Homesteader turned Gardener, Landscaper, Horticulturalist, Arborist and Greenhouse Manager. Writer,Potter and Artist. Mom, Grandma, and other half. Rider of bikes, horses and kayaks. Hiker, Swimmer and Storyteller.
I have finally decided to give up on ever becoming a decent beekeeper. I have taken numerous classes, tried various methods, spent all kinds of money on equipment, food and new queens, and I am now officially done.
Some people find caring for bees to be relaxing. I am not one of those people. Stress is not something I handle well and the bees have done nothing but stress me out. I am tired of feeling guilty for not being a better beekeeper. I was always wondering if I was doing the right thing at the proper time. When I asked other beekeepers, I got conflicting answers. I hate feeling incompetent.
I had wanted to keep bees so I could supply myself and maybe a few friends with good healthy honey and enjoy the benefits of their pollination as well. It turned out I could not do that organically because of the mites and beetles that attack them. I tried. This year I managed to get all six hives almost through the winter, and then lost three to Nosema disease, just before Spring arrived.
I had to re-queen one of the hives in May and was still hopeful that they would be able to make me some honey. Then one of them swarmed and I had to re-queen another hive. It all seems kind of pointless when the queens can’t even seem to survive. I gave them each a deep body full of honey that the three dead hives had made, thinking that would enable them to draw new comb for a honey super. I think it worked, but three deep boxes are too high and heavy and hard work to move when I needed to check them.
The idea of having to suit up and go out there in the summer heat again was beginning to weigh on my mind. Plus I got stung a few times and each time the swelling seemed worse. Then we set up our swimming pool and the bees decided to take it over as their private water source. They could have continued getting their water at the water garden, or in the bucket I provided right next to the hives, but no. It is hard to enjoy cooling off in the pool when you are being harassed by honeybees flying at your head.
I thought about donating everything to the Wounded Warriors Project, which helps Veterans get set up with beekeeping, but the tax deduction would not be worth much. I messaged a fellow beekeeper family who has had good luck with their bees and they offered to take the whole shebang and give me a better deal. It is a super good deal for them because they were already able to split my three hives into five today, and amazingly enough, one super is full of honey. Tonight, they are coming back to pick up all the hives and take them to their new home.
It is such a relief to find people who know what they are doing to want to take these bees. Plus they will give me some honey back, which makes me happy.
Room For New Projects
It is ridiculous how much space my beekeeping equipment had been taken up in the garage. Summer feeders, winter feeders, honey supers, extra hive bodies, screened bottom boards, and hive beetle traps were all stacked up in my pottery studio area. I would rather have the space to make pots and now I do.
Goodbye bees, goodbye stress. Hello to more time for fun and maybe even some relaxing projects.
Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters
It can be hard to find time for all the springtime chores and harder yet to write about it, especially when the weather and my thoughts turn foggy and gray for days on end. I am much more productive when the sun is shining.
Wild Critters v Chickens
Our resident Mama Fox has six babies this spring, and they are more than the usual degree of hungry. She usually only takes about three chickens each spring before the babies learn how to hunt on their own, but we have lost seven hens, a duck and my rooster, who I have had for many years. He was such a good boy. The hens don’t seem to miss him but I do.
The electric fence around the chicken pasture works great as long as there is no long grass zapping it’s energy away. It also helps to remember to plug it back in after clearing the grass off the bottom. The fox was able to dig under the fence because it was not plugged in. My fault. I feel so guilty when I fail to protect my flock.
Meanwhile, I am feeding the fox kits cat food over by their den in an attempt to stave off their hunger and hopefully prevent more chicken losses. The babies roll around and tussle with each other just like puppies and are fun to watch. I just hope they learn how to eat rabbits and mice soon.
Yesterday I was finally getting around to cutting down the last dried Miscanthus grass and discovered a bird nest with five eggs in it. I had to prop the cut grass back up to protect it. The eggs were blue with brown speckles. I walked close later when I did chores and the mama was back on the nest but I did not get a good view and am not sure what kind of bird it is yet. I was glad she came back though.
I managed to divide two of my Big Blue Hostas and the other giant Miscanthus grass recently and potted them up with compost from last years barn cleaning. Two Hostas yielded 12 extra plants which I can trade.
