Waiting

I’m not the best at waiting. Like a lot of people, I value efficiency. I want things to happen when I want them to happen (that seldom works as I hope it will).

The one place where I seem to not mind waiting is in the garden. We didn’t actually have much of a winter here; the flowering quince bloomed sporadically from November until now. The hydrangeas leafed out twice and got blown back by freezes. The witch hazel, on the other hand, offered up only about four flowers; I presume it didn’t have enough chilling hours to produce a show. But a few plants wait patiently, and I watch them waiting.

fern fronds tight.JPG

Fern fronds are curled tightly.

I love curled fern fronds. The idea that this spiral, like those of pinecones or aloes or many other plants, follow the mathematics of the Fibonacci sequence, fills me with wonder. I take as much delight in staring at this lump in the ground and thinking about the mathematics replicated throughout the natural world, as I do in admiring their feathery green fronds after a summer rainstorm.

mystery succulent.jpg

I have no idea what this plant is. If you know, please comment.

I acquired this mystery houseplant (yes, yes, it’s not in the garden, technically….) from a friend on a gardening listserv in my area. She didn’t know its name, either. It replicates itself by forming babies on the periphery of the leaves, then the main stem of the plant falls over and dies and the babies root. In the background of the photo, you can see the withering stem of its sister who already reproduced and shuffled off her mortal coil. I’m waiting every day for the big one to do the same. I feel slightly vicious, anticipating this plant’s death (it never did anything to me other than please me), but it’s exciting, a bit like watching a tree fall in slow-motion.

seed grown primula.JPG

Primula vulgaris, grown from seed.

I have been waiting for this nickel-sized bloom for two years. I love primulas but never had success growing them from seed. Most instructions advise sowing the seed directly in the garden in early spring.

Following those instructions got me nowhere. Two years ago, I learned to sow the seed in August, in a pot outdoors, and let it overwinter exposed more or less to the elements. I kept mine in a cold frame whose windows are a bit leaky, particularly when I forget from time to time to close them.

Success! I transplanted about a dozen seedlings and kept them watered particularly through the hot summers. A few weeks ago, I saw the first tiny little bud. I squealed like a toddler and frightened the dog.

I tell you, I am absurdly proud of this tiny little flower. I hope its siblings will bloom soon. But if not, that’s okay, too. I will wait.

Fall planting update

February makes me feel dreary and heavy. Every winter I pledge to plant something the following fall (when the new plants can establish without the stresses of summer heat) that will keep me cheered up in the winter to come. 

Yesterday I began to make good on that pledge. I also got started on transplanting things that did okay this year, but might perform better next year with a bit more sun, or perhaps a bit more shade.
Chamaecyparis ‘Gold Mop’ now resides in a bed just off the deck, where I can enjoy it from the breakfast table. It will get 3-5′ high and wide in time. It’s back isguarded by Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’ and semi-evergreen Lonicera fragrantissima. 
To make space for ‘Gold Mop,’ I had to dig up some peonies (‘Raspberry Sundae,’ I think?) that can join some compatriots in the front yard, as well as some Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low.’ I divided both plants to about four or five parts. Honestly, there is nothing easier in the plant world than ‘Walker’s Low.’ I also transplanted a salvia that was in too much shade and Salvia puberula, also known as rosebud sage, which I grew from a cutting taken earlier this summer. I think their fuchsia shades will look dynamite next to the golden yellow of ‘Gold Mop.’


I’ve also got a Symphotrichum oblingifolium ‘Fanny’s Aster’ nearby that will complement the salvias and chamaecyparis. It suffered in August this year when we went basically a month without rain, but with temps in the high 90s. It’s going to sleep this fall, but check back next year.

Introduction to beekeeping

It’s been two months since I started beekeeping, and they’ve kept me busy. Not because they need a great deal of maintenance; they don’t. But like any new beekeeper, I can’t stop myself from peeking into the hive and seeing what they’re up to.

Beekeeping Basics

How does one get started in beekeeping? First, you have to order bees. They can be shipped in the mail but it’s better to pick up a package or nuc (pronounced “nuke,” short for nucleus colony) yourself.

Order the bees in the winter, because they’ll all be spoken for by the time spring comes. I ordered mine from two sources: the first package came from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, in Moravian Falls, NC, about two hours east of where I live. The second package is more local to me, from Bailey Bee Supply.  I ordered from two different suppliers on the theory that the bees would be sourced from different places (Brushy Mountain gets their bees from Georgia, Bailey’s perhaps being more local), thus increasing the genetic diversity in my apiary. The theory is just a theory; the bees may actually be from the same place, but I didn’t know that at the time.

A package of bees looks like this:

bee package.JPG

It’s a screened box with three pounds of bees trapped inside, plus a mated queen in a cage. I’ll explain more about installing packages in a future post.

Equipment

I started in April with two hives, comprised of a stand, a screened bottom board (to keep critters out and ventilation moving), two 8-frame medium hive bodies, an inner cover, and a heavy top. The hive bodies are simple boxes, with a ledge on the inside to hold the hanging frames. The frames are lightweight pine, with a black plastic sheet popped inside, just like a picture in a picture frame. The plastic is printed with the pattern of honeycomb. The bees “draw out” comb on top of the foundation.

hive body and frames.jpg

One hive body viewed from above, with eight frames and a healthy population of bees.

Here’s a closeup of one of the new frames. The worker bees make wax from their wax glands, and once the cells are drawn the queen lays one egg in each cell. The eggs show up nicely against the black foundation–each one looks like a little grain of rice.

drawn cells and laid eggs 2.jpeg

Worker bees tending the eggs. In the lower left, the cells haven’t been drawn out yet. In the lower right, pollen is stored in one cell.

The other tools I use are a veil, a smoker, a hive tool, a brush, and gloves. I didn’t start out with gloves.

Here’s the answer to the first question everyone asks me: No, I can’t expect to get a honey harvest this first year. The timing of the bees’ delivery is such that they arrive just before the peak of the nectar flow. The workers must use all the carbohydrates in the available nectar to build comb; after all, the queen can’t lay eggs and the workers can’t store pollen or nectar unless there’s comb in which to place those things. The nectar flow drops off in June and is more or less absent throughout the summer. It picks up again with a second flow in the fall as the asters bloom. So this year the bees will work on establishing their hive, I’ll nurse them through the nectar dearth and through the winter, and starting next spring, I hope we’ll start to see some honey.

Next post: Installling a package.