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Monthly Archives: May 2010

beehive prepped for my home kitchen garden

I scraped every inch of wood on the inside of this hive body, and put a fresh coat of paint on the outside. Each slat of wood inside the box is the top of a “frame” that will hold a sheet of beeswax called “foundation.” When I received the phone call this morning telling me I could get a package of bees, I mounted foundation in the frames, and assembled the beehive out in my yard.

I had very low confidence that I’d have honeybees in my home kitchen garden this year. As I reported about six weeks ago, I rebooted my effort to get a beehive started (Beekeeping at my Home Kitchen Garden) after last year’s discouragement. However, because of budget constraints, I was planning simply to bait a beehive and hope to capture a wild swarm of honeybees.

Shopping for Beekeeping Gear

In the past six weeks, I cleaned up a hive body (called a brood chamber) and the component frames that will eventually hold honeycomb made by bees. So, on Saturday I decided to visit a local apiary to buy foundation. Foundation is a sheet of beeswax pressed with a pattern of hexagons that bees will happily build upon to create honeycomb and brood comb.

The apiary was closed on Saturday, but its operator told me there’s a beekeeping supply store just up the street. This was news to me, so I drove out to see what the store had to offer.

A Truckload of Bees

bees headed into New York City

The folks I found filling their car with bees at the beekeeping supply store had driven out from New York City. They have been campaigning to legalize beekeeping in Manhattan, and the beekeeping ban ended in March! Apparently, there are a lot of beekeepers in the city; these packages were going to folks all over the island.

While I wasn’t paying attention last October, a company called Brushy Mountain Bee Farm opened a branch store about five miles north of where I live. The store sells everything a beekeeper needs to succeed. Coincidentally, on that Saturday, the store had received a truckload of honey bees customers had ordered.

I browsed, I chatted with the staff, and I watched a customer load a station wagon with about sixty packages of bees. I don’t know how many packages had passed through the store that day, but some people who ordered failed to show during the scheduled pickup time. It became apparent that there might be unclaimed packages of bees… and here my reclaimed, ancient beehive was ready for occupants.

I left my phone number, and this morning I received a call. Some bees had, in fact, been abandoned by the people who ordered them. Yep! I bought a package of bees.

Bees Installed in my Home Kitchen Garden

three pound package of honey bees for my home kitchen garden

The package of bees I bought sits on my porch as I suit up to prevent bee stings when I install them in the hive. It was so cold that the bees could barely move much less sting me. This three pound package of bees held at least 10,000 bees, including a queen in her own container. The queen’s cage is inside with the rest of the bees… but she’s in her own room in part so the beekeeper can make sure she makes it into the hive.

It was raining and miserably cold today by the time I had the beehive ready to receive its new residents. It was so unpleasant that I didn’t even try to take photos of the procedure. The bees were sluggish because off the cold, and they got a bit wet. Not one tried to sting me, and I’m afraid several hundred didn’t make it into the hive.

Of the more than 10,000 bees that made it into the hive, the livelier workers immediately started examining the beeswax foundation. I hope they quickly find the food I provided for them. As they mill about and feed, they’ll warm the inside of the beehive… and that will make them livelier still.

The rain and cold will continue for another day, but by the weekend, it will be warm enough to draw the bees out so they begin exploring their new neighborhood. I’ll keep an eye on the food and replenish it when it runs low (which I hope it does quickly) and I’ll check inside the hive in ten days to make sure the bees have settled in OK.

I’ll share more about the beekeeping experience in coming posts.

 

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raspberry brambles in a home kitchen garden

Here’s a great idea for any home kitchen garden: Plant a line of brambles along one side of your driveway. It’s so satisfying to pick handfuls of fresh raspberries for your breakfast cereal, yogurt, or cottage cheese… or to add to a fruit salad at dinner.

Continuing a discussion about designing your home kitchen garden, I finally get to share the story of a visit I made to photograph a garden that was full of surprises. Nearly every week I drive past a property on which a collection of raised garden beds sits back just a few feet from the road. Last season I saw weekly changes in those beds as trellises appeared in some, then seedlings, and eventually mature vegetable plants.

One Saturday in mid summer, I stopped at the house there and knocked on the door. A suspicious woman came to the door, and after an awkward moment I explained that I write about gardening and had been enjoying her raised bed project. I asked whether I could photograph her vegetable garden and tell about it in my blog.

The Home Kitchen Garden Tour

I must have been sincere enough because this woman graciously broke away from a tomato-processing project in her kitchen and took me for a rather mind-boggling tour.

First, we went around the house to a large area planted with fruit trees and shrubs. These were relatively new plantings, and she was still coaxing them along without significant harvest. It showed great promise for coming seasons.

raised beds in a home kitchen garden

I visited the farmhouse because I’d admired these raised planting beds along the road. The winter squash (top-left) was a volunteer that grew on a sand pile next to the boxed beds. While the raised beds themselves were a bit weedy, they held dozens of ripe tomatoes, eggplants, summer squash, and sweet potato plants.

We went back around the house, and where the entrance walk met the driveway we passed a thick stand of raspberry plants. From there, we walked down the driveway and I admired the variety of crops that grew in a series of raised beds. The woman was self-conscious about weeds (prominent in at least one photo here), but there were plenty of tomatoes, winter squash, zucchini, and other food crops—certainly enough for a couple whose kids had grown and moved away.

After I shot a few photos, I was thanking my new gardening friend and preparing to leave when she asked, “Do you want to see the rest of it?” Instant intrigue.

Of course I followed my host past the last raised bed and up the hill alongside a barn. About 50 yards from the last raised bed, we came upon a kitchen garden bed that covered at least an acre!

giant home kitchen garden bed

I thought I’d finished taking photos when my gracious host invited me to “see the rest of her kitchen garden.” Around behind the barn was a planting bed of at least an acre! There were squashes, tomatoes, corn, and other vegetables; I didn’t take inventory because I was too busy being awed.

A Humongous Home Kitchen Garden

chickens benefitting from a home kitchen garden

On the way back toward the house, we passed a pen of chickens who were lucky to receive two large summer squashes broken open so they could peck out the seeds and the soft centers. The chickens were obviously very happy with this treat. OK… I threw in this photo for my online gardening buddies who also raise chickens.

My new gardening friend explained that her husband loves to plant stuff. She gets to deal with the resultant produce. Most of the kitchen gardeners I visited last summer had lost patience with garden maintenance, and weeds were prominent. Goodness! When you’re dealing with an acre or more of crops, you’d be weeding for hours every day to keep them under control! No matter: as long as your crops grow taller than your weeds, you’ll have a decent harvest.

While this enormous planting bed held corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, and vegetables I didn’t identify, that wasn’t the end of it! We walked past the chicken yard attached to the barn, and through an ornamental garden next to the house. There, up against a tree line, was another kitchen garden, this one decked out with various flowers for cutting.

My kitchen gardener friend explained that her goal is to stay out of grocery stores and farmers’ markets; if she preserves a quarter of the food she grows, I imagine she never buys produce from any other grower.

enough of a home kitchen garden for most of us

Amazingly, despite the raised beds and the acre-sized plot, there was also a small kitchen garden up near the house. This was, perhaps, as large as my vegetable garden, and it sported many tomato plants and ornamental flowers as well as squash, eggplant, and other goodies. I imagine this garden would have fed a family of five throughout a growing season.

 

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