Food for the Bees

It’s warm out — nearly 50*F — and tomorrow it’s supposed to be nearly 70*.  Don’t be fooled, this doesn’t mean it’s spring. Here in northern Ohio, you can’t be sure spring has arrived until June, and then it’s summer.

If the sun were shining, the bees would be flying. Instead, we have rain, making this a day of dullness, dead brown leaf litter, and grey skies and trees.

To escape, I’ve turned to the gardeners’ age old remedy for February: ordering flowers, a task made challenging because we live in the woods, with not much sun filtering through.

This activity was partly motivated by the beginning beekeeping class we recently repeated, which included a segment on planting for pollinators and reminded me it was time to get started.

These days, I order for the bees, focusing primarily on early spring and late summer bloomers, and making sure to order seeds and plants from nurseries that don’t use Neonicitinoids.

Simply put, Neonicitiniods kill bees. Not immediately, but this class of chemicals kills just the same. The pesticides reduce bees’ chances of survival and affect their hygienic behavior so they don’t clean the dead from the hive as efficiently, thereby allowing illnesses to spread more quickly. Even worse, Neonics affect the queen and the hive’s ability to replace her. Without a queen to lay eggs, a hive will die. (For more detailed information on neonicitinoids, visit PBS or the Xerces Society.)

So this year, I’m asking you to please think of our bees and other pollinators (and therefore yourself) when buying plants. Stay away from those who have been treated with Neonics. Several major retailers have asked their suppliers to label plants that have been treated. This is a good start, but try to avoid plants that a retailer can’t state unequivocally haven’t been treated. Ideally, stay away from pesticides altogether if you can, by buying plants that have been grown organically.

And don’t assume because a plant that’s labeled “pollinator friendly” hasn’t been treated. Some have.

Not so friendly after all.

If you’re truly concerned about the pollinators (and our world), you might go one step further by making your garden and landscaping plans with our flying friends in mind. To make this easier, Xerces Society provides suggested plant lists for every area of the country. 100Plantscover-224x300

They’ve also published several books on the subject including this one, which my friend Lynne told me about. (Thank you, Lynne! I use it every time I order plants!) Click here if you’re interested in ordering. I don’t get a kickback or anything. I just think it’s a great book, especially because it tells what type of pollinators prefer each plant.

One of the best early spring plants for bees is Skunk Cabbage. According to Wikipedia (from where these photos are borrowed) and other sources, Skunk Cabbage actually melts the snow, generating temperatures 27–63*F above the air temperature using a process called cyanide resistant cellular respiration.

Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the earliest plants to emerge in the spring, and a valuable resource for bees.
I ordered three.

Another early plant is the Hellebore (also called Lenten Rose).


My Lenten Rose as it started to bloom last March.

Bees like Hellebores too. In truth, they probably like anything with pollen or nectar that blooms in March, but I ordered two more because I like them too.

The Figwort, Mountain Mint, Rattlesnake Master, and Virginia Bluebell seeds were just for them though.

I also bought some more Self-Heal seeds because it did well last year. The Bumblebees especially seemed to like it. See? I’m not just about the Honey Bee! In keeping with that thought I ordered seeds for two types of Milkweed to provide food for Monarch Butterflies.

We have one tiny part of our property that gets sun, and The Engineer (finally!) built a raised bed there, so I’m going to try Lavender again and Pineapple Sage along with our peppers and tomatoes. I expect the herbs will do better in amended soil in the bed rather than the hard packed clay that passes for soil in our yard. I often think we should take up pottery instead of gardening, but I think the raised bed will help.

And now, for the bee update. We checked the hive last Thursday when it was warm enough to actually take off the top cover. Here are our ladies on the inner cover, very much alive and well.IMG_3318
They have still hardly touched the (many) sugar patties we have provided (because we are — okay, I am — paranoid they’ll run out of food). They crawl around and over the sugar, but mostly ignore it. This is good news because it means they still have honey, a naturally more nutritious food. IMG_3317
We also pulled out many dead bees from the bottom of the hive. IMG_3320
The Engineer always sorts through to make sure the queen isn’t in the pile, though we couldn’t do anything if she was. There are no queens available this time of year.

On sunny days, even when it’s not very warm, the bees have taken to flying out of the hive and landing on the snow. As expected, this kills them. “Wet bees are dead bees” is a common saying among beekeepers, although the bees haven’t seemed to get the message.

One of the (many) reasons I love my husband is because he rescues them, carefully scooping the silly things up in a jelly jar, bringing them in the house, setting them in the sun until they recover, and then returning them to their home.

It’s fascinating to see them come back to life. Legs and antennae start to twitch, before they begin to move and eventually take flight, buzzing around the jar. If there are more than one, they examine each other, carefully touching antennae and wiggling their bottoms.

It’s as if they’re comparing stories.

Maybe they are.


Genealogy Fact #1: A Census Is a Beautiful Thing

To the genealogist, a census is a beautiful and useful thing.

For example, here are just a few facts I’ve gleaned from these documents.

