Heartbreak and Hope – When you Lose a Beehive

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The dead hive opened

On a walk past the bee yard the other day I paused to put my ear to the hive, something I do regularly throughout the winter.  I discovered that only one of our two hives was making its normal faint buzzing sound.  It was a warm (45 degree) sunny day so I opened the silent hive and found it full of dead bees, many of them near the top but also many with their noses deep in the comb, a sign of starvation.

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our hives under snow

I felt terrible – I thought I had left them enough honey for the winter, but maybe not?  On closer inspection I found a few frames of capped honey not far from the cluster of bees.  The upper entrance showed evidence of cleansing flights and there were quite a few dead bees outside on the ground in the snow – had they been sick or was it just too cold?  Each hive had an insulated winter cover with plenty of air flow to keep them dry.

I tried not to get teary, but instead stomped around the bee yard in frustration.  Like any new parent I was plagued with doubt  and guilt – what did I do wrong?  Plenty, I’m sure, but how do I make sure I don’t make the same mistakes again?

Our adventure with bees began three years ago at the Burlington screening of the award-winning documentary film “Queen of the Sun: What Bees are Telling Us”.  I then took Ross Conrad’s Organic Beekeeping course and passed the exam given by the Vermont Beekeeper’s Association.

Our two hives did fairly well the first year, but to be safe we didn’t extract any honey.  They came through the winter very strong, so strong that I missed preventing one of the hives from swarming, leaving it mostly empty with a Queen cell.  I’m afraid I did something to interrupt the acceptance of the new queen or she didn’t return from her mating flight, because after 6 weeks there were no new eggs.

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The two hives after splitting and new Queen

So I split the strong hive and introduced a new Russian Queen.  I made notes on which boxes had nectar, eggs, and capped brood.  Throughout the rest of summer they seemed very strong, I added supers as they needed them, and then we extracted honey in early September.

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extracting honey

We took 3.5 gallons total from the two hives, leaving a full shallow on each, and an empty shallow for the bees to fill during the goldenrod flow.  In October one of the two hives seemed weaker and hadn’t filled their second super, so I did a mite count using my IPM board and they both had a fairly heavy infestation, so I fed the hive, adding BeeHealthy, and treated them both for mites with ApiVar.  There was no evidence of Nosema or Foulbrood.   We did have some pretty cold weather this winter, but I’m questioning how much honey I left them, and plan to leave them more next year.

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Bee inspection in September

So what’s my plan for my dead hive?  First I’m going to clean it out and do some more investigating.  Here’s my plan - Take out the frames one by one and brush off the dead bees and vacuum out the ones still in cells.  Scrape of any bridge or burr comb and propolis from the frames and inspect the comb to see if any frames need replacing.  Do the same with the hive bodies, cleaning off the frame rests etc. where the propolis really gets in the way.  Then I’ll work my way down to the bottom board getting everything cleaned up.  It might be a while before the new bee package arrives so I’ll store the empty hive in the barn (where it’s still freezing) in a plastic bag until it warms up outside and then air it out in the greenhouse so it doesn’t mildew.

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installing new bees with Gabbie

I have to decide soon if I’m going to order a new package of bees with a new Russian Queen or try to raise a new queen from the overwintered hive, and split it in June.  The advantage of splitting an overwintered hive is that hopefully some of the genetic material of the bees that survived can be passed to the new hive, breeding tougher, more resistant bees.  This is the approach of both Ross Conrad and Kirk Webster, a well-known Vermont honeybee queen breeder, who didn’t use chemicals at all when tracheal mites were first discovered in the state in the late 1980s. He lost 95 percent of his bees the first year, but by breeding the survivors, now has a resistant stock.  I would love one of his queens but there’s a two-year wait-list.  Knowing how busy we are in spring, I’ll probably start with a fresh box of bees in early May.

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zombie bee

Losing hives is fairly common now (30% is the average) – honey bee colonies are overrun with difficulties (Colony Collapse Disorder, Nosema, and now Zombie bees.  Our wild bees are almost extinct (the national Academy of Science reported a 96% decline in the four abundant species), and it’s now being shown that wild and domesticated bees are passing diseases to each other.

