Starting beehives; surviving March; sketching in the urban; more on Darwin: newsletter April 13, 2018

April 16, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,147) on Friday, April 13, 2018.

The entries in this week’s newsletter are a bit longer than usual, so work your way through them as best you can. I’ll try to do better next week. Beekeeping takes some explaining. Fortunately for you, we’re not face-to-face; if we were, you would lose a couple of hours of your life with me jabbering on about bees, hives, and topics related. Bees are fascinating creatures. They’re also important.

If you have questions about bees, let me know. I either know the answers or know where to find them.

Also, the artwork at the end of the newsletter takes a bit of a turn. Make you way down there and see what’s going on.

I hope everyone’s had a great week. I certainly have.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


Starting a beehive

Last week I mentioned that we (my beekeeping partner John and I)  launched three hives to go along with the one hive that survived this winter. And I promised to say more about how you get a hive started and keep it going.

Last summer we had four good hives. By late fall, we were down to one. We did everything we knew to do to keep that hive going through the winter. Fortunately, it made it. So here we are in the early spring, and it’s time to start a begin again.

A new hive most often begins with ordering a “package” of bees from a bee farm. Most of our bees in East Tennessee come from bee farms in southern Georgia, and the weather down there had cooperated enough so that the packages were ready a little earlier than usual, which is about the first week in April. A package consists of three pounds of bees, or about 10,000 bees. Each package contains a queen who is put in a separate, protective cage.

Once the packages arrived at our place, we opened them up, extracted the queen cage, and then poured the bees into the hives that we had set up. That’s right, “poured.” To get an idea of this process, watch this video: Pouring the bees

After the bees have been poured into the hive, we place the queen cage — with the queen still there — inside the hive carefully, put food for the bees on top of the hive, and close it up for a few days. The queen cages are built so that the queen will be released by the hive in a few days, and by that time, the hive should accept her as queen. If it does not accept her, she will be killed. Then we would have to decide whether to order a replacement queen and try again or to combine the bees in that hive with another hive.

After three or four days, we opened the hives again to see if the queen had been released. Sometimes, it takes a little longer, but this year when I opened the hives, all three queen cages were empty, and it looked as those the hives were beginning their work. I did not go down into the hive to try to find the queen. My general approach to beekeeping is to leave the bees alone as much as possible and let them do their thing.

We’ve had a cold, wet spring in East Tennessee this year, and that kind of weather is not particularly good for bees or their honey production. The crimson clover, which the bees love, still has not bloomed, although it should be at its peak in the first or second week of April. Our attitude is, of necessity, wait and see. There is little else we can do at this point. I’ll be posting more about bees and our beekeeping adventures in coming days and trying to answer some of the questions you may have about bees.


Surviving March is not so easy

Glad you survived March, dear reader. It’s sometimes a dangerous place to be.

There is this thing in America known as March Madness. To the untutored among you, that refers to the three-week long national collegiate basketball tournament that has the country mesmerized until the Monday evening (usually the first Monday of April) when the national championship games takes place, and in a few days, you’ve forgotten completely what university team won. (This year it was Villanova.) For us baseball fans, March madness is merely the final distraction that comes before Opening Day (the first day of the baseball season, which, this year, was also in March.

Then there’s Mad as a March hare. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary:

Phrase mad as a March hare is attested from 1520s, via notion of breeding season; mad as a hatter is from 1829 as “demented,” 1837 as “enraged,” according to a modern theory supposedly from erratic behavior caused by prolonged exposure to poison mercuric nitrate, used in making felt hats. For mad as a wet hen see hen. Mad money is attested from 1922; mad scientist is from 1891. Mad Libs, the word game (based on the idea in consequences, etc.), was first published in 1958.

Source: mad | Origin and meaning of mad by Online Etymology Dictionary

Then there’s the madness of March. We go down that rabbit hole again. The Ides of March is a date Julius Caesar didn’t survive. And March winds can be pretty scary.

But all of this has nothing to do with Mad Men, the television series of a few years back about advertising executives in the 1950s and 1960s. The Mad there comes from Madison Avenue, the street in Manhattan where advertising agencies are traditionally located.

In any event, March is past, and April with its foolishness, its showers, and its Paris is here, thank goodness.


Bloody Mary and others

After last week’s entry about Typhoid Mary, I ran across a reference to Bloody Mary, which, of course, is the name of a drink that contains tomato juice, the color of blood. Most of you will know that the Mary in this name refers to Queen Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, who reigned for five years before her death and the ascension of Elizabeth I to the throne. Mary was a Catholic and spent much of her five years persecuting Protestants and trying to make England Catholic again. (That ship, unfortunately for all concerned, had already sailed.)

It occurred to me that Mary had taken some hits from the language, so I decided to look her up on the Online Etymology Dictionary (referred to above), and here’s what I found:

Mary fem. proper name, Old English MariaMarie, name of the mother of Jesus, from Latin Maria, from Greek MariamMaria, from Aramaic Maryam, from Hebrew Miryam, sister of Moses (Exodus xv), of unknown origin, said to mean literally “rebellion.” Nursery rhyme “Mary had a Little Lamb” written early 1830 by Sarah Josepha Hale of Boston; published Sept. 1830 in “Juvenile Miscellany,” a popular magazine for children. Mary Jane is 1921 as the proprietary name of a kind of low-heeled shoe worn chiefly by young girls, 1928 as slang for marijuana

So, there were some good Marys to go along with the bad ones.



