è tutta una questione di prospettiva - it's all a matter of perspective

converging thoughts #2

Ok, let me cut immediately to the chase, the premium/boutique products that I am imagining selling to the 1% ers are food and drink based. The first company that I started was funded by a media company and the main lesson that I learned is that people pay without thought for pleasure.  Rarely is this an exercise of finding the lowest price, best deal etc.  

Apple is a prime example.  They, unlike HP, Microsoft, Dell etc sell pleasure, not technology.  With Apple, it is a new way to experience music, books, movies, games, applications, manage your pictures, your movies.  It is nothing about the underlying technology.  It is pure pleasure.

Also, I am not imagining that selling relative raw goods in a farmer’s market is the way to go.  That is certainly a very viable approach, but I am thinking that you should integrate much further up the value chain or be part of a vertical value chain. For example, I recently heard a fascinating story on NPR about fast growing product categories and in particular hot sauce. It is clearly a product that has moved up stream from just hot peppers. I have also eaten at Zely and Ritz, an organic tapas restaurant in Raleigh. It happens to be partial owned and supplied by Coon Rock Farms, a local organic farm. Micro-distilling locally grown products is another example. Integrate up the value chain to claim as much value in the end price as possible.

I think that the products need to local and sustainably produced. If you read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, you come to understand how much oil goes into producing our current industrial food supply chain. Clearly with oil being a limited commodity, this is not a sustainable supply chain. I think local is also key. There is an essence of community, support those around you. You will pay for it one way or the other, either you help one another achieve success or you pay for other’s lack of success through your tax burden to the state.

Also, I think you have to address scale. I hope you have either read and/or seen the movie, Dr Zuess’, The Lorax. It clearly shows the lesson of bigger is not better. To put it in even more tangible terms, pick up Wendell Berry’s Bringing it to the Table. I recall the chapter contrasting the economics of a farmer who had spent a quarter of a million dollars on one of those awful chicken industrial production facilities, only to net roughly $20K/year. Wendell Berry, who is so articulate about discussing the issues of the food production economy, goes to show that a poultry farmer specializing in heritage breed birds and raising them free range, natural could make the same $20K/year.

One of my bosses once said that profit was the difference between two really big numbers, don’t screw up either of the numbers. The issue in the model of the industrial chicken processing facility was that a major poultry industry was the sole source purchasing the finished product and they were notorious at cranking down on the price paid for the chicken. Would you like be the industrial farmer carrying a lot of debt with no control of one of your really big numbers?

I think another key concept is that it has to be personal. I have bought a lot of wine from various places. Certainly Costco is a place that is convenient and they have quality and good prices. I have toured many of the wineries in California and bought wine.

However, the place I repeatedly buy with almost no thought of the price is from the Scherrer Winery in Sebastopol. The wife and I first met Fred Scherrer right after moving to California. He was the wine maker at Delhinger Winery. At his wine tasting, he was serving Zinfandel from his families vineyards. It has been in three different type of oak barrels for 6 weeks and the taste difference from the aging was amazing.

The next year Fred left Delhinger and embarked on his Scherrer Vineyard endeavor. We went to his first open house. His processing is done in a metal shed outside of Sebastopol. His Mom and Dad were there serving food and wine. His wife, Judi, manned the cash register. His kids played outside. The Zinfandel wines are absolutely fabulous and come from the vines that have been in his family over three generations, vines that are easily over 100 years old. We went back year after year. Our kids played outside with his kids during the tastings and they snuck in for cheese, crackers and olives. Even after we moved to North Carolina, I still have several cases of his wine show up each year. I can email Fred and Judi and they look after us. The wine is such quality, but the reason it is so special is that I know the love and care and pride that they put in every bottle. When we order, they always send their heart felt thanks, for supporting their endeavor, allowing them to make the quality product that they want to produce.

These are some of the concepts around my second pillar, key ideas that are the essence of the products to be made for the 1% ers.

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converging thoughts #1

Since I started on the journey to understand the concepts of sustainability and self-sufficiency, several ideas from my reading and the experiences at the farm have been accumulating in my head.  I am almost at a point where I can talk about these ideas and express them into a set of concrete thoughts.  I have three themes or pillars, so to speak that I want to spend time sharing them and then draw them into , a theory – a “so what do you do with this” conclusion.

The first pillar has to do with the nature of wealth.  About a year ago, I read Taleb’s Black Swan and Barabasi’s Linked. It was serendipity that I picked these two books up and read them in the order above. They have been impactful to many things, including my work and understanding better how our customers’ needs interact with the products we produce. Taleb’s work expresses many ideas as assertions without explanations as to what are the underlying reasons and Barabasi’s work explains the “why” and “how”, leaving you with a much deeper intuitive understanding of Taleb’s assertions. I am not going to go into all of the thoughts that these books have inspired in me in this posting, maybe some of them will be in other postings.

There is one key one that I want to discuss and it is concept the Taleb expresses with respect to wealth being governed by a “power law” distribution. He discusses how most of us have been trained with the notion that many things in life can be fit to a “normal” distribution. This is the classic math that we are taught to use to analyze data. Taleb’s example of a normal distribution is great: take a 1000 people, measure height and weight, plot it. Both attributes follow a normal distribution. He then suggests taking 999 of the same people, add Bill Gates to the mix and ask them to pull out their wallets. Plot the distribution and you see that wealth follows a power law distribution. A way I have come to express something that looks like a power law is: “few many and many with few”.

