"I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." ~Wendell Berry

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

June & July Summer Blooms

As I looked through my SD cards in my camera today, trying to clean them off, I realized that I had taken a lot of native wildflower pictures.  Every year, I try to document via pictures all the wildflowers that are blooming each month, so that I can see the progress we're making. There are several that do very well here and, in spite of the very hot, dry weather we've had, they are at least daring to spread their petals and square off with the intensely hot sun.

Late June Bloomers
These were planted in December, 2014.  They did okay, in 2017 but at the end of June this year, my gray-headed coneflowers were kickin' it in the west savanna area.
Gray-headed coneflowers
Black-eyed Susans
Virginia Mountain Mint
Butterfly Milkweed (bloomed from June through July)
Ox-eye Sunflower
July Bloomers
The heat intensified in July, but still, the wildflowers were determined.
Royal Catchfly (red) and Black-eyed Susan

Even more Gray-headed coneflowers bloomed in July

Ladino clover seems to love the heat

Queen Anne's lace (wild carrot)

And 4 years after planting - looky, looky who showed up!!  Royal Catchfly - there were 4 plants this year (also planted in the Savanna with the Gray-headed coneflowers).

The Partridge pea started blooming in early July, but has really been showing off since the last week of July into August.
Partridge Pea
Of all the blooming flowers I thought the honeybees would love, the sumac was not even on my list! But, turns out sumac is one of their favorites here.  So, I guess I'll let it stay.
Smooth Sumac - only 1 of 2 flowers on this page that the honeybees seem to really like.

Rose Pink
The Rattlesnake Master is spreading like crazy - it has basically taken over my specimen garden, ousting most of the coneflower varieties there and only the prairie blazing star is hanging on. Since it's a native wildflower and all kinds of bees and butterflies love it, I'm not going to try to stop it. It's too hot to try to fight it. The clever prairie blazing star has managed to spread to other parts of my field, so it has figured out how to outrun the rattlesnake master.
Prairie Blazing Star in a field of Rattlesnake Master.
Wild Quinine
Turns out, the most favorite plant on my property for the Bumblebees have been all the St. John's Wort bushes I've planted.  They are crazy about it...unfortunately, the Japanese beetles are too. *sigh*
Interestingly, I haven't found one honeybee on the St. John's Wort and the Bumblebees are enjoying a pollen Bonanza!
St. John's Wort
I have a lot of favorites, but Wild Bergamot scores in the list of my top-five.
Wild Bergamot

Trumpet vine
We plant a LOT of red clover - the Bumblebees love it and the Honeybees don't use it (due to the difference in the length of their "tongues").  Guess who just bought 50 more lbs. of red clover? Heh!
Red Clover - Bumblebees LOVE it!
Common Milkweed and Wood Sage
Bindweed - the flowers are open in the morning, but close up when the temperatures start rising.
Ironweed (with Queen Anne's Lace in the foreground)
Prairie  Fleabane
This picture doesn't do the wildflowers justice - Wild Quinine, Queen Anne's Lace, Coneflowers, Sumac and Prairie Blazing Star are just a few of the predominant native wildflowers you can see here (click on the picture to get an enlarged view - that's true for all of them).
July - Wild Quinine dominates, but it will soon retreat and another will come up to carry us into Fall.

Passion Flower

Wood Sage
Lastly, a few of which we're not sure

Wild Potato Vine?
Well, I have searched & searched and we thought the vine & flowers in the picture to the left were either a variety of Morning Glory, or "Redvine"; but the best online site I can find calls it "Wild Potato Vine"

UPDATED 8/15 - Thanks to Chuck Yetter & his wife, these have now been *correctly* identified -  they're called "wild petunias". 
A field of wild petunias - you're welcome, Chuck!  :-)
Field full of "wild petunias".
Out of all the flowers above, the only ones I've found that my honeybees really like are the Butterfly milkweed and the Smooth Sumac.  I've been searching all my August blooming flowers and haven't been able to find from where my honeybees are getting their pollen and nectar stores for the Fall.  Today though, my investigation may have identified their source.  Stay tuned....pictures and details are forthcoming!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Practicing My Beekeeping Skills

