Category Archives: ShepherdstownWV-1993-2017

A real house

Winter Seed Catalogs

Food Starts with a Seed

This post was inspired by a writers group daily prompt and was supposed to be about food. I suppose it is, but it starts at the very beginning of a foods’ lifetime. I am not a fancy cook. I tend to cook according to what is available to me now. Dinner will be found either out in the garden, on the canning jar shelf, down in the deep freeze, the pantry, or stored in pots in the garage. I grow a good bit of my food and it is only when I am feeling lazy that I plan a meal around a trip to the grocery store. I hate shopping.

So, to write about food, from the beginning, I started with my constantly growing pile of seed catalogs. It takes a lot of different catalogs to make good decisions about what to grow next. Some have better selections, more interesting blurbs, better photos, cheaper prices, better websites. My mind begins to wander to warm spring days and more interesting dinner choices.

Learn to Fly

It is so easy for me to get sidetracked. I planned to look for seeds to grow as sprouts and winter greens, but when I pulled the drawer out, the “Learn to Fly” magazine grabbed me first. I must have picked this up at the little Leesburg airport when I bought Jeff a flying lesson on his 50th birthday.  I sat there and read all about the necessary study materials, ground school, the cost of the instructor and airplane, the flight hours you would have to accumulate… Hmmm. The places we could fly! My dad was a pilot and I love to fly, but it is an  expensive hobby and would start us down an entirely different path.

Back to seeds and growing food. Oh, wait. A cup of tea would be nice while I sit by the fire. Better bring in some more wood…Okay, kettle is on. Fire is stoked. Feet are up.

A Scattering of Seed Catalogs

I sort my catalogs into piles. One for fruit trees, and berries, one for poultry, one for fencing and farm supplies, one for perennials and bulbs, and one for garden seeds.

With 21 laying hens, about 45 pullets that will start laying in March and 38 roosters ready to eat,  I have more than enough chickens, so those  can go back in the drawer.I am  looking for sprouts, greens and garden seeds now.

Ahh, the kettle is tick-talking over on the wood stove- time to fill the        teapot I made recently.  A slice of that apple pie I cooked up last night will taste good with some Earl Grey.

Homemade Tea Set


Seed catalogs are  great for researching the different seeds I can grow  on my fodder shelves. Currently I am growing barley and winter wheat sprouts so the chickens  can eat greens this winter. They love fresh greens and it keeps them laying.  I have 8 plastic bins in the sequence and it’s an easy morning chore to feed one out, refill it with fresh seeds, and then rinse the other 7. I started buckwheat seed in the empty bin today, left over from the patch I grew for the bees last year.

We humans need some sprouts too, so I started a small tray of leftover Kale seed to soak this morning and I will start some alfalfa (in a jar with a mesh lid) soon. We could clip the wheat for smoothies but I have not done that yet.   It only takes a few days for each bin to sprout and then they start to grow tall greens, like little bushy lawns. The roots all mat together and you peel them out of their bin like a carpet. I have the grow shelves by the sliding glass door in the basement, looking east, and have not needed to add lights.

Chicken Fodder Bins

I spent the next few hours studying the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog. They can be expensive but many of the seeds are organically grown, and they breed good varieties for flavor and disease resistance. I grow all my veggies organically although I don’t always start with organic seeds. Cost is a factor, and quite often I end up buying my seeds at the local feed store, a few at a time, even though I pour over all these catalogs in the dead of winter. The catalogs are inspiring and make me think I  might actually grow something unusual. Generally, I stay pretty tame in the end.

A actually started reading the catalog in the middle and worked backwards, but here I will put my entries in Alphabetical order.

From Johnny’s Selected Seeds Catalog ,A-G

I planted 150 Asparagus plants the spring before last and should have a good harvest this year. One bed will last for years. I have to get out there, cut the stalks down, and then put some manure on them when I clean out the barn.

I want to grow some kind of Pole Beans that are good fresh, canned and dried. Last year I grew Fordhooks  on the (baling-twine-woven) hoops of my mini greenhouse frame. No more bending over to pick bush beans for me! I think I might try a round, brown seeded (Fortex) and a flat white seeded variety (Northeaster) this year. I want to grow an old heirloom variety for dried beans too.

