The Morning After….

When we left our last installment, which appeared to be a swarm off the swarm from the little cedar that took to clustering in the loganberries, we found that capturing the bees off a fencepost was not a particularly easy or smooth operation, particularly compared with the first swarm event where we just encouraged them to move into a new hive.

I got up early the following morning to check the hives. Usually our bees follow Banker’s hours – it doesn’t warm up until about 9:00 a.m. and they don’t venture out much before then. But this morning, it was sunny by 7 and they were out in full force – but only those in the two new swarm hives. Hmmmm….What’s going on here?

(a short video, less than 2 min)

With some trepidation, I ventured into the berry patch. Lots of bees in the air, so unusual for this time in the morning…and there again, on the same branch, a cluster of bees – only smaller this time. They must still be detecting Queen pheromones, I thought….but what do I do about it? Several bees buzzed around me, and I was fairly certain they knew me as the evil giant who brushed them off the post. I could not change the past, only learn from it (hopefully).

(another less-than-2-min video)

Unlike yesterday, today it would have been easy to cut the branch they were on and place it in a box, but I hesitated. I listened to the morning birds, enjoyed the rare warmth at this time of day, and watched them gathering in increasing numbers around each other. Perhaps it would be best not to mess with this little cluster. I am a huge believer in minimal interference when it comes to beekeeping, and I had obviously broken my vows. Perhaps the lesson here was that we should not try to control everything. I admit, I do not fully understand their ways – not even remotely – and although I don’t want to be irresponsible, I also have to acknowledge that the bees probably know what is best for them.

I watched, marveled, and walked away.

So – Did they stay in their new hive?

Sadly, no. Two days later, there was nobody home. Did I miss the Queen? Lose her? Kill her? Without a queen, they would have no reason to stay. But maybe, having been dumped in a place (no matter how nice) that they did not choose themselves – nor even have time to become acquainted with – was more disruption than introduction; meaning, I did not introduce them to a new hive; I forced them into one, albeit with good intentions.

Where they went is anybody’s guess, but we thought they might have rejoined the bees from the first swarm that was on the little cedar, now in Hive 3. This hive seemed to have a lot more bees and activity and seemed to be doing quite well. Workers were bringing in pollen. Everyone seemed to have a purpose. It’s something we all seek, is it not?

In the following days, everything seemed to be settling back into a routine; three full hives was a good number. I would be happy with that.

But We Were Only Just Beginning …..

The Bee Saga Continues

It’s been a little crazy at the backyard apiary, to say the least.

At the end of our last blogpost, we had a swarm of bees on a small cedar. We provided them options: a swarm “trap” (aka “bait box”) scented with lemongrass oil up in a nearby tree OR an empty hive, complete with the scent of “home” from the previous residents and an indoor supply of sugar syrup to get them started.

I was so proud of myself for “letting them be bees.” Rather than directly interfering with their decision, I was encouraging them to make the choice that would be most convenient for me (and hopefully, best for them).

Swarm bees in hive

Look! They moved in! And they are fanning at the entrance & announcing their new home!

I sat out there all morning, hoping to catch a picture of when they moved. But finally, I said, “Shoot. I’ve got things to do today,” and of course, it was right after that that they took flight.

It did indeed appear that they moved into the new/(old) hive. Hooray! I was ecstatic! I wrote to my friend, Walt, who has patiently offered guidance and support through my steep learning curve into the world of beekeeping, “Wish I would have seen them take off! But I am glad I let them go on their own instead of my forcing the issue by shaking them in and out of some kind of container or something.”

I couldn’t help but notice that there were far fewer bees coming and going at Hive #2, where I had installed the purchased 3 lbs of Carniolan bees just 2 weeks earlier. “Two for one!” I figured. “Such a deal!”

Swarm on fencepost

Wrapped around a steel fencepost! Not something you can just cut and drop in a bucket!

Bee swarm on fencepost

Let’s look at these little guys up close. Whoaaa! That’s a LOT of bees!

I thought everything was GREAT, but then, lo and behold, as I walked out to the garden the next morning, the air was electric with the sound of buzzing bees! They were everywhere! Yikes! Another Swarm! Or was it part of the same swarm? An afterswarm? – Whatever! There was a growing bundle of bees in the blackberry bushes, concentrating on a loganberry branch. Hmmm. This would have been relatively easy to cut had it not been leaning up against a steel fencepost, around which a very large number of bees were tightly wrapped. There would be no easy way to get them off the fencepost, and the question was what to do? Do I brush them off? Wait and see where they go? Do I risk losing all these bees? We had things to do today, and these guys were definitely putting a kink in the plans!

I scrambled to set up a place for a new hive (call this Hive #4 – we now had a row of hives on the north side of the property, facing south, labeled left-to-right in order of acquisition: Hive 3 (yesterday’s swarm), Hive 1 (last year’s swarm; our oldest residents), Hive 4 (our new hive, waiting for occupancy), and Hive 2 (this year’s purchased Carniolans).

How to get the swarm into a box or bucket?

We have options here. Sort of. A swarm box, a bucket, and the wide open air.

