Backyard garden

A couple of years ago, we decided to convert a crummy section of our backyard into garden space.  We used to have a gigantic garden but with all of our running around, we found that we could not adequately manage such a large plot.  Still, we really liked having fresh vegetables to eat.  And honestly, I really enjoy seeing stuff spout and grow regardless of whether it feeds me.

Our garden in the backyard
Our garden in the backyard

Anyhow, with chickens this year, we found that we had to fence off the garden area.  I would love to have a really polished fenced in garden, but when it came down to it, I just needed my seedlings protected so we drove T-posts into the ground and hung welded-wire fence on that…done!

Garden bounty

So, without chickens interrupting growth, you can see that our garden has gone nuts!  We planted a few varieties of peppers, tomatoes, yellow squash, zukes, potatoes, green beans, onions and a few herbs.  WV has had lots of rain this year so we haven’t watered a thing and it’s really doing great…in some ways, maybe too great.  Stuff has grown together more than we expected so that’s not ideal but it it generating food!

Patent leather beetle
Patent leather beetle (I think)

I found this guy roaming around also.  He has enjoyed the garden as well and somehow, has avoided the chickens.  As it turns out, we discovered that the chickens like Japanese beetles that have taken up residence on the raspberry plants by the house more than any other thing I have ever tried to feed them.  I hate those beetles so am happy to pick them off by the dozens to feed them as a treat!

A few finishes on the cabin

I was just looking over the progress we made on the cabin over the LAST 4 YEARS…geez…it has been that long.  It seems like we progressed by leaps and bounds at first but now we are crawling along.  Of course, I also cannot tell you the last time we were out there so it’s hard to expect progress from afar.  Anyhow, a month or so ago, we made it out for a few hours and got a few things done.  Pictures aren’t great but we added a few finishes to the place.

Ceiling fan!

If we need cooling, we will use window units but so far, the white roof and thick insulated walls have kept the place pretty pleasant on all but the very hottest of days.  Each room has a few fans now and that makes a huge difference in moving air and keeping us comfortable.  It should help with heat int he winter as well.

Ceiling fans in the sleeping area!
Ceiling fans in the sleeping area!

Speaking of heat in the winter, we are nearly finished with the rock behind the wood stove.  Of course, the wood stove puts off a lot of heat so the rock will act as a heat sink and also shield the wood in the walls behind it.  I love the way the rock looks and it is easy to install.  We have a bunch of wood from a tree we recently cut down so in a sick way, I am sort of ready for a cool day when we can light up a fire to test our new chimney and rock.  Hopefully that will all go well!

Rock behind the wood stove
Rock behind the wood stove

Most of the drywall and ceilings are up and ready for finishing now as well.  There is a lot of stuff that is almost done but just not quite.  I hope that this fall will, if nothing else, result in a more predictable if not less busy schedule so we can get out to finish our work.  I’d like to be able to really enjoy this place some day!

Our field in Spring!
Our field in Spring!

The field in which we built this place is just beautiful!  I cannot wait to sit on a porch swing on the front deck and just look at the beautiful scenery!

It’s been awhile, but let me explain

I don’t really have a good explanation. This Summer has been busy and wild and rainy and I feel like we just cannot get ahead of stuff going on! Band camp has started for Isaac and will continue this week at the school and next week away at their “away camp”.  Abigail starts next week as well with camp at the school and then we are back in school…or so it seems.

Strawberry pie!

We haven’t been to our executive deer stand, I haven’t harvested the honey yet and I am not sure you could call what was a yard a yard any more…more like a jungle.  And so, here lies my blog, lonely and abandoned.  I had trouble with it being attacked and just in general sucking from a hardware and infrastructure stand-point.  It was hosted on an aging server in my office.  As it grew in size, the server balked more and more often and then knuckle heads from places unknown slammed it hard (though it didn’t have to be hit too hard to bring it to its knees).  Finally, I decided to migrate it to a paid service where I get better machines, better storage, better maintenance, etc.  I hate paying but it should just flat out work better now.

Strawberry pie!
Strawberry pie!

So, hopefully things are settling down some and I can get back to posting.  It’s been a fun Summer in spite of rushing around.  I’ll have to tell some of the stories we accrued.  In the meantime, please enjoy this pic of the strawberry pie Emily made me…she made me about 4-5 this summer and they were incredible!

