Friday, March 30, 2012

Doggy Ramp

Everyone, Both our dogs are getting very old. Dot is 16 Daisy is 17. Daisy only wants to go out the front door, someone needs to let here out. Guess what she does not ask to be let out either, so she puddles or otherwise. Yes we have a pet door but Daisy does not like walking down 6-7 steps to get to the back yard. So the again she leaves messes by the front door and does not use the pet door. She is a very shy dog.

So I gathered up some scraps today and Meg and I built a doggy ramp today. So now both dogs are scared to death of it. I added some strips of wood to make it less slippy for them. Blocking to steps confuses them. Oh did I mention Dot is mostly blind!! Dot is the leader of the dogs, so until she goes freely Daisy won't.

 Surely we'll get them to use it. Any suggestions to get them to use it; We tried blocking the stairway and that confused them.

Our cat Valentine the mouser is in huge trouble. First Meg found a big mouse in the living room by the house plants. This mouse is very brave running around in day light. She likely brought it in the house to start with. So she's outside we bring her inside, nothing. I might add she is the best mouser we have ever had, her pancreas does not work well leaving her hungry all the time, good for mousing, bad for us the pills cost a buck a day.

So later today Meg brings me an large male Eastern Fence Lizard she found Valentine had in the house. Released him outside no harm done.... This evening I'm showered an ready for movie time, I have to chase down mouse traps, Handy Andy up the road did not have any. I hope Valentine wakes us to tell us she has caught a mouse tonight.

Are the flowers blooming early here? Yes the Dwarf Crested Iris bloomed last year on April 20th, here they are today.
Last year was our best year for these natives in our garden estimated 600-700 blooms. This year looks like maybe 200, if they get too shaded they will not bloom at all. A full three weeks earlier than last year. When they bloomed last year we still had lots of daffodils blooming, one type of daffodil is still blooming right now, the rest are done.
 These woodland phlox are in the side garden between the house and the pond. They look better than ever this year. These are I think two years old. The ones in the shadier hellebore garden barely bloom every year, for the past 4 years. Location, location and location..

Our summer phlox we weeded it today, the tallest summer phlox in enormous, 2 foot around and it reaches 5-6 foot tall. Watching the butterflies on them can be breath taking at times.
 Here is the fattest carrot we have ever taken out of our garden. We have been picking enough carrots fresh for salad about every day. Nothing like fresh carrots from the garden. Tonight we had salad with fresh lettuce, spinach, bok choy, carrots and radishes all from the garden. And we had cooked collard greens from the garden as well.

The garden is abundant with butterflies right now, lots of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, Pipevine Swallowtail, the first Spicebush Swallowtail today, a Cloudless Sulphur was visiting the columbines today. A Northern Water Snake was seen hunting along the ponds edges, second one ever seen here ever.

The bees, oh my. The nuk hopefully has a queen by this weekend, today was day 15, it takes 16 days to raise a queen . Bees choose eggs that could be as old as 3 days, so she could have emerged already. We wait another week and a half and hopefully she will have mated and is laying eggs. The past two days the bees in the nuk have been bringing in pollen. Bees usually bring in pollen to feed larva, by now all the larva should be capped. So the bees are at least hopeful of new brood. The mother hive I feed them yesterday, I lifted it and it seemed very light. Lifting a hive tells you how much honey stores there is, too light and the bees could starve.

We are still weeks away from the Tulip Poplar, out number one nectar source of the year. I think most of the maples are done, so the bees should be getting dandelion right now and what is left of the Eastern Red Bud. Blackberry blooms are very close maybe a week away, so honey should begin to store up.

Two last bits of bee news.

 First I hopefully have a cut out to do in a barn. This would be a feral hive residing in a barn, I'll take the bees and comb and put them in a hive here.

Second new bees are arriving on April 14th, Meg and I have a very cool new hive we are working on. This hive is a modified Kenya Top Bar Hive. I customized it with a screened board board that one can insert a sticky board for mite testing. It also will have a window so we can see inside, unlike any window you have seen on a hive. Best part Meg has beautifully painted it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

That green stuff and book cover!

