Monthly Archives: May 2013

Possibly my all-time favorite bridge

Is it weird to have a favorite bridge?  I occasionally have to drive to Columbus, OH for work stuff.  I cross the Ohio River at Ravenswood, WV via my favorite bridge.  I am not sure why I like it so much…maybe it’s just the color but I think it is also a mix with the architecture of it as well as the surrounding land.  I always take a number of pictures as I drive across it.  I never pay much attention to the pics as I take them since I am driving, but occasionally I get some pics that almost capture the essence of why I like this bridge so much.

Bridge over the Ohio River in Ravenswood, WV Bridge over the Ohio River in Ravenswood, WV Bridge over the Ohio River in Ravenswood, WV Bridge over the Ohio River in Ravenswood, WV

The air just got a little sweeter

We have another tradition also…whenever we cross back into WV from another state, we call interested parties and report that, “the air just got a little sweeter”.  I sent this pic to Emily on my last trip with my message.  I think Emily is possibly my all-time favorite wife.  She even rates a little higher than WV and this bridge!

There’s tiny stuff down there

I was outside pouting about something the other day and somehow, out of the corner of my eye, spotted movement.  I rose from my self-pity to discover a swarm(?) of newly hatched praying mantises (mantii?).  I suppose they were newly hatched though I didn’t see still-attached umbilical cords or anything.  Anyhow, they were itty-bitty and there were tons of them.

Baby praying mantis

We have miserable English ivy at our place and though I hate the stuff, I was delighted by its greenness which is the only way I could have seen the little critters.  They scampered as well as any baby 6-legged creature could scamper.  I guess they liked being in the sun though mostly they stayed hidden.  It was awesome!

05_28_2013 004a Baby praying mantis

I looked around some more and noticed some cool lady bugs though I couldn’t get a good pic to save my life.  I figure they were probably eating my baby mantii anyhow so I didn’t want to stick around for that show.    I moseyed over to the driveway and found a cool collection of ants.  I am not sure what ants do in their spare time but they were certainly busy doing it, whatever it was.  Ants can be sort of hypnotizing to watch, much like rushing water.  Does anyone else ever get the (sort of) urge to get closer and closer to running water?  Maybe it’s just me but I am drawn to water as if I being compelled to jump in.  Of course, that sort of water would end me so I am lucky to have some power over my compulsion…anyhow, ants…back to ants.  I took some video and they just make me want to stand and stare at them.  I suppose I could jump into them.  They are not nearly as dangerous as rushing water!

Ants video

My video isn’t great but I still love to watch the ants

I guess it was good to look down and see some small stuff.  It made my pouting go away.  That was small stuff too..

Cabin progress – bathroom floor and a deck!

We have been busy lately with the school year winding down. There were banquets and trips and concerts and just lots of activities to round out the school year. There just hasn’t been time to do much of anything…including write anything on here. That changed this weekend! We finally got back up to the country and were able to work some on the executive deer stand. It’s a small cabin but we do not want to be without amenities. Mainly, by amenities, I mean a bathroom with actual running water. Awhile back, I cut holes in the floor for the shower and toilet drains to exit the building. We started to tile the floor but then winter came. This weekend, Isaac and I finished cutting and laying the tile one day and Emily and I grouted it another day.  Finally!  Progress!

My son installing ceramic tile Ceramic bathroom tile

Installing ceramic tile isn’t so bad…with a good helper!

We had originally planned on this place being pretty basic and not too pretentious. It is a deer stand after all. But, like all things with me, it comes down to price. It turns out that if you lay it yourself, ceramic tile is about as cheap as you can get. We found tile we really liked for a really good price. I mixed the thinset mortar and grout by hand so that keeps the price down as well. And dang! It looks great!

Ceramic bathroom tile

Tile near the shower basin

So, now with floor down and grouting done, I have no real reason not to connect the toilet and shower to the drain system. In a solid day’s worth of work, we could actually have a real pot to….well, you know what I mean. It would make our time at the cabin much more pleasant!

Building the deck

Deck framing is done on one side

We were not totally exhausted by tiling so we worked on the deck too. I don’t know if you remember but our place is built on posts and piers so it is well up off of the ground.  Look back at this page and you can see that we had to climb a ladder to get up into the building.  Of course, I know it sounds like a lot of fun, but we have grown tired of free-climbing our way up into the house so the deck is a welcome addition.  It isn’t finished by any means, but we framed a 10′ deep deck on one side of the place that allows us access into the house from ground level!

Building the deck

One of four decks framed!