The Veggie Garden
The week of April 15, it was still getting down in the 30’s (F) and 40’s at night, but getting up in the 70’s and 80’s during the day. Frost was still possible, so tender plants needed the protection of the hoop house .
I worked some compost into the beds and sowed tomatoes, basil, cauliflower, lettuce, and peppers for transplanting out later. After covering them with a protective layer of cloth (a recycled wedding runner) I watered them in. The hoop house is open on both ends but I attached some cloth near the bottom to keep a little wind out.
My grandson got the tiller working again (rusty magneto) so I finally planted potatoes April 17th. I usually try to plant them around St Patricks Day in March but we had snow that week. I planted 6 short rows of Yukon Golds and Norland Reds leftover from last years bumper crop where I had buckwheat last year. This plot is outside the garden fence but deer don’t like potatoes, so it should be OK. They are up as of April 26th.
A few days later,I planted two rows of pole beans along the insides, figuring on removing the plastic after frost danger, allowing the vines to climb all over the frame. The tomatoes and cauliflower are all up as of April 26th.
The ground was a still little cool for planting corn April 18th, so I covered the whole area with Remay cloth to help warm it and also to keep the crows from eating the sprouting seeds.
We are eating a little asparagus from the bed I planted last year along the fence and we are still eating the Kale that overwintered really well. The garlic that was planted last fall is also doing well.
If the blossoms on the blueberries and strawberries all turn into fruit we will have a great crop. Last year frost damaged the blooms and we did not get as much as usual. I actually had to buy 🙁 some frozen strawberries this winter for Jeff’s morning protein shakes.
New Dog Fence
After finally cleaning out the front barn, I set up a new solar powered, electric, woven fence for visiting dogs to play in. I ordered the 160 feet of poultry netting, the 10 watt solar panel, a 12 volt, 18 amp hour battery and the Hotshock charger ( uses either 110V or 12 volts) from Premier 1Supplies. I recommend this company. They answer all kinds of questions via chat so you can figure out your best plan, such as, how big of a solar panel and what kind of battery are needed for your job.
I am using a ladder as the people access until I make a real gate. I take care of other peoples critters and bringing the dogs home with me can make it easier to give them outside time. They are safely away from the chickens and have shady trees, grass, sun and barn space.
Spring is one of my favorite times of the year but there is so much to do before the hot weather sets in. In the meantime, it is gorgeous just walking around the yard and enjoying the flowers.
On the long rainy days, I must remember the lush green growth and flowers that will emerge because of the dreary days.
Compton Rocks is a cool geologic feature and a short hike off the Skyline Drive, near Front Royal Virginia. It is one of many short and sweet hikes in the Shenandoah National Park that you can do on a whim if you don’t have a lot of time.
Long ago volcanic activity squeezed basalt up through cracks in the earth to form these long, six sided shapes.
The rocks look like giant, extruded honeycombs, baked hard. The fairly level trail comes at the rock outcropping from the top side and you follow a small path down and around to get a good view.
One way back up is to climb through the rubble slot canyon but there are easier routes.
For a good view, follow the trail back the other direction to Compton Peak and stop at the roadside pull offs to gaze over the Shenandoah Valley below. While you are out that way you could go check out Skyline Caverns back down at the base of the mountain. Both are fun places to take kids.
It is February 20th, 2017 and we are not having winter. Out in the mountains of Pendleton County, West Virginia, the temperature is in the upper 60’s (F) in the valley and the 50’s where we are on Pike Knob. To get here you drive out Route 33 West from Franklin to a left on county road 18. A left branch of the road used to go through to Smiths Creek but has reverted back to being a privately maintained farm lane, even though the map we have says otherwise. The main road bears right , headed over the mountain, and was the main road between Franklin and Circleville years ago, before Route 33 was built. The road starts out narrow and graveled, until you pass the last farm gate and then it gets much rougher as it continues uphill. You will see trees posted with Nature Conservancy signs your right.
I get so peaceful when traveling on gravel roads in the West Virginia Mountains. The hillside farms with their cows, sheep, and woven wire fences feel like home to me. Farm gates beckon me and I can imagine living there, tucked away from the world. We notice numerous springs and drive through a small stream as we wind upward towards an old fire tower site on Pike Knob.
