Sunday, November 29, 2009

Winter Preparation for the Bees

The early fall had very low nectar flows, probably due to all the rain. We were disappointed as we have a couple of acres of golden rod, which vary though in nectar production depending on the species. So, not only did we not have the opportunity to collect honey but the bees barely have made enough for themselves. They need about 35-60 lbs of honey stored to survive a PA winter, depending on who you ask. We have been feeding them a heavy syrup for a few weeks now. Our stronger hive all year has actually declined a bit and has not produced enough honey still, maybe about 15 lbs. We continue to feed them using now ½ gallon plastic buckets rather than the glass jars with metal tops that are difficult to clean and rust. We hope they will build up their stores in time or we will simply have to feed them all winter. We noticed at our last visit that wasps were feeding on the side of the hive and trying to gain entrance. Our second hive is finally well organized and strong and has produced at least 45 lbs or so of honey based on the non scientific method of just picking up the hive body for weight. We attached mouse guards on the hives a month ago but we noticed a mouse living underneath, who scurried out as we were feeding. Using 12 bales of hay, we built some walls behind and around the hives to protect them from the impending winter winds and to help reflect the warmth of the sun to the hives. November has been luckily a mild month and hopefully the bees will continue to build up their supplies using the food we provide.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Baby Snakes in November

I am sad to report but I have counted about 4 dead baby snakes on my driveway for the last few weeks. That must mean though that there are many more slithering in the grass. After doing some research, snakes are born also in August and September, so now they are looking around for a warm place to rest during winter. This photo was found online, click on it for the URL.:)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Solar Powered Gadgets

John and I have enjoyed finding functional solar powered gadgets we can use around the house and yard. John found this handy shed light online – a GAMA Light My Shed II which requires no wiring. After only 45 minutes for installation, I now have a bright functional light for my shed. It uses LED lights which never have to be replaced and when fully charged will last for 2 hours.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunflower Seed Surprise!

After the frost, I gathered up the sunflower seed heads to dry them so I could feed them later to the birds. After remembering a couple times to place them in the late summer sun to dry, I left them in a basket in the garage to tend to later. I finally went back to collect the seeds to store them but found instead a huge pile of shells. Instead of feeding the birds, I fed some very lucky mice who are now fat and lurking in my garage.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Where are the Turtles?

Usually I catch a peak of the snapper turtles moving from the pond up on the road down to the little creek that runs under our driveway and into the little boreal pond that is finally filled with water again. They are amazing when you see them as they are huge – some as big as a foot in circumference with a thick tail and huge feet with strong claws. They dig down deep into the mud for the winter. Maybe I have just missed them or it has been too wet or too balmy this November? We will remove the turtle crossing sign up at the road soon until spring so when it is again erected it will attract renewed attention and caution. Last year, a female was hit by a car, despite the sign. She was filled with eggs but we found her in time, gathered her into a huge plastic container using gloves and a shovel. We raced her to the Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center, a non-profit group that rehabilitates injured wild animals, where they nursed her back to health. She was released a month later in good condition. The Aark has recently moved from Newtown closer to us up on 1531 Upper Stump Road near Tabora Farms. If you find an injured wild animal, don’t hesitate to contact them at : 215. 249.1938 and/or visit their website: There is an excellent article with great pictures about them in the November issue of Bucks County Town and Country Living magazine. I also found a helpful British site for advice on how to care for injured wild animals at

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fox is Back

I was busy working and looked up in time to witness a fox trotting into the side yard. In just the last few weeks, I have seen him more regularly walking on the edge of the meadow in the middle of the day. He walks with purpose, looks thin and has a scrawny red tail rather than the bushy one from spring. He is circling around, suddenly pounces and is eating something vigorously, perhaps a mouse or mole. Off he goes back around the bend already. Hopefully with the next sighting he will be wearing his full winter coat and look more robust. Note: This awesome shot was found online and the URL can be determined by simply clicking on it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Water Anyone?

This hasn’t been the year to collect water here in eastern PA. We are currently over 10 inches ahead of normal. But boy, were we ready, just in case. We bought 2 large green water barrels from the site: They can be connected easily as well. I wanted to be able to open and close the downspout without cutting it and attaching a annoying flexible funnel. I explained this to The Gutter Guys and they found and installed an amazing and functional metal “lip” that can easily be pulled down and pushed up again after collecting the water you need or when the barrel is full. It only takes one good rain to collect an entire barrel. We empty them and store them in the garage during the winter.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More Crow Adventures

Early in the summer we were awakened daily by a sharp knocking at the window. Not being farmers and rising with the sun, these rude awakenings were not much appreciated. Our windows are tinted and a young crow seemed to be either fighting with his Doppelgänger or trying to beg for food from this cold reflection. He went from window to window. It wasn’t just mornings either, sometimes he would arrive in the middle of the day. He would peck away until he either became tired, bored or scared away by a clap or bark, then rejoin his flock of crow friends who watched from afar and then fly away until the next day. Initially our cats were greatly amused but they too tired of these daily antics. It was difficult to capture him on film, as I think he might have also been spying on us. After many failed attempts, I finally had to crawl on the floor to the window to take this photo. After several months of tolerating this and convincing the family not to kill him, he simply didn’t show up one morning. I missed him but spotted him and his friends later flying by above the tree tops. Perhaps he finally grew up.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What is truly deer proof?

