Or so the story goes told by Alaskan Natives and sourdoughs alike. When the fireweed has bloomed all the way to the top, we have six more weeks till the snow flies. So far this break up and then into summer, we’ve had some successes….and some failures. That’s pretty typical though. The garden is doing well but could be doing better thanks to the late start because of our vacation in the lower 48. That is a killer here since our growing season is so short. We got to harvest a large bunch of garlic scapes earlier this week. Yes indeed, garlic scapes. SUCCESS! The garlic survived the winter! We’ll have garlic later this summer to harvest. We’re about 2 days away from harvesting our first zucchini and summer squash of the season. Our kale and broccoli rabe this year barely sprouted due to the fact that we got a late start on it. We should have direct sowed the seeds in May, however in May we were racing against the clock to build the chicken coop instead. So we have 4 kale plants that we purchased that barely keep us in kale. It sickens me to buy plants that I know I can start from seed. Almost that entire area has been taken over by chickweed. The rabbits and chickens are loving that failure.Thankfully our other leafy greens are producing sufficiently. Our Swiss chard is doing well and we should be harvesting within the next two weeks. The broccoli; cabbage and cauliflower are doing okay, much better than they did in the past but we’re still nowhere near perfection. There is more work to do with both soil quality and we have to rebuild the makeshift greenhouses that go over the raised beds in the autumn. Those were destroyed this past winter. Our kohlrabi is doing well, and our winter squash is performing very well! Most of the plants are loaded down with large amounts of female flowers and obviously due to all the pollinators in the area we’re seeing more and more fertilized flowers falling off. I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of winter squash coming out of our garden this year. I have to regain my title once again of “The squash lady” that I had when I lived in Northern Maryland. Our horseradish did come back this year but its performing weakly. I believe that is thanks to the soil and the aphids. The soil I badly need to test, in fact I have a kit in our house. I’ve been delayed as of recently however in that testing both due to the building project of our chicken coop and run along with our family visiting from the lower 48. Like I said in my last article, Preparing for 2018, our soil is better but still has a way to go. Thanks to the chickens and their depredations our established asparagus bed is all but gone and has now been converted to their dust bath area. RIP asparagus. As a result of this we purchased more established asparagus and have planted them further in the backyard. I have no clue really if they will or will not overwinter there but it will be neat to see if they do. We do have trees to take down in that area as later on the greenhouse will go in that general area so we will have to exercise caution when taking down the trees. We also have two sad rhubarb in that area that, I believe, that were planted there by the previous owner. I have to move those over to the area where our other rhubarb are at. We have been making changes over time to our garden plans as we notice more and more about the sunlight and growing patterns, always a smart thing to do. My herb beds are doing rather well. I even had some Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) over winter successfully. I’ve advised my husband, Edward, I have to leave that be for at least possibly another season to see if I can keep it going. I can only harvest the root there and I’d like the plant to spread out some and produce more for future use. I now also have Yarrow (Achillea millefolium); Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis); Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra); Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica); Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium); Borage (Borago Officinalis); Comfrey (Symphytum) and I’m having mediocre success with St Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and Toothache plant (Acmella oleracea). Next year I will keep trying to increase our medicinal herb bed and see if I can help some of them overwinter. Our culinary herb bed has been subject to repeated attacks by the neighborhood cat who enjoys the catnip when we’re not around. I have to remember not to put catnip anywhere near that bed in the future. I have lost almost every single culinary herb in that corner of the raised bed. This has been a slightly damp, cooler summer thus far and our bees are showing it. This year we chose Carnolian bees instead of the more calm tempered Italians. We went with three hives instead of two. From almost the beginning of the beekeeping season we were plagued with problems. Hive 1 either lost their queen or killed it so we had to requeen that one. Next, Hive 2 either lost or killed their queen and so once again we had to requeen. This slows down production immensely as there is no queen actively laying eggs in the hive. It takes approximately 20 to 21 days for a newly laid egg to hatch into an active worker bee. A worker bee born in the spring or summer months usually will live approximately six to seven weeks. This all means that without a queen a hive will die pretty fast. Hive 1 unfortunately had one other challenge for them. Due to their weak numbers (remember no queen there for about a week and then it took the workers another week approximately to free the next queen from her queen cage) they got repeatedly hit by Bald Faced Hornets. These are black and white behemoths that will attack the hive over and over, looking not for honey but for protein. Sadly enough, we came back from vacation at the end of May and found that Hive 1 had been completely emptied out. Not a single carcass, not a single egg, pupa or bee was found. Only a bit of capped honey. It was a sad day in our house as we combined Hive 1 frames over to Hive 3.Thankfully, on our very last