Bees and buds

I've taken somewhat of a hiatus from the world of blogging in exchange for spring break: working a landscaping job, bbqs, potlucks, and watching movies. Now I'm playing catch-up, and I just finished reading this post, "What Makes a Good Gardener" by Gayla Trail. It heartens me to read such sincere advice as spring unfolds and the fantasies of last fall and winter, while building beds and pouring over gardening catalogs, turn into the necessity of action, observation, real work, real failure, and real success. 

Meanwhile, bees arrive in less than a week, and we still need to build the hive. A practice hive was built but not completed due to some flaws. Last week, I bought myself a bee suit, gloves, bees wax (to help attract the bees to their hive), and a year's supply of honey. My friend, a property manager, called and informed me that one of his properties has honeybees living in it by the thousands. I gave him a phone number for people who remove swarms, but no one is willing to go into the building and remove the colony. We're at a loss as to what to do.

The chicken coop is almost done. We just need to paint it and reinforce it in a few spots. The poults are getting a bit too big for their britches inside the house, resulting in dust and messed up sinuses and chicken poop on the floor and general stinky-ness, with one or the other of us calling out every now and then, "We live in a barn!" We did have them spend one night outside under the heat lamp which surprisingly resulted in feeling "empty nesty." But it was nice, for a minute, to have a clean project room again. Fearing cold, we brought them back in for a day, only to come home to a floor covered in pooh. So they were shipped back out again. The heating lamp is secure, and we're confident that they're staying warm.

Echinacea, butterfly weed, basil, and bergamot have all germinated, and most of my other seedlings are doing well. I'm a proud mamma-gardener. I'm thinking of throwing some sort of pagan May Day party, a celebration of the official start of the planting season, with body paint, poi, hula hoops, and a seedling exchange.

I found rose buds today.



Recently, my students and I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," and our discussions and examination of the historical context of the story centered on the history of the bored/depressed housewife which wasn't a crisis until after industrialization. Before industrialization, for most except the rich, everyone within the family unit had a role in the survival of the family. Women and men alike worked together to grow and preserve vegetables, hunt or raise meat, and clothe the family. After industrialization, migration into the cities, and the rise of a consumer-based middle class, suddenly the housewife's importance became more tenuous, less defined and vital. She was expected to rear and raise the kids (who after the age of 5 spent much time in school), clean, and shop.

Discussing this history, I began thinking about how urban farmers are again redefining the roles of the family unit. My thoughts on this were rather nebulous, but it struck me as interesting how many of us (myself included. My move to Portland was in no way an accident) choose to live in urban centers where we can commute by bike or public transportation while simultaneously growing a kitchen garden, shopping at farmer's markets, and even raise our own chickens and bees. There's an interesting irony in all of it.

That's why I found this article, "The Femivore's Dilemma" by Peggy Orenstein, somewhat resonant and interesting. I'm not really a fan of the term "femivore's dilemma," (It seems to imply "eating women." Ha!) and I hadn't thought about this issue in terms of female empowerment, since my boyfriend and I both work and then come home to build hives and gardens and coops. But when connected to the history of feminism, I find it an interesting part of the evolution/revolution of our culture.

And in a sense, I can relate. Teaching is a vocation of love, but I'm also met by public contempt. Scapegoating teachers for the problems of our public education system seems to be increasingly popular. (See Obama's Race to the Top.) I was laid off last year, and this year, I am working over 10 hours a day as a long-term sub paid hourly (for 40 hrs./week, mind you) with aproximately 170 students and no health benefits or vacation pay. Of course, I'm glad to have work, and I will apply for full time jobs in the hopes of a better economy and a bunch of other hopes (such as a revolution within the public education system). But if it comes to the point where I wallow in under-employment or being overworked for little pay, I will replace that dream with my secret dream: not to be a stay-at-home wife or mom. Rather, to be a stay-at-home farmer.


Pardon my elation

I finally saw some honeybees in the warm afternoon sun, two days before the spring equinox, in the rosemary blossoms next door, and I managed to snap some photos.