I created a deer test garden to determine exactly what is deer proof for our immediate area during all the seasons. When they are hungry enough or curious they will try just about anything. Several deer meander by daily always investigating what I have recently planted. Thus far, I can say with confidence that they will not eat the following:
Lavandula sp.- lavender, Digitalis sp. foxglove, Nepeta - catmint, ferns, Asclepias tuberosa - butterfly weed, milkweed, magnolia, gingko tree, thistle, Paeonia - peonies, spirea, Caryopteris –blue mist spirea, Helleborus sp. - hellebores, and Solidago sp. - goldenrod.
I have found many plants that appear on deer resistant plant lists to actually still be eaten such as: Lindera benzoin (spicebush), Viburnum spp, hollies, forsythia, weigula, especially young plants.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Could it be a leopard slug!

About a month ago I was out enjoying the sounds of evening and just about stepped on a huge grey mottled slug (4 inches or so long) which was emerging from the tangle of catmint or Nepeta. Nepeta is an amazing perennial with beautiful delicate blue flowers that bloom most of the summer and attract hundreds of bumblebees and honey bees. I immediately started investigating about the slug and discovered that it is probably a limax maximus or leopard slug. I spotted another one just yesterday meandering with purpose in the grass out by the vegetable garden as pictured here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Guess what I found!

I am so proud! I grew butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) which is related to milk weed from seed this year and I must say it is stunning! I was admiring it today and was shocked to see someone had been feasting on it ! Boy, am I glad – I found at least 2 dozen monarch caterpillars munching away. Click on the picture to get a closer look.,

Fuel the world with Solar!

What are we waiting for? Check out the website for more information.

Thanks John for sharing.

Friday, September 4, 2009

On the road to becoming less energy dependent and carbon neutral

Before jumping to solar panels, our goal is to first reduce our energy consumption. We replaced all our old appliances, boiler and air conditioners with energy star rated ones or energy efficient units, all done before the wonderful rebates were available, but which dropped our energy use by 20%. We are also replacing all our light bulbs with compact fluorescent low wattage bulbs from energy star which use 2/3 less energy than normal incandescent light bulbs and can last about 5 years. This year we installed a Power-Save capacitor device on our home electrical system, which is reported to reduce energy consumption up to 25%, but we haven’t seen any savings yet.

Although we individually don’t have wind or solar, we joined PECO Wind for all our electricity needs which costs an additional $60 on average a month but you can join for as little as $2.54. This amount makes our energy use at least more carbon neutral except for heating, which is our next focus. We plan to install a wood pellet burning stove insert into our fireplace to reduce our reliance on propane based heat. What else could we be doing? Ideas?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jumping Bunnies!

Last week I created a fortress around my newly planted fall garden after discovering much of it had been munched. Perhaps it was rabbits or maybe even crows, but this morning while watering the flowers and basil what should jump a foot high in surprise but 2 baby bunnies in unison. I couldn’t help but smile as they are so innocent and small.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Working Hard!

The bees are working intensely, collecting nectar as fast as they can. I found them covering sedum around the house and all over the meadow collecting from the golden rod. We are still feeding them sugar water though which they are using quickly these last few hot days. They have been bearding a lot too to stay cool as pictured here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Our Bee Journey

It began about a year ago when we attended Montgomery County Beekeepers Assoc. beginner classes. We became official beekeepers or apiarist in early April with 2 hives filled with about 30,000 bees each – all mostly ladies, very hard working and too busy to even sting us on most days. We always knew we would raise them and were certainly inspired by John’s grandfather who had over a dozen hives in northern Florida on about 20 acres. Hive 1 is amazing with a strong queen and textbook hive development whereas Hive 2 has had 3 different queens and it still struggling. From Hive 1, we extracted about 30 lbs of honey a few weeks ago and it is - oh so golden and delicious. The ladies are gearing up for the second big nectar flow, which I am following as you can see on the left column of this blog.

The hives are situated in the middle of about 2 acres of golden rod (Solidago) so we are hopeful that we might extract more honey in October. More importantly though, we need to make sure the bees have enough food for themselves to survive the coming winter. They are truly amazing, beautiful and crucial for pollination and the creation of flowers and fruits. If you are interested, see the following sites:,,,,

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A late afternoon surprise!

