I am registered on all sorts of lists to catch bee swarms around Charleston. The folks at the 911 call center know me. Several exterminators know me. The Department of Agriculture folks have my number. I get lots of swarm calls. I LOVE SWARMS! Catching swarms of bees has to be my all-time favorite part of beekeeping.
A gentleman called me the other day reporting a large swarm of bees in a tree at his house. He lives within a mile or so of me so it was the perfect situation. I ran to the house, grabbed up a bunch of equipment and headed to his place where I met his family and the neighbors too. The cool thing is that I know the neighbor family. Abigail plays soccer for the neighbor and their son plays for me.
Anyhow, Abigail and I walked up to the swarm and it was a good one. It was about shoulder high on a smaller tree from which I could easily cut a branch to remove the swarm. I typically lay a sheet out, place my destination hive on top and shake the bees from the branch into the swarm box. Bees in a swarm are usually not terribly defensive. I typically approach a swarm pretty boldly to see how they roll and rarely have any issues with them. That being said, never touch a swarm of bees because there are still 10,000 or so stinging insects who don’t care much about manners. Call a beekeeper every time.
So, I sent everyone inside where they could watch from behind screened windows and started my tree trimming. Within a few minutes I had the bees in the hive and we were all done but for the crying. Wait…no crying. Just loading the bees into the car.
edit: one of the ladies took these pictures…
I think I like catching swarms for the “show-off” factor as much as anything. The two families that watched the swarm catching were curious and interested and called me crazy! It doesn’t get any better than that!
When I got home, I had three more calls from people with bee swarms…it might be a busy few weeks!This entry was posted in Bees, Nature, WV and tagged Beekeeping, Bees, Honeybees, Pshaw...stingers? I fear no stingers!, Swarms are cool! by warren
We have chunks of yard at our place, some of which the kids play around in, but most of which we complain about mowing more than anything. In particular, the fenced in back part where the former dog used to stay was a big waste of space. With the dog having run away, the canine treasures returned to earth leaving us once again with usable space.
Digging a ditch builds character…do well in school kids!
As with most of our projects, we decided to go big, heavy and expensive! Actually, we just went with big and heavy but I like the added drama. Anyhow,we decided to turn a mess of a yard into garden space using railroad ties to build raised beds. We spent a few days digging up the apparent underground rock garden that existed before we decided to make a garden in our yard. I leveled out space and added gravel for drainage under the railroad ties and we began to set them. It turns out that our railroad ties are 8’6″ and weigh around 200 pounds each. We used around 17 of them for our space so you can imagine how sore and tired
my mule Emily and I were just moving the pieces into place.
Abigail drilled a few of the holes we drove rebar through to bind the ties together. We used a lot of rebar to make sure they stay in place!
I laid cardboard boxes over the existing ground to keep weeds down and we lined the edges with plastic to minimize the leaching of creosote from the ties into the soil. The plastic does not cover the entire basin of the garden so water will still drain fine and worms can still navigate upwards without impediment.
The cardboard will eventually rot away but not before killing weeds and stuff from coming up through
I read a bunch about creosote and railroad ties before undertaking this effort. Creosote is pretty bad stuff and eating it would not be a great thing. I read a number of opinions on the subject and came to a few conclusions. First, used ties have probably leached out the worst of what is going to leach out already. Secondly, I didn’t have my soil tested for contaminants to start with and most people do not. That fact makes it apparent that we don’t really worry about our garden soil anyhow. Finally, my soil is still almost assuredly better than soil somewhere far away on an industrial farm and my food is not likely to pick up any more contaminants that what food that travels by train car and truck picks up. I added the plastic liner and have determined that I will not worry about it any further.
Those rocks were huge and buried. I suppose the digging was easier but only because the rocks took up so much space!
So, we had to buy a bunch of dirt (56 bags of .75 cubic feet top soil to be exact…plus 6 bags of manure) to fill in the space. It looks awesome and will hold a bunch of vegetable plants. Isaac, Abigail and I planted it over the course of a few days. We added marigolds for decoration and because all gardens are supposed to grow marigolds. We also have tomatoes, jalapenos, brussel sprouts, broccoli and bell peppers. It looks so much better than the yard that used to be there plus I get to eat all of my favorite vegetables right out of my back yard!