I set up a swarm trap on the ground near the swarm. No one was very interested. I decided to speed up this process a bit and try to drop what I could into a bucket, which I could then dump into the empty hive, much like I did with the packaged bees (Is there a disconnect here? Do we remember how the bees all took flight instead of “dumping” into the hive?). So I cut the loganberry branch, but the fence was kind of in the way, and instead of dropping into the bucket, they dropped on the ground.

Yikes! What a calamity! There were a few in the bucket, some on the ground, a large bunch still clinging to the fencepost, and a great majority in the air. I stood in the middle with sweat dripping into my nitrile gloves.

As my friend Walt said (and he was probably chuckling when he did so), “You did not have mass confusion; you were in the ‘bee world’.”

Did I mention the steep learning curve here?

The location of the queen was anybody’s guess.

Ok – since I was now indeed forcing the issue in a very big way, there was no point in delaying. I thought my hawk feather would normally have been better to use, but to get around the post, we used a very soft-bristled brush instead. I call it the Weapon of Mass Disruption. There was no gentle way to get them off the fencepost; it required a definitive, brisk, swoop to make them land in a clump in the bucket. Swoosh. And again. Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh. A whole bunch just took off into the air. It was just getting worse and worse.

Hive entrance after swarm installation.

Lots of activity at the entrance of the new hive. Hoping they stay!

I put on the lid as best I could and then carried them over to the hive with the focus and determination of an experienced keeper. (Insert applause or laughter here – your choice). I repeated this process several times until I had captured the majority of them and taken them to the hive. I laid the bucket outside the front with a pillow case to the entrance so they could do their bee walk up and in to join their brethren, and then I left them alone (“Finally!” they chorused.)

Everything appeared ok, I had tried my best to minimize injuries, but I was not sure I had captured the queen. Bees were indeed going in and out of the hive, and there was a large number clustered on the landing board.

Would they stay??? All we could do was wait and see…..

Swarm Alert!

swarm in small cedar tree

The honeybee swarm is draping the little cedar like a living cloak!

In doing the morning garden rounds yesterday, we noticed the little cedar tree over by the beehives looked a bit odd – and as we got closer, we realized, Holey Moley! a swarm of bees was almost completely covering it! And I do mean a zillion bees, clustered together in something that looked from afar like a fuzzy moss wrapping of some sort, only slightly pulsating.

This is perhaps one of the most amazing natural wonders I have seen in my lifetime (short of childbirth) – and I have to admit, I feel rather blessed (in both events!).

To Backtrack…

We purchased our first package of bees just last year, and unfortunately, it did not make it. They dwindled off before winter, and I believe their colony grew very quickly, they decided to split, and the ones remaining lost their Queen.

honeybee swarm on birdhouse

Ok. This was interesting! On a birdhouse! (R Karls photo)

 

Catching a swarm

I just placed the birdhouse in a box and did a little Moon Walk dance! (R Karls photo)

The saving grace was that we managed to pick up a little swarm that July (for a beginner beek like myself, it was the perfect swarm to collect – it was hanging on a friend’s birdhouse in her backyard). The colony struggled for awhile, and I thought sure we were going to lose them, but to their credit, they have become quite strong. This spring, we added an extra box to their hive. We also decided to try again with packaged bees, and bought a 3-lb package of Carniolans instead of a 4. (Maybe 4 full pounds was too many for the Warre style of hive?) We installed them a couple of weeks ago, and so far, they seem to be doing quite well.

bee swarm box

Swarm Box in Fir: Bottom pulls out over hive for installation.

We wanted to be prepared this year in the event of another swarm event, so Jeff made a couple of swarm boxes (yes! he’ll make YOU one, too! Contact us!). The neat thing about the swarm box is that the bottom is like a drawer that pulls out. It fits perfectly atop the Warre hive, so to install a captured swarm, it’s a simple matter of setting it atop a hive box and pulling out the bottom. A few days ago, we hung one about 8 feet up in a big fir tree near the hives. I put a few drops of lemongrass oil inside.

Such Perfect Timing!

Who would have guessed we would get a swarm so early in the year! At least, other folks I talk with think it’s early – so maybe it’s a weird year or maybe a sign of the times, but I’d say Swarm Season has officially begun!

The question is – are these “my” bees? Did my new Carniolans, reputed to be prone to swarming, decide they didn’t like their new home after all? Do they – or the colony from last year, despite the added box – think they are going to run out of room?

I don’t know for sure, but both hives seem to have a lot of bees coming and going just like normal, and many are loaded with pollen. The newly purchased bees are still feeding from the syrup jars inside the hive, and peering inside, without taking it apart, they seem to be humming right along.

Either way, this swarm is a gift! Ahhh! I give heartfelt thanks!

I can’t help but notice that the bees clinging in the cedar are almost touching the ground! We planted this cedar about 3 years ago as a seedling. It only stands about 3 feet tall at most. So – if you are wondering how high to hang your swarm boxes, I would think the height is less important than the location. They don’t need to be up high, and no use risking your neck on a ladder!

But where would they eventually live?

The swarm box is nice, but it’s just temporary housing. Several bees were checking it out, but logically, I knew it would be easier if they moved into a more permanent abode right from the get-go.

New hive for swarm

Look closely – they are checking it out – and this morning, they look downright Excited about it!

