I’m Growing My Own Tea!

I adore tea.  Black, White, Green or even Oolong.  Offer me a cup of tea and I will be your friend forever!

I enjoy drinking herbal teas also, but nothing can beat a cold glass of lemon balm leaves steeped in white tea on a hot summer day.  Ahhhhh  🙂

I thought I was doomed to continuously spending lots of money on my tea habit until I found out that I can actually grow my own tea plants.  Happy Dance!

Until a few months ago, I thought all tea plants were tropical!  Nope!  Shows how much I don’t know. In fact, a lot of tea plant varieties can withstand freezing temperatures down to 0 degrees and grow well in zones 7 – 9.  Seriously!

One Green World, Korean TeaThen I saw these Camilla Sinensus v. Sinensus (that’s the official name of a tea plant that comes from eastern and northern Asia. Camilla Sinensus Assamica comes from India and regions surrounding it) plants for sale on a website called One Green World, and I just couldn’t resist.  The Sochi variety and the Korean Mountain variety of tea can both withstand the coldest temperatures that we get here on our homestead, so that means I can grow tea!         Oh Joy!

So, I bought two tea plants, one Sochi and one Korean Mountain, and they arrived a few weeks ago.

How to grow camellia sinensus

This is how the tea plants arrived. They were so well packed that I don’t think any leaves were harmed! Thank you, One Green World, for sending me such beautiful plants!

Can you believe the size of these plants?  From root tip to leaf tip, about three feet tall!  I certainly wasn’t expecting them to look so good!  Now, I am not a spokesperson for this plant nursery, nor have I been compensated in any way for saying this.  I just think that when a business makes a happy customer, they should be commended.  Kudos!

Growing green tea

Here is how the tea plants came from the nursery.

The plants came in plastic pots, where they had to stay for a few days while I went into town to get some newer, larger ones.  I took them out of the box and set them upright, but kept the plastic sleeve over the pot so the roots wouldn’t dry out.

Because I want to plant these into the ground near our new home, for now they will have to live in pots until most of the building is done.  The plants like to get some sun and enjoy partial shade, but harsh summer afternoon sunshine is not their “cup of tea”.

Yes, I just said that.  😉

How I am growing camellia sinensus

Look at the root system of these plants – very well established. I just teased the roots a bit before planting in the new pots.

I can’t wait to harvest some tea and try it, but I am going to wait until the plants are better established in the pots.  They both have some new growth already, but it is still early and I would assume they have some shock to go through from shipping, so I am going to let the roots “steep” (holy cow, 🙂 I am on a roll) in their new soil for a while first. After a few weeks, once the spring temperatures are more stable, I will give them some of my homebrewed kelp fertilizer.

I did some research on how to grow the tea plants, and apparently these plants like a fairly acidic soil that well drained and can be kept moist, which is what we have. They also like to have part shade if your afternoons are hot, which is just the kind of conditions that my new elderberry plants wanted – so I may end up putting them next to the elderberry bushes.  Mmmmmmmm… elderberry green tea sweetened with stevia…

Speaking of my elderberry plants – they are already beginning to leaf out!

How to grow camellia sinensus v sinesus

The elderberries are starting to get leaves. This is a branch of one of the larger plants. All four plants did well through the winter, so I hope to harvest more elderberries this year and dry some just for my tea!

Once the tea plants are established, I will harvest some of the growth tips and try my hand at preparing the tea leaves into either white or green tea, depending on how the leaves are processed. Maybe even oolong or black tea. I hope to post that process soon, but I don’t want to shock the poor plants right now any more than the shipping may have.

How to grow Tea

These plants have plenty of room to spread their roots, and I hope to be able to plant them in the ground next fall, when (hopefully) there won’t be as much construction traffic going on.

However, I have read that it is necessary to harvest the new tea leaves as soon as they appear, before they get too big and not useful. Harvesting also helps to prune the plant and keep it at a reasonable height, as some can grow more than 15 feet tall, and I certainly do not want to climb a ladder for my tea!  After doing more research, I found that harvesting the tea leaves four times a year would not be unreasonable, starting with what the Chinese call the “first flush” n the spring, and ending sometime in August, so that I don’t disturb the fall flowers too much.  I think my honey bees will just adore the tea leaves!

