Category Archives: ShepherdstownWV-1993-2017

A real house

Building a Flagstone Patio

A gardening client asked me to build her a flagstone patio this July to help prevent her three Cairn Terriers and a Chihuahua from carrying mud into the house. Sixteen little paws were doing a number on their lawn and the grass refused to survive.

I had just finished laying a flagstone walkway for another woman and seemed to be on a rock and roll. I taught my grandson how to lay stone  on the last job and this time I was going to teach the handyman.

The first step was to lay out and measure the site so we could order materials. We needed one pallet of flagstone to cover 220 square feet, 3 tons of fine drainage gravel 4 inches deep, a 40 foot x 6 foot roll of heavy weed barrier cloth, 10 forty# bags of pea gravel to fill the joints, and one gallon of Gravel Lok to seal the gravel in place.

I suggested using the polymer to seal the joints so no loose pebbles would hurt bare feet or paws and no weeds will grow in the cracks.

Gravel Lok Joint Details

We went looking for the right pallet of rock at landscape nurseries and a brick and rock layers yard. I would have preferred 1 1/2 – 2 inch thick slabs but we ended up with 1+ inch pieces. The thicker pieces are stronger and handle weight better with less potential for cracking. With a good base they should be fine, especially since there  be no equipment driving over them.

Leveling the site using flat shovels and then tapering the grade away from the house was time consuming. We started with a level taped to a 2×4 and progressed to a line level on crisscrossing strings. This step is important to keep rainwater from flooding the basement.

Once we were satisfied with the grade we shoveled in 3 inches of the fine gravel. This provides drainage as well as a solid base for the flat rocks. We rented a gasoline powered tamper to settle it all in and prevent air pockets. The layer of landscape fabric was laid on top and held down with the last inch of gravel. A thunderstorm rolled in and the whole area got covered with 6 ml plastic, held down with rocks along the edges.

The slabs of rock had to be laid on edge in the yard so the size and shape of each one was visible. Look at the space, look at the rocks, look at the space, measure, pick the most suitable. One edge was straight, up against a raised concrete pad, so the straightest pieces went there. There were a good many big pieces with a nice curved edge and they went for the outside edges. Then we filled the middle, chipping off some difficult angles as needed. It is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, except it takes two people to move each rock.

We leveled each rock (slightly down hill), dropping them on their cushion of fine gravel, picking them up to check for air pockets, resetting them…Adjusted each to lay flush with it’s neighbor, reset it…Stomped on them and tried to rock them. Reset them…It is tedious work down on your knees but satisfying when you finally get it right.

Once all the rocks were laid in, I vacuumed out the loose gravel between the stones so that the pea gravel would fill the entire gap between each one. Then I washed the pea gravel a bag at a time by swishing it around with water in the wheelbarrow and scooping it up with a plastic sieve and spreading it out on landscape fabric to drain and dry. It was hot in the afternoons so it dried fast.

Draining the Pea Gravel

The next step was to mix in the liquid GravelLok with the pea gravel in a plastic mortar pan and start troweling it in the joints. After the first batch I decided to lay painters tape on all the edges to keep the polymer from dripping on the rocks and then having to quickly wipe it off with Acetone. It was much cleaner and faster with the tape.

Painters Tape on Rock Edges

The gravel mixture was pressed in to each joint and it solidified quickly. You can sweep or blow off the patio and hose it off without worrying about dislodging the joint material, which is quite nice.

Finished Patio

I think the project turned out well and the dogs love it too.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters




Nosema and Varroa Mites Killed My Bees


I mailed a small plastic container of dead bees to the ARS (USDA Agricultural Research Service) Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland on January 14 and have been waiting for the results. Our new president slowed things down by telling the ARS they could not communicate directly with the public. That made me so mad that I took part in a demonstration for the first time in my life. Thankfully, some of that nonsense has now been lifted and I received the PCR results in my e mail today.

It turns out my bees were infected with Nosema, which is a fungal disease, to the tune of 61.5 million spores per bee. They also had 5.3 Varroa destructor mites per one hundred bees. Together, they had no chance.

What I don’t know, is why the Apivar Miticide strips I applied on August 22 did not kill the mites. Hive number 2 did not get treated until Sept 29, and I removed the strips in that hive after only 37 days, instead of the 50 they should have remained, but the other 5 hives all had the strips for 53 days. It should have worked.

