Thursday, April 17, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: Swainson's Warbler

[Swainson's Warbler, image from the National Audubon Society]
Spring marks the migration of warblers to the Appalachians, where they spend the summer hanging out and raising families. We thus dedicate the month of April in our 12 Months of Birding at the Inn blog series to one warbler who likes to make Pisgah National Forest its spring and summer destination: the Swainson's Warbler.

Frequently heard but rarely seen, the Swainson's Warbler is on the "Elusive Bird" list at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B near Black Mountain, NC. It loves rhododendron thickets, and we have plenty of those. Only problem is, those thickets are...well...thick, giving the Swainson's Warbler plenty of opportunity to be super stealthy. It doesn't help that the Swainson's Warbler is pretty nondescript as birds go, dull brown in color with very little in terms of markings. It does have some darker brown shading on its head with a light whitish eye streak right above its eye. If you see a Swainson's Warbler while you're at the Inn, do let us know and we'll add you to our "I've Seen That Elusive Bird" list.

Even though we don't often see the Swainson's Warbler, we know they're out there because they like to sing. Loudly. But it's a nice song, so we don't mind hearing it echo through the woods around the Inn. [Click here to play the song of the Swainson's Warbler via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology]

Will this be the year we get more than a fuzzy photograph of the Swainson's Warbler? Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pioneer Day and the Mountain Thunder Car Show in Old Fort are April 26, 2014

Exciting day coming up in Old Fort, North Carolina at the end of April:

First off, Saturday, April 26, 2014, marks the 30th anniversary of the Pioneer Day Festival!

Pioneer Day celebrates mountain heritage, including craft demonstrations such as weaving and blacksmithing. In addition to pioneer-era demonstrations, mountain music and food, local craft vendors will be on hand. For more details, visit the Mountain Gateway Museum website at

Second, April 26, 2014, also marks the return of the Mountain Thunder Car Show in Old Fort, hosted by the Route 70 Cruisers. Several different vehicle makes and models will be represented. The Car Show will be set up on Catawba Avenue behind Town Hall from 9am to 2pm.

[photo credit: Route 70 Cruisers]

[photo credit: Route 70 Cruisers]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

2014 Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival is April 12-13

Last year's Festival [photo credit: Painters Greenhouse Facebook Page]
Since the Inn on Mill Creek Bed & Breakfast is getting a little herb garden makeover this year (more on that later this month), we are super excited about the 10th Annual Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival, the weekend of April 12-13, 2014. Painters Greenhouse is one of our favorite locally-owned nurseries, located near the Inn on Mill Creek, in Old Fort, NC.

The Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival is much more than a sale on rosemary and basil plants and the opportunity to sample the famous Painters Pesto: more than 25 talented local artisans will also be at Painters Greenhouse that weekend for the festival. Handcrafted furniture makers, painters, photographers, jewelry artisans, soap makers, local authors, and many more will have booths set up for you to peruse their items.

And what would a festival be without food and music? The 2014 Painters Greenhouse Herb Festival will have food vendors selling all kinds of local treats, and beverages as well. Local musicians will also be entertaining festival-goers on Saturday and Sunday, with a lineup that includes blues, jazz, rock classics, original songs, and even a Native American flute performance. In addition, Painters will feature a petting zoo on Saturday and a clown entertaining the kiddos on Sunday.

Then there are, of course, the herbs. Painters Greenhouse is known for having an awesome variety of plants and their herb selection is no exception. They'll be offering sale prices on different sizes of herb containers, from $1.50 for a 4" container to $6 for 8" containers. Perfect for taking one or two or ten home with you to start or add to your own herb garden. Just leave a little bit of rosemary for your innkeepers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Swannanoa Valley Museum 2014 Season Opening

Photo Credit: Swannanoa Valley Museum
If you're a history geek like your Inn on Mill Creek innkeepers, we have news for you: The Swannanoa Valley Museum in the town of Black Mountain opens for the season on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Buncombe County and Western North Carolina have a diverse and interesting history, with early settlement by Native Americans followed by American colonists around the time of the Revolutionary War, the growth of farming and agriculture that influences our foodtopian society today, the significant impact of the railroad's construction through the mountains, the area's beauty inspiring the arrival of many religious and spiritual retreats, manufacturing and development, important historical figures being born, having lived in, and having relocated to the area shaping history, and so on. And the Swannanoa Valley Museum is a terrific place to learn all about it.

Visitors can take advantage of free admission on Opening Day at the SVM on April 12, as well as see a preview of new exhibits on African American History and Culture, Valley Sports Heroes, Black Mountain's Sister City of Krasnaya Polyana, which hosted all the snow events during the 2014 Winter Olympics, and Moonshining. Quite the variety, right?! We told you the history of the area is diverse.