In the meantime, I am dreaming of all the types of tea add-ins – rose hips, madrone berries, dried elderberries, lavender flowers, dehydrated orange peel, dried mint and or lemon balm leaves…  the possibilities are endless!  Of course, to sweeten the tea, I have my faithful stevia plant or my yummy honey from our bees!  I think I am going to collect a bunch of beautiful jars with the bail top lids so I can store the tea and all these flavorings.  Won’t that look pretty on an open shelf in my kitchen?

This is going to be so much fun!

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My New Elderberry Plants

Elderberry syrup, Elderflower pancakes, Elderberry wine…

Do I sound like Forrest Gump – “fried shrimp, grilled shrimp, shrimp fricassee…”?

A couple of years ago Ray and I attended a class on making medicinal tinctures; one of them being an elderberry syrup/tonic.  Since then, I have been wanting to have my own Elderberry plants. Elderberries have become very popular lately as they are one of those “superfoods” that contain anti-oxidants, flavinoids, vitamins and minerals.  And they taste good, too! The berries can be purchased online, but they can be a bit pricey!

Elderberries

This is one of our local “native” elderberry plants. There are quite a few of these bushes along the road we travel to get to our favorite fishing lake. It is just loaded with elderberries!

After learning all about elderberries and where they grow, we discovered that native elderberries grow all around us!  In fact, last year snapped off a sprig of a native bush and tried to get it to root.  It didn’t.  I think I got the sprig at the wrong time of year.  🙁

Since we really wanted some of our own Elderberry bushes and my expertise at rooting woody stemmed plants is obviously lacking, I purchased some Elderberry plants online from Stark Bros. Nursery.  We bought two varieties – York and Nova – for better cross pollination. The plants themselves were cheaper to buy than a couple of pounds of dried elderberries purchased online, so this was one of those “no brainer” purchases!  I still want to try getting a sprig of the local native elderberries to root, but I need to do some more research on how to do this before I try again.

When the box arrived from Stark Bros., I was quite impressed with the size of my new plants.  The stalks were ¾ to an inch wide at the base!  Unfortunately, it was evident that the delivery service may have been just a bit rough with the package, as several new, tender shoots had broken off the main plant.

Hmmm…  I thought.  What if I stick these new shoots in soil?  Since I had some pots and potting mix on hand, I stuck the shoots into the moist soil and waited.

It didn’t take long!  Two of the three shoots rooted, so hallaleuja, I now have four plants!  I still want some of the wild ones, though.  After all, variety is the spice of life!

growing elderberries

These elderberry plants are just gorgeous when they bloom!

We planted the Elderberries where they get strong morning sun but dappled shade in the afternoon, and all four of them grew very well.  The two mother plants soon had beautiful white blossoms.  The blossoms had a faint sweet smell and attracted quite a few different pollinators.

growing elderberry plants

You can see that the beautiful white blossoms fall off as the berries start to develop.

The berries came soon after.  I had about six fairly large clumps of berries on each plant and by September the berries got heavy enough that the plant stems started drooping.  Because of that, and because of the amount of deer mice, rabbits, wood rats, moles, voles and bears (oh my) we have on our property, I figured I had better pick the berries as soon as they looked ripe, which meant that I picked only two or three berry clusters at a time.

When I saw that my berries were ripening, I figured I had better start doing some research to help decide what I will do with them. First I found this post about making Elderberry Tincture, which is what made me want the elderberry plants in the first place, and this post on how to make Elderberry Wine, and this recipe making Elderberry Syrup!

What did I do with the berries?

Since I didn’t have a whole lot of them, (they are very young plants) I decided to dehydrate most of them to use at a later date.  It took only half a day to dehydrate the first and second batches of elderberries.

elderberry dehydrating

Dehydrating my first batch of elderberries. It doesn’t take long!

It was funny how much the berries shrank!  Holy cow, I started out with about 2 cups of berries and ended up with less than one half cup!  But, I am sure when they are reconstituted, they will taste just as lovely.  Or perhaps I will just include them in a granola bar recipe I’ve been wanting to try.  The seeds inside the berries make them crunchy, which is great!

Maybe I will throw a handful of the dehydrated berries into yogurt! Hmmm… elderberry ice cream?

