Friday, December 6, 2013

Arctic Blast

The sun hangs frozen in the sky and I shiver, even while standing next to the fire.

A trek outdoors is no longer something to look forward to. I hunker down, steeling myself against the weather forecast, as if I were a sailor facing a gale.

Yes, single-digit lows are common to Kansas winters, but not in December. That's January weather. But Kansas weather doesn't look at the list of norms and does what it does when it damn well pleases. So I look at the weather forecast and sigh.

Later today, I will pull back the blankets and sheets, lift the plastic over the low tunnels, pull back more sheets and some row cover to see whether the lettuce has survived the last couple of days. Right now it is just 9 degrees Fahrenheit (that's NINE degrees, and it's not the coldest low in the forecast). I will harvest whatever looks edible, put all of the coverings back and hope for the best.

Golden days of Autumn.
On Tuesday, when the high was in the upper 60s, I harvested kale and collard greens, just in case the visit from Arctic winds put everything into dormant mode until spring (I hope it all comes back, anyway). However, we still had lots of lettuce in the refrigerator, so I covered it all and hoped for the best. Now I'm not so sure that "the best" will mean the lettuce survives. So I will don about 20 pounds of warm clothing and bring the lettuce in.

First, however, I'll head to the post office to pick up a package, then buy a couple of gallons of diesel fuel so my husband can fuel the tractor and get it prepared for possibly pushing snow on Sunday.

Rosemary Gladstar, herbalism guru, giving one of several presentations at the
Mother Earth News Fair in Lawrence, Kansas.
Tomorrow morning, we'll head into Lawrence to check out the Christmas parade, which features decorated, horse drawn modes of transportation and nothing else. The temperature will likely be in the single digits, even by 11 a.m., since the high is forecast at 19 for the day (18 today). So we'll be in our insulated overalls, heavy work coats and MuckMaster boots, with various clothing layers underneath to watch the parade, IF they don't call it on account of cold.

I've been absent here for some time. Summer got extra busy in August, with a flood of green beans and tomatoes, along with my starting the Extension Master Gardeners program. No homework, but a full day away from the farm from mid-August through mid-November. And Other Things. But I am here today, with a few photos from my absent time.

St. John's Wort covered in frozen dew in late November. This herb is trying to take over the nursery bed where I started it.
I am taking that into consideration while trying determine where to transplant it to.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Solar Powered Food

It's been a busy summer. I won't make any excuses or apologies for being gone from here for so long.
It's been a busy summer. (Did I say that already?)

A couple of months ago or more, I promised the readers of my newspaper column, The Gardener's Corner, more information and photos of the solar powered dehydrator that my husband built at a workshop last fall.

So here it is at last. The dehydrator is approximately 4 feet by 4 feet and contains four trays made of wood frames and a stainless steel mesh. Don't use aluminum or non-food grade plastic screens, since the food lays directly on the mesh/screen. The wood on the lid and screens is finished with food beeswax and natural linseed oil (not the stuff at the hardware store with lots of toxic things in it).

The lid has an aluminum metal plate painted black and is topped with clear, corrugated green house plastic. The metal is on the bottom of the lid and the plastic is on top, leaving air space between them. The black-painted metal allows the dehydrator to heat up, but does not expose the food to direct sunlight, preserving more of the nutrients and flavor. The screens sit on a frame of 2x4s. On the bottom of that frame is corrugated metal roofing. While the openings at each end of the corrugated plastic on top are blocked to prevent heat from escaping, the ends of the metal bottom are left open to promote air flow and prevent moisture build-up.

My husband built the stand on his own and added hinges to the top of the lid and a handle for lifting the lid. We use a length of 2x2 to prop the lid open for when we load and unload the dehydrator. Here it is loaded with tomatoes and eggplants. The dehydrator is set at an angle to better capture the sun's rays. Wheels would make this much easier to move, but new ones were expensive and we haven't been to the salvage yard yet. Wheels off of a lawn mower would work well here.

Because the trays can be removed, cleanup is quite easy.

I was really eager to get started drying tomatoes in late July. I had planned to dehydrate many of them and had planted Black Plum Tomatoes specifically for drying. They have a lovely dark color and are small, pear- to oval-shaped. See how lovely they are?

 The Black Plums turned out to be too pulpy for dehydrating, but they are the best tomatoes for roasting that I have ever tasted. So, the larger Amish Paste Tomatoes were the main ones for the dryer.

It took several tries to get a good batch of dried tomatoes. The mostly sunny days that the National Weather Service forecast for my first batch turned out to bet mostly NOT sunny. You kind of need sun to make a solar dehydrator work. Most of those tomatoes got moldy. Another batch also got moldy, in spite of considerable sunshine. The dehydrator was next to and facing a large area covered with a couple of feet of chipped wood. We figured that the wood made the area too humid and that mold spores blew into the dehydrator from the wood. After moving the contraption, we had more success with the tomatoes. They are quite wet and take at least two very sunny days to fully dry. So we left them in for at least part of a third day, or finished drying them in our little electric dehydrator after the second day.

