The Vixen and The Queen

IMG_8241_edited-1Our 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.


This isn’t the den, it’s in our orchard-to-be

We’ve been spying on them since. The vixen spies on us, too, keeping a careful watch when we are working in the yard. IMG_7933
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. IMG_8080One morning, we watched her hunt in the long grass where our orchard will be. IMG_8089She caught a squirrel and some smaller rodents–voles, I suspect. IMG_8012Foxes 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. IMG_8256
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.


This was our example of a proper cut. You can see the cut back “tongue” if you look carefully.

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. IMG_8450Needless to say, learning was messy. 20160409_124420.jpgI 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.20160409_132501
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). IMG_8068
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 took down a low-hanging branch from a cherry that was shading the hive too much. The flies and a moth gorged on the sap.


IMG_7858We picked up our bees and brought them home.  There are many ways to hive bees, depending on the hives and personal preference. IMG_8145We’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. IMG_8147I 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. IMG_8162There 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. IMG_8158Then I thumped the package on the ground to get the bees in one corner and dumped them in the hive. IMG_8166A bit more thumping, shaking, and dumping and most were out. IMG_8171Then I very gently, without squishing any bees (I think) put the remaining frames in the hive. IMG_8174IMG_8179We 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! IMG_8195Blooms 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. IMG_8268I find them mesmerizing.
IMG_7887.jpgFinally, the Tom turkey put on quite a display last week, presenting his rear to us from every angleIMG_7900IMG_7898


Zoe presented her belly.

62 thoughts on “The Vixen and The Queen

    • Gloves or no gloves depends on the situation for me. When the packaged bees arrive, they generally are very docile because they have no hive to defend (also these Italian bees are pretty gentle). So gloves really aren’t necessary. Also, there’s a little cork in the queen cage that needed to be taken out. It’s more difficult to do that and to insert the nail with gloves on. Many beekeepers don’t wear gloves at all (or very rarely). They certainly are clunkier and give you less feel for what you are doing. I kept bees for a season many years ago and found that I preferred not to wear gloves most of the time. I do have a leather pair and some thin nitrile gloves to use when I’m doing something invasive or the bees are feeling more defensive later in the year.

  1. I was wondering about your gloveless hands too. Did you get any stings? What a fabulous place you are now living in, no wonder your travel bug has disappeared. I would be in seventh heaven watching the fox family and all their antics. Thank you for sharing it all with us. Sorry to hear about the ankle, but you were probably ready for some sit down time. I’ve started growing veges in pots and today bought some small pansy seedlings to add some colour to the winter garden.

    • No stings. See the previous comment reply for my explanation on gloves. It is fabulous here and we are finding so many new things to do and learn that we haven’t craved the stimulation of travel. I’m sure we will eventually. Watching the foxes has been such an unexpected treat. We will miss them when they grow up and leave. I’m looking forward to seeing how your veggies do. Now that you are home, you can really indulge in gardening.

      • Yesterday I was looking through some photos of the garden back in early 2000 and it was such a different garden to what I have now. It is very good to keep a good photo record of your changes.

      • You know, I had very mixed feelings about continuing this blog after we stopped traveling. The thing that tipped the balance was a desire to record the transformation we envisioned for this place. Blogging is wonderful discipline that way!

      • Yes I agree. You can take photos and leave them on the hard drive. But as years go by they have more meaning if you add details on the posts to look back at later. And you usually chose the best photos to put on the blog out of the dozens/hundreds (!!!) that you take…

  2. We will occasionally have a female fox wander through , no doubt looking for a meal to feed her kits. Of course, having chickens and the lambs we are thoughtful about their presence. They are beautiful and how lucky you are to watch and witness the raising of fox kits. Wonderful. Great to hear about your grafting experiences…hope the Cox’s Orange Pippin do well…they are a favorite! Hope your ankle is mending quickly!

    • If we had chickens, I’m sure I would feel differently about the foxes. But, since we don’t, we feel very fortunate to have a ringside seat to see these kits grow up. Oh, the grafting was hit or miss! I had a few good ones that I’m hoping will take. I’ve been wanting some Cox’s Orange Pippin, so grafted three of those onto different types of root stock. I’m hoping at least one will take. The ankle’s already better. I was lucky it wasn’t a lot worse.

  3. I hope the grafting takes, a great skill to have. Sympathies on the ankle, not least because I have just done the same thing and am sitting here with my foot up, looking out at perfect gardening weather. Grrr. I think you looked after yours better than I did mine.