About two thirds of the way up the hill, big rocks jutting out of the road bed, caused us to park the car and walk the rest of the way up. A lone Subaru made the same decision not far below us.
As we climb, we see dark, rainy looking clouds starting to get hung up on the ridge and hope we can manage to stay dry on our hike to the 4300 foot summit. We didn’t bring our rain gear or packs on this short hike, just water bottles and cameras.
When we reach the low saddle, hanging between two knobs on the ridge, there is an intersection, where the old road bed drops down on the west side, a ridge path heads south and our trail winds to the North. The wind picks up and we can see the valley on the western side of the hill through the naked tree branches.
Sunlight moves across the valley in small patches, illuminating a barn and fields in the distance. We continue veering to the right along the ridge, noting some recent tire tracks probably from whoever recently sawed the downed trees along the way.
We come to more yellow signage from the Nature Conservancy, asking vehicles to keep out, but allowing deer hunting and hiking, as we walk along a ever narrowing path through Mountain Laurels and pines.
The trail in has not been very steep, and the temperature is warm when we are not exposed to the wind. Our jackets keep coming off and then going back on again.
Just as we reach the highest point, we see a wooden fence and a guy sitting on the ground against it. We say howdy and he tells us he has not been up here in 30 years, when he dropped off supplies for a friend who was doing a long distance ridge hike. The fire tower is gone, with only the concrete foundation posts and the 1956 USGS survey marker left and Pines have grown up in that spot so there is no longer a view. There are a bunch of cool lichens growing on the trees though.
He tells us about the great views a little further on, out on the grassy knoll we had caught a glimpse of back in the saddle. We had no idea we would be able to get out there and are excited to go.
We say goodbye and slide through the people stile in the fence, heading towards the open field, called Nelson Sods. There are no trail markers but you can follow an old roadbed depression out to the meadow if you drop down to the right a bit.
The View From Nelson Sods at Pikes Knob
The view is amazing and the clouds are scudding on by. We can see the backside of Nelson Rocks , one of the many fins of Quartzite and Tuscarora Sandstone that are seen standing edgewise on local ridges. Further in the distance, and obscured by the clouds today, is the highest point in West Virginia, Spruce Knob. Quite often, rains do not make it over that ridge to this, the North Mountain Ridge, so it tends to be much drier.
We enjoy the 360 degree views for awhile before heading back. Along the way we remember the wall of rock that was almost visible through the woods on our way up. There does not seem to be a trail that goes there so we head out cross country through the laurels and pines. It would have been easier if we were about the size of a fox. There were a few greenbriars and a lot of blueberry bushes along the way, but we finally emerged atop some gorgeous rocks with views to the southeast.
More cross country, downhill over rocks, towards the old road, and we emerged near our car. On the way down we met another vehicle turning at the farm gate and we stopped to say howdy. It was a man showing a friend the back way into his farm. He was friendly and agreed that he was lucky to live here.
The weather on the east side had cleared up and the skies were getting seriously blue as we came down the mountain.
Then we saw a Cd disk flashing in the sun a little ways up the hollow where we crossed the little stream. I had to investigate, and since it was still Nature Conservancy land, we were allowed to hike here.
There was something of a path leading to a humongous rock outcropping and it was starting to look a little cavey.
I found a shallow cave that pinched out pretty quick but it had a large entrance and a cool window.
We hiked further up the draw against the base of the rocks, checking out all the little springs and looking up at the overhanging ledges. It is so much fun to explore a place we have never seen before. I was surprised to find a little group of invasive ladybugs under a rock.
We could hear water gurgling underground that did not emerge until way down slope. At one point we found a dried up fish, tied by a string from a low branch. Bear bait? Then I found a just plain pretty rock.
Next, we found a peacock feather tied with orange baling twine. Very strange. It was warmer here and hard to believe it was February as we scrambled over rocks and once again got in the car to leave.
Coming back down the mountain we appreciated the late day sunlight hitting this cabin.
Then we felt a little sadness for the abandoned homestead in the valley. Considering it was February though, we never would have expected such a pleasant day wandering around, exploring whatever came our way. It is so nice to be able to appreciate the peace and beauty of the West Virginia mountains.