There is a deep red Beet called Moneta that is touted as a mono-germ (one embryo per seed) so it will not have to be thinned as much. You can eat both the greens and the root.

Arcadia Broccoli is good for fall and winter, tolerant of cold and makes a lot of side shoots too. I like to go out and just pick a few shoots for dinner salads.

Diablo Brussels Sprouts are fun to grow and I might try some this year. The little baby cabbages grow from the bottom to the top up a long stem and look  alien. The hard part for me is remembering to start them in July so they will be ready in November/ December. They are so good, roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

I may grow some Cabbage (Storage #4) this year, one that keeps well. I might go back to making my own sauerkraut too. The seed needs to be started in June and I will probably have to grow them under row covers to keep the cabbage moths out. That is why I don’t usually bother. I need to let my chickens in to the garden once I see the worms. It is hard to figure out how to do that and not have them scratch other things up. I see some kind of movable panels in my future. Winter meals of ham, cabbage and potatoes, or pork,  sauerkraut and mashed potatoes would be much tastier with home grown cabbages.

Carrots can be a pain to grow because they have to be zealously thinned and weeded, but once they get some growth on them, they are worth it. Bolero is good for storage and looks like a good solid choice. I don’t need anything fancy, or colored, just tasty and a good keeper.

I might grow some Romanesco type Cauliflower this year. Puntaverde is green and does not head to be blanched (leaves tied to cover) when heading up, but it may not be happy when it gets really hot here in August, so I might pass. We don’t use that much cauliflower.

Celeriac (Mars) might be fun to grow this year. It tastes like celery but grows like a beet, and stays tender, which is easier to deal with. I have not grown it since the 70’s.

Sweet Corn is a must and this year I hope I can grow some tomatoes early enough to eat them together. I have been starting my corn under row covers, in early April, the last few years, to avoid the major plague of Stinkbugs, which usually arrive about July 15th. They were not too bad last year though. I think they have hightailed it on south. Regardless, I will plant corn, maybe the Extra Tender and Mautauk,  both bi-colors, at least twice and will certainly have tomatoes ready for the second harvest, if not the first. I like the super sweet varieties because the sugars do not turn to starch as quickly. We can put 3 dozen ears in the fridge and it is still good a week later. The old types of corn lasted less than a day.

Right about now is when I tell myself that I should downsize the garden a bit. I have a hard time keeping up with all the weeding and thinning, and then in July it gets really hot, and we go on vacation and it totally gets away from me. Every year. Luckily, even when the weeds look bad, I still get great harvests and manage to put up a lot of food. It is not always pretty out there, but I never run out of things to do. Last year I expanded outside the garden fence, instead of downsizing. I guess we will see. Planting is the easy part.

Diva Cucumbers look like a possibility- and they are seedless and non bitter. I could grow them on the perimeter fence…

Orient Express Eggplant looks good. Long and narrow. I wonder if I could keep the flea beetles away with row covers? Hmmm.

Ah, finally got to the micro greens and sprouts section of the Johnny’s catalog.  Looking at the prices, though, I think I will have to search around some more.

Johnny’s Sprouting Seeds

I will keep using all the leftover seeds I can find and search around in my cupboards for other possibilities, like lentils, or quinoa. I can clean my cupboards out at the same time. Experiments in mass seed sprouting commencing…now.

And on that note, I am out of chicken feed and need to get to the feed store before it closes…

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






Grey Winter Days

Not My Favorite Color

Grey winter days can be challenging. I hate grey. It doesn’t matter if it is the color of a comfy pair of corduroy pants, grey depresses me. Grey skies that go on for days at a time, coupled with extreme cold that keeps me in the house, will eventually drag me down.

For this whole first week of January, not only has it been grey, but the night time temperatures have been down in the single digits, as low as -1 degree Fahrenheit yesterday. During the day it has been hovering in the teens. One day there were winds gusting to 40 MPH from a storm the weather people were calling “the Bomb” which dumped snow all along the East coast. It brought snow to Florida and Georgia, with Charleston, South Carolina getting a foot. We only got about 2 inches of the (at least pretty) white stuff, mostly we just got grey.