I am elated. These worker bees filled me with a restless joy, and I found myself wandering around, tidying the yard, cleaning the house, and planting seeds. I started echinacae, bee balm, sweet basil, tulsi basil, and butterfly weed seeds in addition to nurturing, feeding, and watering my seedlings. I found (ha!) some tomatoes that I didn't transplant yet, so that's on the to-do list for tomorrow or Saturday.

I also made some homemade yogurt. I just took aprox. 3 tbsp. of organic store-bought yogurt with live cultures and filled the mason jar with whole organic milk, gave it a shake, and set it in a warm oven (I preheated the oven to 350, place the jar in the oven, and turned the oven off) for the night.

Here are the poults, bigger by the day. The two on the left are americaunas and the dark one is a black australorp.

I am exhausted, though. I am fighting off a cold, and school has been extremely busy and challenging of late. I love it. I love my job; I love my students. I have to do some grading tonight, though, and every day this week I have worked around 10 hours a day. Spring break is only a few short hours away, though. I am itching to craft and sew and read novels and gardening books and garden next week!

I close with a future salmonberry.



For the past many years, summers have meant waiting tables for cash or long breaks between lesson plans. They've meant stacks of books and episodes with friends. They've meant plane tickets and car rides, tents and hiking gear, bathing suits and salty waves. Summers have also meant moving trucks, packing tape, boxes. In 2005, I moved from State St. in Ithaca to 5 miles out of town. In 2006, I ventured from Ithaca, NY to Whiteriver, Arizona, home of the White Mountain Apache Tribe. I might as well have moved to the moon. In 2008, I moved to Rodney Street, NE Portland and then, after a few weeks of futon-surfing, to N. Wilbur, and a few months later when my roommate and I officially split ways, to NE Alberta. In 2009, again, boxes were packed, container garden relocated, and I landed on NoPo.

I've always grown things. In Ithaca, I rented small apartments and managed a few containers of basil or tomatoes when possible, but inside, I grew ivy and orchids and violets. When I moved to Arizona, though, I gave all my plants (and a lot of my other possessions) away. In Arizona, I attempted an outdoor container garden, despite being gone six weeks in the summer and having to water it twice a day. I also wandered around the desert, marveling at the night-blooming desert primrose and the rampant wild sunflowers and the cactus blossoms. But when I would leave for the summers, once again, this transient had to give away her garden.

Now, despite renting a dilapidated house in NoPo on a month-to-month lease, I feel settled. Ready to hang the proverbial hat. Yes, summer still means some sort of job and a few plane tickets and road trips, hiking and camping gear, and salty waves, but now it also means pruning shears and seeds and compost and earthworms, because I have a few things that I was lacking before:

First, I have a sense of home. In Ithaca, I was staring at the horizon,  plotting, dreaming of my next adventure. In Arizona, Portland beckoned, Ecuador beckoned, the East coast called me home to family. Now, I want to be home for longer periods of time. I don't have the need to run off to another state or even another side of town all the time.

And, I have a sense of community. I have friends and neighbors happy to water my garden and feed my animals while I'm away. I have a partner eager to help me with my projects and plans. I have a community of bloggers and writers and growers who are eager to share what they love and know about permaculture, beekeeping, organic gardening, raising chickens, homesteading, etc.

So now, I am venturing into new territory. I have seedlings growing on homemade shelves under florescent lights, I have poults chirping in a cardboard box, and I have honeybees on order. And I wonder, as I go from small-scale container gardening to large veggie garden with bees and chickens, am I ready for all of this? I feel that I am ready for the work. I love to work when it's something I love. I smile the whole time I'm in my garden. But am I ready for the potential failures? I know that there is only one answer for this, but I hope I can accept it: No, I'm not ready for the potential failures, but I have to know that they will happen. They happen to everyone. Novella Carpenter lost Maud, the turkey, to dogs, and bees to CCD. Jenna Sandgate overcame numerous failures, including the loss of her first hive due to improper care of her queen, her chicks getting killed by her dogs, and a rabbit dying from a wounded foot. My next door neighbor lost her black australorp to the neighbor's dog, while I was chicken-sitting, while her other hens didn't start laying until last month.

