Spring Tales of an Urban Oasis: Orchards, Bees & BioChar

Nice to have been keeping a flowering chart (since 1996) for our urban orchard. As each new fruit variety is added here at Barefoot Permaculture, so is its name added to our flowering chart (which records the date of first flower and full flower

 

Replacing Wild Cherry: with Basswood

Replacing Wild Cherry: with Basswood

The mountains of western North Carolina are infamous for very warm spells in February, followed by hard frosts, as well as periods of sub-freezing temperatures, surfacing into May

Earliest Bloomer: Chojuro Asian Pear

Earliest Bloomer: Chojuro Asian Pear

This combo often spells disaster for fruiting plants. If the blossoms are damaged by the cold, the result is no fruit for the year. Local wisdom speaks of a Dogwood Winter and a Blackberry Winter. With some regularity, hard freezes occur when dogwood (Cornus spp.) and Blackberry (Rubus spp.) are in bloom. We experience this fairly often, and it makes successful fruit growing precarious. This spring, our last freeze was mid-April.

First Appearance of Blossoms: Shinseki Asian Pear

First Blossoms: Shinseki Asian Pear

In spite of most of our fruit varieties being in various stages of bloom, the only freeze damage appears to be our Moonglow European Pear. That damage appears to be complete: no pears this year!

Goumi in Full Bloom

Goumi in Full Bloom

All else is looking good (for the most part).

Goumi: On the Way to Ripening

Goumi: On the Way to Ripening

Voles (small, short-tailed root-eating rodents) made it —for the first time, into our front (and main orchard area).

Our beloved Fuyu (Asian Persimmon) failed to leaf out by April’s end: its root zone riddled with Vole tunnels! I collapsed the tunnels, and fed the root zone with Nature’s Nog (a seaweed based concentrate for root development ) and watered it well.

Life Creeping Out, after Severe Vole Damage

Life Creeping Out, after Severe Vole Damage

The stem has pushed out a few leaf buds, so now we get to nurse her back to health and well-being (so long as we are able to keep the voles at bay…

 

                       The First Thunderstorm After Easter

look for Morels, our esteemed elder Dot Wells (now passed) told us years ago. We’ve been out twice and had not so much as spotted a morel, and were feeling skunked.

Then, 8 days after Easter, Monday in the evening, thunder, lightning, and 3&1/2” of rain! In the morning I told Chiwa that the previous night’s noises kept me awake.

Blessed by the Morel Spirits

Blessed by the Morel Spirits

The thunder? she asked… No, the popping sound: morels popping out of the ground!  We laughed, and later went into our side yard, nearby Grandmother Crabapple, hoping to spot some small morels.

Astarte's Eggs?

Astarte’s Eggs?

Oh My God! was all that came out of my mouth! Nine of the biggest morels we have ever seen: dominating a small clearing like giant exclamation marks!

A Great Wildness to Eat

A Great Wildness to Eat

Needless to say, we had a thankful and yumptious time following…

In The Pan...

In The Pan…

                                                Honeybee News

Over the winter, we lost two hives: one disappeared, and one dwindled to a very small cluster (with queen) unable to generate the warmth necessary for survival, and died out in early April. We were left with one gangbuster hive and another less so, yet still healthy.

Last week, our gangbuster (western) hive cast out a swarm which settled 40 feet up and at the end of a small-diameter branch in a nearby Hemlock tree. I pulled out my pendulum, inquired about climbing the tree and capturing the swarm… and was given a “no”.

An hour later, the swarm lifted off and began to drift slowly downward, eventually flowing back into the hive that birthed it.

Normally unusual, turns out that within our local beekeeper community, several this year, have witnessed swarms returning to the mother hive. What it means? Quien sabe!

Two days later, another (and smaller) swarm landed in the same spot. This time my pendulum swung in the “yes” direction, and up the tree I climbed. Tying my climbing rope near the treetop, I dropped down to the small diameter branch upon which the swarm was clustered.

Tree Top Swarm Catching

Tree Top Swarm Catching

Secure (from falling, but not imbalance) in my climbing saddle and rope, I sat down upon the branch and gently sawed off the 5’ long branch tip, then bringing the cluster near enough to allow me to gently shake the swarm into my 5 gallon bucket, cover it, and lower it down, via rope, to Chiwa.

 Pouring In the Swarm

Pouring In the Swarm

The hive was small, so the next day I removed 3 deep frames of capped brood from the mother (western) hive, and placed them into the “new” hive. (The three empty, deep frames of drawn foundation then went back to the western hive, giving their queen more space in which to lay, and reducing that hives’ propensity to swarm further).

Adding Capped Brood

Adding Capped Brood

During the next few days, when these purloined frames of capped brood hatch, there will be an instant population of new bees for our new hive, just in time for the Tulip Poplar and Locust nectar flow.

                                                  BioChar Update

BioChar is big in the “under” news these days: as one of the most plausible methods of sequestering carbon, with a side effect of enhanced, long term soil fertility.

Readying the Bio-Charged BioChar

Readying the Bio-Charged BioChar

The basic difference between charcoal and BioChar is the biological component, supplied by “charging” the charcoal with nutrients and micro-organisms via soaking in a nutrient laden slurry. In the case of Barefoot Permaculture, the hardwood charcoal soaked for eighteen months in a slurry of fish emulsion, seaweed, urine, animal manures, comfrey and nettle.

Breaking Apart BioChar Into BioCharettes

Breaking Apart BioChar Into BioCharettes

In the last 2 weeks, we harvested some of our BioChar, pounded it into tiny pieces, screened it, then mixed it with screened, aged biodynamic compost; at a ratio of 1:1.5 (BioChar: Compost).

Finished BioChar

Finished BioChar

 

Screened, Aged BioDynamic Compost

Screened, Aged BioDynamic Compost

We have around 50 lbs. of top quality, soil enhancing, compost enriched BioChar. Within each planting hole for our seasonal gardens, will go a handful or two, as well as top-dressing all our perennial fruits. With some left over, and as much more to make (with the same ingredients) we will be building sustained fertility for many years to come…

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About goodheart

Education: Warren Wilson College (BA Environmental Studies) 1987: University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (MSc. Natural Resources) 2005 Permaculture Design Certificate (The Farm, TN) 1994 Presidential Volunteer Award: 2005, 2006, 2007 Experiences: National and international Permaculture teacher and practitioner since 1995; Sustainable land use and permaculture consultant; International consultant for small plot sustainable agriultural projects; Home orchard consultant; Endangered species observer for sea-turtle and whale projects; Field biologist and naturalist; Gourmet natural food chef and teacher; Home baker (artisan breads) brewer & fermenter; Home orchardist; BeeKeeper; Ecological gardener; Broom-maker in the Southern Highland Craft Guild, and general bio-philiac...
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