Usually I have the luxury of time when I'm deciding whether I'll engage in a new hobby or not. But the honeybees that showed up in my wood duck box have forced me to take a very different and, for me, an uncomfortable path with this new beekeeping hobby.
I've had to engage in a lot of retro-active-learning; reading, watching You-Tube videos and spending a bit of time performing real-time observations.  Not that I'm opposed to any of the activities above, but the point is, I've had to rush through it all.  Everything I decide to undertake, I prefer to make sure I know the majority of what I need to do before I'm actually doing it - evaluate at least most of the risks and then I will charge full-steam ahead.  But not when it comes to the lives of the animals for which I'm charged here. The stakes are too high if you fail in that 'hobby'.
Knowing that I needed to check my honeybee hive soon, I finally decided that yesterday (August 4th) was THE day.  I had been meaning to call my mentor, Calvin, and ask him if he could come and advise me along the way, but life kept getting in the way, and before I knew it, Saturday was here and I still hadn't called him.  "Suck it up, buttercup", I said to myself, "put on your big-girl panties and go do it".  So, I did.
I had been observing the hive and trying to determine how far along they were in their comb-building.  On July 8th, I had grabbed some video of the front landing area of the hive and then I had quickly peeked inside the top brood box to see what was happening.  I had only pulled one frame and, after seeing nothing much was going on, I quickly closed the hive and retreated.
But yesterday, on Aug. 4th, I was about to get my first lesson in how quickly things can change in 27 days, however.  I setup the video camera on a tri-pod next to the hive (Mr. Freeze still doesn't have a bee suit), to get a video of my first full-fledged bee hive inspection.  I think I made some small missteps along the way (ie, I think I may have over-smoked them), but over all, I didn't wreck anything.  I was able to check frames 2 through 5 and after watching the video below, I realized I forgot to check frame #1.  By the time I got through the 4 frames, in the 93+ degree heat though, I was ready to pass out anyway, so it was good that I stopped when I did. It's so hot & dry here, even the danged ragweed is turning a crispy, golden brown.
I was really glad that Calvin had convinced me to only have 9 frames in these 10-frame bodies - it leaves a lot of extra space for pulling frames out without rolling / crushing the bees.  All the frames I checked had capped brood (I incorrectly called it "capped honey" in the video) and/or larva, and honey dripped out of a few cells when I tilted them! Whoa - they have been BUSY. 
I only found 2 hive beetles on Aug. 4th on my old sticky board and today, Aug. 5th, I found one, and only one varroa mite.  From my amateur assessment, it's apparent, my girls are doing pretty well so far.

By the way, just in case you're looking for the perfect cloth wrap for thoroughly cooking your enemy in the sun, a Harvest Lane beekeeper suit is perfect for that.  Just sayin'.
After viewing the video below, I also realized that I really need someone with me to take close up pictures.  It's hard to convey the thrill of seeing the capped brood, an emerging baby bee and glistening honey in the sun, via words alone.  And I was terrified of moving the frames away from the hive to get closer to the video camera for fear of dropping my queen off on the rocks or in the grass (maybe that's not really something that happens often...fellow beeks?).
Here's my 17 minute- long video, in which I managed to NOT pass out. Maybe next time, I need to strap some ice packs to my body before I go down there.  I swear, my core temp today still feels like it's at 150 deg.  Hehe!

Frames 2 & 3 are pictured below.
You can click on the pictures below for a bigger view also.

A baby bee is emerging in the picture above.

Friday, July 27, 2018

In a Coon's Age

This year I planted purple hull peas in my garden.  I had used the last of the fresh-frozen bags that my stepfather had given me a few years ago and, after trying the canned peas, I decided I wanted to grow my own fresh peas.  But, I wasn't sure if the climate was right to grow them here in Missouri.
Apparently though, climate change has impacted Missouri in only one positive way - it is now hot enough to indeed grow purple hull peas here...at least as hot as Louisiana. My Mother brought the 'seeds' to me earlier this year and I anxiously waited for the day when I could plant them in our raised beds.  To my surprise, they grew quickly.
This picture was taken on July 2nd. 

