Saturday, December 31, 2011

The end of 2011

Hard to believe it went so quickly... We just got back from visiting family in Ohio. Everyone is well although I picked up a cold when I got there. The cold is much improved as I'm no longer stuck inside the dry heat.

Christmas brought me a new camera! It is a Canon PowerShot SX40 HS zooms from 24mm to 840mm pretty cool! It also has a red button on the back, press the red button and your shooting video. The video is pretty good, tested it inside a restaurant with my 2 yo grand niece in Ohio.  All photos and video below were using the new SX40 HS
White-throated Sparrow in our back yard. Hand held from about 12 foot awa

Here are Rainbow Carrots picked today, the cold frames are growing nicely. Some reason I lost a few photos and video just after Christmas, I think the new 16gb PNY memory card is at fault or I some how deleted them. Anyway not very happy about loosing some Mail Pouch Barn photos and the 10 beautiful Rainbow Carrots photos we ate with Christmas dinner.
New yard art Meg got for Christmas.
Rowdy squirrel at our feeders, which all were empty when we got back home.

One of the first photos I took with the new camera on Christmas day. Here is the tiny Brown Creeper now a regular visitor to our suet station.

The bees on December 31 2011 today! You can see two large orange pollen packets in this photo.

The bees are bring in pollen like crazy, three kinds from what I could tell on this 60+ degree day here in Rougemont, NC.  Helleborus foetidus  is blooming and I saw at least 6 bees on it in the few minutes I was observing, the pollen was a straw color. Locals have reported seeing bees on maples in blooms, so many the buzz could be heard.

 Bee with pollen on Helleborus foetidus in our back yard on December 31, 2011.

Done with your tax deductible contributions? Please do check out the link below. 

 DOUBLE YOUR GIFT! Planned Parenthood needs our help to continue to stand up for women's health and ensure there is a compassionate, reliable place to turn for those who may not have any other health care options. Online donations made today will be matched -- I just gave and had my gift DOUBLED. Will you join me?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy New Years

Everyone from our house to your a very special warm greeting to you and yours.
 Now for all the gifts... Oh it looks like Valentine thinks she is the gift.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bees Christmas shopping??

Today was a tee shirt day here in Durham, NC, hard to believe Christmas is right around the corner. Anyway I was out in the garden at 10AM today and the bees were busy. First thing I saw was 2 undertaker bees removing dead bees. All the worker bees at one point in their short life have different jobs to preform at different ages, undertaking is one of there jobs during their cycle.

Anyway the bees were very active bringing in pollen in 3 different colors, orange, tan and, off white. I was very surprised to see so many of them bring in pollen. I went Christmas shopping today and summarized these wild possibilities. Dandelion, henbit, frost asters(still) clovers white and possibly red. I did see all of these in bloom today except red clover.  Also I have seen Japanese almond these plants usually bloom late January or February. Maple is in bloom also, not seen any here, it blooms late February or March usually.

Other nectar sources that I witnessed were Kanjiro camellia in the garden. We have two other camellias in bloom too. Pansies and violas are here too, but mostly drowned looking after last nights rains. I would guess a few other shrubs like elaeagnus would produce a lot of pollen as well.

These videos were taken with my new Ipod Touch.

Speaking of tee shirts today I wore my new Eat More Kale tee shirt and 3 people I met knew about it. Eat More Kale is a one man show in Vermont, Bo prints his tee shirts one at a time. Anyway I got an Eat More Kale shirt and Meg got a Compost shirt in yesterdays mail. Bo is being sued by Chik-fli-a because his tees dilute their message.

Karen, you were right on the Christmas lights it was a tractor on my last post. Looked into taking stained glass classes today, don't tell Meg.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The cats relaxing, Christmas lights

Yesterday it barely reached 50 degrees here, the cats were quite happy to sleep on the couch. The one-eyed orange tabby is Grumpy. The tuxedo is Valentine, she is our mouser.

Grumpy got into a fight over Thanksgiving. We arrived home a day later than our cat sitter could  feed them. He came home a good 2 hours after we got home limping and barely able to walk. Took him the the vet and they fixed him up. Now he's good, wanting as much attention as any cat could ever get.
You know once in a while I find discarded plants behind Home Depot. Yesterday I collected 2 beautiful large(20inchs across) red poinsettias. A little water and some dead leaf pulling and they both looked great. I could have picked up 8 more plants, but I feared they would live through the winter and become more ugly house plants to keep in the house. The freeze last night should have killed the other plants unless others found them first, it was dusk when I picked up my two. Took photos of them with my new Ipod, but have no idea how to get them on my mac, as I can not location the Ipod drive.

