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

-C.S. Lewis

Stream In January

Stream In January

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tardiva Hydrangea

I am trying to make my yard as bee-friendly as possible and this is a great plant. It is a tardiva hydrangea and is perfectly suited for my climate and soil conditions. It likes moist, well-drained, acidic soil and is one of the most cold-tolerant of the hydrangeas. It also tolerates some shade. Perfect description of mountain gardening. It is fairly pricey - $29 for the 3 gallon size and $59 for the 5 gallon - so I chose the smaller of the two since it is a very fast grower. It only took my girls about 30 minutes before they found it. I first noticed tardiva hydrangea at our Village Green. I go there quite often. It is quite literally covered with bees. These are big having been planted on the green several years ago. It's quite windy today and the bees were being blown around. I live only 2 miles from the park and wonder if some of the bees are mine.
Better perspective of size next to trees and one of several sculptures in the park. (Not my favorite piece, but has drawn much interest. )

Honeybees close-up. This hydrangea will bloom late into the fall and and the blooms will fade to pink adding long lasting color in the yard.

After this post published, I clicked on the last picture and could see lots of pollen in the basket of the bee on the right. :)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Late September Sunday

Fall came this morning. The skies dawned a brilliant blue, colorful leaves rained to the ground in the light breeze and the 50 degree temperature was perfect for enjoying my coffee on the deck. We deserved this day. A good portion of the Southeast has suffered from torrential flooding over the past 10 days. I have recorded almost 2' here. Rain fell heavily all day yesterday. There has been extensive damage to roads, bridges, dams and livelihoods. The flooding took a heavy toll on the apple crops in this area. Great piles of fruit just fell to the ground. In Atlanta, there was a devastating loss of 7 beehives at The Blue Heron Preserve. I feel very fortunate not have suffered any losses.

The garden washed pretty badly, but that is easily fixed. The bird population dines heavily on the heads of sunflowers, coneflowers and joe-pye weed. I usually wait until late October to cut these plants back, but nature had something different in mind. Most plants were knocked over and covered soil. I spent this morning cutting and transplanting.

The trout stream flows the length of the property and is usually very lazy. It turned into a raging river with the floods. The house sits far enough north of the water that it is never a threat, but even today I can hear it roaring as I sit in the house. The beehives, too, are at the top of my garden and were never in danger.

I don't think anybody will be talking about drought in the mountains for sometime to come.

Some bee concerns: During the worst of the rain, the bees were confined to the hives for 3 days without a chance to get out. Each hive has a full shallow super full of capped honey, so I was not worried about them having food, but very curious if they had started to consume some of the stores. I was able to open the hives on Thursday and they had started eating a very small amount of the stored honey. Not enough to be alarming.

Small Hive Beetles. When I took the extra supers off the hives, there were several frames of drawn comb, in addition to a couple of capped frames of sourwood honey. I wanted to store the capped honey in case I needed to feed later during the winter. As I was putting the frames into sealed storage, I saw 2 small hive beetles. I had not seen one before. After talking to several friends, I learned that SHB is not much of a problem in the mountains. Most report seeing a few during the season, but never enough to be a concern. My only fear is that my newest nuc came from the upstate of South Carolina where SHB can be a problem. We're only 13 miles from the SC border, but our temperature differences are dramatic. Cool here, hot there. I looked very carefully but did not see any more beetles in the hives. I'll monitor closely in the spring.

Today, for the first time, I saw a varroa mite on a bee. I knew there were some varroa in both hives and have treated with the powdered sugar shake, but this is the first time I've actually seen a mite on a bee. It made me sad. On the advice of Jennifer Berry from the University of Georgia, I'm going to do another sugar shake in November. The population of the hive at that point should be mostly adult bees thereby exposing a greater number of bees to treatment as opposed to brood. Makes sense to me.

Both of these hives are going into cold weather much stronger than Walter did last year. Doesn't mean I won't worry. I will. I've had 2 beekeepers tell me recently they went to their hives in the morning and saw many bees and when they visited in the afternoon, the bees were gone. It just happened that quickly. My main concern for these hives continues to be the threat of damage from bears. They are quite active in the area and there have been several times in recent days when the dogs drove them away from the area surrounding the garden and beehives.

Goldenrod and asters are still blooming, but the amount of pollen being brought in has decreased significantly. Much colder weather is forecast for later in the week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bees At The Mountain State Fair

We go to the Mountain State Fair mostly to see the animals, but this year were delighted to see a great display on beekeeping by the Buncombe County Beekeepers Association. My pictures posted backwards so I'll show some animals before I get to the bees, which this is really about. :)
Texas Longhorn
Mama and Baby Brahmas

Pigs are my favorite. I have a pink pig Christmas tree every year. Sounds tacky, I know, but I am from the deep South. Doesn't he look happy.

