I've moved!

I've moved!

Thanks for stopping by, but it appears you are using a (very) old address for my blog. I've moved to a Wordpress site and you'll need to update your bookmarks for Bees on the Knob

I've moved!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Rain Continues...

Our first burst of rain looked quite hard - for all of maybe thirty seconds. After that, we had mostly just mist for the rest of the day and a bit of slow rain now and then. All total there was 0.08" of rain yesterday - while less than 25 miles south there was an inch and at the GA/TN border 3 inches fell. But the front has slowly pushed northwards and we have now received and inch of rain today, all from a very slow continuous fall. With any luck, the front will stay stalled (a cold front has pushed down from the north and the moist warm front from the coast, all centered just south of here, but close enough to keep us wet until one of them gives in) until the hurricane Gustav can swing up from the Gulf and bring us even more rain. We still need another 3 inches or more to be "average" for the year and any extra is welcome (of course, we don't live on a flood plain - nor does anyone else that pays attention before purchasing their property, at least anywhere for many, many miles). It'll still take several feet of extra rain to restore the water tables and it doesn't look like we'll be getting that much anytime soon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Rain, rain, glorious rain!

It's Raining!!!

OK, those of you in many parts of the country are probably tired of rain - but here we have been having a drought. It's the driest August in over 60 years (last I checked) and our local rivers are drying up: the French Broad is now at the lowest level ever recorded and the flow rate is less than 1/6 the median at this time of year, while lake levels are 16 feet below normal. After 10 years of severely below average rainfall, estimates are we need more than 3 feet above normal next year to get the water tables back where they belong.

Here, we have had 0.07" of rain this month - barely enough to measure and all of it in the first day or two of the month. The ground is cracking and even when you water a garden area it will be bone dry again in a day unless well mulched and even in mulched areas plants start looking wilted again in a couple of days. Areas that are not watered look much worse - berry vines look scorched and fruit trees are starting to show yellow leaves and are dropping fruit. After the same stress last year, some probably won't make it (joining the mature apple tree that died last year from the same stress). At least the grass has mostly stopped growing, reducing the number of times the fields and paths have to be mowed.

Not everything looks bad, tho - the muscadines continue to shrug off the heat and lack of water, as do the kiwis (which unfortunately have no fruit again this year; even a moderately late frost always does them in). Most nut crops look pretty heavy - it's nearly time for black walnuts to start dropping anyway and they always are the first to shed their leaves (often before it even hints of fall outside). Where watering has been practical (if not always affordable), the harvest isn't completely lost. We are still getting blueberries and a few grapes from one vine near the house (those in the orchard at least don't look dead this year, but are still sulking and have no fruit). And the apples and pears are now ready for harvest (and mostly still quite heavy, due to the early rain and the diligent work of our honeybees). Despite the lack of water, the figs are starting to come in (but are pretty small) and the pawpaw finished ripening it's fruit (4 total, two very large) -- perhaps in a year or two the smaller trees will bloom and join the larger one. The smallest is a year younger (a replacement tree for an early one that failed to make it thru winter), but both are under 4', despite being 7 and 8 years old. They really prefer some shade and wet feet -- instead, they get full sun in a hot, dry field and have been under drought conditions their entire lives, which has no doubt set them back a year or two in what is admittedly always a long maturity cycle (the first couple of years, they only had two leaves each and apparently only grew roots, staying at about 6" tall).

As for the bees themselves - they pass their days fanning on the front stoop and making trips to our (very) small pond and waterfall (which requires water every other day, after no fill-ups at all earlier in the year). I know exactly how they feel -- I've wished we had a pond big enough to cool off in several times this month (and that we had enough rain to keep it filled).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Why "The Knob"


Middle English knobbe; akin to Middle Low German knubbe knob
14th century
1 a: a rounded protuberance : lump b: a small rounded ornament or handle
2: a rounded usually isolated hill or mountain
knobbed Listen to the pronunciation of knobbed \ˈnäbd\ adjective
knob·by Listen to the pronunciation of knobby \ˈnä-bē\ adjective
Source: Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary

I don't know when this place became The Knob - in the 50's, my grandfather bought a number of parcels on top of a ridge, some to steep to easily walk on, the others only flat by comparison (perhaps gently graded might suit - although a fair portion is somewhere in between). Some were old home sites (a cistern lasted until the late 80's), the rest possibly part of an old farm (the old barn sort of lasted that long - held up only by the vines that had ripped apart the corners, it fell to the same bulldozer that had to be called when that old cistern fell in). The only flat spot is on the very top of the ridge and was once used as the emergency water tower site by the local water utility (long since gone, now there are air relief valves there, but I suspect the water department has forgotten they exist, since they never use them, even after several incidents where all water pressure was lost due to either large leaks or a crossover to the larger supply lines a few years back.

