The Beekeeper’s Quilt – A Labor of Self-Care

In December of 2018 my marriage, like so many others, ended in a very painful fashion. After 32 years I was adrift and unsure where my life was headed. I was facing an uncertain financial status, and the challenge of self-sufficiency. About that time I began work on my most ambitious knitting project to date – The Beekeeper’s Quilt. Its progression and mine became deeply intertwined. https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/the-beekeepers-quilt Those familiar with this pattern know it takes time. So does healing, stitch by stitch. It seemed the perfect project for my fragile state. So I purchased a few skeins of fingering weight yarn in yummy hand-dyed merino and began.

The Queen Bees

As I completed a few hexipuffs, I began to embellish some with queen bees because they felt empowering. My husband and I filed a separation agreement, and put the house up for sale. I needed a plan to move forward. The pile of hexipuffs began to grow.

Multiple Hexipuffs

I would lay them out in various arrangements, trying to find a pattern that felt right. I work in horticulture and I began to see flowers emerging, perhaps because my mind trends in that direction. It felt right. I began to look for a little house of my own with enough land for gardens.

The garden of hexipuffs grew.

And grew…

But then problems emerged. I could not find the right house, and the way I was grouping the flowers was not leaving a defined edge. I began to fear disorder and instability. I needed to widen my search, and open my mind. At last I found a little house on a bit of land in Chapel Hill. It was small, neat, well restored, and affordable. I fell in love with it, and when I moved in, the blanket pattern began to coalesce. I studied the various patterns around me: china, fabric, rugs. The challenge was spacing so that I could get a repeating edge pattern. A rug provided the guide I needed.

The flowers did not need to be jammed right up against each other, they needed space, light, separation – just like I did. With the right spacing a diamond pattern began to form. I chose natural, un-dyed wool to fill the gaps and bring in the light. Outside, my real garden began to grow. My dearest friends showed up one Saturday with plants from their gardens. They helped me form beds, haul beautiful, rich soil, and plant their plants and mine. The garden now had paeonies, iris, hostas, ferns, heucheras, alstroemerias, colocasias, columbines, viburnums, sarcococca, and a fig tree. As the season wore on, I added a large vegetable garden and a compost bin. Fall brought a ginkgo, a persimmon, and 2 peach trees. Change was happening, and as my garden grew, so did my strength and my confidence. And I kept knitting. Lucy Lou, the knittin’ kitten, tried to help.

I now had over 800 hexipuffs and the end was in sight, but I knew it would take more than the year I had estimated. I needed about 400 more hexipuffs. Don’t ask me how much I spent on yarn. I cannot resist the yummy multi-colored yarns from Miss Bab’s, LaJolla, Malabrigo, Hedgehog Fibres, and the many locally dyed yarns I picked up in my travels. I found some lovely yarns on Knit Picks, too. Chalk it up to therapy. I took money from my food budget when necessary. It was worth it. As the pile of hexipuffs neared completion, and I began to piece together diamond-shaped segments, my mind sharpened, my strength increased, and I began to find joy again. Things literally fell into place in the blanket and in my life. I became self-sufficient. I could do this! I joined a local knitting group, moved my parents in with me so I could care for them as they aged, and I began to venture out more. I was becoming one, becoming whole, healing. Of course there were setbacks, but on the whole I was progressing nicely and so was the blanket.

It’s not finished yet, and neither am I. We are both a work in progress. I will post a finished photo when the blanket is done, but it could be a while…

Holey Grail Scarf

Are you on a quest for the perfect accessory? Something warm with an artistic flair? Search no further – the Holey Grail Scarf is here! 

Bernie knows that when the scarf goes on, it’s time for a walk!


The Holey Grail Scarf combines luxurious texture and color in knitting, with some simple embroidery to finish the look. I get more compliments on this scarf than on any other (and as a knitting addict I have LOTS of scarfs!) Look for the pattern in my Ravelry store.   https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/the-holey-grail-scarf

Visiting Seeds of Durham

The seasonal nature of agriculture allows me to venture out in the slower months and see what others are doing in the community to share their knowledge and encourage a new generation of gardeners. Today I dropped by Seeds of Durham to tour their facility, and I was very excited by the program! 

 “Founded in 1994, SEEDS is a two-acre urban garden and kitchen classroom in the heart of Durham. SEEDS develops the capacity of young people to respect life, the earth, and each other through growing, cooking, and sharing food.”

Garden Manager Trevor Hyde encouraged me to walk through the gardens. It is a very welcoming space with a surprise around every corner. 