And now to the bees. Talk about an observation hive! This fellow was completely surrounded by bees using only an occasional puff of smoke to calm them. He was very slowly opening the hive and pointing out the queen and talking to the audience, which was completely enthralled, about how the hive works. The cage was full of bees and he was completely unprotected. I think this exhibit went a long was in educating the public about the gentle nature of honeybees. So many people were in awe of the fact that he was not being stung. Folks who aren't familiar with honeybees are so quick to think they will be stung and usually bees are killed because of it. Great education for the public.

Children were especially interested in his demonstration.

Buncombe County hosts a great bee school every winter and was where I first started my education about bees. (I've also attended the bee school at Young Harris College in North Georgia, but will talk about that later.) The school is held at the Folk Art Center in Asheville over three weekends. Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 - 5:00. There are several Master Beekeepers in the Asheville area and along with them and other very knowledgeable speakers, the school presents a wealth of information about bees. This was where I was took my test and passed the Certified Beekeeper level. I hope in the next few years to go on to the Journeyman level.

I realize everyday that I work around my honeybees that I have lots to learn. But if I listen carefully to them, I think my bees will point me in the right direction. I'm trying my best to respect what they do and leave them alone to do their work.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mountain Song Festival

Mountain Song Festival was started by local bluegrass band, Steep Canyon Rangers, 4 years ago as a fundraiser for the Boy's and Girl's Club of Transylvania County. All of the proceeds go directly to the club and to date has generated over $150,000. With acts like the Rangers, Doc Watson, David Holt, Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, Cherryholmes, Del McCoury Band, Seldom Scene....it's too good to miss. It's held on the second weekend in September at the Brevard Music Theatre. The weather is always beautiful - sunny fall day turns into cool fall night.

Last year the audience was treated to a huge surprise. During one of the Ranger's sets it was announced that a fellow had been hanging around backstage saying he could play the banjo and wanted to do a couple of numbers with the guys. So they decided to give him a chance - "Please welcome Steve Martin." Yeah, that Steve Martin, the wild and crazy guy, Steve Martin. Needless to say the crowd went NUTS!!! He is an incredible bluegrass banjo player. Since last year, Steep Canyon Rangers have joined Steve on a 15-city US tour and opened the tour at Mountain Song Festival. Aren't we lucky!

So here is Steve Martin onstage with Steep Canyon Rangers. He also visited the Club's hotdog stand and sat in the crowd during other sets. He's also a new resident of the area and we're glad to welcome him to the mountains.
The Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. Soldout concert. Lots of folks on the grass enjoying the weather and the music.

Steep Canyon Rangers onstage with Seldom Scene, a great bluegrass band out of Maryland.

Beautiful toddler enjoying the music.

The evening ended with the David Grisman Quintet. If you're not familiar with him, think Jerry Garcia and Grateful Dead. I won't go into his long bio, but he has an amazing past.

We have a very special interest in this festival. Our daughter is the Executive Director of the Boy's and Girl's Club. They serve over 200 kids. It's a great organization and I would urge everyone to take the opportunity to do something special for a child. Put Mountain Song Festival on your calendar and join the fun next year! And in the word's of the Club's slogan -

"Be Great."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ready For Winter

After taking the sourwood honey from Walter a few weeks ago, I combined some dark honey I had also taken with the few frames of honey in Ora and each hive ended up with almost 16 full shallow frames of honey stores for the winter. I had hoped each colony would continue to draw comb and make a bit more honey, but the honeyflows are long over and I knew it would probably not happen. Last week I talked with 3 fellow beekeepers about what they left on the hives for the winter. As beekeepers know, I got 3 different answers to the same question.

Kelley has taken off all the honey and has started to feed with top feeders. She will continue as long as the bees take the sugar syrup and will resume in the spring until the first honeyflow. She is a small commercial beekeeper with 50 hives and the honey is an important source of income for her. She is also a very successful organic gardener and shitake mushroom producer.

Al has also taken off all the honey. He is also a small commercial producer, but has only about 20 hives. After he takes the honey, he adds a shallow super with 10 frames of drawn comb. He feeds sugar syrup until the bees have completely filled the frames with the syrup. He won't feed again until spring unless necessary.

Tom is a 3rd year beekeeper with 8 hives. All of his hives are 8-frame medium boxes. He will leave 1 honey-filled box, and in addition to the honey stores in the brood box, feels this should be the proper amount for the bees to successfully overwinter. Approximately 60 pounds of honey.

This weekend I did my final work in the hives to prepare for winter. Each hive now has 1 shallow super filled with honey. Any drawn comb or partially capped honey will be safely stored. I got my first look at wax moth damage last week and I don't want to risk that. It was not pretty. When I lift my hives, they are heavy and I, too feel they have adequate honey for the winter.