I am waiting for the day we will have enough elderberries to make a batch of elderberry wine, but of course, I will need a lot more elderberries to do that.  (Sigh)

My second harvest of elderberries. I know it doesn't look like much, but remember, we just got the plants this year!

My second harvest of elderberries. I know it doesn’t look like much, but remember, we just got the plants this year!

Today I harvested the last few bunches of elderberries and made a small coffee cake.  Of course, I cooked it in my Sun Oven!

elderberry coffeecake

Elderberry coffee cake, cooking in my Sun Oven! With some of our own bee’s honey slathered on top, it was absolutely delicious!

It was delicious.  The berries are reminiscent of blueberries, but the small seeds inside give just a little bit of crunch!  It’s wonderful!

elderberry drying

Haha – this is my little pint jar of dehydrated elderberries! Who knew they would shrink up so small!

So, that was the extent of our elderberry harvest this year.  Since I didn’t get much in terms of dehydrated berries, I will probably hoard them over the winter.  Now I understand why the dehydrated berries cost so much!

However, with my four plants and with hopes of being able to root some native elderberry plants, I am sure to have an adequate amount of elderberries in the future!

Do you grow elderberries? Do you cook with elderberries?  Do you have a favorite recipe for a medicinal tonic using elderberries?  I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!

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Terror in my Green Beans!

Have you ever seen one of these?

bull hornet

Um – yeah.  I think they look like the insect equivalent of Freddy Krueger!  It’s called a Bald Face Hornet, or a Bull Hornet, or any number of different names.  Of course, I have a few more off-color names for them that I won’t reveal in this blog because I am a lady, for heaven’s sake.  But let me tell you, these things are menacing!

And they are in my green bean plants!

Thankfully, I have learned the four tones of the different bees in my beans:  The gentle hummmmmm of our honey bees, the annoying buzzzzzzzz of the yellow jackets, the loud “get out of my way!!” vroooooommm that emanates from the carpenter bees and bumble bees, and then the scary, terrorizing, deep and resonating (think Harley-Davidson) rumblerumblerumble of the Bald Face Hornets.

Bald faced hornets in my beans

I have trellised the bean plants to make it easier to reach the beans. So much easier (and safer) than a ladder, and easier to see one of those pesky hornets!

It started about three weeks ago when my green beans were really starting to put on beans.  I had a lot of pollinators buzzing around and was so happy because I knew I was going to have a great crop of beans!  Just like at our home in the valley, the carpenter bees, honey bees and bumble bees are the main pollinators. My beans are planted with cucumbers, amaranth and sugar beets (which are flowering right now), so there is a smorgasbord of pollen for the bees.

Then came the Hornets.

I started having to pick my beans with gloves on, because I noticed that they went toward the movement of my fingers.   Gaaaaaaaaaaa!  They would dart so close to my fingers that I could feel the vibrations of their wings on my hands.  I figured the hornets had moved into the area to pick off the honey bees as they were pollinating, which explains why they were excited by the movement of my fingers.  Which also explains why I don’t see any honey bees pollinating the beans anymore!  I think the bumble bees and carpenter bees are just too big for the hornets to bother with.

Funny story:  I enjoy eating the vegetables in my garden while I am working, plucking them off the bush, vine, plant and plopping it right into my mouth.  Mmmmmm…  tomatoes, green beans, strawberries.  Yum!  No – I don’t wash first.  A little bit of dirt didn’t hurt anybody.  Well, one day last week I was picking green beans, eating a few here and there, and when I chomped into one… it gooshed instead of crunched.  I spit it out and looked at it.  I didn’t have my glasses on, but it really didn’t look any different – it was green – but it was gooshy.  I threw it aside and didn’t think about it until the next day when I was picking beans again.  I saw a small hole in one of the beans and wondered, “what in the world?”  Then a few plucked beans later I saw it…

caterpillars eating green beans

Do you see it there? in the foreground? That plump juicy caterpillar that is EXACTLY the same color as the green bean? Um… yeah 😉

Ugh… a caterpillar and, eeewwwwww…  I must have bitten into a caterpillar the other day!

And they were eating my beans!

And that’s what is attracting the Bald Face Hornets!

The light bulb turned on.

