Spring Peonies
Spring has definitely arrived at White Plains in many different ways. The peonies have been beautiful again this year, even though there were not as many blooms. Each year, clearing trees and overgrowth from the fence lines has let a little more light in to the flower beds.

Although the peonies will probably have to be moved for next spring, they gave a few very nice blooms. With thinning and placement in the right light, they should do even better next year.

Clearing GuttersSpring Cleaning
And of course it’s time again for clearing out the gutters. With the numerous mature Elm, Ash, Magnolia, Linden, and other large tree varieties, a huge amount of leaves collect in the gutters every year. The only way is to climb the 35′ ladder to the top and clean them out by hand.

Thankfully, there are well-designed underground drains that transport water away from the historic masonry foundation. One of the next big projects will be working on the driveway to install a water drainage system that delivers all runoff to the creek at the bottom of the hill on the south end of the property. A job for a cooler day… and of course there is there is the 80 pound beaver to contend with!


Spring Fever
And finally those of you with a snake phobia, like me, should stop reading here! When the home  inspector came to the property in 2013, one of his recommendations was to have all the snakes removed – there were three milling around just on the day he came to inspect. Thankfully they were all black rat snakes, a harmless creature that can in fact help control the populations of poisonous snakes. As someone who has always been deathly afraid of any snake, it’s taken a lot of personal reflection and deep breathing for me to become more comfortable sharing my home with them. Although I prefer them to stay away from the immediate house yard, I’m also hoping they will keep the mole population down and away from my hasta!

Mating Black Rat SnakesBut nothing could prepare me for what I saw on this day last week. I walked confidently and obviously out toward the kitchen garden to pick some lettuce, when I almost walked upon my first snake of the season… but it was no ordinary snake. It’s two heads shot out of the grass and its multiple writhing tales confused me into a terrified stupor. Were there two? Were they fighting? Mating? Dancing to Katy Perry? It was so hard to tell. And then they came out of the taller grass and the scene spoke for itself. I’m including a picture to not only document this strange mating snake ritual but to signify a step in my own step recovery… you have no idea how close I had to get to truly capture the scene. If you really want a close-up, just click on the picture above.

And then suddenly, when I turned my back to put my camera down, they broke apart and ran in opposite directions. I only pray there won’t be 100 babies running around in a couple of months, but if there are, and the cats don’t get to them, hopefully they will help keep the real nasties away!

Welcome to Spring!

Thornley Family Adventures

ThornleyIn addition to sunshine, newly opened daffodils, and the promise of spring, the end of March brought a very exciting group of visitors to White Plains. A descendent of the Thornley family, by way of Major William and Major John Thornley, brought his family to Virginia to see the old Thornley family home in King George County.

They arrived early on a windy and cold Saturday, and we all had the chance to share a few stories about the Thornley family and the farm. It was only recently that they discovered the property was still standing. Family legend said that the house had burned. As you begin to piece stories together, we realized that the east part of the roof had burned sometime in either the late 19th century or early 20th century, just not to the ground. There are still some very charred members in the attic where an obviously raging fire likely opened up the roof. Luckily the east chimney was spared and the fire was caught in time to ensure that the house was still standing for their visit.

1929They even brought pictures taken in the 1920s that their great great grandmother, Jane Riding Thornley, had taken on one of her visits to the farm. Jane was born in 1870 and died in 1966 at the age of 95. We have two letters from her to two different owners of the property. She shared stories and her knowledge of the “old Thornley place,” as she called it. Although the pictures are only of the west elevation of the house, they are wonderful to have and shed new light on old questions. But like anything else, they also bring up many more questions. I am still hoping to find additional interior or other exterior photos that may be out there. Perhaps they’ve been destroyed, or they were never taken, or they are hiding in someone’s garage, never be found. Perhaps one day!

DaffodilsAfter some good stories, a bite of breakfast, and a tour of the house, we had to say farewell as they continued on their journey through Virginia. I am confident we will meet again, a new friendship. There is often a tie that bonds people together who share a common love of old spaces and times. The Thornley family gave much to the King George and local Virginia community of Port Conway. The house of White Plains still stands in their memory.

Hive Split

It was a rough winter on many fronts. There were nights of below-zero temperatures and the two bee hives struggled to stay alive. Although one hive eventually lost the good fight, the second hive came through with a renewed energy as temperatures began to rise.

Lost Hive


As you can see from the above picture, the scene was shockingly gruesome upon first look – all hive boxes were full of dead bees. It was unpleasant to sweep them out to start over.

And then there was one

Thankfully the second hive got strong quickly enough in late winter, with early pollen collection and brood development, that the hive was viable for splitting. In fact, it was probably just a week or two away from swarming. My mentor, John, came over just in time to help me perform my first hive split.

Hive Split
Mango is watching with intense curiosity! (At least he’s smart enough to stay far enough away.)

At the end of the split, there are two hives again! The queen was successfully placed in the new hive with sugar syrup to help the new colony grow. The old hive had already begun to develop a new queen, which hopefully put it further along in the process to re-queen the hive. On the hive that was split, a medium super was placed on top for honey collection and I suspect it will be a short time before it’s time to add another. I’m going to have my first honey harvest this summer!

Rebuilt Hive
The two hives are back in business again. The nectar flow is in full swing and it won’t be long before honey is ready to harvest.