I also did sticky board mite counts last week. The results were encouraging. Ora had very few mites. I had to look hard to find any. This was a nuc hive I started in the spring and I didn't really expect to find much there. Walter is my second year hive and had considerably more mites, but not enough to be alarming. It's close to impossible to get a good count because of all the other junk that falls out of a hive. It didn't really matter in either hive how many mites I saw, they both got the powdered sugar shake.

In talking to Kelley last week about the mite count she passed along some information that made my think about mite counts in a new light. Although I saw more mites in Walter, she said that might not be a bad thing. It's very possible that those bees are just more hygienic, cleaning more, thus ridding themselves of more mites. That would be a very good trait to have in a hive. I'll continue to compare the hives in the spring. I'm also going to use 1 frame of drone comb in each hive in the spring.

Goldenrod is blooming everywhere. Lots of bees, bumble and honey, and butterflies.
Wild, blue asters blooming in the park and all along the roads. My backyard is full of asters and bees.

As I was working in the hives on Sunday morning, my husband came up and remarked that I had observation hives - I work, he observes. Ha ha. He doesn't love the bees and garden like I do, but he does all the heavy work for me. He's also gotten quite good at constructing hive boxes, stands, etc. Will save us lot of money if and when I add more bees. He took this very unflattering picture of me, but that's how I work in the hives. Hat and veil, long sleeve white shirt, most of the time shorts, but this cool morning, baggy sweatpants. I forgot to put on my gloves and ended up with a sting on the hand. Mostly just aggravating because it cost a bee her life. In the right of the picture is the screen mesh frame I placed over the bees when I shook the sugar in. I got this idea from a fellow blogger, Steven, and it worked great! Kept the bees from flying out in my face. They don't much care for the sugar bath.

I didn't disturb the brood box on either hive. It's very late in the season. The drones have been gone for several weeks now and I didn't want to risk injury to my queens. There would be zero chance of the bees raising a successful new queen now since there would be no drones to mate with. Both hives are still humming with activity. It's the contented hum of successful bees. As fall turns to winter, the weather will occasionally warm to mid-50's and I'll take quick peeps under the inner cover to check honey stores. On cold, cold winter days, a thump to the side of the box will hopefully bring the reassuring buzzz from the inside that all is well.

Friday, September 11, 2009

There Comes A Time.....

When the first warm days of spring arrive in the mountains, I can't wait to get in the garden and start planting. Then the April snow falls and I have to start all over. Think I'd learn after 10 years. But May comes, and although there is always the chance of a late freeze, the garden starts to grow. In June and July, flowers are blooming, produce is coming in and this year the bees were buzzing and making honey. August is the most lush month. The flower show is on. Then late August comes and all of a sudden the garden and I are both done. Finished. And I go out and start to pull it all out of the ground. I started about 2 weeks ago.

Nasturtiums bloom prettiest in the fall. Bumblebees love them. Honeybees don't seem interested.
I think my honeybees must truly be Italian. They love the white blooms of the garlic chives. Wonder what that honey would taste like if that's all they had to work.

The garden is pretty much all cleared out. There was a section on the far left of the picture that had grown up in bee balm, wildflowers and dog hobble, one of our native shrubs that is very invasive. It has a pretty, sweet-smelling bloom in the spring, but the bees were not interested. I realized this was an area of about 15' by 20' where I could use plants that would be of greater benefit to the bees so last weekend I cleared it and started transplanting hostas and lamb's ear.

Lamb's ear was by far the most important flower in the garden to the bees. Still not my favorite, but anything for the girls. There was also a small compost box in this area that was filled with finished compost. I spread that on the beds. The wood from the box will be used to make a new stand for the 2 new hives I hope to add in the spring. My friend has Russian bees who are doing quite well and I hope to get 2 nucs from her in April or May. The hives will go in this cleared area below the other 2 hives.

In the beds where potatoes and greasy beans grew, I now have planted collards in the uppermost area and below that seeds of beets and turnips. I planted the seed on Tuesday and today they have germinated. If the weather gets cold in a hurry and these beds don't do well, I'll plant winter rye as a cover crop. I also planted 15 broccoli plants in the upper right-hand bed, but unfortunately I have a vole problem and I now have 9 broccoli plants. I might as well give up on the brassicas.

This is a view of the garden from the beehives. The stream is a good way below the trees. It's heavily wooded and we are considering cutting a lot of the undergrowth to make way for chickens and goats in the spring. If we have chickens and goats they will have to confined and protected because of the coyotes and owls that live in our area. They won't have a chance to survive for long in our woods. There are lots of tulip poplars on the property which we won't cut because of their importance to the bees.

