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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The Quiet Beauty of a Winter Garden

Author: Meera, January 11, 2018

There is a quiet beauty in a winter garden. You must endure cold to appreciate it. On my farmette, there’s also fog and wind and misty rain. But as you gaze in mindfulness, the rewards come.

 

 

When trees are bare, you can appreciate the beauty of their scaffolding, branching habits, and fruiting spurs. There is an attractiveness about tree bark that is rough or smooth and colored in earthy hues of green, gray, or reddish brown. Bare trunks and branches provide visual interest until blossoms and blooms break in spring.

 

 

 

With pruning done and leaves removed, the roses rest. Birds gather at feeders and frolic in the fountains. Beneath the soft, damp earth, roots are taking in nutrients to prepare the fruit trees for a surge of growth when warmer days arrive.

 

 

 

The garden is a place to conjure memories and ponder life and destiny. Goethe, the German playwright, poet, and novelist wrote that “Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it.”

 

 

 

Winter is the perfect time to contemplate the tap root of your being and to think and and dream and plan for what will blossom in your life when warmth and light returns. French philosopher and author Alfred Camus wrote, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

 

 

I have a simple ritual of visiting my winter garden. I prepare a cup of hot water with juice of half a lemon and a tablespoon of honey or sometimes just a cup of coffee or tea. Then with cup in hand, off I go to inspect the fruit trees, the bare grape and berry vines, and the soil turned in raised boxes waiting to receive kitchen herbs. This ritual inspires me and silently powers me up with hope and energy.

 

 

 

Perhaps you have a similar winter ritual. If not, consider checking out my newest nonfiction book, RITUALS FOR LIFE and plant something in the earth or the garden of your psyche that holds the promise of bearing fruit in its own perfect time. Now is the time to greet each new winter day for the blessings it brings and appreciate the stark beauty of Nature.

 

 

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

 

https://tinyurl.com/yctdczpq

 

 

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French Lavender–A Favorite of Pollinators

Author: Meera, March 1, 2017

It’s bare-root season, a special time of the year for me. I like to visit local nurseries and check out the new offerings of heirloom roses, fruit trees, berries, herbs, and flowers. No matter which nursery I visit, I always seem to spot the lavender first.

 

 

Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love lavender

 

 

After we moved to the Henny Penny Farmette, we put in lots of French lavender. But after a few years, the stalks have grown old and woody.

 

Recently, on a visit to a nearby nursery, we purchased twenty one-gallon plants of French Lavender, an upright perennial that we’ve discovered blooms almost all year long in our Bay Area climate.

 

 

Pots of lavender await planting

One-gallon pots of lavender await planting

 

 

 

 

Now, they are hardening off in my garden until I get around to planting them.

 

 

The word “dentata” means toothed and a closer examination of the foliage reveals fringed indentations.

 

 

This aromatic, shrub has been around for centuries. Valued for its ornamental and medicinal properties, it also is used for soil erosion control. Once established, the lavender is drought tolerant.

 

 

Many gardeners love this lavender for its gray-green leaves. When other flowering plants in the garden have finished their blooming cycle, this lavender keeps producing tall spikes of bright purple florets.

 

 

Not as brilliant in color as the English or Spanish lavender, the French lavender is lovely grouped together in a single area where its flower stalks can sway in the wind. Our honeybees and other pollinators love it.

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

 

If you are a fan of cozy mysteries and love farmette topics like gardening of heirloom vegetables, herbs, and fruits as well as keeping chickens and bees, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

The first book in the Henny Penny Farmette series, Kensington Books 2015

The debut novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series sold out its first printing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides a cozy mystery to solve, these books mix in delicious recipes, farming and gardening tips, facts about keeping bees and chickens, and morsels of farm wisdom.

 

 

The third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series is due out in September 2017

COMING SOON– Sept. 2017, the third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

 

 

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

The second cozy mystery in the series

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Flowering Cherry Trees Create Drama in a Landscape

Author: Meera, January 20, 2017

We just planted a couple of flowering cherries as a dramatic focal point for our front entrance area. Reaching a height of 30 to 40 feet, these ornamental trees require little beyond full sun and well-drained soil. If drama is desired in a landscape, these trees won’t disappoint.

