Experience is a brutal teacher. But you learn, my God, do you learn.

-C.S. Lewis

Stream In January

Stream In January

Thursday, January 29, 2009


After complaining about the rain all day yesterday, I was rewarded with this beautiful sunset last night. The picture doesn't do it justice, but the sky was a gorgeous shade of pink. Today the skies are bright blue, the temperature is 42 and the bees are out working and enjoying the mild air.

I bought seed for lettuce, cabbage, parsley, cilantro, broccoli and pansies this morning. I hope to get them started over the weekend. I also bought 2 peony plants. Well, not really plants, but the little bareroots that come in a bag. Maybe it's a rhizome. (Some master gardener, huh?) I've wanted to grow peonies for quite sometime, but just couldn't bring myself to spend $15 - $30 dollars for a plant. I'll do some research this afternoon and find the proper name for what I bought and what to do with them. I know peonies need deep soil and room to grow, so I should be able to find a good home for them. I planted some small rhubarb plants last year, not knowing what to expect, and they did great. I moved them in the fall and this morning I pushed back the mulch and saw some nice red buds poking through the soil. There's a lot of life under all that brown.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I know we are suffering from severe drought in the mountains, but it has been raining heavily all day and it's depressing. The good news is that the past weekend was fairly mild and the bees were out and also taking sugar syrup from the boardman feedeer. I know the boardman is not the preferred way of feeding for a lot of people, but it has worked well for me. Every time the weather is nice enough for the bees to be flying, they are very actively feeding. I checked the grease patty yesterday and I don't think they are eating any of it. Looks like our weather will be mid-40's after this rain moves out and at that temperature my bees are always busy. When I lifted the inner cover to check the grease patty, I'm pretty sure I saw capped honey in a few of the frames of the shallow super. As soon as we have a mild day, I'm going to pull out a frame and inspect more closely.

I have gotten involved in a new garden project that I'm really excited about. I'm going to be supervising a group of 5th graders at the Boy's and Girls's Club with a program called Harvest Project. There is a nice garden plot at the Club and this group of kids, with the help of adult volunteers, will plan, plant, water, weed and harvest. The kids will get to choose what they want to plant - vegetables, herbs, flowers, etc. They will get to decide what they want to do with their harvest. Some ideas would be to plan a dinner at the Club for parents, sell at a local tailgate market, or show at the fair in September. The local 4-H agent is also going to be involved. Our first meeting with the kids is scheduled for February 23. Our goal is to start spring vegetables, weather permitting, March 15. To follow our progress I've set up a blog. The web-site is

One of the goals I've set for myself this year is to start more plants from seed. This weekend I'm going to start some lettuce, cabbage, kale and cilantro. I have a spot on my potting bench in the garage that should work well. The garage is heated and there are fluorescent lights above the bench. I'll plant enough seeds for myself and for the kids to get started with at the Boy's and Girl's Club.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Recycle and Compost

Today was another nice one, so I decided to do some work in the garden. I cleaned the ashes out of the fireplace this morning and added them to the compost boxes. I also had a few perennials to deadhead and added those clippings. I compost all my kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc. In the summer we add grass clipping and in the fall, leaves. Although my compost is not hot in the winter, it is breaking down nicely. Takes a lot of turning, but it's worth it.

We always throw the Christmas tree in the garden after the holidays. I cut all the limbs off today. We'll cut the trunk and use it for firewood.
I mulched around the blueberry bushes with the limbs and also covered any daffodil sprouts that I could find. Also worked in a small amount of bone meal around the daffodils.

The bees were out again today. They had a great day yesterday as we warmed to the upper 50's. Not quite that warm today at mid-40's, but certainly nice in the sun. I'm always heartened when I see them out. They have survived one more winter day. I'm also beginning to think my behavior is much like theirs. If it's cold, rainy, snowy, I want to be someplace warm and cozy. But if there is blue sky, sunshine and warm breezes, I want to be outside!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Busy Bees!

