cinna and his girls.)  I also have a spare male who is living on a temporary basis inside a old rabbit cage placed inside the larger coop.  He can see/interact with the other quail, but when they get testy, they can’t hurt each other.  This spare is my only blonde male (Loki) so in a few weeks I’ll be building yet another coop for him, and hatching out some more blonde females to put with him.  This male is particularly sweet (not to mention gorgeous), which is why I’m keeping him instead of eating him.

Then, we should be set, quail-wise.  Although I have some schemes involving raised beds combined with quail that I may put into practice this year.

In the actual garden, I will be doing some much-needed revamping of old flower beds, and adding to the vegetable gardens.  The new in-progress front yard vegetable garden is going to get its fence installed as soon as the weather clears enough to work.  It will be made of 4′ bamboo, and should look very pretty.  Once that’s up, I can start building the actual beds.  Over the winter, I’ve killed a good share of the grass by piling cardboard and mulch on top of it.  I’ll do a bunch of progress pics for you once we begin working on it.

Also…I have ordered a good share of my vegetable seeds!  I wanted a bunch of heirloom/unusual seeds, ones I can’t get locally.  This year I ordered from Annie’s Heirloom Seeds:

Barese Swiss Chard – I love chard, and this one is cool because it’s intended for use as baby greens.  It’s ready to eat in only 28 days!

While Albino Beet – beets themselves are ok if eaten when they are super young, but it’s the greens I particularly adore.  I’m curious how white beets compare to the other varieties.

Violet of Sicily Cauliflower – a purple cauliflower that turns green when cooked.  I have bad luck growing cauliflower; bugs always seem to hone in like crazy on them, but growing vegetables in unusual colors often disguises vegetables from the bugs that commonly prey on them.  It worked like a charm with my red cabbage last year.  We’ll see whether it works with cauliflower.  Plus, it’s just gorgeous!

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And finally, Paris Market Carrot.  It’s cute and bite-sized.

I have also ordered seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.  I love their philosophy; how can I not be drawn in by a seed company that quotes from the Founding Fathers and Ron Paul in their catalog?

From them, I’m getting ton of squash, lettuce, beans, and other common vegetables – in uncommon varieties.  Particularly the beans.  I’ve discovered it’s so much nicer to grow red, purple, and yellow beans than green ones.  First of all – they are SO much easier to keep picked, because you can actually see them amongst the green leaves.  Second, they look so gorgeous growing together.  Third, they turn green when cooked, so you won’t weird out any picky family members.  What I’m really excited about from Baker Seeds is the Blacktail Mountail Watermelon.  It’s been specifically bred to do fantastically well in my short season.  After my success with the Yellow Doll Watermelon last year, I’m eager to see how this one does.

Oh, and I also ordered my seed potatoes.  Two varieties: German Butterball and Kennebec.  I’ve never tried to grow potatoes before, so we’ll see.  I’m attempting two different methods: growing them in cloth “grow bags” and in trash cans.  I simply don’t have room for the traditional in-the-ground method.

And in other news, now that it’s 2014, I can finally say “I’m going to England/Scotland next year!”  It seems like it’s approaching so quickly.  A lot of the things I want to do (meat rabbits, beekeeping, etc) are being pushed back until I return.  I know I’m not going to want to be in the middle of some grand new venture right when it’s time to go.

The next few years are going to be wonderful.

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