Be sure to turn the tomatoes at the end of the first day, or they will be plastered to the screens and difficult to remove when fully dry.

Eggplant slices were quite easy. They took less than two full days to become crunchy dry. I like them crunchy, my husband likes them still a bit leathery. Tomatoes are leathery when properly dried; if crunchy, they are too dry.
From left and clockwise on plate, dehydrated tomatoes, plums and eggplant. Pretty much any vegetable or fruit can be dried.

We had a tree full of Stanley plums this year. At first we thought they were so-so in flavor, then they got a bit riper and we started to like them. But we also decided to dry some. After drying our first batch, we decided to dry all of the rest of them. I've been buying expensive figs for snacking, and the plums are every bit as good as those.

You can dehydrate pretty much any food. Dehydrated food takes up much less storage space than wet stuff. Dried foods should be kept in air-tight containers. We use canning jars with lids. For longer storage and better preservation of color and nutrients, store dehydrated foods in the freezer. Since we did not fully dry down our plums, they are in jars in the freezer. The tomatoes and eggplant are on a shelf. It's best to protect from light.

To dehydrate tomatoes: Core and cut off bad spots then plunge into boiling water for one minute (or steam for 3 to 4 minutes, don't steam more than a single layer at a time). Cool slightly and slip off skins. Cut larger tomatoes into quarters or smaller pieces; halve small tomatoes. Lay on drying racks and turn halfway through the drying process.

To dry eggplants: Cut off stem and blossom ends and cut out bad spots. Slice about a quarter inch thick or slightly thicker. The long Asian eggplant we cut on a diagonal to get larger pieces. Because we like to eat them as crunchy snacks, I toss them with a wheat-free soy sauce before putting them in a shallow glass baking dish. If you are going to rehydrate for cooking, skip the soy sauce toss. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 15-20 minutes (depending on how deep they are in the dish). Cool and place on drying racks. Never layer anything more than a single layer deep on drying racks and try to avoid having things touching.

To dry plums: Wash. Cut off bad spots. Halve and remove stones. Lay on drying racks.

Almost anything can be dehydrated. Vegetables generally need blanching, while fruits need no heat treatment. However, it is recommended to dip some fruits (apples, pears) in lemon juice or ascorbic acid to prevent discoloration. If you don't care whether they brown, skip that. Numerous books and online sites will give you particulars about dehydrating various foods. Even meats can be dehydrated -- but I'm not going there.


Monday, August 5, 2013


Paper wasps favor eaves of buildings and the tops of exterior door frames for nest sites. These black paper wasps built
their home in the corner of a garage door and don't seem disturbed when we open it. They can stay. It was wasp like these
black ones that nailed my hand recently.
A couple of weeks ago, while deadheading a yellow flag iris that had shriveled up long before, a paper wasp stung the back of my hand. I assumed that I had squeezed it or something, until I saw the nest hanging among the foliage of the nearby honeysuckle vine.

The nest got knocked down, since the honeysuckle badly needs to be pruned. Paper wasps generally don't rebuild in the same spot. And they are welcome to rebuild in a more convenient place. I frequently see paper wasps cruising through the collards and other garden plants (my husband likened them to Blackhawk helicopters) searching for juicy lepitoptera (moth and butterfly) larvae.

The adult wasps don't eat the larvae themselves, as they feed on flower nectar, but they feed them to their own babies. Here is an interesting video of paper wasps, including footage of them shredding a caterpillar to feed their babies. The fact that they hunt down plant-munching larvae makes them beneficial critters in the garden. I do not begrudge them their ability to defend themselves and their nests.

Even though I frequently work among plants abuzz with hunting wasps and bees of all sorts, I rarely am stung. Accidentally crushing a stinging insect will get you stung, but most of my stings have come when I come too near the nest for comfort. Some bugs are quite testy, while others will suffer a great deal of disturbance before delivering a sting. Much of the time, they will give a warning buzz before going in to do damage.

Cloudy weather kept these ladies close to home in the blackberry bush. Often
these black and yellow striped ones are called yellow jackets. While related,
they are not, however, yellow jackets, but paper wasps.

While pruning the blackberries last week, I found a paper wasp's nest in one of the blackberry plants. They weren't terribly disturbed, I saw the nest before anyone buzzed me, and I'd rattled the plant with some pruning. A few days later I was able to pick berries off the plant and they simply buzzed out, but didn't head toward me. So they're cool. I will take the nest down once it is abandoned for the winter so they don't return next spring.

Wasps, like many native bees, have one dominant female who is generally responsible for at least starting the nest building and laying eggs. Her sisters, or more frequently, her daughters, expand the nest and feed the young. When winter comes, some females overwinter to start their own nests the next spring.

When stung by a wasp, immediately apply vinegar or lemon juice to neutralize the venom. A paste of baking soda works against bee stings, and also helps ease the pain and itching of wasp sting. Here is a link to a number of home remedies for stings.