Tonight we went to a Christmas Party and I took this Christmas lights photo with Meg's camera just as she hit the gas. Pretty cool effect don't you think? Any guesses on what it is? I'd think Karen would know this easily, it is a rural area where it was taken.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Last weekend I built a new compost bin, the two compost bins we currently use were full. Every school day Megs brings home 1-3 five gallon buckets of compost from the school. It takes us about 2-3 weeks to generate five gallons of compost in our house hold.

FYI Meg's school composts everything. The school tried having a big 12 ft long multi stage compost bin, but the rats got in the compost way too often. Guess having 250 or so children who most do not eat all of that apple or orange they bring for lunch can make quite the meal for city rats.

Thought I'd list some advantages of composting.

1 You get great soil enhancement and it also fertilizes your gardens.

2 The worms are very happy to eat everything you bring them and they make the best compost.

3 Kids can learn a lot from composting and grow things in it too.

4 Save landfill space.

5 You garbage does not stink as much. Rotting food really stinks.

6 Our bees visit and produce nectar from the fruit and eventually we get honey. Yellow Jackets can be troublesome in mid summer though.

Here is the new compost bin. Everything except the nails and staples were recycled. The frame and siding covers(in back) were from a shed I replaced, and the 10 year old 5/4 x 6 decking boards were from a deck I took down. I grabbed the chicken wire from the free shed at the land fill. We cover it at night to keep the possums out. To get the finished compost you just take a shovel and lift out the decking boards out in the front.

Thought I'd show you inside cold frame #2. It was 27 degrees this morning I think the coldest here this season. I had just watered everything and took these photos today.

 Here we have mixed lettuce on the left and Lacinato kale on the right. The lettuce we eat it daily, there's lots of it.
Swiss chard, wow!
Here starting from the left arugula, spinach and gourmet lettuce.

Watched the bees at noon, it was barely warm enough for them. I did see one bee returning with large orange pollen packets. And I observed an undertaker bee removing a dead bee and flying 6 foot away with it, the farthest I have seen a bee carry a dead bee.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

UNC Observatory and the Coker Arboretum

Yesterday The second grade class from Meg's school had a field trip to the UNC Observatory which is on top of the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill. We met the kids and families at 5 pm  and everyone got to look at Juniper in the big telescope! I was hoping it would have enlarged it more than it did, still it was fun. Meg noted 3 moons which I did not see around Juniper.

You can see the copper dome opened from the roof of the Planetarium in this photo. Wish I could show more photos but it became dark very quickly. Seeing the doom turn was very cool, from inside it slightly made one dizzy.

Here is a view of the Coker Arboretum which was started in 1903. Those trees have grown a good bit, they have a lot of very cool mature trees from all over the world.
 Above is Chinese Quince, the bark reminds me of Sycamore trees.
 This holly on approach one would have taken it for an Magnolia the leaves were so big. It is called Luster-leaf Holly, Ilex latifolia.
Coker has a few camellias, this is Camellia japonica 'Kanyotai'. At least I think it was labeled correct as another label was for another hybrid camellia that I knew of from Duke Gardens. Anyway a new favorite of mine. A web search of this was not very production so getting it for our garden might be a tough task.
This Camellia sasanqua 'Otome' was very nice as well.
Coker has extensive plantings of hellebores, nothing even budding from what we saw. This is our Helleborus niger  'Ivory Prince' from today in the garden here.

Yesterday the bees were out, still bring in pollen at a rate of about 10 bees a minute. Today lots of bees flying with slightly less pollen coming in, noticed an off white pollen a few times. One of the local beekeepers told me red pollen would be from henbit. There is lots of henbit in our garden I pull it up as best I can, it rarely gets the chance to bloom in our garden.

One more item about yesterday. Meg and I ate at Crooks Corner in Chapel Hill. I have been here since 1985 and had never eaten there before. Slightly pricy but outstanding food. Meg ate hopping Johns, it was awesome. I ate shrimp and  cheese grits, best I have ever had, except it needed more cheese. Dessert to die for Persimmon Puddings with home made ice cream, oh my it was so tasty... I'd rate it 5 stars out of 5 stars, we well be back.

Coming soon our new recycled wood compost bin. Meg brings home the schools compost, does your kids school compost? We get from 5 -20 gallon a day, the bees like it if we don't cover it with leaves or straw.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Could not help myself.

Guess you might have guessed I found so much humor in this I had to share it with you.

 Here is a short video that will brighten up your day. The police arrested some OWS people and locked themselves out of their detention van!

