Springtime Projects on the Farmette

Author: Meera, March 29, 2018

After weeks of rain, Mother Nature has put on a robe of splendor.  Warm weather has arrived. Already, my beekeeper neighbor has had his honeybee hives send out three swarms.

 

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

Previous bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

 

My own bee population seems to be swelling. I’ve fished out my swarm catcher, primed it with scented lemon oil, and placed in among the blossoms in a nearby apricot tree. I may be blessed with a swarm as well.

 

 

Our grapes are Thompson Seedless and Merlot

Our grapes are Thompson Seedless, Merlot, and golden Italian muscat

 

 

There are plenty of other springtime projects to attend to here on my farmette. I’ve got to reassemble my temporary grape arbor. Each year, I think we’ll build a permanent structure, but there never seems to be enough time.

 

 

My cell flats have organic plants up now and ready for placing in my garden or raised beds. I’d like to add some more chicken manure to the strawberries since they are rapidly growing and producing small fruit.

 

 

strawberries lg em

 

 

Other plants need a spring feeding–the citrus, apples, and apricots, for example. I usually do the feeding before the trees break bud, so I’m a little late.

 

 

 

This candy-stripe rose was a gift from a friend--a cutting from her rose that became a large bush in my care

This candy-stripe rose was a gift from a friend–a cutting from her rose that became a large bush in my care

 

 

 

I will be turning the compost pile and mulching all my rose bushes (which have already leafed out and are setting buds). Finally, I’d like to put up a couple more bird houses (mating is already in the air) and fill my hummingbird feeders.

 

 

These six-month-old hens love treats like greens from the garden

This–my original flock–was massacred by a wild predator, fox or coyote,  last year

 

 

I need to purchase baby chicks from the feedstore to start my new flock. Hubby and I will build a new, reinforced chicken run and expand the existing hen house.

 

 

Then, there’s the side walkway that needs pavers. Painting of the fences. Building a new porch. Widening the patio…the projects are seemingly endless, but that’s fine. We’ll have a lovely six months (maybe an occasional storm). The dry season is upon us.

 

And I’m ready for the Adirondack chair…oh, that’s right…we have to build it first!

 

 

Classic Adirondack Adirondack chair, surely created for the enjoyment of a a garden

Classic Adirondack Adirondack chair, for the enjoyment of a a garden

 

 

 

 

 

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If you enjoy reading about farming topics and you love a good cozy mystery, check out my  novels from Kensington Publishing–A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES. All are available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and other online retailers as well as in bookstores everywhere.

 

 

 

My debut novel Sept. 2015

The debut novel for the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series

The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

 

 

COMING Sept. 2017

The second book in the Henny Penny Farmette series

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Helping the Hummers Refuel

Author: Meera, February 3, 2018

In a single day of darting to and from colorful flowers, the tiny hummingbird consumes nearly half its weight in sugar as it searches for nectar-rich blossoms.

 

A hummer's iridescent feathers shimmer as it perches in sunlight at the end of an apricot tree branch

A hummer’s iridescent feathers shimmer as it perches in sunlight at the end of an apricot tree branch

 

 

 

 

 

Hummers are attracted by the intense hue of certain flowers such as nasturtiums

Hummers are attracted by the intense hue of certain flowers such as nasturtiums

 

 

Their wings beat so rapidly, they make a purring sound. Ever industrious, these tiny birds work from dawn to dusk. They are drawn to tubular-shaped flowers or brightly colored ones in shades of red, orange, blue, and pink.

 

 

If you want to help the hummers refuel, consider putting flowers on your patio or in your garden that appeal to these little energy burners. Or, better still, plant trees, vines, perennial, and annual plants that will produce the flowers that attract hummers. Choose from the list below.

 

 

Behind the unfurled buds of the Jane magnolia are the blue blossoms of borage frequented by bees, butterflies, and hummers

Behind the unfurled buds of the Jane magnolia are the blue blossoms of Borage, an herb  frequented by bees, butterflies, and hummers

 

 

Annuals: Borage (blue star flower), impatiens, flowering tobacco, petunia, plox, salvia, and snapdragon

 

Perennials: aloe, alstomeria, bee balm, California fuschia, cardinal flower, columbine, coral bells, foxglove, gladiolus, parrot’s beak, monkey flower, salvia, and sage

 

Vines: blood red trumpet vine, cape honeysuckle, lonicera (honeysuckle), flame vine, and trumpet creeper

 

Trees: acacia, chinaberry tree, citrus, coral tree, eucalyptus, silk tree, and tulip tree

 

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If you enjoy reading about gardening, keeping chickens and bees, and other backyard farming topics, check out my series of cozy mysteries, including A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES (Kensington Publishing, NY)

 

All available online and in bookstores everywhere

The novels in this series are all available online and in bookstores everywhere

 

 

http://tinyurl.com/ya5vhhpm

A HIVE OF HOMICIDES

 

http://tinyurl.com/yd7pz7af

Murder of a Queen Bee

 

https://tinyurl.com/y6ue28xb

A Beeline to Murder

 

 

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Cold Weather Means Protecting Citrus, Covering Hives

Author: Meera, November 18, 2016

It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is next week and already, the first snows have arrived in the Sierras and Rockies.

 

The fountain water has frozen overnight and awaits to sun to melt

The water in our Italian fountain froze overnight and now the birds and bees that drink there must wait for the sun to melt the ice.

 

The plunge of nighttime temperatures here on the Henny Penny Farmette are hovering at frost and freezing levels. This morning, I walked with a steaming cup of coffee and noticed the thermometer hovering at 39 degrees Fahrenheit. That means our citrus trees and other frost-intolerant plants must be protected or moved indoors.

 

The work I’ve been bearing down on–a new book, mystery promo, and prep for Thanksgiving–now have to be put aside for a few hours. I’ve got plenty of cold-weather work to do outside.

 

Satsuma  mandarin orange tree prolifically bears fruit but is susceptible to freeze

Our Satsuma mandarin orange tree prolifically bears fruit this time of year but is susceptible to freeze

 

 

Citrus trees will be covered with blankets against the frost. I’m hanging the heat lamp in my chicken house. I need to clean the chicken house,  put more straw in the nesting boxes, and a ground corncob material on the floor. Already, I’ve put the windows back in (leaving a crack open for ventilation).

 

 

My Buff Orpington hen likes a cozy nesting box stuffed with straw

My Buff Orpington hen likes a cozy nesting box stuffed with straw

 

 

 

I opened the beehives last weekend and added an extension onto one hive–something not normally done during autumn when you typically shrink the size of your hives. The hive seemed overpopulated and the bees seemed stressed. After closing that hive, I wrapped both of them with blankets.

 

Hive frames with lots of bees

Hive frames with lots of bees

 

 

With the the citrus protected, the heat lamp in the chicken house, and the beehives covered, I can return to my indoor work . . . it never stops but my passion has always been to live close to the earth and write. This is the good life, made better by this wonderful Mediterranean-like climate that enable  our citrus and  grapes to thrive (although plunging temps make for a little extra work protecting them).

 

*           *          *

 

Enjoy reading about farming topics? Check out my cozy mysteries–A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE  (both in the Henny Penny Farmette series from Kensington Publishing).

 

These novels are chocked full of recipes, farming tips, chicken and beekeeping tips, sayings and, of course, a charming cozy mystery. For more info, click on the links under the pictures.

 

The books are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

 

This debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run. It’s now available in mass market paperback and other formats.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

NEWLY RELEASED! This, the second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, is garnering great reviews from readers and industry publications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Preparing Honeybee Hives for Spring

Author: Meera, February 18, 2016

Recently, I conducted a mid-winter check of my honeybee hives. With my beekeeper neighbor’s help, we opened my Henny Penny Farmette Hives A and B to search for signs of an increase in the mite population, the presence of other pests, and evidence of mold. Inspecting and treating bees with medicines when necessary are important bee management practices.

 

 

 

A dusting of xyz and medicated strips help keep the bees resilient against the threat of mites and other pests

Miticide strips can effectively control mite populations; organic strips are available

 

 

 

We found one bug that I couldn’t identify but my neighbor explained it lays a narrow worm and must be removed before its numbers increase. This we did. We also found three frames in Hive B that had a few spots of mold. We threw away the frames and replaced them with wax-covered frames in the lower hive box where the queen had already produced lots of bee babies.