Fish Hawk Acres

West by God Virginia is full of all sorts of interesting delights that often go overlooked.  While we are not technically a “fly-over” state as they are traditionally defined, we really are pretty much overlooked for everything except as the butt of jokes.

Fish Hawk Acres

There are so many things in WV that I would consider gems that most people passing by just miss.  A few weeks ago, we discovered one – Fish Hawk Acres.  Fish Hawk Acres is a combination catering service, organic farm and outdoor restaurant…at least 4 days a year.  We had the pleasure of driving to Rock Cave, WV a small town near Buckhannon…another small town in central WV.  Emily and I met in Buckhannon 25 years ago so I reference Buckhannon whenever I can.  Anyhow, we drove into Rock Cave and through a few fields to an un-assuming pavilion where Dale Hawkins, the chef and owner of FHA was preparing a gourmet meal with items that were all grown in one of 14 farms nearby.

These vegetables were for sale…fresh from the field

Dale talked some about his theory on sustainability and farming, food and cooking, and his pleasure in returning to the family farm in WV to do what he loves.  He found that he was more a chef than a farmer so he partnered with Patti and Lupe Espinosa who took the endeavor from a 3 acre row-crop farm to a 30 acre farm to supply his cooking.  Before we ate, Dale and Pati took us on a walking farm through a few fields to describe how they manage and conserve water and soil as well as how they plant vegetables and manage weeds.  It was an incredible operation and one that made me wish I could undertake such an adventure.

Fish Hawk Acres outdoor dining
Fish Hawk Acres outdoor dining

We returned from the field, ready to eat.  I guess there were 100 or so people that dined on beef tips and pork loin, asparagus and fresh roasted potatoes.  We had cucumber-basil mojitos (not bad) and salad made from fresh greens.

This struck me as beautiful…simple foods

After dinner, Sarah Loudin Thomas,  a WV-native who has authored two books read a few segments from each novel for us.  In her blend of WV and now-NC accents, she told us a story of life in WV in the early 1900s.  After she read, a number of people asked for her to sign their books including her 5th grade teacher who was in the audience!  It was one of the coolest things of the night!

Junk food!

On our way back, we had to stop for gas.  For some reason, I felt the need to pollute my palette with ultra-processed ice cream.  Still, we had a wonderful time as a family, enjoying one of the many gems that WV has to offer!


Growing time

It’s that time of year again…stuff is growing…including my aching back and sunburned neck…but that’s a good thing too I guess. It’s great to be outside and doing stuff. We put the main garden in on Mother’s Day weekend when our chance of frost is gone. What may be more exciting though, I think, is that I got sorghum in the ground again and that it should grow. We planted it at Emily’s grand’s house where we used to do the bulk of our gardening. It’s too big a plot for us to garden in right now but will be perfect for a good sorghum crop.

Planting sorghum
Planting sorghum

I tilled a bunch of the land and we planted every sorghum seed I had. We first did sorghum a few years ago. Year 1 was great. Year 2 was a total flop…so bad we didn’t harvest a single cane. I expect that this year we will do well. We planted in good soil with appropriate spacing, etc. It’s a good bit of work processing sorghum and the end result yields not a lot of sorghum syrup but it is so cool to be a part of this old-timey process…kinda the same way I feel about beekeeping. It’s a great family time and, in both cases, the end result is literally finger-licking-good!

I didn’t get many pics of our work but Emily, Abigail and Emily’s Dad planted at the end of a long day’s work tilling and mowing and weeding.

Raspberries are coming!
Raspberries are coming!

The other big thing that is growing now is our raspberry patches! There are tons of berries on the plants and, after we got fencing in place, they are remaining there not being eaten by the chickens. I think raspberries are my favorite berry and possibly my favorite fruit. It’s hard to beat being able to eat out of your own yard!

All-County Band

I know I have been posting a lot of band stuff lately but it has been our lives lately.  School is winding down so band is slowing too although lessons and playing are definitely not!  Anyhow, I have been remiss in posting about our kids’ participation in All-County Band for Kanawha County!

All-County Band
All-County Band…They can get along!

Abigail started lessons a few years ago as a younger-than-normal flute student.  She had her ups and downs with it initially, but has developed into quite a flutist.  Jump ahead to this year, the first year she is actually old enough to play in band.  She was ahead of the curve some from experience which set her up well to try out for All-County Band.  As I understand it, she was the only 6th grader in the county to make the band and to boot, she made 9th chair out of 22!  I am so proud of her and she really stepped up her game.  She rose well to the challenge and plays all the time now around the house.

