Sunday, 20 November 2016

Last Chance, Girls!

Weather forecasts indicated that yesterday was the last warmish day predicted for the season. So, I said to the bees,
"Girls, this is your last chance at a handout before Spring, so take advantage of it."

They happily did.

Yesterday's honey bee feast of mint flavoured sugar syrup.

Also, it was a good day for a hike around our trails and through our bush lot. I hoped the exercise and fresh air would help reduce my persistent bout of insomnia. 

I quite enjoyed my hike although there was not much in the way of wildlife spotting. I did see fresh coyote scat, raccoon tracks and a foraging black squirrel. A hawk's 'scree-e-e-e' call came from somewhere among the trees.

Walking North beside a line of hybrid poplar trees.

Heading West towards our bush lot.

Of course I had to stop and admire exposed bird nests.

Now with only ankle deep water, field drainage ditches made easy walking.

The trail winds through a stand of white pines which were planted in 2009.

Long afternoon shadows were cast on a tree that still clings to it's leaves.

Occasional stones peek through the leaf cover.

A splash of green from a fern, not yet dormant.

Fallen trees provide animal and insect shelter and eventually forest compost.

Never clear-cut, this bush lot contains a good variety of native tree species.

Today the weather worm has turned. An all day snow and a cold wind makes me glad I took advantage of yesterday's clement window. As for helping me sleep, yesterday's walk was not a complete success. I did become wide awake at the customary 2:30 am but at least my dreams were only mildly pesky, verging on sweet. Perhaps it's the change of seasons that disrupt our sleeping patterns.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Picnic In November

Yesterday was a beautiful day -- warm and dry and windless. It was my window of perfect weather opportunity for finishing my eaves trough caulking chore. Mission finally accomplished.

In the bee yard, my two colonies of honey bees were flying about, looking for forage. Our recent sub zero spell had put the kibosh on flower blossoms, so I offered the bees a sugar picnic. They were delighted! 

On a very mild November day, my honey bees were flying about.

They happily lap up moistened sugar from their custom made picnic table.

Red squirrel, Timmy, wisely dries his apples before storing them.

A picnic meal of roast chicken, ham, chicken broth and cat kibble.

Feral Ginger Tom rewards me with a half smile. High praise coming from him!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

First Snow

Yesterday we received our first snow fall of the season. I enjoyed the novelty but am still hoping for warmer weather that is also dry enough to finish an eaves trough project. I need a dry plus 10 degrees C for the caulking to stick. That rules out the next few days.

A few robins have not flown south, but are chatting to each other as they glean fruit from vines and shrubs. So nice to hear them as winter approaches. But my current favourite backyard bird is a red-breasted nuthatch. I suspect it spent the summer further north or at least in an area with denser stands of cone producing trees. With a distinctive eye stripe, it is smaller and stubbier than it's white-breasted cousin and is very, very cute!

Despite all odds, my three-legged red squirrel has survived and is gathering wild foods with determination. It only occasionally visits my feeders. I suspect it is nervous of the bluejays. 

An icing sugar-like coating decorates my kitchen window view.

Fresh snow brightens our fields on an otherwise dark October morning.

Evidence that a cat has been on patrol. Likely feral guy, Ginger Tom.

A lonesome birdhouse awaits next year's occupants.

Before nabbing a peanut, this red-breasted nuthatch scans for trouble.

Ellie Mae has decided that indoors offers the most comfort today.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Nanny Who?

There is a native shrub hereabouts that my father used to call a 'Nannytaw'. Checking horticulture websites, it is only referred to as a 'Nannyberry' (Viburnum Lentago). It is presently sporting ripe, blue-black, sweet fruit. Each autumn since childhood I've been nibbling this tasty berry and a row of this dense bush provided me with a secret fort when I was about twelve. Back in the day when smoking was cool and I was much too young to buy a pack or even smoke cigarettes, (and not allowed to by my parents, anyway) I would covertly smoke dried nannytaw leaves. No nicotine and a very, very mild smoke.

Anyway, I was wondering why Dad's family called this shrub a Nannytaw. I get the 'Nanny' bit because goats like to eat this plant and the bark, when pealed, smells somewhat like a goat. But the 'taw' bit? Webster's dictionary describes taw as a fancy marble. I'm guessing somewhere in Dad's ancestry, taws must have been a sort of slang for berries.

Nannyberry (our family called it nannytaw) fruit is currently at it's snacking best.

Some berries are missing from this bunch. Robins love them.

Today was gloriously sunny and warm. I spent most of the day outside and felt sorry for those folk at deskbound employment. Here are more pics from my morning's walk.

Virginia creeper vines are now at their festive best.

The tree-lined laneway in the middle of our farm is perfect for relaxing walks.

October's sun climbs less high now and throws longer shadows.

The plastic net allows smaller birds to feed without the competition of bluejays.

Monday, 3 October 2016

And The Oscar Goes To ...

Each autumn, I like to mentally award an Oscar to the plant in my collection with the best overall blooming performance. And this year I'm giving my imaginary Best-In-Show Oscar to (envelope please) -- Bacopa.

On impulse, I bought a small pot of this plant in May. The little tag said 'Bacopa' and nothing else. I had not heard the name before but I was seduced by the pretty blue blossoms. Replanted in an outdoor container, it bloomed for the entire season and is currently the 'show stopper' on my grounds. Bonus -- it requires little care except for watering twice a day. It's not frost tolerant so I'll take some cuttings and try to overwinter it. Hummingbirds and bees like it and they are important members of my judging panel.  Next year it will star in more of my containers.

