A Hive of Homicides or Hive Demise

Author: Meera, June 21, 2017

The title of the third novel in my Henny Penny Farmette series suggests loss of bees and murderous intent. No beekeeper wants to lose a hive, regardless of how it happens–whether some invader wants to kill the bees, go after the honey, or use the hive as a host for proliferation of its own species.

 

 

 

A healthy hive box with lid removed

A healthy hive box with lid removed

 

I’m not one-hundred percent positive why I lost a hive this year. My best guess was that the demise was due (not to homicide but rather) to a tiny little pest, possibly a beetle that weakened it so that the bees and queen fled leading to the hive’s demise.

 

 

My beekeeper neighbor and I spotted a small beetle and treated for it. My best efforts to keep my small bee house and the area around it clean as well as doing frequent hive inspections wasn’t enough. Now, I’m considering moving my remaining hive onto a higher, drier, sunnier location.

 

 

Bee garden in June bloom

Bee garden in June bloom

 

 

I’ll do it at night which is the correct time to move bees. You just put a little strip of packing foam along the hive entrance, gently move the hive, and place it in the new location. Remove the foam strip so the bees can leave at dawn and make sure there’s a water source nearby.

 

 

These honeybees will visit a backyard fountain throughout the day

These honeybees will visit a backyard fountain throughout the day

 

 

The bees will likely accept the move if there is water and food in the area. I like planting perennial bee gardens and flowers and bulbs with high nectar value for bloom throughout the year.

 

 

Since hives can be compromised by wax moths, hive beetles, and other pests (as well as parasites and diseases), frequent inspections to decipher a problem and treat it before it destroys your hive is imperative.

 

With supers (smaller hive boxes with ten frames each) on the hive in June, the bees will forage on abundant flowers and produce honey that can be taken off in July. That’s also the time to inspect for mites because these populations tend to swell during summer.

 

 

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If you’re interested in beekeeping and other farmette topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries. All are available to order online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailer sites as well as traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

Murders at a N. California winery is a catalyst for ex-cop turned farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie

This third novel in the series will be released Sept. 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Plant for the Pollinators

Author: Meera, June 20, 2017

I seldom need an occasion to put in another bed of flowers, but this is National Pollinator Week. I think a new bed is in order to attract local bees, birds, bats, and butterflies–all considered pollinators. Having these small creatures around benefits landscapes, gardens, and orchards.

 

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

Between showers and periods of sunlight, this beauty showed up in the bee garden

 

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has noted that over 75 percent of our plants are pollinated by birds, animals, and insects. We can help ensure these creatures will be around for a long time if we restore their habitats and ensure they have food and water.

 

 

 

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

 

 

 

There are many lovely plants you can grow that don’t require a lot of care.

 

 

 

  • lavender
  • bee balm
  • echinacea
  • sage
  • cilantro
  • thyme
  • sunflowers
  • sweet alyssum
  • anemone
  • borage
  • geraniums
  • scented pelargoniums
  • mint

 

The florets are falling off and the seeds have formed on this giant sunflower head

Sunflowers are a favorite of bees and the seeds are loved by squirrels and birds

 

 

 

 

A tapestry of colorful herbs and flowers beautifies your landscape and pollinators love the diversity. If you don’t have a lot of space, grow some of these plants in planter boxes, clay pots, or other types of containers.

 

Robins drinking from a pottery saucer

Robins drinking from a pottery saucer

 

 

 

Put in a water feature, too, such as a table-top or larger fountain that recycles water. Even a pottery saucer filled each day can attract pollinators.

 

 

It won’t take long for the bees and hummingbirds to find the water. Their frequent visits are fun to watch, and they’ll likely be sipping throughout the day.

 

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If you enjoy reading about farmette topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing. My newest novel includes delicious recipes, tips on keeping bees and chickens, and much more. Click on this URL for more information, http://tinyurl.com/ya5vhhpm

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Coming Sept. 2017

Coming Sept. 2017

 

 

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Thanks to the drought-ending rain and the robust activity of our honeybees, my orchard has produced a phenomenal crop of cherries, apricots, and plums this year.

