The Bee Queen

My wife and I hiving our first package of bees

In addition to gardening, my wife and I are beekeepers.  At least we try to be.  Our first effort was a lot of fun and we learned a lot.  Unfortunately we did not learn enough to keep the hive alive over the brutal winter.  Since we both enjoyed the bees so much, and we really liked having them in the garden, we decided to try again.  In order to increase our bee’s chances of survival, we decided to get some help.  Last night we attended a meeting of the Central Texas Beekeepers Association. 

The meeting was packed.  We were very excited to see how many people keep bees in our area.  The speaker was McCartney Taylor from Austin (  He gave a very interesting talk on top bar hives.  McCartney has the largest YouTube channel about bees on the internet. 

The yupneck and the 2011 Bee Queen, Kaylynn Mansker

Another special visitor was the 2011 Bee Queen, Kaylynn Mansker.  I have to admit, I was not aware that there was an annual Bee Queen.  The Bee Queen is the spokes person for the Texas Beekeepers Association.  The Texas Bee Keepers Association has been serving beekeepers in Texas since 1880.  In addition to promoting bee keeping, the association provides scholarships and sponsors the annual Bee Queen.  In her role, she travels the state and spreads the good word about beekeeping at club meetings, schools and fairs.  Kaylynn was a joy to visit with.  She is very personable, knowledgeable and a great speaker (and who can resist getting their picture made with a pretty girl).  If you want to learn more about bee keeping, the Central Texas Beekeeper’s are hosting their third annual school on March 11 in Brenham.  Here is a link if you are interested in attending:

We also met John and Wendy Rohan.  They are the owners of Rohan Meadery (  Until last night, I did not know what mead was.  Turns out, it is wine made from honey.  Many believe that mead was the first fermentated beverage enjoyed by mankind.  The Rohan’s make and sell small batch artisanal mead from their meadery in La Grange, Texas.  They use local honey that comes from Kenny and Wendy Reed of Bee Wilde Farm in Montgomery, Texas (  They also use 100% organic fruit in their flavored meads.  They brought three varieties for tasting and they were all excellent.  We cannot wait to visit the meadery and load up.  If you are in the La Grange area, stop by “The Hive” (their tasting room), take a tour and try their mead.  I promise, you will thank me for telling you about them.

Weed Free-Organically

The cover of this month's Texas Gardener magazine. In it you will find my first "published" piece, "Weed Free-Organically".

Well, this is a banner day for the yupneck.  My first published piece came out today in Texas Gardener magazine (  My article is entitled “Weed Free-Organically”.  It is a pretty in-depth piece on controlling weeds in your flower beds and vegetable gardens without the use of chemicals.  Of course my wife, kids and mother think it is the best thing they have ever read.  I hope you buy a copy and let me know if you agree with them.  It will be available on news stands by February 28th and also on the web around the same time.

Texas Gardener is the second largest gardening magazine in Texas.  It was started in 1981 by Chris Corby in Waco, Texas.  For thirty years now he has been providing gardening advice to Texas gardeners by Texas gardeners.  Chris has built an impressive stable of very well-respected garden writers.  Their articles provide invaluable tips and tricks for growing things in the wildly variable and difficult Texas climate.  This month, he is doing a special promotion with the garden centers in over two hundred Texas Wal-Marts.  Look for your copy at the check out stand.  You can also find copies wherever magazines are sold.

When I started my master’s degree at A&M, I had no idea what I would do with it.  Thanks to some prodding and encouragement by some very special people, I may have found my niche.  Seeing my work in print is very exciting.  I am humbled to know that some people think that other’s might actually enjoy reading the things I write.  I would like to say a special thanks to my wife.  Without her encouragement, none of this would have happened.   I would also like to thank Cynthia Mueller for asking me to write for HortUpdate (  That first potager piece led to my blog and now this.  Also many thanks to Dr.  Bill Welch and Dr. Doug Welsh for their support and encouragement.  My son-in-law, Ramez Antoun is a very talented photographer.  His photos made this article and my blog come alive.  Thanks Moose!  And finally, thanks to my kids.  You always read what I write.  And even if you think it is boring, you never let it show!  I love you all!

