...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


heirloom garlic varieties

Well, we got the garlic tucked in!

This year I decided against re-planting it in the chicken yard
since their scratching about
ultimately did impact our harvest.
(Not massively, but we still had some losses
that we wouldn't otherwise have had.)

So, into one of the separate fenced gardens they went:

A big thank you to my sweetie
for hauling compost and mulch to top-dress the beds for easy planting!

But silly me
I forgot to take photos of the garlic heads and cloves during the planting process!
So many beautiful variations...
You'll definitely get to see the results of our harvest next summer.
Stay tuned for our most interesting garlic harvest yet.

 I found the Heirloom Garlic Archive
and I went a little crazy choosing things I wanted
to know
and grow
and see
and feel 
and smell
and roast
and taste

A lot of people say, eh, garlic is garlic, who cares about the variety?
It all tastes like garlic, right?
Well yes, it tastes like garlic because it... is garlic.
But garlic aficionados out there attest to 
subtleties and nuances in flavor that I really want to check out.
Some garlics are supposedly better for roasting 
and others are better for raw use, like in a salsa.
Plus, garlic is a potent medicinal, and potency may vary from variety to variety. 
(More on the health benefits of garlic another time.)
But really... don't you want to try the whole rainbow of anything?
I do!!!


Most folks grow for vigor and hardiness and storage quality...
and that's very practical and great...
I've been there, done that.  

Now I want to delve a little more
into the poetry and romance of gardening.
There's a lot in a name, you know.

 I quickly started to realize 
how many different types of garlic (and fruits and vegetables!) there are,
each with a unique story and provenance,
from somewhere in the world,
handed down and handed down and handed down some more.


The thing is,
every single thing starts to seem
so special
once you learn the story of it.

Imagine the people who cultivated it throughout history,
their lives, their loves, their customs,
the meals they ate...

In this way, gardening is also like being a librarian,
being an archivist,
if you are growing historical seed
and saving it
and sharing it.


I had to really restrain myself so I didn't end up with 100+ varieties of garlic.
If I could, I would grow and try the whole world's worth of flavors!

 I was only marginally successful at self-restraint,
as you may have guessed. 
Anyone who knows me knows that
restraint is not a strong-suit of mine
when it comes to things I like. 

My pragmatic partner has to keep tabs on me and reign me in.
If she sees me doing research and writing lists of varieties,
she chimes in and and asks me
"So where do you plan to put all of that?"
 or she'll say something like
"That's fine if you only want to grow garlic,
but if you also want to grow other things,
maybe you should consider limiting it to
oh, maybe 15 varieties... "

 She tries to be diplomatic
and if that doesn't work,
she gives me an ultimatum.

 Or, as she calls it, an old-tomato.

Here's an example of an old-tomato:
"If you buy all of those varieties, you're on your own for planting and harvesting."
(she doesn't really mean it, but she still says it  and
nevertheless, it makes me really reconsider my gargantuan plans
because plans are one thing and then DOING the work is another...
so, in short, throwing an old-tomato at me generally works!)

I digress.


After much deliberation, here's what we'll be growing this year.
I've included just a few pictures,
since who wants to see pictures of 18 row markers?  

Anyway, we'll be growing:

our own unknown hodgepodge mix that we've been growing for years,
which we are simply calling
"Hoose garlic"
after our friend Wendy who got us started...

along with
4 artichoke types (Ails de Pays Parne, Beekeeper's Sicilian, Inchelium Red, Polish White)

2 Asiatic strains (Sakura, Singing Falls)

Singing Falls is named after the waterfalls where indigenous women went
for their birthing ceremonies...
1 Creole (Rose du Lautrec) - a famed pink garlic from France

1 glazed (Purple Glazer)
1 marbled (Russian Giant) 
2 porcelain (Georgian Fire, Music)

2 purple striped (Chesnok Red, Russian Red)
3 rocamboles (Carpathian, Russian red, Italian Easy Peel),
1 silverskin (Nootka Rose)
 and 1 unclassified type
Ver Veist???
which is Yiddish for
Who Knows???


Altogether, 18 varieties!