Walking through the meadow late this afternoon, I startled a group of goldfinches who were feasting on thistle. They twitter to one another that I am there and scurry to the trees till I have passed. The thistle blooms are a reminder to me that it is nesting time for them. Check this website to hear their song and learn more: - great photo - another amazing photo

Monday, August 24, 2009

This says it all!

Fall Gardening Anyone?

Although it is the dog days of August and quite hot, we planted our fall vegetable garden. I started with a drive up to Agway in Dublin and found some healthy and reasonably priced late fall vegetable plants and seeds. After cleaning out the drooping cucumber and squash monster plants and the one bean plant the bunnies left me, I added several wheelbarrows of mushroom soil and manure and John tilled until the soil looked like crumbly chocolate cake. Following the advice of the handy Agway guide to ward off pesky cabbage maggots and keep them confused, we diversified our planting – so first a row of red cabbage, then romaine lettuce, then stonecrop cabbage, then more romaine, then brussel sprouts, a patch of spinach from seed, broccoli, beans and more romaine to finish. The guide also recommends creating a physical barrier so the flies can’t lay eggs around the plants. Using weed control material I will be cutting out 10-12 inch squares to place around the plants this afternoon. I mended our 8’ high (with 2’ deep wire rabbit fence) deer fence again in hopes of keeping out the bunnies at least long enough to let the plants have a head start. The fence gets torn by birds, wind, claw wielding groundhogs, who knows? Next year I’m fighting back with a solar powered electrical fence. I hope I’m not turning into grumpy Mr. McGregor.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Share the Harvest!

After pickling, freezing and canning, baking tons of zucchini bread, making lots of salads, cooking and giving every person that you come into contact the bounties of your garden and you still have more to give away, consider donating your extras to a local food bank.
There is a great demand for food in our communities which led to the creation of Sharing the Harvest - See the article for more information and details.
Be sure to contact the food bank for hours and needs before heading over.
Here are some sites to consider:

Local Food Banks for Bucks County:
Food Banks in Bucks County:
Bucks County Housing:

National Food Bank Info:
Feeding America:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stunning transformation from lawn to meadow:

When we first moved here, we had oodles of lawn and wanted to create more natural areas. We staked out an area, making it curvy for visual interest and a clear boundary to show we were going to continue to maintain our property. The area we set aside is about 2 acres and compliments meadows that exist in our wetlands area and contain primarily goldenrod. The new area also contains a large groundhog home that was regularly being mowed over. Besides installing 2 blue bird house, we didn’t do anything more and just let things grow. With the help of the birds, we now have an amazing diverse habitat filled with vegetation such as numerous grasses, wild mint, thistle that the goldfinch frequent, common yarrow, wild carrot, carpet weed, and common milkweed for the monarchs passing through. The meadow provides not only important habitat for mice, insects and groundhogs but also for many birds. To name just a few, I have spotted blue birds, red and goldfinch, swallows, sparrows, mourning doves, vireos, chicadees, cardinals and blue jays and then the raptors and hawks including the red tailed hawks, turkey vultures, a sharp shinned hawk, and a large hawk that I still am trying to identify – perhaps a broad winged hawk. I cut a winding path through the middle for better observations. It is beautiful all day long and through the various seasons. See website listed on sidebar regarding meadow creation and managment.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Curious Green Heron

Who should be appear this morning but a handsome young Green Heron - When curious, he stretches his long speckled neck and then fires his black tail rapidly downwards and back up repeatedly. He is poolside this morning looking for treasures left from last night’s thunderstorm – he keeps poking at things that look interesting with his dull yellow beak but he is not having much success. I see too that the storm’s violent winds dislodged a plank in our fence that will need fixing later.

Here is more info and a photo:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hawk versus crow

Last summer a pair of red tailed hawks built a nest in the woods beyond the meadow. The woods were filled with squawking and cries from the babies while Ma and Pa kept flying back and forth all day to meet their needs. This spring though a gaggle of crows moved into the neighborhood. They ganged up on the hawks and drove them away. I did some investigating and found that crows will “mob” hawks to drive them out and this is exactly what I observed. This in turn caused an explosion of rabbits to be born. I can count over 5 rabbits anytime of the day in the yard in all stages of life.

The gang of crows built a nest in a row of evergreens opposite from the woods in the late spring into the early summer. After the crow fledglings were out on their own a hawk reappeared. The crows gave a bit of a fight but not enough this time to keep the hawk pair away. So, now the hawks are back, trying to nest again and bringing the rabbit numbers back in check. There is finally balance again in this part of the web of life.

Check out these amazing photos: