Early Fall Bee Check

Days are getting shorter, and cooler as autumn creeps into Northeast Ohio. We checked the bees for the first time since there was a swarm a week or two ago. Methodically we examined all three hives, top to bottom. I don’t know if we found anything surprising, other than we can’t tell which hive swarmed, or if the swarm was even ours. All three hives seemed relatively healthy and strong. Though the next four weeks will be telling, as late fall and eventually winter approaches.

Hive No. 3: we saw eggs, though no queen. Their honey production is lacking as their medium super is empty. Like all three hives, the bottom deep box is fairly empty as well, devoid of much honey or brood I believe.

Hive No. 2: we saw no queen, and not necessarily any eggs either. Though towards the end of summer egg production goes down in preparation for winter. The hive was strong and well populated. It’s hard to believe that this would have been the hive that swarmed. Honey in hive No. 2 is in good supply and no apparent pests.

Hive No. 1: the largest hive has larvae and a queen. And likely close to 50K+ bees in it. We thought this would have been the swarm hive but there is a queen so it is not. This hive is beleaguered by pests though, including yellow jackets, hive beetles and mites. We treated the hive for mites and beetles, and squished as many yellow jackets as we could. The hive has at least 30 lbs. of honey in the lower medium super. We’ll have to see if we can harvest any or if we’ll just leave it for the bees for winter.

My suspicion is that we won’t harvest anything from hive No. 1 this fall. Hives No. 2 & No. 3 are off-limits ’til spring.

Elsewhere a deer decided to rut on one of the few trees I didn’t wrap, so of course I had to go out and wrap the trunk of a blaze red tupelo tree in the front yard.

Here are today’s photos:

Day #267

Today was a very special day for us and our land. Today we had the honor of being day #267.


Ever since we moved in, actually ever since we first walked the land, we knew it was a special place. There is just something about the land, trees, meadows, light, sounds….it all has a magical effect on the senses. As artists we’ve appreciated how incredible a place it is. And I’ve always wanted to capture and share that somehow. I try with my photos and writing, but beyond that I always thought it’d be great to share with others, even complete strangers.

Rewind back to earlier this year, I stumbled upon a project that a local artist was working on. Her name is Michelle Darvis and she is a painter. Her and her husband embarked upon a year-long journey to document 2014 with a plein air painting every day. The project, appropriately called ‘A Year In Plein Air‘ is fairly self-explanatory. They travel the state and Michelle paints a new painting every day.

I had seen her work online and heard about it through a local gallery. Right away I had the idea that it’d be cool to have her paint our land. But as with anything I got busy and the thought fell by the wayside. Well, as far as ideas go, this one stuck in me and germinated. Finally this month I decided, “why not” and I sent Michelle an email asking if she could paint out at our place, and in a way include us in on her unique project.

Much to my delight, this wonderful artist who I had never met, said she’d be more than happy to do it. I shared the blog and all its beautiful photos to help entice her.

Today was the day that she came out. We took a quick tour of the land, a tour that included me getting a honey bee stuck in my hair – which was fairly alarming for me. We visited all four meadows, and of course the bee hives. In the end she settled on the east meadow, setting her easel up in the driveway. This is an incredible spot, that most people miss when driving in because they are distracted by the view of the house from that same vantage point. It’s my favorite meadow and certainly the most photogenic.

As the sun dipped low along the tree line, Michelle happily painted. We snuck over a few times to watch and converse, all whilst she converted a blank 8×10 canvas into a flood of colorful brush strokes. In the end, the boys were able to contribute a stroke each to the work, personalizing it even further.

Our meadow is now immortalized in her painting. A painting that along with 364 others will be part of an incredible art show that will travel the country in 2015.

For me everything about the experience was wonderful, and memorable. A mundane Wednesday turned into the most extraordinary of days. In short time our home has a knack for providing the incredible. Now my…our beloved meadow will be immortalized in that painting, but also it is part of a fascinating project, the aforementioned road show, even an upcoming book.

World class plein air painters in America are few and far between. A project like this helps Michelle take that next step, and it’s an incredible honor to be a part of it. (Yes, we had to pay for the painting in case you’re wondering.)

Beyond that though, it means so much to me. To see the feelings I have when I look at our land, transferred in oil on canvas. To be able to share the beauty I see with others, for them to appreciate as well. For me it’s magic. And I’m sure it is for our family as well.

Hopefully the boys will look fondly upon the painting for decades to come. Hopefully Michelle is successful in all her endeavors.