 

Before leafing out, swollen red buds open to a mass of pale white-pink color

Before the tree leafs out, myriad buds open to reveal a mass of pale pink-to-white  color

 

 

Although California’s extreme five-year-drought has been declared over here in the Bay Area, a front lawn seemed to us unnecessary. Instead, we’re spreading small pebble gravel in a landscape that includes statuary, garden furniture and potted plants. We have a natural stone curved path lined with roses that leads from the driveway to house and raised beds of flowers, roses, and bird-of-paradise plants along with a few small trees–lilac, smoke, and citrus.

 

The flowering Japanese Yoshino cherry trees will provide palest pink blossoms with a light almond scent in the spring and shade in the summer. The trees are fast growing–exactly what we need to replace the massive (and yet fragile) elm tree that came down this past year. It stood next to the house and provided cool shade over the front porch until it split and fell.

 

Bare root season is a good time to purchase flowering cherries and other ornamental and fruit trees. The bare-root trees are also less expensive, but no less viable when planted according to instructions on the packaging around their roots. If you like drama in your landscape, consider these hardy, drought-resistant trees.

 

*          *         *

 

If you have enjoyed reading about this farming/gardening topic, 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).

 

My farmette and bee-based 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, Target, BAM, 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

 

A Beeline to Murder is the debut novel that launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries. Initially released as a hardcover novel and in e-book format, it is now available as a mass market paperback.

 

 

 

 

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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Winter Solstice Day

Author: Meera, December 21, 2016

It’s that time of the year when we mark the shortest day of the year, the beginning of winter, and the return of the light. I like to think of it as a day when I decide what I do and don’t want to take with me into the coming New Year.

 

 

Cold winter night with moon's wan light

The moon casts its cold light over the farmette through trees hanging onto their leaves.

 

 

 

We’ve had a run of cold nights with temperatures in the upper 20 degrees Fahrenheit. But the light will soon return and warm the Earth. Late January-early February marks the beginning of bare-root season. My work now includes pruning and spraying and clearing out the old to make way for rebirth and renewal.

 

 

 

 

Among the plants that renew are the fruit trees.  The pruned branches, garden clippings, and old vines are being recycled into compost for next spring’s garden. Come late spring, I’ll have trees with gorgeous canopies and tons of fruit to make into jam.

 

 

 

This DIY birdhouse is crafted from a repurposed fence board. Not all birds will take up residence in a house, but many will.

This DIY birdhouse is crafted from a repurposed fence board. Not all birds will take up residence in a house, but many will.

 

 

 

Garlic and onions are growing now and will through the winter months, thanks to our mild Mediterranean climate. But there is so much cleanup of the property that needs doing, I can only hope to start that today.

 

 

I’m putting out seed balls for the birds as well as refilling feeders and suet holders. Easy-to-find food keeps our feathered songsters around through spring when they start their families. For directions on making a birdhouse for your garden, check out https://hobbyreads.wordpress.com/category/crafts.

 

 

 

*******************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

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).

 

 

JOIN THE CHRISTMAS EVE FUN–Read a short excerpt from my newest book, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE and check out blogger Brooke Bumgardner’s interview of me at http://www.brookeblogs.com

 

My farmette and bee-based 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, Target, BAM, 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. Get your copy while you can. It’s sure to sell out like novel #1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seasonal Blooms for Floral Arrangements

Author: Meera, November 6, 2016

Autumn in Northern California is one of my favorite times of the year. By November, many of the summer blooms in our flower beds have faded. Seeds have been collected for next year’s blooms. Now’s the time to put in bulbs and tubers for spring, but that doesn’t mean we have no blooms for a Thanksgiving floral arrangement.

 

another old garden favorite?

Nasturtiums will bloom until frost

 

 

 

 

 

These hardy roses bloom right through December.

These hardy roses bloom profusely right through December

 

The clocks have been turned back and the rainy season has arrived, but don’t tell that to the roses.

 

 

 

 

This red-gold polyantha rose will dazzle the eye in any landscape

This red-gold polyantha rose will dazzle the eye right up to Christmas

 

 

Red-gold roses, pyracantha berries, rustic seed pods, orange- and rust-colored zinnias, asters,  willowleaf cotoneaster, and dahlias are some of the garden plants that combine beautifully in a fall floral arrangement. To the harvest table, I also like to add some seasonal fruits like pomegranates and persimmons.