The sun is shining and it's warm! I looked out at Walter Bee this morning and the girls were out in force. I immediately put the feeder on. They are almost in a frenzy, feeding, cleaning out the hive (lots of dead bees from the past very cold week) and bringing in small amounts of pollen. I think they are as glad as I am for a nice day. The weather should continue to be mild for the next few days. I hope the really cold weather is over.

I peeped under the inner cover to see if they had eaten any of the grease patty and it did not seem they had. There were a few bees showing some interest. I think it's just been too cold for them to break the cluster, but they seem to be surviving in spite of the elements. I'll continue to check the grease patty.

My new camera finally arrived yesterday. This has been a very gentle hive to work with. Because I'm so comfortable working in very close proximity to them, I hope to be able to create a very good picture journal. Sometimes pictures do speak louder than words.

When I got Walter Bee I told a friend that I knew I would always be a gardener, but not sure how I would do as a beekeeper. Believe me, I'm hooked! I can't wait for spring to get my second hive.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cabin Fever

This is the longest really cold spell we've had in a long time. We were at 5 again this morning, but at least the snow is over and the sun is shining. Walter Bee is located at the top of the slope in my garden and when the sun shines, it warms up pretty rapidly.

I checked the hive a few minutes ago, and although I see some dead bees on the screened bottom board, I again hear that reassuring hum from the inside. I thought about using the boardman feeder on the outside, but don't feel comfortable trying to lure them out at eat. I'll give it another day. We're supposed to be mid-forties and I always see them out taking cleansing flights at that temperature. The boardman did not work on the inside of the hive. TOO COLD! It will be interesting to see if the girls ate the grease patty. I might get a peek tomorrow.

I have some repair work to do when I feel I can open the hive. The inner cover has come apart on one corner and one of the frames in the deep hive body has come apart at the bottom. (I can see it hanging down when I look inside the entrance.) This is the area where I saw the cluster so I know there is a lot of weight. I'll probably go ahead and get a new inner cover since I'll need another in the spring when I split this hive. The frame is going to have to wait. There is no way I would disrupt the cluster in this cold weather. Now would also be a good time to get the components for the new hive and start assembling.

I still don't have my new camera. Maybe UPS is worried about getting down my long, frozen drive. We're not having any trouble with 4-wheel drive. Hopefully it will come today and I can have some new pictures to post.

Monday, January 19, 2009

More Snow

We got 2 inches of snow on Friday and it's snowing again today. The prediction is for 2 to 5 inches. I've been hoping for a cold, snowy winter, so I guess I'm getting my wish.

I checked the hive this morning and heard the bees buzzing inside. I've not seen them flying for several days. I'm still concerned about them having enough honey to survive the winter, so I added a shallow super over the inner cover and put the boardman feeder on top of that. I'm not sure that makes sense in writing, but I know what I did for future reference. But anyway, the bees can get to the food without having to leave the hive and I did not have to open the hive and expose them to the cold.

I'm going to have another hive in the spring. I can say I see a lot of bees flying or a lot of dead bees, etc., but in comparison to what? I think my hive is weak, but in reality, it may be strong compared to another. My friend Kelley, who owns Balltown Bee Farm, is going to teach me how to split my hive when the time is right in the spring. I hope I have enough bees left to actually do so.

The snow is falling heavier than ever. I hope I get my new camera this afternoon so I can get some good pictures. I didn't take up knitting, but pulled out some old cross-stitch I had never finished and am working on that. I'll build another fire in the fireplace and sit and stitch!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cold Winter Days

It's 12:40 pm and our temperature is only 10. Two when we awoke this morning. It's supposed to be even colder tonight. The garden is brown and the bees are tight in their cluster. I hope the temperature warms over the next few days and I can see them flying again. I'll breathe a sigh of relief knowing they've made it through these extremely cold days and nights. The only thing green in the garden is the rosemary.

