Monday, October 29, 2012

October meeting news: Beekeeping

Steve Page of Barrington Farms, LLC was our guest speaker at Crossroads Garden Club this past Monday evening, October 23rd. Page is a certified beekeeper in the Georgia Master Beekeeper program, sponsored by the University of Georgia. He has won numerous awards, including the 2011 Beekeeper of the Year awarded by the Coweta Beekeepers Association and his honey has been named Coweta's Best Tasting Honey.

Above, members of Crossroads Garden Club ask questions after Page's presentation.

Page began keeping bees in 2007 when he purchased two hives after noticing how few honeybees were visiting his garden. His bee hives grew in number each year until he no longer has time for the garden. He now has over 70 hives in Coweta and south Fulton counties and has seen his honey yields grow every year. He harvests approximately 50 pounds of honey from each hive every May and it is astounding how much honey his bees produce altogether. His yields have increased so much each year, that he is a very "busy beekeeper"

Steve Page allowed use of his photos, so all of the images of bees are courtesy of Page. Above, Page explained that bees see flowers as vibrant, attractive ultraviolet colors and easily hone in on the colorful flowers as they fly in search of nectar and pollen to take back to their hives.

Bees are very busy, too and Page related some facts about bees and beekeeping in his presentation.

First, bees live in a box called a super and there said there are three types of bees in every hive--the queen, the drone and the worker.

The queen is an overdeveloped female bee that is made that way by being fed a diet of royal jelly by worker bees until she develops into a larger bee raised in special queen cells. Mature queens are then mated by male, drone bees and she spends her days laying eggs in honey comb cells.

The worker bees, all female, go out and bring in pollen and nectar from flowers and make the honey and bee bread which feeds developing bees. A worker bee takes about three weeks to mature from an embryo. Above, a worker bee transports pollen back to the hive.

The color of the nectar determines the color, taste and crystallization-time of honey.

Some interesting facts about bees:

Much of the honey in our area is from the tulip poplar but if you looked into the hives you would see honey cells with varying hues in the same comb. The honey will take on different colors depending on what is in bloom.

Above are some of Page's hives with varying numbers of supers. Page stacks new supers as the lower ones are filled. Beekeepers never "rob" the bees of all their honey.

Bees feed on nectar and turn it into honey by a process that is similar to fermentation. They do this because nectar spoils easily and honey is very stable. Honey is their winter food source and they make more honey than they need for the winter. It provides the bees with carbohydrates and protein to get them through each winter.

The bees seals each cell as it is filled with honey.

Most plants that produce fruit need full pollination of each flower by the bees to produce a complete fruit. For instance, an underdeveloped, pointy cucumber must have pollination of each seed to make a complete cucumber. Squash that die prematurely on the vine or apples that are misshapen are that way because of incomplete pollination.

Bees pollinate one-third of all crops grown. Bumblebees and other types of bees pollinate too, but it has been determined that bees increase food production in the U.S. by $16 billion dollars each year. Bees are so important to the production of fruits and vegetables on farms that some beekeepers (with huge numbers of bees) are contracted to move them on semi trucks to help farmers pollinate their crops. Bees often travel from coast to coast this way, following the blooming crops.

In our area, bees are at work from January to the middle of June and from the middle of September until frost each year. The new crop of honey is ready in May or June.

Above bees pollinate apple blossoms and below they drink water.

There are four kinds of honey: extracted, chunk honey, comb honey and creamed honey. Honey should be stored inside a cabinet protected from light and may be frozen to extend the shelf life and to keep it from crystallizing.

Honey has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, for wounds, cough, sore throat, as a sleep aid and is used to prevent allergies. Honey should never be fed to a child under two years of age because of their undeveloped digestive systems.

Page said it is always recommended to purchase honey from from a local grower for two reasons: First, because eating honey that is locally produced is reported to help fight allergies and in recent years it has become a common practice for unscrupulous honey sellers to add less expensive corn syrup to honey to extend it--a practice called "honey-laundering." Also honey is being purchased from China and that honey sometimes contains leads and harmful chemicals.

Above, Janelle Taylor, a Crossroads Garden Club member, is tasting honey from Pages' bees.

Page captures swarms each year and puts them in hives where they produce honey. It is common for a beekeeper to be stung by a bee or two on occasion, but said the stings become less bothersome and he has learned to wipe the stinger away quickly so less venom is injected. He said that stings may even be good for those who suffer with arthritis.

