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New Year, New Dawn

Happy New Year 2019 everyone

As I have been doing since my childhood, on the first day of the year: I wake up early to watch the first sunrise. And, for the past few years, on the morning of January 1st, I also capture an image of the sunrise. No matter how pretty or moody the sky is, it’s worth getting up early to watch the new dawn and breathe the morning air. It was a little bit cloudy this morning since it rained through the night. The sky was a little moody but the morning’s gold was there, pushing through the clouds.

Golden ray peeking through the dark clouds at 7:23 am

It wasn’t a cheerful morning but the sun finally came out in the afternoon. A strong wind chased out the clouds and kept me inside most of the day. But it’s a good start for the New Year as I was able to get a lot of things done including this blog.

To balance out the moody image of the first morning on top, I present to you ‘New Dawn’, our climbing rose.

‘New Dawn’ rose last summer
Up close

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year. May you succeed in what you do no matter big or small. May you have a satisfied year ahead and may all your dreams come true.

Thank you very much for reading.


The Color Of Summer

Staying away from social media for almost two months proved very productive.  I don’t mean to offend anyone who has been reading my blog or bloggers I’ve been following but I needed time to reflect, get things done and read books.  I did get a lot of things done, have read more books and even started baking again.  Now I’m back, refreshed.

Summer is really here with extremely high temperatures and humidity.  Aside from sunflowers and echinacea, another flower that represents summer really well is hibiscus.  I have two hardy hibiscus in the garden, ‘Plum crazy’ (plum color as it’s name suggests) and ‘Midnight Marvel’ (deep red flower with maroon leaves).  Their flowers are almost the size of a dinner plate.  I put them in the ground in a sunny spot and left them there.  I cut the dead old stems back to two inches above ground in spring, feed them and let them be.  They have come back up every year when the heat hits the area.

Hibiscus-Plum Crazy
‘Plum Crazy’ with plum color and very large flowers. This one has been at this spot for more than five years.

Hibiscus-Midnight Marvel
‘Midnight Marvel’ with eye-catching flowers and leaves

The tropical ones need a little bit more pampering as they have to stay in pots and go back in the basement in winter.  They need to be watered and fed regularly.  They also need plenty of sunlight.  With food, water and plenty of light they will flower continuously throughout summer.  I prune them once a year in spring so they won’t grow too big.  Flowers that develop before I take them to the basement still bloom but they rarely produce new flowers until they come back outside again.  Spider mites and whiteflies are the main pest when they are inside the house.  I spray them with insecticide soap to keep the critters under control inside.

Hibiscus 'Bon Temps'
I have been growing ‘Bon Temps’ in a pot for three years. It’s still doing well and flowering all summer.

I purchased the ‘Voodoo Queen’ last year because I wanted to see if the color really changes as the nursery claimed, though I hardly have space left for more plants in the basement.  She didn’t disappoint me.  Here are two shots of the same flower on the same day.

Hibiscus-Voodoo Queen-morning
Hibiscus ‘Voodoo Queen’ in the morning

Hibiscus-Voodoo Queen-evening
Her color changed to this color in the evening. Looks more like a Queen than a Voodoo Queen

With a few hibiscus on the pool deck and in the garden and 90 degree heat and high humidity, I feel like I’m in the tropics.  A little cool breeze would make it seem even closer to that reality.

After the Swarm

A Successful Split

One of our hives swarmed last month.  It wasn’t a surprise, but I didn’t expect them to do it this early since the weather has been seesawing with cold temperatures, rain or wind.  I put off inspection of the hives because of the weather.  I knew from the last inspection that the hive in question came out of the winter with a lot of bees but there were no queen cells.  I thought the weather would make it more difficult for them to forage for food, staving off any early swarming.  But I was wrong.  They swarmed on a sunny day and didn’t even stop in the garden.  They just took off headed for the woods.

As soon as the swarm was gone, I opened up the hive and found plenty of queen cells.  I promptly split the hive.  I moved a whole super, not just a few frames, since there were too many bees in this hive.  I also made sure to scrape off all the queen cells but one- the biggest one.  I added one new super to this new hive, closed the top entrance with a screen, reduced the bottom entrance to an inch and tucked a clump of grass in to close it off.  They will clear the grass to free themselves eventually.  Then I fed them.

As for the main hive I split from, I added a new super to the remaining two supers.  I also scraped off all queen cells but one.  I didn’t spend time looking for the queen.  If she in there she will kill off any  emerging potential queens anyway.

I inspected the new hive two weeks later.  A beautiful queen has emerged.

A beautiful healthy looking queen, the one without the dark color bands

I inspected all hives yesterday.  They all looked great.  All have brood combs with uniform patterns and with pollen and honey on each side of the frame.  The main hive that swarmed, that I made the split from has built up the population and has plenty of honey already.  I may have to split it again to keep them from swarming.

Uniformity of brood with pollen and honey at each end of the frame. Queens in all hives have been doing a great job of laying eggs.

