Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My Beach Pictures

My children and I had a wonderful short vacation a couple of weeks ago and I was so pleased with the pictures that I had to share a few. We love the off-season even though "our" beach is not as heavily trafficked during the season as the less remote beaches in town. Though the water is usually a bit on the cool side and the beaches and shallows haven't fully taken on their summer beach smoothness, seeing the beach naturally, without all the garbage people leave behind, is much more satisfying. We are spoiled rotten and we know it.

The water's ever changing bands of color are completely mesmerizing. With movements of the sun, moon, and clouds, the view is rarely the same - think hypnotic lava lamp with horizontal stripes. I would guess any of the variations would be difficult to capture on canvas. I wonder if there is Fibonacci at work.

We followed this lame plover down the beach for a mile trying to get a perfect picture. Obviously, I didn't get it, but we enjoyed watching her feed on the edge of the water with an amazing ability to skirt the foam. Even with her injured leg she did better at staying dry than we. I should institute a must wear a swimsuit on the beach rule so I wouldn't have to wash so many clothes, but I would have to punish myself for non-compliance because the cool wind of the early season begs for more clothes.

Plovers were busy "fishing" on the water's edge while humans and brown pelicans shared gulf fishing. The waters were calm on the last two days of our stay and we saw many smaller boats trawling and casting. I really like the old wooden boats. The shapes seem more artistic and more natural than the loud, fast, shiny, fiberglass Brobdingnagian monuments to excess.

Naturally, when we go to the beach we search for shells. I find that I always look for the perfect example of a specific type. My children look for interesting shape, color, texture or type. I'm trying to be more like my children. We took way too many pictures of shells - again, seeking perfection.

I'll leave you with the sun setting behind the dunes and the neighbor's flag.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Garden Visitors

I was weeding my garden because that is all I do these days and I found thirty plus of these dill munching caterpillars. At first I called the children to come look, then I started picking them off because who wants to have crops mown to the ground. I felt like I had seen the species, but couldn't identify it. Then, my son decided he wanted them to see what the transformation would bring.

As can happen with so many things, we found a teaching moment. We went to one of my favorite buggy sites. The caterpillar in my dill is none other than a black swallowtail butterfly. Another site said "Really, they don't eat that much." So we left about half of them in the dill. I have a lot of dill so don't mind sharing with something so beautiful and Pink Panther captured the other half, harvested some dill, put them in a screened bee box, and took them inside.

About a quarter of what he captured escaped and are wandering around the house and the other quarter have already started making chrysalises. I haven't checked the progress of the ones in the garden because it is finally raining!!!!! Raining!!! Raining!!! We have been so dry that any spritzing is as welcome as a porch swing which is where you will be able to find me.

Friday, May 25, 2007

I am here . . .

I didn't spontaneously combust or anything terrifying like that. I just lost the desire to communicate. I suppose I felt that my life is so boring that the possibility of anyone being interested in the mundane details was remote. I do issue an apology to my Aunt "Needle" and Miranda who have religiously checked my blog because they don't have feed readers and were sorely disappointed that I haven't been inclined to write.

We have two new additions. Two of the three wild turkey eggs have hatched. We miscalculated the date of hatch. One of the other eggs was cracked, so we opened it to judge how much longer the eggs needed to incubate. Unfortunately, we misjudged and I just happened to notice that one of the eggs was pipping and was able to turn the automatic rotator off. The other egg is still in the incubator, but I don't think it will hatch. They aren't as cute as baby chickens. They are gangly and have strangely mottled downy baby feathers. They seem to be doing great. We will put them into an outside pen during the afternoons in a day or two. Still, everyone I talk to seems to think it is crazy to think I can raise these birds and get them back into the wilds of our woods and pastures.

I have never been one to give up.

Monday, May 14, 2007


I know I haven't written much about school lately. For some reason, maybe because it is going well right now, I am not planning for the future or lamenting the failures. I suppose I should document the progress and try to recreate the balance for next year. Anyway, formal school is spiraling to the finish line. Princess finished all planned work in math Friday. Pink Panther will finish his planned math work this week. Grammar, handwriting, Latin, and spelling will finish this week, as well.