I scurried around and put together 2 boxes, a quilt, and a roof from the old hive that didn’t make it. I set it up on a couple of concrete blocks near the swarm. I painted the inside with a bit of sugar syrup that has lemongrass and spearmint oils mixed in, the same stuff I add to the syrup feeders. If they were from our other hives, they would definitely recognize it. If they were new bees, they would still like it. Some immediately came over to check it out.

I waited with anticipation all afternoon. How to encourage them? I didn’t want to cut down my litte tree to “install” them into the hive. It would be better if they just moved in on their own.

Nightfall.

They still clung even more tightly together on the tree. They were quietly hunkering down. Ok. This must be what bees do. I am entering their world, after all, not the other way around. I walked away.

This morning, thankfully, they are still here! Hooray!

In the morning sun, bees are checking out – and going inside – BOTH places, the swarm box AND the new hive.

Bee swarm in cedar tree

Part Tree – Part Bee!

Hmmm. One more attempt to persuade them.

I put together an in-hive feeder setup, which allows 2 pint or quart jars to be elevated over the top bars inside an empty hive box. They set on a piece of wood with cut-outs for the jar lids. The rest of the area is screened off  so the bees don’t get inside and build comb in the empty box. I filled the jars with syrup, added my homemade Bee-Healthy combo, and dabbed a few extra drops of lemongrass oil around in the hive.

I am currently sitting in the morning sun with a cup of coffee, watching lots of them dance around the hive and going in and out. I do think they like it! There are also some checking out the swarm box. The majority of the cluster (and the Queen) is still on the little cedar. I would love to watch them move!

Which way will they go? What will they choose?

Avoiding Shaken Bee Syndrome

New Bee Package

See the happy beekeeper with her new package of bees (Thank you, Walt Wielbicki, for capturing the excitement in this photo!)

[or How to Completely Botch a Relatively Simple Bee Installation By Making Things WAAY More Complicated than Need Be (bee) (and 1 long video and 3 short ones to show you exactly it’s done!)]

Ok. Does anyone else out there see the utter impossibility of shaking 15,000 bees through a small hole in the center of a box DOWN into another box without them all just flying UP into your face??? Come ON! Who came up with this plan? This has got to be akin to getting a guitar pick out of the hole in your guitar – only now lets just try it with a ball of bees!

And from the perspective of the little creatures we are trying to protect and save: what can it possibly be like to be caged in a small wire-mesh enclosure, stacked among a hundred similar boxes in a concentration camp of others of your kind (family members who knows where), jostled about for hours on end while being transported to unknown places and climates, eventually put in a dark box where you remain for a couple of days in a quiet, cold, space…waiting…waiting, hovering together to keep each other warm, then brought out into the blinding sunlight, repeatedly sprayed with a wet sticky substance by some gargantuan creature (covered with a soft, sensitive epidermis, I might add), pounded on the ground with such violence that everyone falls in a heap on the floor, then tipped upside down and shaken shaken shaken through a small hole into a larger cavernous box (wait – could it possibly serve as a hive?) – and during all this, all you can think is, “God, Save the Queen!!!” or maybe, “Air! Fresh Air! Give me Air!” or maybe, “Aggghhh! The Sun is Freakin’ BRIGHT!” or maybe, “Where the heck are we???”  If this sounds to you like Amplified Pandemonium, you would be right.

There has to be a gentler way.

In my attempt to avoid what I call “Shaken Bee Syndrome,” I managed to completely botch this bee installation. In fact, I still feel shaken just thinking about it. Such are most great learning experiences. Now I better understand why beekeepers do things the way they do and have done for quite some time (because it works!), although I still feel there must be a better way. I invite you to watch the video and benefit from (or laugh at) my ordeal and that of our bee-brethren. In fact, I made 4 videos documenting this extraordinary experience.

Initial Explanatory Notes & a Few Minor Discrepancies

  1. Ok, this was my first video with this camera, and I cut off my head throughout most of it. That’s ok – my head is not the important part anyway – but it wasn’t quite the “professional” look I was trying to achieve. Once the bees were out, it’s not like I was going to convince them to go back in for a do-over!
  2. It was not April 16 – it was the 15th – not that it matters which day Exactly. I lose track of days. A lot, it seems.
  3. Not my 3rd package – only the 2nd. However, it WAS the 3rd time I installed bees, the 2nd being the little swarm we captured last summer (which is still doing very well!)
  4. The bees from the swarm hive were everywhere partly because of the sunny day and partly because the camera was on a tripod right next to their hive. Lots of dancing going on as they were checking out this large object.
  5. When I talk about “taking apart the hive,” I really meant taking apart the box or package.