Just this morning when I was picking beans I saw a hornet catching a plump, juicy caterpillar that was eating a hole in one of my beans!  So – even though the hornets eat my honeybees, they are also eating the caterpillars that are eating my beans!  So I guess every menacing creature does have redeeming qualities.  I suppose.  Sigh.

watering trough for honeybees

We bought this watering trough for several reasons, but the two most important were to have a place for mosquito fish to live (mosquitoes are horrible here in the spring) and also for our honeybees to get a drink of water!  Click on the picture to get a larger view 🙂

Then, I noticed the Hornets were also menacing my honeybees in their watering pond!  The bees have been using this watering trough all spring/summer, and everything has been copacetic – that is until the hornets moved in.  I sadly watched as bee after bee was literally plucked off the plants by the hornets!  Gaaaaaaa!  This is a sad, sad day, indeed, for the bees.  However, I don’t think the hornets will actually kill enough to hurt the hive.  You see, a queen bee can lay more than 2,000 eggs every day, so if the hornets take a couple dozen bees every day – well – I guess that’s just nature.  Sad, but true.  Not much we can do about it anyway.

So…  “how are my beans doing?” you might ask.

Oh!  Thank you for asking!

Chinese Red Noodle BeansGreat!  Holy cow, these things are producing like hotcakes. They are worse (or as good as?) the zucchini at this point!  We grew Kentucky Wonder beans this year, and they grew so tall that I had to trellis them, because they wanted to grow taller than my ladder could reach.  I have pressure canned two batches of beans already and am about ready to can another batch.  I just adore green beans in a beef stew, or tucked into a chicken pot pie, or just cooked up with some bacon, onion and black pepper.  Of course chicken with green beans cooked in an Asian stir fry sauce over rice just can’t be beat!  Yum!

This year I wanted to try growing some red noodle beans.  Last year I grew some Asparagus Long Beans and really enjoyed it, and learned a lot!  So, this year I wanted to try another variety of the long bean.

Bull Hornets

One of the red noodle beans. They really do stand out, so they don’t get lost in the bushes!

The red beans are great!  Not quite as prolific as the green asparagus beans, but they are a lot easier to find in the bushes due to their nice brick red color!  And with my aging eyes, that is a good thing, indeed!  One thing I learned last year about the Asparagus Long Bean was that one of their main pollinators were ants!  Can you believe it?  Ants, of all things!  Unfortunately, I haven’t found very many ants on my Red Noodle Beans, so maybe that is why they haven’t done as well as the green ones.  I think, just as an experiment, I will try both beans next year side by side to see which one is truly the winner.

green beans pressure canned

I like to raw pack my green beans when I pressure can – it is so much easier and the final product isn’t much different than hot pack!

Something else I am experimenting with this year is the amount of green bean plants to grow so I have enough to pressure can at least 42 pints of beans, which will give us one pint a week for a year.  Yeah – I know – there are 52 weeks in a year, but for the other 10 weeks a year we will be eating FRESH beans.

Until the harvest is done, the jury is still out, but right now I would guess that I will need somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 bean plants.  I’m also not sure which green bean is better.  Last year we tried a pole variety called Contender green beans. They did well, but when all is said and done, I don’t think they will have done as well as the Kentucky Wonders that we are growing this year.

We’ll see!!

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Another Top Bar Beehive and DWV

We lost our beehive last winter. Well, we didn’t LOSE the hive itself, it’s just that the colony of bees occupying it died, and their death was probably our fault!  We felt soooooo bad.top bar beehive death in winter

However, since we thoroughly enjoyed being beekeepers, we decided to just go all in, make another hive and order two sets (one queen and 3 pounds of bees in each set) so that we would have two!  Not only would we have more pollinators for our fruit/nut orchard and our vegetable/herb garden, but we would also enjoy more honey and bees wax with another hive.  Besides, it would also double our chances of success getting a hive to survive the winter!

new hive 1This spring, once Ray was up to it and well on his way to healing (that story here), he made another top bar hive box in pretty much the same manner as our last one.  We did change a few things so there would be better ventilation, but the dimensions are pretty much the same so that we can share the top bars with each other.  Making this hive took a lot less time because we knew what we were doing.  We will see how everything goes this year and if the colonies make it through the winter, but we are hoping to make our third hive next spring!  🙂 a new top bar beehive

We bought our bee packages from Oliverez Bees, just as we did last year.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the install.  I could give you some excuses, but the truth is that I was so excited and nervous that I simply forgot!  However, I did get a shot of the bees through the window viewing area just a few short weeks after they were installed.  Holy cow, these gals are building comb like gangbusters!