Clouds of oak pollen the past 2-3 days here. This morning a long steady rain is helping wash it away. The Purple Rain pansies here yesterday were blooming almost green with pollen. Driving from Durham to Hillsborough(10 miles at most) I counted 6 clouds of pollen along the way. Usually Loblolly Pines are the trees creating pollen clouds here, these areas had little in the way of pines, had to be oaks.

Yesterday at 9am my bees were pollen drunk on their porch not even thinking of flying off to get pollen. Exciting news about the nuk (small bee hive) we started 8 days ago. On Wednesday small groups of bees were outside the nuk, by Friday there was an orientation flight of 40-50 bees, I was so excited!

Meg pulled all the house plants outside yesterday, the house seems so empty now. The plants some got sunburned yesterday, today they are getting soaked.

Oh even more exciting news I am pleased to announce that a photo of my is going to be on a book cover, my second book cover. Here it is a female Diana Fritillary, I took this photo 12 years ago! These butterflies are kind of rare and females are very hard to find. The prime spot this photo was taken the next year VADOT had a bulldozer remove all the Common Milkweed along this rarely used forest road. To my knowledge this site is still a goner.

Below are some photos I took in the rain using an umbrella this morning.
One of the woodland beds we added a rock border to weeks ago, notice the new blue pots in place. Mostly large hellebore plants, hanging over the rocks is that picotee dougle hellebore. You can see a few native May Apple growing next to the rocks as well, they were not planted there.
A close up of our Edgeworthia, beautiful isn't it?
  Remember those peas I planted on January 26th, now nearly 2 foot tall, likely be 3 foot in a few days with this cool rain soaking them. The temps have been in the 80s most of last week, too hot for peas, this is why we plant them very early...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Installing bees in a Top Bar Hive

Yesterday a small group of friends got together to install Kittie and Chucks bees in their new Top Bar hives! I'd only seen one of these hives before and it was a rough build. These hives were very professionally made, they even have a window you can see inside.

Kittie and Chuck also have a gardening and bee blog, be sure to check them out!
I should have taken a video, instead I took 19 still frames that I turned into a short movie. This is Chuck shaking 3 pounds (15,000) of bees into the top bar hive.
 Here are the 2 brand new Top Bar hives ready for a package of bees each. A package is 3 pound of bees and a queen.

 This is a queen cage, the queen comes with attendant bees to feed her. The white stuff on one end is bee candy, the bees take about 3 days to eat through the candy and free the queen. This way the other bees get used to the queen and accept her.
 Kitty installing her bees! These are their first bees...
 The bee box in front with straggler bees, they will hopefully all climb in with the queen before dark.
 Here they are attaching the queen box to a top bar. Top bar hives the bees build comb on the top bar instead of a frame with foundation.
 Proud new beekeepers!
 Here is that window to see the bees. It should remain closed most of the time as the bees like it dark. Pretty cool huh?

OK, guess what I have started a simple Kenyan Top Bar hive. Thus far I have made a 1 x 12 pine into a 1 x  14 using biscuits(wood wafers inserted into each piece of wood) and wood glue.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New Hellebores & Primroses

I missed March bloom day, enjoy these flowers from our garden.

 I found this native anemone "Windflower" growing wild in the hellebore and camellia garden yesterday. There are lots of these growing wild in the garden.
 My first baby hellebore bloom. Not sure where where it was collected, planted in the spring of 2010. I think it is a real beauty! There are 25 or so other hellebore babies not bloomed yet in the garden from 2010.
 This dark red hellebore, it's first bloom in the garden. Was supposed to be a double, with only one bloom it still might be a double.
 Picked this double white hellebore up last spring at Pine Knot Farm, it was one of those un bloomed mysteries like the dark red above as well.
 Primroses planted in the garden a few years ago. Guess they might stay a while, had to over summer primroses here.
 Both these primroses were from cross breeding from Camellia Forest.

