...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


paint spills into peace signs

Several years ago, my little lady was moving some paint around outside 
and I should have known some spillage would happen.

She has a real penchant for paint spills.

Once, in a bedroom that had wall-to-wall carpeting at the time,
she managed to knock off an almost-full gallon of paint from a ladder.

That was fun.

The carpet clean-up didn't result in any artistic expressions,
perhaps some flagrantly artistic verbal expressions...
But the spill in the driveway had some options we could work with.

Initially, we painted the driveway blacktop sealer stuff over it to cover up the big goof.
But this year, the weather had worn it all off and the big goof up was exposed again.

I suggested we make the best of it and just paint something fun on it, like maybe a peace sign.
Well, before I knew it, Boo had taken the idea and run with it,
and the next time I stepped outside I saw this:

Everything she does has such a quality of lightness and fun.
I love it.

I asked her why she chose to not make it larger to cover the whole spill,
and she said she decided to leave the edges of the spill as a reminder
that sometimes we mess up, sometimes $hit happens...

but it's all what we make of it.



Last year I planted bare root strawberry plants.
And they did a whole lot of diddly squat.

I wasn't sure if it was because it was their first year,
or more likely because of the far-less-than-ideal way in which I planted them.

We were making a new garden bed and I had just learned about sheet mulching.
I literally put a row of overlapping cardboard boxes down,
and covered the row with mulch and Boo added a little bit of topsoil-compost mix.
I thought it would be a miracle if they ever did much of anything given those conditions.

This year they started to produce! 

It was really fun watching the blossoms come in 
and how the little teeny tiny strawberry starts to bud out from the center.
then the petals fall away 
and the little berry grows...

and grows some more...

and voila, a row of strawberry plants starting to fruit!

Bootsy added more mulch this year.
But unfortunately I forgot to fertilize the "strawbs."
Despite my forgetfulness, we still managed to get some really delicious berries.

These are day-neutral variety called Tristar.
Day-neutral types cycle through a fairly continuous crop, 
and are also referred to as "ever-bearing."

Nothing like a juicy strawberry warm from the sun.

Definitely not enough in one day's picking to make a pie...

Our strawberry row is in a fenced garden, but it's not bird proof or ant-proof,
and we've seen both birds and ants trying to nab our precious red jewels...
Maybe I'll remember to fertilize next year 
and we'll also figure out how to outwit the ants and birds
and then we might have enough for pie!


eastern painted turtle

I've wanted turtles in our pond for soooooooo long!
Two years ago I bought two red eared sliders and two painted turtles
 and introduced them to the pond, but they quickly left.  

They moved on to bigger ponds... 
And sadly, one walked down the road and did not have a happy ending. 


Two weeks ago when I was driving home from work,
I saw a turtle crossing the road. 

I had seen a big honking snapper on the same road just a few days before,
so I was tuned in to the fact that it's turtle mating season.  

If I hadn't been specifically looking out for turtles, I might not have noticed it at all.
It might have registered as a rock, or road debris of some sort.

 Well, this turtle was just about in the middle of my lane, and all I could envision 
was the awful stream of commuter traffic and people not paying attention 
crushing it inadvertently.
I could not have that.

I thought about it and realize that within the next five minutes, 
probably 20 cars would come by and 
it would be directly in the path of their tires, before even making it to the middle of the road.

Oh no no no!

I had read that the "right thing to do" if you see a turtle crossing the road 
(if it's NOT a snapper, don't ever pick one of those up!) 
is to park, gently lift the turtle and place it at the other side, where it was headed.
Essentially, give the turtle a human hitch-hike out of the danger zone.

So, why not... simply put it in your car 
and take it to home to your pond to see if it will live happily ever after with you?  

Well, because there's a good chance the turtle 
is trying to get somewhere to mate or lay eggs
and if you take it, it will probably try to head off again, 
only this time not knowing the territory, 
and will be likely to encounter even more dangerous traffic...

 Well... our house is literally right around the corner.
So I didn't think there would be too much harm in a very, very slight relocation experiment.

I was so excited that I forgot to check the plastron (the belly part of the shell / underneath)
 to try to figure out how old he/she might be.

Based on the size, this is probably a she.
And a fairly mature she at that.
But I can only guess.

 an Eastern Painted Turtle
chrysemys picta

so beautiful...

 The time before when I bought turtles, I just put them into the pond.
This time we decided to put the turtle NEXT to the pond, so it would be her choice to enter the pond.
And given that she instinctively felt that I was a threat, 
I thought, well, maybe she will think that the pond is a safe haven from
big bad me. 

 I walked away for a few minutes to put some logs in the pond for her to bask on,
and by the time I got back to check on her, she had scooted herself right in.
That was the last I saw of her for over a week. 

I worried that maybe she was lonely.
But then I read that turtles will tolerate others, but they're quite happy alone.
They're born alone, to fend for themselves.
Other turtles can mean competition.

I spotted her once, swimming near the surface,
but after many more days of no sightings, 
I started to think that maybe she, too, left our pond for a bigger body of water.

