Category Archives: winter

the ice storm

As I stepped outside Thursday the 19th I remember thinking it was like I had walked through a teleportation device and landed in Alaska or Antarctica. I had already been waking at 3:15am for a couple days to get up in time to walk to work in the snow. If it weren’t for the inhumane hour, I would always walk to work. So long as I have my trusty snow boots, I quite enjoy walking in the snow. There is something serene about the undisturbed snowscape before the rest of the world has gotten up and trampled all over it. This particular morning the giant mounds of snow looked different than I’d ever seen before, almost glacier-like. There had been a bit of rain that created a slick layer of ice atop everything.

our bird bath

As I reached about 1/4 the way to work, I started hearing loud cracks from the tree tops. The trees were weighed down with snow that had turned to ice. Branches were falling around me. I remember thinking, “This is not good.” And then as I got just over half-way to work, I realized my face was bare. I had forgotten my glasses on the worst possible day. Within an hour of arriving at the 911 center, things were chaotic. Power lines and trees were falling all over our little county, and we had to switch to full-on emergency mode, with fire departments staffing emergency centers and all of us at dispatch working in overdrive to keep up with the calls for help.

This tree fell in our parking lot while I was at work.

I survived the rough day at work without my glasses, though the walk home was tough. At 4am I can walk in the street, but by 3pm I had some rough terrain over plow snow on the main road with traffic next to me. I’m happy to report I only fell once in thigh-deep snow. Levi and Jess were getting a little cabin fever and decided to meet up with me and we would all go get an early dinner. We had $3 in cash, so we planned to walk downtown and bus back up the hill. Throughout our fun trip downtown, I told them stories of my day and warned Levi that our power would very likely go out. Being hooked on his new Skyrim game, he was not hearing it despite all the downed power lines and dark traffic lights he had seen downtown. It turned to night as we were walking home from the bus stop, and much of the east side was in the dark. Miraculously, our power was still on when we turned the corner to our street. Levi fired up his X-Box and Jess and I turned on the TV and thanked our lucky stars for about 45 minutes before our power finally went out and stayed out for five very long days.

Jess snapped this with her phone as they quickly adapted their route to meet me

A damp Levi as we order dinner

We always talk about preparing for such emergencies, but we have accomplished very little in putting together that emergency kit. Some ways we were prepared:

  • lots of clean, warm clothes to layer on
  • plenty of blankets to keep us all warm at night (the house dropped to the 40’s, so we’re talking a lot of blankets)
  • boots, water proof hooded jackets, scarves, gloves, umbrellas, and hats
  • a functional flashlight for each of us that we were able to get to in the dark
  • lots and lots of card and board games

Ways we failed:

  • not having propane for our camp stove (though I didn’t want to create dishes anyway since we are on septic with an electric pump)
  • not being able to locate our shoe box full of candles
  • never buying those fancy hand-crank lanterns or LED lights we talked about
  • not having a stash of cash, although thankfully we didn’t need it
  • not realizing we could use the snow to refrigerate our dairy in time, although thinking of it in time to save the beer


  • standing in a line out the door at the coffee shop when the power went out and everyone moaned, followed by it turning right back on and everyone cheering
  • getting sick of take-out and packaged food by day two
  • lounging in the furniture section at Fred Meyer, enjoying the free WI-FI and keeping an eye on our cell phones as they charged in the lamp aisle
  • writing thank you letters in our heads to the inventor of baby wipes
  • stocking up on those LED lights and clicking them on and off as we went from room to room
  • walking to Big Tom’s for veggie burgers and tater tots and celebrating with the owner as he told us they had already broken their all time sales record since 1969
  • craving a warm breakfast and toasting Pop-Tarts with the creme brulee torch
  • working as a family to dig my car out of the snow as well as a car width path in our long driveway (followed by two days of Jello arms)
  • a slumber party with some of our favorite friends when the first of our three houses had power restored
  • warming up and killing time at the movies (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)
  • lots and lots of cuddling

the famous Artesian well continues to flow

Levi entertains a little girl while we all wait for the bus

the most fun card game award goes to Back to the Future

An almost 6 foot 2 inch Levi is tiny next to that monkey puzzle tree

everything is covered in icicles

seriously, everything

Capitol City

We are truly lucky that all we had were big inconveniences. I’m so glad we took care of all our pressing tree work last year. We still managed to have trees from both of our neighbor’s yards fall into ours. Thankfully they narrowly missed our house and cars. One tree landed less than an inch from my car, no exaggeration. None of our electronics were fried, and some people were without power twice as long as us. Now we just need to take this as motivation to prepare for a true disaster and actually put together that emergency kit.