The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.

Amazon Gift Card raffle. Here’s a chance to win an Amazon gift card worth $100 with which to do some spring shopping. All you have to do is sign in (if you’ve use before, you may not even have to do that). You will get yourself on some author mailing lists, but you can always unsubscribe if you prefer.


Urban sketching as a social good

People who draw and paint outside the confines of their studio are now known as urban sketchers. In fact, there is a world-wide organization —  a long-standing one, I understand — of Urban Sketchers with a substantial website.

Here’s the Urban Sketchers manifesto. Manifesto is probably a bit heavy-handed, but we won quibble. This organization recently came across my radar, and I joined up (it’s free). There are local chapters just about everywhere, but unfortunately, not in East Tennessee where I live. It may be time to start one before long.

Here’s the point: Drawing and painting outside the studio (house, home, apartment, whatever) is a natural activity for an artist and should be viewed as normal in a society where lots and lots of people spent inordinate amounts of time staring at their cellphones. We live in an age where art is devalued and where standards of quality have been blown away by the concept of personal expression.

I’ve written a slightly longer post about urban sketching, including a personal anecdote, which you can read here on


Charles Darwin: A plan and a lot of luck

I followed up the post I wrote last week about Charles Darwin (The three fears of Charles Darwin) with another one this week describing his marketing plan and his extraordinary luck. Here’s an excerpt:

Darwin’s basic marketing plan, according to Johnson, was to let others promote the book while never appearing to do so himself. He planned to be drafted into immortality. And so he was.

Darwin had studied the work on many others as he was developing his theory, and he referred to their work with generous praise in his book. It is difficult to criticize the work of a man who praises your own. Besides, Darwin had many genuine admirers, among them Charles Lyell, of course, who held a public meeting to announce the publication of the book and to explain its significance. Asa Gray at Harvard was Darwin’s chief American supporter, and he did the same thing even before the book was available in America. In addition, he wrote a long review of the book for Atlantic Monthly magazine, one of the most influential publications in the country. Darwin had the review reprinted and distributed in Great Britain.

Given the nature of the book and the controversy it stirred up — and continues to engender more than a century and a half later — Origin of Species attracted little hostility in the first months of its publication.

You can read the entire post at this page on


Welcome and an announcement

Welcome to the new members of the Foothills Voices group of the Blount County Public Library in Maryville, TN. I mentioned Foothills Voices, a book of stories related to Appalachia and East Tennessee in the newsletter a few months ago. Foothills Voices is a project of a very forward-looking local library that seeks to be more than a storage house for books.

Now there is a second class of Foothills Voices writers, and they will be working on volume 2, planned for publishing sometime in 2019. They will spend the next few months researching and writing the stories they have chosen.

Now the announcement (you read it here first): The Blount County Public Library has asked me to be the first Writer-in-Residence, and one of the duties will be the editorship of the next volume of Foothills Voices. I will be working with library staffers Brennan LeQuire and Jennifer Spirko, who directed the first Foothills Voices project. They did an excellent job with that volume and, I’m sure, will do so again. I will try not to get in their way.


Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink drawing: Wrigley Field

This pen and ink drawing was done July 4, 1998, during the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s the drawing referred to in my post on urban sketching.

Best quote of the week:

I write to entertain my friends and to exasperate our enemies. To oppose, resist, and sabotage the contemporary drift toward a global technocratic police state, whatever its ideological coloration …  I write for the joy and exultation of writing itself. To tell my storyEdward Abbey (1927-1989)

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The fears of Charles Darwin; Typhoid Mary; installing the bees: newsletter, April 6, 2018


Books by Jim Stovall (free, in case you haven’t gotten them already)

Kill the Quarterback. (Murder mystery/suspense) A star collegiate quarterback is murdered. The police have no clues, but they do have a suspect. Only they can’t find her. Instead, she finds Mitch Sawyer, police reporter for the Nashville Daily Tribune. After that, nothing goes right for anyone. Download it at this site:

Point Spread. (Young adult) It’s 1967, and Maxine Wayman, a high school senior, wants to be a journalist. She looks for a story for her high school newspaper and finds far more than she expected — something that will rock the foundations of the entire school system. Download it at this site:

Battlelines: Gettysburg, Day 1. (Non-fiction/history) This is the second volume of the series Civil War Combat Artists and the Pictures They Drew. (Volume 1 is available free on Amazon.) This series presents an array of the original drawings of the combat artists who covered the battles of the Civil War. Many of these drawings have never been published. Download it at this site:

The Writing Wright: Notes, Essays and Ponderings on the Writing Life (volume 1). (Non-fiction) This book of thoughts, wisdom, quotations, essays and ideas about writing comes from my experience of teaching writing for more than 40 years. You will love the pen-and-ink drawings that illustrate the book. And you don’t have to go anywhere to get this one. You can download it directly from this email.


The Writing Wright (.epub)

The Writing Wright (.mobi)

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