Look to wasps as your friends in the garden. When they are around, stay calm and treat them with respect to maintain a friendly relationship. However, like all relationships, if you push the other person too far, you'll get stung. So, know the boundaries and keep the vinegar handy.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Reptilius Interupt Us

Wait for it... Wait for it...
Encounters with wildlife is a given when you live in the country, especially when you are surrounded by woods. Most wildlife encounters or sightings are benign, or possibly annoying.

However, some can be potentially dangerous.

We live in a clearing surrounded by rocky wooded slopes, meaning that snakes are everywhere. It is particularly prime real estate for woodland snakes, such as the black rat snake, which we encourage, and the rattlesnake and copperhead, which we discourage. For the most part, we've seen the black rat snake most frequently, rarely seeing a copperhead near the house and never seeing a rattlesnake.

This year, however, we've seen few black snakes. I suspect that during last year's drought they migrated to a lower area with water. A few days ago, my husband was standing on one of the large rocks at the bottom of our terraced gardens around the house, sweeping water from the puddles to discourage mosquitoes. As he swung the broom out, a copperhead snake struck at the broom from the grass below, then slid into a cavity beneath the rock. Startled and scared him a bit.

Peeking out of the hidey hole; snare poised; garden hose flooding the hole.

That night he fashioned a snare from an old aluminum tent pole and some telephone wire, planning to capture the snake in the daylight. The following morning, as I went to the garden, I saw its head peering out of the hole, testing the sunlight.

Then began the wait.

My husband sat on a bucket on the stone, the snare poised in front of the snakes head, and waited...

and waited...

and waited...

I watched the hole to see which way the snake moved, whether it went further back into the darkness or started moving out. I snapped a few photos. I answered the phone. I got the binoculars so that I could see it better, as I didn't want to get to close and startle it back under cover with my presence.

But copperheads don't move quickly. If they sense a potential threat they "freeze" rather than sliding away as most other snakes will. They depend on their camouflage, which blends well with a litter of leaves (and the wood mulch on our garden paths). That is why copperhead bites are the most common venomous snake bites in the U.S. People don't see them and may stomp a foot or place a hand near them. And the copperhead's first instinct is to strike, rather than move back.

Setting her free.
However, a copperhead's venom is the least potent of any of Kansas's venomous snakes. Yet it's venom makes the bite quite painful and it can destroy flesh and bone tissue, creating scarring and perhaps causing the loss of use of a limb. They generally inject only a small bit of venom, or none at all, when biting for protection, so sometimes bites do not result in poisoning. However, even a non-venomous bite can create a nasty infection, so medical attention is always recommended.

After about 45 minutes of waiting, the snake moved back in a ways and we decided to try and flush it out with water. We shoved the end of a hose into the hole and turned on the water. The water ran and ran and ran, never running back out the hole. So there must be a deep cavity under the stone. A perfect snake's den. Possibly where our 7-foot black snake hid out when it lived here.

Another hour or so of waiting and the copperhead's patience did not wane. Then it moved to the side of the cavity, just inside the opening and pulled its head further in. Perhaps the cavity was finally filling up a bit.

Then my husband's patience ran out and he stuck the snare inside, finally capturing the snake. we saw her fangs as she tried to protect herself, but she could not strike with the snare closed just behind her head. Into a 5-gallon bucket she went and I popped on the lid.

My husband held the lid tight on the bucket as I drove the car to a spot less than a mile away. We set her free at the creek, where I'm sure she'll find plenty of tasty rodents and a new den. Our woods are rife with copperheads. We know that. They are welcome to stay in the woods. However, if they venture into the gardens or near the house, they will be relocated.
Look closely and you can see a bit of her camouflaged back disappearing in the grass.
I want the black rat snakes back. More than one person has told me that they keep away venomous snakes, for whatever reason. I miss my giant black snake and hope that it is safe and well. I know that some people will swerve to hit snakes that are on the road and I worry about my reptile friends (of which I consider the copperheads one). Shame on those people. Large snakes are quite beneficial, holding down populations of rodents and baby rabbits.

So, that is the end of our reptilian interruption. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Oh yes. Hubby blocked the entrance to the cavern. One less snake hideout to worry about.
Just for kicks, here is a link to a slide show about Kansas snakes.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Doddering Along

Dodder, Hellweed, Devil's Guts.

It's freaky.
Frightening even.
I read about it a number of years ago and felt anxious about the prospect of ever finding it in my garden.

A vampire among plants.

It even looks creepy. Jaundiced yellow strings slung across the green growing stuff. My husband likened it to yellow Silly String.

Dodder. (Cue the screeching violins)

Are you recoiling in horror?

Perhaps the name doesn't quite strike terror in your soul, but some of its other names will -- Hellweed, Devil’s Guts, Strangle Tare, Scaldweed.

So, maybe you're not quite quivering in fear, but dodder is not something you want lurking about.

Dodder is a parasitic plant that is capable of very minimal photosynthesis on its own. It gets pretty much all of its food from the plants it attaches to.

Dodder seed sprouts in the soil, sending up yellow tendrils that wave about "feeling" or "sniffing" for a host plant. When it finds one, it sends roots, called "haustoria," into the green flesh of the plant and its connection to the soil withers. Then it becomes completely dependent on the host plant.