And not only can you tour the museum's exhibits, but the SVM also offers guided hikes throughout the year to allow for a more in-depth history lesson of the area: The Rim Hike Explorer Series includes hikes on the third Saturday of each month. Each hike covers a portion of the 31-mile Swannanoa Rim that includes the mountains around the town of Black Mountain and the surrounding area. Also taking place on the third Saturday of the month is the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series, a set of eight 3-mile hikes to historic locations within the area's different communities.

Rim Hike Group [photo credit Joe Standaert, SVM Facebook Page]
The Swannanoa Valley Museum is located next to the Dripolator coffeehouse on West State Street in downtown Black Mountain, about 15 minutes from the Inn. Fun fact about the SVM's charming brick building for our fellow history nerds: The museum is housed in the old Black Mountain Fire House, which was designed and built by the supervising architect of Biltmore Estate, Richard Sharp Smith, in the early 1920s. It's one of only two remaining structures in the Swannanoa Valley designed by Sharp and his partners.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hop'n Blueberry Farm Tours in April of 2014

Hops drying [photo credit: Hop'n Blueberry Farm]
Here's an activity for those of you who dig agritourism and local farm tours and who want to get a behind-the-scenes look at hops production: Hop'n Blueberry Farm in Black Mountain, one of the first hop farms in the state of North Carolina, is offering one-hour specialty tours at 2pm every Saturday in April. The farm is about 20 minutes from the Inn on Mill Creek B&B.

Hops are flowers and one of the basic ingredients in beer brewing, providing the bitter counterbalance to the sweetness of malt, while also acting as a preservative. During the tour, you'll learn how hops are grown and managed and see why Hop'n Blueberry Farm is a leader in hops production research in the state. The tour also includes samples of beer crafted by Black Mountain's Lookout Brewing Company, using Hop'n Blueberry Farm's hops. After the farm tour, head into Black Mountain and check out Lookout Brewing Company to see how their beer is made and see why when we say the best beers in the area are our local brews, we really mean it.

For information on the tour or to get tickets, call Hop'n Blueberry's Van Burnette at 828.664.1166. Van is the seventh generation to farm his family's land at Hop'n Blueberry Farm. The farm is, of course, producing hops, and will begin harvesting blueberries in 2015. The farm is also actively involved in pollination research, especially involving the migration of Monarch butterflies, and has earned a designation as a Certified Native Pollination Habitat.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Guest Favorites Garden Update for March 2014

Just a quick March update on our newest garden space at the Inn on Mill Creek, the Guest Favorites Garden. While the daffodils in the Pool Garden have heralded in spring right on schedule at the Inn, located near Asheville and Black Mountain, North Carolina, the daffodils that we planted in the Guest Favorites Garden are a bit late to emerge.

Daffodils in the Pool Garden at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, March 20
While we wait for the Guest Favorites Garden (GFG) daffodils to bloom, we continue to plan the remainder of the garden, installed on a slope near the main drive. Still deciding on astilbe colors for the shady section, but the decision has been made regarding hostas and the choice is American Halo. Three of these will be planted next month to start the hosta collection in the GFG (photo courtesy of

American Halo Hosta
We've also landed on our choice of peony for the other, sunnier end of the garden. It's called Monsieur Jules Elie (photo by Clemson University):

Monsieur Jules Elie peony bloom

Stay tuned for next month's update when we start planting!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

North Carolina Mountain Birds: American Robin

American Robin at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B, 2012
If ever a bird had the ability to make winter seem a distant memory while frost is still very much on the ground, it would be the American Robin. It seems like as soon as we see robins doing their stop-and-go flutter across the grass in the apple orchard at the B&B, it's like winter never happened. Interestingly, the American Robin is a year-round resident in most of the United States, but it spends most of the winter tucked away, roosting in trees.

American Robin in the orchard at the Inn on Mill Creek B&B

American Robins are easy to spot come springtime, with their flashy, orange-red chests, dark heads and yellow bills. They're also fairly large and fairly loud compared to other songbirds. The whistling song of an American Robin is clear and according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is often described as "cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up." The pitch rises and falls, but the rhythm is steady.

Posing for the camera

Other fun facts about the American Robin from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
  • The oldest recorded American Robin was almost 14 years old, but typically, the entire population turns over on average every six years.
  • Robin roosts in the wintertime can be as large as 250,000 birds.
  • Females build their nests from the inside out, pressing dead grass and twigs into a cup shape using the wrist of one wing. They also use paper, feathers and moss to build nests.
  • The American Robin's diet changes depending on the time of day. They like earthworms for breakfast and fruit later in the day. Robins can actually get drunk on honeysuckle berries.