A Bit of Spring Bling

This is one of my favorite times of year because everywhere I look I can identify all types of new life. In our case, it is apparent on all the trees, canes and vines as well as popping out of the ground around every corner. It is interesting that no matter how busy we are at this point in the season I never get tired of admiring the wonders of it all. The morning fog rolled in recently blanketing the fields and giving me an extra moment to reflect. IMG_2014

Although we had a mild winter this year, we also had a rather late spring with frosty nights well past the point when our peaches and nectarines were already blossoming and so they have very few fruits on the trees to prove it. We are not entirely crushed by this since these young trees will put their efforts into their root systems and branching which will serve them well in the future. The peach tree with the most fruit on it is the one we have in the “infirmary” up close to the house. We started the infirmary when we were replacing damaged trees from the orchard but didn’t have the heart to totally discard them so we stuck them in the ground in idle beds. Ironically, we have found that these ‘weaklings’ get much more attention with individual watering, etc. and have fared quite well in the end and in this year’s case, were sheltered from late frosts. Here are peaches and nectarines…

Blueberries and apples.

The strawberry patch didn’t mind the frosty weather and has loads of fruit starting to ripen.IMG_1905.jpg

We started harvesting our June bearing strawberries on May 6th (which is the earliest ever for us) and have been devouring anything fresh on a daily basis! The good news is that Kim at The Artery now has a waiting list of people ready to buy the jams as soon as I can replace them! The pressure is on as I now have a following! IMG_2005.jpg

But new to the scene – for us anyway – is our first pears which are Stark Brother varieties called Moonglow and Starking Delicious!


And our plums which are Stark Brother’s Stanley which will be a bluish purple when ripe and makes for tasty eating as well as dries into prunes if desired.IMG_1938

Last but not least, (okay, maybe least because of their relative size at this point) are our grapes. If you recall we planted two varieties last year – Concord and Marquis – and finally got them staked with a small, two wire arbor set up – aka the Kniffen system – this year…IMG_1840.jpg

and discovered some small grape clusters on a few of the plants. Of course we will have to remove these before long to allow the plants to mature for the first 3 years. IMG_2103

This is pretty exciting but what I really love about the grape vines is the way the dew sits so delicately on the leaves in the morning. There is a perfect, single drop at the points of each of the leaves as well as the tips of the tendrils. The blush of pink against the newly tinged green leaves is exquisite. IMG_2107

This little green frog was trying to camouflage it self to the speckled grey metal of the hose reel. Every time I checked on him, he was a bit more grey colored. IMG_1996.jpg

The nearby garlic that I planted last fall is amazing with the larger variety, German Extra Hardy, standing 38″ tall. I can’t wait to harvest which is supposed to be around the Fourth of July but I think I’ll start in June.  IMG_1973

The fields are nearly all planted with the cool season section well underway. Potatoes and onions are doing well with the Yukon Gold showing up much larger than the Pontiac Red.  IMG_1969.jpg


Dave has installed his giant tomato staking system again this year in hopes of having a bumper crop that will need the supports. We have planted three tomato varieties as well as eggplants and six varieties of peppers. IMG_1290.jpg

The posts also serve is a sentry spot for our hawks and owls who silently perch a top them at night to be closer to their evening prey. The evidence is often graphic in the mornings as there are white splats along with fur and/or feathers at the bases of the posts. IMG_1971

But best of all are the pellets that are large, turd like bundles that the owls leave behind for us to admire. I have found two so far this week and am turning them over to Kate for her biology class to dissect. This very fresh one is interesting since it has two large, dead beetles clinging on the the sides. I’ll have to ask Kate what she thinks of this. IMG_1957

Besides all of the fruits and veggies we have a growing selection of flowering perennials now which are wonderful attractions for the bees. Lilac is a big favorite since bees really like the color purple.  IMG_1842.jpg

Ditto for salvia…this is the May Night variety which is three times the size it was last year.IMG_1980.jpgIMG_2008

You may remember when I had peony envy last year after I saw the lovely ones at Kate and Jason’s house so I planted some and they have been delightful on our table. IMG_1959.jpg

I planted irises last fall and will encourage them to spread which I hear they do without much reminding. The white ones are called Marilyn’s Skirt which I planted in memory of my mother.

