Tag Archives: summer

Two Queens Are Better Than One!

If there’s one thing people remember about the farm and this blog, it’s the bees. People love the bees, and it’s often one of the first questions I get. I often answer with something like, “Oh, they’re great!” But deep down inside, I know I’ve been neglecting my hive duties for one-too-many months.

One of my last attempts to manage the hives left me with countless stings covering my legs, even through my canvas pants, and on my hands, through my gloves. It was a painful experience because I’m slightly allergic to them, and frustrating because it occurred due to my poor choices. I wasn’t careful about the time of day, air temperature, and adequate smoking.

After a few weeks of sulking and walking the long way around the bee yard so I didn’t have to face them, I finally tried again. With no stings this time, I realized how much I needed an experienced beekeeper to walk me through hive management after many weeks of neglect. It was time to get them ready for winter.

Help Is on the Way!

I called Mike Church, King George County’s resident bee expert to help me out. Mike taught the beekeeping class through the Gateway Beekeepers Association that got me inspired and trained to take on my first hives. In fact, my first hives came from Mike. Now, he would help me gets things back to a manageable level.

Can you find the queen? Click on the picture above to zoom in.

As we dug into the first hive, we found a vibrant colony with lots of brood but little honey. This will be the first one to boost, giving them as much opportunity and food stores to survive winter. The second, and largest, hive was a bit more challenging. It contained a lot of honey, good brood patterns, and then something unusual… evidence of two queens! As we got to the bottom of the hive, we realized that the second queen had to be in the last box, but she was no where to be found.

As we lifted the bottom box, there it was, a beautiful “underground” hive built beneath the larger bee city. There’s something so beautiful about free-form comb that reminds you how both scientific and creative bees are. Complex structures with no template other than the innate blueprints with which each is born.

Mike and I decided to give each hive a chance to survive. Working with a little ingenuity, we fashioned a structure that would allow the lower hive to move into one of the boxes. The upper hive would still remain above, with its own queen.

Thanks to Mike for helping me get reacquainted with my hives and for teaching me countless new things along the way. If you’re ever interested in keeping bees, I highly recommend taking a class through your local beekeepers association.

Beehive Condo

As we roll into fall, I’m already lamenting the loss of summer. Thankfully, there is one dozen ears of sweet corn left from Locustville Plantation Farm, after a pass through Ottoman, Virginia. If you’re in the area, check out the old house from 1855 and the little farm store with interesting local goods. You won’t leave without a story or two!

 

Summer’s Bounty

I can’t remember a summer where I’ve enjoyed the fruits and vegetables of the season more than this one. Although it was a busy summer with work and more house projects, there was always a chance to spend time in the garden, to stock up on local produce at the King George Farmers Market, and to get creative in the kitchen with fun ingredients. For the most part, baring a few calamities and skinned knees along the way, summer has been a very joyous occasion.

Blackberry Invasion

One of my favorite Saturday mornings was spent picking blackberries, trying to avoid the impending one-hundred-degree heat index that has pervaded the last month. With winding paths mowed through the tall grass, long sleeves, canvas pants, and enough DEET to take down a small elephant, I ventured out to return with more berries than I consumed. That’s a very tough order.

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I returned with just enough to get started on my favorite blackberry cobbler, which would be the primary course at lunch that day (don’t judge), with another made later in the week. (The second one would definitely be topped with vanilla ice cream). The recipe is a perfect balance of sweet, tender biscuit, and fruit juice that has simmered into a syrup.

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Over the next few weeks, we picked pound upon pound of blackberries that we froze or made into jam. Blackberry jam is one of my necessities for year-round survival, and sometimes I simply eat it with a spoon, it is so good! A few years ago, my friend Nicole told me that cooking jam in copper was the only way to fly. So last spring, I bought my first copper jam pan and gave it a try. I don’t know if it’s the increased evaporation, the contact with the metal, or just the sheer beauty of cooking in copper that makes the jam so much more delicious. Regardless, I’m hooked and will only go back to stainless for jam when it’s a necessity.IMG_0026

Five pounds of wild blackberries simmering in the copper jam pan. The fruit seems to glow!

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The first batch of blackberry jam for the summer

The Garden

In the garden, some of my favorite varieties have really taken off this year. I’m hoping it’s the hard work I put into amending the soil and preparing the beds, but somehow I think it’s just good luck. You might remember my love for white acre peas, which I planted extra of this year. Other favorites that made an appearance include bowling red okra, straight eight cucumbers, early yellow squash, and pineapple cossack ground cherries. What are you growing in your garden?