These narratives might be comforting someday, but honestly, now, they terrify me a bit. I'm good at botching stuff. Or so it feels. Maybe we all feel that way. I dream of my bees happily humming from flower to flower, pollinating my garden that the slugs ignore and the weeds stay far from. I imagine my chickens laying blue and brown eggs by July. I imagine large red and orange tomatoes and a crowded, delicious herb spiral and flowers, flowers everywhere. I dream the dream, but fear that I'm going to fuck it all up. The dream continues and grows, but I see, everyday, that it's going to be work. Real work. And learning. And experimentation. And problem solving. And failure. So here I go.


Renegades and Rebels

Here's a photo of a renegade rosebush that's sprouted in our front yard. I want to tear up the the grass that's growing around it and plant columbine, hollyhocks, foxglove, cosmos, marigolds, and nasturtium.

My salmonberries seem to have all survived their move from last July and the winter. They all have leaves and a few buds on them. My strawberries that I brought with us from the old house on NE 18th are also doing well, and I found this bugger munching on them when I went outside with my camera. He was sentenced to death.

I celebrated yesterday's new moon by transplanting my tomatoes into homemade newspaper containers, and now my shelves are crammed with seedlings, large and small. I have brandywine, orange-flesh purple smudge, Amish paste, Willamette, and Oregon spring tomatoes in addition to peppers, kale, endives, chives, thyme, sage, lavender, oregano, hollyhocks, foxglove, and more.

The plotting and planning and thinking and constructing of the hive continues. In the meanwhile, I need to buy my veil and hat, gloves, honey, and beeswax in preparation for a delivery slated for April 8. Spring seems to be whirling by already, and it hasn't even officially started. The cherry blossoms are almost done. I discovered this blog, Norm's Bees Naturally, and he does some top-bar beekeeping. I haven't had a chance to really dive into it yet, but I'm excited to find this resource. He references another blog worth exploring, Guerrilla Gardening. I have mixed emotions about guerrilla gardening, but for the most part, I believe I'm in favor as long as it's done with respect and with understanding.

I haven't been able to do a whole lot of reading for myself of late. Tonight, after I make this for dinner, I am going to be reading junior lit. commentaries. But here's some of the books I've been dipping my toes into:

Spring break is before me, and I will be re-reading The Bean Trees for school (planning to teach it), diving into Harlem Renaissance literature, and hopefully reading more about bees, animals, vegetables, fungus, and dirt.

I'm proud of how far I've come though. Last year, I thought the green leaves in this picture were just invasive, huge weeds.
I now know that it's comfry, a plant that's deep roots suck nutrients up from deeper layers of untouched soil, making great compost and compost tea. (Elijah, el gatto in the picture, is right now curled up on my lap).

Here are the ugly teenagers:
One day I'll get a picture that does justice to their hugeness. They are not the little fluff balls they were a month ago, that's for sure.

The grape hyacinths are out and everywhere:


I heart dirt

For some information on gardening, including this source for some classes that I may look into, and the source of the dirt nutrition image above, check out the adorable Modish blog.

I was pondering going hiking this weekend, but really, I'm itching to dig through my own compost, prepare beds, and nurture my seedlings, which includes thinning, transplanting, and feeding.



This weekend careened by with wonderful, dirty delights. Dirty delight number one was digging through my worm bin, removing about half of the old bedding, placing worms back into the bin oh-so-gently, and then adding freshly soaked paper. In addition, I also drilled about twenty new holes into the bin. So, I'm hoping the little buggers will repopulate. It's my belief that since I used wood chips in addition to newspaper as bedding, they were basically running out of fresh bedding sooner than expected. The worms will eat their bedding as well as their food, and their waste is toxic to them. So, they now have a semi-clean home and some fresh nibbles to nibble.

Another dirty delight was digging through our compost bin and preparing beds. I didn't get too much done on that front, but oh, how wonderful to dig through lovely black gold that was once wilted lettuce, onion peels, kale stems, apple cores, leaves, straw, chicken pooh, orange peels, and so on.

Dirty delight number three: our friends' housewarming party where I got down to some dirty electro breaks while my friends and Brian djed. I also met this super rad girl who had made fire fans earlier that day for the conclave at BRC, as well as makes her own hula hoops. She explained that I need to get sprinkler tubing and that I should order my tape from identi-tape.com. Home-made hoops is on the to-do list before summer festival season swings into full force.