 

 

There appeared to be adequate stores of honey, baby bee food, and lots of baby bees. In fact, we removed a few frames of honey from both hives. In their place, we inserted frames that previously had the honey drained off but wax left intact (these I always freeze before putting back into hives since freezing kills mites, larvae, and wax moth), making it easier for the bees to start building comb.

 

 

 

Honey can widely vary in color and taste, depending on the type of pollen the bees have collected

Honey can widely vary in color and taste, depending on the type of pollen the bees have collected

 

 

 

The honey I harvested is dark-colored and earthy tasting, typical of autumn honey when the bees collect pollen from eucalyptus, star thistle, and other sources available in autumn. In contrast, spring honey is light-colored and slightly citrus tasting from pollen gathered from blooming citrus trees and wildflowers.

 

 

 

Medicated strips to help fight mites are hung three or four frames inward from the edge of the hive box

Hang medicated miticide strips between frames inward from the edge of the hive box for mite control.

 

 

 

 

Since we found evidence of mites, we hung miticide strips between frames to combat tracheal and Varroa mites. Also, we sprinkled powdered sugar medicine (Tetra-Bee Mix 2X Medicated) over the frames to control risk of American foulbrood. Treating the hives thus will enable the bees to remain robust. I expect their numbers to swell with warmer weather which, in turn, translates to new swarms in the spring.

 

 

*Apivar is an effective treatment of Varroa mites. One strip per four to five frames works through contact and should be placed in high bee activity areas. Not to be used when honey supers (top hive boxes with frames of honey) are on.

 

*Tetra-Bee Mix 2 X Medicated is recommended for control of American foulbrood caused by paenibacillus larvae and European foulbrood caused by streptococcus pluton susceptible to oxytetracycline in bees when used as directed.

 

My newest mystery will be released September 29 from Kensington Books in New York.

My newest mystery will be released September 29 from Kensington Books in New York.

 

 

For more beekeeping tips, delicious recipes, and a wholesome whodunnit, check out my Henny Penny Farmette cozy mysteries: A BEELINE TO MURDER (paperback release in October 2016), MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE (hardcover October 2016), and HIVE OF HOMICIDES (October 2017). Find them on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and other online and conventional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

Meera Lester's debut novel (release date 9/29/2015)

Meera Lester’s debut novel (release date 9/29/2015)

 

 

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My farmette looks like some kind of ghostly haunt after sunset. That’s because of all the bed linen I’ve draped over citrus trees and frost-sensitive plants. On moonless nights, the backyard looks like a gathering of ghosts illuminated by the warming lamp in hanging in the hen house.

 

 

Orange and tangerine trees draped against freezing temperatures

Orange and tangerine trees draped with bed linen to protect them against freezing temperatures

 

 

That heat lamp splays light across the back of the property. I didn’t realize right away that the claw marks in the dirt near the chicken run are from a large raccoon who, thanks to the light, now knows exactly where to find the chickens and has come prowling over the last few nights. My locks and the buried wire fencing of the chicken run are keeping the hens safe.

 

 

For the last few mornings, the water in the Italian fountain (the motor is turned off now) has been frozen and doesn’t thaw until mid-morning. Still, I see wild birds bathing in it. And we have plenty of wild birds now, thanks to twenty pounds of bird seed we’ve poured into feeders around the property.

 

 

I’m looking forward to the weather changing again in a couple of days–rain is on the way. The last storm brought a new blooms to the roses and caused the daffodils and some summer tulips to push up green shoots.

 

 

Since some of my trees perform better with a good winter chilling, I feel obliged to appreciate the cold. Besides, I can stay inside and bake, read books and seed catalogs, and write on my third cozy mystery novel.

 

 

Book and its author

Book (left) and its author (right)

If you enjoy reading about farmette life, you might like the farmette milieu featured in A Beeline to Murder, the first book in my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries. See, http://tinyurl.com/p8d6owd

 

 

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Blankets for Trees & Bees on Frosty Nights

Author: Meera, November 15, 2015

I don’t like to take chances with my citrus trees when overnight temperatures drop to near freezing. I cover them with sheets and blankets.