 

 

 

Zinnias are old garden favorites spanning generations of family gardens

Zinnias are old favorites spanning generations of family gardens

 

Thanks to the recent rain, the bougainvillea blazes in shades of fuchsia, orange, red, and purple.  Zinnia’s near the farmette’s bee house are still holding color and hanging on until cold weather arrives.

 

 

Pink geraniums are Interplanted with white bacopa in the kitchen window box

Pink geraniums are interplanted with white bacopa in the kitchen window box

 

And while pyracantha (fire thorn) berries add splashes of bright orange to a dark corner of the garden where bamboo towers to ten feet,  the Chinese lantern plant holds aloft dozens of small pink blooms like little lanterns.

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese lanterns are easy to grow and look beautiful in almost any corner of the garden

Chinese lanterns are easy to grow and look beautiful in almost any corner of the garden

 

 

 

With Thanksgiving three weeks away, I’m feeling confident that our table arrangement will include some of the season’s festive berries, seed pods, and blooming flowers collected from around the farmette.

 

In the meantime, I’ll notice the splashes of color to be discovered here and there and consider how to use them in a holiday bouquet.

 

 

Always pretty over an archway or against a wall, bougainvillea is  a garden standout

Pretty arching over a trellis or against a wall, bougainvillea is always a  garden standout

 

 

 

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

NEWLY RELEASED–The Murder of a Queen Bee (Kensington Publishing, NY–Sept. 2016).

 

Discover delicious farm-to-table recipes, farming tips, and wisdom as well as sort out a charming whodunnit. Also, enjoy gardening tips and farm sayings. Dig for clues while learning about bees and chickens. To learn more, click on the link under the picture.

 

 

 

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

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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With the official start of summer a few days away, I find myself leaving my computer and the scene I’m writing on my third novel to take a break in the garden. Alive with honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, the garden is perfect place for a respite and a cup of tea.

 

 

 

Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love to forage on all types of blooming lavender.

 

 

Quite like a potager garden that includes flowers, herbs, trees, vegetables, berries, and grapes, mine also includes a patch of corn.

 

 

Climbing roses can be seen growing behind the corn

Climbing Sally Holmes roses with trusses of ivory blooms grow behind the 4-foot-tall corn.

 

 

Embroidered around the edges of the garden, there are climbing roses, fruit trees, and lots of lavender. Along the rows of lavender, there are peach trees with fruit the size of softballs and five pomegranate trees, laden with blooms and new fruit.

 

 

 

Ripe pomegranates have a leathery outer skin, membranes thicker than oranges, but sweet, juicy seeds inside

The pomegranates aren’t quite this large yet, but the trees have so much fruit, they’ll have to be thinned.

 

 

 

As I meander, I discover the trees of red and yellow plums have begun to drop their ripe fruit. I’ve got to make those plums into jelly or jam and ditto on the apricots.

 

 

Ripe apricots can hang on the tree only so long before they drop

Ripe apricots hang on the tree only so long before they drop.

 

 

 

But that work will have to wait until my late afternoon tea break. My novel won’t write itself. Still, the time I spend in the garden revitalizes my spirit and refreshes my brain cells, enabling me to return to the computer and the scene I’m writing with renewed vision and vigor.

 

 

*          *          *  

 

If you enjoy reading about gardening, keeping bees, raising chickens, and creating delicious recipes, check out my novels from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

The Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books, Walmart, and other online and traditional bookstores everywhere. Available in hardcover, Kindle, and mass market paperback formats.

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pruning between Storms

Author: Meera, January 19, 2016
pruning the roses generates cuttings that become new bushes

Rose cuttings will become new bushes

 

 

The roses, fruit trees, vines, and bushes need pruning, I’ve been itching to get to them, but it’s been raining. Storms have been moving through but with breaks. With rain predicted well into February and March, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put off the pruning. Warm weather will start everything sprouting.

 

A Level 2 storm moved through today with high winds and rain. I waited until almost lunch time before venturing out. The winds are still fierce, but there are patches of blue in the sky. I filled pots with soil, took cuttings of my roses, dipped them into root hormone, and inserted several in each pot. These will become new bushes for the flower gardens out front of the house.

 

 

Brightly colored narcissus are grown from bulbs that return year after year

Brightly colored narcissus bloom when little else shows color in the garden

 

 

I love this time of year when the stack of seed catalogs grows daily and nurseries are gearing up for the bare-root season. Already my family is asking when can we plant spring peas, pointing out that the onions and garlic are up and the rhubarb root has set up new leaves.