To make matters worse the U.S. market is being flooded with cheap honey from China (laundered through other Asian countries – see this article on Honey laundering) and this honey is often contaminated with banned antibiotics and diluted with corn syrup, yuck.  The flood of cheap foreign honey is reducing demand for local honey = fewer hives = fewer pollinators = less local food.

So, yes if we want to keep eating healthy food we need to become advocates for healthy bees and local raw honey.  Let’s all cross our fingers, and say a prayer for a warm spring full of blossoms and healthy bees.

 

 

10 Years on the L.A.N.D. and 60 Things We’ve Learned

2013 10 19 09.14.46 e1393004531238 1024x671 10 Years on the L.A.N.D. and 60 Things Weve Learned

The New Year brought the classic moment of looking back to look forward – and I realized that in September we will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our business, designing and building landscapes here in the Champlain Valley of VT.  We have experienced significant growth and change during that time and I am very grateful for Tim’s infinite patience, as well as the extreme hard work performed by Tim and the crew, and the faith of our clients as we have evolved our design process and methods.

Looking back at some of our first designs I admit it’s a bit like looking at photos of myself in the 80′s and wondering how I could possibly have thought shoulder pads were a good idea.  Thankfully, we’ve learned along the way, and continue to do so, and we have found ways to successfully integrate our interests in ecology, agriculture, and landscapes.  Recently I was giving a particularly interactive lecture to some UVM students about Ecological Design and the discussion turned to whether I thought they should go to grad school in order to secure a job.  I told them that “it depends”, but that no matter where their path takes them I believe that education is continual beyond any formal school setting, and needs to be a part of daily life.  We choose to be Learners and our identify morphs with our constantly evolving body of knowledge.  I am not the same gardener-designer-farmer-wife-mother that I was yesterday or 10 years ago, and it’s the process of sharing those experiences that has proved more valuable than any piece of paper.

So yes, research is important but so is hands-on experience, and most importantly, learning from each others’ hands-on experiences.  With this in mind I have assembled an index of the topics that I’ve written about in the last three years to share with you – think of it as a distillation of our recent experiences.  I write about 20 posts per year, so there are 60 articles here organized by topic for you to pick through and hopefully find something useful.  Be sure to sign up for our newsletter if you would enjoy getting our happy rantings each month.  Have fun and please share your thoughts.

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Children in Nature – The Importance of Getting Muddy

getting muddy 238x300 Children in Nature   The Importance of Getting MuddyI love this photo of Gabbie – it was taken eight years ago on her first birthday at a jobsite on the south end of Lake George, about 2 hours south of us.  The usual routine for remote jobsites includes Tim and the crew staying in a nearby hotel and working long hours until the project is complete, while I visit periodically for design oversight.  This project was special - the clients very graciously let us stay in their guesthouse on the property, and so we took the whole family, including my mom who watched the girls while we worked.  The days were punctuated with barbecues and swimming and even birthday cake.  Occasionally the girls both got to “help” which was code for getting reeaally muddy, much to their delight.  I’ll never forget that project, not only because Elsa had her first asthma attack/emergency room visit, but because the girls had the unique opportunity to “help” us and understand what we do all day while we are away from them.  I have learned that the strength of our family is built through participation in each others’ lives, and it seems even more true as the girls get older.  I have to dig deeper now when they get off the bus and I ask them “what did you do at school today?” and the first response is “not much”.  The answers take their time and usually emerge during a walk up to the woods or a stroll through the garden.  It’s difficult at times to remember to take this time to connect when I have a design that’s due, or I’m deep into preparing a presentation, but the best things happen when I step away from the computer or the phone, and walk outside.  So yes, getting muddy is important – all pretenses are shed, our true selves revealed, smiles emerge and bonds are formed.  I’m off to meet the girls at the bus stop and maybe get my hands in the dirt…

Fall Harvest on the Farm

view from porch1 300x253 Fall Harvest on the FarmIt was a big harvest year for us – we had four weeks of clear warm sunshine in a row in September/early October and we spent every weekend filling the cupboards and freezers. It was also our first year extracting honey – such a rich reward for the last two summers with our hives.  Here are some photos of the bounty.

