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

-C.S. Lewis

Stream In January

Stream In January

Friday, March 27, 2009

It's Raining, It's Pouring...

I've not been in the garden or seen a bee since Tuesday when I took this photo. It's been raining since then. Click on the photo for a good shot of the honeybee's proboscis. Bees cannot survive without water, and believe me, there has been no shortage since late Tuesday night.

We have had extreme drought conditions in Western North Carolina for the past couple of years. The rain we've had should make a huge dent in the deficit. I complain when the skies are grey for such long periods of times, but I know the rain is very beneficial. My husband says I "B and M", which translates to Bitch and Moan, but I'm a farmer - it's required of me!

I'm headed to the farm store tomorrow, rain or shine. Sunday is forecast to be nice and I'm going to set out some lettuce, broccoli, cilantro and parsley plants. I've planted some lettuce and cilantro seed, but I like to do seedlings, too. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of my seeds have washed away. I'll also plant my potatoes. The bed is ready except for the addition of some bone meal.

There is always an upside to long periods of spring rain in the mountains. The temperatures will warm to the 60's next week and the yard and garden will start to "green" before my eyes and the honeybees will be out working again!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Garden Journal and Things Smart Beekeepers Don't Do

I wanted to open Walter Bee today to inspect, reverse the inner cover and remove the grease patty. The weather had been mild this morning and I felt early afternoon would be a good time to go in, but after I had been in the garden for a while the sky started to cloud and the wind to blow. The bees were still out flying and bringing in pollen so I decided to open the top and quickly reverse the inner cover and grab the patty. I got as far as the inner cover. There were bees all over the top of the super and the grease patty, so I very hurredly closed the hive. First mistake. When I reversed the inner cover and put it back over the grease patty there was a gap of about an 1/8 of an inch between the top of the hive and the inner cover and the outer cover was sitting at a bad angle. Bees were pouring out of the top. Not wanting to leave the hive so open and vulernable, I decided to go ahead and smoke and finish the job of removing the grease patty. I went to the garage to light my smoker since the wind had picked up. A smoker does what it says it does - it smokes. Which would have been okay except for the fact that while the smoker was smoking away in the garage, I was looking for my hive tool. I've been very organized with my equipment, but could not find it anywhere. I decided a screwdriver would have to do. (Still haven't found my hive tool.) When I got back to the hive, I quickly smoked and calmed the bees, opened the cover and inner cover and removed the grease patty. Since I was in and the bees were calm I wanted to continue with a brief inspection. Screw drivers don't really work like a hive tool and I was trying my best to pry the frames apart in the super. This is about the time my smoker quit. Not good. Bees are beginning to get angry. Thankfully I had on my veil. I managed to get 2 frames loose in the shallow super and was pleased to see some capped honey and also was able to peer down in the brood box and see lots of bees. I've been stung only twice in the year I've been keeping bees and both times because I did something stupid. I was very lucky today. I didn't get stung. Lessons learned -smoke the bees, don't light smoker in the garage, locate all equipment before lighting the smoker, make sure smoker is going to stay lit, take your time, make sure the skies are bright and sunny, no wind, screwdrivers don't really work like a hive tool, the list could go on. Thankfully, I'm a better gardener that I am a beekeeper.
Daffodils in Bloom!

Red Maple Budding Out

I planted some lettuce seed in the garden today. I dug this small bed, spread some seed and covered with a bucketful of compost. There are feral cats in the neighborhood and they like nothing better than to dig in freshly dug earth, so on top of the compost I sprinkled some blood meal. It is usually effective as a deterrent to critters. I'll see if it works for cats.

This is my potato bed. I'm going to plant on top of the soil and cover with mulch, leaves and staw, but I did dig two trenches about 4 inches deep and filled them with compost. I'll probably plant the tubers this weekend. I want to add some bone meal to the soil before I plant and did not have any. Sometimes I put out potatos too early. They come up, but there is always a chance a late freeze will kill the leaves that have sprouted. They recover, but black foliage is not pretty in the garden.

Rhubarb Smiling At Me!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Good March Days

This has been a great garden and beekeeping weekend. Our Smoky Mountain Beekeeper's Assoc. hosted a beginners bee school on Saturday. We were fortunate to have Jennifer Berry as our instructor. Jennifer is a long-time beekeeper and bee researcher at the University of Georgia. I saw her last May at Young Harris College Bee School. She is not only very knowledgeable about her subject, but also very lively and entertaining. She did a great job of covering the basics of beekeeping such as biology, equipment, diseases, and pests. She spent a great deal of time on varroa mites since this is the probably the most serious problem facing bees right now. I was very encouraged that she is strongly advocating natural solutions to the problem of varroa such as sugar shakes, drone comb and the discontinued use of chemicals in the hive. I was even more encouraged last week when I learned from some of our senior beekeepers that they are treating their bees without use of chemicals and not seeing any difference in their losses. Researchers and beekeepers alike are acknowledging that we are killing bees with chemicals and pesticides.

Jennifer also spoke of small hive beetles, which I am not seeing, but she did say that they lay their eggs in grease patties in the hive. Since I have a patty on the hive now, I will remove it soon. Don't want a SHB problem. I wanted to inspect Walter Bee today, but although the temperature was low 60's, there was a good breeze so I decided not to open. Maybe tomorrow. I'll also do my sugar shake when I open and also reverse the inner cover. The bees are quite active right now and I'm anxious to know what's going on inside the hive. I'm still feeding sugar syrup, and will continue to do so, but I changed the ratio of sugar to water to 1 to 1.