Since reading this description, specifically the one in this example, I have come to reflect on the nature of wealth, looking at history. Interestingly enough, in the last year this very same notion has been at the heart of the “Occupy Movement” or at least my interpretation of their central notions. The term 99% has been used and repeated numerous times in the media. Well, 99% is exactly another expression for a power law. I can’t claim to be a historian or an economist, but I think I am somewhat well read. After thinking about it, I have concluded that fundamentally wealth distribution is a power law and no matter how things vary, it will always come back to that.

Let me share some examples around this idea. Take for example the notion of the middle class, I would contend it was an aberration. If you look at the history of the US prior to World War II, I think it would be hard to identify a “middle” class. I think you could see industrialists, the “Robber Barons” who exploited natural resources and cornered markets, the key financial people controlling the markets and banking, the early notion of industrial farming with the plantation owners. These are the 1%. The rest of the population was largely trying to subsist.

Following World War II, we had this amazing cycle of manufacturing in the United States. The war had developed the fundamental notions of industrial manufacturing and between a cycle of consuming and producing, the US was able to generate a “middle” class, a group substantially above the subsistence level. It certainly has been an amazing period but I think it was an aberration of the fundamentals of the power law and my conclusion is this concept is largely dead at this time. Industrial manufacturing has shifted to where it is more economical to produce and it has largely left the US a country without this sustainer of a middle class.

You hear a lot of proposals about education, new industries and fairer taxation as notions to save, maintain this engine to create a middle class. I do think that these are important concepts and might help, but I am skeptical. The broad scope of industrial manufacturing is gone and I highly doubt it will come back to the post World War II levels.

And I look around at our dear friends, solid members of the middle class. One couple was over for dinner last night. They had had great successes in the past with business and the legal profession and they had just managed to avert the loss of their house and get back on a more stable track. I can point to many other of our friends, solid, hardworking, entrepreneurial, educated who are just struggling. Frankly it seems to me to be a matter of luck where people are at today, the middle class is clearly suffering.

I think about some of the growing fields of jobs and the corresponding education. I will grant there are some growing fields like nursing and health care and goodness knows I really appreciate the people who care for our family. However this is not a field that is creating value and hence would help develop a middle class. In some ways it is a dark side of the aging of our population, our trends towards poor health (i.e. the obesity epidemic) and an extension of health system that is supporting development of expensive treatments, not cures for the basic issues caused by our life styles. (Read “The China Study”, if you want to reflect more on treatment vs cures).

I guess another way to describe my concerns about education (and believe me I do highly value education) is that it is geared towards educating for the world of the past and not the world of the future. Many people have taken time when they were without work to go back to school, which I do think is a valuable idea. However, my concern is that they are going to come out school with high debts and skills that aren’t aimed for whatever this new world is going to bring.

I don’t share the optimism that we are going to innovate our way out of this, or at least the way we think that some think we are, by inventing new industries that we can defend and maintain, at the same scale as post World War II. It is probably a much longer discussion, but there are a lot of bright, capitalized, educated, driven countries in the world and they want the same new industries. It is a competitive world and I am not sure the US has its game face on, to be frank.

Ok, so is this all glum? Should we conclude that we will be a country of 1% ers and 99% living at subsistence level? Well I don’t think so, actually I have an optimism that there might be some solutions. A piece of great news is that we do live in a country with a relatively “free” economy, at least right now. If you look at history, the power law has been maintained through slavery, indentured servitude, serfdoms, governments that claimed to create a level playing field but in reality, it was those who governed who were the 1%. Worlds like that are worlds where is impossible for 99% to change their situations.

The one key thought that has occurred to me is if the 1% have a lot of wealth, well make something that they want to buy. My notion is the production of goods and services that are viewed as premium, boutique branded products and services that the 1% will want.

Now some interesting points occur to me, these goods and services usually have a high gross margin, people will pay for pleasure without shopping for the best deal. And these products will largely be produced by small entities, premium and boutique are not something associated with industrial level production. However, my theory is between the gross margin and the scale of the operation, the people involved will be able to make a more than subsistence wage. And lastly premium/boutique by their nature tend to be relatively strong competitive strategies, defendable from moving to the lowest cost vendor.

Ok, the key concept here is premium, branded products and services aimed at the 1% is a way to develop a middle class with more than a subsistence level existence.

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mulch, weeds and

An update on the bees.

Last fall Dad got it into his mind that he wanted to hire a tree service to clean up the line of cedars along the driveway. He, and sometimes I, had been working on cleaning out the row of trees. There was a bob wire fence and lot of things had started growing up in between the cedars. We wanted to trim the cedars up high enough that we could get the tractor and bush hog up underneath the trees to mow. We also wanted to pull down the bob wire fence since the poles were pretty rotted and if anything, it was just in the way of keeping the tree line clear. I think after Dad had been working on the clean up project for a few years, he decided he wanted to help the local economy and hiring someone local would get the whole project done quicker.

Dad went to our neighbor, who the living index of whatever you need in Henderson. He is the connected hub in the community network. I think I may have mentioned it, but anytime we stop in a store and start chatting up the clerks, all we need to do is to say our farm is the one with the red gate, next to our neighbor, and immediately everyone knows where we are.