Classroom and Kitchen

They have paid respect to the natural topography, adding terraced beds and meandering paths with gentle steps where needed. The outdoor classroom and kitchen/dining space sits at an upper corner with a view of the sloped gardens, the chicken enclosure, and the water feature. It’s a warm, inviting and colorful space. 

Terraced garden beds
Beds of winter greens

Even in December, the gardens were flourishing and the chickens were plump and happy…running over to greet me.

Friendly Chickens!

Seeds is teaching children what can be grown in the city in limited space, how to prepare fresh produce, and how to eat healthy. In the era of the farm-to-table movement, this knowledge will be invaluable as this young generation enters the job market and sets up homes of their own. Perhaps some will be inspired to become chefs, farmers, educators…

I believe that all the children who are fortunate enough to experience this program will take away an appreciation for the garden and for healthy living. If you are looking for a good non-profit to support, I strongly encourage you to consider Seeds of Durham.

Moved In and Sodded!

I’ve told my dear husband that this was my last move, and they will have to take me out of this house feet first in a pine box. Moving is no fun, and I am too old for this nonsense. Now that we are settled in, my focus will be on the yard.

The Tif-Tuf Bermuda sod has arrived (Thank you, Super-Sod!) and been laid down dormant. That’s right…dormant. Don’t worry. It will be just fine. Some warm season grasses, like Tif-Tuf and Zenith Zoysia, can be laid dormant. Others cannot. If you are laying dormant sod, please check with your sod professionals to be sure you choose a variety that will be successful in your zone. Timing is everything!

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Ice and snow soon followed, along with single digit temperatures, but the sod loves the slow drip of water from the melting winter precipitation, and the temperatures are right back to southern normal after the brief cold snap.

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Dan Ryan Builders gave us some pretty decent plants. We have a Red Oak, a Crepe Myrtle, 3 Drift Roses, 3 Loropetalum and a Thuja ‘Emerald’. The Compacta Hollies will be re-homed. The others will be worked into my plan somewhere.

Brodgen 6Of course I am planning a major landscape renovation. I sit in front of the fire with a glass of wine and my knitting, and dream of terraces, stone walls, pollinator gardens, vegetable and herb gardens, Japanese Maples, Hostas, Hydrangeas, Camellias… Stay tuned – spring is coming!

1918 Brodgen

 

Mitered Star Pillow – Knitting Pattern

What does this gardener do when the temps are below freezing? Knit! OK, I knit in warm weather too. In fact, knitting rivals gardening in my list of obsessions. I have made several mitered square blankets and shawls in the past couple of years, but recently I designed a mitered star that works well as a pillow. A smaller version can be a Christmas decoration, or hang many of them for a mobile for the nursery. Have fun using only one color, or a variety of hand dyed yarns. My favorite is Miss Babs. I am addicted to her colorways. You can find the pattern below, or on Ravelry. Happy knitting! I’d love to see your results. Send me pics!

Star Pillow

For large pillow:
Cast on 72 stitches and work in garter stitch in basic mitered square*, changing colors as you like or keeping it all one color. If you know how to make a mitered square, this is the same idea except that you make a fifth square. It really is that easy!

* Cast on 72 stitches, placing a marker after stitch #36. Then knitting every row, on right side knit to 2 stitches before the marker, slip-slip-knit, move marker to other needle and K2tog, knit to end. Wrong side row simply knit. When only 2 stitches are left on your needle, cast off.

To make the next square, pick up 36 stitches along one cast-on edge of the first square, place marker, and cast on 36 more stitches. Repeat pattern above. Do this 3 times. For the 5th and final square, pick up 36 stitches on the cast-on edge of your last square and 36 from your first square. Repeat the main pattern. Voila! You have one star! Make one more, and then sew them together inside out, leaving one length open. Turn the pillow right side out and stuff with batting. Sew the final edge. Add a large decorative button in the center on both sides and you are done!

Blanket

The Dirt on NC Soil

When I moved to North Carolina from Massachusetts in 1993, I was eager to start planting. I had heard how many more varieties of plants could be grown here than in Zone 4, including warm season grasses, and I could not wait to get my hands in the soil. So you can imagine my surprise when, after great effort, I came up with a shovel full of red clay and rock. I wondered how anything grows here! I sought out the advice of local experts, and began the hard work of amending my soil. After 24 years of soil building, resulting in beautiful, rich, black dirt … we decided to move. We chose to build in Durham and I took a soil sample from the new lot. The test results are the 2nd worst I have seen in 20 years in NC horticulture.