I cut the angles in the ties where they ended using a chainsaw. Creosote sawdust down your back will leave a rash!
For now we have some of the rocks I dug up holding the liner in place. I will eventually top it with more wood and make it look better, but for now, our new garden space makes me smile every morning when I see it…both for the veggies growing and for the fact that I do not have to mow that space! Yeah gardens!This entry was posted in Family, Food, Garden and tagged Eat your lawn!, Garden, I am a mule, Mowing sucks! by warren
I wrote a few weeks ago about wanting to grow, process and eat sorghum. The first step in that process is, of course, planting some sorghum seed. Really, before that, we had to prepare some ground to plant. Larry, Granny Sue’s husband turned over a bit of earth at our place. I don’t know if you have ever tried to cultivate a new piece of land for garden space, but it is bone jarring, punishing work if you don’t have big equipment. One could certainly take to it with a rototiller and it will work but you’ll feel a new kind of pain. Anyhow, Larry ran his plow and tractor over a nice chunk of our land to do the initial “turn-over” which I followed up with a smaller tiller to break up the ground further.
I got about half way done with the tilling when another neighbor, Tim, stopped by with his tractor which he used to
save my life finish tilling the land. Everything was bone dry and dusty which made this whole process a messy endeavor. Still, Emily and the kids pitched rocks into the woods while I set up the rows and drove row stakes. We carefully planted a dozen or so rows of Sugar Drip sorghum seed. Sugar Drip is an old-time variety good for our part of the country. It matures in around 102 days and makes nice sweet 8-10 foot tall stalks. I ordered seeds from 2 well known heirloom seed suppliers and one says it is a rare breed while the other says it is common across the South. Who knows?
So, we marked our rows and planted the beautiful little seeds (which we will collect from our plants this year and save for next year) and covered them carefully with the freshly tilled
dust dirt. Luckily, it rained some this week so things should start growing well. Sorghum is an African native so prefers warm temperatures but does well in heat and dry once it is established.
I have learned that sorghum is one of the top grain crops grown around the world. Varieties can be used for syrup but most sorghum is planted as fodder for animals or as grain for daily consumption by humans. Many people are considering using it to make biofuel as it thrives in most warm locations. For folks with gluten allergies, it also is a common grain source for gluten free beer (hmmm…another project?).
So, our sorghum is in the ground though possibly a little early. I will keep a close eye on its progress but am hopeful for some awesome looking cane in a few months. Now, I really have to get back on track with restoring those cane mills I have sitting out in my yard!This entry was posted in Food, Land and tagged Food, Garden, Nature, Pa Ingles I ain't!, Sorghum by warren
Emily’s grandparents have a small pond at their place and every year Mr and Mrs Frog raise their babies there. We usually try to time it right to experience the sheer joy of frog season. I don’t know if you are familiar with how frogs work but Mrs Frog lays huge caches of gelatinous eggs which very quickly hatch and turn into tadpoles and eventually frogs. If you watch carefully, you get to see all of the steps in between tadpole and frog which might be the stuff of nightmares if you didn’t know better. Seeing a pond full of tadpoles is simply amazing! They swim so awkwardly and yet not. When they start growing legs and losing their tails, things get really interesting. It is an absolutely amazing transition and a lot of fun to witness!
Anyhow, we were around the pond last week and got to enjoy the tadpoles in the pond. Abigail loves to catch them in her hand and sing to them. She caught a few and while singing, spotted Mrs Frog. Mrs Frog had a protective eye of course (we could tell) but seemed content to watch us watch her babies. Of course, what are her options? We don’t have ferocious frogs here in West-by-God-Virginia.
