It is late January and that means it is cold outside. Single digits below zero fahrenheit (in the -20s C) are the norm. Today we are a bit on the warm side – low 20s above zero fahrenheit (-6 C). Even with chilly outside, inside, we are starting to get moving on spring plans. The ground is rock-solid and frozen with several feet of frost, but garden and yard layout can still be imagined with something as simple as pencil and paper. For now, though, I am attempting to root a grape vine.

We have two basset hound puppies that for all practical purposes, are like nematodes with legs. I do not mean this in a pejorative sense, but more a physiological sense: nematodes have a strong digestive tract with openings on each end.

We did (past tense) have a lovely, four year old riverbank grape vine growing up the side of our shed. This was until the youngest nematode, err, puppy, discovered it was a large "stitch". The lovely vine was reduced to a stump. I did manage to save a length of vine. Wrapped in wet paper towel and placed in the refrigerator, the length rested.

Rooting Powder
Rooting Powder

Rooting a clipping or piece of stem is the process where you help or force roots to develop; basically it is a simple form of cloning. I am by no means a rooting expert. But, you will basically need:

  • A dormant, vine cutting with a few bud-points
  • Root powder/hormone
  • A heat mat
  • Potting soil mixed with a little sand
  • A pot
  • Stiff wire
  • A sheet of heavy, clear plastic

Start by trimming both ends; identify which way the buds are pointing, pointing up – that is your top (bottom is the opposite end if you were wondering). Cut the top at an angle and the bottom straight. Between the top and bottom, you will want several bud-points and little leaf scarring.

Plastic Tent
Plastic Tent

Prepare your potting soil mix by mixing in a little bit of sand. The sand helps to lessen the moisture slightly and, in theory, helps to lessen bad molds. Whether this is true or not, I am not sure. It sounds sensible, though.

Dampen the bottom end and dip into the rooting powder/hormone. Tap off any excess. Push the cutting, bottom first, into the soil closer to the pot’s edge than the middle. With two pieces of wire make a hoop-cage that goes up and over the cutting. Drape your clear plastic over after having watered a bit. Rubber band around the pot, and set the whole thing on a heat mat. And now wait. You will want to water the pot now and again if the soil is looking dry, but do not over water.

Are You Guys Native?

bean poles

Our neighbor had been wondering about the poles in the garden and why we were apparently making two small teepees; he asked if we were native.

The long and the short answers to that question are the same: no, we are not native. Both my wife and I have heritages that hail from northern and north-central Europe – not the Americas.

We put a new vegetable garden in this year – eight feet by eight feet. It takes up a small section of the yard that the grass never really grew in and the hounds really were never encouraging to the grass that attempted to grow there. In this new garden, we are mainly growing vine-crops: pole beans, bush beans, and cucumbers; in the non-vine arena, there are red cabbage & parsnips and lavender for a border.

The garden has a couple interesting (at least to me) characteristics that led me to "teepee" the poles for the beans, which then led our neighbor to ask if we were native. The ultimate, underlying (literally) factor is the natural gas pipe that comes our house – it is directly beneath the garden – roughly twelve inches below the surface. We could not till the garden and I am slightly nervous even to use a shovel or pitchfork in this area. A lasagna garden seemed like an ideal choice. Cardboard was put over the existing weeds and grass, roughly a cubic yard of compost was spread over this and then another cubic yard of soil was mixed into the compost. With the gas line underneath and the cardboard above, teepeeing the bean poles was the option where I did not have to pound them into the soil – thus avoiding the gas line.

All the gardens are popping now; while the rest of Minnesota has been experiences abnormally high temperatures, those of us in the Duluth area have been experiencing pleasant temperatures in the low 70s. Cooler night temperatures have been causing dew to form on the plants – giving them a nice drink. The beans in the teepee garden are sprouting, as are the carrots, radishes, potatoes, cabbage, peas, lavender, cone flowers, cucumbers, tomatoes (which were started indoors before the snow left) and parsnips. The Haralson apple tree, that we purchased just this spring, is showing signs that it will bear fruit this season. The bilberry and currant bushes are showing nice, green fruit; the strawberry plants are brimming with flowers – the same goes for the raspberry bushes. The newly planted asparagus crowns have shot up thin spears already, too. The Georgian garlic plants are pushing twenty-inches tall. The only things that looks questionable are the Frontenac grape vines. It appears that nearly all of the vines did not make it through the winter. The roots survived, and are pushing out new vines, but it sets us back a couple years for decent grape production.


On the bee-front, things are progressing well. The Carniolans are showing their strength in building out wax comb as well as fast brood production. The Minnesota Hygienic Italians are, compared to the Carniolans, much slower at both activities. I consolidated the frames back into one brood super and now have eight frames (out of eight) with at least one side of drawn comb. I am hoping this will allow for a more speedily path to more brood, and more brood will eventually mean more workers for building comb and gathering nectar and pollen.

Sam Bradley – friend, co-worker and business partner, stopped by on the 28th of May. He brought his camera and was eager (as eager as Sam gets) to get the bee suit on and get into the bee yard. A video of the adventure can be found here.

On the technology & blog front, I am implementing a podcast management framework within It will allow for a straightforward way to setup and upload video and audio podcasts as well as allow for publishing via iTunes.

Bee Corral

alex, bee wrangler

It would appear another weekend has slipped by into the past. Much was accomplished this weekend. Saturday was cold and overcast, but we were out in the yard, none the less. The goal for the weekend was to get the Bee Corral built. It is less (and not intended to) keep the bees in place, but more to keep the hounds out of where the bees are to be. Located on the north side of our shed; morning sun, late-morning sun, and sun the rest of the day — the bees should like the location.

The spot has been neglected since putting up the shed three years ago; the dogs use it as a dumping ground during the winter, and I have used it to store rocks and bricks. The Canadian bull thistle found it quite agreeable, too. I did manage to pull most of it out; the those suckers have huge tap-roots!

On Saturday, we got posts in the ground and two section of fencing installed. It was cold out, but as long as I kept moving, I was warm in just a long sleeve t-shirt (the shirt was courtesy of UMD’s 2010 Tech Fest held on Friday). By mid-afternoon, it started to rain. We cleaned up the tools from the yard, and headed inside.

Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous day. A bit on the cool side, with a breeze, it was great to be outside. Melissa was not feeling well, so, I soloed it with the exception of a bit of help with the concrete for the corner post. With a run to Menards for more lumber, gate hinges, and leg screws for attaching the corral/fence panels to the shed and corner post.

In addition to getting the anti-hound corral built, I cleaned out the grapevine beds of all the straw which had been used for keeping away the cold on the vines during the winter. With the beds cleaned out, I edged the dead grass (cutting my hand on a hidden piece of wire), and finally, I re-fenced the vine area. The hounds had destroyed the hog-wire fencing during the winter. The heavy snow received over Christmas, followed by the rain made for the perfect substrate for hounds to run on. The fencing stuck up out of the snowpack just high enough for them to trample.

While I had the huge mess of straw in the yard, I cleaned out the gooseberry patch. The gooseberry bushes appear to have little tiny buds on them.