There is much debate among the wage earners in my house about whether to deck it with treated lumber or composite decking.  Composite is 3-4 times the cost but should last a lot longer.  We will need around 600 sq feet of decking which will be pricey either way.  We’ll see what comes of it but at any rate, we can now get into the house without a ladder!

See all of the progress on the cabin

First swarm of 2013

I am registered on all sorts of lists to catch bee swarms around Charleston.  The folks at the 911 call center know me.  Several exterminators know me.  The Department of Agriculture folks have my number.  I get lots of swarm calls.  I LOVE SWARMS!  Catching swarms of bees has to be my all-time favorite part of beekeeping.

Swarm of honeybees!

A gentleman called me the other day reporting a large swarm of bees in a tree at his house.  He lives within a mile or so of me so it was the perfect situation.  I ran to the house, grabbed up a bunch of equipment and headed to his place where I met his family and the neighbors too.  The cool thing is that I know the neighbor family.  Abigail plays soccer for the neighbor and their son plays for me.

Swarm of honeybees!

Anyhow, Abigail and I walked up to the swarm and it was a good one.  It was about shoulder high on a smaller tree from which I could easily cut a branch to remove the swarm.  I typically lay a sheet out, place my destination hive on top and shake the bees from the branch into the swarm box.  Bees in a swarm are usually not terribly defensive.  I typically  approach a swarm pretty boldly to see how they roll and rarely have any issues with them.  That being said, never touch a swarm of bees because there are still 10,000 or so stinging insects who don’t care much about manners.  Call a beekeeper every time.

Swarm of honeybees!

So, I sent everyone inside where they could watch from behind screened windows and started my tree trimming.  Within a few minutes I had the bees in the hive and we were all done but for the crying.  Wait…no crying.  Just loading the bees into the car.

Catching a swarm of bees! Catching a swarm of bees!

edit:  one of the ladies took these pictures…

I think I like catching swarms for the “show-off” factor as much as anything.  The two families that watched the swarm catching were curious and interested and called me crazy!  It doesn’t get any better than that!

When I got home, I had three more calls from people with bee swarms…it might be a busy few weeks!

More of my beekeeping escapades

Converting yard space into garden space

We have chunks of yard at our place, some of which the kids play around in, but most of which we complain about mowing more than anything. In particular, the fenced in back part where the former dog used to stay was a big waste of space. With the dog having run away, the canine treasures returned to earth leaving us once again with usable space.

Digging a ditch Digging a ditch

Digging a ditch builds character…do well in school kids!

As with most of our projects, we decided to go big, heavy and expensive! Actually, we just went with big and heavy but I like the added drama. Anyhow,we decided to turn a mess of a yard into garden space using railroad ties to build raised beds. We spent a few days digging up the apparent underground rock garden that existed before we decided to make a garden in our yard. I leveled out space and added gravel for drainage under the railroad ties and we began to set them. It turns out that our railroad ties are 8’6″ and weigh around 200 pounds each. We used around 17 of them for our space so you can imagine how sore and tired my mule Emily and I were just moving the pieces into place.

Raised bed garden with railroad ties Raised bed garden with railroad ties

Abigail drilled a few of the holes we drove rebar through to bind the ties together.  We used a lot of rebar to make sure they stay in place!

I laid cardboard boxes over the existing ground to keep weeds down and we lined the edges with plastic to minimize the leaching of creosote from the ties into the soil.  The plastic does not cover the entire basin of the garden so water will still drain fine and worms can still navigate upwards without impediment.

Lining the raised bed garden with plastic and cardboard

The cardboard will eventually rot away but not before killing weeds and stuff from coming up through

I read a bunch about creosote and railroad ties before undertaking this effort.  Creosote is pretty bad stuff and eating it would not be a great thing.  I read a number of opinions on the subject and came to a few conclusions.  First, used ties have probably leached out the worst of what is going to leach out already.  Secondly, I didn’t have my soil tested for contaminants to start with and most people do not.  That fact makes it apparent that we don’t really worry about our garden soil anyhow.  Finally, my soil is still almost assuredly better than soil somewhere far away on an industrial farm and my food is not likely to pick up any more contaminants that what food that travels by train car and truck picks up.  I added the plastic liner and have determined that I will not worry about it any further.

Raised bed garden from railroad ties Raised bed garden from railroad ties

Those rocks were huge and buried.  I suppose the digging was easier but only because the rocks took up so much space!