And with plans to then continue on with what we really love
and incorporate others I've been dreaming about
(Acropolis, Assisi, Bavarian Purple, Killarney Red,
Seely Hill, Spanish Roja, Vilnius...)

for the 2016 season.


There are some other resources I'd like to share
with those who are even half as wacky as I am:

If you're into garlic, you need to know about
one of the most prolific garlic farmers out there:
Avram Drucker at Garlicana!

He's a tremendous advocate for protecting garlic,
and helping garlic to survive this changing world.
If ever there was a friend of garlic, it's Avram...
along with Ted Jordan Meredith, author of
The Complete Book of Garlic.
Ted can be found here at Garlic Analecta.

For the true garlic geeks out there,
they co-wrote this article about growing garlic from seed,
which is a whole different ball game. 
Or should we say, bulbil game?
It's really interesting.  

There's also Filaree Farm to check out,
they have a lot of hard to find varieties available.

One other thing you can do to open up an entire world of amazingness for yourself
is join the Seed Savers Exchange.  
Become a member!
It gives you access to a network of people all over the planet 
who have been saving heirloom seeds and who want to share them. 

Don't say I didn't warn you, though...! 
If you think seed catalogs are tempting,
this is the motherload of all motherloads! 


chickie update

So the Littles aren't so little anymore.
They're starting to look like real hens.

 Here's Goldie, looking fabulous.

And Betty, who isn't so white right now
since she walked underneath some freshly painted chairs.
Curiosity painted the hen, I guess!

Betty doesn't stay still long enough, or she's always at our feet,
making it hard to get a good full-body photo.
But here she is on the top step going up to the pool:

with Goldie and then Emmaline.

 Speaking of Emmaline. 

SHE might be a HE, 
so Emmaline might be Emmett.

If she IS a she, well hot damn...! 
I've never seen a hen with so many colors.

The iridescent green in her tail feathers and at the end of her wing feathers... 
and all of those other colors... 
paired with her very, very bossy and dominant behavior.
She might be a roo.

Then again, I've heard that there can be mixed-sex birds
and some hens can take on the "role" of a rooster,
crowing and some even have spurs.

No spurs or crows here yet, 
we'll just have to wait and see and hear 
what comes out of Ms. Emmaline.
Or Mr. Emmett.

Oy vay.
I've read that Easter Eggers are one breed that are challenging to sex,
and they may have had a mix-up at the hatchery.

We never wanted a rooster 
because the girls are so happy on their own
and we've heard so many stories about mean roosters that make us really reluctant.

If Emmaline is Emmett, we'll just have to see how that goes for a bit.
 But let's not think about that for now. 

Tadaaaaa, here's our one last beautiful girl:
She is such a pretty girl.
She's a very busy forager, and she often stands up tall.

 When I took this photo of our wacky little additions, 
I told them to 
say cheese!
or, say mealworms!
Say Hi to the blog readers!   

Everyone but Betty listened to my directions the first time,
and by the time Betty tuned in, the others had lost their attention span.
Oh well, such is life with chickens...


losing the hive

Mid to late August, all of a sudden
the hive changed, something shifted.

Only I noticed it at first.
For awhile I thought it was my imagination.
But then it became more apparent that things were definitely different.
And not in a good way.

I couldn't figure it out with any certainty.  
What was certain was that the numbers of bees dropped dramatically
and it was as if the hive lost its purpose and joie de vivre.

There weren't a ton of dead bees around, 
 so I can only hope that somehow the queen and many of her followers 
had a healthy, powerful swarm 
 and in the land of happily-ever-after
they found themselves a location where they can safely survive the winter
and that they managed to build up enough more stores of honey to make it until spring.

It took us awhile to really come to terms with the situation,
and alas, we waited too long.

September came and went and it became more and more apparent
that the hive... the bees left behind, were struggling.  

There was no queen.  The heart and soul of the hive.

We had been waiting for them to re-queen themselves,
which is what bees will do if their queen dies or swarms.
They make extra-large cells that hang down off the comb and look sort of like peanut shells.
They feed her royal jelly and that plays an important part in the "birth" of a queen.
Here's a queen cell, with a yellow jacket robber next to it.
That queen cell never hatched.
There were about 5 or 6 queen cells, and one appears to have hatched but to no avail.
No new brood in sight.