 

Apricots are plentiful this time of year and easy to dry for snacking when the season is over

Apricots are easy to make into jam or to dry for snacking

 

 

 

I picked some wild plums today. They’re unusually sweet so I will make them into jam this week. I think the apricots will be ready next week. Today, I’m getting ready for jam-making by taking down cases of canning jars from the storage shelf over the washer and dryer. I’ll need to get lemons, bags of sugar, pectin, and jar lids.

 

 

I made a test batch of the wild plum jam to make sure it tasted great before canning a lot of jars

Wild plums are small like cherries

 

 

The vegetable garden is also benefiting from bee activity. The summer Italian striped squash and the crooked neck squash plants are producing squash faster than we can eat them. The tomato vines are loaded, and I expect the corn to be ready soon, too.

 

 

 

 

Nothing beats fresh summer jams to brighten a dreary winter morning. This summer, I hope to make enough to last through 2017 winter into next spring. This past winter, I ran out of apricot jam because it is the one most of our neighbors, family, and friends prefer. But thanks to the rain and the bee activity, running out of jam won’t be a problem for next year.

 

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Like my honeybees, I’ve been busy this winter/spring, writing two nonfiction books for readers who embrace the path of yoga, healthy living, meditation, meaningful ritual, and mindfulness. To be released this year: My POCKET MEDITATIONS (July 2017) and MY DAILY RITUALS (Christmas 2017).

 

 

Check out MY POCKET MEDITATIONS, the newest forthcoming nonfiction title from Adams Media/Simon & Schuster, at http://tinyurl.com/l6lzorq

 

My Pocket Meditations: Anytime Exercises for Peace, Clarity, and Focus by [Lester, Meera]

 

 

COMING SOON: My newest offering in the Henny Penny Farmette mystery series,  A HIVE OF HOMICIDES (Kensington Publishing, Sept. 2017).

 

 

 

This cozy features a mystery to be solved, a hot romance, and delicious recipes

This cozy features a mystery to be solved, a hot romance, and delicious recipes

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series comes out September 27, 2016

The MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE is the second novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

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French Lavender–A Favorite of Pollinators

Author: Meera, March 1, 2017

It’s bare-root season, a special time of the year for me. I like to visit local nurseries and check out the new offerings of heirloom roses, fruit trees, berries, herbs, and flowers. No matter which nursery I visit, I always seem to spot the lavender first.

 

 

Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love lavender

 

 

After we moved to the Henny Penny Farmette, we put in lots of French lavender. But after a few years, the stalks have grown old and woody.

 

Recently, on a visit to a nearby nursery, we purchased twenty one-gallon plants of French Lavender, an upright perennial that we’ve discovered blooms almost all year long in our Bay Area climate.

 

 

Pots of lavender await planting

One-gallon pots of lavender await planting

 

 

 

 

Now, they are hardening off in my garden until I get around to planting them.

 

 

The word “dentata” means toothed and a closer examination of the foliage reveals fringed indentations.

 

 

This aromatic, shrub has been around for centuries. Valued for its ornamental and medicinal properties, it also is used for soil erosion control. Once established, the lavender is drought tolerant.

 

 

Many gardeners love this lavender for its gray-green leaves. When other flowering plants in the garden have finished their blooming cycle, this lavender keeps producing tall spikes of bright purple florets.

 

 

Not as brilliant in color as the English or Spanish lavender, the French lavender is lovely grouped together in a single area where its flower stalks can sway in the wind. Our honeybees and other pollinators love it.

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

 

If you are a fan of cozy mysteries and love farmette topics like gardening of heirloom vegetables, herbs, and fruits as well as keeping chickens and bees, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

The first book in the Henny Penny Farmette series, Kensington Books 2015

The debut novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series sold out its first printing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides a cozy mystery to solve, these books mix in delicious recipes, farming and gardening tips, facts about keeping bees and chickens, and morsels of farm wisdom.

 

 

The third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series is due out in September 2017

COMING SOON– Sept. 2017, the third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

The second cozy mystery in the series

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First the Harvest, then the Floor

Author: Meera, October 24, 2016

My kitchen floor was littered with bits of wax and bee glue yesterday. It took me over an hour on my knees to scrub and clean it after I had uncapped thirty frames of honey I’d taken from my hives.