hive check, Hive 2 is showing good strong numbers in their brood, a lot of good laying patterns by their queen, and a lot of pollen has been collected. At first we were both saddened and confused though by the discovery that there was very little nectar (aka HONEY) stored away until I remembered reading that Carnolians have a habit of developing more brood first, then they collect more nectar. Hive 3 is looking amazing! Huge numbers of new brood laid in very good, organized laying patterns, good amounts of new honeycomb; a large amount of workers, not too many drones. But once again, rather light on the nectar. I’m hoping this week of temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s will do the bees good and get them out of their hives and get them foraging. We love having the bees for the pollination aspect but since honeybees are not cheap to get shipped up to Fairbanks, Alaska (2018 $170 a package) we sell some of our honey to recoup the cost of the shipments. We have both successes and failures, once again, with the livestock. The rabbits are doing well, we sold one Doe, Twinkies early in spring since we really would like to bring in other breeding stock from another line that is not related to either Bones or Pepper. Dorothy, our oldest Doe had a bad day while we were working on the chicken coop in April. We always knew she was a temperamental, high stress rabbit however we never figured she would kill an entire litter of kits. This she did by simply going on strike and obviously had decided to not feed a single one of her kits. Once again a sad day. Snickerdoodles recently has also had troubles giving birth successfully to more than one or two. She currently has one son with her who is a chubby little guy who I have given the nickname of “Sumo Rabbit”. We hope it’s not an issue that will continue, and that it’s resolved soon. By her next litter, her fate will be determined. So far this year we have only a few rabbits to harvest, which is frustrating to say the least. This is one of the few ways we supplement our meat supply in our home rather than paying the high prices in the grocery store. KaraAs for our chickens; in Mid-April we acquired Tess and Ellie. Early June we acquired Claire; Ada; Kitana and Chloe and in late June we purchased a full grown pullet; Kara. Fortunately the six youngest ones are all doing well and seem to be thriving. Kara on the other hand seemed more and more miserable as time went on. By the 4thof July she began becoming lethargic; passing very loose stools; and overall just seemed completely unhappy. I reached out to the chicken boards at Backyardchickens.com and received a variety of answers that ranged from coccidiosis to egg bound. We tried treating her for all and anything however Kara passed away on the 8th of July. Of what we do not know other than she was healthy in the beginning; albeit withdrawn. I was seriously tempted to do a necropsy on her however since I am a brand new chicken owner with little experience I “chickened out”. Now I regret that as it could have been a learning moment for me. I’m sure farmers and homesteaders know this well, when you are raising livestock there are constant highs and lows. New life to celebrate and deaths to mourn. It is a constant roller coaster and it is never predictable. Beyond the challenges of the garden and livestock we now have to speed up on other projects. This past weekend we finally got around to emptying our very stinky pond into the yard and refilled it. I’m sure our goldfish are grateful. By next year I hope to plan a drive down near Valdez where I can finally pick up some Alaskan lily pads that I know grow in several ponds along the way. This will help me with the algae issue. Two weeks ago I passed by these ponds and was incredibly tempted to stop, put on my muck boots and wade into said ponds but alas, family was in the car and I knew we had to keep moving. Now that our building projects are just about done for the season we have wood to cut, split and stack and unfortunately we are now getting hit with a heat wave. We have at least 3 to 4 cords of wood to cut, split and stack before October. Before the wet autumn weather hits we also need to repair the roof of the woodshed. A large tree branch fell on the polycarbonate roof. That in itself would not have poked a hole through the roof but approximately 3 feet worth of packed snow was also resting on said branch. Combined with our extreme cold temperatures, I’m not surprised the roof broke. We chose this type of material for the roof because during the summer time we get passive solar heating our wood therefore making a kiln sort of shed that produces a massive amount of heat that dries our wood more quickly. The negative is it does become more fragile during the winter months. (here’s the article talking about that project last year!)One of our other projects that is almost near completion is our front yard area. When we first moved into our new home, we met with a solar power professional. They advised that it would be a good idea to cut at least 20 feet of the trees that were closest to our home, both for the solar panels that later would be installed on the roof as well as a firebreak. Last year we hired BlackHawk works to do this which left us with, as my son calls it “a nuclear wasteland”. We had tree stumps here and there that were originally hidden by snow when BlackHawk came out to clear the land, and on top of that, the entire area was overgrown with weeds and fledgling trees. In early June we ordered 10 cubic feet of topsoil and began the arduous task of spreading said soil. Thanks to Edward’s supervisor lending us his 4 wheel, it made the task go just a tiny bit faster. But it still took us over a month to finish this. As of today our front yard looks like this. It is nowhere near finished, but we get closer to the end goal, day by day. The end goal being as self sufficient as possible and as my husband just advised me, have our summers back, free of projects. I’m not certain we’ll ever hit that but we most certainly will try.
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