Unfortunately, I was so ambitious in the planning of Ancient History that we may not finish this summer. The World in Ancient Times series has taken us on a well informed journey that won't be finished soon. We will start Ancient Rome today. Did you catch that s word? I did say start. After Rome there is one more book in the series. Ouch. The children have never associated history with "real school," so perhaps continuing will be a continuation of story time?.

At Christmas I started looking through the spine of our history reading to see if there was anything I could neglect to read. I haven't found anything that doesn't seem interesting or important, so I just keep reading and they just keep listening and narrating. I wonder. Is this one of those Charlotte Mason good habits?

Spiraling to the beginning of the Middle Ages, I wonder if they would notice if we didn't take a summer break in history?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

If you are planning Early American History

There is a wonderful article by Charles Mann in the May National Geographic that gives a believable account of the the settling of Jamestown including a cool map. At their website they have an interactive map and other interesting stuff. Charles Mann wrote 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. I will have to add this one to my list along with the children's book, 1607: A New Look at Jamestown, written by another contributor to the article, Karen Lange.

I'll be getting back to my magazine before someone sneaks it.

Oh! One more thing, my precious bees are an invasive species. I've never thought of them like that. Isn't it interesting that a non-native insect has dominated life as we know it and its possible demise is causing tremors of fear across America?

Friday, May 11, 2007


Remember the turkey eggs from last post? We are incubating them in Pink Panther's personal multi-species incubator. I know. I know. The chances are slim that the eggs are viable after a cool night, but we are trying. I also know that raising a few wild turkeys is not easy. We are hoping to get them up and going, then swoosh them into the . . . What do you call a flock of turkeys? A gang? Anyway we hope to push them out with the group that frequents our yard and adjoining pasture. It is, if nothing else, a learning experience.

If that project was not enough, I will wow you with the other ways our family has recently interfered with the natural order. Pink Panther found a chicken in town that had fallen off a chicken truck. Honestly, chickens that are on their way to the processing plant are disgusting to begin with and after falling off a moving 18-wheeler it was pitiful. I didn't want it any where near my chickens, but he said he couldn't just leave it to be run over. I let him bring the broiler home to try to heal it. He kept it separated. Unfortunately, the healing didn't go as it should. The chicken got/was invested with maggots. She just wasn't healing. We decided to put her out of her misery.

Pink Panther and I couldn't watch or participate. We let my husband do all the truly terrible stuff anyway. While he was killing the chicken, he saw movement under some cedar logs that have been stored since Katrina. He thought it was a skunk. Just what he needed. What it was was a feral cat and her kittens.

I hate feral cats. Why people let their animals roam around and produce wild versions that produce more wild versions that produce more wild versions, I cannot imagine. Ferrel cats disrupt nests of all sorts of animals and leave a wide trail of destruction of nature. So we captured the spitting, scratching bunch of kittens. We are raising them now. If they had been left with the mother any longer, we would not have been able to catch them. Now, the kittens will be neutered or spayed and hopefully given to someone who wants a cat.

So, in just one day my family has agreed to the care and nurturing of three turkey eggs and three feral kittens. Do we interfere too much?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


My sister-in-law sent me this(Washington Post article about a commuter/great music experiment). She thought it was profound. I, too, was mesmerized by the possibilities of this experiment. I was so curious that I watched every video and read every word of the article. I hoped beyond hope that the commuters would appreciate genius. I was disappointed when they didn't. I'm not sure what this failure says about us.

Are we too busy for people, too busy for art, too tuned in to our personal music selection or cell phone? Are we unable to give children a chance to learn because we are rushing to teach them? We could say that every person who swished by had a tremendous work ethic and didn't want to be even one minute late for work, but what about those people who didn't listen while standing in line to get rich quick with no work?

Would you have stopped? How do you know?

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Yellow Dog Strikes Again

Yesterday, The Yellow Dog disrupted nature in a big way. He looks guilty, doesn't he? He went with my husband to the hay field to check for limbs and other stuff that could damage the hay mower. We will start cutting hay this week.

A turkey was nesting in the grass. The Yellow Dog, curious as always, ran the hen off the nest, before Mr. W. could get him reined back in. The hen did return to the nest before dark, but something, hopefully not the Yellow Dog, damaged almost all the eggs and most likely killed the turkey sometime during the night. There were lots of feathers but no carcass.