 

I did a walk around recently and noticed that with all the rain and warm temperatures, my Desert Gold peach trees and the Bing and Black Tartarian cherries are covered with buds. The buds are swelling but no blossoms yet.

 

 

Dwarf nectarine loses its leaves during winter

Dwarf nectarine needs to have its limbs pruned back by about one-third

 

 

Grass and weeds are up nearly eight inches and growing like crazy. My lavender and the earliest bulbs are blooming. All this lovely growth seems weird after four long years of intense drought.

 

 

Even songbirds and honeybees seem happy as they flit around the farmette between the storms. Surely, these signs are harbingers for the glorious spring to come. All the more reason to get busy pruning between these storms.

 

 

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Backyard Gardeners and Farmers Have a Choice

Author: Meera, July 2, 2015

 

We gardeners and farmers have a choice when putting in our gardens, fields, and orchards. We can choose open-pollinated, heirloom seeds, hybrids seeds, or GMO seeds. I much prefer the old-fashioned way of seed-saving and sharing of open-pollinated, heirloom varieties.

 

 

On our farmette, we routinely save seed from plants we grow in one season and use them during another. We have picked apricots from our backyard trees, saved the seeds, and grown new trees that (this year) bore fruit.

 

 

We’ve exchanged seeds with our neighbors who also keep organic gardens and prefer open-pollinated seeds. Seeds that are hybrid and/or GMO usually are patented, meaning scientific companies or growers own those patents.

 

 

Open-pollinated seeds do not carry patents and remain available to all of us to plant and replant.

 

 

 

Seed packets from circa 1950s
Seed packets from circa 1950s

 

 

 

Gathering seeds from the plants one grows is how our grandparents did it. I go around plucking seed heads from cosmos, purple cone flower, and the hardened seeds of nasturtiums when the flowers have faded. I’ve taken cuttings of all my roses and have been given clips from friends and neighbor’s bushes and now plenty of roses to line walkways and fill a garden.

 

 

This year, an apricot tree that we started two years ago after we ate the fruit and planted its seed, bore beautiful cots that I turned into jam. I’ve got a bountiful crop of onions (red and yellow) and garlic and peppers this year from last year’s seed. The cycle goes on.

 

 

The acronym GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” The phrase means that scientists have used recombinant DNA technology to create the seed. In some cases, the purpose is to create seeds with pesticides spliced into their DNA to repel pests.

 

 

Some gardeners see this process by chemists, scientists, and researchers working of large petro-chemical companies as a dangerous venture into biological processes that have a long evolutionary history. Further, the concern encompasses the potential negative ramifications of genetically engineering a plant–what farmer wants to handle seed (much less eat the plant) that has warning labels about pesticides integrated into the seeds?

 

 

 

Young super sweet corn in its third week of growth

Corn is a crop favored for GMO modification

 

 

If gardeners stick with open-pollinated seeds and participate in seed saving and sharing, together we can ensure our Earth’s biodiversity continues. The other prospect is scary. Many species and cultivars of plants are no longer available. They  are no longer being grown. Some have become extinct.

 

 

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Blooms over the Garden Gate

Author: Meera, February 19, 2015

 

 

The dwarf nectarine has burst into bloom, meaning I won't get the additional spraying done

The dwarf nectarine has burst into bloom, meaning I won’t get the additional spraying done

 

 

The nectarine trees are susceptible to Peach Leaf Curl and usually, I try to spray them three times before the next year’s blooms. Alas, this year, I didn’t complete the task before the tree broke bud.

 

The Lady Banks rose is one of the first to bloom in spring and on our farmette is blooming now

The Lady Banks rose is one of the first to bloom in spring and is blooming really early this year

 

 

 

Elsewhere, the almonds, apricots, and apples are blooming. So are some of the roses–Lady Banks, for example. Also, Fiesta and the beautiful Iceberg rose in the front of our house.

 

My neighbor’s two almond trees are covered in blooms of white blossoms. Last Friday, when I contacted a local beekeeper business, I was told they were closed to move their hives of bees out to pollinate the almond orchards. Farmers pay the beekeepers for “renting” those hives of industrious little bees for the job of pollinating their crops.

 

This is supposedly “bare root” season, but the warm weather coupled with the rain we had in December seems to have brought us an early spring. If you look over my garden gate, you will see signs of it everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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