Dad got Rafe Parker who runs Parker Tree Service in Henderson to do the job based on the neighbor’s recommendation. Rafe had a good crew and Dad spent most of a week up there “supervising” the work. Frankly, I think he just loves a good excuse to escape the independent living facility.

In addition to the driveway clean up, we wanted to trim the dead limbs off of the “Whomping Willow” (thank you JK). It is a huge tree in the front yard. I would guess it takes four adults, with arms stretched, holding hands to span the circumference. I have no idea of the age, but it must be a couple of hundred years old. I need to take a picture of the tree and it is probably worth a posting of its own.

The house is lined on both sides with a line of cedars.  The cedars also must be several hundred years old. The trees provide a lot of shade to keep the house cool in the summers. There were a few dead limbs, one or two dead trees.  Old grape vines had grown, enveloping a couple of the trees. We had the Parker crew clean up all of this too.

We had them grind everything they could into mulch for us to use between the beds in the garden. I think I may have mentioned in a previous posting on the garden that the Army Corp, who owns the land behind our property that abuts the Kerr Reservoir, had logged off and replanted the section behind our house. We also had an 11 acre section that we had lumbered and replanted. We had scooped up a lot of the chips and bark from the processing site and used them in the garden a few years ago. Given that last year we started having more growth of weeds in the aisles, I really wanted to put down a thick layer of mulch this year.

The operation made a huge pile of mulch! The picture here is after we have shoveled and hauled off about half the pile. I am thinking of using it for some other garden beds around the front porch and a somewhat neglected rose garden in the backyard.


We have almost finished hauling in the mulch to the garden. The aisles are covered with a several inch layer now. In a previous posting I have shared the story of our battle with the Bermuda grass and weeds. Last year, I think we were pretty successful at getting the upper hand in the battle. I am hoping with the extra mulch and continued diligence to dig out the Bermuda grass from the beds when it appears will allow us definitely claim a victory.

At times, when I look at the amount of mulch we still have, I am thinking about expanding the mulch zone even further around the beds. We will have to see how much time I have this summer through the fall.

I snuck up to the farm on Tuesday. Dad was up mowing. I thought I would feed and check on the new hives and take Dad out to one of the local barbecue places for lunch. As I drove in, I stopped by the hives to check on them. I lifted off the top covers of all three. The hive which was weakened by overheating and the swarm hive had some of the syrup left. The healthy nuc hive had emptied its syrup. I heated up a large pot of water (roughly 1/3 of the pot) to boiling, set it off and filled an equal amount of sugar. I stirred that in and then filled the pot with cold water to help cool it down.

Dad and I went off for a yummy lunch break (There are several barbecue places in Henderson, but we tend to favor Skipper’s).

We fed the bees on return. I didn’t seem to hear the queen-less hive buzzing in any of the hives, so I continue to cross my fingers. I am going to give the bees another week before I open for a more detailed inspection.

Dad has from time to time put together a “farm tour” for people at the independent living home. They have a bus and with a bit of notice, Dad gets it reserved and has the event coordinator put together a sign up sheet. He was wanting to get the farm spruced up because he has a trip planned this Friday for roughly a dozen neighbors at the home. He has it all worked out; they arrive Skipper’s for lunch; he has called ahead for a reservation. Then they head out to the farm. Dad is a master of the history of the farm and loves sharing it. He gets out the Polaris and tours people around.

When I said goodbye to him at the farm, I suggested that this time they might not want to cut so many “doughnuts” out in the pastures this time!

Not that they ever had done so, but it makes a pretty funny image, a bunch of 80 year olds out doing “doughnuts” in the 4×4!

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irrigation installed

And some comments on the bees…

I slipped up last Thursday after work with the goal of getting the drip system functional. The forecast was for hot dry weather and the young plants needed the moisture.

Recall last weekend, I had gotten the manifolds all glued in place.  I had put a 1″ threaded joint in the pipe from the anti-siphon valve to the manifold, that will be for disconnect this fall. I had also gotten the 1/2″ drip lines connected to the manifolds in each of the beds with the help of my bee keeper friend (who came up to help chase the swarm).

I wanted to flush the lines and make sure each of the drip holes were unblocked from the sludge build up.  I had done a few of the lines on the weekend.  I stopped by Lowe’s and picked up 36 – 1/2″ end caps.  I had glued the end caps on last summer because the water pressure was blowing them off, causing the bed to flood.  I took the saw, cut the end caps off and flushed the lines.  There was a lot of accumulated stuff that came out!  I used a 1/16″ drill bit to run in and out of the blocked holes. Healthy sprays of water.  Cleaning the holes is a good project to do on a hot day.  I was plenty drenched!

I pressed on the end caps. I had previously fiddled around with turning the pressure regulators down in pressure and then once I figured out which way was open/close on the valves, I was able to reduce the pressure in the lines some more.  I haven’t been able to get it down to the 4-6″ spray that Jeff Banks recommended, but it is much better than it was.  I am hopeful that I won’t blow open the manifold/pipe connections, the couplers or the end caps.  If I do and can’t get the pressure down more, I will have to glue.  I would probably switch to some type of threaded end cap because it is clear that the pipes will need regular flushing.

I finished all the beds that had plants in them.  I think we have 6-7 beds that are not planted yet.  It was starting to get dark so I scrambled to get the controllers turned on.  I was going to do a bed by bed walk through but was running out of time.  I set all beds to 15 minutes, every other day.  Crossed my fingers that all beds valves are working from the controller (I had tested each valve manually as flushed the lines).