  • My grandfather was earning a wage at thirteen.
  • My great-grandfather was a U.S. RFD contract mail delivery man.
  • The rest of my ancestors were mostly farmers, though I can also claim a few coopers, carpenters, servants and joiners.
  • My 2x great-grandfather couldn’t write.
  • The majority of my family members were born in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, and, later, West Virginia. But one was listed on three censuses as being born in three different states.

This brings me to my next point.

The census is not always accurate, and apparently, many census takers couldn’t spell. In addition, old-fashioned handwriting can be difficult to read, so indexes are not always correct. Still, if you find something repeated in enough censuses, you can probably accept it as fact.

It’s also useful to pay attention to neighbors because they were often the source of marriage partners. Say you have a great-grandfather named Andrew Warren Bird who was married to your great-grandmother Clara Olive Summers, and in earlier censuses you find a Byrd family living near a Summers family, it’s probably the right families, even if the names are spelled differently, and there is no Andrew listed. And if, a generation later, you discover that a Lang man married a Byrd woman, and his sister married a Byrd man, well, you’ll begin to realize just how small the marriage pool was. (Children of these two marriages are double-first cousins, and they share as much DNA as siblings.)

Something else you need to understand is that counties were divided to make new counties (and in the case of West Virginia, one state was divided to form two). You may discover a family that lived in Monongalia County in the 1840 census was in Marion County in 1850. And they didn’t move.

Alternatively, a family can be listed in once census, disappear entirely in the next, and reappear back in the same place in the following one.

Go figure.

Occasionally, someone appears in a completely unlikely place.  I have an ancestor who — after she was widowed — turned up in Oklahoma. At first I ignored that return on a search for her name because, well, she couldn’t be there.

She was. Her son-in-law was working in the oil fields, and my ancestor was living with him and her daughter.

In earlier censuses (1790-1840), women and children (and later, slaves) were listed only as hash marks, unless the woman was a widow and therefore head of the household.


Copy of 1810 Census 

Still, the census, especially the later ones can provide a wealth of information including some, but not always all, of the following.

  • Name (occasionally misspelled and/or nearly illegible).
  • Age (from which you can generally guess about birth year, which you can use to find other resources).
  • Profession/occupation, and sometimes how many months they worked that year.
  • Race.
  • Value of property.
  • Place of birth.
  • Year married.
  • If the person attended school in the last year.
  • If the person could read or write.
  • If the person suffered from certain infirmities.
  • If their parents were “foreign-born.” In later years, this information is more detailed with the census asking parents’ place of birth.
  • Relationship of the person to the head of the family.
  • Whether the person was single, married, widowed, or divorced.
  • The Special Schedule of the 1890 census tells whether or not the person served in the “war of the rebellion” or was a widow of a soldier, sailor, or marine. (Note: If your ancestor isn’t listed, it doesn’t always mean he didn’t serve. I have several for whom I have Civil War pension records, and they don’t show up on this schedule.)


  • How many children a female ancestor has given birth to, and (this one always gives me pause) how many of those children are still alive.
  • Year of immigration and mother tongue.
  • The 1900 and 1910 censuses also has a separate census for “Indians.”

So, what’s stopping you? Go to this page on and see what your ancestors were doing in 1940.

Or pick any decade. You might be surprised at what you learn.

Morgan, Meet Morgan

This post comes under the “Anything That Strikes My Fancy” part of this blog’s theme.

I’ve been working on my family’s genealogy on and off since Darling Daughter was a toddler. She’s now twenty-three, and I’ve gotten more serious about the project. In this case, “serious” means trying to get my stuff together so I have one working family tree instead of many, i.e. one on paper, one on, one on, and one on the Heredis program on my computer.

Crazy, right? But that’s what happens when I only work sporadically.  I lose track of where I was, making multiple starts in multiple places.

Thus far, I’ve merged the ones from Ancestry and Heredis, and am working on transferring the information from Family Search and my paper trees and family group sheets onto Heredis.

When I get bored, I turn my attention to some of my “brick walls.” For this you should picture a barricade encircling the sixth generation with just enough windows to get the occasional peek at what I’m missing.

One lightbulb moment occurred a few months back, when I reached the Morgan branch of my family and discovered this direct ancestor was born in Morgantown, West Virginia.

A Morgan born in Morgantown. My synapses went into overdrive, as I deduced the obvious. The city must have been named after a member of my family. (It was actually founded by them.)

Since my family came north to pursue better economic opportunities, it was a shock to discover I’m descended from one of West Virginia’s founding families (some say The Founding Family).

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when a friend emailed me out of the blue and mentioned she’d been working on her family’s genealogy also. We decided to set up a field trip to our local historical library, and in one of emails flying back and forth to organize this, she mentioned finding her family’s direct link to Zackquill Morgan.  He’s the son of Morgan Morgan who is believed to have established the first permanent settlement in what is now West Virginia.


Photo published by flyingmoose  on

Zackquill was my 5x Great Grandfather. Turns out he’s hers too.

This means we’re 6th cousins.

At least, that’s what I think it means. I tend to get a bit lost on the consanguinity charts, no matter how logically they’re presented.

My cousin and I hope to learn more on Saturday when we visit the research library.