 

 

Orange and tangerine trees covered for cold weather

Orange and tangerine trees covered for cold weather

 

My hives are in a wooden shelter with a tin roof and the back side open, so I can work without any encumbrance. But I don’t want the bees to have to work harder to keep the hive warm for the queen and babies, so I throw some blankets over my beehives, too.

 

 

Also, on particularly cold nights, I hang a warming lamp in my chicken house. My rule of thumb for my hens is when overnight temperatures are expected to drop below 45 degrees, I turn on the lamp so the hens aren’t stressed.

 

The chicken house has windows that I leave slightly open for ventilation

The chicken house has windows that I leave slightly open for ventilation

 

 

An advantage of hanging a heat lamp in the chicken house is to foster egg laying at time when shorter days of light slows egg production. The heat lamp makes light available to the chickens for a much longer period.

 

 

 

 

 

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Easy Peasy Holiday Potpourri

Author: Meera, November 12, 2015

Potpourri mixtures are easy to create and their long-lasting fragrance can add an attractive visual appeal and fresh scent to any room. You can find many items in nature. Use a festive basket or crystal bowl for displaying your potpourri.

 

 

 

 

The leathery pomegranate peel takes center stage in this potpourri

A five-pointed, dry and leathery pomegranate peel takes center stage in this potpourri

 

 

 

 

Go on a nature walk to hunt for materials (see the List of Potpourri Items below).

 

Visit a shop for spices–whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice.

 

Cut or purchase herbs (preferably dried)–lavender, rosemary, and mint.

 

Combine nature’s materials with spices, dried herbs, and dried citrus slices and peels.

 

Add rose petals, lavender buds, and/or pinecones and red cedar bark.

 

Arrange pretty seashells or small pieces of driftwood.

 

Include fresh leaves and berries from eucalyptus trees  and also he fuzzy seed pods of wisteria.

 

Put the potpourri in a pretty basket or cut crystal bowl; add a drop or two of essential oil if desired.

 

 

 

LIST OF POTPOURRI ITEMS

Combine using any of the following to create interesting mixes, textures, and colors.

  • pinecones
  • eucalyptus leaves and berries
  • rose hips
  • citrus peels
  • pomegranate peel
  • lavender buds
  • rosemary
  • yarrow
  • seed pods
  • red cedar bark
  • cinnamon sticks
  • dried rose petals
  • citrus slices
  • allspice
  • peppercorns
  • dried nutmeg
  • dried apple slices
  • carnation petals
  • seashells
  • dried rose petals
  • dried mint
  • essential oil—(rose, lemon, lavender, vanilla) to intensify scent

 

 

 

 

Find other ideas for farm crafts and delicious recipes in A BEELINE TO MURDER.


Click here:
http://tinyurl.com/nhdae39

 

 

 

 

Meera Lester and her cozy mystery, A BEELINE TO MURDER

The author and her debut cozy mystery, A BEELINE TO MURDER

 

 

 

 

 

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The Start of Something Wonderful . . . Spring!

Author: Meera, March 16, 2015

I jumped at the chance to visit my favorite nursery this past weekend after my husband suggested a drive to Livermore, California. Alden Lane Nursery occupies a beautiful setting amid ancient oaks and there is even a honeybee hive on the premises. Wisteria blooms in perfusion there this time of year.

 

 

Mid-march wisteria in bloom on the farmette and also at the nursery

Mid-march wisteria in bloom on the farmette and also at the nursery

 

 

 

We came away with some pepper plants, two smoke trees, and four cherry trees, including Bing and Black Tartarian, its pollinator.

 

 

There are now four cherry trees in pots awaiting the digging of large basins and new soil

There are now four cherry trees in pots awaiting the digging of large basins and new soil

 

 

 

We are going to plant the cherry trees at the front of our property and the smoke trees will go in that area as well. We’ve done very little landscaping on the front of our land, preferring to get the trees and gardens in at the back near our hives and chicken run.