Fortunately, many dodder species are somewhat host specific and will not parasitize or "vampirize" every plant it finds. Many species of dodder exist, but I don't have a clue how they tell them apart. You can find out what species of dodder are likely to infest your region here.
Cereal grains, such as these oats, generally will not host dodder.

Grasses and cereal grains tend to be non-hosts, so you can plant these in an area where dodder has appeared to starve it out. Unfortunately, dodder seeds tend to be rather long-lived, spending a decade or more in the soil before sprouting, so once it appears, you need to keep an eye on the area for quite a while to manage any recurrence. The scariest type of dodder is the Japanese dodder, now invading California, which can completely cover fruit trees, particularly citrus.

The sickly looking patch of dodder showed up in an area of black medic, a leguminous "weed" closely related to alfalfa, one of the dodder hosts of main commercial concern. Other legumes, as well as tomatoes and their relatives, are susceptible to dodder. Fortunately, you can get rid of it fairly easily by cutting off the host plant below where the dodder has attached. Then burn it!

I chose to simply kill out the patch of black medic -- kill host plant and dodder with (gasp) herbicide and will let grass move in. I will keep an eye open for any future dodder sprouts and get it before it creates a 4x4-foot patch again. And I'll keep an eye on any other plants to make sure we haven't inadvertently spread dodder seed elsewhere.

While researching dodder, some vague tendril of memory told me that it might have medicinal value. And indeed it does!

However, that did not save its life. The patch is now brown and crispy. A fitting end to a vampire.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gray skies with no rain.
Berry season is slowing down. The black raspberries are nearly finished. They were not as prolific this year as last year, probably because we didn't water them much through last summer's drought and I failed to apply compost in the fall. Many of the floricanes are dying before the berries are fully formed. Not sure why, but that's the way it is. This week I hope to go through and cut out all of the second-year canes (floricanes, or fruiting canes) leaving only this year's growth. Then I will give them a good dose of compost. Later I will dig some of the little suckers and use them to finish out the bed where the black raspberries grow.

However, the blackberries have performed fabulously. Nearly three gallons of berries are in the freezer, and we've had our fill of sweet, juicy blackberries to eat. I've also had my fill of black raspberries, as well as a few extra for the freezer, but not like the blackberries.


Last year was the first year the blackberries were in their current location. I had mistakenly planted them in too tight of a space, so I dug them all and moved them to more spacious quarters. We got just a few berries last year, but they are now fully settled in and have amazed us with their prolific nature. Since they are a primocane producing variety -- they flower and fruit on first-year canes as well as second-year canes -- we should get some berries until freezing weather sets in.

In past years, however, when I cut the canes down each spring for primocane production only, the production was sparse. The primocanes start producing about the time summer gets hot and dry here, which tends to dry out and burn up the flowers and baby fruits. So we'll see.

We may need to start watering the berries, too. For the past three weeks, I've been on a daily watering schedule. We've had less than an inch of rain in the past few weeks. The soil has developed large cracks in some areas. Storms have passed us by several times, dropping less than a quarter inch, if anything, each time. We see cloudy skies (such as the top photo) but receive no benefit, except the drop in temperature.

Yesterday I saw the thermometer hit 102 F. Fortunately, we've done the typical Kansas summer thing and the 100-plus-degree temps hit one or two days, then the weather calms down to the low 90s high 80s for a while. Much better than last year, but we've still got the rest of July and August to get through.

Last year, I learned that a regular watering schedule gets the garden through some intense stuff, so I started watering as soon as the forecast indicated stretches of no rain. So things continue to grow, a bit behind schedule because of the weird weather in late spring, and devastation by cutworms and rabbits, but growing nonetheless. We are still harvesting broccoli and greens... and blackberries, of course. A number of the apple trees have fruit on them, as do the pears and plums. Even one peach tree bears a few fruit, which survive two freezes after flowering. So I'm not complaining.

But I'm still watching the skies, hoping for rain.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Buffalo grass.
I never thought that I'd commit myself to daily weeding of the grass.

No, not weeding grass out of the garden -- weeding weeds out of the grass.

But for the past three years (or is it four?) we've tried to establish a good cover of buffalo grass in certain areas. It has worked only partly. We do have nice patches of it, but that should be large areas of buffalo grass.

I've never paid much attention to "lawns," but I do recognize the need to have some kind of short ground cover in places where you want to entertain, where the grandkids can play, where I walk between house and garden and from garden to fruit trees. Mud and dust aren't that great, and short grass makes less cover for wildlife that you don't really want hanging out at the edge of the garden or real near the house. I don't mind the deer wandering through from time to time, but I don't want them bedding down at the edge of the garden.

So we mow a fairly good size area around the house and gardens. Regular short mowing over the years has caused the brome grass (not native, but a formerly planted hay crop) to weaken and thin. Herbaceous weeds (those that die to the ground each year) have moved in, which makes for not a terribly pleasant "lawn." So we thought we'd plant buffalo grass and let it take over, eventually.