The Edits (or What You Missed):

  1. I think it’s important to move slowly around the bees; however, turtle speed does not make good video. I cut out over half of the video of me taking my time, fumbling around, being clumsy, or otherwise just plain screwing up, knowing it wasn’t thrilling material for watching; hence, the video is a bit jerky at times as we jump ahead in a time warp.
  2. Since I have this habit of what my husband calls “providing a running commentary,” there was a lot I couldn’t cut out, because the thoughts are part of the process. Those of us with strong inner monologues recognize that talking through a task helps us stay focused and increases perception capabilities. This is a proven scientific fact. Just sayin’.
  3. Some things I edited out are still worth noting because they affect the smoothness of the bee installation, which is important for the sanity of your bees (and quite possibly your own, too). For example:
    1. Knocking over syrup bottles, the bucket of supplies, and other items might indicate there are too many objects around the hive.
    2. “Dressing for success” based on your comfort level increases confidence in working around the bees (watching me get dressed, not so much). And speaking of dress code, what is that on the bee hat? Truthfully, mold. It was up against something it shouldn’t have been up against. Like a pumpkin that did not make it through winter storage. Ah well. A new bee hat only stays new so long.
    3. Parts of the video that recorded my dealing with certain difficulties were minimized; however, it’s good to know that some tasks might take a little longer than expected. For example, getting the feeder can out – hard to get a grip on that thing and I thought it might drop into the box! Figuring out what to DO with the feeder can while it was still covered with bees (it’s good to have a plan). Getting the cork out – not to worry – I had my finger over the hole; not sure where the cork fell – it was the least of my worries. Trying to find the Queen in her cage – I mean, those bees on the outside were not willing to be lightly brushed off! Trying to hang the cage where it wouldn’t be in the way of the top bars (keeping in mind that in a couple of days, you have to get back in there and be able to remove it) (fortunately, if it drops into the hive, you can just lift up the box and pick it up off the top bars on the 2nd floor).
  4. Things I could not put in: my head, for one.

Note:  I don’t take the bees out of hiding until about 6 minutes into the clip, so if you want to skip the intro and explanation of the setup, feel free to do so.

And now on to Video 1:

Evaluation of This Supreme Learning Experience:

Things to Think About / Learn:

  1. The debate on what and what not to wear. The nitrile gloves were a little easier to use than my previous too-large rubber gloves, but they were extremely sweaty and difficult to get off. I am hoping I will eventually gain confidence to do this bare-handed.
  2. Some may question my feeder jar set up. I will do a more detailed blogpost at another time, but I found the screen necessary to keep the bees from building inside the feeder box. Nylon mesh (found in craft stores) is more flexible, but I will probably go back to a wire mesh on the next one.
  3. I was reluctant to spray the bee package with the sugar syrup; I have watched videos where people seem to almost drown their bees! However, I have been told by more experienced beekeepers than myself that the sugar syrup does two things: 1) it keeps them preoccupied with cleaning up while the other stuff is going on, and 2) it weighs them down a bit so they are less likely to fly. Not much is needed, but probably a little more than I applied would have been helpful. All those bees flying around wondering where to go was a problem! (or so I thought!)
  4. As mentioned in the video, these bees came from Oregon, which I think has advantages for us here in NW Washington. The Oregon climate (as opposed to that in CA) is closer to ours. The travel time is shorter. Despite a few dead ones in the box, which can be expected, I think the colony looked really strong. Our thanks to Mike Radford, Alaska Bee Products, for the good job in getting the bees to us!
  5. I really think someone should invent a better bee package that facilitates a non-violent installation of the bees! Maybe one with a bottom that could be slid open over the hive box?
  6. In retrospect, I should have made 2 videos – one for the set-up, one for the actual installation. Since I was just sort of wingin’ this by myself, I had no way of knowing when the camera quit.

Challenges:

  1. Getting the feeder can out of the box. It fit exactly into the hole, almost to the point of where it could fall through and smash the bees below; there is not much of a ledge to grab onto. I think the can could be better designed.
  2. Getting the Queen out. That cage was wedged in there, and so there you are, with the main hole open, bees escaping while you are trying to take away their Queen, and they KNOW you’re up to somethin’ no good!
  3. Seeing the Queen. Those attendants did NOT want to leave her side! That was a GOOD thing! They already loved her.
  4. Hanging the Queen cage in the hive. It’s hard to hang on to it with those bulky gloves and all the bees on the outside, much less to tack the metal hanger into the side of the hive or onto a bar, and to hang it low enough so it does not interfere with putting the top bar back in. I couldn’t get a tack into the metal at all. Devising a hanger of some sort would be a good idea for the next time.
  5. Taking the box apart to install the bees and avoid “Shaken Bee Syndrome.” More on this under “Goof-Ups.”
  6. Once “installed” (such a poor descriptor!), getting the bees to stay out of the inside of the feeder box. They could smell their Queen below them but could not reach her through the nylon screen. Every time I brushed a few out of the box, more would fly back in. In the end, I left a few and came back later to release them (when everyone else, exhausted, had gone to bed).