My husband feels responsible because the huge disruption probably alerted all the coyotes, bobcats, skunks, owls, and foxes in the immediate area to the unusual location of the nest. Yes, if The Yellow Dog hadn't found the nest, it would have been destroyed by the hay mower because we wouldn't have known it was there, but I still feel that we disrupted nature in a big, negative way.

I am mad at him, but The Yellow Dog is still an amusing part of the family. You never know what he will do next. He plays with the children on the swing. He can actually pull them on the rope swing. He accompanies them on all their solo nature walks. In fact, you can barely leave the house without a doggie escort. I do like to have him with him when I have to check spooky noises in the barn or pasture at night not that he actually protects anything or anybody.

Once, not long ago, some dogs came on our property. The Yellow Dog barked and barked and ran out to scare them, but they didn't immediately leave. The dogs started for The Yellow Dog and he turned tail and ran to us for protection. The same goes for the cows. He takes great pleasure chasing cows, but if any of them turn and take a stand he cowers.

So he is not much use as a cattle dog. He isn't any use as a chicken protector, since he has a history of playing too roughly with them. He doesn't help with honey frame building. He falls asleep on the job.

Also, he also doesn't like to take a bath. As soon as he is clean he finds a way to escape and runs out to the barnyard and wipes his wet self in manure. Even though he usually stinks, either because of the manure or skunk, we can't help ourselves. We just like him, in spite of his mischievousness or perhaps because of it.
He can run like the wind.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Pink Roses

As soon as I erected my garden fence two years ago, I went over to my mother's house and clipped six little stalks of this almost white, pink rose. Someone told me that all I had to do was make the dirt nice, soft, and rich, stick the stalk in the ground, and keep it watered, but not drowned, the first year. It worked. I have enough roses to decorate my fence and plenty to clip and bring inside. Next year, maybe the whole fence will be covered!!

Granted, these aren't fancy roses, but they do seem to have a large bloom for the type. They tumble and drape while seemingly putting down roots wherever they touch the ground. Even though they seem easy enough to grow, I'm still proud of myself for taking a chance with free landscaping twigs. I like to feel that I have a green thumb and like having roses, especially these that aren't so demanding.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Chick Update

Remember the quandary we had about the three mothers and one set of chicks. The outcomes so far are surprisingly good. We have had 10 chicks which I gave to the chicken sitting the longest. We started with five bitties and each day we had another. Now things have slowed. In fact, we haven't had a new chick for a few days, but the other two hens are still sitting and still stealing each other's eggs.

The hen I chose to nurture the bitties is being a fantastic mother. She is teaching, protecting, and doting. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get a picture with all the chicks together. They are roaming the orchard and front yard with their mother searching for bugs, dusting, and keeping an ever watchful eye out for the very curious yellow dog. He has been good, but has had much encouragement to be good from the mama hen. Protective does not even begin to describe the bristly attack mode she dons at the first sight of The Yellow Dog.

Pink Panther's chicks don't have that fierce protection, but they too are learning to stay well away from the curious mouth of the yellow dog. The Domilana didn't turn out very beautiful, but she is Pink Pan's favorite. He sold the young Buff Catalina for $10. He was so proud. The Dominecker appears to be a male, so selling him is doubtful. I doubt he will be able to sell the Domilana either, unless a beautifying fairy visits and invokes powerful magic.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Swarms of Bees

Sunday, minutes before Princess and I were scheduled to leave for Jackson, Pink Panther came inside and said he heard bees in the front yard. He didn't mean a few working bees, he meant a swarm. They were settling in the top of a cedar tree. Timing and location are not always perfect.

I built a hive top, the only piece missing for a complete hive, while my husband went to borrow a scissor lift. Princess and I had to skedaddle or risk missing the show. Mr. W had never hived a swarm, much less one that was hanging in the top of a tree. He called once everything was ready and I talked him through the basics.