That has been expensive. Buffalo grass seed is not cheap -- $15 a pound this last batch. We ignored the advice of experts to kill out the competition before we planted. Since buffalo grass is a "warm-season" grass, it greens up and starts growing later than many typical lawn grasses, so the cool season brome takes over and smothers it before it gets growing.

I do not like using chemical herbicides. I more than dislike it, I hate it. However, I resorted to spraying the brome and other cool season weeds this spring before the buffalo grass started growing. This summer, we will lay tarps or similar things over the areas we plan to seed next year (we're taking it a little at a time) to kill most stuff out before next spring. We didn't do that with the areas we planted this year, because they had some fairly decent bits and pieces of buffalo grass we didn't want to kill.

Now the crabgrass has taken off, and we are furiously digging it out to keep it from smothering the buffalo grass.

But, we are making progress.

Aided by early rains, the buffalo grass (in the sunnier areas) has sprouted pretty well. Numerous clumps from previous year's seedings are healthy and sending out above ground runners that take root.

We were warned to be patient, that you don't see much in the first year of your buffalo grass. And so we are seeing some reward from previous years' work and expense.

Why do we want buffalo grass this badly?
It is highly drought tolerant. When conditions are inhospitable, it simply goes dormant. By the end of last summer's heat and drought, the buffalo grass was brown, but it came back this spring when the rain came, unlike some other grasses.
Most important of all, buffalo grass is a short grass (native to the Midwest Plains) reaching only 6 to 8 inches in height. So it needs mowed just once a month, if that.

So now you want a buffalo grass lawn?
First, get rid of whatever is growing there, however you want to do it.
Plant as early as you can during its planting season (starts April 20 here in Northeast Kansas) to take advantage of the natural rainfall. If you don't get much rain, water twice a week until it starts growing well. But don't overwater; it didn't evolve in rainy areas, after all.
Keep down any competition that sprouts.
Don't plant it in shade.
If you need to, seed into bare patches.
Wait. It'll happen.
Don't fertilize... much.

Of the dozen or so varieties available, we planted Texoka, because... that's what was available to us through the conservation district.

And, yes, buffalo (more accurately called "bison") apparently did eat buffalo grass when they roamed the Great Plains.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Hackberry butterflies collecting moisture from the soil of a freshly watered start of Dittany of Crete.
The clothesline groans under the weight of towels and sheets today. Three little girls for the weekend meant extra bath towels, plus towels for the swimming pool, and then it's finally time to wash the sheets from the guest bedroom -- plus the usual round of laundry.

As the washer ran through cycle after cycle cleaning the laundry, the wet stuff sat in the basket waiting for the rain to pass. I knew it would. While it delayed the hanging of the clothes, I don't like to complain about rain at this time of year. We are treacherously close to July, followed by August, when Kansas typically gets hot and dry.

But the clothes are now on the line, and even though heavy clouds hang in the sky; the satellite image indicates that they will soon move on. I always prefer to hang sheets and towels on the line, not just to save energy, but the sun and wind remove any remaining smells that might linger, while adding a pleasantly fresh smell. Nothing like climbing into a bed made with sun-dried sheets.

Why must baby rabbits be so cute?
This weekend's visit had much excitement. A storm blew in late in the afternoon, chasing everyone from the pools. The younger girls and I made it to the car before the rain began pelting the streets. However, my husband and the oldest girl waited for us at the "big kids'" pool, taking shelter under a small tree.

Earlier in the day, we relocated a nest of little bunnies that were nestled in the straw of one of our raised beds. We had to chase a couple down, but all got moved to the woods nearby. The cursed little things are so adorable, and my heart is always heavy when I relocate them, most likely dooming them to being eaten (which most of them will be anyway) or starvation. I tried to take them somewhere that mama rabbit can find them.

However, the biggest hit of the weekend was the butterflies. Hundreds of hackberry butterflies gathered on the porch and driveway, soaking up the sunshine. The girls spent hours -- yes, hours -- encouraging the butterflies to rise in clouds around them, or to let them land on their fingers, feet, shirts, heads -- wherever they would land. More interesting because at least one of them was terrified by the butterfly clouds a year or two ago.


The smile says it all.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bee Happy

Colony one, at the bottom of the hill on the edge of the woods.
We have bees again!

On Memorial Day we received the call, "Bees are coming tomorrow." At first, the bee roundup was scheduled for the afternoon, but at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday I received another call, "They're coming early." Apparently, the bee guy feared that his bees were in danger from the warm weather and he wanted to distribute them early.

So I rounded up two hive boxes and headed out.

In the past we obtained bees in a "package," which consists of a small box with screen sides full of bees and a young queen who is a stranger to the workers. To prevent the workers from killing the strange queen, she is in her own little box within the box of bees. After a few days, the workers (it is hoped) have accepted the new queen and the keeper (me) must look in the hive box and make certain that she has been released. The queen's chariot has a hole in it that is plugged with hard candy or a marshmallow that the workers eat through.

Searching for the queen during the transfer.
This year we decided to get our bees in a nucleus (actually, two of them). A nucleus contains a working queen, hundreds or thousands  of workers and five frames containing brood (deposited eggs and developing larvae). Because the queen is new and no eggs or larvae are present in a package, it takes longer to become established than a nucleus does. We also had saved several frames full of honey, collected when our previous colony failed during the winter. So these girls were going to get a good start.