Music Of John Williams
Pride Of Wv
America The Beautiful

Isaac also made the high school All-County Band for tenor sax. He’s such a funny kid…he did his audition but felt like he didn’t play as well as he had hoped. He was disappointed and never bothered to even look at the list of students who made the band when it was released. By dumb-luck, one of his friends made a comment along the lines of “See you at practice tonight.” He had to query what the friend meant who of course, let him know that he was in the band…the day of the first rehearsal!  Isaac had no idea that he had made the band as second chair!  Anyhow, he also played very well and I am so proud of his playing as well.  Band truly does mean a lot in our house and we enjoy watching the kids develop into really great musicians!

Give Us Peace
A Slavic Farewell
American Riversongs
Americans We
Fiddler On The Roof

Outdoor band concert

It’s the season of band!  Well. it seems like it anyhow.  Last night, Isaac played in 2 separate concerts.  First, the George Washington High School band played their final concert together as the 2015 band last night.  Seniors are hitting the road so this was a nice opportunity for them to get together one last time as a group and play a killer concert.


I think what made it especially nice was that it was outside and that the weather was perfect!  We enjoyed their music as always and especially liked the opportunity for a little vitamin D!

Don't's Dad
Don’t look…it’s Dad

Like any good kid, Isaac refused to look up at his parents so I sort of had to sneak a few pics.  Meh. I’m good with that.  More excellent were the selections they played…of course, it was outside with my cell phone sitting on metal bleachers where kids played and adults shifted about so please excuse the extraneous noises:

Visions Of Flight
America The Beautiful
American Folk Rhapsody
Desert Patrol
Rough Riders
Loch Lomond

After that concert, a number of the high school band members ran over to the middle school which was performing their annual arts showcase. The middle school jazz band director had arranged with a few former-middle-school-jazz-band-now-high-school-band members to return to perform in an alumni jazz band as part of the larger concert…and of course, they were great!

Sesame Street
In The mood
Hey Jude
Lean On Me

Tonight we celebrate the end of high school band season with a banquet. After that, we have one middle school band concert, a banquet and an end of the year trip. It’s been a little wild around our neck of the woods lately, but I am so proud of my kids in particular and the entire bands in which they both play as well!

George Washington Band Concert

I have mentioned many times that the kids are both very involved with band in their schools.  Band means many things to different people but I never ceased to be amazed at how incredible these kids play and how truly kind and awesome the majority of our band kinds are.

Isaac at the GW Band concert
Isaac at the GW Band concert

Isaac’s high school band played their spring concert this week at the Clay Center in Charleston.  Truly, Charleston is fortunate to have such an amazing performance hall.  And even more fortunate is that our high school has the opportunity to play in the same hall as the WV Symphony.  It’s a high-class, beautiful location!

The GW Band
The GW Band

Shepherds Hey
Belgian Paratroopers
Stella Maris
Korean Folk song
Chanson de l’adieu
(click above to listen)

Isaac was principle chair for his instrument, the tenor sax.  I am very proud as you might imagine.  His band-mates all seem to be very driven and really respect their band director.  He’s a serious man, and demands excellence from these kids and absolutely gets it.  I think the kids very much respect him for helping them to see how great they can be.  I am very pleased with his ability to inspire the band to play as he does.  It’s clear he loves the music and the kids and that’s just perfect in my mind!

Cool pic outside the Clay Center
Cool pic outside the Clay Center…Venus (I think) in the night sky also

So friends, I know that these may take a bit to download, but if you find the time or the inclination, please enjoy the music from the George Washington High School Spring Concert – 2015!

Laying workers

Quite a title, I know, but that’s what it’s called in the beekeeping world.  This weekend, I looked into my colonies and added honey supers as necessary in preparation for the honey flow which starts soon in WV.  I mostly found good colonies with healthy queens, good worker build-up, plenty of eggs and larvae, etc.  In one hive, I found a problem though.