 

bucket of honey with strainer supporting all the wax spun off during extraction

A bucket of honey with strainer supporting wax spun off during honey extraction

 

 

 

 

In the process of scraping each frame and then unsealing all the capped cells on the front and back of each frame, drops of wax and propolis, or bee glue (created by the bees from bee saliva, wax, and exudate from botanical sources) fell to the floor. I tracked it from the counter, sink, and extractor on the soles of my shoes.

 

 

Even before I put my honey buckets under the extractor spigot, I tape fine mesh strainers over the buckets to catch wax and other debris.

 

 

Springtime honey appears golden whereas autumn honey is often darker (depending on what's flowering)

Three frames containing honey, but the sweet stuff is locked inside a honeycomb of cells sealed with wax by the bees

 

 

 

 

Once all the frames are processed and the buckets are sealed, I put the wax I’ve removed from the frames into a mesh bag to drain the honey (usually a much smaller quantity of honey is recovered from this process).

 

 

When the honey has been removed from the mesh bag, I place that wax on a cookie sheet and set it in the garden for the bees to clean.  After the bees have cleaned all the wax (by eating any drops of honey left), I save the wax to melt into bars for candles or soap-making.

 

 

I drain two frames at a time in a five-gallon bucket

A frame with wax cap cells opened and ready to put into the extractor

 

Back in in the kitchen, the extractor, it must be washed inside and out. Once cleaned and moved to the patio, I must start removing the wax and propolis from the floor. For that, I use an old thin, metal spatula to scrape the tile free of wax.

 

 

A soap and water scrub follows. Then I rinse and dry the floor with rags before moving the honey extractor back into the kitchen.

 

 

 

Honey from a bottling bucket is drained into sterile jars

Honey from a bottling bucket is drained into sterile jars

 

 

I won’t take honey again until next year. But now the honey must be bottled–that means I must sterilize bottles and prepare labels. Keeping honeybees is really only this labor intensive during and after the honey harvest. But the harvest is well worth all the work.

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 *          *          *

Enjoy reading about farming topics? Check out my cozy mysteries–A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE  (both in the Henny Penny Farmette series from Kensington Publishing).

 

These novels are chocked full of recipes, farming tips, chicken and beekeeping tips, sayings and, of course, a charming cozy mystery. For more info, click on the links under the pictures.

 

The books are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

 

This debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run. It’s now available in mass market paperback and other formats.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

 

NEWLY RELEASED! This, the second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, is garnering great reviews from readers and industry publications.

 

 

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How to Attract Local Pollinators

Author: Meera, July 24, 2016

Today, I spotted a gorgeous bee, big and black with reddish-brown wings, dipping its proboscis into the lavender wisteria and other blooms in my garden. I was stung by a bee yesterday, but that doesn’t stop me from smiling with delight observing this little pollinator at work in my garden.

 

 

 

A longhorn bee is twice the size of a honeybee

This longhorn bee, twice the size of a honeybee, dips its proboscis (meaning, tongue, nozzle, or snoot) into a bloom.

 

 

I admit I’m a fan of pollinators and enjoy watching them work amid the sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, wisteria, and other blooms in the bee and butterfly garden I planted earlier this year.

 

 

The flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bumblebees, and other types of bees, including my own Italian honeybees, the stock of bees most favored in this country (Apis mellifera ligustica). See, http://beesource.com/resources/usda/the-different-types-of-honey-bees/

 

 

 

It's easy to grow a variety of annuals or perennials in a raised box

It’s easy to grow a variety of annuals or perennials in a raised wooden box filled with soil.

 

 

 

Honeybees pollinate 90 percent of North America’s commercially produced crops, including almonds. That’s why many Northern California almond growers rent honeybees for use in their orchards during springtime bloom.

 

 

Honeybees love hovering around all types of lavender; here, it's the Spanish variety

Honeybees love hovering around all types of lavender; here, it’s the Spanish variety

 

 

 

The National Academy of Sciences has noted that pollinators are needed to reproduce 75 percent of the Earth’s flowering plants. But there’s been a drop in natural pollinators, in part due to habitat loss and pesticide use.