The season is still young and there are plenty of flowers around.  Hopefully I can take a couple of honey frames next time I inspect them.

Happy Birthday Anton Janša (1734-1773), the first teacher of modern beekeeping by Ron Miksha

More information on World Bee Day.


World Bee Day was initiated in Slovenia, Europe, and has been quickly catching around the world. For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel concluded a major speech Wednesday with a rousing endorsement of World Bee Day, telling members of the Bundestag to do something good for the bees:

“I want to finish with something that some may consider insignificant but is actually very important: on May 20 is the first World Bee Day. On this day we should really think about biodiversity and do something good for the bees.”

World Bee Day became World Bee Day after a successful campaign by the country of Slovenia (Anton Janša’s birthplace) to promulgate the message. Their petition to the United Nations was accepted in December 2017, so this year marks the first official World Bee Day.  I’ve been following (and promoting World Bee Day) ever since I heard the effort was…

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Beauty With Low Maintenance

When crocuses and daffodils start to fade, primroses take the baton and continue running, coloring our garden.  I’ve been planting different colors of primrose in our garden for the last few years and continue to look for new colors every year.  There are many types of primrose but not many are hardy enough for our USDA zone so my choice is a little limited.

What I like about primrose is that they are pretty and low maintenance.  Once I put one in the garden they tend to thrive being fed only once a year, in spring, and with a little mulching.  The only potentially deadly problem for primrose, at least in our garden, are the slugs.  Since they are low to the ground and tend to like moist soil, it’s easy to reach for the slugs.  They can make a clump of primrose disappear in a few days.

Our previous neighbor gave us a couple of these primroses a few years ago. Now we have a large clump.

Close up

Tiny & bright yellow

These yellow primroses are large and much closer to the ground

Shocking pink with yellow contrast


Multi colored

The orange and purple striped ones were devoured by the slugs.  The green one is still budding, not yet open and we’re hoping the slugs miss it too.  For a couple of weeks or so, we have a very welcome primrose color all over our garden.

Snowed In

And More To Come

A snow storm hit us again today, starting about 5:00 AM.  It was very peaceful because no one was out, the town plows didn’t bother to come around early and not a snow blower in sight.  It was the type with big fluffy flakes falling down early on then became very light rain before stopping in late afternoon.  It dumped close to a foot of snow today, adding to the foot still here from the previous Wednesday.  We now have a three foot snow bank along our driveway and higher mounds here and there.  And, there’s more to come tonight.  The weather forecast is predicting the second round of this Nor-Easter tonight may add another 8″ to 10″ more.

As soon as the snow stopped the neighborhood came out in force cleaning their driveways and getting them ready for the next onslaught tonight.  We had to rake some of the snow off our roof as it is thick and heavy and makes it difficult to open the sliding door.  During all these chores, we were accompanied by plenty of birds doing their best to pack as much food in as they could to brace for the storm.  The Chickadees and Carolina Wrens didn’t even care that we were raking the roof; they just flew in and out picking on seeds at the feeders by the patio.

Our beehives have only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board and the bottom entrance.  We were lucky that we decided to put the hives on 3 foot risers off the ground, otherwise half of the hives would have been buried under the snow by now.   I know the bees would be fine if that had happened because they still have the upper entrance that keeps air flowing.  They will be able to come out through the snow for their cleansing flights anyway, even if snow covered both entrances.   The hot air they create in the hive melts little holes in the snow where the entrances are.

Northern Cardinals waiting for their turns at the feeder
Northern Cardinals waiting for their turns at the feeder

A Chickadee resting under heavy snow fall
A Chickadee resting under heavy snow fall

Only a couple of inches left before the snow reaches the landing board.  Both lower and upper entrances are covered with snow.  When I inspected them after the last snow fall, they had small tunnels behind the snow that opened up to the left and right of these little mounds.  Once I saw them I left the snow alone so it can block the cold and wind from getting in the hives.

Beehives this afternoon
Beehives this afternoon

A few more weeks to go before spring reaches us, but more snow to be expected.  On the bright side, we need all the extra water.  And, if the bees pull through this harsher than usual winter, we will have a very strong generation of honey bees for our garden.  Bees that can weather temperatures below 0ºF in a very erratic winter.

Poison Ivy

Never Be Too Careful

My first rule of thumb for working in the garden is learning to identify what is poisonous.   Luckily, most snakes in this temperate climate are non-poisonous.  I already know spiders and centipedes can cause pain.  However when it comes to plants and fungi in this climate, I still need to learn more about them.

I learned to identify poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) early on, the three shiny leaves.  I can even pick out the seedlings that are slightly different since the leaves are more serrated and I have been pulling them out ever since.  It’s a lot easier to get rid of poison Ivy when the plants are small than when they are creeping up a tree.   All parts of this weed are toxic, even in winter.  I have been very careful handling them and have gotten away with it for many years.