Abigail decided she wanted to give Mrs Frog a pat on the back, congratulating her on a job well done with her latest crop of babies. She squatted at the edge of the pond (I had my camera ready fully expecting Abigail to fall into the water) and reached out to touch Mrs Frog. With a flash, Mrs Frog leapt into the water upon feeling Abigail’s fingers. She swam across the pond and under a rock where we could see her one back leg hanging out. We decided to leave well enough alone and just watch from afar. Spring is just the absolute best time of year! There are so many opportunities to experience in the spring. The Frog family delights us every year!This entry was posted in Family, Nature, WV and tagged Did you get peed on? You'll get warts!, Family, Nature, WV by warren
We are doing a little bit of fancy building out in the back yard to convert a bit of space from grass to a food plot. A few years ago I cut down and old tree that was both ugly and in the way. I had high hopes of sawing the tree into boards (just to see if I could) and doing something interesting with it. Three years later, the log is pretty well rotted…and in the way like the tree before it. I rolled it out of the way so we could work and we found a regular entomological wonderland!
These two huge beetles dashed around in circles. I dubbed them vampire beetles because they just wanted out of the sun. I think they were actually Patent Leather beetles (Odontotaenius disjunctus). I let them crawl around on my hands and arms a bit, trying to get the kids excited (in a “my dad is so brave and awesome” kinda way). It didn’t exactly work as I expected but I was delighted that the kids at least wanted to touch the beetles. I am a country boy trying to raise city kids to not be too much city and a little more country…touching bugs is a good step on the path. I delivered both beetles to a safe spot nearby…I do not want to harm such cool and beneficial bugs.
We also noticed a large millipede cruising around quickly once we moved a chunk of bark. We could not pick him up but he was super cool though a little shy. He had no interest in posing for a photograph. I am not sure about exactly what type of centipede he is but I think he is in the genus Cryptops. I also learned a little something about centipedes versus millipedes. Millipedes have 2 leg pairs per segment while centipedes have one leg-pair on each segment. Centipedes have venomous legs while millipedes do not. Centipedes are fast while millipedes are typically not. Gosh, there are so many other differences…read some more here.
Anyhow, I think what made me happiest about this log was the worm family we found there. Abigail bent right down and grabbed up a worm. It’s a simple little thing but I love that my darling little daughter will pick up a worm without worrying about it being slimy or wiggly. She relocated a family of worms the other day while some other little girls looked on in shock. I have city kids but even in the city, under a log, lies adventure and wonder and just a little bit of country!This entry was posted in Family, Nature, WV and tagged Bugs and worms and crawly things, Nature, WV by warren
I mentioned mountain color in the last post and as much as I like green, I think purple has to be a close second. We have thousands of wild violets in our yard this time of year. They make a really nice blanket of purple in the still-alive-until-summer green grass we have. I hate cutting grass with a passion and my excuse is usually something along the lines of, “I hate to lose all of the pretty flowers that the bees need so much right now.” It has nothing to do with my being lazy of course…it’s for the bees!
Anyhow, I was perusing the interwebs the other day and a blogger I follow, Woodridge, posted a recipe for violet blossom jelly. Check out the original there but I am going to include the recipe here for my own reference too. Woodridge writes from East Virginia, the lesser cousin of West Virginia…
So, Abigail, Emily and I set about picking violet blossoms the other day. Abigail wanted to take some creative license with the recipe so she included a generous helping of green grass also. I picked it out…I have eaten both violets and grass before and only one is really suitable for my palette. Evidently I misread the recipe too as I insisted we pick twice as many blossoms as we needed. We just made a double batch. Many other recipes I found used less blossoms for a single batch but I figured if some is good, more is better which was in line with this recipe anyhow:
Yield: 5 half-pints.
Anyhow, the jelly is a beautiful light purple and is some of the prettiest food I have ever seen. It has a super mild flavor and is a little earthy…maybe. I am not sure if that is the right word. Wild is more like it maybe? But that sounds bad…like eating poorly cooked ‘possum or something. Anyhow, it is a light, subtle flavor and will be a really nice addition to our breakfast toast. If you have some violets, whip up a batch and let me know how you would describe the flavor!This entry was posted in Food, Nature, WV and tagged Eat more violets!, Flowers are food? Of course!, Nature, Recipe by warren
I love April. In fact, yesterday was the perfect date…”April 25th. Because it’s not too hot, not too cold, all you need is a light jacket.” That’s from Miss Congeniality…one of the funniest movies ever. Of course, I would laugh at anything that has Sandra Bullock. I have a secret crush on her. Anyhow, the end of April is perfect I think. Temperatures are nice but really, the colors that pop are what make it especially excellent for me. I took some pictures that don’t even begin to capture how beautiful and vivid the colors are right now (and especially the last week or so).