I'm going to order a mimosa tree and some horseradish from Stark Bro's this afternoon. One of my fondest childhood memories is the fragrance of the huge mimosa tree that grew in my grandparents yard. They had a big farm in Cleveland, Georgia and I loved it there. It broke my heart when they sold it. I was 16. I'm not sure how a mimosa will do in the mountains of WNC, but I'm going to give it a try. The catalogue says good in zones 5 - 10 and I'm in 6B. The hummingbirds will love it and hopefully the bees will, also.

I've grown horseradish before and although it can be invasive, I love the flavor of the freshly grated root. I'll give it a place of it's own to grow. I started a rhubarb bed last year, and the plants did quite well. Again, a dedicated bed because rhubarb is a long-lasting perennial.

I'm just rambling today because I'm bored. I think I'm going to have to learn to knit!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Moment of Panic

Our temperatures again rose to the low 40's this afternoon after being in the low teens last night. I saw a few bees flying and decided today would be a good day to add a grease patty. The patty consists of a 3 to 1 sugar to grease ratio. I also added some organic honey and a bit of peppermint extract so the bees would be attracted to it. When I lifted the inner cover, I did not see any bees and my heart sank. I had been seeing lots of bees in the shallow super. I decided to go ahead and check the deep hive box, and much to my relief, there were the girls clustered in the front left-hand quadrant. I quickly put the patty on top of the frames and almost immediately the bees were drawn to it. This will hopefully be another source of nourishment for them during these very cold days, and it is also a teatment for mites. I'm not doing any chemical treatments on this hive. I'm an organic gardener and I wouldn't treat my garden with chemicals and I will not treat my bees. There are excellent organic options available for both.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Botany Bees

I found this poem yesterday as I was finishing Ross Conrad's book. It sums up very beautifully why I started keeping bees and why I can't wait for spring.

Botany Bees
Full many a tomato plant
Would never blush nor bear,
Without the bee to gallivant
And shift some pollen there.
She travels in the honey line,
But sets the vines aglow;
Which shows the finest things we do
Are not the things we know.
I do not care for honey much,
And yet I prize the bee;
The fair tomatoes that I love,
She makes 'em blush for me.
-Chicago Daily News

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fascinating "Bee-havior"

No, that's not a real bee, but one of my best Christmas gifts this year. My daughter gave me this beautiful painting of one of my favorite subjects - HONEYBEES!

I watched my bees for a short time late this morning. The temperature is about 42, but although the sun is shining, it's a cold 42. They fed on the sugar syrup, but at almost 2:00 they are already back snug in the hive. I watched one little bee exhibit the strangest behavior until I figured out what she was doing. After much wiggling and scratching on her part, I realized she had a small piece of debris on her little bee feet. She worked diligently until it fell to the ground. After closer inspection, I realized that what she was cleaning off her front door step was the remains of a wing from one of her sisters. Bees are fastidious housekeepers. Maybe this will rub off on me!

I'll worry some about Walter Bee this week. Our temperatures are forecast to be very cold and maybe some snow on Tuesday and Thursday. I continue to hope there is enough honey in the hive for my fascinating friends to survive until spring. I doubt I'll see them feeding again this week.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bee Education

Our temperatures have warmed to the lower 40's this afternoon. I was relieved to see the girls out and about after a few days of really rainy, windy and snowy days. I'm a member of the Smoky Mountain Chapter of Beekeepers and at our meeting last night, most everyone was reporting their bees to be flying and bringing in small amounts of pollen. Though our weather has been rainy, it has been fairly mild, so the bees are getting out for cleansing flights. Some of the beekeepers are feeding, others whose bees have a good supply of honey in the supers, are not. It was also mentioned that the bees are looking for sources of protein and some are adding protein patties. I'm already feeding because of low honey stores in my super. I'll consider doing the protein next week.