To test your own soil, take core plugs from several spots in the yard and mix them together to get an overall sample. Or you can take several plugs per area (lawn, vegetable garden, etc.). A soil probe is a helpful tool for taking core samples. For each sample you will need about 3/4 of a sandwich baggie. The NC Department of Agriculture  offers free soil testing most of the year, charging a small fee December through March. Bring your sample to the lab in Raleigh and they will give you a form and a box to submit your sample. Results are emailed to you in about 2 weeks. Outside NC, check with your state agriculture department.

The NC report will look like this: Soil Test Report

Over the years I have performed hundreds of soil tests on my clients’ yards. The most telling number on those tests is the HM% – the percentage of Humus Matter (organic matter) in the soil. Ideal is 5%, but in my 20 years in the horticulture industry in NC, I have yet to see one above 1%. The average is 0.46%. Mine is 0.04%. Pitiful.

The pH is another important number. The form you fill out will ask what is being grown in the area sampled. I wrote  TifTuf Bermuda because that is what I intend to use for my lawn. I will (of course) also be planting perennials, trees, shrubs, vegetables, herbs, hops… but I digress. Ideal pH for most lawns (not Centipede) is 5.8-6.5 and, as you can see above, mine is 5.3. The lab recommends I add 80 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet. That is a lot of lime. I have work to do.

The solution to poor soil quality is soil building. In the Triangle, our native soil has the following layers: gray clay, red clay, and if you are lucky, a bit of organic matter on top. Most new construction is missing that important top layer. Nature builds soil in these layers, so for best results we should imitate Nature.

To remedy a lack of organic matter,  work compost into new beds and continue to amend your soil by adding a layer of compost yearly. I highly recommend Super-Sod’s Soil3 compost. One cubic yard comes in the signature BigYellowBag and can be delivered to your home! Soil3 is made from grass clippings, wheat straw and cow manure. It is inoculated with mycorrhizae and other beneficial organisms, and turned regularly to maintain a temperature of 160 degrees. The result is rich, humus compost that is OMRI  listed for use in organic vegetable gardens.

There are other important numbers to note on the soil report. The lab tests available Phosphorous and Potassium in the soil, but not Nitrogen because it is too unstable and the results will not be reliable. Under “N-P-K Fertilizer Recommendations” they will tell you how much fertilizer to add. Be sure to do this at the correct time of year for the plants you are growing. CEC measures the soil’s ability to absorb and release nutrients to the plant roots. Ideal CEC is 15+. High levels  of zinc, copper and manganese can be problematic as well. Be sure to read the Agronomist’s comments to see if further action is needed.

We move in to our new home at the end of December, and I will begin shortly thereafter improving my soil. I will start with a dump truck load of 50/50 topsoil/compost, and then top-dress annually with Soil3.  It will be a long process, but the results are well worth the effort. I will keep my readers updated as the new landscape develops. Happy gardening!

Top 10 NC Sod Questions…Answered

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I work for Super-Sod, one of the top sod producers in the Southeast. As in any industry, we get the same questions over and over. And they are really good questions! I’ve compiled our top ten and shared my answers, with valuable input and editing from my co-workers, to help you choose the best sod for your landscape.

1. Which is the best sod for central NC?

We live in a macro-climate (overall geographic area) that allows us to grow nearly any sod variety with some degree of success. In general, warm season grasses are best because North Carolina is a warm season state. We have great success with Bermuda and Zoysia grasses! Centipede does well in full sun and well-drained conditions, however it is the least cold tolerant of the grasses we offer and is the most likely to come out of winter with winter-kill damage.

The variety that is best for you is much more dependent on your micro-climate (specific site conditions). Tall Fescue can be a challenge because it is a cool season grass, but it is our most shade tolerant option. Common practice is to over-seed Tall Fescue lawns every fall to help replenish any areas that may have struggled from disease and drought over the summer. Different Bermudas and Zoysias have different shade tolerances.

2. What is the best time to lay sod?

That depends on the sod. Ideal timing for each sod is listed below.

May 1 – September 1: Zoysia, Bermuda and Centipede

October 1 – March 1: Fescue

Exceptions:  TifTuf Bermuda and Zenith Zoysia can be installed year-round, but when laid outside their ideal timing, the seams may not close completely until warm weather.

3. Which sod holds up best to kid or dog traffic?

That’s easy. TifTuf Bermuda! Just make sure you have enough sun.