Goof-Ups:

  1. Notice how when I finally got the Queen out, I was so enamored that I completely forgot the main hole was open! Out came the bees! Don’t do this! After you get the Queen out, you’re supposed to cover the hole back up! (duh)
  2. Can you believe I almost hung the cage in the hive without taking out the cork & replacing it with a marshmallow?? Yikes! In the first package I installed, the cage came with a candy already in place. Not so with this one. Good thing I checked. Good thing I bought an entire bag of mini-marshmallows just to have one for this occasion.
  3. Taking apart the box proved to be disastrous! Why did I think this was a good idea? Let’s review: the objective was to avoid Shaken Bee Syndrome. It’s kind of like giving birth underwater. You want the transition to be smooth, calm, and happy. We want well-adjusted bees, not a bunch of frantic, nervous, traumatized bees. Only I didn’t factor in that as soon as I opened up a little corner of the screen, they would immediately start squeezing out into the open air, and NOT into the hive! Bees are smarter than we give them credit for! Open the hole bigger, MORE come out! Go figure! Open up the whole side and now nothing is in your control! It just keeps getting worse and worse! The situation was quickly turning into a state of Wild Mayhem, and needless to say, bees were EVERYWHERE. As I was approaching controlled panic stage, you have to admire how I managed to keep my voice calm and collected.
  4. The turning point was when I realized I was going to have to “Dump them in there” one way or another; “pouring” was definitely not an option. I ended up doing EXACTLY what I was trying to avoid: Shaking them out!! At least the hole was the entire side (which proved to have its own associated problems) and not a small hole in the top. With so many bees already out, though, I had to be extremely careful in knocking the box so as not to squish anyone. I dumped them as gently as I could into the hive and found it helped to use the hive tool to hit the outside of the screen, which convinced those hanging on to decide to let go. However, the screen beneath, now taken apart from the hive, was now IN THE WAY and was actually blocking them from “falling gently” into the hive. NOTHING was working as intended. Very awkward indeed! Did I mention bees were EVERYWHERE??? We’re talking THOUSANDS of them! I am sure they could smell my adrenalin at that point! As in, “Agghhh! What to do??? What to do???”  VIDEO STOPS HERE, thankfully, at that moment when I was about to throw up my hands and leave them to their own devices. I SERIOUSLY wondered whether I might just watch $100 and 15 thousand or so bees just take off and fly away!

The part you missed:

  1. Yes, the camera quit before the entire installation was finished, which means you missed the part where I exclaimed (paraphrasing here for a general audience), “Oh my goodness! I think I just really blew this whole show and NOW what do I do???” ahm.
  2. Well, I figured the logical thing to do was to close things up, walk away, and hope for the best. So I put the bee package – with still a LOT of bees in it – on the ground near the entrance to the hive. I placed the feeder jars on the top bars and the protective box around them. I put on the screen and cloth cover that goes between the top box and the quilt box. I put on the quilt box and the roof, and I connected the Bunge cords to the eyebolts on the sides to make sure nothing tipped over in case of a strong wind (which we have been known to get). What more could I do?

Follow-Up Video #2 (All is not quite lost. I call this Post Traumatic Stress (mine) following Shaken Bee Scenario (bees), or SBS / PTS):

So NOW What?

  1. Hmmm. Amidst what I perceived as confusion, there appeared to be a lot of communicating going on. Numerous bees were gathering at the landing and doing this odd little dance with their tail ends high in the air and rapidly beating their wings.
  2. As a last-ditch effort, I decided to drape a towel from the entrance to the ground, dump whatever bees I could onto it, and see if they would really “march” up to the hive like I’d seen in other videos. It seemed like an odd thing, but what did I have to lose?
  3. I stood back in amazement and watched.

AND NOW FOR THE GRAND FINALE – THE MOST AMAZING PART OF ALL!!!

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! ONE MORE TRICK! USING A FEATHER TO HELP THE BEES (as opposed to a bee brush to shoo them away)

Epilogue: What I Did Right:

  1. Yes! From a detached perspective, I did EVERYTHING right! (well, maybe not Everything). I took out the feeder can, removed the Queen’s cage, replaced the cork with a marshmallow, and hung the cage inside the hive. I dumped quite a few bees inside with her. THAT WAS KEY. These bees were able to let everyone else know that the new hive was established with an honored Queen inside. From then on, everyone else wanted to go to the hive and protect the Queen and get busy doing what they do best: building comb and nurturing their Queen.
  2. I am not sure why the towel trick works, but it does. Without it, the bees flew around a lot. With the towel, they almost ran right in! They seemed relieved to get there! Numerous bees stood close together at the entrance with their little butts in the air, rapidly fanning their wings. They seem to be saying, “This is IT! This is our new home!”
  3. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I DID RIGHT:  I got out of their way and let them take over!

 

[Note:  Want to raise bees?? Seriously – such a worthwhile endeavor! They teach us so much! And I truly believe the answer to the bee crisis in our world is for more individuals to have a hive or two in their backyards. Small-farm beekeeping as opposed to mega-farm beekeeping. It just makes sense. We build and sell Warre hives. I am convinced they support strong, healthy colonies of bees because they allow the bees to “be bees” – i.e., to build their own comb and survive with minimal interference from us humans. Check out our Warre page and contact us for more info! ]

A Quiet Place for Peace

Willow room in spring

I had intended to post a series about the bees. Somehow, recent events in Boston made such ramblings seem rather inane in the big scheme of things. It occurs to me that the American Dream has changed from owning your own home and a two-car garage to just being able to raise your children in peace – to allow them to experience the innocence and fun of childhood that many of us took for granted – to help them figure out for themselves what they are good at and to help them pursue their passion. We don’t need cars, garages, and chrome-plated toasters.

With increasing frequency we see these acts of terrorism – or even assaults from nature – tear apart our communities and families at a very personal, individual level. At the same time, we see people pull together and demonstrate that the human spirit is stronger than evil or any disaster that can be thrown at us.