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The anti-hunger games

Creating Monarch Waystations

monarch caterpillar Creating Monarch Waystations

Monarch caterpillar on milkweed in our meadow

Search “monarch decline” on the web and you’ll find articles from every major news source talking about the record low numbers this year.  It’s been alarming how few we’ve seen this fall here at the farm – just a few years ago you could walk up the field and pass hundreds.

The #1 reason given for decline is the loss of habitat, and specifically milkweed, the Monarch’s top food source.  There are two varieties of milkweed that we see in our fields, Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and we’ve been actively spreading the seeds in a fallow part of our property to help create a Monarch Waystation.

If you’ve been reading the blog lately you know that we’ve been talking a lot about the value of margins for biodiversity.  Chip Taylor, the Director of Monarch Watch also believes we need to pay more attention to these fragmented edges and marginal areas created by development and agriculture since it is these edges that support monarchs, many of our pollinators, and the many forms of wildlife that are sustained by the seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, and foliage that result from pollination. “In effect,” Taylor argues, “we need a new conservation ethic, one dealing with edges and marginal areas that addresses the changes of the recent past and anticipates those of the future.”

Monarch Watch has registered over 7,000 Waystations so far, and they need more.  You can create your own Waystation by visiting Monarchwatch.org’s website and following their instructions.  Here are some photos of us spreading milkweed seed at Linden Farm.

 

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NWF Schoolyard Habitat installed at Flynn Elementary

Here are some photos from today’s installation.  We set the bird post in concrete, and once it cures we can return and install the feeders.  The bird bath and bench will get installed next week.  Many of the plants are from American Beauties, a NWF partner.  The Schoolyard Habitat project was completely donated by Linden L.A.N.D. Group as the prize in a sweepstakes run during the month of May.  The native plant varieties were selected to provide color in the late fall and early spring, but most importantly provide nectar, forage, seeds and fruit for birds, bees, moths, butterflies, and caterpillars.  The design also provides cover, water, places to raise young (the Oak tree actually had a bird nest in it when we planted it).  The habitat demonstrates sustainable gardening to children as part of a curriculum that encourages them to become stewards.  We had a great time today and look forward to meeting with the students later in the school year.

Linden Farm Summer 2013

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July sunset

 

 

The summer goes by so quickly – there’s always something going on here at the farm before the landscape crew heads out, after they get home, and with our family on weekends.  Planting, harvesting, weeding, haying, herding – the list never ends.  Here are a few images of the homestead in summer.

Sunrise Farm Tour

Yesterday it was 90 degrees, hot and humid, and today promises the same.  I woke up early and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I crept out of a silent house and walked around the farm.  An altered perspective – stumbling upon sheep still asleep in the pasture, dew suspended.  The Rooster and hens come tumbling out of the coop when I open the door and look at me as if I was a stranger.  Mist and geese rise off the lake, the tree frogs chirp, the pair of Orioles call to each other from their nest in the Silver Maple.  The sun gains strength and so does everything else, rising with the arms of a golden conductor.  Makes me realize how much life is here, and how it carries on without me each day when I’m not looking.  I’m grateful to be a part of it.

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Schoolyard Habitats, Outdoor Classrooms & Natural Play Spaces

bean teepee 225x300 Schoolyard Habitats, Outdoor Classrooms & Natural Play SpacesI have always been a strong advocate of nature-based play for kids, but especially since I read Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods in 2005, the same year Gabbie was born.  (More about this in my previous post Raising Naturalists).  It may sound radical to some, but it is becoming more obvious to me, both as a parent and an environmental scientist, that:

  • We all need healthy ecosystems to survive
  • Children need direct exposure to nature for healthy childhood development
  • Our future depends upon successfully connecting children to nature, teaching them to care about it, and then encouraging them to pursue careers that will actively develop sustainable/regenerative solutions for peaceful co-habitation of the planet for generations to come.