The barn construction is moving along rapidly despite some rainy days. The day the trusses were lifted into place was exciting for all!

You can see the porch developing here as well as the workshop and chicken coop which is already enclosed with plywood. IMG_2012 (1)The latest push was to get tar paper on before the next round of storms arrive.IMG_2027.jpg

News on the bees: I have joked with people that we have a ‘girl’ hive and a ‘boy’ hive since one seems to be so obviously more mature than the other. When I did the first inspection of them last Saturday I was amazed to find that one of the hives was progressing at a rapid speed. The bees had drawn new comb on 3 of the previously empty frames and there were lots of newly laid eggs and larvae which showed up in a lovely brood pattern. I was thrilled but then a bit crestfallen when I moved on to inspect the second hive, which was active but discernibly less so than the first one. There was no comb building and very little evidence that they were eating the syrup I had put into place the prior week. A quick search of the existing frames showed that there was some older larvae and brood but I could not spot the queen. Ugh. I re-sprayed the bare frames with sugar water to encourage the bees to get to work. I was worried enough about this ‘boy’ hive that I wondered if the queen had met her demise and decided to re-inspect the following morning. Good news, I found the queen and decided that this hive would be a bit slower to develop than the other one but would do okay in the end. Here is the newly drawn comb in the girl hive!  IMG_2060

In the meantime, after attending the monthly Eastern Missouri Beekeeper Association (EMBA) meeting last night, I was prompted to get going on building out the additional frames for the next layers of hive boxes. Not everyone builds their own, but I at least attempted to add the wax foundations myself. It was rather simple to do. First, you pry off the ‘stop’ of an empty frame. This piece comes apart much like splitting a new set of wooden chopsticks but in this case requires a metal lever. IMG_2034.jpg

Once this piece is removed, one inserts the foundation layer; in this case mine is made of wax and has a honeycomb imprint on both sides to give the bees a head-start in drawing out the comb. IMG_2035.jpg

You then re-place the wooden ‘stop’ and secure it with small brads, pinching the end wire in the sandwich of wood.


Dave found my old upholstery tool which is ideal for this task since the brads are so tiny they would be difficult to start. One end of the hammer is highly magnetized and holds the brad in place initially and then one flips it over to drive it the rest of the way with the other end. Thank goodness no one was around to witness my hammering skills! Here are ten of the finished frames…only 30 more to make! IMG_2036.jpg

As soon as the rain stops, I’ll pop these into the deep boxes so the bees can continue to expand. Little Coulter is enjoying a very active spring as he ventures outside at every opportunity. All vehicles capture his fascination – particularly the wheels – but he has also learned how to get in and out of his new Tiny Tikes car! IMG_1987.jpg

Of course riding around on his tractor never gets old!


Ta ta for now!

All Hail Mother Nature or Scones for Stones

Much has happened here in the last week with the progress on the barn construction but the procurement yesterday of our new bee hives was perhaps more memorable. A little background first – or my way of making a short story a bit longer but hopefully more enjoyable.

After two years of being an apprentice beekeeper, I set out this year to own and tend my very own bees. (Jurgen actually owned the hives that were here the last two years which are now back in one of his beeyards.) I found a very experienced beekeeper, Neil Brunner, who sells bees and equipment from his farm in Stockton, Missouri – about a four hour drive from here. Every spring he does quite a brisk business selling to folks like me who have pre-ordered their nuclear family of bees from him the previous January. I spoke with Neil several times last winter before deciding that his gentle, Missouri grown, Italian bee stock were just the right fit for me.

(Strike that and replace…for ‘us’ as Dave is now officially a part of the bee culture at the farm and even has his own apiary outfit to prove it. If there was ever a moment when he was re-thinking the “for better or worse” vow he took nearly 37 years ago, now would be one of those! Ha!)

So off we went yesterday morning to collect our bees. It was an excellent day to abandon things here since we had already received an inch of rain the previous day and were only expecting more of the same. We knew we had arrived at our destination – a gravel, numbered, maze of a rural road in southwestern Missouri – when we spotted a long line of pick up trucks on the side of the road amidst a cloud of flying insects that happened to be bees!