 

 

 

The beds that run the length of the fencing at the front of the farmette feature statuary, citrus, and bedding plants

The beds that run the length of the fencing at the front of the farmette feature statuary, citrus, and bedding plants

 

 

Everywhere you look on the farmette, there are projects to be done. We chip away at them when we can. My husband works days and I write my novels, so the work will undoubtedly be never-ending. But that’s okay. We aren’t in a hurry and it’s easier to just live by the cycles and seasons of nature.

 

 

When I think of how the peaches and apricots are forming and the bees are almost ready to swarm, I know spring is here. And it’s my favorite season, so I’ll go outside, ignore the projects, have a cup of tea, and enjoy the start of something wonderful!

 

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Rain, Russian Poetry, Rugelach, and Longfellow

Author: Meera, December 2, 2014

 

 

High wind and rain make for a slick road in front of our farmette

High wind and rain make for a slick road in front of our farmette

 

 

It’s been raining for hours. It’s the kind of day I love to listen to classical music, read Russian poetry, and dine on tea and apricot/walnut rugelach. The rugelach recipe is not mine, but I did use my Henny Penny Farmette apricot jam in the making of it. For the recipe, see, http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/rugelach-recipe.html

 

 

I could be doing a lot of other things like writing on my novel (but I’ve already put in four hours today on that, having arisen at 4:00 a.m., so a break is in order). I could be doing laundry, mopping the floors, decorating the house for the holidays, or changing the bedding. But I’m not.

 

 

I’ve missed the rain that brings the smell of decay and greens the moss.

 

 

California has been in a terrible drought for three long years. We’re going to get a week of wet stuff, say our weather forecasters. I want to enjoy these blessed, wet moments.

 

 

I let the chickens out of the hen house to forage, but they’ve remained in a huddle beneath it. A cold, unstable air mass will bring thunderstorms this afternoon. I doubt the chickens will even leave the run today, but that’s okay, too.

 

 

It’s a perfect day for me to stay inside. Maybe I’ll make bread. There’s enough time still for two risings. I’ll form it into a braid and bake it for dinner. Perhaps I’ll make a hearty soup–one from Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette’s Twelve Months of Monastery Soup  book. A citrus salad would be the perfect accompaniment.

 

 

What was it Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said about rain, “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”

 

 

 

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To-Do List of Chores for the Fall Garden

Author: Meera, September 16, 2014

 

 

Harvested pumpkins and heirloom butternut squash symbolize the arrival of autumn

Harvested pumpkins and heirloom butternut squash symbolize the arrival of autumn

 

 

From my office widow, I look out over what once was a lush and thriving garden. Not so today.

 

I can hardly bear to gaze upon the sorrowful, dried tomato vines that for me have come to symbolize the severity of the extreme drought on California gardens.

 

Now that fall will soon arrive, I’ll toss onto the compost pile those vines along with others from pumpkins and hard-shelled squash.

 

So with the garden cleared, I’m thinking ahead to next year, ever hopeful we’ll get rain rather than a repeat of dry conditions like this past year.

 

 

To ensure the viability of our fruit trees, citrus trees, and various berries through the fall and winter, there is a spray regimen to be initiated. I’ll add it to my long list of chores that will need to be done.

 

 

 

Pomegranates hang heavy on the tree that is beginning to lose its leaves

Pomegranates hang heavy on the tree that is beginning to lose its leaves

 

 

 

MY FALL CHECKLIST FOR THE GARDEN

 

Turn the soil, add amendments like compost to hold in the water.

 

 

Prepare new beds.

 
Build cold frames and 4- x 6- foot boxes for new raised beds.

 
Cut the canes of blackberries (berries only set up on two-year-old canes that won’t again produce; cut to ensure new fruiting canes will take their place).

 

 

Prune away the spent floricanes of red raspberries, once they’ve produced fruit.

 

 

Clean up around the bases of all trees and evergreen plants; add mulch.

 
Also remove all leaves at the base of all fruit trees and dispose.

 

Remove rose leaves after blooming season, cut canes to 18 inches, and spray for diseases and pests.

 

Stake young trees so they’ll survive windy winters, growing straight and tall.

 
Treat the trees with an organic spray (one containing copper and protector oil) to prevent fungal disease and pests.

 

 

Get out the frost cloth in readiness to cover tender citrus trees.

 
Prune back the hydrangeas.

 
Plant fall bulbs for spring flowering.

 

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