I wanted to visit the 3 new hives before I left.  I purposely didn’t check them when I got to the farm because I had to make sure the drip lines were working.  I stopped by the hives on the way down the drive way as I was leaving.  I saw bees flying in/out all three hives.  Certainly the swarm hive and the hive with the healthy nuc seemed to have more bees, which is not surprising.  I lifted the tops off of each hive.  There was a similar amount of syrup in all three feeders and it seemed like there were bees coming up to feed, again fewer bees on the hive where the nuc got too hot. I listened closely to all three hives and I didn’t hear the telltale buzzing of a queen-less hive. I left the farm with my fingers crossed for them.

The wife is traveling this week and I am “Dad”.  Will have to see if I can slip in a time to visit the bees and the irrigation this week before the weekend.

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nucleus beehives #2

I got back to the farm late afternoon on Monday. My intent was to get the drip system work completed and have it set up on auto water. It was slated to get really hot towards the end of the week. I was going to just look in on the bees and see how the new hives were doing. The recommendation is not disturb them for about a week to let them settle in. I thought I would listen in for the telltale buzzing that might indicate that a hive is missing a queen. Well, let’s just say, I didn’t finish the drip system work (plan now is to do that Thursday evening).

I walked out to check the hives first. To my surprise I saw what looked like a swarm cluster in one of the nucs that I had left by the entrance of its hive. This got me thinking. One of two possibilities, either I had not gotten a queen into her hive and the bees had left the hive to join her in the nuc or another swarm had shown up. I thought if I saw that either hive was largely empty, then I would guess the former. I lifted the tops of the two hives to inspect, I thought I would see bees coming up to the feeders if the hives were still occupied.

I looked first in the hive where I had put the nuc of bees that over heated. There was still a fair amount of syrup in the hive top feeder and I could see some bees in the hive body. I next checked the hive that had the swarm out side it. In fact, it was very active with bees and the hive top feeder was almost empty. I had put the entrance reducer on both hives, but it made me wonder if maybe the swarm was mixing with the bees in the hive to rob the syrup. It become clear that I needed to suit up and set up a third hive to put what I was pretty sure was a swarm into it. So much for jumping on the drip system.

I grabbed my hive that we had left out from the day before, trying to capture the swarm from the day before. I made up some syrup to put in a spray bottle, remembering the discussions I had with my beekeeper friend from the day before. I made up a large pot of syrup to feed the three hives. Since I was in a hurry, I tried the trick of filling the pot 1/3 full of water, heating it up, adding another third of sugar, stir it in and then add in cold water and ice to quickly cool the mixture so I could add it to the hives. Got everything loaded into the Polaris and headed out to the fields.

I decided I would open the hive of overheated bees first and inspect a bit more. There were dead bees on top of the frames and I could see dead bees on the bottom board :( . So sad, very unhappy with myself. I swept out the dead bees. I also found larva that had been pulled from the brood comb on the bottom board. I guess maybe they were deemed dead by the worker bees and cleaned from the comb. I did see other larva in the brood comb, so I hope all were not lost. I noticed what looked like a few queen cells on the frames (?? interesting in a new nuc,  I would not guess it would be trying to swarm). Made me think if the queen was lost, the hive might be on the way to replacing her, again assuming the queen cells didn’t overheat too. Closed up the hive after the clean up and watched for a few minutes. The bees that were coming and going from the hive seemed a bit befuddled, having trouble taking off and landing. Oh ladies, I am so sorry!

I briefly smoked the second hive and raised the feeder. There were definitely a lot of bees in the hive. I closed it up and turned my attention to the swarm in the nuc box. I thoroughly drenched the swarm cluster in the nuc box with syrup. I removed about four frames from the third hive after I had set it up on cinder blocks. I picked up the nuc with the “drunk on syrup” swarm and dumped it into the hive. I sprayed the bees in the hive with more syrup and sprayed the remaining bees in the nuc, too. Gave the nuc a few good raps more to get the bees into the new hive and brushed the remaining few out. I put the frames back in and put the hive top feeder back on. I filled the feeders on all three hives with syrup.

So at this point I am not sure what is going to happen. Might need to requeen some of the hives, might need to combine the weak hive with one of the stronger hives, might need to seed the new hives with some brood frames and workers from the existing hives. Not sure I will be able to decide the next steps till next week after they have some time to stabilize.

I unsuited and spent about another couple hours starting on the drip system work. Need to get more end caps for the 1/2″ line. I quit when I ran out. I will stop by Lowe’s on the way to the farm Thursday evening and finish up the drip system, I hope. I will check in on the bees, see how they are coming and going but I can’t really imagine there is much more to do this week other than think positive thoughts to get them going.

I closed everything up as the sun was setting. I took a picture of the sunset looking towards the solar arrays. It was at the point of evening where things are quiet. The day noises of birds, insects etc were going silent and the night noises had not yet started. Even though I was really sad and worried about the bees, it was a happy place to end the day, great therapy.

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nucleus beehives #1

Well, what started as a straight forward plan to pick up and install two nucleus beehives, turned into a complicated set of adventures I am still trying to sort.

I went up to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm with my friend, a fellow beekeeper, and the daughter. We were up there about 9am when they opened. We shopped a bit; I got three of the bottom boards that have screens for improved mite control and for ventilation. They also had some cool posters on bee life cycle and beekeeping around the year.