So, we had to buy a bunch of dirt (56 bags of .75 cubic feet top soil to be exact…plus 6 bags of manure) to fill in the space.  It looks awesome and will hold a bunch of vegetable plants.  Isaac, Abigail and I planted it over the course of a few days.  We added marigolds for decoration  and because all gardens are supposed to grow marigolds.  We also have tomatoes, jalapenos, brussel sprouts, broccoli and bell peppers.  It looks so much better than the yard that used to be there plus I get to eat all of my favorite vegetables right out of my back yard!

Raised bed garden from railroad ties Raised bed garden from railroad ties

I cut the angles in the ties where they ended using a chainsaw.  Creosote sawdust down your back will leave a rash!

For now we have some of the rocks I dug up holding the liner in place.  I will eventually top it with more wood and make it look better, but for now, our new garden space makes me smile every morning when I see it…both for the veggies growing and for the fact that I do not have to mow that space!  Yeah gardens!

Planting sorghum

I wrote a few weeks ago about wanting to grow, process and eat sorghum.  The first step in that process is, of course, planting some sorghum seed.  Really, before that, we had to prepare some ground to plant.  Larry, Granny Sue’s husband turned over a bit of earth at our place.  I don’t know if you have ever tried to cultivate a new piece of land for garden space, but it is bone jarring, punishing work if you don’t have big equipment.  One could certainly take to it with a rototiller and it will work but you’ll feel a new kind of pain.  Anyhow, Larry ran his plow and tractor over a nice chunk of our land to do the initial “turn-over” which I followed up with a smaller tiller to break up the ground further.

Planting sorghum

I got about half way done with the tilling when another neighbor, Tim, stopped by with his tractor which he used to save my life finish tilling the land.  Everything was bone dry and dusty which made this whole process a messy endeavor.  Still, Emily and the kids pitched rocks into the woods while I set up the rows and drove row stakes.  We carefully planted a dozen or so rows of Sugar Drip sorghum seed.  Sugar Drip is an old-time variety good for our part of the country.  It matures in around 102 days and makes nice sweet 8-10 foot tall stalks.  I ordered seeds from 2 well known heirloom seed suppliers and one says it is a rare breed while the other says it is common across the South.  Who knows?

Planting sorghum

So, we marked our rows and planted the beautiful little seeds (which we will collect from our plants this year and save for next year) and covered them carefully with the freshly tilled dust dirt.  Luckily, it rained some this week so things should start growing well.  Sorghum is an African native so prefers warm temperatures but does well in heat and dry once it is established.

Planting sorghum

I have learned that sorghum is one of the top grain crops grown around the world.  Varieties can be used for syrup but most sorghum is planted as fodder for animals or as grain for daily consumption by humans.  Many people are considering using it to make biofuel as it thrives in most warm locations.  For folks with gluten allergies, it also is a common grain source for gluten free beer (hmmm…another project?).

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Sorghum seed

So, our sorghum is in the ground though possibly a little early.  I will keep a close eye on its progress but am hopeful for some awesome looking cane in a few months.  Now, I really have to get back on track with restoring those cane mills I have sitting out in my yard!

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Frog time!

Emily’s grandparents have a small pond at their place and every year Mr and Mrs Frog raise their babies there.  We usually try to time it right to experience the sheer joy of frog season.  I don’t know if you are familiar with how frogs work but Mrs Frog lays huge caches of gelatinous eggs which very quickly  hatch and turn into tadpoles and eventually frogs.  If you watch carefully, you get to see all of the steps in between tadpole and frog which might be the stuff of nightmares if you didn’t know better.  Seeing a pond full of tadpoles is simply amazing!  They swim so awkwardly and yet not.  When they start growing legs and losing their tails, things get really interesting.  It is an absolutely amazing transition and a lot of fun to witness!

Looking for frogs in the pond Tadpoles!

Anyhow, we were around the pond last week and got to enjoy the tadpoles in the pond.  Abigail loves to catch them in her hand and sing to them.  She caught a few and while singing, spotted Mrs Frog.  Mrs Frog had a protective eye of course (we could tell) but seemed content to watch us watch her babies.  Of course, what are her options?  We don’t have ferocious frogs here in West-by-God-Virginia.

Mrs Frog Mrs Frog!

Abigail decided she wanted to give Mrs Frog a pat on the back, congratulating her on a job well done with her latest crop of babies.  She squatted at the edge of the pond (I had my camera ready fully expecting Abigail to fall into the water) and reached out to touch Mrs Frog.  With a flash, Mrs Frog leapt into the water upon feeling Abigail’s fingers.    She swam across the pond and under a rock where we could see her one back leg hanging out.  We decided to leave well enough alone and just watch from afar.  Spring is just the absolute best time of year!  There are so many opportunities to experience in the spring.  The Frog family delights us every year!