 Then a few days ago, I was talking to my sister on the phone and saw movement at the pond.
And there the beautiful turtle was!
Instead of basking on the logs I put in the pond,
it seems that she prefers the lily pads...
And she had company, too, if you look carefully amongst the lily pads,
but they are co-existing fine enough it seems.
I don't think either one poses a threat to the other, based on size.
 It seems promising that if she's stayed around this long,
maybe she'll stay awhile longer!

We can only hope...!


up on the perch

The little girls have really been trying to be like big girls.
Practicing all the big girl things.

About a week and a half ago, they started trying to get up on the perches.
Commie came into the coop with them and found them perched in all sorts of places...
The silliest girl was up on top of the wall heater!

 Commie takes it all in stride.
"Now girls, listen... I'll tell you all about perching..."

 They were thoroughly impressed with themselves and what their little wings can do.

 I think Mamma even egged them on a little bit.
She was up there telling them to try to come up onto the bigger perch with her.

I could see them thinking through the process... 

"Okay, I back down on my feet to get a good strong lift-off,
I focus my attention on the perch where I want to go..."
...and then take a flying leap and hope for the best!

 They had a wobbly landing, but two of them got to the big perch from the little perches!

 The silly girl, 
the one who was up on top of the heater,
somehow managed to fly all the way up to the big perch from the bottom of the coop.

Some serious wing power she's got!
But she wasn't satisfied being ON the perch.
She wanted to get even higher,
so she had to get up on Mamma.

But Mamma wasn't having any of that. 

Lesson learned, silly chickie.
Don't hop on Mamma while she's perching.

Just as they were recovering from that debacle, 
the big girls started to come into the coop to roost.
Their Aunties didn't like the little girls taking their favorite spots.

Mamma Commie decided it was best for the little girls 
to just stick with her  for a little while longer.  

They weren't ready for the big time.  
They couldn't hold their own up there with the rest of the flock,
and she couldn't protect them as easily.

So, back under Mamma they went.

Silly chickie fussed a bit.
"But Mommmmmm!   I really want to try to fly up on the perch again tonight!"

"Tough chicken $hit, young lady!  
Get under my wing now!  I've had enough antics from you for one night!"


So that was before.

Tonight when we went out to the coop,
we saw the cutest thing:

The girlies sure are growing up.
They're smartening up, too.
Staying on the lower perch and not messing with their Aunties.

Mamma is down in the brood spot right underneath them...!

I think that maybe she's there just in case one of them gets chilly 
or gets tired of perching and wants to rest under her wings...

She really does get the mother of the year award!



baby chicks taking dirt baths...

The little girlies are learning about proper hygiene from their mother. 
They took a trip to the Dirt Spa behind the shed.  

Gotta keep those mites away by dusting everything down!

You can see the girlies try their best to emulate their Mom and Aunties,
but mostly it's a good chance to doze off and take a rest. 


becoming a beekeeper

 Two weekends ago I was a nervous wreck.

The package of honeybees I had ordered in January from Honeybee Headquarters 
was finally on its way, after many delays due to weather... 

The bees had been packaged up in an apiary in Georgia 
and had been on the move in the back of a truck non-stop 
to get them to beekeepers all throughout the northeast.  

We met our bee delivery guy at the drop spot,
which was going to be about 40 minutes away,
but it ended up being 4 miles away.
Trust me, 4 miles with 10,000 bees inside the car with you still feels like a loooong way
especially if you're a scaredy cat like me thinking of the worst case scenarios like
what if someone rear-ends us and the bee package gets jostled / crushed open
and they all come rushing out angrily and we're trapped in the car?

Luckily Boo was driving and I just sat there tightly gripping the oh-shit bar,
rambling about all of the things that could go wrong
and turning around every 5 seconds to make sure no bees were escaping.

Sometimes I really am such a piece of w.
That's what we call a real piece of work.


So, I'm here to report that actually holding
3 pounds of honeybees (about 10,000 of them!)
in a rinky dinky box
buzzing between your bare hands 
is utterly thrilling and amazing.

They feel like such a life force.
Because they are.

Here's the box they went into.
Boo got me this beautiful top bar hive from Bee Thinking for my birthday this year.
It has lots of great features that I'm coming to love even more with time.
 By far and away the most fun thing is being able to see
what the bees are doing through the viewing window.

 I was feeling overwhelmed at what seemed to be a daunting task:
how to get the bees out of that little box and into the hive.

I read books.  I surfed the net.  I watched videos about installing packages.
Once you research too much, you see that everyone does it a little differently.
Plus top bar hives are outliers - the majority of folks keep bees in Langstroth hives.
And beekeepers are folks with strong opinions.
For every person who talks about a great way, 
there is someone who feels very strongly about why you shouldn't do it that way.
This did not instill confidence.

Thank goodness for our friend Wendy (those of you who have been following my blog
might remember Wendy as the source of all things garlic).
Wendy also happens to be an entomologist
who spent some time working at at a bee lab.  
She knows a thing or two about bees.
Wendy always has a can-do attitude and doesn't easily get intimidated.   
She's even captured wild swarms hanging from electrical pole wires.
 She talks about these things as if it's like getting the mail, 
or making a cup of coffee.