I have no idea why they got Nosema but there does not seem to be a good treatment for that. I am not sure what I will have to do to disinfect the two dead-out hives stacked on my porch. They are full of honey, which might possibly harbor Nosema.  I was hoping to use them to start new hives with in the spring but do not want to infect the next batch. I can do a heat treatment but am wondering how to prevent melting all the honey and wax together. I have a small greenhouse that may be able to get up to the required 120 degrees F for 24 hours but I will have to monitor it closely as beeswax melts at 144 degrees.

A 50/50 bleach water solution can disinfect empty combs and wooden ware. Maybe I will have to remove the honey from the frames so I can reuse them the combs.

Guess I will be experimenting yet again.

Who needs a science based job when my whole life seems to be an experiment?


Please, let the other four hives be healthy. I am doing all I can.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewise Woods, Gardens and Critters


3 Flying Ducks

The 3 Ducks Learn to Fly

Our three Mallard ducklings learned to fly over their fence this summer. They practiced short hops every morning for a few weeks, managing to get a few feet off the ground each time. Luckily the chickens did not take notes. When the ducks first managed to fly  over the top of the four foot electric fence, they circled the back pasture twice, soaring higher each pass. Then they were gone. I was worried  I might never see them again, but the drake and his favorite hen came flying back a couple hours later. As the sun started to set, I was feeling bad about the other hen being left out there all alone somewhere. It seemed like the pair had deliberately tried to lose the other hen. We were sitting out on the porch when we noticed her walking up the driveway. I went out to greet her and she flew back into the pen on her own. Lots of quacking ensued from all three of them as they reunited in the barn.

Since then, all three ducks have stayed close to home. They loved to splash around in the 20 gallon horse trough we keep inside the fence, but then they discovered the much larger water garden. Now they can’t wait to be let out in the morning for their morning bath. They waddle out through the chicken door and fly  just high enough to clear the fence, skidding into a smooth water landing.

Muddy Waters and Hard Landings

I was initially afraid they would muddy up the water garden too much but the dirty water isn’t so bad. I love watching the ducks play around in the waterfall and bobbing upside down with their butts in the air. The poor frogs have learned to scurry for cover and dive deep to hide from their probing bills. We probably had too many frogs in there anyway.

You should have seen the first time the ducks came in for a landing when the pond was frozen solid. The poor things landed kind of hard and slid clear to the end, their wings spread and feet scrambling. They had a whole lot to say about that. They kept quacking and circling the pond trying to figure out what had happened. Now, when it’s cold, they land on the lawn and walk over to check it first. They are so disappointed when they can’t have their morning swim.

Ducks In, Foxes Out

The three ducks wander around the property snuffling through the grass, talking to each other the whole time. They make a lot more noise than the chickens. I like the squeaks and mews and quacks I hear as they circle the house. In the late afternoon, they fly back into the fenced in area and put themselves to bed, tucked in next to each other on the floor of the chicken house. Every now and then I will need to herd them in, especially if I want to do chores early. They are good about waddling along in front of me as I walk them to their door.

So far, the foxes have not taken advantage of them wandering around loose.  Hopefully the ducks will take off fast enough to escape if one gets near them while they are out. The electric poultry fence has been doing a great job of keeping everybody behind it safe so far. I know the foxes are still coming around at night. The wildlife camera caught one getting zapped on the nose  when he touched the fence. That was gratifying.

Ducks Lay Eggs Too

I wasn’t really figuring on the ducks producing daily eggs like chickens, but up until last week I was getting one or two every day. The ducks lay their eggs  in a hay covered nest on the floor of the chicken house. I have to search for their new hiding place every few days and am surprised by the number of eggs they lay.  Their shells are harder than the chicken eggs and the whites clearer. My customers love when I include one or two duck eggs in a carton, especially since I have not been charging extra. In the store I have seen them for $6 a dozen, but they don’t cost me more to feed since they free range so much.

Now that I have the chickens and ducks trained to drink from the nipple waterers, the shared pen stays much cleaner. Ducks like to slurp and splash water everywhere. I think the chickens appreciate the cleaner drinking water too.

_Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters

January 19, 2017

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