Bees, Queens, Mites and Beetles -September 2016

My bees are having a hard time these days. There are Small Hive Beetles (SHB) attacking their space.  I installed screened bottom boards onto the bottoms of the hives because they have a slide out tray the larvae drop onto from above. Weekly I collect the cappings and pollen they have destroyed which has fallen into the tray, along with the numerous white, wiggling beetle larvae. It is disgusting and I kill them by scraping  it all into plastic shopping bags and freezing them for a few days. Some I have then sieved out, so only the pollen remains. The rest I feed to the chickens. This does not bode well for my bees.

Pollen and Small Hive Beetle Larva
Pollen and Small Hive Beetle Larva


I have twice now, on September 8th and 25th, drenched the ground around the hives with Permithrin insecticide to kill any pupating SHB larvae in the soil. This is supposed to do the trick but I have not seen positive results yet. I still have a lot of larvae showing up on the slide out trap drawers. Supposedly, I should see a drop in populations at three weeks, which is later this week. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Top Feeders and Supers
Top Feeders and Supers

I installed honey supers on  the first five hives on July 20th but after a month, only the number two hive had drawn out any comb, so  I removed the supers and the syrup feeders from the  other four hives on August 22nd. I had been feeding them 1:1 syrup all this time so they would have the energy to excrete wax and draw new comb out on the foundations. The bees seemed really strong there for awhile and I was hoping I might even get some honey. But no. Plan B was that they would at least get the supers prepped with drawn comb so next year they would not have to work so hard.


To combat the Varroa Mites, which all beekeepers must assume we have these days, and which is most likely what killed my bees the last two winters, I have hung two Apivar miticide impregnated strips in each deep hive body (except #2 which had the super left on longer). I am seriously hoping that this will kill all the mites and enable me to overwinter my bees this year. The last two years I had only treated with HopGuard, which is considered organic, but it did not work well enough to kill all the mites, so I am using the harder stuff this year. This is what Ed Forney of Geezer Ridge uses and recommends, and since he manages to keep all his bees alive, I am following his advice  this year.


I am still feeding pollen patties to all 6 hives, about every week to ten days, to help the bees feed their brood. The Goldenrod  and Autumn Asters are blooming now but, according to Charles, a beekeeper who moves his bees up and down the East coast following crops, the bees around here don’t utilize these plants here so much. He tells me it is an elevational thing and that up in Pennsylvania, at higher latitudes, the bees are all over the Goldenrod. I don’t see very many on the plants here in my yard, but the wasps seem to like it.


September 18th, while going through the hives and laying the pollen patties between the two hive bodies, I discovered that hive # 3 had no brood and no larvae on their frames. So, no queen. I have no idea what happened to their queen but now I need a new one. A fellow beekeeper showed me a photo of the frames in her Russian queened hive that were absolutely brimming with brood, so I bought my new queen from the same place she had. Charles lives fairly close by and raises queens himself, which means they have not been stressed by shipping at least. I borrowed a frame of capped brood from hive #1 and installed the new Russian queen (another $36)  in hive #3 on September 20th. This is the fourth queen I have had to buy this year, even though all of my hives are new this year. I had one package arrive with a dead queen, and the others have disappeared for unknown reasons.

Queen Cage
Queen Cage

Today, I will order  some more Apivar from Mann Lake, which will cost me $10.40 each double deep hive, since I am ordering a 50 strip package this time. It was about a dollar a strip more when I was buying it in 10 strip packages. Then I can remove the super and treat hive #2 for mites. I will have to treat all six hives again next spring and fall, so I can definitely use the larger amount.

Meanwhile, I attend every workshop and monthly class I am able to and I am also planning on working with another beekeeper close to me  so I can learn as much as possible about keeping bees. So far it is an uphill battle and I admire anyone who does it for fun. I am finding it a little stressful myself, as well as expensive.

-Wendy lee Maddox, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters

The Footbridge-A fictional story of a West Virginia flood.