With this hope for the future in mind we are donating a Schoolyard Habitat to one VT school in Chittenden or Addison County, to be selected through a sweepstakes contest (see below for details).  The Schoolyard Habitat program was developed by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and here in VT, Liz Soper leads the charge.  She is NWF’s Associate Director of Eco-Schools USA which is a school based program to green K-12 schools across the nation.  Prior to directing Eco-Schools USA she worked directly with local communities to help protect and enhance wildlife habitat and implement NWF’s Backyard and Schoolyard Habitat programs.  Since she obviously knows the ins-and-outs we will be consulting with Liz before we design and build the Schoolyard Habitat that we donate.

schoolyardsign Schoolyard Habitats, Outdoor Classrooms & Natural Play Spaces

Schoolyard Habitats are similar to the Wildlife Habitats that we install for clients and then NWF certifies.  They must include the same basic features - Food, Water, Cover, Places to Raise Young, and may also incorporate Sustainable Gardening features such as compost bins, raised vegetable beds and other container gardens.  The Schoolyard Habitat is coupled with curriculum and a maintenance plan to keep the students, teachers and community involved and assure its long-term success.

The design will be tailored to meet the needs of the school, the interests of its members and the challenges of the site.  The value of the design and installation of the Schoolyard Habitat that we are donating is $2,000 ($500 plants, $500 other materials, $1,000 labor) and could include:

  • native plants that provide food and shelter for wildlife including birds and butterflies,
  • supplies such as feeders, a birdbath, and bird houses,
  • a compost bin,
  • a raised bed, and
  • pathways and seating made out of natural materials such as mulch, stumps and boulders.

If you live in Addison or Chittenden County VT and would like to have a Schoolyard Habitat at your school then either send me an EMAIL (lindenlandscaping@gmavt.net) or visit our FACEBOOK PAGE TO ENTER the sweepstakes.  The deadline is May 6th and the schoolyard will be installed in September 2013.  The more parents in your town that enter, the greater your chances are of your school being picked, so share with gusto!

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More resources for Outdoor classrooms/playgrounds -

Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In

front walkway Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In

I have several friends who are trying to sell their homes right now – and they are finding that it’s not as easy as they were hoping it might be – it’s a buyers market after all.  Making a house appealing to a buyer is as much about psychology as it is about the price tag, and whole books have been written about how to stage a house to sell.  Yet, the first thing that a potential buyer sees is the outside of a house – not just the siding or the color of the door, but the landscape.  So, how do you stage the landscape to sell a house?

Spring is traditionally the start of the real estate season.  March 20th is technically the first day of spring, but here in Vermont you’re more likely to see brown mud than blooming flowers.  The snow is melting, leaving brown piles along the driveway, there’s gravel spray from the plow everywhere, the lawn has tunnels from the winter escapades of voles, and the bulbs and early perennials are still sleeping. Hmm, not exactly picture perfect.  Take heart, there is an upside to mud season – when everybody’s yard is suffering a similar fate, your clean-up efforts will be especially noticeable, and once spring gets underway the plan you put into action now for your landscape will pay off in spades.  Speaking of payoff, consider that the effort and investment you put into the landscape can increase a sale by as much as ten percent.  That being said, don’t go overboard – people buying a house want a landscape with “good bones”, that seems easy to care for, and can be tailored to suit their particular style – so you are aiming for the vanilla ice cream of landscapes (just make it Ben & Jerry’s vanilla).

Start by approaching your property as a prospective buyer would, with a drive-by, and ask yourself (or an honest friend) what jumps out at you.  People scanning a space see edges and shapes first – so if the edges of the lawns and planting beds are crisp and well defined, and spaces (gardens, porches) are not cluttered with too many objects, it puts people at ease.  Then you can worry about adding a simple color scheme to tie it all together.  First, concentrate on what breaks a sense of order – Is the mailbox or fence askew, are the trash cans visible, is there an old hedge that’s hiding the front door?  Then park as a guest would and walk to the front door – what do you see (or not see)?  Is the walkway broken, flooded, mossy or weedy?  Is the porch or entryway welcoming?  Are the planting beds too sparse or overgrown?  The backyard is also important, but not nearly as important as the front approach, so let’s start there.

Here are our tips for increasing your curb appeal:

white border planting 300x237 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In1) Clean up the Driveway – many driveways in Vermont are crushed stone, and usually look pretty worn by spring.  Give it an almost instant makeover by having it power-raked and topdressed.  The end of the driveway closest to the garage and guest parking areas can be defined with cobblestone edging, or a paver parking pad can be installed – a quick installation that makes a big impact as people get out of the car.  If there’s a narrow area that can be planted to soften the hardscape – go for it.