It was an overcast cool day. We loaded the nucleus hives into the back of the van after reading the handout on keeping the bees cool (recommendation, read this part several times and internalize it; more later). I had the air conditioner in the back cranked up (and the daughter wrapped up in a blanket). We got home and the bees seemed fine, put them out on the back porch, it continued to be a cool day.

Got up the next morning and headed to the farm by myself. The rest of the family was going in several different directions. As I drove up, I planned my day. I would stop and pick up cinder blocks from Lowe’s Hardware. Then stop in one of the fields along the driveway where I had decided I wanted to put the new hives. (On the drive to Brushy, my friend was discussing attending the Wake County Beekeepers Club meetings. He told me a good way to avoid pests like hive beetles was to locate the hives in the open, away from the woods, where they would get full sunlight all day. My other hives back against the woods near the garden, and I may move them in the future.)  I would make up some syrup, paint the bottom boards and work in the garden on the irrigation until the several coats of paint on the bottom boards dried and then I would do maintenance on all the hives, installing the nucs first.

Well, that was the plan. Left the nucs setting in the field on cinder blocks with the top covers off (a screen mesh was in place on top and covered the entrance). I did not take the screen off the entrances (a huge mistake in hindsight). I thought that with the covers off, they would be fine.


I got the syrup made and put the first coat of paint on the bottom boards. I was off to the garden to glue the manifolds in place etc (more on this in another posting).




As I was working in the garden, I kept hearing buzzing of bees and I thought they must really be out, enjoying the clover, etc. After working for a bit, I kept hearing the buzzing and it seemed to come from the front of the house. I decided to walk to the front yard to investigate. As I walked closer to the magnolia tree which I noticed was blooming, I saw several bees flying in small area low around a tree limb and then I noticed a huge cluster hanging down from the limb. This was the first bee swarm I had ever seen!

I immediately called my beekeeper friend. He had lost both of his hives this past winter and even though he had ordered a few nucs from a local supplier, I thought he would like to have the swarm too. And frankly, I figured he knew a lot more about catching swarms than I (ie attending club meetings and he even took a class). He said he would head up. I worked in the garden and kept an eye on the swarm.

About an hour later, I heard the buzz of the bees increase and saw that the swarm was no longer there. I could see some clouds of bees heading off towards the woods. I tried to follow them. About this time my friend arrived. We traced the bee clouds back to a cedar tree that was close to the house, about thirty feet in the air, at the end of a limb. No way we could reach it. He explained the general idea was to liberally spray the swarm with sugar water to calm them, they would be hungry without their hive. And then to lower them into a hive. I was really regretting that I didn’t execute that plan earlier on my own when they were low in the tree!

We set out the hive that he brought and I put together another hive. They were close to the magnolia and cedar trees. I even set out some sugar syrup in bowls by the hives. He and I went and worked more on the irrigation system to see what might happen with the swarm. His kids had come up too and they had fun wandering around. After about an hour, no change. We had laid out the 1/2″ drip lines and he decided he would head home. We agreed to leave the hives out and I planned to come up on Monday afternoon to check to see if we had caught the swarm.

I decided at this point to suited up and get ready to do maintenance. I got the hives for the nuc installation into the back of the Polaris, I got the smoker starter, rounded up the hive tools and the loaded the pot of syrup I had prepared. I was going to install the nucs first. I drove out to the field and…

In one of the nucs, many of the bees had pushed their heads up through the screen. I assume at this point that because there were so many bees in the nuc and they caused the temperature to rise, with it being a warm day, it became overheated in the hive. This strange reaction only made it worse because they totally blocked the airflow. I immediately set up a hive body and five frames arranged to the outsides. I smoked the nuc and could hear bees buzzing in there. I unscrewed the top screened cover and saw more dead bees, but it seemed like there were still a lot alive in there. I quickly transferred the five frames and I tried to shake out the bees. There were many dead bees, so I tried to get the live ones into the hive without dumping in too many of the dead ones. Man, I felt sad. I had no idea if the queen made it.

The second nuc didn’t have the phenomena of bees pushing their heads up. I was able to transfer the frames and shake the bees into hive. I had set both of the nuc hives up in front of the hives for the straggler bees to make it into the hives. I put on hive top feeders and split the syrup between the hives. My friend had suggested that I put the hive entrance reducers on the hives to discourage the swarm from potentially trying to rob the hives. In either hive, I had not seen the queen and I had a dread of whether I had lost them in the transfer. Feeling really bad about the process, with one hive pretty severely damaged and uncertainty over the queens, I went to do maintenance on the two existing hives.

One of the hives had always had fewer bees going in and out. I decided I would open it up and do a pretty detailed inspection. There were only a few bees in the shallows that I had put on a few weeks before. I set them off and did a pretty detailed inspection of the top deep. I pulled most of the frames out. There were many worker bees and each frame had a lot of honey, pollen and brood. A good sign. The hive beetle trap was pretty empty and I didn’t seem any beetles. Also a good sign. I set the top deep off and inspect the bottom deep. It was mostly uncapped honey in old brood comb. There were many bees in this deep as well. If this hive had swarmed, it still had a healthy population. I put the hive back together. Only later did I think that I should have switched and put the brood deep on the bottom and moved the honey deep up top. A project for later.