The Footbridge

By Wendy lee Maddox

It was hard to keep her feet from slipping on the slimy, green algae oozing across the log footbridge. Rough ridges, from when it was hewed flat with an adze on the top side, were the only grip. If it had been store bought lumber, all planed and sanded, she would have never got across it. Below, the muddy creek roiled and slid its way down stream, surging forward and breathing a pulse of water along the top edge of the banks. Chunks of red clay plopped into the water every now and then, carving off the edges and expanding the width of the creek. It had been raining for 17 days straight now. Every single day it rained. Sometimes hard, sometimes just sprinkling. All the time grey. It was like living inside a cloud, or maybe like being a salamander, breathing air through your skin pores right from the water. Water seeped through her rain jacket, straggled her hair into messy tendrils, and ran off the tip of her nose. It was a cold rain, colder than it should be in the middle of May. They almost had a frost the other night, probably would have if the sky had ever cleared off. The garden was a soggy, muddy mess and her peas had rotted in the ground. The potatoes had somehow managed to grow enough tops before the rain started, so they hadn’t turned to mush. She had not been able to get anything else planted out yet, but she had a bunch of starts in a sunny window, waiting.

As she carefully stepped her way across her footbridge, holding tightly onto the single, rusted hand rail, she thought back to the grand old swinging bridge that sat here before and the Big Flood that finally took it out. She had loved that bridge. It was so much better built. She and her brothers and papaw had made it out of old suspension cables and parts collected from the long abandoned oil well that used to sit right behind the house. That well had petered out and been capped and newer, deeper ones had since taken its place, with gasoline engines and new fangled pumping jacks that came on a skid, already put together. They still only produced just enough oil for a small check each month. Barely enough to live on. And now she even had to pay to have the wells pumped instead of the gas being free, like it always was.

She remembered when she and her brothers had helped dismantle the original drill tower, like a giant erector set, sorting all the pieces and pulling the steel guy wires down to the creek like giant snakes. The boys had harnessed Beet and Tucker, the work horses, and hauled some oak logs down from the woods to split into boards for the bridge decking. They dug extra deep holes to hold up the pair of metal posts on either side of the creek, and hauled barrows and barrows of rocks to tamp down into the holes. It was hard work and took most of one fall to finish. It was the last time she can ever remember being allowed to work alongside her brothers, or her grandpa. He had driven them hard to finish that bridge before winter set in. He believed in doing things right and they built it tall and strong so that it would hold up over time. That bridge ended up being the last thing they ever built together. It wasn’t long after that she reached that age where she was only supposed to do more ladylike sorts of chores.

As it was she had to do most of the cooking and cleaning anyway. Her mother had died with her last baby and all her sisters would soon be married off. Her father didn’t want her to even meet any boys saying,

“You need to stay home where you belong, taking care of your brothers and the house. There is no need for you to go to school just so you can get ideas about leaving here. That’s what happened to your sisters.”

She hated that she never got to go to town or to the little school right down the road anymore. The only time she got away was once a year for the county fair, surrounded by her brothers and her father at all times.

Helping to build the new bridge had been a high point of her life. It was nice to get to do something besides housework, with all the cooking and gardening it took to feed her brothers and father and Pap. Most of the bridge work was too heavy for her but she helped pick rocks out of the newly plowed soil every winter and she could help by throwing them down the holes to support the uprights. When they had finally gotten the end pipes set in position and tamped the rocks in tight, it was time to string the metal suspension cables across the creek. Her brothers took turns monkeying up the twenty foot poles to push the heavy cables through the holes drilled up near the tops. Sweat ran down their backs as they gave the final effort to get the heavy cable lifted up and in. Once the end was pulled through and reached the ground again it took two work horses to pull it out to the anchors the boys had drilled into the bedrock, well back of the bridge.

She walked with the team, encouraging them not to give up when it got difficult, keeping them at a steady pace. After the horses had stretched them as far as they could, and all four cables were bolted to their anchors, it was obvious they were still hanging too loose.