I still have work to do in the garden and around the hives, but should be finished in a couple of weeks. I've been doing mite count for the past 3 days and the news is good. I'll post on the count and the sugar shake after the weekend. BTW, I went to our Smoky Mountain Beekeepers' picnic last night and I asked 3 different friends the same specific question. Guess now many different answers I received? The beekeepers know it was 3. More later.....

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sunday On Bear Lake

Our son gave us an Old Town canoe several years ago for Christmas. We live in a great area to enjoy it, even though we don't get on the water nearly as often as we'd like. There are several lakes within an easy drive from home. Lake Glenville is the closest, only 2 miles away. But Glenville is a big lake and, being Labor Day weekend, we knew there would be lots of jet skiers, ski and pontoon boats. Not a friendly place for the slow pace of our canoe. Bear Lake is the middle lake in a chain of three, the other two being Cedar and Wolf. They are located in the Tuckaseegee area of Jackson County, NC, and are about 18 miles from our house. We can easily leave home and have the canoe in the water in about 30 minutes. We always choose Bear Lake.

As we leave the dock, we head out into the main body of Bear Lake. The rock face below is home to a herd of wild mountain goats. We always look for the them but have never seen one. It's well documented that they live there, but the distance is so great I'm not sure we could actually see them from the water. I have much admiration for anything that could live on those sheer cliffs.
There are dozens of small waterfalls on the lake. Everywhere we paddle we can hear the water running down the mountainside from small tributary streams. This waterfall is the most majestic. During the summer we can only see the top of the falls because of the heavy foliage. I hope to get back to Bear at least 2 more times this year. Once when the fall color is at it's peak and also in the early winter when the leaves are gone. We should be able to get great photos of the falls then.

As we leave the main body of the lake, we start upstream towards the dam. This is my favorite part of the trip. The Tuckaseegee River feeds Bear Lake and at this point there are no motorized boats. Only canoers and kayakers. Sunday we saw neither. The water gets very cold and clear this far up. The only thing that broke the silence was a trio of barred owls calling out to each other and the occasional call of the great pileated woodpeckers that inhabit the area. It was very eerie, but we loved it.

This island is a good halfway point in our canoe trip and we always paddle for there, dock on the shore and climb out on the rock for a picnic lunch. The round-trip distance is about 8 miles from the dock to the upper end of the river and the dam. We usually stop on the island on the way back to rest.

As we rested on the island, some thunderheads began to build in the distance. We had very light rainfall earlier in the day, but for the most part the day was mostly sunny. The temperature was a mild 78. Perfect for a day on the lake.

We usually stay on the water for about 5 hours and Sunday was no different. I love the water and don't ever want to leave. Being on a canoe in such a beautuful area is pure relaxation. Earlier in the summer the water temperature was nice for swimming. Yesterday, there was a bit of chill to it. In and out quickly! Next time we come, it will be just a toe in the water but the autumn show will be spectacular.

Mountain State Fair and Mountain Song Festival next weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Changes Are Coming

When I created this blog in January, it was with the intention of creating a personal journal of my gardening and beekeeping experiences for the year. Although I've been gardening for many years, I've never been a good recordkeeper and with the addition of the bees, it seemed important that I start writing some things down. There were also some people in my life with whom I wanted to share what I was doing and a blog seemed a good way to reach many people at once. I still don't record half of what I do in the garden and beeyard, but I think I've made a good start.

With the arrival of fall in the mountains, many things start to change. My garden has quit producing summer vegetables and I'm in the process of redoing it and planting for fall. The bees have been quite productive, but it's about time to start doing fall maintenance and getting them ready for the cold weather. I've watched them closely for the past couple of days and haven't seen a drone. They are also sleeping much later in the morning and going to bed much earlier in the evening. I don't see much activity before 10:00 and they're closing up shop by 7:00.

Since there won't be much to talk about garden and beewise in the next few months, I've decided to share some different aspects of my life. The mountains will start to put on their fall show in the next few weeks. Thousands of people flock here in September and October to see the autumn colors. It's a time of many traditional mountain festivals. The views from my backyard to the Blue Ridge Parkway will be gorgeous. It's all too good to keep to myself.

Walter Bee is going to undergo some changes in the next few days. The look, layout, and content to some extent, will change. If you notice today, it's already different in preparation for what's to come. I have to thank Mark for inspiring me to do this. And also thanks, Mark, for your offer to help, but I think I've got it figured out. Blogging has opened my world to new friends in several of our states and countries across the world. I appreciate all of you who comment and hope you will continue to stop by for a visit. Maybe we'll make some new friends!

Hope you'll all enjoy fall in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I can't wait.