Dirty delight number four, though not so dirty: Top-bar beekeeping class with Will at Pistils Nursery. Here's a synthesis of what I learned:

I need to encourage my bees to brood in the front/middle of the hive, and in part, I do that by putting the false back into the center of the hive when I first introduce them. After a day or two, they will have started brooding in that space, so I will move the false back to the rear. Come fall, I may take a bit of honey, but I should leave them at least 3 combs for the winter. Taking honey in the fall is controversial, but it discourages them from becoming a brood hive and encourages continual production of honey. I'll observe and see how much honey they have, but really, I imagine I may wait. In a year from now, I will want to harvest all remaining honey stores, again, to encourage them to make more honey and also to prevent swarming.

Their hive, ideally, faces east and gets shade in the afternoon. Insulation has not been recommended lately, but with the past two colder than average winters, it's now being recommended. Simple insulation ideas could involve lifting the roof off, placing wool insulation on the lid, and replacing the roof.

He explained to us how we introduce the bees to the hive and how we harvest honey. He also told us what to listen for while in the hive. At first, they will start buzzing rather loudly, but once they feel comfortable, that buzz will quiet into a warm hum. If that hum drops off, they are tired. It's time to leave the bees alone. He talked a bit about being in-tune with the bees and how wonderful it is when they allow you to be one with them. But sometimes they're grumpy. They could be in the midst of a bloom (baby bees bloom from their brood cells) or there could be something wrong. The guards will let the beekeeper know when she's not welcome.

I think that I'm going to be put on the swarm list. Brian wants to have 5 hives, and I think that may be a bit much. But I wouldn't mind two so that I hopefully will always have bees, plus an extra hive in case ours swarm. Another great aspect of the class was getting to meet fellow bee-dreamers!

Meanwhile, Brian was at home building our top-bar hive which I wanted to help with but ended up having a friend emergency (man trouble) which led to a female gathering at the bar where we declared our love for each other as sisters and lambasted anyone who would do anything to hurt any of us, exclaiming our unity and love with dramatic words and gestures and tears and hugs.


Song of Self


In addition to grading papers tonight, I also dug through old graduate school papers. In the midst of my search for a creative writing activity, I discovered several gems: my 11th grade essay on The Great Gatsby, as well as Pandora's Box, our high-school literary journal of which I was poetry editor and poetry and photography contributor. I also stumbled upon an old anthropology paper in which I called European colonialists "metaphoric vampires." On the Gatsby essay, I received a perfect score, having compared Gatsby to the persona in "Crush with Eyeliner" by R.E.M. And while the poem I published in PB is rather hectic and scattered, there's a passion and vivacity of language that's impressive. There's also a self-developed photograph (pre-digital age) that's rather provocative and sharp.

These findings resurrect a part of myself that I often look back on with doubt, with contempt, with a definitive superiority. So there's a certain sting when I discover ideas and writing from my former self that seems to ring with a creativity and ingenuity more impassioned than today's. But that sting must be quickly brushed aside and met with joy and gratitude and humility.


I believe that I sway between being too harsh of a critic on myself and too easy of a critic, looking at my accomplishments with a sort of smug pride. I need to practice balance. I should be able to occasionally rejoice at former accomplishments, allowing them to rejuvenate my self-confidence and celebrate my unique perspective and creativity.

These archeological findings, of a sort, remind me of my roots and my passion for words and my talent at a time when I truly need it. When doubt knocks on my door. For doubt has been knocking in the form of looming unemployment and job searches and thoughts regarding career changes, etc. Doubt looms, heavily oppressive.


Maybe it looms so heavily because I got a perfect score on my Great Gatsby essay. Maybe I'm not used to failure, and now, as a 32-year-old woman during a time of a recession and, oddly enough, as a new gardener/homesteader, I must face the possibility of failure. As a person who refuses to sit still, who embraces new challenges, who feels the need to continue to learn and create, failure will happen. I've always shrunk from it. Time to stop shrinking.
Time to brandish my metaphoric sword. Time to settle in, warrior-style.