Papaw thought it over some and came up with the idea of tautening the cables by using a big wheel for better leverage. So the next chore involved moving the big, old wooden band wheel from up in the pump shack to down by the bridge cables. It was a twelve foot diameter wheel that had rocked the walking beam up and down, by way of a wide canvas belt turned by a one cylinder, natural gas engine. Papaw rigged it up with a ratchet gear so they could tighten the cables well above the water, out of reach of most floods. It took two, hundred foot cables on top and two down at floor level.

“Young’uns, I believe we could play a fiddle tune on those cables now. That’ll do her.”

They spent the next little while attaching a series of shorter wires for side braces and laying deck planks evenly across. She got to help weave the ropes through the wood ends and around the lower cables. Her brother Tom almost made her fall in more than once by jumping up and down on the cables while she was suspended out there in the middle with nothing much to hold on to.

“Just you wait till I get finished with these boards before you go riling things up, Tom. Then you can get it swinging and bucking without me on it. That is, if you want me to cook you any supper tonight.”
When the footbridge was finally done that fall it was the best built one anyone had ever seen. It spanned such a long ways across that you could get a nice rhythm going when you walked just right, timing your footsteps with the gentle rise and fall. That was her favorite part. If you got into stepping right you could have it heaving up and down pretty good after awhile and it was like dancing on a ship at sea. Her father hated it when she got it going like that, but she loved it more than anything. She couldn’t hardly cross it without getting a good surging swing going along the way. Father would tack on extra chores anytime he saw her do it but her granddad always said he built it to last and it could handle the stress.

“Leave her be, son. It’s just a bit of fun. That bridge can take it. We built her right. ”
That old bridge had held just fine for forty years. Sure, every few years they would have to replace a few of the deck boards with fresh ones, from the saw mill over the ridge, but the rest of it was almost indestructible. Being out in the weather was rough on the wood, even if it was oak. Chestnut would have lasted a lot longer, but since the Chestnut Blight came through, all the Chestnut trees had died and were long gone. Chestnut wood was hard to come by these days and too precious to waste on outside floorboards. You either saved it for furniture building or stored it away in the barn as a savings account for later. There would never again be Chestnuts growing to full size in the forest.

When the Big Flood of Fifty, the worst flood to ever hit here, came along, it rained so hard for so long that the creek grew into a raging monster. The water spread out, rising over top of both the first and second natural flood banks, across the bottomlands, covering the ground from one hill to the other, all along its length. Waves splashed wherever it ran up against trees, or sheds, or fences until the water worked away at whatever was in its’ path long enough to wear it clear away. It ripped fences and trees out and piled them up into huge dams, backing the creek up until it was as deep as a house and then would suddenly break loose and send off all the piled up debris downstream with such force that entire barns toppled into the water. Cows got stranded on little bits of high ground and then were washed away, bellowing, just their heads bobbing up every now and again, until they vanished.

The muddy water came all the way up to the top of the risen ground where our house stood and was lapping at the porch for three days before it finally stopped raining and the creek started to slowly recede. Silt and mud and trees and bits of buildings was left everywhere. Some places got leveled out and improved with rich new soil. Some spots had so many trees and trash piled up it would take years to clean up.

Our haystacks floated down stream and came to rest on the Overbridge’s farm down the road, still upright and dry. Grandpa always made sure we made good tight stacks, but even he was surprised they had floated so well. All the cross fences were gone. Those sturdy, steel pipe bridge supports caught all kinds of trash and trees floating down the creek and finally toppled over, the cables of the footbridge acting like a big seine net, scooping up all kinds of flotsam, wedging into a dam, digging and swirling out a deep pond on the upstream side. The only place to cross the creek for a long time after that was a long ways downstream.
Her family lost one old beef cow to the flood, but the Jersey milkers were safe in the upper barn. All the chickens and pigs had moved uphill into the woods for the duration and they eventually herded them back down. Their two story, wood sided, yellow farm house was placed just high enough to escape the waters.