 This primrose is a real winner, wow!! Those are 2 inch blooms very large for a primrose.
These R. L. Wheeler Camellia japonica blooms fell off in a gentle rain last night. Just had to bring them in the enjoy inside the house.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Swarm Traps and Nuk

I thought some of you might enjoy seeing the new nuk beehive and the swarm traps I made.
 Here is the new nuk entirely made by myself mostly from scrap lumber. I did buy a 1 x 12 to make the deep body. The roof top is left over aluminum flashing. The bees are getting adjusted as I only saw a few of them coming and going today. The glass jar is a boardman sugar water feeder.
 Here is my home made swarm trap. I found 10 pcs of 3/8" plywood 10" x 36" in the clean wood pile at the landfill, enough to make 4 bodies as shown here. The bottoms and tops were from left overs in my wood shed. To hang it seevthat board sticking up in the back is the mounting strip, one can screw it to a tree. The house stain was left over from a house we painted a few years ago. So the only things I had to buy was the frames, foundation, wood glue and staples.
 Here is the inside of the swarm trap. I drilled 4 small holes in the bottom in case it gets wet inside. It is hard to see the cleats made from 2 x 4 cut offs hold up the frames and foundation.
Here is one of my swarm traps attached to a tree 12 foot up in the air. Both traps had 4-6 bee scouts  investigating them today! Been told these swarm lures can be detected by bees up to 1'4 mile away.

I checked the two beehives in the near by meadow today, one going strong the other not so strong.

Just heard my first bullfrog of the year a minute ago! Also found my first dragonflies and damselflies today. Had a Blue Corporal flying over the pond, a Common Green Darner hovering over the garden path and a mystery dragon fly being chased by a duskywing butterfly.

 Oh yeah then there was the Rat Snake, yes a Rat Snake. I was in the basement with the door open working on a stained glass project. I moved to the glass grinder and on the floor was a 2 ft Rat Snake was crawling by, I tried to grab it and it took off. So somewhere in our little basement is a snake hunting some of the mice in there. Hope to spend at least an hour in there tomorrow working on my project maybe it'll slip outside like a good snake.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Oh my what a crazy day...

The past two nights and tonight included we have had several windows open and turned off the heat. We hear the American Toads calling most of the night, it is my favorite time of year, the frog and toad concerts. Also been hearing Pickerel Frogs calling once in a while, I had a photo of one in my last posting. Eastern Painted Turtles are now lining the edge of the pond, have been for weeks.

OK, now for today's excitement. It was a hot day reached 85 degrees here and was sunny until we were ready to split a nuk from the beehive at 6pm. Around 5:30 the clouds gathered and spilled a few drops and finished by 6pm. For those of you that do not know what a nuk is I'll explain. A nuk is a small beehive about half a normal hive, this one is 5 frames wide, my main hive is 10 frames wide. The reason for the nuk is three fold, one it creates another hive and breaks the varroa mite cycle, two it frees up the main hive to prevent swarming and three the main hive still is very full of bees and hopefully will have extra honey by May or so.

This nuk is queenless, we found my queen and left her in the main hive. So now the nuk has 2 frames of honey, one frame of pollen and 2 frames of larva and we hope eggs. The light was fading and the frames we used should have had eggs but we could not see them. So now it is up to the bees to rear some eggs into new queens and in 16 days she'll emerge and about 10 days later she'll fly out and find a group of drones and mate with them and start laying. So then after 3 1/2 weeks I look for eggs. In the mean time the mites have no new larva in which to lay eggs on, hopefully breaking their cycle a bit.

The main hive had likely 50% more brood than I have ever seen in it, looking pretty good. We did see four bees with deformed wing virus, a result of the varroa mites. Four is a small percentage of 10s of thousands of bees. A few beetles were seen maybe 6-8 not too bad, none would be better but what can you do. Pollen stores were very impressive, my girls have been working real hard.

Last item about bees. I picked up some scrap plywood at the clean wood pile at the landfill last week. Then made 3 swarm boxes out of the plywood. Purchased some bee lures and in case any local bees swarm they might just more into my swarm boxes. I'll show you some photos soon, been to busy to think about the camera.