And for me, well I got a tiny little dream come true.


visit Michelle’s website at http://www.michelledarvis.com

“A Year In Plein Air” should be touring in 2015 and keep an eye out for her book as well.

Note: Many of the pieces that are part of the ‘A Year In Plein Air‘ project are still for sale! So consider taking the opportunity to own a small piece of painting history. Now may be your only chance. Contact her today.

(P.S. I left the door open in case she wants to come back and paint the bee hives, so that might entice one of you to buy a piece for yourself – especially if you’re a fan of our blog)


With half the family at a late afternoon birthday party, my son and I took a walk on the nature trail after playing on the playlet. Actually I carried him because he was tired but it was such nice afternoon I wanted to take a walk before we went back inside.

It was a nice walk. The baby river birch are looking good as is the wild flora along the meandering trail. As we approached the bee hives in the north meadow, the corner of my eye caught something unusual in the brush.

A big cluster of bees.

Honey bees.

About thirty yards from our hives was a swarm of bees, clustered in a ball on the branch of a tree. This is the first time I’d ever seen a swarm in person.

There are any number of reasons for a hive to swarm. I’ll won’t go into it in detail at this time (mostly because I’m tired and just want to go have a beer). Suffice to say the queen leaves the hive and takes half the hive with her. If I had to guess I’d say there were 20,000 bees on that branch, but I can’t say for sure.

I looked at our three hives and all three still had a lot of bees coming and going. Hive No. 1 did have a couple of yellow jackets that our bees were actively defending against, but when I took the lid off that hive, and the others, they all look relatively full of bees.

It was too late in the day to do a full inspection.

So the swarm was either one of ours or a neighbors bee hive. Likely ours because of the proximity to our hives.

I called the wife immediately because I know you’re supposed to do something, but not sure what it is you do in this situation. She was almost home so I gathered our bee suits and gazed a little at our bee keeping book to see what to do.

Long story short what you really need is an empty hive to put the bees into. Essentially you’d be splitting one of the hives. We don’t have any extra equipment so all we could do was either leave the swarm do its own thing or call a bee keeper to come and get the hive.

Apparently swarms after July 1st are worthless because if you get them in a new hive they won’t have time to build up enough and survive our winter. But I called around anyway, our local bee keepers association has a “swarm list” of people who are more than happy to take away your swarm of honey bees away for free. After a few calls, and after learning a lot more about bees and swarms, we got a call back from a beekeeper who was interested in our swarm. She was out and about and was at our house within 15 minutes.

She and Christine walked back and inspected the swarm; trying to spot the queen. After a couple minutes they cut down the swarm and deposited it into a large box (slightly bigger than a paper box) and taped it up.

Swarm removed.

Our swarm will then be used to bolster other hives and presumably the queen used for whatever you do with queens, maybe be sold off. I don’t know. Much that has to do with queens and swarms is advanced bee keeping that goes beyond my knowledge base.

Now we’ll inspect our hives the next nice weather day we get to see what’s going on. And if it was hive No. 1 (or any of them for that matter) that swarmed we’ll keep an eye out to make sure they re-queen themselves.

It’s always something, I say. And it never happens on a week day. Although in this case the swarm had been there a few days because they had already started making a new hive, with honeycomb on the bush branch. It being Saturday night we couldn’t just go out and get an extra hive. Plus where would we have put it anyway.

Always a new adventure out here, all the time.

I guess that’s living. Here are pictures from today’s festivities.


With a nod to Joe Walsh, I wanted to talk about meadows. Our meadows to be specific.

The house is located smack dab in the middle of 6.5 acres, which in turn are located smack dab in the middle of a 32,000 acre national park. Most of the land we’re borrowing from mother nature is a form of wetlands. The house is built upon the high point which towers a whopping foot or two above the surrounding terrain. Two preservation areas, with towering maples, oaks and cherries act as book ends for our home. And ringing everything, each with its own personality, are four  little meadows.


Most of the windows in the house face the south meadow. They soak up the sun in the winter time and are shaded in the summer. Beyond the cut lawn where the kids play is a strip of paradise teaming with deer, rabbits and birds. There are clear site lines across hedgerows and saplings sprouting up playfully. Step on the nature trail we’ve created and head through the woods, past the river birches, crab apples and ash….

The south meadow looking back towards the house from the nature trail.

The south meadow looking back towards the house from the nature trail.


After walking through the woods you emerge into tall grass surrounded by towering old growth trees. The west meadow, isn’t really a meadow at all. It’s actually the septic field. I should probably mow it every year. Since we’ve been here it has grown up into a beautiful staging area for deer. A careful eye can even spot a blackberry bush here and there along its perimeter before continuing on the nature trail…

The west meadow. The large tree on the left died as a result of creating the septic field unfortunately.