It was a week after the rain stopped that we were finally able to take our shoes off and find a place to cross the creek and make it down the road, which had washed out in numerous places. Deep gouges showed where mud had slipped down off the hills, taking all the trees and throwing them across the road.
One mudslide came right through the back wall of the Gaskin’s house and filled their kitchen with mud, ruining everything in there. They were all asleep in their beds at the other end of the house when it happened and they were OK. Nobody had any footbridges left and the shallow crossings for the pickups and tractors all had to be re-dug.
That was all such a long time ago, even though she remembers it like yesterday. Nothing was ever the same afterwards. Some folks just up and left when they lost everything. The ones that stayed chiseled away at the clean up for years. Nobody trusted the creek to stay put anymore.

So now, with her brothers and sisters all grown and gone, and her mother and father and grandpa long dead, all she had was this pitiful single log for a footbridge and a life time of memories. She didn’t really need a big fancy bridge anymore but she missed the time they all had when they built it. She missed her brothers, Deal, who went off to war and came back so changed, and Tom, who never made it back at all. She missed her sisters, who had all moved far away and never made the trip back to visit anymore. She missed her Papaw who stood up for her when her dad wouldn’t. She missed the way the neighbors used to help each other out without expecting anything in return.
Why was she feeling so wrought up over things that had happened so far in the past? What would her papaw say if he saw her acting like this?
“Now girl. Get your britches pulled up and your boots on. Time to get a move on and live for today. There’s work to be done still. Who else is going to do it if not you? Walk yourself across that foot log and go see your neighbors. See if they need anything. Stop worrying about what isn’t even there anymore. You’ve got good health and you’re getting around alright. Go help those that need it.”
Besides, this rain, wasn’t anything like the rain had been back in 1950. People had telephones now and could call each for help when they needed it. She had neighbors that would drive her into town if she asked. Things weren’t so bad. She was just an old lady wishing for things to be different when really, things were better now. She must remember that.

Bucket Baths

When you don’t have running water or an automatic water heater you make do with what you have. You can take a perfectly good bath using only three gallons of water, even without a bath tub.

Summer  Time Baths

When I first lived without running water, back in the early 1970’s in West Virginia, I had to go down to the creek and fetch all our washing water in buckets. I learned pretty quick that it was easier to haul two at a time than just one because then I could walk without being lopsided. It is a good way to build up arm muscles. It is also a good way to learn how to conserve all the water you can, if for no other reason than saving yourself some hard work.

In the summer, taking baths in the creek was no problem. We used Dr Bronners Peppermint Soap, which is fairly benign, but we still hauled a bucket of water out onto the bank to rinse most of the soap off, so it would not go directly into the creek. Cool creek water and peppermint soap is refreshing on a hot summer day.

Even after we had a pitcher pump and a well around the back, we still had to pump it by hand and haul it inside. Plus, you always had to remember to keep enough water saved back to prime the pump.


Doing laundry and diapers by hand was the most challenging water job. That required hauling lots of water- 6 gallons for wash and 6 for the rinse. I had to heat water for the diapers and they got done separate from the main wash. Every thing else got washed cold. I had these great aluminum wash tubs out near the clothesline (with drain plugs!) and I used an old time wash board to scrub really dirty denims and such. To conserve water, I washed all the lightly soiled stuff, like sheets and shirts, first, then did the socks and saved the denims for last.

Fall Bucket Baths

In the fall, when it started getting colder outside we hauled the water in the big blue granite ware cooking pot and heated it up on the stove. That took almost 30 minutes on the gas stove or a little longer on the wood stove, unless it was cranking hot.

bath bucket
Bath Bucket on Stove

We would carry the bucket outside to the porch, and squatting on the stone step and using a small saucepan, pour a little over our heads, lather in the shampoo, and then do a partial rinse onto the ground. After that, we did a whole rinse with our head over the bucket so we could re use the water for a body wash. Standing up we’d pour some nice hot water over ourselves, soap up, pour some more to rinse off and then- for the best part- dump the whole rest of the bucket over our heads. The sudden rush of hot water felt so good at the end.  Even better than a real shower. We had to wait for dark for this kind of bucket bath because our porch was visible from the road.