By 9 a.m. or so on Tuesday I was on the road with my empty hive boxes. When I arrived, the gentleman who had brought the bees had set a couple dozen or so boxes full of working bees on the ground in the orchard of the local beekeeper who has served as mentor to us and numerous other local beekeepers. The bee guy wore no gear -- no veiled helmet, nor even a long-sleeved shirt. He was clad simply in a white t-shirt, jeans and a hat to keep the summer sun off of his bald head. That is a man who is at one with his bees.

As he emptied his boxes into my hive boxes, he carefully checked each frame until he found the queen. If we get no queen, soon we'll have no bees. Each worker lives only about three weeks after emerging from her larval cell. So a queenless hive will survive only until all of the incubating eggs and larvae are gone.
Hive two near the house, under a hedge tree.
In one of the colonies that he transferred to my waiting boxes, workers appeared to be angry at their queen. Perhaps they were simply stressed by the ride, whatever, but it concerned the bee guy and he instructed me to check the hive in a few days and make sure that she is doing well. If not, he'd send us a new queen.

So we checked that hive on Friday and found the queen alive and well. The workers appeared to have calmed down and were going about their business as usual.

The second colony he attempted to transfer appeared to have no queen. So he removed all of the frames he had already put in my hive box and transferred a new set of frames, showing me the queen before he finished the transfer.

Then it was a slow and breathless drive home. Screen had been placed in the hive box opening to prevent too many of the bees from escaping, and cargo straps held the hive box, the bottom board and lid together. Another strap kept the boxes from sliding around in the back of my pickup. With all of that, I still worried that things might shift on the 20- or 30-mile trip home. When I reached our gravel road, I drove as slowly as I could to minimize the rattling and bumping, but gravel roads are gravel roads.
Busy bees.
Everything was still in place when I arrived at our homestead. Whew! I donned my bee gear -- I am not as confident as the bee guy and I did not want to get stung while carrying the heavy hive box and possibly drop it. While the opening had been blocked by screen, a few bees still were wandering around on the outside. The first hive box was set in place (top photo). Then I zoomed up the hill and set the second box in place, near one of the garden sites. This was the box that we needed to check in a few days. Best to have it within easy reach, I figured.

It gives me great joy to have bees again. Now, when I see honey bees on the salvias and other garden flowers, I can assume that they are "our girls." Fortunately, our flower garden is full of blossoms right now. Yesterday we noticed that the caraway thyme, now a mat of tiny red-purple blossoms, was covered with honey bees. Yay!

Something seems missing when the only thing you have is plants (well, and the wildlife, of course). So our little operation now feels more complete. Next up -- chickens. But next year. Or the year after. It will take a little more work to get things set up for them.
A garden full of blooms..

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Yay! It's... umm... May?

A confusion of tulips.
May 2 and all is green around us. Seeds are popping up. Leaf buds explode on the trees. Flowers, flowers, flowers.

More confused tulips.
And it is, well, snowing. Right this moment. Snowing.

I said... SNOWING.

Yesterday I ran around barefoot, wearing a short-sleeve shirt and sweated while I worked (rabbit fences around the strawberries). Today, a fire in the stove and snow shovel at ready.

Unusual, yes. Abnormal for Kansas? Not so much.

All of the little tomato, eggplant and pepper plants have been brought inside until spring comes back again. I am wondering when I will be able to put them in the ground.

The asparagus finally showed up the last two days -- four whole spears. The fruit trees were in bloom and, well, we'll see what happens. I keep checking the weather forecast and going, "What the....?" Then check it again later to see if it's just a big hoax. But I see the snow. OK. It's real. Monday and Tuesday the temps will be more May-like.... well, maybe more mid-April-like. Warmer, all the same. And we are getting moisture, much needed, much beloved moisture.

So it's coming as snow and sleet. Oh, well.
These guys must wait for warmer weather.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Uphill Climb to Spring

Meadow anemones kissed by rain.
It's not really supposed to get down to 25 degrees F. in late April -- even in northeast Kansas. Sure, we can get mildly freezing temps, even after the average last frost date (it's only an average, not a rule, after all). But 25?

Yet that's what the forecast said for Tuesday night. Bah! Humbug! When will it really be spring?

I trundled out sheets, blankets, buckets and tubs to put over broccoli and those gorgeous tulips. I hunkered down and waited. It seemed interminable. My heart was heavy. So beautiful and green outside. I imagined that the next scene would be one of devastation, everything singed and brown...


On Wednesday morning, with sunlight streaming, I looked out upon a beautiful, green landscape. Nothing seemed to have felt the touch of freezing temps. I removed all the protective contraptions and the gardens returned to business as usual. Sigh of relief.

Today promises to be another gorgeous day, full of sunshine and even warmer than yesterday.

So why am I sitting inside typing on my computer?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Seeking Balance

The mint is popping up, regardless of the chilly, cloudy days. My daily teas (excuse me, tisanes) are now made with fresh herbs from the garden. Current favorite, dried nettles with fresh sage and rosemary.
Nature always seeks a balance.