Sorry I was not able to do bloom day this time. We have a fair number of daffodils blooming in the garden and two new double hellebores, that I purchased unbloomed last year from Pine Knot. One is pure white with lots of pointed petals, the other is a deep red, stunning color yet a semi double. The bleeding hearts just popped out of the ground in the past day, I was a bout to give up on it. Primroses 4 new ones from last year have survived and are blooming, my decade old primrose has no blooms yet. Peonies are a foot tall already! We moved about 8 Trout Lilies and a Christmas Fern from our wooded slope into the hellebore garden on Sunday.

Here is my new favorite daffodil 'Delibe' they are blooming in several spots in the garden. The center of the cup is yellow, so beautiful.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Swarm Cells

Just what no beekeeper wants to find in his beehives swarm cells. There were 5-6 of these on the bottom of the second box in my hive on Sunday.  I was giving my girls a powdered sugar treatment of varroa mites. I had to share with you this photos of  these 5 girls working on this swarm cell. Hoping they will stay put until Thursday, when we are doing a small split, by setting up a 5 frame nuk with a few frames of bees. The reason I'm doing a nuk is I want the rest of these bees to make lots of honey this spring. If they swarm half the bees will leave, then no honey this year.

I found this Pickerel Frog along the driveway on Sunday, it posed nicely and was in no hurry. When they call in the pond it sounds like squeaky leather on a saddle.
Meg pointed out to me, the dog swimming pool now has 2 kinds of eggs in it. The larger ones I'm certain are Spotted Salamander, the other are likely Upland Chorus Frogs. We have been hearing them a lot in the swimming pool.

Meg's school got a lot of small shrubs from the Agricultural Building next door. The whips have been in bags at the back door. Sunday she planted 29 - 3 gallon pots with  Swamp Dogwood, Elderberry, Crab apple and mulberry. We have no space here for any of these, I have no idea what she is going to do with them. Living in the woods on a slope, non of these would thrive here, too much shade and very dry. Any of these plants interest you, PLEASE come take some.

Sunday we planted the new hellebores and other plants. Also uncovered all the cold frames, weeded them and planted seeds, mustard, Simpson Lettuce, Bok Choy. The peas are 8-9 inches tall now, somebody nibbled one end of one trellis. The compost I bought at the landfill is already half gone.

Friday, March 09, 2012

March Garden & Stained Glass

Got a surprise yesterday morning. I was treating the bees with powered sugar for varrora mites and all the sudden the female Mallard duck landed in the pond in a big huff. She was having a small fit, but I could not watch because I was in the beehive. A little recent history on the Mallards. They have been dropping in on the pond for about 2 months. About 2 weeks ago the male would be seen most every day first thing in the morning. The female I assumed she had been killed or something. Meg thought perhaps she was nesting. Yesterdays appearance of her has us believing they are nesting, likely under the blackberry thicket at the ponds edge.

 'Painted Doubles' Winter Jewels Helleborus hybrid from Terra Nova

Here is one of those $8 locally purchased double hellebores I bought last fall. The first bloom was a bust, this one is wow..... I showed this to a friend who has a stunning hellebore garden and apologized for not getting her some of these at a steal for $8, her only double cost $25 years ago. I took some photos of her garden today, I hope to show them to you one of these days.
 Helleborus X 'Gold Finch'

The above photo was taken and posted a few weeks ago. I realized that this was not a hellebore baby I brought home. Instead it was purchased at Pine Knot Farms in 2010,  our first  bloom in the garden, I thought this plant had died off. Notice how yellow it is, the back side shows it even more. When I bought it, expected it to have small yellow blooms, not huge 4 inch blooms, needless to say I'm delighted.

On Sunday we are removing the cold frame covers, getting too warm so it is time. Below is a harvest from today. The English Breakfast radishes  and salad greens were planted in late January, this is our first harvest from them.  The carrots were planted in the fall, so yummy.  The spinach is also from last fall, yet the new spinach is just as big, but has not been harvested yet.