Filed under family, winter

Chickens Disapprove of Snow.

The first snowfall of the season

We can happily say that winter has arrived in Olympia. The weather people are predicting a ridiculous amount of snow in the next twelve hours, which will get annoying quickly. Snowy weather around here is quite funny. Everyone forgets how to drive. The grocery store shelves are stripped bare. I think our county owns two snow plows? It’s a special time.

We took this opportunity to introduce the chickens to snow.

Chickens are like cats. They don’t really like new things. Most of the time, they hate new things. Lenora had a strong reaction to the snow, while Ramona was just stoically offended. Pepper was too busy hunting worms to be photographed.

Cold weather is a good excuse for some snuggling.

And also snowball fights.

Don’t worry, I have really bad aim so I didn’t hit any chickens. I hope you’re enjoying some winter weather, too. Send hot chocolate.



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Snow, Snow & More Snow on the Farmlette

We’re not known for our snowfall, especially this late in the year, so the past week has been an embarrassment of unwanted riches. I couldn’t get my car out of the driveway for several days, which was really fun and awesome.

The gnomes in the garden are doing their best to hold down the fort.

My heart goes out to the shivering insects.

But something tells me this might be a temporary situation.

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Sweeter than Honeycomb

The other day I told you about what’s happening in our backyard beeyard. I wanted to share a photo of the bee candy I mentioned in that post & talk about sugar cakes a bit more.

To make sugar cakes, I boiled five entire pounds of sugar for a long time with a little bit of water, heated it to hard-ball stage (250F), cooled it down to 200 F and then poured the molten sugar lava into greased paper plates. Once it cools and hardens, you can peel the plate off and feed it to the bees, or store the extras in the paper plates. (This is not a precise recipe or method, and if you need to make sugar cakes, follow along with someone who knows what they are doing. For example, this) 5 lbs of sugar made 4 cakes of bee candy.

The girls are crazy for it. They love it more than the frames of honey that I selflessly did not steal from them last fall. They are eating it like, well, like candy. The bees ate 1/2 of the first cake pretty much immediately, so I pushed a second cake into the hive on President’s Day. Since it’s started snowing in Olympia, I haven’t had a chance to check and see their progress on the second candy cake, but I’m sure they will eat through it in no time. At this rate, we are going to go through a lot of sugar before the spring nectar flow starts. Hopefully once the weather is a little warmer, the bees can move around the hive more freely & rediscover their honey stores. On one of my favorite bee keeping blogs, Honey Bee Suite, Rusty wrote recently:

The best advice I can give is this: buy sugar wherever and when it is on sale. Some places sell it in 50-pound bags which are often cheaper but harder to handle. Most stores have sales from time to time. If you stay in beekeeping you will never run out of a need for sugar.

I wish I had stocked up on sugar when the stores were having holiday baking sales. Sometimes you don’t fully understand your future needs and maybe you live in a little house that’s short on cool, dry storage options, so you don’t like to hoard things you might not use like 50 lbs of sugar. Then, you end up paying extra for sugar later. Live & learn, eh? I love how the sugar candy looks like the surface of the moon. I love to see the bees tunnel through the cake of sugar; they seem so excited about it. And now our bees have a better chance of making it in this big, crazy world. Thanks, sugar cakes.


Filed under bees, winter

With Bells On

We’re celebrating early because Krista is working tomorrow. It’s our second Christmas in our house! Our holiday theme this year is dinosaurs. We spent a lot of time with an origami dino book from the library, and scoured the thrift stores for dino figures to drill holes in. It turns out I do *not* have a talent for origami dinosaurs, but Levi is quite good at it. I found a t-rex puzzle at Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe in Seattle & gave it to Krista. She assembled it, then made an origami scarf to keep his fossilized neck warm.

We made new stockings for everyone in the family this year. I sewed the stockings. Krista is the decorator & stylist. I love them.