With each of these accounts, I am reminded of how very privileged I am. I don’t live in a fancy home; I don’t have a lot of land; we don’t make a lot of money. And yet – we have everything we need; we have 5 kids, 6 grandkids, and everyone loves one another; we have plenty to eat, grow much of our own food, and have access to uncontaminated food, water, and air; we are able to support others in our community; we live in an incredibly beautiful area and can take time to explore and enjoy it.

True, we live in a relatively obscur region; we have eagles, whales, and a rainforest out our back door.  Even so, it would  seem that everyone should be able to find or create that place that keeps them grounded — a sanctuary where, even if the world seems to be imploding, they can get re-centered.

For me, this place is my garden. It is not just one place, but a  series of places, and I am always creating more of them – a little spot where you can sit and enjoy the beauty around you, find calm, create, hide, or all or none of the above.  Like the garden, these places are always changing, transforming with the seasons and with my life.

The willow room is one of these places. I planted these willows a couple of years ago, and they have already grown into something I could not have fully imagined. In late winter, I pruned and shaped their long stems, weaving them together to cross overhead and over and under one another on the sides to form strong columns. They take on a life of their own. It is an interesting analogy. Individually, they are supple. They bend with the forces that shape them. Together, however, they are strong – forever interlocked.

And so we are. We cannot – will not – allow events such as the Boston bombings or the Newtown killings or shootings in a movie theater in Colorado or any other number of atrocities – destroy who we are. Recognizing that people in other places in the world live with this terror every day, we refuse to let hate define us as a species.

My sincere condolences to those who have lost loved ones in recent acts of violence.

We are reminded to return to the garden, to that place of peace, to play the music we hear in our hearts, to focus on a positive force greater than ourselves. BE in your garden. Be Grounded. Nurture and Grow. Reach for the Sun. And for one another.
willow-path1

P.S. This particular willow variety is called “Harrison’s.” I originally purchased it from Steve at Dunbar Gardens in Mount Vernon, WA. They have an excellent selection of willows (and baskets!), and I highly recommend them.

Urgent: Weed Your Garlic!

Ok, I know, it’s officially spring and that means the beginning of Panic Season. There is so much to DO, I haven’t even taken time to write on this blog for over a month. As every plant awakes, every weed seed jumps out of its pod, every blade of grass begins it’s spring flush, and as our neighbors are frantically revving up their lawnmowers and weed trimmers twice a week if not more often, how can we NOT feel the intensity of this “now or never” insanity? New seeds and primroses, pansies, and daffodils have arrived earlier than ever, and the stores have metamorphosed into a riot of color (and can someone tell me why lots of bright colors are described as a “riot?” Surely they didn’t live through the 60s!). But seriously, as a plant addict, this seems to be unreasonable temptation. I am salivating over seed racks and strawberry plants I don’t need, and I often arrive home wondering, “Where am I going to put this?”

Spring. We are breathing a sigh of relief – “Ahhh – Spring has arrived!” – while gasping in overwhelmed apprehension – agghh! Spring has Arrived! – seemingly overnight.  Just as we’ve finished up with pruning chores (we hope!), we are already behind in starting starts, planting plants, prepping pots, building beds, digging up grass before it can’t be dug, pruning out the dead stuff, and trying to instill some sense of order before we can’t – recognizing that we never could anyway, which is, indeed, the definition of insanity.

Whoaa whoaaa whoaaaa –

I am going to add one more desperate need to your to-do list, which should be *starred* in order of necessity, since in reality, we are taking care of desperate needs first. And since we are in triage mode (not my normal ADHD/easily-sidetracked mode), this is a 5-star order: WEED YOUR GARLIC.

Now. Not tomorrow. Not – “Oh, it looks like it’s doing fine – it’s a strong plant & can hang in there while I plant more sweet peas…”

Garlic shoots in March

In early March, Garlic shoots stood just a few fingers high, but were starting out strong. This is when I did my first major weeding.

It should have been done before the equinox – so if you were on top of things, Bravo! Yes! Plant more sweet peas, spinach, salad greens, kale, chard, beets, broccoli, berries, shrubs, trees, and the many of their kind who love to get a good start before the heat arrives….

But – if you didn’t get the Round To-it, here is the deal:

Early Spring is the most important weeding you will EVER DO in your garlic bed.

Bold & Italics-type Seriously.

Why?

  • Because the tender, brittle roots have not yet extensively spread throughout the soil – so weeding now is less likely to break them.
  • Because the weeds, too, are just getting going – and although some may seem quite large already (especially grass and dandelions) – it’s nothing compared to how quickly they will soon get a grip in the soil, at which point, they may be impossible to remove without damaging the garlic.
    Garlic Shoots in April

    Same garlic, one month later. It’s already over a foot tall! It could use another light weeding. There are some signs of frost damage. But hey – it is obviously ready to jump for the sky! Give it a boost with a little fish fert or kelp. Blood meal is also good.

