Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Bee Update

April buzzed by. I got through the month with no swarms, lots of healthy bees, and honey supers that are building up beautifully. Here are a few pics from my most recent inspection.

This is what you want to see when you open up a hive. Massive amounts of bees, and frames of honey pollen and most importantly, capped brood.

Sometimes it's fun to just look at an individual bee. I  thought this girl was adorable heading out for her first foraging flight of the day.

 I don't always see the queen but this one is new and marked in a hive with fewer bees so spotting her was super easy.

 Look at this beautiful brood pattern! Each of those cells capped with tan wax contains a baby bee. This is the kind of thing that makes a beekeeper positively giddy.

We've had lots of beautiful weather and the bees are bringing in nectar and pollen like crazy. They have built out comb in the honey supers and are just beginning to cap some gorgeous spring honey. I sneaked a taste after this inspection and it tasted like honeysuckle.  I also took some video of traffic in the front of the hive to share. Turn up the sound so you can enjoy the sound of the birds and the bees on a beautiful April morning.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spring at Ellenview Cottage

When we moved to this house 26 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.

I built this shed for storing off season beekeeping equipment out of scrap materials I found in other people's trash. It is currently home to a nest of baby Carolina wrens and a curious chipmunk.

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.

 This year, at least until our first granchild appears this fall, 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.

Monday, April 24, 2017

How Gardening Makes Your Brain Happy

It's spring and there seems to be some kind of compulsion to head to the garden center to buy things to plant. Following winter we can't wait to get outside and get our hands dirty. There is a human urge to dig in the soil. It makes us...happy.

As you can tell from the photo, sometimes I can't even wait to get dressed and garden in my pajamas. 

If you are a gardener, or know one, you probably know that they are joyful when they are digging in the dirt. Actually the ones I know just seem to be more upbeat than the general population all the time.  If you thought it was just because gardening was their thing, think again. The real reason might be a little thing called Mycobacterium vaccae. 

Seriously, a REALLY little thing. 

It's a soil microbe that is inhaled when digging or tilling that can also be absorbed through the skin. In can also be released and inhaled while walking in the woods. In my case I'm sure I'm also eating a ton of it when I'm in a rush to scarf down some food and get back outside.

Testing seems to show that exposure to it indirectly increases serotonin. For more about the science  behind how it works see the links I've included at the bottom.

Several years ago tests were even done with cancer patients. It didn't prolong life but the studies found that it did improve the quality of life for people. They reported feeling an increase in vitality, cognition, and a decrease in pain.

Our American culture is increasingly removed from the outdoors. Parents are hyper vigilant about keeping children clean (and supervised which is a whole other discussion). We spend an ever increasing amount of our time in cars, buildings, in front of screens, and disconnected from nature. Then wonder why we feel so anxious and overwhelmed.

Ever had a bad day and just longed to step outside whatever building you were in? 

By the way, studies also show that just being outside can elevate a person's mood and of course it's a must for those with seasonal depression.

It's kind of fun to imagine the TV commercial:

"Ask your doctor about gardening. Side effects include increased muscle tone, increased vitamin D, stronger bones, weight loss, healthier meals, fresh herbs, and a crop of tomatoes."

Is Dirt the New Prozac? 

Soil Bacteria Work in Similar Ways to Antidepressants

Why Gardening is Good for Your Health

Do You Need a Nature Prescription?

Benefits of Ecotherapy

(Do I really need to tell you that I'm not a doctor or that you need to seek professional help for depression that is severe or ongoing?)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How to Make the Most of Your Kitchen Scraps Through Composting


I don't know about you but I feel guilty about the amount of food that gets thrown away at my house. Experts say Americans throw away about 40% of our food. One thing that we can all do, besides not over buying at the grocery, is to compost our raw fruits and veggies that somehow wilted in the back of the fridge before we got around to eating them.  

Here's how it works at my house. See those eggshells? They came from my chickens, that I fed lettuce and weeds from my garden (along with the thousands of bugs they forage every day). The lettuce and other extras from the garden or the kitchen that my chickens ate  daily were fertilized with the compost I worked on last year. One of the main ingredients in my compost pile is the manure (along with pine shavings) from the coop. That little cycle thing? That's the beautiful part.

 This is the handy compost bucket I keep under the sink. It has a charcoal filter in the lid which keeps it from smelling. 

make pallets into compost bins

If you keep chickens then composting is the best use of the manure and used shavings. 

Not only food scraps go in but also full vacuum bags, ashes from the fireplace, grass clippings, leaves, weeds, waste from the coop, and coffee grounds. You don't just toss your additions on top of the pile, you need to mix them in so as not to attract unwanted visitors. Occasionally water and turn your pile and you'll be rewarded with beautiful black, nutrient dense compost that your garden will love.

There are some very nice and unobtrusive compost bins on the market; I just made the one at the top of this post out of some pallets and held it all together with strong wire. Since then someone has given me a sleeker black one that can sit inside the garden. The compost pile is a perfect place to empty the contents from your shredder.