We use cloth gift wrap for all gifting occasions in our house, but for some reason I got obsessed with brown kraft paper this year and bought a roll. Krista is an amazing wrap artist and it was excellent to see what her creative imagination produced. All discarded material in the house is eligible for re-purposing in wrapping.

We totally spoiled each other, reflected on how fortunate we are to be together and have everything we have. Krista & I slow-danced to the Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers Christmas album, Once Upon a Christmas. The dogs dragged bones out of their stockings, Levi dragged chocolate out of his stocking, the cats dragged the catnip out of their stocking. Actually, it’s too generous to describe the cats’ behavior as “participating” in the stocking un-stuffing, but they enjoy the ‘nip.

It’s always nice to have a day off for food, family & gift-giving, don’t get me wrong, but this is an extra good Christmas. My heart is so happy & full. And as icing on the enormous cake of luck and good fortunate, here’s Levi’s epic official Christmas portrait. Happy Holidays from the Whig Party!

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Queen Pest, our Serene Consort

The bees are tucked in for the winter, taking the occasional cleansing flight when the weather breaks. My biggest concern is the moisture in the hive. Days of rain turn into weeks of rain, and then the damp settles in, bringing mold, fungus, and their ilk. Bees can handle a good deal of cold weather, but the moisture is terrible. It’s enough to make me move to California.

Last weekend, I had a scare with the hive, though. I thought there were small hive beetles taking over! SHB have not been seen in Washington yet, but it seems like a matter of time since they can hitchhike with migratory bees. Anyway, I read up on SHB and looked at a few hundred gross beetle photos. I was just being paranoid. The beetles I found are nothing like SHB. These are beetles and they are on a hive, but they are larger than SHB and they look completely different.

Our beetles:

Small Hive Beetle:

I spotted a few varroa mites in the varroa drawer of the hive. I haven’t seen any adult mites in months on these bees, so that was a nasty surprise. It’s not an ideal time to treat the bees or do much in the hive, so I’m going to be patient for now, and plan to be super proactive about the mites when the weather is more favorable. My beekeeping goal for the year is to successfully overwinter my hive. That’s my main focus. I didn’t take any honey from the bees in the fall, so hopefully they will have plenty of food to see them through to the first spring blossoms. Please send good, hopeful, strong, healthy thoughts for the ladies!


Filed under bees, urban farming, winter

Winter things in the garden

I planted garlic last weekend. The local gardeners say to plant your garlic in October, but I’m always behind. At least I got it in the ground this year! If all goes well, we’ll be harvesting two hardnecks (spanish roja, german red hardneck) and a Washington heirloom red softneck garlic sometime next summer. I got all the seed garlic at Gordon’s Garden Center in Yelm, WA. Since Blacklake Organic is closing at the end of the month (SO SAD!!!), I predict there will be a lot more trips to Gordon’s in my future.

I decided to try to grow garlic for a couple of reasons. First, I love varieties of garlic. The cloves are different colors and the flavors are different. At the grocery store, I can only buy one type of garlic. We love it, but variety is the spice of life. Garlic is not a huge part of our budget, but we do eat it often and could save money by growing it ourselves organically. Finally, perhaps most importantly, I’ve heard that deer don’t care much for garlic. The local deer population has left my leeks alone in the front yard, while devouring the open buffet of cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes. They even eat hot peppers right off the plant before they are ripe. So, I planted most of the front yard with garlic!

This winter is about as weird as the summer weather was. The plants are confused. My contorted filbert is creating its male flowers, even though they shouldn’t come out until March. The lilacs are budding out, too. If we get another cold freeze, its’ going to kill all these buds. It’s still early December, so it seems likely we’re going to get more hard freezing weather. My fingers are crossed for all these plants.

We still have leeks & kale in the garden, but everything else has finished for the year. I think of January as the time for seed catalogs & planning the new garden, but that’s just right around the corner! I’m not ready yet! We still have leeks outside, so it can’t possibly be time to start the 2011 leek seedlings, can it? One trip around the sun blends into the next.

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It snowed. We’ve been trapped in the house for several days, but mostly we have avoided cabin fever by re-arranging our furniture and pretending we went somewhere else. Monday was the last time we could get the cars out of the driveway, but we have had a few short walking/bus trips to the grocery store and hardware store for things like, you know, Thanksgiving dinner ingredients, and hardware to finish some house projects. Krista has been redecorating our bedroom, which is awesome, but there is always a need for a particular kind of screw or washer or fastener or putty.