I'm hoping to take the trailer tomorrow and get rid of some construction debris and bring back a yard of compost for the garden. Just maybe I'll get the new hellebores and other plants planted on Sunday.

 OK, here it is our first stained glass projects! The upper one is Meg's, I was very impressed with her soldering on this. My project is below, not finished my soldering yet, the blue glass is cobalt blue, this photo does not show it very well. I have a lot to learn about shooting stained glass photos.
 My next stained glass project going to be a little harder, it has 155 pieces, it'll be pink ladies slippers and will be around 16" x 22". I bought some beautiful glass for the flowers and leaves, not yet decided on the background glass yet.

Speaking of bigger projects. Today I met with my designer/architect buddy and his client. Looks like I'll be starting on this pretty soon. The main posts are 8 x 8s, the post next to the oak tree, the roots have lifted the deck about 2-3 inches. We are going to tear this down and replace it , currently it is 12' x 28'. The new deck will be the same size with a roof built into it and another 12' x 28' deck under it, with a U shaped stairway down to the lower deck. We are looking into custom iron railing.  The underside of the deck will have a white ceiling and two ceiling fans.

Will you look at that grade, I'll be one tired puppy with bringing down all the material for this down that hillside. The 8 x 8s are going to be re purposed as steps in the landscape.

One last item. My neighbor down the hill from me informed me today that a local bee keeper has agreed to bring over 10 beehives to his place. He'll get to learn about the bees and get some honey in return. From the bee club meeting the other night we were told that our area could support around 15 hives + - to a yard. So all within 300 yards of each other, he'll have 10 hives, I'll soon have 2 hives and neighbor unknown last checked had 2 live hives and one dead hive. So this should make close to as many hives as the landscape will support. I am excited about him getting all those hives and working together with learning about bees.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Bee Gathering pollen inside a camellia

Here is one of my girls gathering pollen inside 'R. L. Wheeler' Camellia japonica. Still learning to keep it in focus. You can see the bee placing the pollen inside her pollen basket!

 If you did not know you can click on YouTube 
on the bottom right and see this video full screen.

My second try on another honey bee, this time with the camellia flower in the sun. Listen to the sound you can hear the neighbors rooster calling and the Spring Peepers calling from our pond. Also note how peaceful it is here.

I want to tell you about the three large blue clay pots I bought at Ollie's on Guess Rd for a total of $50. The big one was $19, the middle one $13 and the one on the chair was $9. For those of you that live near by Durham, NC. If you want huge clay pots for your garden they have a lot of them. These are made in Vietnam, I seen much better pots for a lot more money, but at these prices a steal.

 The purple chairs are kitchen chairs made of maple, I picked them up at the free shed a while back, there was 5 of them, others got the rest before I could get them. Want to find a place for these in the garden, still searching for that place. I am very tempted to cut holes in the seats of these chairs and drop pots in them.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Peas update March 01

As many of you might recall I planted Super Sugar Snap Peas on January 26. Growing peas  we need to get an extra early start on them because it gets very hot by May here in North Carolina. I'm pretty happy with them thus far, Meg has barely seen them as she has long work days as a teacher.

Here is what one of the rows look like.
You just can not plant peas too thick. We had a few diggers that eat a few sprouts, but mostly we are going to have lots of peas!!
Bloomsdale Longlasting Spinach planted January 24, 2011
Almost ready to eat, we are still picking spinach planted last fall.

Crimson Candles camellia opened yesterday, it's third year here. The leaves have tiny brown spots and the blooms here are less than previous years, hoping fertilizer will help. Any tips appreciated?

Silver Moon hellebore with honey bee visiting before 8AM on March 01.

It was 80 degrees again today, much warmer than usual for this time of year. I also saw my first spring butterfly a Spring Azure.  Baby Eastern Painted Turtles lined the edges of the pond, the adults were out on logs sunning themselves. Tonight our first frog concert as the Spring Peepers are at level 4 on a scale of 10.