 

 

Populations of the yellow, black, and brown Western bumblebee, once common from southern British Columbia to central California, have now all but disappeared. To attract bumblebees, plant giant hyssop, milk weed, and nettle-leaf horse mint. See, http://www.wildflower.org/collections/collection.php?collection=xerces_bumble

 

 

Here’s what else we gardeners and farmers can do to attract local pollinators.

1. Avoid using pesticides.

2. Plant bee, bird, and butterfly friendly native plants.

3. Choose plants that flower in varying diverse colors and shapes to attract a wide variety of pollinators.

 

*          *          *

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q

Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g

The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 27, 2016

 

 

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What’s Growing in the July Garden?

Author: Meera, July 19, 2016

 

 

This mammoth sunflower towers towers at least four feet higher than the corn

Sunflowers are native to North America and were taken to Europe in the 16th century; however, they date back to  roughly 3,000 B.C. Honeybees love sunflowers.

 

 

Towering above the squash and lavender in my garden are rows of green corn stalks bearing ears of sweet, plump kernels. Snaking along the rows at the base of the cornstalks are vines laden with butternut squash and Armenian cucumber.

 

 

 

heirloom tomatoes taste great

Heirloom tomatoes are flavorful and sometimes exotic looking in terms of shape and color.

 

 

 

There are ripe tomatoes, too, especially the prolific heirloom–Red Beefsteak. I love cutting up some of these fresh, thin-skin tomatoes and combining them with basil, olive oil, grated cheese, and pine nuts as a topping for pasta. Add some grilled, seasoned chicken and you’ve got a quick and delicious summer lunch.

 

 

 

Zucchini and yellow squash sport large, showy blooms and are producing like crazy this month. While you can harvest and eat the blooms, we prefer the squash. Zucchini is delicious grilled or tossed with rosemary potatoes and onions or made into a French lentil and tomato salad (see recipe from last week’s posting).

 

 

sunflowers planted at the end of the corn rows

Sunflowers planted at the end of the corn rows

 

 

Growing on vines trained over a wall and on supports, the green table grapes are beginning to swell. The taste is still a little tart, but will sweeten with the passage of another couple of weeks.

 

 

Our grapes are Thompson Seedless and Merlot

Our grapes are Thompson Seedless and Merlot (the darker purple ones partially obscured)

 

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my cozy mysteries A BEELINE TO MURDER and also THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE in the Henny Penny Farmette series (from Kensington Publishing).

 

 

 

These novels are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.

 

 

The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

Now available in mass market paperback, this debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run.

 

 

 

 

The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

COMING SOON: The second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

 

 

 

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With the official start of summer a few days away, I find myself leaving my computer and the scene I’m writing on my third novel to take a break in the garden. Alive with honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, the garden is perfect place for a respite and a cup of tea.

 

 

 

Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love to forage on all types of blooming lavender.

 

 

Quite like a potager garden that includes flowers, herbs, trees, vegetables, berries, and grapes, mine also includes a patch of corn.

 

 

Climbing roses can be seen growing behind the corn

Climbing Sally Holmes roses with trusses of ivory blooms grow behind the 4-foot-tall corn.

 

 

Embroidered around the edges of the garden, there are climbing roses, fruit trees, and lots of lavender. Along the rows of lavender, there are peach trees with fruit the size of softballs and five pomegranate trees, laden with blooms and new fruit.

 

 

 

Ripe pomegranates have a leathery outer skin, membranes thicker than oranges, but sweet, juicy seeds inside

The pomegranates aren’t quite this large yet, but the trees have so much fruit, they’ll have to be thinned.

 

 

 

As I meander, I discover the trees of red and yellow plums have begun to drop their ripe fruit. I’ve got to make those plums into jelly or jam and ditto on the apricots.

 

 

Ripe apricots can hang on the tree only so long before they drop

Ripe apricots hang on the tree only so long before they drop.

 

 

 

But that work will have to wait until my late afternoon tea break. My novel won’t write itself. Still, the time I spend in the garden revitalizes my spirit and refreshes my brain cells, enabling me to return to the computer and the scene I’m writing with renewed vision and vigor.