2) Get a Professional Spring Garden Clean-up – you can see a complete description of what activities this encompasses, but at a minimum you need to cut fresh bed edges, weed, and spread a fresh layer of natural mulch or compost.  Be realistic, if you don’t have time yourself, hire somebody to come back once a month to keep it looking neat until the house sells.  A few scheduled hours go a long ways.

container flower 253x300 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In3) Add Instant color – Plant some containers and add a simple band of annual color to front foundation plantings or a walkway – at a minimum have some color on the porch and by the doors.  Keep it simple though, just one or two colors and rely on interesting foliage. I find that more people have love/hate reactions to warm flower colors (red-orange-gold) and are more universally accepting of cool colors (blue-white-green) so these would be a safer bet, but pick a scheme that blends with your house.

4)  Prune or remove overgrown shrubs – nothing dates a house and looks more overwhelming to a prospective buyer than a yew hedge that was planted in the 60′s and now covers the front of the house and blocks the windows.  Ditto for half-dead, short-lived, diseased, or messy trees, or anything that was planted too close to the house.

5) Remove Personal Adornments – You may love your collection of garden gnomes, whirligigs, children’s art projects, flags, toys etc., but a future buyer may not.  This can be hard for some homeowners to swallow, but trust me, you can find a new place for them in your next landscape but for now they should be lovingly stored.  The same goes for decorative edging around garden beds.

hydrangea fence 300x225 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In6) Renovate Overgrown Perennial Beds – if you once had a fabulous cottage-style perennial garden but somehow it turned into a monster when you weren’t looking, it might be time to rip it out (don’t feel bad, it happens to all of us).  One solution is to plant some simple Hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, and a border of annual color and call it good.  Beds need to look easy to maintain and not like a backache waiting to happen.  That being said, if you have a cottage-style garden that is well maintained and is colorful year-round, congratulations – romantic gardens are still the #1 requested garden style.

7) Clean Water features – make sure they are sparkling clean, full and running.  If this isn’t possible, it’s better to remove them. If it’s not an obviously positive feature of the landscape then it is certain to look like a liability.

paver walkway 225x300 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In8) Tune-Up Walkways and Patios – if your hardscaping is more than 5 years old it’s very common to see moss in grout lines, joint sand that has deteriorated, and stains on the surface which can range from a uniform dark layer (algae), to rust, a white efflorescence (minerals), or the occasional grease spot (the cheeseburger you dropped during the last party).  Not to worry – a spring cleanup for your hardscapes is needed and can be done in a day or two.  If you have one or two cracked stones, then they can be replaced at the same time.  I’ll write a separate post about the hardscaping clean-up process, but basically the joint sand gets vacuumed out, the pavers get scrubbed with a biological cleaner, then after the stone surface is fully dried, the joints get re-sanded.  As an option the entire surface can be sealed, which depending upon the product used, can either deepen the color or keep it transparent and matte.  Voila – your walkway and/or patio looks brand new again.

9) Create a Care Manual – if you have an extensive landscape, (not one easily labeled as low-maintenance) you can reduce a buyer’s trepidation by showing them that you have a system of maintenance that they can easily adopt.  People are afraid of the unknown – so give them information in digestible pieces in the form of a binder that contains a landscape plan, a list of plants with photos and care instructions, a diagram of your irrigation system and lighting, and a list of contacts including your landscape designer, maintenance company, irrigation and lighting, arborist, pool company etc.  A Care Manual is something that I have created for homeowners in the past, even if I didn’t design their landscapes, and it doesn’t necessarily have to include a full property plan, but should include a list of plants, photos, care instructions and contacts.

front entryway 300x288 Ten Tips for Selling a House from the Outside In10)  Details – Once you’ve tackled the landscape checklist above, then you can focus on the outside of the house – powerwash the siding, paint the front door, install a new mailbox or house lettering, lay down a new doormat, and/or plant a window box.

All of these activities will make your house looked loved – which is the first step towards getting a prospective buyer to think that they will love it too.  Good Luck!