But then, one day about a month ago I saw this…

new top bar hive

Ugh!  Is that the deformed wing virus caused by the varroa mite?  I did a lot of research and, yes, it was probably the DWV.  UGH! UGH!  What were we going to do?  We wanted to have organic hives and not use miticide.  In fact, one reason we decided to use top bar hives was that the cells are smaller in Top Bar Hives (TBH), which produce smaller bees faster, which reduces the impact of varroa mites!  We knew that, unfortunately, there was probably no way to get around having varroa mites, which can kill a colony, but instead we could try to control them.

new top bar beehive

The California Buckeye, sometimes called Horse Chestnut, has a beautiful bloom and is a gorgeous tree when in full bloom. Unfortunately, the pollen causes Deformed Wing Virus in honeybees!

Another potential cause of the deformed wing virus, however, is pollen collected from the California Buckeye tree, which causes this deformity in brood.  And we have seen some California Buckeye Trees around.  If this was the cause, and all the brood was not effected, then the colony might be okay.

Well, when the bee with DWV was found, we were at the beginning of another honey flow.  There were lots of flowers blooming – especially the blackberries! And the weather report said that we were in for a week or so of 100+ degree weather down in the valley, though thankfully it wouldn’t get that hot here.

In researching miticides, I read that you do not want to apply during either a honey flow or during extreme heat, so even if our hive was being infected with the DWV, we had no choice but to watch it die right in front of our eyes.  The worst part of watching the hive die was knowing that the other hive would probably also be effected.  UGH!

So, the heat came and went!  Let me tell you, it was Hot Hot Hot!

When we checked on the hives a couple of weeks later, it was amazing!  They had literally doubled in size!  They weren’t dying at all, they were thriving!!

new top bar beehive

The colony as seen through the observation window in the side of the hive.

 

So…  how could this be?  I was actually prepared for another funeral!  Time for more research (don’t you just love Google?), and I think I may have found the answer.  I read on an entomologist’s research paper that while honeybees can live in 130-140 degree temperatures in the hive, the varroa mite cannot!  Wow!

So, if the DWV was caused by the varroa mite, the heat may have come at just the right time!  Of course, if the DWV was caused by the California Buckeye tree, then we will probably see some young bees with DWV every year in the future because we cannot cut down all the Buckeye trees within a honeybee’s foraging radius, nor would we want to.

Our tango mandrin in full bloom. The honeybees just maul this tree when it is blooming!

Our tango mandrin in full bloom. The honeybees absolutely maul this tree when it is blooming!

What we can do is plant more flowering fruits and vegetables and ornamentals that are good for bees, to keep them foraging at home.

Right now we have a small vegetable garden where our bees forage, and there are also numerous wildflowers around. In the spring the bees can forage from our fruit and nut orchard. Once our house is built we plan to have grapes, boysenberries and blueberries and will also plant a few more fruit trees here and there.  Furthermore, I want to expand our herb garden, which at this point includes rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender and sage, which I know the honeybees just adore!

Here it is mid-summer, and during a hive inspection I took a picture of some of the comb while Ray was lifting them up.  Although we didn’t plan to harvest any honey, we felt it was necessary to take one comb from the larger hive (the new one) as it was almost full. new top bar beehive The bees already had comb on about 2/3 of the top bars! A full hive is one that will potentially swarm, which is something you definitely do not want!  We also moved a few empty bars in around the center of the hive, to let the bees see that there was still a lot more room in there.

We chose one comb that had mostly capped honey and very little brood.  I extracted the honey by crushing the beeswax comb and hanging it in cheesecloth above a bowl for about twenty-four hours.  Once most of the honey had drained out of the comb, I put the beeswax on a paper plate and set it outside about 20 feet away from the beehives.  The bees clean the honey off the wax in a day or two.  I flipped the wax over and the bees obligingly cleaned up the rest of the honey.  I put the almost clean beeswax into the freezer and will finish cleaning it up later.

new hive 4

We got about a cup of honey from this small harvest.  This honey is very sweet and a bright golden yellow – perfect for cornbread!  Yummmmmm…

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