It was getting late so I decided only to smoke and inspect the top shallows on the second hive. I pulled off the lid and inner cover and there were many more bees in the top shallows than in the first hive. I took this as a good sign and decided to call it a day, leaving a more detailed inspection for another day. I closed it back up and went to put away the tools etc.

When I walked back to the house, the swarm in the cedar tree was gone. Where there had been a lot of swarming buzzing bees, there was nothing. I checked the two hives, no bees. Couldn’t hear the buzzing in any direction. Took off the bee suit and headed out. The whole way home I was fretting that I had allowed the one hive to overheat. I never imagined that the bees would try to push through the top cover and to block the ventilation totally. I was feeling worried that I had lost the queens. I was mentally plotting the timeline to let them become established for a week, see if they are making progress and if not, order queens from Busy Bee Apiaries. Slept badly contemplating checking on them Monday…

Remember in the future, keep the nucs cool and when you set them out, pull off the opening screen so some of the bees can head out to forage, reducing the hive population during the heat of the day. I am so sorry little ladies!

More in next posting on the Monday visit… The story twists even more.

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dinner at the farm

Remember my comments about the secrets behind the appeal of the books by Mayes, Mate and Mayle? One of them is to share the fun of food and fellowship. Well, here goes an attempt at that.

Last Saturday one of the daughter’s Y Princess tribe mates came up to the farm for a play date, spending the night.  The Mom and little sister (aka Tinker Bell) brought her up and stayed through dinner. Tinker Bell, who is rumored to be a bit of a headstrong terror at home, is a perfect angel at the farm, albeit, still headstrong. The Mom had bought her a fishing pole. I got her rigged up and the ladies went fishing in the pond close to the garden. There are a lot of wide mouth bass and blue gill and Tinker Bell hooked three of them. The daughter, who is somewhat of a fishing pro, was only too happy to help with the catch and release of the fish.

The Mom helped us plant the tomatoes that I mentioned in a previous post. My son, the Chef, had come up for the weekend. After we finished the chores in the garden, he and I headed in to knock out a nice dinner.

As I mentioned in a posting from Friday night about wine around the year, we had a killer batch of sangria chilled in the refrigerator.

I made a paella based loosely on a recipe from Paella!: Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain. You basically prep the ingredients, stir fry them in the paella pan, add the rice and stir fry, then add a broth with saffron, cook till most of the liquid gone and then finish in an oven at 425 for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil and allow to finish for 20-30 minutes. The ingredients were fresh spring onions from the farmers market, three different kinds of mushrooms, pecans, greens from the garden, small sweet peppers.

BTW, an excellent place to get Spanish cooking supplies: ingredients, utensils, paella pans and cookbooks, is La Tienda. They are located close by in Virginia. I regularly get their catalogues and emails and spend time drooling over them.  It is a great place to get the famous sliced jamons from Spain for a tapas party. It is certainly a good idea to have a paella pan and spoon in your cooking tool chest. Paellas are one of my favorite dishes to make in the summer time, bringing fresh ingredients right from the garden into the pan.

The Chef focused a lot of energy on a salad. He very thinly sliced radishes from the farmer’s market and brussel sprouts which he marinated in red wine vinegar, dried herbs and sugar. Later he tossed these with fresh spinach from the garden.

For as long as we sons and grand children remember, Grand Dad has been very fervent in the statement of his dislike of brussel sprouts. Since the Chef and I have been cooking, it has been one of our quest to “trick” him into liking brussel sprouts. Here was another of the Chef’s attempts.

I made some oven roasted potates. This is a ridiculously easy dish. I slice new potatoes (preferably some form of heirloom variety) into wedges roughly 1/4″ on a side by 1.5-2″ long. I pour a healthy dose of olive oil into a baking tray, some salt and cracked pepper. I add the wedges to the oil and stir around with my hands to coat the potatoes with the oil mixture. I then bake in the oven at 425 for about 45 minutes. I pull the tray out about every 15 minutes and stir the potatoes around. The last time I pull the potatoes out, I will sprinkle fresh coarsely chopped rosemary on the potatoes and do the finally stirring. Then the potatoes are in for their last 10-15 minutes. When done, they have a nice golden browning on the sides. I spoon them into a serving bowl. If I can’t serve fairly soon, I will leave then in an oven at 200 to keep them warm.

The Chef had gotten three swordfish steaks when he was doing the shopping for his school, earlier in the week. He soaked them in milk for about an hour and then he sprinkled coarse sea salt on both sides, rubbing it into the steaks. They sat while the grill heated up. He cooked them on the grill, getting nice browning lines on the steaks.

While the Chef finished up the swordfish, I whipped up a shrimp dish. I took four fairly lean bacon strips and cut into about 1″ lengths. I browned up the bacon in a skillet. When it was close to done, I added in a chopped new garlic, white and greens parts, to the pan. Then I added 1/2 lbs of pealed large shrimps. Cooked the shrimps till pink and then pour all into a serving bowl.

We had some french loaf bread, sliced on the diagonal, some sliced aged cows cheese that we had gotten at the farmer’s market. It was time to pour the sangria and eat!

Mmm! At the end of the meal, the Chef and I were deeply in food coma, Grand Dad had been fooled once again into liking brussel sprouts. The Mom was quite happy she had stayed for dinner (she texted the Husband, who was off on a Y Guides camping trip with his son, about the wonderful wood… that he was missing). The kids were energized to go out and run around for a while before it was shower and bedtime.  The Mom and Tinker Bell headed home. A nice day at the farm!