Healthy honeybees on comb
Healthy honeybees on comb

Sometimes, when a hive loses its queen, the infertile female worker bees sort of change into queen-wannabees.  Every hive needs a queen to survive as she is the one which controls the mood of the hive, ensures future bees and generally runs the show.  When a colony goes queen-less, all of that falls apart.  Something in a number of worker bees triggers and they begin to sort of convert into queen bees.  These infertile bees are called laying workers.  Their bodies begin producing eggs.  Since the aren’t really queens though, they cannot fertilize the eggs and something is just not right about how they roll…they don’t know how to properly lay eggs like a real queen would.

A healthy brood pattern
A healthy brood pattern…can you find the queen in this pic?  She’s there!

Instead of laying a single fertile egg in the center of each honeycomb, laying workers lay multiple eggs in the honeycomb, on the honeycomb walls, heck, sort of everywhere.  If the eggs develop into anything, they would turn into male drone bees but in most cases, they are just junk and signal the end of a hive.

Multiple eggs in the honeycomb cells from laying workers
Multiple eggs in the honeycomb cells from laying workers..there should be single little white eggs in each cell

Some beekeepers used to say that they could save the non-laying workers by shaking all of the bees out of the hive at some distance, say 500 yards, from the original location.  The idea was that, like a typical real laying queen, laying workers would not really fly and so would die where they were shaken out (queens can fly…when they breed in their first week or so after emerging from a queen cell and when they swarm…in both ).  Non-laying bees would return to the hive where the beekeeper could install a new fertile queen.

A healthy queen
A healthy queen…look for the longer body…this queen is darker than the surrounding workers

Research has shown that it doesn’t really work that way though…or not consistently.  I prefer to shake the bees out and remove the actual hive from the location where it once stood.  Any bees that return have to either transition into a nearby hive that will not tolerate laying workers or die where their old hive stood.  It’s a harsh reality I suppose but the only viable solution in my yard.  Sometimes it happens which is a drag, but I am pleased that I have a good number of healthy hives that will hopefully produce  a lot of good honey…if the predicted frost tomorrow doesn’t kill all of the nectar-producing blooms!

More bee stuff

Run for it!

My, my, it’s been awhile since we last talked!  Lots of things have been going down around here lately and it’s time for us to catch up!

About 10 days ago, Abigail and I ran in our first 5k race.  She’s run a good bit before as a member of her middle school’s cross-country team.  For middle school, cross-country races are a little less than 3k so 5k was a bit of a stretch from her previous experience, but we were excited to run.  Well, we were excited to run until the morning of the race.  This race was on a Saturday and we had to be there a bit before 9am…her enthusiasm waned with my “wake up holler” at 7am.

Ready to run!

Anyhow, we got to the track.  Being an old hand at running races, Abigail sort of played it cool waiting for the race to start.  I was pretty wound up as I haven’t ever run in a race of any sort before!  I wasn’t sure if I would embarrass my self or, in my excitement, expend all of my energy up front…would my nerves get to me?  Gosh, am I an adult or not?  I should be able to be calm about this but it just wasn’t happening on race day.

We walked a quick lap around the track to warm up our legs a little before the race.  We have been training together and I have typically run faster and farther than Abigail so we decided that if I was feeling it, we would not  try to run together…I could go ahead of her if I could.

So we lined up, jittery and excited and waited for the gun.  I was surprised but they actually used a starter gun rather than a whistle or horn or something.  That was really cool!  My first race and I got a starter gun!  With the shot, we took off and I was feeling good.  I ditched Abigail after a quarter mile or so (don’t judge me) and kept on plowing.  Abigail and I talked about how she runs cross-country.  She sees a person ahead of her…decides to catch and pass them and then looks for the next person.  It’s run one pass at a time.  I decided to do the same.  It was a good strategy as I found plenty of people around me that I could pass.

Pre-race selfie!
Pre-race selfie!

I won’t recount every step but I had a good race and finished in 27:30 which was pretty cool.  Overall, I finished in 17th place out of 115 or so racers.  That was really cool for my ego (which typically needs no encouragement).  I started walking back through the course and found Abigail and finished the rest of the race with her trying to encourage her to keep pushing.  It was a great time as far as I am concerned.

After the race, I am pretty well hooked.  We had been training for a few weeks before the race and now are running a 5k three times per week around the local track.  After some discussion, we have identified a few problems with Abigail’s breathing strategy.  By fixing that, she is running much stronger now so we are getting ready for our next race in a few weeks!  It’s a really cool opportunity to be able to run with Abigail and to have a really awesome thing about which we can talk and plan.  We have just decided to run for it!