Prey animal populations surge; predators move in.

We have two years of heat and drought, with one exceptionally early spring; and then we get a cold, cloudy, damp spring with everything progressing at a slow pace.

The lungwort likes the damp, cool weather.
Balance does not mean everything is smooth and upright at all times. To maintain balance we wobble, at least in miniscule ways. When I do the yoga pose "tree," I might look steady and firm, but all my muscles are constantly adjusting and readjusting.

So, to maintain balance, we adjust.

And this spring, Nature seems to be adjusting and readjusting.

April, so far, has been chilly, dark and damp. I am grateful for the damp. However, I certainly would like to see a bit of sun and warm weather. Plants need those things to grow, too. But, we did just finish two extremely dry and hot years. So far, the rain has not entirely obliterated "drought." Only the continuation of rain into the summer will do that.

Last year, all of the spring flowers seemed to bloom early and all at once. This year, they are a bit delayed and following their normal progression: first snowdrops and crocus, then daffodils, grape hyacinths and creeping phlox, then tulips. The dampness brightens and highlights the green surrounding us. And, yes, we've had to start mowing.

My confidence in planting the cole crops in late March, with minimal protection, was ill-founded. I am set to replace the green cabbages with a six-pack from the nursery. Everything else will eventually snap out of it, but things did get a little burned by some freezing temps.

Right on schedule (that's a bit of sarcasm, folks) the peach trees have burst into full bloom, just in time for the frosty weather tonight and tomorrow night. It's up to the attic for the strings of big Christmas tree lights, which I will hang today sometime in between showers. And/or I will cover the trees with sheets and blankets to hold in what little heat might be sitting among the branches. That will be tricky. Exactly what makes me think the wind won't defeat all my efforts?

With the clouds and chill and damp, I am not sure who is out pollinating the blossoms, anyway. So it might be a moot point.

Typically, I'd be considering setting out my tomato plants in a week or two, as well as planting beans. Well, that ain't gonna happen.
The meadow anemone diminished during the past two dry seasons, but should flourish and rebound this year.
In September or October, I looked forward to lighting the first fire of the season in our wood burning stove. It seemed so cozy and cheerful. By now I've tired of the mess, wood bits everywhere and ash floating around. I look forward to shoveling out the ash from the last fire of the season. It could be a while. On Tuesday, I brought more wood from the outdoor stacks up into the woodshed next to the house.

I adjust.

Winter isn't letting go easily, yet the weather is gradually warming. The freezing temps will be only just so (29 and 31 are the forecast lows... at the present time.) I might be looking at frosty nights into May, not typical here. I'll deal with it. I'll spend a bit more time indoors working on my writing projects, or attacking the pile of projects stacked next to the sewing machine -- all those things that get neglected when I am focused outdoors.

Balance. I wobble, and adjust. That's how it works.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Teaspoon of Bees

Warm sunny days bring out the honeybees.

Especially when you offer something sweet.

Tea in the woods -- with honey. Lay a honey-coated spoon on the table and  create a puddle of honey.

Well, you can lick off the spoon. So she did. But we still had a puddle of honey on the table.

One bee showed up, walking through the puddle of sunshine-sweetness. After cleaning herself of the sticky mess, she flew off, danced a happy dance at the hive.

A few more bees showed up.

Then a few more...

They enjoyed the orange peels, too...

and more and more...

...and even more...

In 20 or 30 minutes, the entire puddle was gone and they went after the thin coating of honey still on the spoon, even cramming their heads under the spoon trying to get every last molecule.

What a treasure this was for them. Actual finished honey that they would not have to spend the time drying down. Better than the nectar from the nearby spring blossoms.

It was a joyous afternoon watching the bees. So sweet.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

More on the Wetlands Saga

It is not a petition, but a sign that work continues to block the bypass/trafficway set to plow through the Haskell-Baker wetlands at the south edge of Lawrence, Kansas.

The student senate of the University of Kansas has developed a task force to urge the University to give its 20 acres to Haskell Indian Nations University. Since KU's portion is in the trafficway area, giving its share to Haskell would block the trafficway.

Read the story here.

The fight is not over.

In other news: The cabbage and cauliflower plants are in the ground. Today, the broccoli goes in, along with the rest of the onions. Kale and spinach seed are scheduled for planting, just in time for this weekend's rain.

Temperatures will cool again next week, but not quite so low. Spring is slowly creeping in.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More of the Story

I must clarify some information concerning my last post about the Haskell-Baker Wetlands.

In the early part of the 20th century a large portion of the wetlands area was drained to become farmland. Mid-century some preservation efforts were made and later, a larger area was restored to wetlands by both human and natural forces. However, portions of this area are virgin wetlands, with a foundation that has evolved over 10,000 years, while other portions have a foundation only decades old.

I could not find how much of the current area is virgin wetlands and whether those acres are threatened with demolition. You can try to decipher the history here.