The west meadow. The large tree on the left died as a result of creating the septic field unfortunately.


Along a clearing made by heavy equipment you emerge past a natural hedge row and are emerged into the largest meadow, the north meadow. This is where all the action happens. The path winds past bee hives carved into a small clearing. Closer to the house you arrive a vegetable garden, overgrown from an unattended summer. And then eventually an apple orchard buttresses the east preservation area. Some evenings I just stand in the orchard and listen to the world. Catching angles of shadow and light. The motions of nature out of the corner of my eye. To its north a hidden wet weather creek channels water to feed a nearby, off of our property, pond. For likely a hundred yards there is nothing but a sea of goldenrod and white butterflies dancing on warm summer breezes…



The most beautiful and natural meadow is the east meadow. One small path leads to a vantage point by our “pond”, which is really just a frog laden depression in the earth that holds water nine months a year. But the real vantage point is from the driveway, especially as the sun sets. The rays filtering through six acres of leaves and branches, painting the most wonderful scene imaginable. When we first saw the property we could tell that someone had been using the east meadow as a through way, marked by twin tire marks through the grass. Now the only nod to humanity is an active bird house I planted on its edge well before we ever broke ground. The grass turns to a sea of water during heavy downpours and afterward becomes alive with creatures great and small. There is one week in spring when the entire meadow is covered in small yellow flowers. It looks almost staged.

And that is why we love this place, or certainly why I love it. Every week of life is a roller coaster of ups and downs. Most days it’s like life is sitting on my chest and won’t let me catch my breath. Being able walk out amongst the meadows is calming – it makes me feel alive again. Any thing is possible. A compass.

I’m sure there are greater vistas and smaller: forests, deserts, seas, and meadows. And I’m sure those with access to them find equal solitude, hope and inspiration in them.

When life gets you down, find your “meadow” and spend some time there.

Just maybe get a bench.

I really need to get something to sit on and stay a while.

The east meadow as seen from the driveway.

The east meadow as seen from the driveway.


Porch Ceiling Trim

This past weekend we got a project completed that had been in the works for over a year. We trimmed out the screen porch and adjacent outdoor porch ceilings. I actually had bought the material this time last year, and just now got around to installing it. The project took me the better part of a Saturday to complete.

Ceiling before installing trim. You can see seams between 4x8 sheets of ceiling plywood.

Ceiling before installing trim. You can see seams between 4×8 sheets of ceiling plywood.

The purpose of the trim is to cover up all the unsightly seams between the sheets of cedar plywood that make up the porch ceiling. I selected 1×4 cedar boards, approximate 12′ long for the project. I ripped each board in half creating a bunch of 1×2’s. I suppose you can purchase 1×2’s but they’re not always easy or economical to find, plus I think you get a straighter board by ripping down a 1×4 into two 1×2’s.

Last year I drew up a plan on the computer, so I used a print out of my plan as a guide. Originally I had planned to go 16″ on center with the strips, but we felt that would be overkill. By going 4′ on center we could cover up most of the seams. Any seams not covered would be inconspicuous once we stained the ceiling.

I trimmed out the entire perimeter of the ceiling first, nailing a 1×2 flat against the ceiling, and butting the side walls. I used galvanized finish nails, and a nail gun / compressor to make the job easier.

The first cross board in place.

The first cross board in place.

Next I measured out the major seams in the plywood and made marks for the boards that go all the way across the porch, width wise. Since the porch is around 12′ wide, I was able to use a solid board and not have to splice anything. I placed boards 4′ on center, covering up each seam in the plywood above. I also made sure to pound any drooping plywood back in place before nailing the trim boards home.

Detail of ceiling trim near chimney corner

Detail of ceiling trim near chimney corner

Once all the boards were up, going across the width of the porch, I infilled with short segments running the other direction until the grid pattern was complete.

Finished ceiling with trim. Large squares are 4' on center.

Finished ceiling with trim. Large squares are 4′ on center.

Trim carries over to the outside porch.

Trim carries over to the outside porch.

The trim adds a nice level of detail to the porch, making the it feel more room like. We’ll stain the ceiling either a reddish color to match the floor and walls, or we may go bold and stain it a charcoal color to match the center of the house exterior.

Labor Day 2014

I have some form of undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder that requires me to get monkeys off my back. So I’ll throw out my “Happy Labor Day” post before I get back to working on a Sunday. (You’ll be reading on Monday (Labor Day in the U.S.) and suffice to say I’ll be working on Labor Day as well.)