This I did not find any humor in. In fact I'm disgusted with Gingrich who exists only to give "hypocrisy" a human face. A lot of poor people work 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet, this man is a disgrace and completely out of touch with the American People.

Back to the garden! Our bees were bringing in orange pollen packets yesterday December 02 at a rate of about 10 bees a minute!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Helleborus Niger now Blooming!

A complete surprise finding an open bloom on the Helleborus Niger this morning! This is the same plant that last year bloomed during 5 ice/snow events. Here is a photo from January of this year.

It pays to watch the garden a little closer.

The cold frames are really growing we have 3 patches of lettuce ready to eat. The mustard greens, kale, Swiss chard and collards all are ready for the skillet tonight, our first meal with them. The Rainbow Carrots are 3/8 inch in diameter now, not long on those. Too cold for bees right now.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Daffodils in November??

Spent Thanksgiving in Wilmington, NC, hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

On Saturday we visited Airlie Gardens to see the camellias in bloom. The gardens were wired with lights everywhere, it was early morning so we did not see the displays lit up. We were taken in with the dozen or so bottle trees on display with lights all stuffed into the bottles on the trees. The bright sun prevented my getting a good photo of the bottle trees.

The Airlie Live Oak had several clumps of daffodils blooming under it. I did not find them to have be recently planted paper whites as these plants were firmly weeded in. Not sure what to think about these blooming in November? I'd enjoy any insight about them?

This was not isolated to just Airlie Gardens, a yard along the way back to where we were staying had some daffodils blooming as well. Then later on a walk in the neighborhood I found more daffodils in bloom....

Here is a 4 + inch camellia bloom found at Airlie Gardens.

And from our garden 'Kanjiro' one of our best camellias, this is a 3 inch bloom. Moondance had 7 blooms while were were gone, but they all looks bad, the new camellia likely needed watered.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fall bees and violas planted

Yesterday it reached 70 degrees here in North Carolina, could not beat a day like that. Meg and I worked most of the day in the garden, raking leaves, getting up acorns and planting pansies and violas. Meg also pulled up the remaining pepper plants done in late last week by an icy night. I tilled in one of the remaining beds and Meg sowed a cover crop of rye grass and crimson clover.

On Friday I stopped at the farm at the bottom of the hill and got a flat of mixed pansies, 48 in the flat. Saturday while running errands Meg and I stopped at the Durham Garden Center and bought a flat of violas for a winter planting, hoping the bees would use them for food.
 Here are some of the flowers we got. Above is Victorian Burgundy pansy, this one isnew to me.
 Above is Sorbet Orange viola and below is Sorbet Yellow Frost viola, I really like this one.
 We planted the one below last year Sorbet Orange Duet viola, clearly I like this one a lot.
 Below is Sorbet Yellow Baby Fa viola.
The bees were very busy yesterday, the entrance is reduced a lot more than in the summer making the bees dodge traffic to get in or out. We did see medium sized packets of orange pollen on a few bees. Lots of ants coming and going into to empty top feeder, might have to do something about that. Feeders so many choices, yet not found the ideal one yet.

The birds are visiting the feeders and suet, most of the usual suspects have stopped by.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bank mail do send it back!

I'm sure most of you get unwanted junk mail every day like we do. A day without junk mail is far and few between around here!

The worst offenders are the banks sending credit card applications and promotions. Seems criminal when we deposit money in the bank and we are lucky to get .05% on our money! Yet the credit card offers from Citibank alone had interest rates from 11.9% to 18.9% depending on which one you looked at.

Here is the bank mail we received in the past two weeks! Meg's ex even got one, though he has never lived here, he gets at least one a month. 10 of these were from the fine folks at Citibank.

So you know they all come with self addressed prepaid envelopes inside. The postage is only paid when the envelopes are sent back to the sender. Did you know hard mail costs a lot more than regular mail? I've a friend that told me he had friends that used to tape bricks to the envelopes and send them back. My shed is full of scrap wood. I found some 3/8 inch cuts from 2 inch lumber so I trimmed them down to fit neatly inside the envelopes, two to each envelope.

Here is the 14 envelopes I sent back today, 10 were to Citibank. Note in the photo below "Thanks - we're looking forward to your reply"

Going to make this an regular event sending these back. We have never requested any of this mail. Think of the millions of these they send out everyday, most of them returning either empty, stuffed with junk mail or blocks of scrap wood. Maybe they might end up selling kindling someday. OCCUPY their mail rooms!

Oh guess what, after mailing these today I came home and found another Citibank letter in our mailbox.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Coldframe harvesting now!