By July 16th, they had already put on many, many pea pods.  But as Paw-Paw always instructed, they're not ready until they turn purple!
After a few days of having to focus on my GSD's hip issues, multiple vet visits and totally ignoring my garden, my check on July 22nd surprised me - the purple hull peas were ready, baby!
As I prepared to pick the purple pea pods on Wednesday, July 25th, I remembered what Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw used to tell us - "hold the plant stem, when yankin' that pea off".  After all, you didn't want to break the plant when it could still yield more crop!  I brought out a large bowl and surveyed the crop.  As I started to pick them, I thought, "it's been a long time since I shelled and cooked purple hull peas - I wonder if I remember how?" and a flood of long-buried memories welled-up and flooded through my brain, like waves building and crashing over rocks.

I always associate purple hull peas (and okra) with my grandparents - they always had huge - yes, HUGE gardens.  My Grandfather's favorite welcome to infrequent visitors came to the forefront of my mind; "it's been a coon's age since I've seen you"! - and I laughed because - it's been a coon's age since I shelled and cooked these peas too! But I knew I loved them and that's why I grew them this year.  As I picked and picked, I thought of the many hours my sister, brother and I spent as kids in the huge fields alongside Maw-Maw & Paw-Paw, complaining & whining about picking ACRES - yes, ACRES of those peas, okra and all kinds of garden goodies (which we didn't call "goodies" at the time).

No one could shuck peas like Maw-Maw.  Even Paw-Paw held second place to her shucking skills.  Maw-Maw would gather everyone in a circle with their own bowl and set the foot-tub, full of peas, in the middle.  Even if you were just visiting, you got a bowl and you helped shuck peas.  Maw-Maw always had food on the table or in the fridge and she loved to cook.  But people weren't allowed to be free-loaders.  Somehow, in her own kind way, she let people know they had to contribute and they always did.  I never learned to shuck as well as she did - she could shuck ten times faster than me and still carry on a conversation with whomever was in the shucking circle, "how's uncle so-&-so", "did you hear about so-&-so", etc., etc.  And she never missed a beat and always ended up shucking more peas than the rest of us.
Maw-Maw & Paw-Paw

My bowl of peas was small in comparison to the harvests we used to get out of their fields, but still, I hadn't done this in a long time.
As I began to tear them open though, to my surprise, muscle memory took over and even though my brain hadn't caught up yet, my fingers knew exactly what to do and working together, we shucked & shucked.  I ended up with 7 cups of shelled peas for my first harvest, and along with a pone of cornbread, Mr. Freeze also enjoyed the pea harvest.
Funny how a garden vegetable can bring back so many memories. Memories that I hadn't thought of in years.  I thought I had forgotten a lot of things that my Grandparents had taught me, but it turns out, your ancestors have influenced a lot more than you realized - and there's a lot more ingrained in your muscles, your personality and your brain than you realize....until one day you go out to pick the peas that your grandparents grew on their farm a long, long time ago.