Page is also a pioneering beekeeper who has merged technology with beekeeping. He has a hive that is hooked up to advanced equipment and from his computer or cell phone he can get a picture of how well his hive is progressing. He monitors hive temperatures, weight and humidity. Page thinks that combining technology and nature will make a difference as time goes by. You can see this online at his website,

Page is a member of the Coweta Beekeepers Association that meets each month at the Asa Powell Sr. Expo Center on Temple Avenue, in Newnan. It is a very active club, dedicated to expanding the knowledge of beekeeping, in hopes of increasing the honeybee population in our area. Members travel from neighboring counties each month to attend the monthly meetings. All meetings are open to the public. Members speak in schools and offer help and mentoring for new beekeepers.

They offer a class each year for beginners, "Introduction to Beekeeping." It's an all day event, held this year on Saturday, January 26, 2013. The day includes enough information to get started in beekeeping and includes a book, lunch and tons of advice. The class cost is $50 for individuals. Additional family members may attend for an extra $10, though only one book will be provided per family for that price.

Page has not experienced any colony collapse disorder that has been in the news in recent years, yet he related that it is still a problem with large beekeeper who follow the crops by transporting bees all over the country to pollinate fruit and vegetable farms.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tea Rose -- " Martha Washington"

I went outside today to take pictures of fall leaves for the blog, but to my surprise, a tea rose named "Martha Washington" was blooming and caught my attention. I planted her in 1993, so she's nineteen years old, twenty next year. Truly, I thought she was dead because I had not given her the care she deserved. At the same time I bought and planted another tea rose called "JFK,"  but it seems, he did not fair so well.

I've never been a big rose person, but Martha may change my mind with such a beautiful pink surprise on an October day! Roses are woody perennials, native to Asia, Europe, Northwest Africa and North America. Generally, the flower is composed of five petals, arranged up and around from bottom to top. But this depends on the variety, as roses (presently) can be compact, climbing, tea, minature, etc. and etc. The same goes with size and color.

Hybrid tea roses are big $$$$ dollars for the floral industry, especially on Valentine's Day and other special occasions for sweethearts. I'm not a big fan of thorns, but I plan to research and blog in spring more about all kinds of roses.

Todd watched my every move taking pictures of "Martha Washington"  and since he is my sweetheart, I'll put her in a vase for us both.

Until next time........

Happy Gardening 2012!

Posted by Wilma Smith


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Time to Bring House Plants Inside

Some people never take their house plants outside. I have a breezeway and take mine out in spring and bring them back in the house before frost. The only plants, I keep inside all year are my two African Violets (seen above) or any cuttings, sprouting on my kitchen window sill.

I keep a couple of ceramic tiles under my violets, I bought for less than a dollar each. They keep the moisture from hurting the wooden antique sewing machine stand, I use in front of the big window on the west side of my living room.


I don't have the space or the light for too many indoor plants, so I only keep ten or twelve plants (mainly succulents) indoors during the winter. I'm especially fond of Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus because they will bloom late in the season, even through to February. I have three different colors, magenta, red, and peach. Usually, I repot them in the spring, but this year, I missed the mark, so I need to repot them before I move them inside.

When I see the cactus' bud, it's time to move the plants indoors.

I only have three large indoor plants. A Jade and Corn Plant you see in the photo above.

And this Candelabra Cactus seen in this photo.

Keeping plants happy indoors isn't hard, they like the same things outdoor plants enjoy. Light, water, air and food. I like using stick fertilizers for indoor plants, it's simple and allows the plant to take in as much food as, they need. If a plant doesn't grow well in the spot you choose, try other spots until you see new growth on the stems or new leaves. You also, need to think about the temperature maintained in your house over the winter. I have an electric heat pump and I keep the thermostat set at 68 degrees. Hotter temps will affect plants, especially, if they are placed to close to the source of heat in your house.

Succulents are easy to grow, especially, if like me, you don't have skylights or sufficient light indoors. Plus blooming cactus add color to any room when the leaves are gone and the weather has turned cold outside.

Although, the cooler temperatures may turn warmer, again, be ready to move your inside/outside plants, inside to prevent any sudden drops in temps and loss of a favorite plant.

So until next time.......

Happy Gardening 2012!

Posted by Wilma Smith

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ferns -- Light Your Shade

Ferns (Dryopteris, the formal name) have been around for 400 million years or longer. The proof can be found in shale and other rock fossils. This tree fern is a favorite of mine. I've watched it die and come back to life for ten or twelve seasons on a tree located close to my driveway.

Often, the leaves will shrivel because the weather is too cold or too hot, but it always comes back. Amazingly, it sprang back when it appeared to be completely dead and I had thought about using ferns as an earlier blog. Ferns and I go back a long way to when I was nine or ten exploring the dense forests and creek beds on our property.