On Wednesday we started eating greens from our cold frames. BTW Meg's second grade class is building their own cold frames at her school this Wednesday.

Thought I'd give you a tour.

Here is my newer design, I combined two cold frames into one. You can see the frame at ground level is made of 10 year old reclaimed 2 x 6s from a deck I removed this past spring. These cold frames are both 6 ft x 10 ft.  I took the left over scraps and made 2 x3s out of them and attached the 2 x 3s to the 2 x 6s with 2 - 3 inch decking screws.

Once the 2 x 3s were attached I attached the 3/4 inch conduit straps on the inside of the cold frame and placed a drywall screw to stop the 1/2 inch PVC pipe from falling down. By attaching these straps up higher like this we get more head room inside the cold frame to climb in and harvest. The 1/2 inch PVC are 10 foot lengths and span 6 foot across as you see. 

 Inside of the most recently(three weeks ago) planted cold frame. On the left that is Arugula, behind it spinach, more lettuce mix and at the left back more Rainbow Carrots. On the right side we have Lacinato Kale, Mesclun Lettuce mix, more carrots and Swiss Chard. This is the first time we have had two patches of Swiss Chard which we both enjoy greatly.

 Here is what we have started eating. This is the Gourmet Lettuce Mix planted in the first cold frame, behind it is kale. Bad news about this frame Meg planted Larkspur in this spot earlier this year, it is all those weeds you see.
 Here is our Rainbow Carrots they are doing pretty good, each cold frame has carrots in it. Freshly harvested carrots are one of my favorite things in the garden.
Salad mix with lots of Mizuna in it, we are eating this. I love mizuna. This is Meg's planting in the second cold frame. Note she casts seeds everywhere and we harvest like crazy, forget those stupid rows in your cold frame, this is how to do it believe me.

Other news about the garden. 

Yesterday I set out the bird seed and 3 suet cakes for the birds. No bird visitors seen yet. 

The bees I fed them 4 pounds of sugar yesterday, guess there are still a lot of them. As the sugar syrup was gone in less than 24 hours. Some bees got in, my mistake, downed maybe 10 bees rescued perhaps 20. Today it reached into the 70s for a brief period, I did see bees carrying pollen, just a handful.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Enough of this Bull!

Found this cool video today thought I would share it.

The Wall Street bull was sort of successfully attacked today by two clowns and a neophyte matador trying to "bring down this behemoth, world-famous for charging towards profit while trampling underfoot the average worker"; said the matador, "Come what may, I knew I must try." The matador emerged triumphant, but police arrested the clowns; watch them wrestle one - a clown, right? - to the ground. ¡Un esc├índalo! Video with fabulous soundtrack

FYI those New York Policemen are likely on Wall Street's payroll. They hire policemen for $45 an hour, most of that goes to the officers and 15% goes to the NYPD. While working for Wall Street they can arrest anyone they want to, unlike  normal bank security officers.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

GMO food labeling

Most of you already know Meg and I like fresh local organic food. This is why we grow our own veggies. Here is a speech by Vandana Shiva you might be interested in.

My back is better now, thanks to those who have asked about it.

I visited Occupy Chapel Hill yesterday, not much going on, no police presence what so ever. Here is an interview on Charlie Rose that helps explain the Occupy movement. Did talk with a few folks and gave a jobless guy a ride home and bought him some food for his family. My new friend is starting a job on Monday..

The garden is covering with leaves, the acorns have slowed down. The cold frames are doing great, we'll be eating greens in a few weeks I'm sure. Today I'm spreading mulch in the shade garden trail. Both the new camellias are blooming nicely and a few cyclamen are still blooming

The bees I saw some pollen coming in today, the temps are barely warm enough for them to be flying! I opened the top to the hive it was pretty quiet, two of the super frames still have capped honey. I peeped down through the frames and saw many bees  in the second brood box. I did not want to disturb them.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Knowing when persimmons are ripe!

It is common knowledge that the American Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana
is ready to eat AFTER the first frost. If you try to eat a persimmon too soon the bitter taste of tannic acid will leave a terrible taste in your mouth. They are quite tasty when ripe. Our trees were planted by birds. Anyway last night was the first frost, another frost is expected tonight, no damage noticed in the garden.

We lit our jack-o-lanterns this evening and I went out to put out the candles. I heard a rustling in the bushes. Then saw this possum in the persimmon tree by the deck.

Notice the tiny persimmon just over it's head. Guess possums know exactly when to eat persimmons, or did we learn this from the possums?

Happy Halloween Everyone!