From June through October, this trailing Bacopa plant was in continuous bloom.

Bacopa's cascading beauty welcomes all who pass by.

I'd also give an Oscar award to my cosmos plants, this time for 'best supporting' roll. I originally started growing cosmos for long lasting and colourful table bouquets. Then I realized how popular the seeds are with gold finches. In fact, each Fall I have to scramble to save some seeds for planting next year before the birds beat me to them. And when I started beekeeping I truly came to appreciate what a good source of pollen the cosmos flowers provide. Yes, they quite deserve an Oscar as well.

Soon cosmos seed heads will ripen and gold finches will heartily feast.

I think 'raspberry truffle' could describe this bloom.

A teddy bear-like bumble bee snacking on cosmos pollen.

Golden pollen glitters up this dark pink cosmos bloom.

Oh Marilyn, who are you wearing? A honey girl accessory!


Sunday, 18 September 2016


A couple of days ago I executed some seasonal beekeeping manoeuvers.

I performed a final sugar shake mite count sampling for the year on both hives and was satisfied that mite levels were low enough to forego treatment until next Spring. Also, I had to unstack the boxes from each hive to replace the summer's screened bottom boards with solid, winter ones. The empty vent boxes under the roofs were replaced with ones filled with insulating and moisture wicking wood shavings. By early November I'll envelope each hive in a winter wrap.

Each colony now contains about 50,000 honey bees. During the necessary invasion of their domicile, the usual content and peaceful hum turned into angry bee buzzing war cries. Nothing perturbing to a bee keeper clad in good old protective gear.

Some hive box disarray during my beehive winter preparations.

Not recommended without a protective beekeeping suit and veil.

This year's queen is painted with a white dot. She tooted her hunting horn for me.

But the interesting event (and the reason for the quirky title on this post) is that after I had smoked one of the boxes to encourage the bees to go from the top of the frames into the depths of them and avoid being accidentally crushed during box restacked was what I heard. The unmistakable sound of the queen tooting! I've heard some beekeepers refer to this queen call as 'quacking' but it reminds me very much of a distant call from a fox hunting horn.

Huntsman John Tabachka demonstrates the calls on the fox hunting horn in the following video.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Minor Damage

Wowee, did we ever get a storm here last night! High winds, heavy rain and almost continuous thunder and lightning. There were times the flashes were so bright and constant it looked like daylight outside. The television kept displaying public service warnings of possible tornadoes in this area and to seek immediate shelter. Scary stuff!!!

A walkabout survey this morning revealed no major damage but my lovely sweet pea vines were certainly brutalized. At least I had captured a few pics of them the previous day.

Sweet pea flowers make fragrant and colourful bouquets.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Smells Like Bacon

At this time of year there is a change in the air around my bee hives. I'm referring to the distinctive scent which I can only describe as being similar to that of raw bacon. In a way, it is raw meat for it emanates from the bodies of unborn drones being ripped from their cells and tossed outside the hive. Winter preparations by the worker bees include this practice of autumn drone eviction. The boys played no part in gathering honey or pollen for the colony and they will not be allowed to partake of their sisters' provisions. The ground in front of the hives is littered with drone bodies. During the night, my resident skunks will likely clean up. When winter is on the way, there is no social security for male honey bees.

Born and unborn, these honey bee drones were murdered by their sisters.

The area in front of my hives is littered with dead drones.

Worker honey bees harvesting licorice mint nectar.

Goldenrod flowers are one of the later of the nectar crops to bloom.

The honey bee drones may lack a social security safety net, but there are two animals in my neighbourhood that are covered. Feral tomcat, Ginger Tom and young red squirrel, Timmy, do get a pension of sorts.

Ginger Tom has been demoted in the pecking order of the feral tom cat community. The younger and stronger black and white cat I call "Chico" calls the shots now. Some weeks back I noticed that Ginger Tom was limping along with a forepaw held well off the ground. There was a fresh scar on his forehead and his thin frame made quite a pathetic picture. How could anyone deny the poor lad a war pension? He knows that if he waits on my deck in the early morning or early evening, a meal allowance will materialize. So far, he hasn't rewarded me with a friendly meow or a cat's version of a smile -- the upward tail. When I go outside with his meal tray, he hides under the deck and doesn't come out until he hears the door shut behind me after I go back into the house. But I don't begrudge him this simple fund. We all need a little help at times.
Ginger Tom nervously checks over his shoulder.

A more virile looking Ginger Tom in January, 2014.

Today with thinner cheeks and a lighter summer coat, the ear scars are the same.

Waiting for the soup kitchen to open.

His paw has obviously healed well enough to climb and peer into my window.

Young red squirrel, Timmy, is another matter entirely. His left hind foot is missing. There is only a short stump attached to that hip and it appears to have healed over from some injury. There is no sign of parent or sibling. I suspect he is his family's only survivor. He can't manage branch leaps with only one hind foot. When upset that a cat is nearby, he chatters and stamps both his real foot and his imaginary one. I suppose the sunflower seeds and peanuts he receives here will help, but I doubt that his long term chances of survival are good.

Young red squirrel, Timmy, is missing most of his left hind leg.

He will need good luck as well as a disability allowance to survive the winter.