I'm excited because I learned of 2 upcoming events for out Chapter. Greg Rogers is going to be our speaker in February. He's a very knowledgeable beekeeper in the Asheville area. I heard him speak when I went to bee school in Asheville a couple of years ago. Really looking forward to hearing him again. Also, Jennifer Berry, from the University of Georgia, is going to do a beginner bee school for us in March. I attended one of her sessions at Young Harris bee school last year in May. She is doing wonderful work in the field of honeybee research. Should be another great learning experience for anyone in attendance. I'll check on the dates for both of these events and post later.

I'm trying to take advantage of every opportunity I have to learn more about beekeeping. But I'm also learning that just by having a hive and observing and working with my bees on a daily basis is absolutely the best way for me to understand this wonderful and fascinating art of caring for honeybees.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Two inches of snow fell yesterday. Our weather has been very rainy in December and the beginning of January, so the white stuff was a welcome change. I've had an entrance reducer on the hive for the past few days because of the rain and high winds, and when I checked this morning, the entrance was completely blocked with snow. I'm not too concerned about the ventilation because I'm using a screened bottom board, but I was careful to brush away all the snow from the entrance. I hope our temperatures will warm some over the weekend. The bees have been taking cleansing flights on
days when the temperatures are in the mid-thirties and sunny, and I'm hoping to see the girls out and about. I'll feed with the boardman feeder if I see them flying. If not, I'll start using a baggie feeder inside the hive.
My little angel has overseen my gardens in good and bad weather for many years. I hope she will protect Walter Bee.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

To Feed or Not to Feed

There is a saying that if you ask 10 different beekeepers a question, you'll get 11 different answers. This is also true of all the books I'm reading. There doesn't seem to be any constant other than the fact that bees are facing some pretty tough times in the form of pests and disease. In deciding whether or not to feed during the winter, I have chosen to do so. I knew in the fall that my hive was weak, but I hope with my intervention, it does not die of starvation. My rule of thumb has been to feed with a boardman feeder on the days the bees are out and flying. So far, this has proven to be successful. I'm seeing very few dead bees and on warm days, which might be 38 degrees and sunny, the girls are quite active. Beekeeperlinda posted that January and February were difficult months for Atlanta bees. I fear March and April in Western NC. Just when you think winter could be over, these 2 months can be brutal.

Monday, January 5, 2009

I Bee Looking at You

Thanks to my daughter, Melanie, who took this incredible picture. Also thanks to Jenny, my daughter-in-law, who helped me set-up this blog. They are both very talented, creative young women.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Brief History

I began beekeeping with a nucleus hive of 5 frames in May of 2008. Walter Bee was located in a community garden about 25 miles from my home. I was hesitant to put the hive in my home garden because I live with black bears. I averaged working the CG about 3 days a week and was encouraged to see my bees working and bringing in pollen immediately. There was a good water supply nearby in the form of a flowing river. The bees drew out the comb in the deep hive body fairly quickly, and after about 3 weeks, I added a shallow super. Although the bees worked very hard all summer long, they only drew out comb in 4 frames in the super. Western NC is suffering from severe drought and although I did not realize it at the time, I probably should have been feeding the hive by late summer. Rookie mistake. Because of high gas prices and time committment, I made the decision in the fall to give up my plots in the CG and bring Walter Bee home. On November 9th, after my husband had installed an electric fence, I moved the hive to my garden. I have become a much better beekeeper since then.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year 2009

Welcome to my blog. I am a Master Gardener and Certified Beekeeper in Western North Carolina. This will be a journal of my experiences for the coming year. I'm a very good organic gardener and a very novice beekeeper. I hope to pass along some good gardening tips and will probably scream for help with the bees.
This is my garden on the first day of 2009. It's always very sad-looking in the winter, but if I push back some of the mulch I can already see signs of life. A few daffodils are already trying to find the sun and the lenten roses are sending up new sprouts.
If you look closely in the back of the picture you can see my beehive. This is Walter Bee. My blog is dedicated to my grandfather, Walter, who taught me so much about life and gardening, although I didn't realize it until it was too late to thank him. Much more about him as time goes on.
"No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow." -Proverb from Guinea