So we followed suit and got in line to pick up our order of bees. After a bit of waiting and conferring about the details, we had a truck bed full of bees and hive equipment and set out for the 4 hour drive back home. The rolling Missouri countryside was populated by small farmsteads of horses, donkey and alpacas but mostly cattle, milling about in green pastures but we didn’t have time to admire for long as the threat of dark clouds, windy weather and the threat of heavy rain was following our path homeward.  We stopped twice to adjust our cargo after spying a stray bee or two that had lofted up and away from their screened hive openings.  Wouldn’t you know, one of our stops was at an open-air, cattle auction house where the nearby sounds of mooing and baying was loud and enticing but we could not afford the distraction and so we continued onward.

We pulled into our driveway just as a torrent of rain, wind and pelting hail began. It had been our intention to place the bee hives on their stand and do what we could to settle them in for the night. After an initial attempt, we retreated to the garage, soaked to the bone, with the bees still in the truck bed and waited out the worst of the storm. It is easier to admire the zeal of Mother Nature when you are not being threatened by her loud and dramatic showing of thunder and lightning! Here is the start of the hail on our walkway. IMG_1846But patience won as we waited for the storm to pass and were rewarded by a rainbow in the lens of my camera. IMG_1849.jpg

But this wasn’t just any old rainbow. Look closely and you will see that not only is it rare to see both ends of it (two pots of gold?) but we also had a double rainbow…one above another! I cannot tell you how deeply this impacted our experience at the time as we witnessed a simultaneous display of Mother Nature’s wrath alongside her benevolence. We think that the bees at Seven Oaks Farm & Orchard are meant to BEE!

And so as soon as the lightning subsided we placed the bee hives on their stands and retreated indoors to await for morning to adjust their situation. This morning I added syrup buckets to each hive in order to support the bees while they search for future nectar in our area. They showed evidence of exploring their surroundings as they began to buzz around their hives and seem to have survived the trip just fine!


After all my glowing reports on Mother Nature, the Wards did not fare so well this week as a giant, eighty foot maple tree fell in their backyard. Thank goodness it missed the house and power lines but they have quite a mess to deal with in the near future. IMG_1758

The barn construction continued a pace this week with the first floor framing and delivery of the roof trusses but not before the plumbing and sewer lines were put in place.  A muddy mess of sewer lines!IMG_1576IMG_1585

But fun to see the framing of the interior walls begin…IMG_1704

After walls went up the trusses were delivered in an impossibly tight situation on a narrow lane.


Walls begun and trusses ready to be hoisted by crane this week. IMG_1838

Other projects continued forward last week but none so infamous as my “Shane” project which was hilariously misinterpreted by Dave as my “shame” project. I’m still laughing but hope you won’t be bored by another story inside a small story! Do you recall the part in the book  Shane  by Jack Schaefer published in 1949 when the father, Joe Starrett, shares with Shane, the ‘hero’ gunslinger, that he has a stump on his farm that he has struggled to remove by himself? The two men go after the stump together and their joint efforts are enormous but successful. There are all sorts of underlying themes to identify with in this section, but I always considered one last point in our Alleé of trees that reminded me of the book since I’ve been unsuccessful at attacking this area…until now. Here is what it looked like on the face of it. IMG_7817.jpg

Innocent enough, but I knew from dealing with it over the years that it was a clump of scraggly growth on top of large rocks on top of horizontal fencing material set in place years ago to help the inevitable erosion of the swale area of the fields. The longer I waited to eradicate this area, the more it grew and became unmanageable. Until I decided enough was enough and asked Dave to help me attack the area. Haha, he thought I was calling it my “shame” area which was also a good description! So, with either appellation, we went after it last week using the clippers, loppers and the tractor with straps. Here is Dave working with the tractor after I bushwhacked!IMG_1541.jpg

We got at least three or four loads of large rocks out of this area and offered them to friends. IMG_1543

Kathy Waldemer was the first one to raise her hand to help take these off our hands! We could not have been more delighted than to assist with getting them from our yard to hers! The best part of this story is that after arriving home last night from our bee adventures in the hail and rain, we found a cute package at our front door from Kathy:IMG_1852.jpg

In case you can’t read the note, it says, “Scones for Stones”. Kathy happens to make the most divine scones and she knows that I am a HUGE fan! I have requested the recipe and she agreed to let me share it here so please be patient for the next installment!