Friday, July 6, 2018

A Full Tilt Boogie

W. C. Fields once said, "Never work with animals or children.  Sometimes, those little monkeys just don't behave the way that you were hoping for."  We were about to discover the wisdom in this quote.
After weeks of trying to schedule the "perfect" day (it seemed like the Universe kept working against us), Calvin and I finally decided Thursday, June 28th was going to be the *perfect* day - no clouds & no rain - to move them from the wood duck box to their new deep brood box.
Mr. Freeze and I had dutifully done our homework. I had purchased the "Beekeeping for Dummies" book and started reading.  I had bought a nice beekeeper's suit, with gloves and veil - always with an eye on the most important requirements - that is, prevention of bee stings.  I was peppering Calvin and others with questions, such as, "can I move them about 200' away from their current location"?  The response to which turned out to be a big, fat, "no", by the way.  Apparently, due to lots of reasons, you can only move them "3 feet or 3 miles".  So, 3 feet it was.
We purchased the minimum needed equipment (well, plus a few things), in order to get my little back-water hive moved.  One deep brood box for my itty-bitty hive of a few bees.  I even way over-paid for a smoker.  I was very nervous the night of June 27th and called Calvin at 8:20 P.M to let him know he could come much earlier than the originally planned time of 10 A.M. to start the move. I NEVER call people that late in the evening, but when Mr. Freeze informed it was going to be 94+ degrees on Thursday, I thought, "I'm going to die in that beekeeping suit", so I decided we needed to get an earlier start.
Calvin, being an 'early bird', arrived around 8:00 A.M. the next day and after loading up all our gear, and discussing our plan to make sure we all knew what we needed to do and when, we were ready to go by 8:30 A.M.  The temps were already climbing into the high 80's, so we waited until we got to the site before we suited up.  Mr. Freeze had mentioned setting up a video camera, but as the temps rose, not one of us remembered to set one up, so I didn't get any pictures of the actual move, but there are some of the aftermath below. 
Even at 8:30 A.M. though, the box still looked like this - bees hanging on the outside and flying in & out of the box.  The original plan was to first get another look inside to see what progress the bees had made since May 17, 2018.  Then, we would remove the flip side door (on the right hand side), the front and lastly the top with the hive attached and "just lay it all" right in the new deep brood box I had purchased.
Picture from May 17th.....you know -  *THE* picture that made us both think this was going to be really easy.

Calvin got his smoker going and started smoking the bees.  As the buzzing got very loud, the hairs on my neck stood straight up and the goosebumps on my arms grew.  I was sure Calvin knew what he was doing, but why do they sound so much angrier with smoke?  After unlocking the hinged door, Calvin got another look inside.....and he quietly said, "ummm, your bees have been very busy".
Not being able to see inside, I wondered, ok, what does THAT mean?  Calvin quickly instructed me to go ahead and remove the screws so we could take the side door off as planned, but I could tell...something made him change his mind about our original plan.  As we removed the side door, I realized - I no longer had a little backwater honeybee hive.  My little hive was ready to run with the big dogs - most of the combs you see in the above picture had grown to almost the full length of the box and they were swarming & seething with honeybees.  Somehow, my little hive had exploded in growth and there were now more than 60,000 honeybees in that wood duck box.
You know that part in Ray Stevens' song "The Streak", where he says, "Don't look, Ethel - but it was too late - she'd already been mooned!"?  Well, that's where we were at that point.  It was too late to turn back now and we were just going to have to make it up as we went along. 
The combs were too big and it was too risky to cut them up and put them in the empty frames that I had prepared the night before....all proud of myself -- even watching all the YouTube videos on how to do it! Too risky as we might accidentally kill the queen.  And by the way, my Queen rocks!  The combs were huge....8" wide and some were the full length of a brood box - 20" long.

