Memphis Backyard Farmer


Okra Is Coming!
July 17, 2014, 9:56 pm
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Okra!Okra bloom



Fruit Fly Frustration
July 4, 2014, 9:30 pm
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IMG_20140703_083959The more fresh fruit and vegetables we eat, the more fruit flies we have to contend with. They piggyback on grocery store fruit and multiply like crazy once they get to the house. In years past they were overwhelming. They’d not only swarm fruit sitting out on the kitchen counters, but also around the garbage can, compost containers, and sink.

I found this little tip that works wonders for keeping them under control, and as I prepared this week’s batch, I thought I should share it with you. Simply take a small, shallow bowl (these Pyrex bowls work well, but ramekins work well, too) and pour in a half-inch or so of apple cider or red wine vinegar. Then take a drop – really, just a drop – of dishwashing liquid like Dawn in the vinegar. Place the bowl next to an area where you’ve noticed a lot of fruit flies. I’ll typically place mine next to the garbage can or close to a bowl of fruit. That’s it! As you can see by the picture above, this works great.

The mechanism, if you’re interested, is that the fruity vinegar attracts the flies and the dishwashing liquid breaks the surface tension of the vinegar so that rather than floating on top of the liquid, the fruit flies sink. They aren’t poisoned, they’re drowned.

I hope this little tip helps you like it has me. If you have any tips like this, please share!



Absence Makes The What Grow?
July 1, 2014, 9:56 am
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I took a few days and traveled to East Tennessee over the weekend for a wedding. It was gorgeous there, beautiful cool weather, perfect for some lake time. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Memphis was under a deluge: rain thunderstorms, flash-floods, the works. I arrived home wondering what the house, rabbits, chickens and plants would look like on my return. Imagine my (pleasant) surprise to find everything lush, green, and blooming.

You may complain about the rain this year, but don’t be surprised if I suddenly punch you in the throat. My garden, and beautiful, thick sunflower, corn and soybean fields across the state would argue that this year, finally, Memphis has had some perfect weather.



Meet Hermione
May 28, 2014, 8:14 pm
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Hermione is the newest addition to our little backyard “farm”. She came to us via a friend and fellow urban agriculturist  who was having trouble with her vocalizing her opinion, so to speak. She was clucking so loudly, and so early, that it was waking both him and his neighbors. Since I’m the closest thing to a butcher most of my friends know, I usually get their problem animals. Such was the case with Hermione. But it turns out that she rather likes it here. She’s quiet unless the dogs spook her. She wanders the yard pecking and scratching and has laid a couple of eggs for us.

So – for now – she stays.

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Spreading The Word
May 5, 2014, 9:16 pm
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This Year's Starts

If you’re connected to this blog, then like me, you probably like fresh, great-tasting food, gardening, nutrition, and the (natural) science of where your food comes from. Part of the reason I blog is to keep a running journal of what I’m doing, but also to let people know how easy it is to grow your own food, especially in a small space. We need to spread the word!

So in the spread-the-word department, a couple of things that might be of interest to you.

First, I’ve found that a great way to get people started gardening is to lower the barriers of entry. One of those barriers is knowing what kind of plants to buy, where to buy them, and how to get them cheaply. So many people just don’t know what to buy, and they’re intimidated by their lack of knowledge and the price of good plants at their local big box hardware store. To the rescue! This is now the third year I’ve had a plant giveaway at my church. Yesterday I gave away close to 80 tomato and pepper plants. I start the seedlings for myself each year, and honestly it’s so cheap and easy to do that there’s no reason not to produce a surplus. For each of the last three years I’ve added to the number of seedlings I’ve planted. I pick what I want for myself then take boxes of plants to church with a “Please Take Me Home” sign taped on. People are thrilled to get them, even folks who have never gardened before, and it opens up all kinds of opportunities for conversation. I get to tell them why I plant heirlooms, the organic methods I use, what kind of care their plants need at home, etc. If you’re handy with seed-saving or seed-planting, let me encourage you to plant for surplus, and give away as many as you can.