  • Because the chickweed, for example, can easily be pulled out, but will soon go to seed and be all over the place (eat it – you’re not weeding; you’re harvesting).
  • Because if you applied mulch, you have to get it off there pronto so the ground can dry out and warm up (or you risk getting the dreaded MOLD) – and while you’re at it, you can clean things up.
  • Because everyone is beginning the competition for nutrients – and you need to help your garlic by eliminating (or at least reducing) the competition. They can’t do it on their own. Indeed. You DO have a purpose.
  • Because the garlic is now a hungry green vegetable – and Now is the best time to give it more nitrogen, kelp, and fish fertilizer. Healthy green leaves now mean bigger bulbs later. It’s important. Really important.
  • Because the last thing you want to do is fertilize a bunch of greedy weeds determined to dominate the universe! Get them out of there!

So – Go for it. Pull back the mulch if it’s there. Weed that garlic. Give them some food. Tell them how proud of them you are for getting through the winter. It doesn’t mean that easier days are ahead, though. There are more weeds out there that want to steal their food and water and strangle them out of existence. There are incessant natural forces of wind, rain, and blistering heat. After they survive the elements, they are lifted out of the comfort of the soil and are left to desiccate in dry air. Lastly, they are chopped into tiny pieces and outright eaten with great relish by ravishing beasts. Such is life.

While you are lovingly nurturing these tender (yet sturdy!) sprouts, don’t tell them that last part, mmm-kay?

Plant and Seed Quest 2013

Ok – so the truth is, I just cannot narrow it down. I have spent days and days looking at websites of different nurseries and purveyors of exotic seeds – and I have spent months and months reading about plants and planning different guild arrangements and compiling “wish lists” that rivaled the loving letters I used to send to Santa Claus – and I, much like our dear friends (ahm) in Congress, cannot seem to reconcile the expenses with the budget. And, like them, the debate goes on and on – because my vision does not coincide with reality, which I am still trying to define, in terms of the vision, of course. It’s a loop-thing. As is life.

And so I took a break to try to put it all back together in the Willow Room, because even in winter, this is a good place to go see how things with a little creativity, intertwine. (Besides, it was time to do a little pruning.) Continue reading

Happy Day – Rodent or Otherwise

Whether it be groundhogs, prairie dogs, woodchucks, marmots, or maybe some other small furry mammal, we of the supposedly more intelligent species are looking to them on what for most is a cold day in early February for guidance. Silly humans. If you really want to know about the day, just look at the bees! If the bees are out, it is a good day for certain. Look around a little further, and it is easy to see more good signs of a good day and more good days to come!

Beehive in February

Bees are out on February 1! Great Day! You can feel how happy they are to be out and about!

Pussy Willows

Pussy Willows on Feb.1! Awwww… Who can resist?

Snow Geese have returned! Great day!

Snow Geese have returned! Great day!

New buds on the Cornelian Cherry

New buds on the Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas) – a yellow type – another sure sign of a good day!

old barn

This old barn says it’s worth hangin’ in there on such a beautiful day!  We agree!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Day, Everyone!

 

Seeds for Trade

Are you a seed saver?

I am sorting through the seeds I collected this last fall, and in the process, have gained a new appreciation for how clean the seeds are that come in little creative packets from companies both large and small. It is not as easy to separate the seed from the chaff as one might think!

Here is what I have, nothing in huge quantity, of course, except the phacelia, which the bees adore and is quite prolific – in fact, there are little phacelias sprouting up all around where they were last year.

 

Herb seeds Flower seeds
Catnip Borage
Celery Herb Calendula
Chives Cosmos
Coriander Dianthus / Pinks
Dill Echinacea
Hyssop Hollyhock
Parsley Lupine
Pennyroyal Phacelia
Poppies
Vegetable seeds
Artichokes (globe) Roots & Tubers
Cardoon Horseradish
Carrot (Nantes variety) Jerusalem artichokes (2 varieties)
Sweet Peas Mashua Root
Weld Oca Root

I am open to trades, cash, or barter!

Contact me!

 

Garden Resolutions, Goals, and To-Dos for 2013

"Unknown Paths" by Malgorzata Maj. Buy at Art.com

“Unknown Paths” by Malgorzata Maj (click to purchase through Art.com)

Ok – it’s the middle of January, and I should have my goals together by now, but I’m kind of at the point where I question whether making goals might be counter-productive. Seriously. I think I accomplish more by just winging it and going with the flow. Those of you who proclaimed your good intentions on the 1st, more power to ya. For me, though, goals and resolutions take a lot of strategic thinking or you are just setting yourself up for failure, which is why many us learn early in life that it’s better to set the bar low. Talk about a bunch of slackers! The word “resolution” itself has a connotation that you’ve already failed at something. I already feel like an apologetic puppy, promising to do better.

Nope. Goals and Resolutions are more hype than they’re worth. Plus, they are easily confused with the much-more-approachable, handy-dandy to-do list. These days, there are plenty of apps that enable you to check off little boxes and give you a feeling of accomplishment; however, I accomplish much the same thing on my scratch-paper versions, where I have been known to create the boxes after the fact, expressly for that purpose.

The problem is, “goals,” in the true sense of the word, imply something much more lofty to which to aspire. Ahm. Read that again. See, Goals don’t just hang out there like some kind of hanging preposition. Goals are objectives – we actually work toward them, the key word here being “work.” (Click “like” if you are old enough to remember Maynard G. Krebs!)

Elk in Path - photo by blythe

Sometimes rather large objects get in the way of your intended path, in which case, it makes sense to take a different route.