Posted in Food and Friends, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

irrigation tips

Jeff Banks, the author of the original paper where I got idea for the drip system, and I have been corresponding on my sludge issue. I am going to include the chronology of the discussion here. I think there are some valuable tips.

Jeff wrote:


It’s good to hear back from and how thing are going. It looks like you are almost ready for another year. At this time, I don’t have a blog. Maybe someday. After looking at your blog, it was your pictures that I was trying to figure out who’s they was. I have updated my PowerPoint presentation and also in the process of updating the original fact sheet. I want to make sure I give credit to those who have supplied comments or pictures. I attached a copy of the presentation that includes two of your pictures. After going through the universities peer review process for the updated fact sheet, it will replace the original one. It should be ready by the first of the summer. I have also attached a resource list that includes the links to the fact sheet, video and this presentation.

I want to give you more thoughts about the problem you had with the algae growing in the lateral lines. This past year, I decided to try experimenting with some of my laterals with the holes facing up instead of down. In the middle of the summer I started experiencing the same problem you had of having algae growth in the lines because of the standing water in them. I think I figured out a way to help solve the problem. What I did was with the lateral lines with the holes facing up, I drilled a 1/16 hole on the bottem about every 3-4 feet. This acted as a slow drain hole. After irrigating, the water slowing drained out of the lines. After this, I never experienced any algae build up again. You want to try this and see if it helps. If it does, let me know.

Keep me informed how things are going for you.


Tony wrote:


Thanks as always for your insights. I will add them to my blog if that is ok with you. I really want to make sure I am giving credit back to you :) . Certainly happy to help you anyway I can. Feel free to point to my stuff in anyway that helps you.

So this brought to mind another set of questions, what is your typical water pressure and what size holes do you drill for the main flow?

I have used 3/64 and 1/16 (depending on bits I have easily at hand). I have found that I had pretty high pressure. I put in the regulators to drop it down to 25 or so. But it is still almost like a drill. Makes me wonder if I should use larger holes.

Thanks for you help and your cool idea.


Jeff wrote:


It’s good to hear from you again. Thanks your support in letting me use some of your pictures. In my system, in front of the manual valves I have around 80 psi, so I have a lot of pressure. But with everything glued in front of the valves the high pressure is not a problem. After opening the valves as far as needed, because of all the 1/16 holes in the lateral lines, the pressure never does have a chance to build up. I have measured the pressure while I am irrigating and the pressure in the lateral lines is below 10 psi. Just a note I like the water to come out of the holes as a very small stream. Just like turning on a kitchen faucet when it goes from a fast drip to a small stream. The output per hole is around 4-6 ounces per minute. One thought you may be trying to have too high of flow rate. That might answer why you are making such deep holes. Try closing the valves some and see if that makes a difference. One other comparison, when I test the system in the spring, I turn all the lateral lines with the holes up. When I clean out plugged holes the water is only shooting up around 2-4 inches. When I turn the pipes around so the holes are down, I try to have about the same flow rate as when I test the system. One other item, I use a 1/16 inch hole for all everything.

I hope this helps. Let me know if this helps.


Tony wrote:

Ok, you could maybe sort this from the pictures, but it is not obvious. inline, I have a cut off valve, a pressure regulator and then one of those backflow valves at the bed.

I think what you are suggesting is that I should turn the system on and dial back the cutoff valves and/or pressure regulator so that I have a small stream flowing out of the drip lines. If this is what you are suggesting then it makes a lot of sense.

Thanks again for the tips.

I am planning on capturing this dialogue and adding it to the blog. Seems like a good place for capturing some best practices.


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The farmhouse was built in 1877, we understand from the previous owners, who had restored the house. It is a fairly typical style house from the period, “2 up, 2 down”. In the main house there is an entry way hall in the middle with stairs to the second level. On the lower level there are two rooms, one on either side of the hallway and upstairs the same configuration. With the restore, the two upper rooms are bedrooms, with a bathroom and on the lower floor one room is a dining room and the other is an office that we have used as Dad’s room.

The typical farm would have the kitchen connected the house through a breezeway on the backside of the house. I think the strategy here was that most fires originated in the kitchen and by separating the kitchen you could spare the house. The previous owners built a single story addition to the back of the dining room side of the house. The addition has the master bedroom, the kitchen, a eating nook and a family room. This part of the house is all new construction.

When they restored the house, they were able to save the heart of pine flooring in the original part of the house, all except what is now the office/Dad’s room. There they put in a wood floor with a cherry stain. Most the flooring in the kitchen/master bedroom addition is tile, with the exception that they put carpet in the master bed room, a very light colored carpet…

I will say this, given kids and adults constantly going in and out, the tile and wooden floors are very practical to keep clean. The carpet, a whole different matter. When we took possession of the farm, the carpet in the bedroom was pretty stained. I spent an afternoon with a carpet shampoo machine, without much luck to clean it up. Over time it accumulated more stains from the traffic.

I had decided that the carpet had to go. I started researching heart of pine flooring, because I thought it would be nice to match the original house. As I researched it, I found places that actually had antique heart of pine flooring. It was wooden beams that had come from very old building and they had been processed into flooring. The first place I spent much time looking at was in the Northeast. I priced it out and there was shipping cost too. It occurred to me to use my friend Google and use “antique heart of pine flooring North Carolina”. There was a business, Heartwood Pine Floors, in Pittsboro that reclaimed old wood and processed it into flooring. We went to visit their booth last spring in a Home and Garden show and I was set on getting flooring from them. Their pricing was very reasonable and I could use the truck and trailer to pick it up myself.