This summer was different.  With gloves and two layers of plastic bags over that, I still got it on my arm.  It was pretty itchy and blistered for a few days.  I wrapped the area up to prevent myself from touching other parts of my body by mistake.  But that was a mistake. The blister stayed puffed up without drying out so it took longer for the poison to dissipate.   Once I broke the blisters and let them dry out during the day, it was gone in a few days.

However common Poison Ivy is in this area, many people still don’t really know what it looks like.  My colleagues asked me to take photographs to show them, so I decided to post this one.  I hope it helps those who still don’t know what it looks like and how to deal with it if you are accidentally afflicted.

Once doesn’t make me an expert, but a little personal experience may help those who never had it and got it by mistake, hence the following tips:

  • Use protection, plastic bags or a couple layers of latex gloves are the best.  Don’t use gloves that aren’t waterproof; oil from the leaves can get though as well.
  • Throw the gloves out when you’re finished.  Make sure not to touch your skin when you remove them.  This was my case, just a little touch when I was trying to remove a glove.
  • Don’t scratch the itchy area because that will spread it.
  • Don’t cover it up 24 hours a day.  That was another dumb thing I did.  Covering it at night should be enough to prevent you from scratching it or touching other parts of your body while you’re sleeping.  Covering it all the time doesn’t let the toxin leach out, so it takes longer to heal as a result.
  • Don’t pat dry the effected area with the towel that you dry your body with, or you’ll spread it all over yourself.  Use a different towel or, better yet, paper towels.
  • Calamine lotion seems to work better than anything else on the pharmacy shelves I found.

And my head bows to those who are fortunate enough to not be allergic.  Here are some photos to help in identification for those of us who still have to deal with the itch.

  • Poison Ivy growing next to non-toxic Ivy

    Lovely fall color, but still toxic

Blue Moon

Yes, It’s a Blue Moon Tonight

Tonight, August 31, 2012, is a Blue moon night.  No, the moon is not in blue color but it is a second full moon in a calendar month.  The first full moon in August was on the 2nd.  Usually, there is only one full moon per month.  The next time this event will happen is in 2015.

It was nothing particular about the look of the moon tonight.  I actually liked the fairy ring around the moon better.  It’s much more fascinating to me than just the second full moon of the month, but we enjoyed tonight anyway.  We decided to enjoy our Merlot in the garden, under the moonlight, with an orchestra of katydids, crickets and frogs.  The fragrance of Almond verbena and jasmine helped to create a soothing mood.  What’s missing were the Moonflowers whose buds are as yet too small to flower.  It would have been a perfect setting if the Moonflowers had unfurled and the Luna moths come around for the nectar.  Here is our Blue moon, a little grainy, as shot from our pool deck.

Blue Moon August 31, 2012

With swaying tree top

The Jasmine Effect

Bringing a Smile to Stranger’s Faces

This blog has nothing to do with either growing or using jasmine, but I want to share a wonderful experience I had today.

I have a long train commute between work and home, but I don’t find it a waste of time for the hour and fifteen minutes I spend traveling in each direction.  I can always find something to do whether reading, working on a project, sleeping when I feel really tired, or writing this blog for that matter.

This morning, as soon as I got a seat, I started to make a garland from the jasmine I had picked before leaving.   I use it to make an offering for the Ganesh statue at work, out of respect.  After a few minutes, the guy sitting across the aisle leaned over and asked whether the jasmine was real.  I offered him some, but he really just wanted to stick his nose in the bag and take a deep sniff.  “This is very soothing.” he said.  Aside from that, just “Thank you.”  I continued stringing the garland for a few more stops before reading my newspaper.  Shortly after that another passenger sat down next to me.

When the train got to our final destination I got up and took the bag of herbs I had cut for my colleagues.  She, the passenger next to me, commented on how great the basil smelled.  We had a short discussion about basil on the way up the platform and she accepted some jasmine.  She was delighted and kept sniffing the jasmine in her palm.

Both incidents are common to me every time I carry jasmine with me, but what happened next really made my day.

I got on the subway heading for my office.  An elderly couple got on the next stop and sat across from me.  They were probably in theirs seventies.  They were holding hands, chatting and leaning against each other.  What drew my attention was the affection they showed for each other.  It was so pronounced, so radiant.  I couldn’t help but smile and kept observing them,  just short of staring perhaps.  I offered them some jasmine before I got off the subway.  The gentleman accepted them while still holding her hand.  Both smelled them and looked up at me with a big, genuine smiles.

“Thank you very much.  You made our day.” He said.

“No, Sir, you made my day.  You’re such a lovely couple.  Enjoy them and have a wonderful day.”  I walked off the train.

Yes, something about an older couple displaying love and affection that makes me melt.  I still remember that my father cried his heart out when my mother passed away a few years ago.  He was over eighty years old then and he still misses her and talks about her.

This is what I offered friendly strangers and the Ganesh at work – Jasminum sambac ‘Maid of Orleans’