I didn't plant the fern pictured above, it's in the front of my house. It's grown here several years, as a volunteer, I think because it likes the location on the northeast side of my house or maybe because it knows my fondness of ferns.

There are around 12,000 species of ferns, the majority growing in the tropics, but Georgia is home to 119 species, and if you have a fertile, shady corner in your yard, they are the perfect match to grow in this niche with hostas, bleeding hearts, astibiles, violets and other shady favorites.

I am certainly no expert on ferns, but the best time to plant them is in autumn and spring. There are three requirements to insure happy ferns; filtered shade, moisture, and well drained soil high in organic matter (OK...that might be four). If your planning a shady garden next to the house, ferns like a northeast side, protecting the ferns from the wind and sunlight.

Ferns can be propagated in three different ways depending on the species of crown forming, rhizomatous roots, and rock ferns. As seen above the spores underneath the leaves of this Southern Wood Fern can be dried and planted in the right spot of your choosing.

A Pine Fern is pictured above, although it's not as rare as I thought, it doesn't grow everywhere or in many Georgia woods.

Once established, most ferns don't need care or water unless the soil drys out. Mulch with leaf mold compost or peat moss, just like you see in the woods during the year.

I cheated with these ferns and bought them at "Country Gardens" years ago. They are planted at the back of my house under the deck and are six or seven years old. Each year they come back like the first year I planted them.

Although these dependable, plants with arching fronds and cool green colors don't bloom, they add grace and beauty to a shady spot that once was bare.

As Theodore Roethke said, "Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light."

Until next time.........

Happy Gardening 2012!

Posted by Wilma Smith

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October Garden Update -- Successes and Failures

Here it is October and for some folks the vegetable garden is a thing in the past (this year) just like putting away their bathing suits and short shorts. But fortunately for us, we're still hoeing and like any garden experience, this fall we've had successes and failures.

Seen above is a photo of our kale patch. You might think the drought has caused the poor appearance, but actually it's aphids. There are approximately 4,400 species of aphids in ten families with the two most common colors seen as black or green. They literally "suck the sap" out of plant stems and young shoots while excreting their saliva, a clear sticky substance called "honey dew" into the plant causing a sooty mold to develop on the stems. Eventually, their destruction weakens plants, stunts growth, causes leaves to wilt and curl, delaying blooms and fruit growth. Aphids are asexual and mature insects lay 3 to 6 eggs per day. They lay eggs which overwinter and hatch in spring when the weather warms. Also, the eggs are transported by wind and infested foliage sold in garden centers.
So, I guess the kale has to be placed on our failure list, so far this fall, unless we applied the organic insecticide before the aphids did too much damage and the plants recover before a hard freeze.

I'll put the winter squash on the success list. We weeded, fertilized and mulched several weeks ago.

The collard plants pictured above are looking good. They love the cooler nights, so chalk up another success.

This third generation row of Bok Choy also gets written down in the book as a success. Bok Choy is easy to grow, better to resist disease and pests unlike some greens, also it will continue to thrive until spring, unless we get several weeks of freezing temps this winter.

Although, Jerry has picked several meals of turnip greens this fall, I have to put them on the failure list. As you can see above, it's not pest or disease that's making this crop a flop, it's lack of rain. We usually water the garden from a small pond, but the drought has made that impossible. Since I have only well water, we haven't been able to use it either to water the garden.  Thank goodness for cooler nights.

The onions and leeks are a go on the success list.

Since okra is a hot weather vegetable, I'm going to give these plants a thumbs up and put them on the success list. I cooked some today for lunch!

A dozen or more of our broccoli and brussel sprout plants were eaten by a deer. This was due to human error, as someone (I wonder who? of course) left the electric fence unplugged for a few days. So, I have to put the broccoli plants on the failure list.

But as you can see the deer didn't eat everything and these brussel sprout plants are healthy and growing. They will go on the success list, especially since Deberah raised them from seed this fall.


Last, but not least is the success Tia, Todd and Mr. Basil have learned to get along so well. Here you see them napping together on the couch. The problem may be that Mr. Basil, the garden cat may end up thinking he's a garden dog, if that's true, however that will go on my failure list for the spring garden.
Over all, considering the aphids and the drought, three failures out of a garden full of successes is not bad for our fall garden. Like Confucius says, "Everything has its' beauty, but not everyone sees it."
Until next time.......
Happy Gardening 2012!
Posted by Wilma Smith

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fall Allergies

For the last week or so, I've been sneezing, coughing and waking up with some congestion. Keeping this in mind, I decided to look in my yard and see what plants may be causing these symptoms, commonly known as allergies. During my investigation, I discovered some myths about some plants and that I knew very little about others that cause fall allergies.