At the time, he combined the parcels into one "farm" and raised pigs and a garden (but lived in "town" - about 8-10 miles away in the city, this was considered quite far into the country then). Years later, he found a better location 15 miles further out - bordering a lake, it had it's own water source and rich, flat bottom land (ok, sure it flooded out some years - but that little inconvenience just meant a long drive thru a neighbor's farm and taking down a few fences when that occured). Dad purchased the property and rented it out for many years, then we purchased it and moved here in the 80's - fleeing the crowds of southern CA after a stint in the Marine Corps. It was perfect ... almost.

But it was always, from as far back as I can remember, The Knob. A farm on a perhaps not so gently rounded hill. The pigs were long gone by the time I first remember visiting, but not the garden. And on the same road was an old chicken farmer, with a huge brick chicken house. They still candled eggs by hand (and let any kid that stopped by have a try at it) ... and had grapes that they, with my grandfather, turned into wine (and yes, I'll never forget the truly awful taste, in my early teens, when they let me "try" some that was only about half fermented -- something that would cure most teens of even considering alcohol until long after turning a legal drinking age). A commercial apple orchard was next door and several others on this short, less than one mile road, raised cattle. All are now gone (although the apples trees remain, abandoned, it's just a matter of time, it appears, until they too, like the cattle farms, are sold off to become housing developments).

But when we moved in, all that was left were a very few fruit trees, all well past their prime, and a falling down mobile home (ok, it was a trailer) ... from the 50's, a single wide eyesore that we lived in for several years, while clearing that flat spot at the top of the ridge and then building the house we now call home. Since then we've cleared out the old orchard (covered with black locust from seedlings to full grown trees), removed all but one of the old trees as they died (one old apple simply refuses to die - this year it is once again completely covered in fruit, despite being at least 35 and more likely 50 years old) and replacing them with newer ones -- and with a larger selection. Instead of just peaches, apples and sweet cherries (which at 40' high, were unharvestable), there are now figs, nectarines, pluots, apriums, sweet and sour cherries, asian and european pears, several varieties of apples and even pawpaws (only 6 years from seedling to first harvest, these are NOT for the impatient). Grapes dont' do so well in the field (no irrigation), but muscadines are an easy to care for substitute - even the kiwis have a harvest now and then and the organic vegetable garden (in it's second location for the last dozen years) always has something to harvest, even in a dry year. Closer to the house, strawberries (which never survive the wild predators if out of sight) and blueberries (currently under attack by both squirrels and birds) are planted, while in between there are several berries growing wherever nature has planted them: blackberries, red and black raspberries and japanese wineberries (an import gone wild in this area). Rather than compete with tame varieties, we just try to mow these into pickable patches and let them do their thing - in return, they need no fertilizer, spraying or other care, but yield several pints of sweetness every year. There are even a few elderberries here and there - but if you've ever tried to harvest these, you know you really need hundreds of them to make the effort worthwhile.

So, this is The Knob. An organic farm on what is now the outskirts of town (and a fairly large one, at that). On the top of a steep ridge, we have over 450 feet of elevation change from the top to the lowest point (obviously, this isn't Florida, since that entire state has only a 300' feet elevation change and they call that a mountain there). Our house sits right on top of one of the highest points in the county, but the county is in a valley between two mountain ranges - this is definitely only a ridge, not a mountain we live atop. It's also quite a bit louder than when we moved in: a major interstate passes by about 3 miles away as the crow flies and the truck traffic can be heard all night long, while the view away from town now includes numerous houses that light up the night, where at one time you could make believe no one else lived within miles. Compared to those in the city of even nearby subdivisions, it is still quite wild - 20+ acres of mature deciduous forest and the other ten a combination of fields, orchards, garden and homestead. You still can't see those surrounding houses in summer, during the day - but in winter or at night, they are clearly now close by. A small waterfall with tiny pond, home to our amorous bullfrog, helps to cover the noise of nearby roads -- but it doesn't compare with the silence of a truly remote area (such as small town South Dakota, which we visit now and then). Then again, it's a lot less than 25 miles to the nearest store and it's never snowed up to the second story windowsills here, so there are trade-offs to every location.

Oh, and the "Bees" part - they sit in the hives on the border between field and woods. Although there were plenty of wild bees when we moved in, our garden and orchard began to suffer in the 90's due to the die-offs that here hitting wild populations of European Honeybees (at that time, tracheal mites and varroa mites were to blame, rather than the current unknown problems). The trees were often empty of fruit and what was there was misshapen -- even the zucchini didn't have many fruit on them. So, we put in a couple of hives of bees and there they still sit, although the two now there were once up to ten, the two remaining do a more than sufficient job, filling the trees with so much fruit that we often lose branches from the weight.

As to the residents - neither of us are your typical farmers or even true farmers at all (and one only participates under duress). Instead, both of us are from technical backgrounds: electronics and computers. Any work done around here is fitted into spare time and the subject of my posts are as likely to be technical (or about books) as they are to be about outwitting those wily voles that I know are looking for the potatoes again this year.