Going Green For God

Kate is thinning the carrots in the St. Paul's organic garden

How do you get a bunch of second grade students excited about science?  If you are Sally White, you have them grow an organic vegetable garden.  Sally is the second grade teacher at St. Paul’s Christian Day School in Brenham.  She is also an avid gardener.  Each year, as a part of her science curriculum, she introduces her students to several plant related concepts.  She then uses the hands on experience of the garden to reinforce those concepts.   She calls her program “Going Green for God”.  According to Sally “The kids love getting their hands dirty.  The garden provides a way for me to get their initial interest level up and maintain it through out the year by constant visits to observe and document the changes in the garden.”

Sally built a raised bed garden at the school based on Mel Barthalomew’s square foot gardening methods.  Her garden is an 8’ X 3’ raised bed with a trellis on the back.  Each year her class plants both a fall and a spring garden.  The kids get to plan their garden by selecting the appropriate plants for the appropriate season.  This exercise in planning reinforces lessons learned about seasonality and helps develop their graphing skills.  The kids are responsible for all of the care of the garden.  They water, compost, weed and harvest. This fall, her class has harvested broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and lettuce.  Spring plantings include carrots, lettuces, cucumbers and tomatoes.  This year, she will be adding potatoes to the mix.

Sally's class harvesting the fall garden

Sally also uses her garden to demonstrate and reinforce the Christian principle of stewardship.  She teaches her students to be good stewards of God’s creation by caring for the garden with organic methods.  Compost is a big part of this.  She teaches kids about the processes involved in making compost and the value that it provides to the soil and ultimately the plants.  Her compost lectures are always a hit.  The kids love the fact that they can make something good out of “cow poo and garbage”!  The compost lesson is reinforced before each planting when the kids add compost to the planting bed to “recharge” their soil.  Good stewardship also means learning to live by the “waste not, want not” motto.  Nothing grown in their garden goes to waste.  The lunch staff often prepares the vegetables for the kids or the kids are allowed to take home the fresh produce.  The greens and foliage go into her compost pile.

Our world is going through a lot of changes right now.  Things like climate change and overpopulation are serious threats to the future of our planet.  Kids across our world are going to grow up in a world that has much fewer certainties than the world their parents grew up in.  By teaching her kids to be concerned, self reliant, good stewards of the earth, she hopes that she is “growing” a huge crop of great kids that will be a positive force on our future.

Bulb Hunting

This past Wednesday, I got a signed copy of Chris Wiesinger’s new book “Heirloom Bulbs for Today” from my friend Dr. Bill Welch.  Chris is the owner of the Southern Bulb Company and a true “Master of Horticulture”.  Since graduating from A&M he has quickly established himself as the leading expert on Southern heirloom bulbs.  His book is packed full of useful information about many of the heirloom bulbs that do really well in Texas and the Gulf South.  This lovely book is as entertaining as it is useful.  It is full of wonderful anecdotes about his bulb hunting expeditions. The photographs and illustrations are both beautiful and a great source for identifying the things you may dig up from time to time.  The text also gives you all of the information you need to harvest, plant and care for these living heirlooms.  If you are interested, you can find it on Amazon.  Here is the link:

Grand Primos and Crinums at the Hueske Homestead

The timing of this book was very apropos.  Two days after receiving it, the weather was a balmy 74 degrees and I had the day off.  So, I decided to do a little bulb hunting of my own.  My wife and I are friends with a wonderful and generous woman that is the owner of an abandoned homestead. This place was the home of two sisters for almost 100 years.  Both were born in the house that still stands on the site.  The sisters were avid gardeners who loved and nurtured this piece of property for almost 80 years.  Their love of growing things is evidenced by the thousands of bulbs and corms that still bloom year round at the abandoned site.  Thanks to the generosity of my friend, I am able to go to the home site periodically and harvest bulbs.