Out in the Barn-Chickens

It is amazing to me that my chickens do not seem too bothered by this cold. They have heated water buckets, and I spread hay for dry bedding, but still. I feel my nose hairs freeze as soon as I walk outside to do chores and I have to breathe through my fleece collar. When I open the barn door, the younger chickens are all spread out like a down filled, 84 piece, patchwork quilt.

Live Feathered Quilt

They are all talking up a storm as I wade through them and refill their feeders.  Barred Rocks, Araucanas, Buff Orpingtons and Golden Comets all scramble  over each other as I toss some yummy 5 grain scratch on the floor. Then all grows quiet as they work on scarfing it all down. The pan of sprouted wheat and barley I give the laying hens disappears faster than water drops on a hot griddle.

The chickens prefer the long pulls of water they can get from open water, but the one-gallon plastic ice cream buckets quickly freeze solid. The heated waterers have little metal nipples the chickens have to press in with their beaks and they only get a drop or two at a time. Water is better than ice at washing down breakfast though, and the clicking sound of beaks hitting nipple waterers tells me they are drinking.

A Natural Type Horse

My horse, Mara, comes and goes in the barn as she pleases. Her meals of hay and grain are served there, and she has her own heated water bucket, but she mostly prefers to be outside. Her favorite spot is out back with her butt parked up against a big multiflora rose bush.

Mara Near Her Bush

The morning sun, if there is any, can reach her there and the bush blocks the west wind. She grows a thick coat of fur every winter which does a good job keeping her warm. The only time I lock her in the barn is during  ice storms or when we are expecting rain and then a quick deep freeze. There have only been a few times when she stupidly stood outside in the rain, right before a cold wind storm, and I needed to dry her off with a towel so she would not get cold. Usually she regulates herself fairly well, moving naturally between the shade of trees and the sunny open pasture.

I have seen Facebook posts declaring it cruel to not put winter coats on horses. That is ridiculous and must be coming from people who have no actual experience tending livestock. A horse blanket, or coat, prevents a horse from growing a good natural coat of fur and can do more harm than good. Imagine what it would feel like to wear a soggy, wet coat outside in the winter. Supplying a run in shed where your horse can stay dry and out of the wind is what works.

I can see using a fresh, dry blanket to warm them if they occasionally manage to get wet just before a sudden temperature drop. In that case you need to rub them down, dry them off, and get them warmed up quickly. That is why you have to sometimes lock them in the barn until the wet stuff stops falling. I don’t think a blanket should be substituted for shelter.

My horse will occasionally stand outside and get covered in snow just to see if I care, I think. She knows I will go out and brush her off and give her extra hay in the nice, dry barn if I see her at risk of getting cold. She does not like to be locked up in the barn though, so unless it is really bad outside, I let her decide. Last year when we had 42 inches of snow all at once, I locked her up, and the snow sliding off the roof created walls on the open south side. I had already stapled plastic up on the east side, because the storm was blowing in from that direction, so the extra snow wall made it nice and snug in there. Usually our winter weather comes in from the  northwest and the barn has solid wood walls on those sides.

White Snow v. Grey Skies

The bad thing about a deep, deep, snowfall is worrying about the weight of all that snow on the roof. A wet snow can be really heavy and could collapse the barn, or the house. I keep a ladder out by the barn so I can get up on the roof and shovel it off if I have to. In the last twenty five years, I have only had to do that twice, but I slept better knowing the barn would not crush the critters overnight. So far this winter we have not had a substantial snow, but we have a ways to go yet.

Light Snow

Today, it is not only a dreary grey, they are calling for freezing rain. The temperature has gone all the way up to 26 degrees F and would probably feel almost balmy, if the sun was out. So I am inside, by the woodstove, doing inside things like cooking, writing, and drinking hot tea. It is not windy and I am starting to see a few snow flurries, which would be way better than freezing rain. Maybe we will have a fresh layer of bright, white snow and the sun will come out tomorrow highlighting a clear blue sky. Here’s hoping.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewise Woods Gardens and Critters


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