Second, over the weekend I received an unsolicited email with a link to a great infographic about micro-farming. I love infographics. It saves me from having to do any serious reading <grin>. But seriously, give it a look at http://www.superscholar.org/backyard-micro-farming/, and share it with your friends. Oh – and do the reading. If you scroll below the (long) graphic, there’s some good background to the numbers and concepts.



Bee Keeping 101: What’s Your Function?
January 12, 2014, 2:58 am
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David holding frame of honeyLast week’s post in my Bee Keeping 101 series was a reminder that if you’re ordering packages, now (January) is the time to do it. It was also the very first post of the series.

It seems I may need to back up a bit.

I had a series of comments with a reader, leading to a great dialogue, about why I would advocate ordering packaged bees (~$80-$90) when folks could just catch free swarms. From there we delved into what is today’s topic; Why do you want to keep bees in the first place?

I am now the third in four generations of bee keepers. My grandfather kept bees for honey. I remember visiting both his house and farm and seeing hives towering over my head, stacked tall with honey supers. I remember the shelves in my grandmother’s pantry lined with quart jars full of honey. And always when we would visit, they would send a jar home. It was beautiful, golden, and packed with sealed, white comb. I started keeping bees because it’s in my blood, and because I love honey. Once folks find out that I sell honey, they start asking questions to find out if it’s a money maker. In fact, most people I meet think that the reason you raise bees is to make money on honey. There is no money in honey. Actually, I make enough to put back in the business for needed replacement supplies each year.

Other folks, like Solarbeez are concerned about the plight of bees (you’ve been hiding in a hole if you don’t know how much trouble bee colonies are in these days) and are doing their best to make increase the natural bee population by collecting and propagating swarms using natural bee keeping methods, and using fewer “modern” industrial techniques for housing and caring for bees. (Check out Solarbeez incredible log hives!)

Being in the gardening/farming community, I also meet lots of folks who want bees simply to pollinate their crops. They set up hives in their yards and gardens, or along crop rows to increase fruit production.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered based on what I’ve observed from these different groups: your method of bee keeping often depends on your goals in bee keeping. But also, rarely does a bee keeper fall firmly into only one of these categories. In fact, often a well educated bee keeper can’t help but nod his head in agreement when he/she understands the arguments.

Hopefully we’ll have time to discuss this further, but here a few more notes: If honey is not your primary reason for tending bees, then consider making your own equipment, especially top bar hives. They have a very basic design and can be easily assembled from scavenged scrap wood. They’re easy to throw a swarm or a package of bees in, but more difficult to transition from a nuc. You can find lots of very complicated plans on the web, but really all you need to see is the basic structure to kick your imagination in high gear. Here are some plans to get you going. If you’re into honey production, then a Langstroth hive is probably the way to go. It has become the de facto standard for honey production. It’s easy to build up a honey-making factory, and it’s convenient for swapping parts with other hives and other bee keepers. But they’re considerably more expensive and more complicated to build from scratch. I usually buy my Langstroth parts from Brushy Mountain. You can buy a complete kit from them here.

After many years of bee keeping, I find myself squarely in the “all three categories” camp. I really want honey. I really want the bees to pollinate my crops. But I do everything I can to promote natural bee health, including open breeding, no pesticides, swarm catching, and certainly – though accidentally – swarm releasing.

If you’re already a bee keeper, you’ll get that joke.



2014 Farm To Table Conference
January 8, 2014, 7:35 pm
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Farm to Table LogoI wanted to take a quick minute to give a shout out for this year’s Farm to Table conference on February 4 in Memphis. I missed it last year, but attended the first two years. I learned a ton of great information that ranged from growing melons to selling in farmer’s markets. It’s also a great way to connect with like minded foodies, farmers, and policy makers.

You can get more info here at their web site (which, admittedly, is still a bit sparse).

See you there!




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