There was capped brood everywhere and honey.  As I waited for Calvin to tell me the new plan, the bees - *MY* girls - were raging at the intrusion.  Two of them landed right on my veil at eye level and were wiggling, squirming and buzzing, trying to murder me. Your mind can play tricks on you when you're stressed - WAIT....is that a HACKSAW in her little hand??  Such a character-building event, as the old me would have run away screaming and swatting at them.  I somehow managed to refocus on Calvin and ignore the guard bees as they worked their way around my veil, intent on killing me, I'm sure.
Finally, Calvin pulled out his putty knife, and we began a full-tilt boogie. He began to cut out the combs and I found a position next to him on the tailgate of the truck where I could help him smoke the bees and hand him the tools he needed.  On his first trip down the ladder he stumbled, and I wasn't sure if it was because of the sweat dripping down into his eyes due to the heat or, in my lame effort to help, I was smoking Calvin more than I was smoking the bees.  Actually, I'm pretty sure I was smoking Calvin more than the bees.  When he took the smoker and added more smoke in the box, I confirmed - I had probably smoked him off the ladder, but he was too sweet to say so.  Every time HE smoked the bees, they buzzed louder - every time I smoked the bees, they laughed...and laughed.  *Sigh* ....need some adjustments here.
The bees were swarming, the heat was rising, my brain was overheating and I was trying to deal with the angry bees swarming around my veil....but Calvin kept his cool and cut comb after comb from the nest box and gently & calmly delivered them into the waiting brood box.  We even had to finally get a chain saw & cut down the post upon which the wood duck box was mounted, as the bees kept swarming back to it.
Things didn't go as we had planned, but in the end, it all worked out just fine, thanks to my bee keeping mentor and friend.  Thanks so much, Calvin - I couldn't have done it without you!
After overcoming the shock and heat, that evening I was able to get back to the hive with my camera and get some pictures.
This is a picture of the aftermath...
Day One:

The next day, I suited up and took another trip to visit my girls - they were using the feeder (above) and were calm again.  This is a closeup of the top after we removed the combs:

The box top 24 hours later - the bees were cleaning it off and reusing the wax.  Such clever girls!

The literature says, "when your first brood box is 85% full, it's time to add a second brood box".  After our experiences on 6/28, Calvin and I agreed - with all the comb he had cut out and placed into the box, we had easily reached the 80-85% full mark.  So, on Saturday, 7/1, we added a second brood box.  It was the first time I had had a chance to see the inside of the first brood box where Calvin had laid combs.  The bees had already started 'gluing' stuff up and putting their house back in order - now, how cool is that?
The first video from the Freeze Hive:
Tomorrow, Saturday July 7th, I'll do my first hive check - without my mentor.  At least I know how to use a smoker now.
For the back story on my honeybee hive, you can see more here: http://kathyfreeze.blogspot.com/2018/06/when-you-discover-you-have-wild-hive-of.html

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Bees, the Weed and Gardens

It is so extraordinarily hot here in southern Missouri, which makes it even more surprising that the native plants are blooming.  But yet, this has been the best year ever for my purple coneflowers and as the summer progresses, I'm seeing more & more of them.
The 7-year old Compass plant in this video is reported to have 16' roots - it's going to need them if this heat continues.  The black-eyed Susans, rattlesnake master, Queen Anne's lace, and so much more in this video are busting out in tons of blooms this year - in spite of the heat.

The sensitive briar is so pretty up close:

The native bees are really digging the butterfly milkweed.  Are those Mason bees?
At first, I was disappointed that 2/3 of the milkweed grant was comprised of butterfly milkweed, but after seeing all the native bees and the honeybees on it, I've changed my mind about it.  Thanks to Doris & Lin Altom in Houston, MO who gave me a truck-load of pots, I had enough to transplant the plugs and bury them in mulch for the rest of the summer. I'm still trying to figure out whether to transplant these to the fields in the fall or wait until next Spring.  Over 140 plants have been moved into pots - my sister, Karen Perkins came to visit from Louisiana, so I put her to work helping me transplant them into pots.  It's so much easier with a helper - and you can plant a lot of milkweed when you're planning your next trip to Yellowstone!
Butterfly and common milkweed
After creating a boxed-in screen for my basil to protect it from the Japanese beetles, it is also producing some really healthy leaves this summer. I love basil pesto, so I grow at least 3 plants a year. I've already made one harvest of the leaves.
My first time growing purple hull peas in Missouri, so I'm not sure what to expect. They haven't bloomed yet...maybe it's due to the different growing zone and they'll be late bloomers?  My stepfather, John, used to grow these and give me a few bags when I came home to Louisiana.  These peas are my favorite garden pea and I really need to learn how to grow them here. 
My new friends Doris and Lin - Master Gardeners from Houston, MO, gave me some Red-climbing spinach and I can't wait to try this!
We are bordering on melting here and really need some relief from the heat...and we haven't even reached mid-July yet.