    • What is it with ankles?? So sorry to hear you twisted yours too. I also missed a few days of gorgeous gardening weather. But I had a good book and the foxes to watch, so after some grumbling, decided to make the best of it. Mine is almost entirely better. I really do attribute the quick healing to yoga. I have sprained ankles several times over the years and, since I started doing yoga, I’ve had much quicker healing. Here’s hoping you are back in the garden soon!

  4. Hope you’re feeling better, and I wish you well with your grafting and look forward to hearing about your successes. Bees are a fascinating topic to me so I love hearing about your adventure but I also had the same question about not wearing gloves. And, I smiled at the turkey’s handsome backside because that’s not normally the most beautiful perspective. 🙂

    • The ankle’s almost back to normal, thank you! I am anxious to see if the grafts took. Right now they are carefully shrouded in a black garbage bag in the basement until I can plant them out in a little nursery. I promise to do a follow up on them, even if they all die. I love bees. They are absolutely fascinating. I find myself going out to the hive to watch them all throughout the day. I hope they do well here. As for gloves, see my reply to the second comment above.

  5. So glad the ankle is nearly back to normal. I, too, have a tendency to sprain my ankles, so I feel your pain. As Derrick noted, what lovely, varied post. The foxes, of course, were the stars, but I enjoyed reading about all the goings-on.

    • Thanks Laurie. Do you have a theory as to why some people are more susceptible to sprains? I’ve never broken a bone, but have sprained a few fingers skiing and have sprained my ankles 6 times in the past 20 years.

      • Here is something that made me think in a different way about my sprains—for me it was always ankles. After one bad sprain, I had a friend who practised Reiki, and she came over and worked on my ankle, which healed faster than it ever had before. When she was done, she said, “You need to keep your balance.” And she was right in every sense. I haven’t sprained an ankle since. (Boy oh boy, am I ever setting myself up!) Anyway, food for thought.

        On the other hand, perhaps we just have weak ankles 😉

      • I think you are right–and you did set yourself up. I have read that people who get multiple sprains have an issue with balance. I have always tripped easily too–but, then again, I never look down at the ground to see where I’m setting my feet. Still, I that the improved balance (and flexibility) that I have gained through yoga is why I healed so quickly this time. As far keeping a balanced mind, I was tired and rushed when I sprained my ankle. Lesson learned–at least for now.

      • Good luck with those ankles. I’ll keep you posted about mine. And, yes, yoga is good on so many levels—strength as well as balance and flexibility.

  6. Sorry you twisted your ankle, but hurrah to have it heal so quickly (yoga – yay). Take care now! Gosh, bees, exciting – and you’re not wearing gloves. Did you get stung? Lovely to catch up with all you’ve been doing and see those gorgeous fox cubs.

    • I am watching where I step now. But that won’t last long! I didn’t get stung. Bees are quite docile when they’re being hived because they don’t yet have a home to defend. Bees generally sting only for defense. It’s a good thing because you have to whack the package pretty good to get them out and into the hive. I’m sure I’ll be posting more fox photos as long as they stick around.

  7. You are turning into quite the homesteaders. The little fox cubs are too cute for words. When we would spend Christmas in the mountains, there was always a beautiful red fox that wanted to play with our dog, but we kept our guy on a tight leash. Entertaining though!

    • Yes, with the bees it’s starting to feel like we have a little farm. The fox cubs are endlessly entertaining. It’s like watching a litter of pups–lots of wrestling, curiosity, and darting about. We have been keeping a close eye on Zoe, to make sure that she decide to go play with the foxes. That wouldn’t be good.

  8. Lots of good stuff in this post!!! You live in a paradise…with the best of all things: wonderful kits and mom, grafting (wow, I am impressed), sprained ankle (you most likely know it is so easy to re-sprain an ankle after you have done it once). And now bees too! Whoa, homesteaders. As well as some lovely pictures of your local turkeys and of course, Zooey. Glad to hear your ankle is healing.

    • Thanks Arlene. It does feel paradise-like here to us. We have been wanting to have a place like this for many years, so are savoring every bit of pleasure that it provides. I have heard that re-sprains are more likely after the first. If that’s something I have to live with, I’m pleased at how quickly my ankle bounced back this time. I really do believe that yoga has made a big difference in my ankle strength and flexibility.

  9. What a lovely varied life you’re leading! Glad your ankle recovered quickly. Those kits! They look like little bears. And their faces are so intelligent. If you have a garden, they will definitely be a help in the area. As will your dogs, of course. Good luck with the bees.

    • The kits look very much like fat little bear cubs–except they have tails with a white splash at the end. Today they put on quite a show, wrestling and running around on the lawn. One explored our big stone wall by itself and appeared to catch and eat a mouse. Precocious little thing.

    • Thank you. I am like an anxious mother about the bees, visiting them several times a day. It’s still coldish and not much is blooming, so I’m telling them to just hang in for a bit. I feel responsible for their well-being. And they are such amazing creatures.

