Saturday, May 29, 2010

Beekeeping: Opened the Hive Today (May 29, 2010)

I opened the beehive today for the first time this year. I currently have two deep hive bodies on as brood chambers and there are three medium supers on top. I cleared an ant colony out of the bottom of the hive and took everything apart just to see how the bees were doing.

The brood chambers are jammed with bees and so heavy they are very hard to lift. The supers have little in them at the moment, but the bees are beginning to store nectar there--and it's only late May. Harvest this year is likely to be substantial. Everything appears to be in good shape. The photo shows bees cleaning up honey that was in cells broken when I pulled the first super off of the queen excluder.

Plants I'm growing: First Blooms--Beavertail Cactus (May 29, 2010)

One of the two beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) plants in the garden bloomed today--one in a pot, by the garage. It gets much more sun than the one in the ground on the side of the house. That plant has only two buds. The one that bloomed today has 15 (more than twice as many as last year). I think I will have to move the shaded one to a better location. This plant has beautiful magenta pink flowers that contrast with the bluish pads of the plant.

Opuntia basilaris bloomed on May 9 in 2009. A year according to this plant was therefore 385  days--another long year probably attributable to the cold and rain this year.

Wines I'm Making: Racked the 2009 Wines (May 29, 2010)

I racked the 2009 wines today. I did eight gallons of Zinfandel made from my neighbors grapes. The grapes were in bad condition (under-watered, they were full of raisins) and the early stages weren't encouraging (with a brown, lentil-soupy kind of look), but the wine has come along nicely--considering. It's clear and at least palatable, if not very interesting or with much body. Still, it was better than letting the grapes rot on the vine again. He seems to have been inspired by my efforts--he's taking care of them himself this year.

I racked six gallons of our own Cabernet Sauvignon and the five gallons of "second-run wine" from the leftovers of the main Cabernet pressing. It, too, has improved remarkably, although it remains thin and tart. The real wine from the Cabernet grapes looks and tastes excellent. I'm very much looking forward to tasting it again in a couple of months.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wines I'm making: Sulfur Spraying (May 28, 2010)

I got up early and sprayed the vines with sulfur again this morning. That's three times so far this season. It's finally cleared and begun to warm up after the storm of the past few days--which washed all the sulfur off the plants again. I'm hoping there will be no more rain to speak of this season, so I can relax for a while.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Plants I'm growing: First Blooms--Coreopsis (2010)

The first Coreopsis bloom of 2010 opened this morning, looking rather cheerful in the gloom and rain. Coreopsis bloomed first on May 7 in 2009--giving some indication of how much the unusually cool, wet weather this year has retarded flowering of at least some plants in the garden. A year according to Coreopsis was 385 days.

Wines I'm making: Shoring up the Electric Fence

In 2005, I made only six bottles of wine from the grapes in the back yard. I was determined not to be defeated by critters--but I was. Normally, the harvest is big enough to make about 100 bottles each year, but raccoons (or was it skunks, or wild turkeys, or possums, or foxes?) made off with most of the fruit--in total, nearly 250 pounds of it.

Each night another vine was stripped bare. I tried everything--inflatable snakes, plastic owls with rotating heads and motion sensors (the birds hoot at anything that moves), bright lights, and nets, all to little effect. And whatever was eating the grapes (I do think it was raccoons) had the gall to leave droppings here and there full of grape seeds. Finally, I built a four-foot-high electric horse fence around the two rows of vines and began to put the nets on the outside of the fence, so that animals can't push up against the plants and steal berries through the nets--but that was in 2006. The wine from 2005 was mostly made from under-ripe grapes, some of them damaged berries gleaned from the ground where the raccoons left them. The wine is sour and virtually undrinkable, but I will let it sit. Who knows? Five years from now, it may be palatable. Since building the electric fence, the fruit has been relatively unmolested, and, happily, the wine has been better with each harvest since 2005.