Above is a photo of a Jerusalem Artichoke plant. Every fall these beautiful blooms shower my yard lasting for several months. The Jerusalem Artichoke is a member of the sunflower family, native to eastern North America and has no relation to Jerusalem or the artichoke.

Instead, the name evolved from the french word for sunflower, named in 1605 by French explorer, Samuel de Champlain when he found this plant at Cape Cod cultivated by native Americans. The artichoke part came when he noted the tubers grown and prepared for consumption reminded him of  true artichoke plants used in French and European recipes.

I found no indication that the Jerusalem Artichoke plants in my yard caused allergy symptoms, only that today it's tubers are used as a dietary fiber in food manufacturing and has the potential for ethanol fuel production.

Another plant prevalent in my yard and seen along most roads and highways is the Golden Rod, pictured above. This plant is a member of the Aster family and has approximately, 100 species of different blooming plants in it's family. I've always suspected Golden Rods blooming in the fall signaled the start of the fall allergy season, but, I discovered this yellow weed in my yard and on the sides of roadways, gets a "bad rap," instead ragweed is the culprit.

Golden Rod is edible and often used to make teas. It's good for bees, allowing them to make some of the strongest and darkest honey of any flowers. Golden Rod is the state flower for Kentucky and Nebraska. It has been used in the production of kidney tonic and Thomas Edison experimented with the leaves in the production of rubber. The blooms are too heavy for the wind to pick up and carry through the air, dispelling my idea that it is a major cause of fall allergies.

You might look at the picture above and think it's a ragweed plant, but it's not. I was totally surprised to see what a ragweed plant looked like and I couldn't find one in my yard, therfore, I couldn't show you a ragweed plant.

I don't know the name of this weed but initially, I thought it was a bitter weed, but it's not that either.
Growing up we had bitter weed in our cow pasture. The milk cows would munch on it and our milk tasted this day I don't drink cow's milk.

So in fall what does cause the sneezing, the wheezing, coughing and congestion?

If your prone to allergies (I'm not), it could be your most loved four footed friend like Todd.

Or a new garden kitty like Mr. Basil.

But more than likely, it's a combination of things. In the fall, male plants (I hate to blame this on the the man...he-he..) release tiny cells, or pollen into the air for a last ditch effort to reproduce as the season changes. In a chemical reaction to these male invaders, antibodies or histamines are introduced into our blood streams triggering runny noses, itchy eyes, ear infections and other symptoms of allergies.

Age, heredity, location and weather, also add to allergy problems, let's don't forget dust, mold and mites. So basically, the fall season is no worse than the spring season for allergies. Just like spring, trees and grasses cause a majority of allergies in the fall.

Hay! I already feel better and until next time........

Happy Gardening 2012!

Posted by Wilma Smith

Monday, October 1, 2012

Geraniums -- Try Saving a Container Plant for Next Year

Some of my mom's favorite flowers are geraniums and as you can see above she has a green thumb for growing them. Last year like usual, we put her inside plants in her house, before frost and since the geranium still looked good we put it in the garage and left it there all winter without much thought about it until spring.
I might have watered it a couple of times during the winter, I don't remember, but I do know that all the flowers, leaves and many of the stems died prior to spring. When Spring 2012 rolled around, it was time to put her house plants back on the deck and I could tell the geranium could be revived. Before we placed it back in the sun on the deck, the stems were cut back to about five inches and potted with new soil in a larger container.


Although, the picture above is not this year's plant, I was surprised that the same geranium grew even bigger with even more blooms, after resting through the winter. This was more like keeping it in a greenhouse over winter and it let me know, I had a lot to learn about geraniums.

Geraniums originated in South Africa and were transported to Europe in the 1600s. Today there are approximately 422 species grown in the US, mainly as annuals raised for beds, borders and container gardens. However, in Zones 10 and 11 (Florida and South) geraniums can be grown as perennials, and if cared for (as my mother and I proved last year) can also be kept as container plants in our sub-tropical Georgia climate. Many geraniums bought in spring at local garden centers are not true geraniums but 2nd within the family known as pelargonuims. True geraniums are perennials that bloom smaller flowers and are used as ground covers. Regardless, this garden favorite have colors ranging from reds, white, pinks, magenta, salmons and even lavenders,blues and oranges. All ranging in a variety of scents. Some of these varieties are used in perfumes, sachets, insect repellents and even teas. 

Even though geraniums aren't my favorite flower, I love them because it's one of my mom's favorite and too because it's a beautiful plant that can be saved over winter. So, hope you try saving a geranium or your favorite container plant to put out somewhere on your deck, or in your yard, next spring 2013.

Until next time........

Happy Gardening 2012!

Posted by Wilma Smith