4. How do I determine how much sun I’m getting?

Most smart phones have a compass. Stand in the area you plan to sod and face North using the compass. In summer the sun will be straight overhead, and the rest of the year it will drop back into the Southern hemisphere. Imagine the sky is a clock. Start in the East and track the open “hours” in the sky/clock moving to the West. Those are the hours you will have full sun. It will change as the seasons change. There are Sun Tracker apps that make this even easier.

5. How do I measure square footage?

With a perfectly rectangular lawn, this is easy – multiply length by width. But few of us have perfectly rectangular lawns. With irregular shapes, first take length measurements every 6-10 paces (keep the number of paces consistent) and average the results. Then repeat this process with width measurements. Multiply the average length by the average width and you will have a fairly accurate square footage. Measuring wheels are more accurate than measuring tapes.

6. How many square feet are on a sod pallet? How many square feet per roll?

Each Super-Sod pallet covers 500 square feet. Each roll measures 2’x5’ or 10 square feet. There are 50 rolls per pallet. From time to time, Emerald Zoysia and Leisure Time Zoysia can come in slabs measuring 18” x 24”, but the pallet coverage is the same 500 square feet. Other sod suppliers may have different standards. Make sure you ask!

7. Is seed available for each sod variety?

No. Most hybrid sod varieties are sterile. The seed they produce is not viable. Super-Sod has seed available for Elite Tall Fescue, TifBlair Centipede and Zenith Zoysia only. Common Bermuda seed is available, but none of our hybrid Bermudas produce viable seed.

8. Can I combine sod varieties in my yard?

Many clients have different micro-climates in their yards. Your front yard may be full sun but the back is quite shady. You may need to choose different sod varieties for these different areas. Please keep in mind that if you have a cool season lawn area and a warm season lawn area, you will need to fertilize these areas at different times of year and mow them at different heights. Blowing out the under-carriage of the mower between mowing different areas can help decrease cross-contamination. We do not recommend mixing sod varieties in one area. One will eventually dominate the other.

9. Should I over-seed warm season sod with annual rye to have color in the winter?

No. Rye is a vertical grower and warm season grasses grow horizontally. The rye will shade out the warm season grass in those winter months when hours of sunlight are already more scarce. Plus the rye will be competing for root space and soil nutrients, which makes for a slow and unsightly transition out of dormancy for your warm season grass.

10. Which sods are evergreen?

Technically only Tall Fescue stays green year-round, but in reality it is very hard to keep Fescue healthy during the hot, dry months of summer. Every plant has its seasons. Deciduous trees lose leaves for winter dormancy. Warm season grasses go dormant for winter as well. Fescue’s “ugly” season is summer. My advice is to embrace the seasonal changes.

Still have questions? Super-Sod has more answers.

Letting Go of Your Garden

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I have been tending my Personal Eden for 24 years. It started as a brand new lot on 1/3 of an acre in a subdivision in Cary, NC. It was a flat, nondescript corner lot. There were a few skinny pines in the front yard and a wooded area in back with pines and sweet gums. A few “builder bushes” lined the front foundation, but that was it. Not much to look at, but I saw potential.

I started with a few beds around the side and back foundation, and right away I learned that my soil was very poor. So each new bed was mounded with added topsoil and compost. I started small, but soon I began to work about half the property. I left woods in back and along the road as a buffer, and as a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife. I left a side lawn for my kids at first, but beds soon began to encroach there too.

Our whole family loves to be outdoors, so I added entertaining spaces in the form of outdoor rooms. I’m a fan of out-buildings and structural landscaping elements, so we transformed a kids’ fort into an outdoor bar/potting shed, added a pergola over the dining patio (one of two patios we built), an entry arbor, and an arbor swing. The fire pit became the center of evening activity. My son Jack helped design a waterfall and small pond that added sound and attracted more wildlife. A rain garden was added to absorb run-off. And stone walls – lots of stone walls! My son Tim added a flagstone path around the side of the house that wound through the vegetable beds. But those beds did not provide nearly enough room for all the edibles I wanted, so I began incorporating edibles in my ornamental beds. Because we spent so much time around the fire pit, we hired Southern Lights to add landscape lighting to the back yard.

The pines and sweet gums did not provide nearly the tree diversity I sought, so I added a ‘Little Gem’ Magnolia, a few Crepe Myrtles, 2 Beech Trees, a weeping Styrax, a ‘Silver Cloud’ Redbud, a Vitex, a Dawn Redwood, a Skylands Oriental Spruce, a Red Maple, an Okame Cherry and 9 Japanese Maples. (I think that’s all, but maybe not…) I won’t overwhelm you by naming every shrub, perennial, herb and vegetable I grow, but suffice it to say I could fund a long trip to Europe with the money spent on plants.