Lonely Worm Mystery

I am worried about my worms. Last night, after a dig through their plastic bin, I found startlingly few redworms. After a few minutes spent with Worms Eat My Garbage, I more thoroughly explored the bin by hand.

1. There are a lot of other creatures living inside. Mites and fruit flies being most obvious. However, the mites don't look prevalent enough to be a problem.
2. Moisture level seems okay being consistently moist throughout the bin with no pooling at the bottom. I am leaving the top off for a day or two to see if that helps a bit.
3. Smell is also okay. There are no strong, icky odors that may augur a bacterial problem. The bin smells earthy and rich but not repulsive.
4. There seems to be food available. I feed them about 3 pounds of scraps a week, and I feed a mixture of tea leaves and other tasty edibles, limiting the amount of onion peel and citrus that I throw in to help maintain a healthy pH.
5. A fuzzy white mold does like to grow on top. At least, I believe it's a mold. It appears rather web-like and fairly transparent, and it spreads across the top of the bedding. I usually brush it away whenever I check on the worms, and it only covered less than 1/4 of the bedding.
6. I am storing them in the basement, so temperature should not be a problem.

I'm going to the nursery where I bought them on Sunday for a bee keeping class, so I will talk to the experts there. In the meanwhile, I believe I am going to replace half of their bedding and drill more air holes into their home. Perhaps this will help alleviate the problem and improve the population. I found one and two helpful sites.


Dream Catcher

Apple peppermint tea

1 t. peppermint
1/2 t. rosehips
1 T. chopped dried apple
1/4 cinamon stick
pinch of lavender

Sip and luxuriate before bed. Sweet dreams.


Here's an article that helps explain why birds have such brilliant plumage and an implied explanation of why chickens roost at night.

My little poopers are growing like sunflowers, bigger and bigger every day which you can't really tell from the photos which show an ameraucana and black australorp from Week 1 to Week 2. We'll have owned them for two short weeks this Saturday, and they've doubled in size already.

My sewing room is now a grow-room/barn yard. See the shelves with a myriad of seedlings getting bigger and bigger. The chickens live in the bin/box down below the heat lamp. I love it!

And yet can't wait until the coop is built, the garden is planted, and my sewing room is a sewing room once more. But am I deluding myself? Can an urban bee keeper and chicken tender living in a two-bedroom house ever have a sewing room? The room might have to be promoted to hobby room. I've given up on the notion of having a spare bedroom. But my man is handy, and he thinks the coop needs to be multifunctional coop/shed/bicycle shelter. We'll see what he comes up with. I can't wait to paint it all. I should have a Tom Sawyer party with my artistic friends, and we can make coop murals!



Here's some humor from the Bronx, where a flock of wild chickens are thriving.

I feel oddly as though my yard is stuck in the past. Winter-past. February-past. While I have numerous bulbs shooting up healthy green, I have no buds, no blossoms, no yellows and whites and golds. My hope is that they're being rebelliously late; my fear is that they're over-crowded, under-fed, and under-sunned...but all of them? Even the ones I transplanted? Am I to start the season off with catastrophe already? (I realize that "catastrophe" is rather strong diction for such an event. If there is to be failure, let it be in over-crowded bulbs rather than anything else.)

Another part of the problem is that I'm not sure what's what; my first spring in this home means delightful mystery. Perhaps, I have no daffodils. Perhaps, they are all blue-bells, tulips, and irises, later-season bloomers. But some of those green shoots look a lot like daffodils, I must say. We will see. There's hope yet.

Plus, while Portland garlands herself in cherry blossoms, my cherry tree stands naked, with buds fattening but not blooming. I am curious. How does this reflect age, size, and variety? I will have to take note of when she blooms, colors of blossoms, and the color and taste of the cherries in order to identify why this one is a late bloomer.

Meanwhile, I have decided to wait no longer! This mild weather forbids it; time to plant cold weather crops, such as lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, and peas and I'll use the cloche at night. I'm also taking a top-bar bee keeping class at Pistils this Saturday if I can find the cash for it. Perhaps we'll even get the hive built if the class so inspires.