I got around to placing the order with them. I decided that I want to replace the flooring in the office/Dad’s room too. I thought I would feel better having the flooring match throughout the house. It took me a few months to find the time to pick it up it up after the Christmas holidays because I didn’t want to have the floors torn up during the holidays. We had talked to our neighbor, Ronnie about doing the flooring. Ronnie and his buddy, Ronnie (but known as Clark), had finished out the garage shop for us and helped with the solar panel installation. They were interested in doing the work.

When I picked up the wood in late January, we checked in with Ronnie. Dad will frequently chats with Ronnie, they have a bond that is going to be the subject of another posting. It turns out Clark had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and was facing an aggressive treatment regime (Dad just visit with Ronnie and Clark yesterday when he was at the farm and Clark has completed his chemo treatments, seems to be holding in there). We asked whether they still wanted to do the project. After debating it, they came back and declined since they didn’t know how Clark’s treatment would make him feel.

Ronnie is one of the central hubs of rural Henderson. Anytime we have been out in Henderson and people have asked where we live, all we have to say is we live next to Ronnie on Glebe Road, and everyone knows where that is. Ronnie recommended Walter Beal to us. Walter has done a lot of construction work and he gave us a reasonable bid to put in and finish the flooring.

He put the wood inside the house to bring it to temperature and make sure it was dry. A few weeks later he and his crew removed the flooring/rug and completed the work in a couple of days. It took about a week for the sanding and finishing work, with its drying periods. They did an outstanding job! Dad spent quite a bit of time at the farm during this period, “overseeing the work”. I think he really enjoys these projects and it is such a help to have him coordinating the work.

I know this seems funny, but it has definitely changed the whole feeling in the master bedroom and Dad’s room. There is a warmth there now and for some strange reason, it leaves you with a very pleased sense, a comfort. I am very glad we got this project done.

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irrigation 2012

Hmm, I think I may have figured out another reason the muse has been a bit silent.  The older son started middle school this year.  That has led to 5:30am alarms to get him off to school.  Sort of puts a crimp in a night of sleep if you stay up the normal adult hours.  I am going to try to use the time after he is off to do some writing and maybe shift to a slightly earlier bed time.

In my last posting on irrigation, I outlined two issues that I wanted to resolve this year in the drip irrigation system.

The first is that I had glued the manifold portion of the PVC together (the single 1″ connection to 2 or 4 – 1/2″ PVC drip lines, but I just pushed the connection of the 1″ pipe from the value into the manifold and the 1/2″ drip lines were press fitted into the manifold as well as their coupling connectors and end caps. I took the approach of these press fits because I still need to pull the irrigation system off the beds in the fall. This led from time to time one of the pressed connection separating and the garden bed would flood. Since we were only coming up on the weekends and sometimes once during the week, this would make a mess.

The second issue is the green sludge of the South. Once the water was cut off to the beds, there would still be standing water in the pipes. I typically had the holes facing slightly upwards, not directly into the bed, because of the drill like effect of the stream of water coming out of the pipe. Standing water in the hot, humid South usually turns into a great place for some sort of algae sludge to build up in the pipes. I found that this sludge that coated the inside of the pipe would break free and clog the 1/16″ holes that I drilled. I had to go through the garden a few times with the drill bit to run in and out of the holes to get them cleared out.

I spent time on my friend Google and found this site which had a large selection of pipe fittings. I ordered 24 – 1″ unions which would allow me to glue the 1″ connector pipe into the manifold and valve, but still be able to disconnect the manifold from the valve in the fall. I also ordered 48 – 1″ to 1/2″ elbows that were female threaded on the 1/2″ side and 48 – 1/2″ slip, male threaded connectors which would allow me to glue the drip lines components together and allow for disconnect from the manifold. I cut the existing elbows off of the manifolds and assembled the new manifolds this last Sunday. It was a good project to do in the shop/garage since it was a rainy day.

I am still pondering what to do about the sludge and the drip lines. I have been corresponding with Jeffrey Banks, the author of the original paper. Here is the suggestion he made back:

“I have been thinking about your sludge problem and I think you have figured out the problem. If there is water sitting in the pipes for long periods of time under high temp. that would explain while there is growth inside the pipes. I think if you did flush them out once in a while, that should help. Screw end caps or just using non treaded ends but not gluing them on would make it easy to accomplish that. I don’t glue on any of my end caps and very seldom ever have an cap come off. Since most of my pipes have the holes facing down, I don’t have the problem with water sitting in the pipes. This year I decided to build some new beds and do some experimenting with the drip system. What I have done is drill holes all the way through the pipe every 6 inches and then turn the holes so the water comes out on the sides. I have included some pictures of what I did. So far this has worked out well. ”

I glued the end caps on last year, but I think I may change that out too. Ah, another trip back to the pipefitting website! However, first I think I will try the holes straight through idea and I may make them slightly larger. At least I will try this on a few beds first.

When we worked the beds this past weekend to plant the potatoes and tomatoes, they were really dry. The rains we had over the weekend really helped. However, given how hot and dry the spring has been and how scorching hot the last two summers were, I think I better get the manifolds and drip lines installed this weekend.

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