There is such diversity of life here and the mountains, as they green, are just alive with colors. Dogwoods and redbuds seem to burst out everywhere. While nondescript during the summer, redbuds and dogwoods are the princes of spring! Maples come alive first and give the first reddish tint to the mountains but the real power comes later with the purple and white buds that follow.
I guess the lower humidity and temperature make it so, but even the green backdrop of the leaves and grass are just more vivid than any other time of year too. I suppose I sort of come alive again after the (for me) depressing winter browns. I come to really appreciate the color in the mountains every spring and it just wouldn’t feel right without seeing the change and being in the change. Its in the birds’ songs and the frogs peeps and most definitely in the color of the trees!This entry was posted in Nature, WV and tagged Green is cool, I'm alive again!, Mountains, Spring, WV by warren
Something occurred to me this weekend. In a way, I am a story teller, telling the day-to-day nonsense that goes on in our lives here on this blog. I know that’s pretty much what blogging is all about and it’s pretty cool how I get involved in other people’s lives and how (I suppose) some of you, dear friends, become involved in our lives. I enjoy telling our stories, for, like sands through an hourglass, these are the days of our lives.
Anyhow, this realization came to me while at an actual concert put on by a real, professional story teller, Lorna MacDonald Czarnota. My friend Granny Sue held a house concert where both she and Ms. Czarnota told several diverse stories and sang ballads. I don’t know if you have ever heard a professional story teller, but if you ever get a chance, go and listen.
Granny Sue is our neighbor so I knew her house. She has a fantastic house in the woods surrounded by trees and birds and flowers. Her home is incredible, filled with antiques and mountain heritage and beautiful glassware and books. She invited us to walk about her house and drink sassafras tea and enjoy a variety of snacks. It was a beautiful arrangement and truly an awesome experience. It’s what story telling was at its beginning…friends and neighbors getting together to tell stories and enjoy each other’s company.
Abigail and I had a great time and she re-told the stories we heard the whole way home. I am not sure I am really much of a story teller, but I am delighted that Abigail had so much fun listening and re-telling stories. I hope she will learn some mountain stories and make up some of her own. However she wants to communicate, the wonderful imagination that will be fed from these mountains makes me happy!This entry was posted in Fun, Thoughts, WV and tagged Appalachia, Family, Fun, Mountains, Not a soap opera!, WV by warren
Isaac was mowing the yard at my office tonight which gave me a little time to take in the local wildlife…and a lot of pollen and chlorophyll. Mostly there were stink bugs and flying whatnots but there was one extremely huge bumblebee with which I made friends.
Emily really hates dandelions but I think they are sort of nice. I mean, in the spring time, all of the colors are so bold and bright…and it doesn’t get much bolder or brighter than dandelions. My bumblebee obviously agreed as he was all over the flowers that Isaac was mercilessly slaying!
It’s taken me awhile to fully appreciate the lowly bumblebee. When I was a kid, I spent every weekday at the local swimming hole. I mean 100% of days. There was a “beach” set up along one of the local creeks in Tionesta, PA where I grew up. They had a concession stand and..well, that’s about it. But still, it was the beach. Anyhow, there was a ton of clover and back then, honeybees were still common. Between the honeybees and the bumblebees, I got many stings and I hated that. Heck, I have been stung so many times since then, I guess I have made peace.
Most small critters fascinate me but I think bees of all sorts are among the tops in my book! So, my bumblebee and I will check in each week as Isaac cuts the grass…as long as I can keep Emily from plowing under all of my dandelions!This entry was posted in Bees, Technology and tagged Bees, Nature, Stingers suck!, Yellow by warren