Our resident fox has five kits. Their den is in an acre of woods abutting our land and is visible from our southern windows. At first we saw the vixen–a gorgeous creature–going regularly to a spot by a stone wall. Eventually we started to see other movement in there–small gray animals, looking rather squirrel-like. Out came the binoculars, which revealed some kits.
We’ve been spying on them since. The vixen spies on us, too, keeping a careful watch when we are working in the yard.
She seems to be gone for hours sometimes, presumably hunting, and when she returns the kits all come running. She nurses, grooms them, and lets them explore the surroundings, herding them back if they go too far. One morning, we watched her hunt in the long grass where our orchard will be. She caught a squirrel and some smaller rodents–voles, I suspect. Foxes are considered beneficial here for tick reduction because they kill many of the tick-carrying rodents. No one in the immediate neighborhood has any chickens, so the fox is quite welcome. Apparently this acre of woods has had a fox den for at least a few years. The kits, of course, are ridiculously adorable. They are turning from gray to red and getting bolder.
Lucky for me, they’ve been providing entertainment because I twisted my ankle a few days ago. I was in apple mode at the time, focusing on learning all I can for rehabilitating our old apple trees and creating a new orchard. I had just been to a grafting workshop where we learned whip & tongue grafting.
Apple seeds, like people, are unique and different from their parent trees, so grafting is necessary to reproduce specific apple varieties. Whip grafting involves attaching an apple root stock to a scion–last year’s branch growth from the desired variety–by cutting both quite precisely with a very, very sharp knife. Needless to say, learning was messy. I was pretty good at making the initial cut, but had a terrible time cutting the tongue properly. It got a little bloody. Nevertheless, I went home with eight newly grafted old apple varieties, with wonderful names such as Blue Permain, Yellow Transparent, Rhode Island Greening, Northern Spy, and Cox’s Orange Pippin. If half of them make it, I’ll be lucky.
My other orcharding activity, pruning, resulted in the sprained ankle. Nothing exciting, I just hopped off the apple ladder into a hole and the damage was done. I have a tendency to sprain my ankle at really bad times (twice while on vacation in Hawaii). This time was no exception because the bees were arriving in two days. Fortunately, I know the sprained ankle routine. I iced it, wrapped it, elevated it, watched the foxes, and recovered remarkably quickly (which I attribute to yoga).
That brings us to the queen. She is here, along with the rest of the bees, although she likely is still caged. I ordered a package of bees from a wonderful local apiary, where I had taken beekeeping classes. They picked up a trailer load of packaged bees in Georgia and arrived in Maine with them on Saturday. Each package had 3 pounds of bees and a caged queen. George had been working on the hive area and it was ready for bees.
We picked up our bees and brought them home. There are many ways to hive bees, depending on the hives and personal preference. We’re newbies (or newbeeks, in beekeeper slang), so don’t even pretend to be knowledgeable. But, here’s what we did. I lightly sprayed the bees with sugar syrup. I removed the can of feeding syrup from the package and then the queen’s cage. She is surrounded by bees here, so you can’t see her. There is a bit of “candy” in the lower third of the queen cage, which the bees are supposed to eat through to get to the queen and release her. That process gives them time to get used to the queen (so they won’t kill her). I gently poked a hole in the candy with a nail (easier said than done) and placed the cage on a frame in the hive. Then I thumped the package on the ground to get the bees in one corner and dumped them in the hive. A bit more thumping, shaking, and dumping and most were out. Then I very gently, without squishing any bees (I think) put the remaining frames in the hive. We gently brushed the bees off the top and, with George’s help (thus, no photos) slid the feeder on and put the quilt and roof on. Success! Blooms have barely started here, so the bees will need to be fed sugar syrup for the next few weeks. I will check the hive on Tuesday to see if the queen has made it out of her cage. In the meantime, the bees appear to be doing well. I find them mesmerizing.
Finally, the Tom turkey put on quite a display last week, presenting his rear to us from every angle