And now, after all this work, all this love and care, I have said goodbye to my Personal Eden. We have decided to downsize and invite my aging parents to come live with us. We don’t have a downstairs bedroom, so we are building a new home that meets our needs. Financially, it makes good sense. But it is hard to leave the home and garden I have tended for 24 years. Two beloved family cats are buried in the garden. Countless parties and family gatherings have been hosted here. I have shaped each Japanese Maple and pruned each rose bush over 20 times. I hope the new homeowner will love it as much as I have, but my fear is that they will tear everything out and cut down the trees. The birds will leave, as will the rabbits and the squirrels. When I drive past as I visit friends in the neighborhood, I fear my heart will break. My real estate agent has told me a buyer could see the landscape as an asset or a liability. I can only hope it’s the former.

But I have to let go. Transitions are a part of life. I know I can take on another landscape and make it thrive. At my age, I may not see as much growth in the trees, but I will enjoy each year’s growth.

To the new owner of my Personal Eden, I hope you will see the beauty and the value in your new garden, and take loving care of it. I hope your family has parties around the fire pit and your children climb the trees. I hope you take time to swing under the arbor, and cut Edgeworthia and Viburnum to bring their heady fragrance inside. I wish you a lifetime of happy memories. I know I will cherish mine. Forgive me if I dig up a couple Japanese Maples before I leave. And my mother’s Irises. And some Comfrey from the medicinal garden. And…

Go For A Walk

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Outside jobs have some wonderful mental health benefits. While I do spend about half my time in my office, the hours spent in the great outdoors are my favorite, and I go to water every opportunity I get. There’s a pond behind the store that is one of my favorite views and daily destinations. The pond is man-made, and serves as a water source for the plants on site, but it also provides a home for a wide variety of birds. I have spotted great blue herons, Canada geese, cormorants and several varieties of ducks. Mr. Feathers takes daily strolls along the edge of the pond.

mr-feathers

On beautiful days like today, 60 degrees in January, we throw open the barn door and everyone who enters the store gets a water view. Fresh air and sunshine for all!

pond-view

I’ve always been drawn to water, sometimes urgently. When I feel the need to escape, I head to the beach. I know I’m not unique in this. Having a body of water at work is such a luxury!

We need to reconnect to the four basic elements – earth, air, fire and water – as often as possible. So go take a walk! It’s a beautiful day.

Bee Downtown keeps the Triangle Buzzing

We cannot survive without bees. No bees, no food. We ignore this relationship at our own peril. Central North Carolina has a couple of hive-minded organizations that recognize the urgency of maintaining a healthy bee population – Bee Better and Bee Downtown. I have volunteered for events sponsored by both organizations, and I highly recommend them both.

In December, I spent an afternoon at the Interfaith Food Shuttle’s Geer Street Learning Garden, planting fruit trees, herbs and perennials that attract pollinators. The Geer Street Learning Garden is part of the Interfaith Food Shuttle’s effort to bring fresh vegetables, and the knowledge of how to grow them to a neighborhood that was once a food desert. The garden helps feed the hungry and educate the community, especially children, so that they can grow their own fruits and vegetables. The Durham Agricultural Manager for IFFS,  Eliza Bordley, brings creativity to the endeavor – incorporating hugelkultur, a pizza garden and a soup garden. This planting day was a joint effort between IFFS and Bee Downtown.

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“Bee Downtown installs and maintains sustainable bee communities for businesses in urban areas. Starting with one of the Nation’s fastest growing regions, the Triangle, our beekeepers work to repopulate the environment with healthy hives while providing partnering companies a one-of-a-kind green marketing opportunity.” http://www.beedowntown.org

Bee Downtown has installed hives all over the Triangle, with their most visible hive at Burt’s Bees World Headquarters at the American Tobacco Campus in Durham. They have placed hives at Bull Durham Beer Company, Capitol Broadcasting Company, and Durham Public Schools’ Hub Farm, to name a few.

What makes an organization successful? Its people. While volunteering, I met Leigh-Kathryn Bonner, the founder and CEO of Bee Downtown, and Justin Maness, their lead beekeeper. Both impressed me with their knowledge, commitment, warmth and enthusiasm.

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Super-Sod of Cary donated a BigYellowBag (one cubic yard) of OMRI listed Soil3 compost to the Geer Street Learning Garden. Personally, I welcomed the opportunity to get my hands dirty helping two local organizations do a good thing for the community. If your hands are itching to dig in the dirt and help your local community, contact one of these local organizations.