 

 

*          *          *  

 

If you enjoy reading about gardening, keeping bees, raising chickens, and creating delicious recipes, check out my novels from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

The Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books, Walmart, and other online and traditional bookstores everywhere. Available in hardcover, Kindle, and mass market paperback formats.

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lemon Oil for Luring Honeybee Swarms

Author: Meera, April 15, 2016

 

Call it my sixth sense at work, but after my bees acted aggressive (which they usually are not) as I cleaned the water fountain, I prepared the swarm catcher and put it in the apricot tree nearest my office window. Mid-morning on Wednesday, I got my first swarm of 2016.

 

 

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

 

 

Lemon oil is often the ingredient that lures the honeybees to a swarm catcher. I mix the lemon oil mixed with water and spray the swarm catcher with a pump sprayer. It usually works better to capture the bees in the swarm catcher than having them coalesce en masse on an inconvenient limb in a tree, say, fourteen feet up.

 

 

 

You can use lemon oil as a salve or in the oil form–apply the salve onto the swarm catcher around the opening for the bees or use the oil in a small plastic vial that gets inserted into a swarm catcher orifice.

 

 

Bear in mind that not all lemon oils are equal. Some are more “lemony scented” than others. Lemon oil is cold pressed from the peel and contains 3 to 10 percent citral (considered the most powerful of components that contribute to the lemon scent). Lemon myrtle contains 95 percent citral and, if it’s the scent you want, lemon myrtle is superior to all others.

 

 

So, when I realized my bees were swarming, I suited up and prepared a hive box with ten frames, eight with wax from previous honey harvests (where I left the wax intact) and two that I had in the kitchen where I was draining honey from them. It would provide an immediate source of food for the bees in their new home.

 

 

Today, I visited my favorite shop for all things honeybees and stocked up on a couple more hive boxes, just in case of another swarm, although the bees are quiet and non-aggressive again.

 

 

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Planting the Spring Garden

Author: Meera, April 4, 2016

Winter brought us lots of rain and now the ground has warmed up and is ready to receive the heirloom seedlings of our favorite vegetables and herbs.

 

 

Peppers for my Mexican and Caribbean cooking

Hot peppers add a little heat to the Caribbean dishes I like to cook.

 

 

 

Tomatoes won’t set fruit until the nighttime temps hover around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but I tucked in several seedlings of heirloom varieties (Bradley, Cherokee Purple, and Red Beefsteak). Victory Seeds offers a nice selection of open-pollinated, non GMO, rare heirloom seeds for a variety of tomatoes.  See, http://www.victoryseeds.com/tomato.html

 

 

 

Heirloom tomatoes and peppers

Heirloom tomatoes and peppers

 

 

 

While I was digging, my neighbor’s bees decided to swarm. So I stopped gardening to check on my own bees. They’ve been humming like a truck engine, and there has been a lot of bee traffic. Concerned that they might swarm, I set aside my shovel and got out the swarm catcher, the lemon oil, and the hand pump sprayer. I positioned the swarm catcher in a tree across the yard, sprayed the tree with lemon oil, and went back to gardening.

 

 

 

Young super sweet corn in its third week of growth

This corn is from a previous garden–one in its third week of growth

 

 

I’ve readied a patch of ground for the sweet corn, squash, peppers, and beans. Also, in a large-size planter pot, I’ve tucked in flat Italian parsley, Italian oregano, dill, chives, and sweet basil. The patio pot will remain near the kitchen slider in full sun so I have culinary herbs at the ready when I need them.

 

 

 

Use garlic for companion plant to deter pests from lettuce and cabbage

Garlic is easy to grow and will deter pests from lettuce and cabbage

 

 

The early sweet peas are taking off now and the garlic and onions I put in the garden last fall are about a foot high. The vegetables and herbs I plant now will provide me with plenty of nutritious offerings right up until late fall–one of the many reasons to plant a garden in spring.

 

 

Enjoy this blog? Check out my Henny Penny Farmette novels, available online and in traditional bookstores everywhere.

The first two novels in the Henny Penny Farmette series from Kensington Publishing.

The first two novels in the Henny Penny Farmette series from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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