My Exterior Doors Hate Me

Speaking of obsessive compulsive, I interrupted my work Friday with an hour fit of wanting to get my Therma-Tru doors fixed again. This saga has been ongoing since January and every time I see the air gap in my doors, and missing hinge screws it fills me with rage.

I bet most people who go postal had someone mis-install three grand worth of exterior doors in their house; only to find there is absolutely zero customer service after your doors are installed. I can’t go after the installer because we’re related, and it would make holiday parties difficult. I call the place every four weeks where we bought the doors from but they never call back. I send emails and check out the manufacturer website out – hoping I can order replacement parts but they say I have to contact the distributor.

See the problem is Therma-Tru makes the door slabs and then a distributor puts on the frames. You need to contact a distributor, but it has to be the one you got the doors from. I don’t know what you do if you buy the house new.

It’s a good example of how pathetic customer service is in this country. Specifically customer service in the building industry. It is horrific. From manufacturers, to sellers, to installers; my impression is they just want to take your money and never deal with you again. In this day and age I should be able to have an expert look at my door, order the parts, install them / fix the problem, and then give me a bill to pay.

I did have a distributor rep come out in January but he never followed through and I don’t have his contact info. The whole process defies logic and common sense.

I did purchase some long #12 screws for the hinges, where they neglected to install screws. They’re zinc plated which I don’t know if I like that from a corrosion perspective – I may still go out and find stainless screws just to suit my anal retentive nature.

The lack of air tightness isn’t the only door problem I’m having, the front door lock won’t accept the key all the way. So I called up Emtek and they’re going to send me a “tool” I can use to try to fix it. I suspect it’ll either do the trick or turn into another complete cluster. We shall see.

Air Show

We went to the air show this weekend. I had been wanting to go for the last 15 years but never found the time. It comes to Cleveland every Labor Day weekend, except last which was cancelled due to the government shutdown.

The best part of the show for us as a Harrier flying right over top of us as we got out of the car. It scared the entire family because we didn’t see it coming.

It was awesome!

The day was hot but the we had a really nice time. The kids got toy airplanes, and got to stand next to the actual planes to get their photos taken. We had some lemonade and settled down on our blanket to watch the Blue Angels. They were really awesome!

I know a lot of people who live in the USA hate the country, military and whatnot but I love going to the air show and seeing the jets. I’m no war monger by any means, unless maybe it has to do with my ill-fitting doors, but I’m really glad I live in the United States of America. We enjoy more freedom and opportunity than any other nation in my opinion and we have really awesome people protecting us. And those people get to use the best equipment available. Watching those planes and how powerful they are makes me glad I will never have to be on the business end of one of them.

Go off on your political rants all you want; but I really love this country and don’t mind one bit that we’ve got good people wielding capable weapons in defense of freedom across the globe. It’s a shame that the advent of drones and a changing world likely mean the need for jets will wane soon. I’m glad I grew up in an age where we could see them.

One environmental note, to me an air show is a great use of fossil fuels – it was great entertainment and made treasured memories for our family. And I don’t mind buying the foreign made plastic toy planes as  a token of the day – though it’d be nice if they were more eco-friendly and made here, it’s not a big deal.

Abstinence isn’t a viable option for this tree-hugger when it comes to the air show.

Apologies to my green loving, dove friends.

This B-25 is the last one that still flys and saw actual combat. It flew sorties into Italy during WW2. It's a beautiful machine. Hopefully it will be flying for generations to come.

This B-25 is the last one that still flys and saw actual combat. It flew sorties into Italy during WW2. It’s a beautiful machine. Hopefully it will be flying for generations to come.

Watching the Blue Angels is a Cleveland tradition. It makes me really happy to share the experience with my kids.

Watching the Blue Angels is a Cleveland tradition. It makes me really happy to share the experience with my kids.

F/A-18's from the Blue Angels naval air team.

F/A-18’s from the Blue Angels naval air team. I think flying a jet would be awesome.  These guys are lucky to get to do it as their job.

Grey Day Photos

I’ll leave you this Labor Day (and get back to work before I get in trouble) with some photos from our wild yard.

Peace everyone. Stay safe, love each other and find time to laugh today.

Rain barrel with black eyed susans

Rain barrel with black eyed susans

Front planting bed with wildflowers. A nice view of our rain water collection network and natural flowers managing rain water.

Front planting bed with wildflowers. A nice view of our rain water collection network and natural flowers managing rain water.

The bees working on Labor Day weekend too.

The bees working on Labor Day weekend too.