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The ground cherries look like small paper lanterns on the bottom of the basket

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The white acre peas have been prolific this year, much to my liking

With another few weeks of summer left, the final tomatoes are just now ripening and fall planting will be underway. Here’s to the dog days of summer as we all look to cooler breezes and another joyous season just around the corner.

Vegetable Garden Evolution

With it being nearly 100 degrees in Northeast Virginia with no pool in sight, writing about the garden seemed like a much better deal than working in it. It has been three seasons since I dug my first garden bed out here, and I thought you might like to see its evolution.

I’ve often heard Margaret, my friend who is a landscape designer, talk about the cultivation of new garden beds and how it takes about three seasons to achieve a mature space. While she was probably referring to flower and ornamental beds, I heard Margaret’s voice when we moved in two and a half years ago. I knew that getting started early, even with a basic plan, would yield a mature space sooner than later.

Season 1

The picture below is our first attempt at cultivating an old, fallow field that once held cattle. Ambitious at 40′ x 20′, we tilled in Spring 2014 with a questionable $100 tiller from Craigslist.  The combination of very clay-heavy soil and a cheap tiller made your whole body tremble for hours after, but we got it done and started planting.

Vegetable Garden

The results were amazing to see (and eat!), and I learned so much about seed varieties, what worked, and what didn’t do so well. This would be the basis for the next two seasons. Vegetable Garden

Season 2

The second season was a bit tougher as the indoor renovations had begun and most reserve energy went into completing those projects. But I was still on a mission to keep cultivating the garden space, making it even better after year one.

A cold winter gave me the chance to ponder new designs and best practices. I stumbled across the book, A Rich Spot of Earth, an exploration of Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello, by Peter Hatch. I was mesmerized. Jefferson’s planning, thoughtfulness, and overall vision to create a diverse and beautiful garden was inspiring to me. After a visit to Monticello and some drawings of my own, I had a clear path forward.

Vegetable Garden Plans

Now knowing more about sun angles, wind, and the soil, we decided to rotate the entire garden angle just slightly to better meet southern exposures, and we expanded its overall size to 60′ x 30′. This increase would give me the ability to reduce some of the bed sizes for better access for weeding and planting, further reducing soil compaction from having to walk on it. One of my goals is to minimize the need for deep tilling altogether, emphasizing a low-impact approach at the beginning and end of each season. The garden’s size increase would also allow me to add walkways, fencing, and other design elements to the space.

Vegetable Garden

Before the second season ended, I was able to clearly define the new garden beds, adding topsoil and grass seed to the walkways. As Spring 2016 rolled around, I would have the new layout intact and be ready to focus on the beds and fencing. 

Season 3

As season three came out of a very cold winter, everything was well on its way. The many soil amendments were starting to yield a healthy loam, the grass seed had taken off to mark clear paths, and my own skills had hopefully gotten better with two seasons of learning.

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Miss Bit keeps an eye on work progress in April 2016 – the ultimate project manager

I still have a lot of work to do on the fencing and landscaping around the space, but that gets better too as I find new inspirations along the way. You might remember the dancing lady that was restored earlier this year and now graces the space. After the perimeter garden fence is complete, electrical and lighting will be installed, and water will be routed for irrigation.
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The vegetable garden, July 2016

Although we had a very prolonged, wet spring, I was finally able to get a few seeds in the ground. Many were new varieties that I had not tried before and some were old favorites that I’ve had great success with during past years. Here are some of my favorite heirloom varieties that you will find in my garden each year:

  • Cherry Belle Radish
  • Maxibel Haricot Vert
  • Straight Eights Cucumber
  • Hale’s Best Muskmelon
  • Lacinato Kale
  • White Acre Peas

With a new kitchen and a flourishing garden, I can’t get enough time to cook and create. Hopefully you can stop by and join me for a fresh garden meal one day soon!

Garden ShedMy garden hub

Miss Bit

Garden Oversight Consultant

Memories of Grandy, Georgia, & Acre Peas Make a Summer Harvest at White Plains

Just before the Great Depression began to take hold, a new baby was born in Echols County, Georgia in the mid-1920s. The oppressive August heat was no match for the competing humidity, and you could barely hear yourself think for all the gnats swarming around your head. As I would lovingly call her many years later, Grandy, my grandmother, grew up on her family farm in rural southern Georgia, a place where the pine trees grew tall like matchsticks and the baked soil yielded the most delicious vegetables.