Here's some old capped brood that never hatched...

Beautiful virgin comb
These are the last combs the bees built out while they were still thriving.

Meant to be filled with honey...
Gorgeous row after row of symmetry.

And the last comb they added anything to...

A combination of hatched brood comb and capped honey here.
It makes me think of the moon and the mountains.

Oh, dear bees.
Oh, dear me.
What can we do?

Essentially, what's happening right now is that 
the bees are dwindling and they're dwindling rapidly,
and there's very little if anything we can do about it at this point in the season.
Most likely nature will take it's course, and the remaining bees will die.  
It's such a heavy and deeply sad feeling.
I was totally unprepared for how emotional losing a hive would be.

It shocked me.  I just started sobbing.
For such a vibrant, humming, intricate, amazing organism 
bustling with tens of thousands of winged workers
to be reduced to next to nothing in a matter of weeks... 

How does that happen?

Is it from my lack of knowledge and management skills?
Is it from this increasingly toxic world we're living in?
Pesticides, herbicides, GMO's?
Bee diseases and pests like varoa mite?


Beekeeping, like many things in life,
 is such a fine balance between trying to "control" or influence
that which you can, and letting go of everything else,
including the outcome, even when the outcome is devastating.

It's a constant lesson in hoping for the best, but being prepared for the worst,
and to get back at it 
if your heart can handle trying it again.


This experience left me determined to do a better job next season,
even though there are too many variables to know what really went wrong with our hive,
and when/how we could have intervened that may have resulted in a different fate...

Main thoughts on what to do better:
- get hardy local bees who are acclimated to the climate and from a natural apiary.
- manage the hive more frequently.

I won't be so scared to don the white suit and fire up the smoker.
The hands off approach clearly didn't work in this situation.
Next time I won't wait to so long if this happens again -- 
I'll do my best to re-queen the hive so they can hopefully survive.

I might also try my hand at a "traditional" Langstroth hive and see if I fare any better.
 I've heard that the top bar style we're using is the easiest to set up, 
but the most challenging to manage.  
So, we have to become better managers.  
But even increased skill is no guarantee.
Very skilled beekeepers still have losses all of the time.   
 I don't know how they cope with it.

So, one last chapter:
I got in touch with a local beekeeper 
(who is as crazy about her bees as we are about our chickens!)
who graciously offered to help me out. 
She had an extra queen nuc with some brood frame,
so we embarked on a last-ditch and highly unlikely effort to re-queen the hive 
this late in the season.

It's yet another adventure --
this time with  mismatched equipment (her Langstroth frames to my top bars), 
some duct tape, some newspaper, and a whole lot of positive thinking and love for the bees.

It started out looking good, but now it's not looking very promising.
For some reason our remaining bees, and maybe the new bees (?)
ate every single last drop of honey in the hive, so there's nothing left!!!
and now I'm kicking myself for harvesting the little bit that I did
(just a little more than a quart!).
There's nothing left to do other than keep feeding them other things
like sugar-syrup and pollen patties
and I can take out the old combs and pour honey into them.
 So, it's a sad story.
I still feel busted up about it, and I'm not sure if I'm cut out for beekeeping,
but I'm going to give it another try next season and do my best by the bees.

But here are some beautiful pictures to enjoy.
Spectacular creatures.

sometimes virgin comb reminds me of skin...
like a delicate snakeskin, paper thin.

I'm pretty sure these are pollen stores...

Maybe the bees wrote a message in pollen?

And some honey shots:


Up at the top of this bar you can see some dried green bits
it's actually from lemon balm
which we put under the roof on top of the bars to keep ants away
it worked wonders!
the little bits that got inside gave the honey a slight lemon-mint taste.

propolis... amazing stuff.
 sealing cracks and crevices, any little gap.
the bee version of duct tape
or glue
except that it's good medicine, too...

 We love you bees.

Queenie #1, may you and your followers survive the winter well, wherever you landed.

Here's hoping for a better 2015 season.
 Maybe these hard lessons will be behind us!