Before we got to Jackson, the swarm was hived and the equipment was returned. Before we got home the bees had moved again. We have a weak hive, not because of the bee collapse syndrome but because of a weak queen. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to get a new Mississippi raised queen because of the increased demand caused by the collapse. My regular bee man doesn't answer the phone, another said he was filling an order for 600 queens, and yet another is completely out. There are queen chambers in the hive, so supersession will occur, but since the children help with the beekeeping I don't really want to take chances with a hive produced queen who could turn out to be a dragon lady producing dragon babies. Anyway, the swarm moved over to this weak hive. I wasn't there to see it, but it had to have happened, because when I got home the weak colony was bursting at the seams and the new colony was empty.

I was alright with the move, yet there just didn't seem to be enough room for everyone. I like hives full of bees because you get lots of honey, but this was ridiculous. The bees thought so too! They swarmed again! As I mentioned before, you can't choose time or place.

This time the bees chose lunch time and my one year old plum tree. Obviously, the usual technique of capturing a swarm would not work. I would not allow the top of my plum tree to be "pruned." So, Mr. W. who is excited about hiving swarms came up with another plan. He got a bucket of water, doused the bees so they couldn't fly, and shook the little plum tree until the bees fell into the hive. My poor little plum tree. The poor bees. He didn't get them all.

The rest flew to the next plum tree. After Mr. W. went to work, I had to lop a branch of my plum tree to get the bees to the hive. Now two of my plum trees have been misshapen - one by pruning and the other by bending and shaking. But, we have a new enormous colony that seems to be staying put. We will keep the entrance reducer in for a few days to protect them and then begin to feed them sugar water, not high fructose corn syrup.

I suppose that by showing this immediately following my sustainability sermon yesterday, I wanted to say that there is hope. Healthy bees are still around. They just need to be nurtured and their environment needs to nurtured. They need to be appreciated rather than swatted.

One more picture? This is a hive with two honey supers. Do I dare to go higher or start the sticky work of harvest?

All photo credits for this post go to The Pink Panther.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


ZBTZahBTzoo asked yesterday about my take on the bee collapse, so I feel like I have been given permission to drone on and on about bees. I've been keeping up with the story, with fear. I don't want to lose my bees. We are just hobby keepers, so our financial livelihood does not depend on pollination fees, queen production, package bees, or honey production, however, we've grown to depend on them for pollination of our garden and trees, for sweetening, and gifts. The bees are an integral part of our long term sustainability plan.

Lack of sustainability, in my opinion, is causing the bee collapse. The dependence on pesticides, herbicides, cheap and lower quality sweeteners, and the move away from self production of food are contributors to lack of sustainability and the stress on honey bees. In the attempt to "bigger"* farming the best practices have fallen to the wayside.

Pesticides are used to kill both good and bad insects thereby ending the natural cycles of nature. Did you know that it takes twice as long for the predator bugs to reestablish after pesticide use? Since pesticide use eliminates predators (good bugs) you insure you will always have to use pesticides to keep ahead of the pest bugs. Sure, no orchardist is going to spray pesticide on trees that are being pollinated, but the residue is there and you can never control what your neighbor sprays or dusts. You also cannot control where a bee will go. The practice of broad pesticide use to ease the production of mass quantities of perfect appearing fruit and vegetables with the least amount of work is weakening the pollinators (not just the honeybees), if not killing them. Farmers aren't the only ones spraying pesticides. Towns frequently spray for mosquitoes. Fumigating a town, in my opinion, is poisoning the people and the bees.

Though many scientists say herbicide use is not as dangerous to the environment as pesticide use, I believe that herbicides do injure wildlife. There is nothing preventing bees and other insects from landing on sprayed weeds. The sharp odors of the herbicide would have to befuddle any creature. Our quest for ease in gardening, large scale farming, and landscaping leaves best practices by the roadside. Speaking of roadsides, the willy-nilly spraying of the various Departments of Transportation kills everything within wand distance. What makes it senseless is that they still send a mowing crew.

Backyard beehives, at one time, were not uncommon. Families had fruit trees, gardens, and bees. Bees were able to feed on a seasonal diet and depend on the cycles of nature. Now, beekeeping, for the most part, is handled by commercial operations that also want to "bigger." Bees are stressed by cross country transportation so that they can pollinate crops as Spring arrives in each area of the country. To supplement their natural diets, bees are fed high fructose corn syrup instead of foraging naturally or sugar water. Best beekeeping practices have been forgotten in the name of pollination dollars and pollination dollars are necessary because the glut of cheap sweeteners at the grocery stores don't allow beekeepers to make enough on honey to survive.