Because the wires are under tension and in part because of the heavy rains this year, the poles that support the electric fence have been gradually leaning inward, which allows the wires to sag and touch each other, causing short circuits. Yesterday, I got out there and drilled holes through the six-inch wood posts that support the trellises and, using nuts and large washers, created stays that push the end-posts of the electric fence out from the wooden posts, restoring tension. There's a particular satisfaction to be derived from solving a problem simply and well. Sadly, not all problems are so easily solved.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rain: Yet Another Storm (May 25-27, 2010)

Yet another storm passed through the area yesterday, abating by early morning on the 26th. We got another 0.45 inches of rain. That brings our 2009-2010 total to 32.75 inches--solidly above the historical average for Santa Rosa of 31.01 inches and the highest it's been in several years (and other Santa Rosa locations have had more rain than we have). Rarely is the garden so lush at this time of year. The downside is that I'll have to spray the grapes with sulfur once again....

[Update: It started raining again overnight. I woke to the sound of thunder--a comparatively rare occurrence around here, and even the worst thunder in Santa Rosa seems tame compared with the earth-shaking bolts I remember from Ohio. I can still see my poor grandmother--a bright, well-educated, rational woman with a mortal fear of thunder--cowering in the stairwell of her house in Dayton during a booming May storm. So far, we've had another 0.85 inches since last reporting, or more than an inch in the past two days--and it's nearly June. The 2009-2010 total at my location is now 33.60 inches. The 2009-2010 official rain season will end on June 30. The 2010-2011 season begins on July 1.]

[Further update: Another 0.05 inches on the evening of June 3 and into the morning of June 4 brings our total to 33.65 inches.]

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tidbits: RIP--Martin Gardner

I note here the death of Martin Gardner, on May 22. I thank him for the many hours of pleasure his writings have given me over the years. He's probably best known as the writer of mathematical brain teasers for Scientific American, but he wrote many books on diverse subjects. In particular, I remember The Annotated Alice (originally published in 1960 by Clarkson Potter. I read the 1990 Norton edition), an annotated edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass; and The Ambidextrous Universe (originally published in 1964, but I read the Third Revised Edition, 1990). RIP

Monday, May 24, 2010

Music I'm Listening To: More Jazz--Neil Buckley Octet, Santa Rosa (May 24, 2010)

More really good jazz tonight--this time the Neil Buckley Octet at Gaia's Garden, 1899 Mendocino Ave., in Santa Rosa. This group plays 1950s West Coast-style cool jazz. Very entertaining. The group was really together tonight, and they kept getting better as the night progressed. The show was over much too quickly. The Octet played to a very appreciative, nearly-full house.

The Octet included: David Schrader (alto and tenor sax), Chris Calley (tenor sax), Jim Passarell (trumpet), Carl Bowers (sitting in on trombone for regular trombonist Ned Herrin), John Howard (baritone sax), Steve della Maggiora (guitar), Bill Amatneek (bass), and Pat O'Connell (drums). Pat O'Connell leads the group.

Birds I'm Watching: Bodega Bay (May 24, 2010)

I spent much of the day today out at Bodega Bay looking for birds and good clam chowder. I found both.

I didn't see anything new or unusual, but got good views of several red-throated loons (photo), mostly in winter plumage but starting to molt into breeding plumage (the throat is red only in full breeding plumage). These birds can be identified fairly readily by their relatively thin, pointed bills and the way they habitually hold them pointed up in the air slightly.

Other highlights included nesting great blue herons, nesting Western gulls, and nesting pelagic cormorants. The heron nests are in the high trees behind the Spud Point Crab Company, which really does have the best chowder in Bodega Bay---as their sign claims. The gulls and cormorants were nesting on the rocks just below Bodega Head. The cormorants were showing their white "saddlebags" and red at the base of the bill--both traits visible only when in breeding plumage. The white patches are beautiful against the sleek black-green-blue-violet of the birds.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Plants I'm growing: First Blooms--Phlomis (May 23, 2010)

First blooms of 2010 today on the purple-pink Phlomis on the side of the house, by the white Japanese plum. I believe this is Phlomis purpurea, although it may be Phlomis italica. In any case, it's a nice change from the yellow of most types of Phlomis--not that I have any objection to the yellow Phlomis species. This plant bloomed on May 26 in 2009. Therefore, a year according to this plant was 362 days.
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