With Wendy's assistance,
I went from being totally terrified to feeling fascinated in a matter of moments,
even with hundreds of bees flying right past my face.

We were so caught up in the experience of "installing" the package of bees
that we don't have any pictures from that process.
Installing the bees, in retrospect, is not that scientific.

Beekeepers joke about "bonking" the bees into the hive, 
which is exactly what one does.
You bonk the box.  
You shake them out.
You tilt the box this way and that, and give it another whap.
There will be A LOT of bees flying around.
The bees will be buzzing what sounds like an almost decipherable
"Hey lady, WTF?!"
But very soon they will forget all about it 
and be happy to be in their new digs.

The queen cage is the trickiest and most important part.
We put it in the bottom of the hive, 
and had to remove it a few days later 
after she had been released from the cage by the workers.

(In the future, I think I will follow Michael Bush's advice and direct release the queen 
if the workers have accepted her.)

 The older worker bees who leave the hive to forage come and go through this entrance hole.
(I was a little nervous that it's such a big hole...
but it seems to be fine so far, and it can be closed down with a reducer.)

The girls have been hard at work...
Look at the rows of comb they've been drawing!!! 
Every day it gets bigger and bigger in there.  
This picture was after the first week.
Now, almost 3 weeks later - they've built out about 12 bars of comb!

 They're little mathematical geniuses with wings.
The geometry of it all is mind-blowing.
Bees build hexagonal cells because they are the most efficient and have the most tensile strength 
for all of the purposes of the hive (raising brood, storing heavy honey, etc.)

If you want to be able to "work" the hive and harvest honey,
one of the most critical things is that the bees are building STRAIGHT comb
 (i.e. one comb hanging down per bar).
If they start cross combing, that is -- if they attach portions of a single comb
to spots on several other bars -- it has to be corrected right away.
Otherwise there won't be any way to get in the hive
without destroying comb and having bees die as a casualty...)

The main ways to ensure you get straight comb in a top bar style hive are to
- get your hive level
- use top bars with a wedged shape to encourage them to build down from the wedge.


So, why did I decide to embark on this adventure?

 In retrospect, I've romanticized the idea of being a bee "charmer" 
ever since I saw Fried Green Tomatoes.
If anyone out there remembers that movie,
Idgie Threadgoode could make even someone
who has to carry an epi-pen feel excited about the adventure 
of stealing a little honey.

It's about more than stealing a little honey for the honey pot, though.
(more on the medicinal aspects of the hive in a later post...)
The main reason I decided to do this is because
I want to help the bees.

The honeybee population is in trouble,
and we'll be in real trouble without them.
Their pollination is critical to large amounts of our food supply.
Not to mention that they are amazing, amazing bee-ings.  :)
Even if our bees started cross-combing like crazy and we couldn't fix it in time,
and even if we never got a drop of honey from the hive,
I am so happy that we did this. 

A friend of ours who is a permaculturist / farmer
spends practically every waking hour outside on his land
and he has not seen a single honeybee yet this year.
Things are so deeply wrong with our biosphere 
and we have to turn it around.
So, we're doing our part here, to help keep the bees going.
And we'll do our best to do right by them.


If you don't have the desire or the means to get your own natural hive going,
there are plenty of things you can do.
First and foremost, if you ever see a swarm of honeybees,
or a nest built in an inconvenient location to you (soffets, barns, trees)
 please don't call pest control to exterminate them!  
Post an ad to Craigslist or call your local beekeeping organization 
and a beekeeper will be SO HAPPY to come and 
take your honeybee swarm away for free.

Besides the obvious of not killing any honeybees,
you can also:

- eat organic foods as much as possible 
(non-organic farming using pesticides that are very dangerous to bees, 
not to mention your body!)

- don't use pesticides in your lawn / garden

- plant flowers that the bees love! (there are sooo many!)

- buy honey from local beekeepers who keep their hives as naturally as possible

- when your dandelions come into bloom, remember that they are major bee magnets!
If you can tolerate a little wildness in your yard just for an extra week, 
let your grass grow a little longer when the dandelions are flowering 
so the bees can get a good nectar flow.  They will make so much honey and be so happy with you. 
You can mow your lawn back down to size the next week.

While you're at it, you could even try to make a little dandelion wine.
The bees don't mind sharing with you.


Hoppin' on Momma

Things have been happening fast in the chicken yard.
The little girlies are growing up in a flash, 
right before our very eyes!

They're only a smidge over 2 weeks old.
Fluff is starting to get pushed out by growing feathers.
They sure are busy little gals.

They've figured out how to get up the ramp and into the coop 
all by themselves!

They spend most of the day foraging and playing
zipping here and there and everywhere.

They're starting to stray a little bit further from Mom,
but not too far, and not too long.

They still scurry backs for little naps 
and trips underneath momma to get warm.

They looooooooove hopping up on their momma!

They take a little ride for a few seconds and then slide off,
or they use her as a springboard to another perch.   

It makes me think of the Dr. Seuss book, Hop on Pop,
except for this is clearly a case of Hoppin' on Momma.

Stay tuned for more chickie fun to come!