Regardless, the snow was a sweetly timed reminder to slow down and admire the season.

Here’s our kale, hanging on in the freezer section.

Here’s our beehive. Don’t worry, it’s like 90 degrees in there. The girls are cozy.

The pups are not really appreciative of the snow. Their little paws get so cold.

This was a particularly shocking snowstorm for me. I was in Oklahoma & Texas for a few days, where it was 75 degrees. When I got to the Seattle airport, it was snowing! What a shocking “welcome home” present!


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Raintree Nursery

In the long last gasping gray days of winter, there is nothing better for your spirits than a visit to a plant nursery. This is the time between the excitement of seed catalogs and putting out your seedlings. So, Sunday afternoon I set out to the Raintree Nursery in southwest Washington, near(ish) Mt St Helens & the Snoqualmie National Forest. I made my shopping list, checked it twice and packed the car with all the provisions it takes for me to travel an hour and a half (mostly, I require coffee and the car requires gasoline).

The entry to the nursery has a lovely stand of bamboo that I was jealous of. Krista & I have discussed adding bamboo to our backyard to muffle traffic noise, but I think will get around to it, oh, around 2033.

This is the retail greenhouse that is open to customers – there are many other greenhouses for staff only. It’s so warm in here. There are thankfully benches so you can rest for a second.

I really loved this container of sepervivum but I don’t think it was for sale. I looked for a price tag. Don’t you want to pet the carpet of moss growing on the pot? It’s so soft.

There is a tropical room inside the greenhouse. It’s even warmer than the main room. It’s full of banana trees (below), stevia plants, and all kinds of other delightful tropical things that are Indoor Pets in the PNW.

There were no citrus plants, even though Raintree sells them. They drop ship their citrus from other growers. It’s understandable – I doubt it’s easy to maintain healthy citrus in the PNW – but it also makes me think I shouldn’t get a lemon tree. If professional nursery people can’t easily grow them in a warm greenhouse, what chance do I have in my frigid house?

I also geeked out on a Belgian fence made from a variety of fruit trees, 15-year old apple trees made into horizontal espaliers, and trellises of kiwis and grapes. The best part was smelling all the blossoms on the fruit trees. The apricots & plums were going full-force, and it was delicious.

I brought home 10 raspberries, 2 blueberries, and 50 strawberry plants. Most of them are dormant, bare root, straight out of cold storage, so they are living in the fridge until I have time to get them in the ground…. hopefully soon! I didn’t take any photos of my loot because it looks like a pile of sticks packed in sawdust, and no one thinks that is interesting, not even me.


Filed under garden, urban farming, winter

Mason Bees

After months of anticipation, this weekend I decided it was time to hang out the mason bees. These tiny, non-stinging native bees are the earliest pollinators around here. (correction: mason bees *can* sting, but they rarely do, unless you step on them or squeeze them, and then maybe you deserve it?) They’re only active for a few months – usually March, April, May, and barely into June – but they play a really critical role before all the other pollinator species reach critical mass in the spring.

It’s been unseasonably warm, and all the plum and cherry trees appear to be blooming. Even though it’s technically still winter for another three weeks, I’m hoping we avoid more solid cold freezes. (isn’t everyone?) Our last freeze date is technically Mother’s Day – seems like that is a million years in the future. It’s a good thing, too, because I haven’t started a single seed yet.

I pulled the bees out of the fridge where they’ve been sleeping for the past few months. They are packed in cocoons, which are protected by the walls of mud their mother built last summer back when they lived in Oregon, before they were delivered to me in the mail. This keeps them safe from a variety of things, predators, extreme weather, forgotten leftover food growing colonies of aliens in the back of our fridge, etc.

I nestled the straws of cocoons into the Royal House. This will keep them fairly well protected and dry until they break out of the mud walls.

I had a little help from the Chihuahua division of the Mason Bee Inspector Society. She hates it when I put her on top of the rain barrel, can you tell?

I attached the adorable yellow front, which protects from predators like wood peckers. Then I hung the Royal House a little above my head, so we can see the bees coming and going. Now, we wait for them to come out, start pollinating, and create the next generation of bees.


Filed under bees, urban farming, winter