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.


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.


Garden log, 5.12.16

Went out in the backyard with the dog this morning intending to pull weeds for 10 minutes. Camellia ‘Midnight Lover’ had a terrible case of leaf hall, so I pruned those out. While I was at it, I struck 12 cuttings of Camellia ‘Nuccio’s Cameo.’ I haven’t had much luck in the past growing camellias from cuttings, but I keep trying.

Louisiana iris ‘Black Gamecock’ is in bloom in the rain garden and looking rather spectacular.

New plants, 2016,Vol. 1

Planted two tassel ferns, Polystichum polyblepharum, yesterday before the freeze. One looks great. The other I had let get too dry, so it will take a while for it to settle in and look good.

  • I acquired them last week at the Duke Gardens plant sale, a gardening sucker’s paradise if every there was one. It’s worse then Target. I went in with a $25 gift certificate I had won at a lecture, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to limit myself to that small amount. The total sum spent shall remain between me and my bank, but I will say I think I got the better end of the bargain.

It’s starting to feel real.

Last night the UPS guy arrived during dinner.

My daughter thought the boxes actually contained bees and did not want them brought into the house. I assured her the boxes contained no livestock, so she helped me open them.

I’ll explain it all in a future post. Just wanted to share the excitement.

Garden log, 2.4.16

Planted poppy seeds today, only four months late. Papaver orientale ‘Brilliant’ in the hot border; Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ in the blue slope and on either side of the climbing rose ‘Generous Gardener’ in the back. P. somniferum ‘Hungarian blue breadseed’ in the bed by the front walk, except for one more patch of ‘Lauren’s Grape’ closest to the acanthus.

Also planted two P. orientale ‘Allegro’ transplants in the hot border a few weeks ago.