Here is the catch: if you don’t actually do something, “goals” are nothing more than dreams – which, don’t get me wrong, make up much of my reality. The danger in goals, however, is when they are as clearly defined as a path through the woods, which, as we all know, is so easy to get sidetracked along and end up some place unexpected. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. (What – you’re one of those destination-driven people for whom this analogy makes no sense? Stay with me here…) However, if they lack definition, they are like something that rolls in with the fog on a cool morning and then dissipates with the approaching sun, which, ironically for many of us, is more like something we can grasp.

Where are we going with this? See why goal-setting is relatively useless? Who knows what the future holds? Who needs to proclaim their goals and resolutions only to later have to admit that they must have gotten lost in the woods or, at the very least, been living in some kind of cloud?

So. With that in mind, I decided that this year’s “concepts” would be slightly more achievable than the year I thought I might place an emphasis on Boundaries (I’m still scratching my head over that one). If anything, it’s quite the opposite: No Boundaries. No Fear.

That’s right. It’s going to be a free-for-all out there – hey – we’re already there! – and the more chaotic, the better – because that is how diversity works, and diversity, as we know, is one of the prime indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Instant success. No failure.

I can feel the stress evaporate already! All I have to do is encourage that which would already work on its own if I just left Mother Nature to Her own devices! It’s when we interfere that we end up with problems!

Truth be told, we are not just gardening, friends – no – in case you were wondering just exactly what it is we’re doing out there – we are creating Ecosystems. It’s called Eco-gardening. One of those trendy new words along with Permaculture, Forest Gardening, and Agroforestry, that, by their very nature, deserve to be capitalized. We are, in the process, approaching God-like status in our creations – but, lest we get too full of ourselves, we hardly need be reminded Who’s Really in control (if you get arrogant, She will quickly bring you down to reality – just sayin’).

Zen Path to Garden at Koto-In, by Michael S. Yamashita. Buy at Art.com

A Zen Path Leads to the Entrance to the Garden at Koto-In, a photographic print by Michael S. Yamashita. (Click to purchase through Art.com)

So here is the strategy: Create a list of actual achievable To-Dos (pronounced Dooz, as in Doozy, not Dos, as in the Spanish #2). A To-Do list is more like an assignment. Being the first-born, I’ve always been very good with assignments, assignments being in the Imperative tense, as opposed to a task, which is in the procrastination tense. So, yes, we’ll just get right on it, yesirree, and when they’re all done, we will have miraculously reached a true “goal” of some sort, which is something so much more than a mere series of assignments. We might not be able to define it exactly, but we’ll know it when we see it. And if that isn’t a strategy for success, I just don’t know what is. Break it down to do-able parts. So here we go:

The nominations for 2013 Assignments are:

In the Garden Structure category:

  1. Improve Paths
  2. Build another water garden – maybe 2
  3. Build another spiral garden – maybe more!
  4. Add perching posts for birds – and maybe a water bath
  5. Create more Hiding Places! (mini secret gardens)
  6. Create Maps and Signs (so we know what’s where)
  7. Make the garden rooms more distinct, as well as more connected
  8. Build more beds
  9. Build a place to grow mushrooms
  10. Build a “pollinator hotel!”
  11. Cover the world with mulch – expand around shrubs and in the orchard and everywhere in the garden!

In the Plants category:

  1. Plant more bee plants: plant lots of species high in nectar and pollen to attract native pollinators of all kinds – make sure they cover all times of year
  2. Plant more of just about everything! Take cuttings, divide and conquer, collect and scatter seed – the more the merrier!
  3. Explore Grains! Hulless oats? Amaranth? Quinoa?
  4. Grow more black mustard again…(garlic-horseradish mustard? Yes!)
  5. Grow more mulch material – like comfrey! Harvest mulch with the scythe!
  6. Expand on the understory plants – now that we’ve got the higher plants in the ground, time to start filling in the lower layers!
  7. Plant more ferns and shady woodland plants
  8. Plant more roots – like mashua, yacon, and oca! – and more perennial vegetables!
  9. Plant more wild roses and harvest rose hips!
  10. Plant something really unusual (at least, for me)
  11. Grow Daikon radishes to break up the soil
  12. Experiment with guilds and combinations of plants
  13. Do more with drought-tolerant plants – fill in sunny dry areas with plants like germander, lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme, sedums, and assorted groundcovers, such as wild strawberries and raspberries, heathers, and kinnikinnick
  14. Be better on top of collecting and saving seeds
  15. Learn more about “weeds” and their different uses, and make better use of so-called weeds
  16. Mulch everything  – build the soil

In the Garden Craft / Just for Fun category:

  1. Add more Art in all shapes and forms
  2. Create more with willow
  3. Make stepping stones for paths
  4. Make more windspinners and other fun things!
  5. Create a vertical garden / living wall or sculpture

Ok – that’s probably enough for now – and if I get even half of these done, I will have accomplished something – and that’s a pretty good goal, too! And by the number of exclamation points in the post, you can see I’m pretty excited about all this!

It’s going to be a great year! Let’s get with the program!

And now it’s YOUR turn. What are your goals, resolutions, concepts, to-dos for the garden?


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