Kids did not have that problem and they could entertain themselves for a good while in their little tub.

Tub for the Little Ones
Tub for the Little Ones

Winter Time Baths

When winter set in, our baths had to come inside where there was heat from the stove. Our living quarters consisted of one room that measured 16 by 24 feet and we had a lot of stuff in there. A double bed, a single bed, a crib, a couch, treadle sewing machine, wood cook stove, gas cook stove, kitchen sink cabinet, and a table. It was kind of crowded. We didn’t have a drain system for the sink, just a bucket underneath that we had to empty by hand. No bathtub. So we improvised, using a wrought iron coffee table that had a removable glass top.

Coffee Table Bath Tub
Coffee Table Bath Tub

We would start heating the blue enamel bucket on the stove, take the glass top and set it aside, and then drape a shower curtain all around the edges, held up with clothespins-the two piece wooden kind with the spring clamp. When the bucket was the right temperature we’d set it down inside the table and then climb in with it.

You had to hunker down and be careful not to splash water out the sides of it but it actually worked really well and also caught most of the cold drafts.

I remember one really cold, snowy day, some friends arrived unexpectedly while I was taking my bath in the table. The door was only about 6 feet from me and I hollered,

“Quick! Come in and shut the door. ”

They were standing there with their mouths open,

“What are you doing? Are you inside a table? Taking a bath?!”

“Sorry. Didn’t know you were coming. Give me a second to finish up here.”

They walked over to the other end of the room by the stove to warm up while I toweled off and got dressed.

“Well, now we know how you guys take a bath in this place. Wasn’t really wondering, but I have to say, I  never would have thought of climbing inside a coffee table. How do you empty the tub?”

“Watch this. It’s easy.”

I proceeded to remove the clothespins and gather up all the edges of the shower curtain, gave it a slight twist,  hung it over my shoulder and headed out the door.

Five seconds later, I hung the curtain on the wash line out on the porch and I was back inside. All cleaned up.

“Wow. That is such a good idea. Course it would be even easier if you brought your cast iron tub in and ran a drain line.”

“Right. Where would we put it?”

For the six years we lived in Ritchie County, we did our bucket baths according to the seasons, although every once in a while we would take a real shower at a friend’s house. When we first started out, we even went to the little motel in town a couple of times and paid them three dollars to use their shower.  But that was cheating.

I have since lived in other places, in Nelson County Virginia, where we had to haul water and do bucket baths. Wells and septic systems are seriously expensive to install and it took us a while to be able to afford it. Outhouses and bucket baths worked just fine. for quite a few years. When I finally managed to get electricity, running water and a water heater I felt like I was coming up in the world.

These days, I still appreciate the hot running water that magically comes out of the tap when ever I turn it on. I will never take it for granted. It is good to know however, that we can live without it if we need to.

-wendy lee, writing at Edgewise woods gardens and critters





Wild Turkeys

Stepping out onto the porch this morning I saw our resident wild turkey flock. There were four hens, a bunch of young ones and one Tom, cruising around eating in the back paddock. Last week I saw them up in the bee yard.

Two Wild Turkey Hens with Young Ones
Two Wild Turkey Hens with Young Ones

It has been awhile since we have harbored any wild turkeys and I am glad to see them hanging around. I think they might be appreciating that I mowed the back woods the other dayso they could get around easier.. It was getting all grown up in invasive weeds again.

After the turkeys entered the woods I went to the barn to let the chickens out and feed them. I tried to find the turkeys again so I could give them some grain but they were too smart to let me anywhere near them. With all the foxes around here it is a wonder there are any turkeys at all, but maybe rabbits are  easier to catch. And chickens.

Getting a word in edgewise through storytelling and pictures