The Bright Spot

The drought persists. Somehow we missed our 73% chance of rain on Tuesday, which is more evidence that math is fake. Another reason math is fake is because I spent $800 on grass and clover seed this fall, and my truck bed still looked empty and my tires barely bulged under the payload of a few overpriced seed sacks. It’s as if numbers don’t mean anything anymore. In fact, I think my eight hundred dollars would have been more valuable as kindling for my bee smoker. I planted the seed back in early September and it has yet to germinate, which is possibly a blessing in disguise. Had it germinated, the seedlings would have shriveled up faster than fatback in a frying pan. There is still a chance that, given some rainfall, I can recoup my expenses by actually growing forage for cows, though at this point I’d probably have better odds of indemnification by attempting to rob a bank.  

The one bright spot in the drought is the brightness of the dying foliage. I can’t remember a year when the maples were as orange, the oaks as scarlet, and the poplars as lemony as this particular year. On more than one occasion this fall, my wife, who is much more artistically inclined than I will ever be, has gasped at the color of a roadside tree. I wouldn’t know a Monet from a Michelangelo, unless the latter was a mutant turtle, but even I can appreciate the orangeness of the maples this year. It’s as if the ground, in all its droughty drabness, is merely meant to contrast with the foliage above, to frame Mother Nature’s masterpiece. 

wide angle photo of road

Hams Don’t Lie

Desperate times call for desperate action. I’ve left my car windows down, painted an outbuilding, and even hung up a few garments on the old clothesline–just to tempt the atmosphere into relinquishing a few rain drops. The whole countryside looks drab, like someone siphoned the chlorophyll out of the pastures and hayfields. We haven’t had any substantial rain since early September. But give it a few months, and the pendulum will have probably shifted and we’ll be boarding an ark. It seems like it’s always one extreme or the other. 

Somehow, in their infinite wisdom, the folks who monitor and declare drought stages have finally found it within themselves to bestow us with an official “severe drought” designation. “Abnormally Dry,” they said for months. There will be no fall flow this year, not that that’s abnormal. Occasionally, when I was a beginning beekeeper, I heard old timers mention fall flows and hives smelly and filled with goldenrod and aster honey. We still get the smelly socks aroma from traces of aster nectar, but a hive bursting with fall honey is about as rare as a raindrop these days. In the thirteen years I’ve been keeping bees, I don’t think I’ve ever had a fall flow that fills supers. 

Ten years ago, we bought the old farmhouse. My wife’s grandfather, who was born in the house, is eighty-five and likes to tell stories about the olden days when the family had hog killings in January, bled carcasses on the branch of a mammoth barnyard oak, and hung hams in the smokehouse. Eventually, they quit raising hogs because they were losing too many hams in the winter due to warm spells. 

Hams don’t lie, I suppose, and neither do honey supers. The climate is changing. And the landscape is too. Housing developments are spreading faster than kudzu, and as much as I can’t begrudge people a place to live (I guess everyone can’t live in a house built in 1897), I don’t like it much either, just like I don’t like 85 ℉ days at the end of October. 

Sometimes I wish I could have seen the countryside in its prime, back when it was dotted with farmsteads, not sprawling developments named after farms. Having tried my fair share of farming schemes, I’m not naive enough to believe it was a better or easier time, but I’d like to think it was a slower time when things didn’t change quite so fast. Or maybe change has stayed the same, and I’m just getting older and time is speeding up. Either way I don’t like it. I wish it would stop.

Sultry Sunflowers

Recently we’ve had plenty of rain and wind, even tornadoes, in our area, and last week the sun disappeared altogether. This week the sun is predicted to return, but I’m ready for the return of sunflowers and the warm weather that accompanies them.

Last year, Natalie and I planted sunflowers for the first time and found them very easy to grow. In fact, the sunflower seeds we planted came out of a bird seed mix, and they germinated and grew quickly. Once, I read in some gardening book that you should always plant sunflowers in your field to act as a watering gauge. If the sunflowers start wilting, other crops will soon follow.

Garden box sunflowers

We planted our sunflowers in a garden box facing south where they received the hottest afternoon sun. Even in the heat, they were slow to wilt and seemed to thrive without much extra water, so I don’t know— maybe sunflowers aren’t the best watering gauges.

I do know that our sunflowers were a big hit with gold finches and bees. The gold finches would often eat the seeds hanging upside down on the flower head. Although I saw a few honeybees on the sunflowers, they seemed more popular with a small brown and yellow bees. At any one time, fifty of these little bees might be gathering pollen and nectar off of the same sunflower head.

There’s an online project called the Great Sunflower Project ( in which you’re supposed to count the number of bees, during a fifteen minute timespan, that you see on a sunflower each month. This year, I think I’ll do that. It will be interesting to see if my new honeybee colonies work the sunflowers like the little native bees did. I’m going to plant a lot more sunflowers this year, so hopefully there will be enough pollen and nectar to go around.  I saved the seeds from last year’s sunflowers, and I’ve also ordered some new heirloom sunflowers seeds called the “The Evening Sun”:

Well, even though it’s cold outside, all this sunflower talk has at least got me thinking warm thoughts.