Thursday, May 28, 2015

How To Make a Firefly Lamp for Your Backporch or Patio

lit jar

One of my favorite memories from childhood is catching lightening bugs in a jar at dusk. I'll bet you remember that too. As an adult it's one of those things that you remember your own children doing. It's pretty much the most charming thing ever to see kids on a lawn in front of their homes or in the backyard with their friends catching those magical little insects. It's a beautiful reminder of the innocence of childhood.

Recently on a clearance rack at the grocery I picked up a couple of strings of battery operated wire lights similar to the ones pictured available here. Where were these during my holiday decorating? I couldn't find them anywhere! I didn't have a plan for them but just walked around with them when I got home and wondered what to do with them for summer. Then I saw this jar which I had been using to feed bees and it clicked.

firefly lamp

I unspun the lights from the packaging and placed them in the jar. It is really easy to hide the battery back behind anything as you can see from the photo.

firefly lamp

firefly lampfirefly lamp

You can either carefully wrap the wire over the mouth of the jar and set the lid on top to look closed, or you can do what I did and open it a bit and string the lights out to make it look as though your fireflies are being released. Which you know, kids, is how this activity always ends.

firefly lamp

These lights have a timer feature if you want them to come on at the same time every night.
What's your favorite memory of a childhood activity?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

One Day You are Reading a Book and Before You Know It You Are Hiving a Swarm

bees book sue hubbell

 Sometimes when I tell people I'm a beekeeper they ask "How in the world did you ever get into that?" The answer, quite simply, is I'm not really sure.

But I know this--reading books is a dangerous thing. If you didn't know this already then you have probably never read anything so troubling or spectacular that it changed your life. For me, that has sometimes been a book on politics or history and other times a novel with characters hauntingly real in compelling situations. Lots of books have been keys to unlocking doors in my evolution.

Then there is Sue Hubbell and her Book of Bees. Sometimes you read something that gets under your skin and won't let go. I can't even remember why I picked up that book so many years ago, maybe I was secretly interested in bees though I can't remember why. I don't recall what possessed me to pull the book from the shelf at the library except that I'll usually read anything about anything and that the world in general interests me. Whatever the reason I found myself reading Ms. Hubbell's charming account of beekeeping in Missouri and I never got over it.

The thought of beekeeping kept buzzing around in my head.

My first memory of encountering bees took place in a white clover covered yard in rural Indiana. I would have been about five years old the summer that I was stung by bees eleven times on the bottoms of my tough little feet. I was a sort of a wild child and took my shoes off on the last day of school and except for church on Sunday and trips to town I refused to put them back on until school started again. That summer my mother and I spent a lot of time on a gold velour sofa, my dirty feet in her lap.

She'd scrape the bottom of my foot with the tweezers and remind me that this wouldn't happen if I would wear shoes. I got the same lecture the day my foot and the back wheel of my sister's bike had an fight and my foot lost. I landed dramatically on the gravel of the driveway with a twisted ankle and a sister who was sure to get in trouble for giving me a ride with my gangly feet flying everywhere.

Long before any talk of the danger of bees going extinct from the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder I had been to a friend's house and she'd had an artist paint some insects on the walls of her daughter's room. Dragon flies and ladybugs were sweet additions to the decor. I was enchanted. On a snowy Tennessee night while talking on the phone with my sister I painted a bee on the wall above my kitchen counter. It's still there and my husband is sandbagging my plan to put glass tile on the wall because he doesn't want me to cover up the prophetic bee even though now through the window next to the painted bee we can now see three busy beehives in our garden.

Beekeeping is the perfect occupation for anyone who appreciates wonder. The bees are mesmerizing to watch and a joy to listen to, hard working females who buzz alongside me as I work in the garden.  I talk kindly to them as they go about their business. I've tried lots of things and actually make a habit of trying to learn something new every year. But a colony of bees is a mysterious thing. Science has answered many of the questions people had for thousands of years but I still sit on my backporch on summer evenings and watch them in the setting sunlight wondering where they've been and where they are going. I enjoy participating in something I won't get to the end of understanding. Any beekeeper will tell you that the hobby is a mixture of science and art. There are the ways things should work generally if you do this or that, or the ways bees normally behave--then there are the things the bees actually do. The bees haven't read all the books written about them.

You can manipulate them but in the end they are wild things, a collection of highly organized untamed females that cannot be fenced in or tied up. They will be free within their own set of rules. Something about that is extremely appealing. I wonder that there are not more women who find the keeping of bees a satisfying undertaking.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Pen and HIve Garden Story

When we moved to this house almost 24 years ago it was a blank slate even though my in-laws had lived here since 1966. They'd both worked full time their entire lives and so things had been cared for meticulously but no one had dug up the yard in all that time except for a small plot with my father-in-law's roses. I immediately set about replacing grass with gardens in the front and back yards. When my son was small we spent hours reading Beatrix Potter stories and I planted a Peter Rabbit garden with plants from the stories, lettuces and blackberries and camomile. In the front yard I created a walkway and planted azaleas and a lovely cottage garden. Over the years however the Japanese maple I planted along with a very productive Bartlett pear grew to such heights that a shade garden evolved over time. Now the entrance is inviting and cool.

A few years later life got insanely busy and I let the garden go back to lawn while I shuffled people hither thither and yon. It was exhausting. There was too much business and socializing for a garden loving introvert. I missed the quiet surprises of a garden. Slumbering toads that come to life when you are weeding and dragonflies. I missed herbs. I wanted flowers and birds. In the summer of 2008 I reclaimed what I had let go. I treated reclaiming the garden and digging up a larger part of the lawn as a full time job. I would head out in the morning and turn over earth with a shovel until lunch, wash, eat, drink a ton of water and head back out. It took me a couple of months but there is something rejuvenating about soil. I also had my heart set on chickens. Bees would follow.

Whoever said that a gardener spends eighty percent of his time leaning on a shovel imagining what the garden will look like was right. Since I created this second version of a garden some years have gone better than others. I mark the successes and failures. I take note of what really delights me. Fruits. Chickens. Bees. Herbs. I don't grow a ton of vegetables, just a few here and there. Vegetables excite me less in the garden than other things.

I am undone however by a brambly blackberry patch or thyme. There isn't any explaining this.

Last year was busier than I would have liked but this year things are quite settled and the small enchanting space out back that includes the potting shed and honey house is where you can find me most of the time. To read about what that means for the inside of the house right now you can read The Dirty Truth About Spring at Our House.