There is a little science to it, so here's a link to more about that.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Why You Should Rethink Your Bucket List

When the movie came out the term "Bucket List" immediately made it's way into the American lexicon. Suddenly everyone has a list of things they want to accomplish and mark off before they kick the bucket. I actually had such a list written out about 15 years before the movie was released, but I think most everyone has a list of this sort, at least floating around in the back of their mind. 

Here's the problem: Life isn't about scratching something off a list. In fact, the danger in seeing it that way is that the place, event, or activity may not be experienced to the fullest. Several years ago I took a trip and when I returned a friend asked it I had seen a couple of particular things. I hadn't, but I'd had a wonderful time and seen interesting different things that were enjoyable to me. Life is full of side streets and unexpected joys. It's best to stay open to those while you are on your quest. It's also full of detours and places you have arrived while the doors are locked. That's okay. Life may have unexpected treasures for you, you know nothing of.

Make sure your bucket has a hole in it. We want life to be full of exciting things. We want to sail around the world or write the great American novel. We see movies and read books about what other people are doing and we get a skewed view of our own lives. The better bucket list may include things like making little kids laugh, or volunteering at a local charity, or tutoring a struggling student. Sharing your experience and knowledge is a practical and rewarding thing to put on your list. Standing water stagnates. Keep what is in the bucket flowing in and out. 

Today may have some things worth putting in the bucket. Life isn't actually made up of big moments. It mainly consists of millions of small ordinary moments, thousands of days, strung together to make a life. You don't want to spend so much time making, or dreaming about your list that you miss the simple joy of today.  When was the last time you visited a museum and sat in front of a work of art for half an hour contemplating it? You may want to add something like "See as many sunrises as possible." to your list. Too many people miss today searching for life's few big moments.

Keep filling the bucket. The thing about lists is, that we are eager to get to the end of them and feel a sense of accomplishment. As you learn and grow, the list will both shrink and expand. You may mark things off the list, not because you do them, but because you no longer need to do them. You may need to replace them with other more important or interesting things. Some of them may be released. Some of them may die. It's okay. Keep adding the new things you'd like to accomplish. Life, above everything else is a process. 

Put "Keep moving forward." at the top of the list.  Here are some things that are on friends' lists: Travel to Italy, get a Ph.D., run a marathon, repair a broken relationship, write a book that will challenge status quo thinking. All of those goals have something in common. They cannot be accomplished standing still. Being a life long learner, getting and staying fit, and working on improving relationships are worthy of a spot on your list. The more you focus on forward momentum, the more you can tweak that list into something more meaningful than just a list of places to see and things to do. 

A lot of things show up on these lists because of what everyone else thinks we should want to do. Your list will be unique and personal to you. It doesn't have to include skydiving or visiting the Taj Mahal. Think about what you really want to accomplish in life and let your list reflect that. Work toward making those things happen, but leave yourself lots of freedom to explore, wander, and dump out the bucket and start over. Just don't let it get rusty. You are only going this way once.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Future Beekeeper Arriving This Fall!

I've been keeping a big secret for two months! My daughter is expecting our first grandchild in October and we couldn't be happier!

Expect a lot of exclamation points from now on!

We are a little excited!

Do we want a boy or a girl?


Here is the announcement my daughter used on social media. What the heck? It's like she doesn't even get that I'm finally going to get a mini-beekeeper. They are probably thinking this kid will be an athlete. Whatever. 

Some of you may have figured it out a couple of weeks ago when I posted about losing everything in my computer. Every. Thing. You can read about that and what to do if it happens to you here: Losing it All: How I Dealt with my Worst Computer Mishap Ever

I couldn't say that the treasured pictures I was most upset about were the ones I had taken at the beach when we scattered my mom's ashes You can read about that here:  Scattering Grief: Absence, Cold Sand and the Absence of Emotion   

Anybody else hearing The Circle of Life from the Lion King?

Want to read the wedding posts from the Mother of the Bride Chronicles? Click here! 

I'm just assuming you want to read all the things you missed. 

Now, I know that one of the things you want to know is what is the baby going to call me? Actually this question came up during the wedding planning six years ago and my son-in-law settled it by giving me his own nickname, Kiki. It's all he's ever called me and what my daughter calls me too.

Can't remember the last time I heard "mom."

My husband is taking the bold approach of letting the kid pick what he/she will call him. I find that risky since when our son was a baby he called his sister "Pete" and we all still call her that. I've confused more than one person by announcing that "Pete is pregnant."

Letting the kid pick is a total crapshoot. If Downton Abbey taught us anything it's that a grandchild might come up with something like "Donk." I'll keep you posted on this important topic.

I thought I'd share the rest of those pictures and the announcements that my daughter and I both made to share. Here are some other pictures that we didn't use for the announcement. There was a big disagreement about those sunglasses.

The rule about sunglasses in photos is this: Everyone must be wearing them. These would have been fine if she'd been wearing shades. In the end he had to admit she was right and the picture they liked best was the one where he took them off.

Okay, grandparents! Give me your best advice for being the best KIKI ever! Comment about your favorite part of being a grandparent and best stories.