The Beginnings of Our Beekeeping Journey


In late February Ty and I attended a 3-day Beginning Beekeeping class taught by our County Extension Agent. It was my first exposure to learning anything about honeybees.

Personally, I have always had an aversion to bees in general, and I never paid much attention to learning anything about them. I just knew they stung, and I didn’t want to get stung.

azalea-with-beeWhen we first moved into my grandparents’ home over ten years ago, they had big azalea bushes by the front door, and I always hated going through the front door in the summer because these giant furry bees (bumble bees) would be lingering right there, buzzing loudly.

So, I typically just stayed inside.

Ty kept telling me they wouldn’t bother me as long as I didn’t bother them, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to steer clear from them no matter what. Over time I got a little braver, but not much.

Fast forward to a few months ago, I started to learn more about honey bees in particular, and I realized how little I understood about these creatures.  Continue reading “The Beginnings of Our Beekeeping Journey”

Big Picture Plan: Keeping the Dogwoods

Yesterday the Wiggles went out into our woods. The lesson was about the Dogwood.

Flowering DogwoodThis tree is a valuable component in my long-term Land Stewardship goals. It thrives as a naturalized understory tree on southern/eastern aspects in mid slope areas. It seems to like moist and richer soils, if there is such a thing on unmanaged Oak and Hickory woodland in central VA.

The need for managing the land in three dimensions has become one of my criteria as I attempt to maximize land output while maintaining as low an input as possible.

The land is a solar collector. The land that captures and retains the most energy will by default have the largest output.

The land that produces the most biomass for any given area is the savanna type area that has elephants as primary grazers.

These are forested grasslands. My goal is to have pasture, trees and food crops growing with synergy and sustainability in this savanna-like structure.

The small tree understory region is a key part of the woodland. I am applying silvopasture principles in my approach of converting deep unmanaged woodland into valuable lumber and food trees with grazing underneath.

My management of the herb and shrub layer in the woodland has been less than stellar. It is mostly non-existent, as I have allowed the grazers in. However, many of the dogwoods were above the browse line and are thriving. I will do my best to allow them to stay as I thin the forest for my long-term goals, so I’m having the family mark them with white ribbons. They are there to say, “I am a Dogwood, don’t squish me.”

IMG_0694aI am particularly fond of the Dogwood, as I have known how to identify them even as a child in Oklahoma. The Redbud is more prevalent there but the dogwood shares in that same niche.

I have found the dogwood to be a rather well mannered tree. It is highly adaptable in form. It adjusts itself to the available solar energy without being pushy or demanding. It takes what it gets and seems to generally thrive, though I have seen them suffer in high temperatures and humidity – this more so in Oklahoma than Virginia.

This friendly tree stays in its space with its slow growth and does not seem to demand a lot of pruning and in fact seems to prune itself quite well in many of the specimens I have witnessed. It allows other things to grow around it without feeling the need to crowd them out. It plays well with everyone.

In my woodland, the Dogwood fills that region that seems to be hardest to fill: the region where the future top canopy trees are fighting each other to try to break through with the biggest crown. There are a lot of trees dying in this region but not the Dogwood. It just does its thing without a lot of drama.

The Dogwood adds beauty and diversity. It supports many insect and bird species. It may support wild mammals as well but I am not certain. It is certainly forage for goats, which is probably its highest practical value on our land. Being a slow grower, it is just a light snack every once in a while but that is at least something.

I feel the small tree/large shrub understory is where the greatest potential lies for food and diversity in the medium term time frame. There are many top canopy trees to sort through as I seek to keep the best nut trees, such as White Oaks and Hickories. There are dead standers for firewood. There are poorly formed trees that will just never have the lumber potential that they could have.

Of all the decisions of what trees to take out and what to keep, the Dogwood is one of the easiest. I am keeping them all until I have a reason to change that.

Family Project: Identifying Dogwood Trees in the Woodland

Flowering Dogwood CloseupWe have two beautiful Dogwoods in our front yard, one nestled between the outbuildings behind our house, and dozens scattered throughout the woods that border the back of our property.

Flowering DogwoodThey are not only aesthetically beautiful, but also very well-mannered.

Requiring little to no input or maintenance, they enhance the overall landscape we are aiming for.

Flowering DogwoodGiven their medium size and their preference for dappled shade, they fill a void in the three-dimensional space without being problematic, providing dappled shade themselves.

While the fruit of this species is not meant for human consumption, the trees provide fodder for the birds and animals in their natural habitat as well as our own domesticated herds.

Bark of the DogwoodI imagine there are other benefits of the Dogwood by way of its bark, branches, leaves, root and berries that I am not even aware of yet, such as possible healing properties or resource material for particular sorts of construction or fuel.

Did you know…

The Flowering Dogwood is Virginia’s State Tree and State Flower (and the name of my first elementary school in New Jersey 😉 ).

In an attempt to better manage the trees on our property for both short- and long-term benefit, I think it’s important for our kids to understand what we have, and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

So yesterday, I took the kids out back to our woods equipped with water bottles, hats and marking materials, and had my husband explain the day’s project.  Continue reading “Family Project: Identifying Dogwood Trees in the Woodland”

Breakfast is Served: Eggs a la Wiggle

This morning on our day off from work, my husband served me this delicious dish. He calls it Eggs a la Wiggle.  🙂

Eggs a la Wiggle

For the past several months, my husband has been using his culinary gifts in creating delectable dishes containing our farm fresh eggs and grass-fed beef, with cheese and garden greens purchased from the local grocery store.

This morning he made his way out to our gardens to gather fresh greens, some of which he planted last season and some this past December. These beautiful greens are what you see in the above masterpiece. 😛

Here is a gallery of the ingredients used and the process by which he assembled the final product:  Continue reading “Breakfast is Served: Eggs a la Wiggle”