Crinums around an old bird bath

I really cannot convey in words how many bulbs there are at this house.  Each time I visit I swear there are more bulbs there than when I last visited.  The choice is never what to harvest, it is always how much to harvest.  Today I made it easy on myself.  I brought a wheelbarrow and told myself that when it was full I would quit.

Upon my arrival, I stepped inside the gate and started digging.  The soil here is the most beautiful soil that I have ever found.  80 years of care can truly do wonders.  My shovel easily slid into this beautiful loam.  As I dug, I actually felt sorry for the bulbs that were going to have to leave this wonderful place for the hard black clay of my house.  Each turn of the shovel revealed clumps and clumps of bulbs.   After about an hour, I had harvested about 100 Grand Primo narcissus (Narcissus tazette ‘Grand Primo’) and an equal number of Oxblood Lilies (Rhodophiala bifida).  I also harvested about 50 crinums of an unknown variety. 

Time to go home

It is not really the optimal time to be gathering any of these bulbs. However, I have to harvest when my busy schedule allows.  The good thing about most of these old fashioned varieties is their hardiness.  Even though there are “better times” of the year to harvest them, you can realistically gather bulbs any time of the year.  The worst thing that usually happens if you harvest out of season is they do not bloom the first season they are transplanted.  That is a price I am willing to pay for the access to these living heirlooms. 


Like I mentioned before, there is definitely a right time to harvest bulbs.  For best results, you want to harvest (or divide) bulbs after their foliage has all died back.  This happens at different time for different bulbs. Grand Primo will bloom in late January and early February in our part of the world.  However, the foliage will stay bushy and green until June in some cases.  Bulbs need this foliage to stay in place as long as possible.  The foliage does the photosynthesis for the plant which the bulb then stores to produce next year’s blooms.  Spider Lilies (Lycoris  radiata) and  Oxblood Lilies (Rhodophiala bifida) are fall blooming bulbs that produce foliage that stays green for up to six months.  Because of this, it is a good idea to mark these bulbs so you will remember what you are digging when the time comes.


Oxbloods and Grand Primos divided and ready to plant

When you dig up your bulbs, you want to be careful and not cut them.  For that reason, dig at least six inches away from the dead clump.  I stick the entire blade of my shovel into the soil on an angle toward the bulbs.  I do this all the way around the clump.  This creates a bowl shaped hole.  Next, turn over the bowl shaped mound of dirt and start removing the soil.  You will find the bulbs in clumps.  Carefully separate the bulbs with your hands.  Try to preserve as many root as you can and discard any bulbs that are soft or damaged.

At this point you have a choice.  You can replant them immediately or you can dry and store them.  I always replant immediately.  However, if you want to save them then spread them out in the sun for a few days.  After they are dry, store them in any permeable bag.  You will want to keep them in a cool, dark, dry place until you are ready to replant or share them.


Crinums from the Hueske Homestead replanted in one of my beds

Heirloom bulbs are not too particular about how they are planted.  Basically, just get them in the ground deep enough to cover them.  One rule of thumb says that they should not be planted deeper than three bulb heights.  Corms (like iris and gladiolas) should not be planted as deep.  In fact, a lot of irises like to have the tops of their corms left exposed.  Also, some bulbs like byzantine gladiolas can be difficult to determine which end is up.  If that is the case, simply plant it sideways.

Nothing is more rewarding to me in the garden than growing things that have been shared with me.  My grand parents were all gone before I was old enough to take things from their gardens to remind me of them in mine.  However, thanks to the generosity of people I can still grow things from past gardeners who loved their plants as much as I love mine.  I am so happy to be the care taker of these heirloom bulbs that have now been passed down from two gardeners of another time to me.  I will think of these charming ladies each spring, summer and fall when the bulbs they enjoyed so long ago burst forth and brighten the time that I have left on this wonderful planet.