  10. Great wildlife around your acreage. That’s a fine tom turkey and those fox kits are stinkin’ cute!
    You are very brave with the bees. Do you have bears? Around here, all the beekeepers have to surround their hives with electric fences!

    • The fox kits get cuter every day. When we bought this place, we had no idea that it came with amazing wildlife. As far as we know, there are few, if any bears in the area. I hope we don’t have any. They were an ever-present concern when we lived in Alaska and I’ve been enjoying time without them! I suspect that our fox has her den in the little acre, because it is otherwise surrounded by houses so unlikely to be invaded by coyotes or other predators. I’m not brave with the bees, I really enjoy working with them and there’s very little chance of being stung when hiving a bee package. Plus, except for my hands, I fully suit up.

  11. This post is a reminder of the constant delights of rural living. Your turkey and fox photos are great! I had a fox family with kits in the woods east of my house a few years ago, and they were very welcome (even if they do make an incredible racket in the middle of the night that sounds like someone is being murdered). I didn’t see the kits until after they had gotten their red coloring and their mother was taking them out for hunting lessons. She fed them a lot of baby woodchucks, making a serious dent in our local woodchuck population that no one complained about.

    • Thanks Jean. I have had a terrible time trying to get photos of the foxes through the windows! Our foxes have been surprisingly quiet so far. Not sure why. Watching the mom’s interactions with the kits has been absolutely fascinating. She is definitely clearing out some squirrels, mice, and voles on our property. We haven’t seen any woodchucks yet, but I suspect it wouldn’t have a chance against this momma.

    • I suspect that rabbits would be a nice tasty treat. I’m hoping that she’s taking care of our vole population so they won’t be nibbling on our baby fruit trees. Now, if she would just keep the deer away, too, we’d be all set. Thanks on the beehive. Having bees makes me even more eager for our flowers to start blooming.

  12. Poor you I do hope your ankle is getting better. it was wonderful seeing all of the wildlife around you the foxes are so lovely. Good luck with the bees one of my blogging friends Wendy is an expert with bees she has just starting blogging again after a few years there are some historical posts all about bees which you may find useful. Sarah x

    • Thanks Sarah. My ankle healed remarkably fast and I’m back to normal. I took a quick look at Wendy’s blog–looks wonderful–and will dig into her bee posts later tonight. We checked the queen cage today and she had been released by the other bees. The hive looked healthy and happy, so I’m hoping the bees are off to a good start. I fear I may become a batty old bee lady, talking about “my girls” and brewing up mead in the basement.

  13. Oh, poor you re that ankle. I hope all is now well. It was fascinating seeing the grafting, obviously it’s a lot harder than it looks. I am enjoying the beekeeping info, wow! How exciting. I’ll look forward to seeing how things turn out. Loved that daft turkey, and

    • The ankle is almost entirely back to normal. Fortunately! The grafting was … interesting. It’s not that difficult, but it requires a certainty of hand, confidence in making cuts, and lots of practice to get good at it. Glad you’re enjoying the beekeeping, if things go well, there will be plenty more. I’m infatuated with the little creatures.

  14. I’m really enjoying catching up with your wonderful blog. Thanks for visiting me, too. That is so exciting about the bees – look forward to seeing how you get on with them. The foxes are cute and great fun to watch. Fascinating info about the apples, too. Glad your ankle is much better.

    • Thanks so much Wendy. I love your blog and am working my way through all your bee posts before I move on to others. Although I did take a detour for your Secret Garden post (one of my favorite childhood books). We will miss the fox kits when they move on. They have been such a treat to watch.

  15. That is a beautiful hive.
    I don’t know why but whit is the colour of hives in Australia.
    My son has a few bees mostly just as an educational experience for his 5 children.
    All your photos told a story and made the post both interesting and enjoyable._/\_

    • Thanks for stopping by Jack. Many hives are painted white here too. Bees apparently like white. My hive is cedar, and the wood is so beautiful that we used tung oil rather than painting it. Seems to be fine with the bees.


    • We are keeping busy. I am picking up a tree and plant order tomorrow that will continue to keep us busy planting. After that, our pace will slow. Agreed on the chickens, but fortunately there aren’t many nearby. Thanks for your get well wishes. The ankle is all healed.

    • If we were real farmers, we might not be so happy to see the foxes. But as gardeners, they are welcome. The ankle is all healed up. Fortunately, I didn’t break, like some people …

    • It’s spring turkey hunting season right now. So I suspect we’ll see less of them for a while. I don’t think we’ll have any apples or honey yet when you’re here. But there should be lots of garden veggies. And lobstah.

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