Another interesting topic that Jennifer covered was the poisons that we are bringing into the hive with the use of wax foundations. Wax foundation is made from wax that major beekeepers sell. Since most of these operations are using chemicals on the bees, those chemicals remain in the wax made into foundation. Her solution is to use plastic foundation, which bees do not seem to like. But she sprays the plastic with a 1 to1 ratio sugar solution and her bees are drawing it out sucessfully. She also suggests turning over all foundation every 5 years, which she does by removing 2 outer frames, adding 2 in the middle, each year, until all 10 frames are replaced. I will date my frames when I open the hive. Busy spring coming up!

I spent today in the garden. March is such a frustrating month for me. The days are gorgeous, but our temperatures have been in the low 20's for the past 3 nights. Frost all 3 mornings. I'm so anxious to start planting, but know it's waaaay too early. I did transplant several things today. Moved some phlox, bachelor buttons and daylillies. We dug out the lillies last fall and threw them in the woods, but they came up so very pretty on top of the soil I decided to put some of them back in the garden. Lots of perennials up and I'm throwing lots of compost around anything I see. Also put out pine straw in my first bed. I'll fill it out this week with lettuce, parsley and cilantro. All my beds are a combination of flowers, vegetables and herbs. I garden in such a small space and can't bear to waste an inch of soil.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bee Video

This is not an exciting video, but I was experimenting with how to actually post. It's just bees flying on a cool, Sunday afternoon. I was surprised to see them since it's been so rainy, but I guess they were as anxious as I was to get out. Anyway, it took forever to upload this video, but now I know how to do it. Still so much to learn about bees, cameras, blog.......

Rhubarb In The Rain

After 2 days of wet weather, I was itching to play in the dirt this morning, so during a break in the rain I decided to fertilize my rhubarb. Ideally to get the most out of your plants, fertilize 3 times during the year. In the early spring, (March or April) is a good time before any growth begins and this I had done earlier when I applied some compost. Fertilize again just after the growth appears and at the end of the harvest season. The fertilizer should be worked well into the top of the soil and watered in. Compost on top will provide food over the dormant period in the winter. I sprinkled blood meal around each plant and watered in with some fish emulsion. I then spread a bucketful of compost around each plant and mulched with hay. I hope I didn't put up a "Diner Open" sign to the bears with the fish emulsion. I'll be very careful with it's use this year because I don't want to attract bears to Walter Bee. These are my 3 lovely plants. I'll follow their growth with my camera.

I have a recipe for an orange-rhubarb quick bread that I want to try with my first harvest. I'll pass the recipe along if the bread is good!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I took this picture last week during the snow. The cardinals really stand out against the white snow. The weather has been spectacular the past 3 days, but our forecast is for snow, sleet and freezing rain on Friday. Such is March in WNC...
I hope the next pictures I post are of the daffodils blooming and not more snow.
The bees are loving the weather, and there lots of perennials poking out of the ground. I've learned not to worry about the emerging flowers if we have a late cold snap. Other than the freeze we had a few years ago at Easter, things always come out just fine. Nature has a great way of looking out for herself.
We have a bee meeting on Thursday night and I have lots of questions for the experienced beekeepers. I've been feeding the hive and wonder if it's time to remove the food. The bees are bringing in tons of pollen. Also need to know when to reverse the inner cover. I'm planning to split this hive and need to know when to do so. Although all beekeepers have different ways of doing things, and no two will tell you the same thing, I always come away from the meetings with information I can use.
The Harvest Project in Brevard is getting off to a good start. We have a volunteer workday scheduled for Saturday. Hope the weather cooperates. The young gardeners are anxious to get their hands in the dirt. I'll meet with them on Friday and take pictures and get some of their thoughts to publish on the blog. Check it out at harvestproject-bgc.blogpot.com.
I'm very excited to report Miss Jenny is going to be starting a garden in Chapel Hill. She is my lovely daughter-in-law. She got started this past weekend with a compost pile. I'll be going to CH soon to help her with the planting. Go Jenny and Randy!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Hive is Alive!

What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday the temperature struggled to get out of the 20's and 3 inches of snow fell. Yesterday and today, the temps have been close to 70 and the sun is shining brightly in a clear blue sky. The bees are loving it! They are bringing in lots of pollen. If you click on the pictures below, you can see their pollen sacs are full. I think the bee on the bottom board was so heavy with pollen she was struggling to get inside the hive. Anyway, she did a great job of posing while I snapped several pictures.

My mimosa tree came last week and I planted it this past Thursday. I also planted some liatris corms. I'm experimenting this year with growing perennials from seeds, roots, corms, and bulbs as opposed to mature plants. Lot less expensive. I bought 20 liatris corms for $4 as opposed to $3 or $4 for 1 plant. I'm so very anxious to get lots of things started, but I've learned from being in the mountains for 9 years that it's way too early. As nice as the weather has been the past few days, winter is not yet over.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow and Skunks

March came roaring across the Southeast yesterday. This is my garden at dusk. It snowed all day and we ended up with about 3 inches of the beautiful white powder. I checked Walter Bee this morning, and although the bees have not been out since Friday, I can hear that nice hum coming from the inside. I put the boardman feeder on today, but I think it will be tomorrow before the girls venture out for some relief and food. Temps should return to the 40's and low 50's for the rest of the week. When I walked to the garden, I noticed juncoes on the entrance to the hive. I suspect the are eating the dead bees they can reach. Thankfully, I didn't see too many dead on the top of the screened botton board.

My little garden angel is once again wrapped up in her snow hat and coat.

I think the mystery of the critter in my garden is solved. After checking my trusty Google search engine, I learned that skunks do indeed love bonemeal. When skunks forage in the soil, they make a very distinct circular pattern and this is what I observed around my pansies. Looks like mini alien crop circles. :) I like to use bonemeal, but will consider using super phosphate instead. It accomplishes the same thing - strong roots and blooms.