 These are pumpkins we carved at a pumpkin carving party yesterday. I carved the scary castle with the ghost above. And Meg carved the ghost saying 'Boo' below.
 Hope the possum waits a few days before it eats our jack-o-lanterns!

It reached 59 degrees today, some bees were out and about, yesterday it was colder and rainy no bees came out. Our cold frames, two of the three are covered  to keep leaves and acorns out at this point. All the seeds Meg planted last week are coming up.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Camellias Planted!

Last Sunday I attempted to plant the new 3 gallon camellias, but my back went out on me. I was hurting real bad for several days. Yet I pushed on and took it very easy and by Thursday I was much better. I still have minor twinges but they are manageable.

Our three year old Camellia sinensis is blooming, it is a tea camellia. It has just been hanging on ever since we planted it, so seeing flowers on it was really nice. This plant has a long way to go before we can pick tea leaves off it it.

Three years ago we bought Camellia Sasanqua 'Tsumaorigasa' Our plant died this summer... But it produced seeds last year and we harvested some of them, but don't know if the seeds I planted germinated. Yesterday I found what looks to be a seedling next to the dead tree trunk, it could be a sprout, I'm not sure. Still excited to see our first natural camellia seedling in the garden. Camellias can be different than the parent plants, so we'll have to wait and see.

Camellia Sasanqua 'Moon Festival' our first bloom about 4 inches wide.
Not the best photo, it is pinker than it looks here.

Anyway yesterday I planted a 3 gallon Camellia Sasanqua 'Leslie Ann' and today I planted a 3 gallon Camellia Sasanqua 'Moon Festival' in the front side garden by the wooden fence. Meg and I cut down 3 Eastern Red Buds hanging over the garden, blocking sunlight. We also cut down a 6 inch Black Jack Oak, hated to take it down but that garden needs more sunlight.

I also managed to plant the 3 double hellebores I purchased weeks ago and 4 camellia seedlings sprouted last winter. I'm worried what I thought were camellia seedlings we dug up in Wilmington at Sharna's might not even be camellias, the leaves seem very thin when compared to the camellias I grew from seed. I have a new batch of seeds from her garden to sprout this winter too.
 I read somewhere about camellia apples, maybe NeilJean's blog. Never seen one before. Here is one from Sharna's garden in Wilmington, NC. Below is a freshly opened up seed pod. Now is the time to look for seeds on camellias. It might take 3-5 years before you know what the flowers will look like, so your garden would be full of mysteries for years... Sprouting camellia seeds, I wrap them in a wet paper towel and seal them up in a ziploc bag and wait 4- 8 weeks for them to sprout. I change the paper towel after 4 weeks.

The cold frames are all planted now, boxed but not covered yet. We'll have arugula, rainbow, carnival and nantes carrots, mesclun and gourmet lettuce, curly and lacinato kale, spinach, watermelon radish,  scarlet radish, Swiss chard and purple top turnips. We now have 2- 6 ft x 8 ft and one 6 ft x 10 ft cold frames. Two of the frames have lots of acorns falling on them, so we'll cover them before the oak leaves fall.

Meg planted a new kitchen window herb garden, with my help from the rototiller. She planted Saint John's Wort, Rue, Sorrel, Suchon and Yarrow. She brought these plants home from the Chestnut Herb Nursery at the Southeastern Women's Herbal Conference last weekend. She also planted seeds including chamomile, California poppies and echinacea. We had some Elephant garlic left over from some I bought this summer so she planted 3 cloves and some onion sets too.

I know I posted a photos of this fall crocus in a recent post, today they were open to about 5 inches wide, very cool.
Lastly this night blooming cereus had two blooms mid week during a cold and windy night. I have never seen one of these still open in the morning, but then again they usually bloom during the heat of summer. The cold air must have kept it open. We had acorns falling 40-50 at a time, it sounded like we were in a war zone! The acorns hit the roof, roll down and hit the deck and sometimes hit the metal railings.

Huge news, Meg agreed to cut Bubba down to 6-7 foot tall today. Bubba was a 14 foot tall avocado tree she planted from seed. Bubba for the past 2 years has been too big for our living room during the winter, leaning over more each year, it was nearly 90 degrees so we cut it off. Growing side ways, this year it grew several new limbs straight up and nearly 4 foot tall so we felt the new growth would take over.

The bees have been active and friendly, still bringing in pollen packets. I witnessed a small orientation flight today. I also noted lots of new bees just learning to fly clinging to the side of the hive, it was chilly so I think they are OK. Last thing this afternoon I saw a Worm Snake under the Leslie Ann camellia, doubt we'll be seeing any more smakes this year. Worm Snakes are less than a foot long and they eat slugs!