Sure, there may be fungi or parasites. In Mississippi, beekeepers have struggled terribly with mites. But, I do know that strong colonies are not as susceptible to illness. Haul bees 2,000 miles in the back of a trailer and I feel sure any incubating illness or parasite will show itself. Moving back to more localized agriculture and a return to smaller, best practices farming, rather than quickest, easiest, and biggest farming would go a long way towards bolstering the honey bee. Yet, that is easier said than done. Farmers have been forced financially to abandon best practices. To stay in business you must have economies of scale. To compete with foreign suppliers (who it turns out are not supplying the same quality) getting the most and cheapest to the market usurps the best practice of rotation planting to avoid poisoning with chemical fertilizers and pest problems and encourages herbicide use, defoliates, and pesticide use. Unfortunately, only the chemical companies are thriving.

I am as guilty as the the next person of supporting large scale agriculture. I have enjoyed cheap grains and meats, almonds, more delicious apples than we can grow in Mississippi, citrus when I want it, and avocados. Yet, I have lately (last 8 years) been struggling with food quality and wondering whether cheap foods that don't really have a taste are worth it. With all the scary news articles about non-nutritive food additives in chicken, fish, cattle, and pig feed, I am getting scared to eat. I just feel that we have moved so far away from our food sources, that what we eat is barely recognizable. The honey bees know it, too!

* from The Lorax by Dr. Suess. Read this book!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Japanese Privet

Japanese Privet, technically called Ligustrum japonicum is a pest plant here in Mississippi. The plant thoughtfully placed in some one's landscaping has become an invasive species. When we first moved onto the hill, we took a backhoe (yes, it is that stubborn) and ripped privet and fence row to clear the view immediately surrounding the house. We pitted the yard trying to remove every last root. But removal is elusive. We still have a beautiful specimen flowering next to a mature tree.

As you can see we still have fence rows that don't really need fences because of the thick cover of J.Privet. To the locals and the US Forestry Service the plant has become a pest.

Yet, the blooms are beautiful and the sweet fragrance perfumes the entire farm (actually the town and outlying area). Unless someone is burning or spreading chicken fertilizer this is what you smell here in early May. The cows loll in the shade. The brown thrashers love the messy fence rows. And, when you have bees hanging on their hives, the privet is a welcome nectar and pollen plant. Look at the pollen on the leaves in the first picture. In fact, we have been busily assembling honey frames to try to keep up with the bees' production in this privet induced honey flow.

After the flowering, the privet produces a little purple fruit on which the birds feast all winter.

So, I wonder if all invasive species are bad?

Other than trying to take over yard, garden, and pastures, Japanese Privet seems to give much to nature and farm.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Princess danced this weekend and she was rewarded for all her hard work with the pleasure of a job well done, stage time, and FLOWERS. She loves flowers and we have been trained by her apparent glee and profuse thank yous to reward with flowers every show. On Saturday my MIL and Sister-in-Law traveled to Jackson to see the show. They brought a bouquet of long stem pink roses. My mother and father couldn't be at the show, so they sent a bouquet. Those flowers, along with the ones we presented, elicited great excitement from Princess. "I've never had three bouquets before!" She wanted to hold them so each bouquet could be seen separately which is impossible without looking like a television antenna. With coaching, she was convinced to hold them all in one arm for a few pictures, but then it was back to the flower antenna look. She was just so happy to get flowers.

We carefully stored all the flowers that would fit in an ice chest for transport home. One bouquet wouldn't fit, so she carefully held it out of the sun while we ate and then all the way home, covering it with tissue paper to protect it more. Once we got home she carefully scrutinized each flower - smelling it and naming it (or trying to) - then arranged and rearranged and rearranged again in vases. Finally she decided to combine the flowers in two vases, since they looked too crowded in one. Her pleasure at being surrounded by flowers is so great that I want to have flowers for her every day.

But then, I suppose they would cease to be special.

Thanks, capejasmine for arranging for such beautiful bouquets! You made me look like a "together" mom.