Papa - The Farm, Echols County

Papa, my great-grandfather, and I, ca. 1982.

I remember visiting the farm often, surrounded by family and opportunities to appreciate the land. We gathered in the heat of summer to shuck and silk piles and piles of corn under the 200-year-old oak trees while Grandy and her sister creamed the ears, letting the sweet milk run from each kernel into the green plastic tubs. Others would be inside waiting to receive the tubs of creamed corn, ready to heat them over the stove, cool them, and then freeze them for a year’s worth of eating. Of course, a healthy portion was kept aside for eating that night at dinner.

The Farm, Echols County

Summer would also mean finding the rickety old ladder from the shed and the tin can creatively nailed to a long wooden pole to harvest the pineapple pears. Each pear would become a preserve, a jar of relish, a pie, or perhaps an afternoon snack as you sat in the grass, wiping the sweat from your brow.

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Grandy underneath the pear tree at the farm. Echols County, Georgia. Summer, 2004.

We gathered every February to prune rows and rows of wild grape vines, preparing them for spring growth. The muscadines, the scuppernongs, and the others we didn’t know the name for but loved to eat. The juice would run down your chin as you spit the thick skin into the grass.

My older cousin and I planted white dogwood trees at the farm. We named them Ozzy and Harriet, but I couldn’t begin to tell you why. If I remember correctly, Ozzy didn’t quite make it, but Harriet pulled through and is hopefully still growing strong.

And so, the farm was a place that held early memories of family fun and later memories of just Grandy and I. As I grew older and went to college, it was often just Grandy and I. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends all lived close, but most nights were watching television in the den and weekends meant a trip to the grocery store and always the farmers market.

The Farm, Echols County

Grandy by the grapevines. Echols County, Georgia. Summer, 2004.

Carter’s Produce, the local farm market, was the only place she’d go since she never quite trusted the source at the “other” places. It was an open-air warehouse with piles of fruits and vegetables. It was there, under skilled direction, that I learned how to pick the perfect tomato, test cantaloupe, shell acre peas, pick the least-stringy sweet potatoes, select the most tender okra, and to always grab a bag of peanuts for later boiling. I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps these transfers of knowledge would prove more meaningful than I could have imagined at the time.

Almost nine years after Grandy’s passing, when it came time to look at White Plains as a new home, it was hard to keep the farm in Georgia out of my mind. The farm that now felt lost to me could somehow be reborn. New traditions, new families, and new opportunities for the land.

Acre PeasAs I selected plants for my first year’s garden, there were easy answers – those that I remembered most fondly growing up and new ones to learn from. I excitedly  harvested my first acre peas this year and couldn’t wait to shell them. As my fingers ran along their edge, pushing the small green and white peas from their shell, I was transported back to Grandy’s round kitchen table where I first learned how to make it all work.

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My first harvest of acre peas. Summer, 2015.

 

Calm before the Storm

As summer draws to an end, the number of intense, sporadic storms seems to increase. The dark clouds roll in, and the last rays of late afternoon sun are quickly extinguished.

But on last week’s occasion, the clouds were a thin enough veil to project the warm evening sun across the entire sky and farm.

The house glowed bright orange, a slight fog hung in the air, and a feeling deep in my gut left no doubt that something big was about to happen.

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Update: it wasn’t until I uploaded the photo and updated the site that I noticed the little orbs of light throughout the picture from that evening. It only further expresses the energy that was in the air during that fleeting moment. 

Dog Days of Summer

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Heralded by the running of Sirius the dogstar as it chases Lepus the hare across the sky, the dog days of summer were documented with sweltering heat and pestilence in the ancient mediterranean.

Thankfully, the dog days of summer in Virginia have been less difficult with cool evenings and whispers on the wind that promise an impending new season.

“Wet your lungs with wine: the dogstar, Seirios, is coming round, the season is harsh, everything is thirsty under the heat, the cicada sings sweetly from the leaves .. the artichoke is in flower; now are women most pesilential, but men are feeble, since Sirios parches their heads and knees.” Alcaeus, Fragment 347 (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) (C7th to 6th B.C.)

Summer - White Plains