Knowing that a large portion of the wetlands is "restored" rather than virgin does not change my feelings about the impending encroachment of bulldozers. This area is home to numerous animals and native plant species. Wetlands provide an invaluable service to the ecology at large, not only by providing habitat for animals, but also by collecting and filtering runoff water and other services.

In the fall, thousands of Monarch butterflies use the wetlands as a rest stop. Doubtless, it also provides refuge for many migrating water fowl.

We displaced the original plants and animals once by draining the wetlands for farming. Now we propose to displace them yet again. Will we capture all of the creatures that make their homes where the concrete will be poured and transfer them elsewhere? I doubt that. They're on their own.

My original point stands. When faced with the potential to gain money, to see "development" and "progress," we shove the natural world aside. Nature takes the back seat, if we even let it in the vehicle at all. It is time to change the way we think about this world. As we treat nature, so we treat ourselves. Corporate disregard for nature seems to translate into disregard for human beings. We are intent on bulldozing ourselves out of a home. We are at a crossroads -- continue on the destructive path or raise our consciousness?

I stand as witness. Whatever happens.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bearing Witness

We owe it to ourselves, to our children, our grandchildren, to the earth that sustains us, to bear witness to those wild things that are endangered.

A portion of the Baker-Haskell Wetlands on the south edge of Lawrence, Kansas, is set to fall to the bulldozer (at a yet unspecified time as far as I know), victim of our intense desire to get from point A to point B in as little time as possible using as many vehicles as we possibly can. A bypass is set to plow through the wetlands. This will not do harm to the wetlands and its residents, according to "experts."

I cannot believe that. Everything affects all around it. I can't imagine that tons upon tons of concrete bearing whizzing, poison-spewing vehicles will not do damage to the wetlands and its wild residents.

Many claim that this bypass is unnecessary and will not solve traffic issues it is intended to solve.

Mitigation efforts will be made, that is "creation" of new wetlands areas. But that will not truly make up for the destruction of these wetlands created by natural forces over how long I don't know. It will not be the same. It might look similar, but the very foundation of it will be much different.

Like the prairie. Kansas has some of the few remaining acres of virgin prairie... prairie that has developed and evolved over 10,000 years, give or take a few, since the last glaciers retreated. Millennia of evolution has created a specific soil structure, a unique population of soil microorganisms and macroorganisms, specific mixes of plant and animal species. We've plowed and torn up most of these prairies. Yes, we can "restore" them, we can plant seeds of similar grass and forb species, protect remaining native critters. However, that restored prairie will not be the same as that which evolved over 10,000 years.

Like the prairies, these wetlands have evolved over how ever many millennia. The wetlands hosts unique mixes of plants and animals, has a unique foundation -- soil structure and microbial population that we cannot replicate.

So what? Many will ask.

This is a question I cannot answer with logic or science. This is a question that can only be answered from the pit of my soul -- "Because."

Because we humans do not recognize the inherent value of the wild  things, of the ages old natural environments. We only understand when they are spectacularly beautiful or strange or unique -- the Grand Canyon, for example. Especially if we can put a monetary value on their existence. We overlook the inherent value of those things that we deem ordinary or not so beautiful. The prairies are "just grass." The wetlands are "just swamps." The only way to save them seems to be to show where they improve the balance of the bottom line.

But my soul cries out at the loss of these things. My soul is wounded when a pipeline cuts through areas so wild that humans cannot comfortably inhabit them. The human soul is wounded. We will never know the true value of these things... at least not until they are gone.

A fuzzy look at a wetlands inhabitant, some kind of sparrow.
Unless that is, we stand in the middle of a virgin prairie, with grasses waving, wildflowers blooming or setting seed, birds winging across a blue sky that stretches so so far... or stand among the sea of cattails in the wetlands, watch a muskrat swim in the slowly moving water...  and let loose of the "mind," opening our hearts, opening our souls...

When we recognize the vastness, the depth of the wild places, we find our true position in the broad scheme of things. That comforts some of us.

But it frightens the shit out of many more of us. So we "prove" our superiority, our value, our power by bulldozing across these natural places, dismissing their value because we can't put dollar signs in front of it. And the bulldozers cut large wounds across the collective human soul.

A portion of the Haskell-Baker Wetlands is owned by the Haskell Indian Nations University and will not fall prey to the bulldozer. However, the entire wetlands is considered a sacred place by natives and by many of us who are not native. The bypass construction will disturb the sacred ceremonies that are held there, although the "experts" say that the sound won't be disruptive. Sigh. How little they understand.

Many have fought this development for years, but the courts say it is legal and all the proper "legal" things are in place. Go forth and destroy. A few still cling to small scraps of hope that something, something will stop this. Others are exhausted and discouraged by the declaration of the courts. I do not doubt that all of the "legal" factors are in place. However, I am saddened that humans are so willing to sell their souls to the false gods of money and convenience.

I make no call to action here. I don't care if I've convinced you one way or another. I simply bear witness. These photos were taken last week. It is early spring. Little is green at the wetlands now (although today all is covered with snow). You may think that this is not such an attractive place.

Look again. Look deeper. Look with the heart. Look with the soul. Witness the beauty.