One Full Circle

It has been a year since we moved to Maine. Four seasons on our hillside–a busy, satisfying time, learning about our new home and making it ours.  Our largest project was clearing a patch of land below our lawn, opening it up to a ring of gnarly wild apple trees that had been concealed by brush and saplings.

It looked like this when we moved in:


You can just see the blossoming tops of the apple trees, obscured by brush and small trees.


Now garden beds.

A year later:IMG_0297


Two of the beautiful old apples in the ring revealed by the clearing.


Looking across the newly-planted gardens from the hive area.

The cleared space is a work in progress. We still have brush to burn and stumps to pull. But we have put in eight raised beds, an asparagus patch,


Our first asparagus shoot.

strawberries, two separate rows of tomatoes, a compost bin and a potato patch. Still to come this year are a corn patch, and hills of squash and melons.


I love strawberries.

The area between the beds has been planted with grass and clover, which is just coming up.


This jack-in-the-pulpit sprung up near the end of the herb garden.

We have three stone rings planted with annuals. They weren’t planned exactly, but rather grew up around stones too large to remove. Eventually we will build them up into real stone-walled planters and will put in a stone-flagged seating area and firepit.  There’s no shortage of stones.  But, that’s for later.

Perhaps my favorite area is the bee yard.

Here it was last year:IMG_0414

And now:


The hive and herb garden in the afternoon sun.

We plan to add another hive next year. There is more than enough forage to sustain several hives, if I can just ferry the bees through mites and other bee hazards and keep them alive over the winter. IMG_0396Right now the apple blossoms are in full bloom and the bees seem to be ignoring everything else. IMG_0383IMG_0385IMG_0419IMG_0388.jpgIMG_0392A quick hive check last week showed that the hive is progressing well, despite cold and wet weather at the start. IMG_0111The bees have drawn comb in most of the top box and the queen appears to be laying plenty of brood.


This shows how the bees draw out the comb–from flat foundation on the lower right gradually building to drawn comb on the upper left.


Still drawing comb in this frame.


The comb that you can see in this frame is fully drawn and we could see eggs, larvae and some capped brood–all the phases of the brood cycle.  You can see a squished bee at the edge of the box that I must have mashed when we were last in the hive, checking to see that the queen had been released.  And I was so careful!

Even though we don’t have farm animals (unless the bees count) it’s starting to feel like the little farm we long envisioned. Our neighboring cows provide the farm fragrance, along with the lilacs. IMG_0044.jpgIMG_0535.jpg

And like gardeners and farmers everywhere, we keep an eye on the weather.  We need rain.


It looks lush, but it’s very dry.



In the dry weather, I’ve been having to clean and fill the birdbath at least once a day. The big  bluejays are messy bathers.  This cardinal looks like he’s telling me that it’s time for a refill.

Despite our lack of rain, our vegetables are coming along.  Radishes and lettuce should be ready for harvest this week.  The chives are flourishing.IMG_0472
Our little orchard is doing beautifully. Except for one hazelnut (which may or may not be dead), all of the fruit trees and berries that we planting are thriving. And I am ridiculously proud that all of the apple grafts that I muddled together at the workshop this spring were successful! IMG_0578At first I thought that only two grafts took, which would have meant that I was a dismal grafting failure. But, slowly, one tree at a time, buds swelled on the grafted scions and then little leaves popped out. If I can keep deer and other critters from munching on them, we will have nine more old heritage varieties to add to our orchard. IMG_0504
Our bluebirds are vigilantly protecting their nest.   They successfully fended off the swallows and chased away a house wren that set up phony nests in two of other bird houses.


It took the wren a while to figure out how to get this stick inside.

I like the wrens (tail wagging and singing), IMG_0146but apparently they sometimes rob other nests and the bluebirds and goldfinches were quite aggressive in going after them. IMG_0359


Although I suspect the tea cup flowers are roses, I’ve always thought of them as apple blossoms.  The finch in the apple is as close as I’ll likely get to reproducing this tea cup scene.

George built a beautiful cedar table to go with our outside bench IMG_0601.jpgand he’s about to build a ramp for Zoe, who turned twelve this spring. She has some neuropathy and arthritis that is making it hard for her to climb stairs. She’s slowing down, sweet girl, but loves it here. It’s a good place to grow old.IMG_0639


IMG_9873.jpgAfter a prolonged and ugly flirtation, spring finally committed. The past days of sun, warmth, and breeze were accompanied by slow rain at night that we could hear through our bedroom window.  When we woke, sun again, breaking its way through morning clouds and mist. Perfect growing weather.IMG_9762


Pine buds (candles)

Not surprisingly, we had an explosion of growth.  IMG_9895.jpgSome leaves unfurled, others popped open.



(Thanks to the “New Hampshire Garden Solutions” blog ( for introducing me to the beauty of unfolding beech leaves.)


New poplar leaves in the sun


Newborn oak leaves


???Can anyone help out with this one???

Our flower palette leaned heavily, and a bit garishly, toward yellow and pink.


The tulip bud in the previous post unfurled.

IMG_9978IMG_9940I have never seen such a bumper crop of dandelions. The fields and lawns around us are covered, keeping our honey bees busy and dusted with yellow.  They left our blindingly brilliant azalea to the bumblebees, who shook and vibrated the whole bush so that it seemed to emit its own deep buzzing sound.  IMG_0004 Amidst all the pink and yellow, there were a few welcome splashes of white. IMG_9975IMG_9960The birds, of course, continued with their manic mating behavior.  I finally got a shot of the white-throated sparrow, whose haunting song followed us around the yard.IMG_9821.jpg At times, when he sang outside the window and it sounded as if he was inside with us. His song is supposed to sound like “Oh sweet Canada” or “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody.” Ours seldom stops with one “Canada” or “Peabody” and warbles an extra syllable or two at the end as if he wants to draw it out as long as possible.  The warblers are back–little, elusive, noisy, flitty things.


I managed to identify this fellow (by the yellow patch on his rump) as a yellow-rumped warbler.

This quaker-plain gray catbird brought me out of the house one morning with his amazing performance mimicking other birds in the yard and warbling through his own personal repertoire.IMG_9864We have a small brook down the street on one of our walk routes. A month ago I took this photo of a lone water strider. IMG_9595This week the striders were all paired up, making for interesting shadows on the sandy brook bottom. IMG_9952It must be strider mating season. The brookside horsetails and ferns always look slightly prehistoric to me.IMG_9962IMG_9965We’ve been working long days planting and getting beds ready for more planting.  IMG_9705We already had some little critter dig into a raised bed and shear off several chard plants. He left the leaves in his little exit hole, though.  I’m not sure if he intended to come back or if they weren’t to his taste.  I fear that he will not be the last garden intruder this year.  We saw a woodchuck this week.  Perhaps we need to lure our fox family back.


Hoping for orioles.

The farmers’ markets are starting up and I brought home this gorgeous white butter from our local water buffalo farm.  IMG_0023.jpg


Happy May.


Bees, Buds, Birds

IMG_9395The beginning of May has alternated between work and distractions.  We are in the midst of what may be our busiest time in retirement–our first planting season at our new home.  We picked up a good-sized order of orchard trees, companion perennials, berries, asparagus, hazelnuts, seed potatoes and more on the last weekend in April at Fedco–our Maine source of all things growing (in the plant world).  So we pushed hard to get our newly cleared land ready for planting. IMG_8480

But, every day, while I shoveled, planted, and watered, the utter exuberance of the life around me hit me upside the head.  It was a distraction.  But one that I didn’t fight.


A bumblebee, not one of our honeys.

I had my camera with me while planting, so when I heard the Towhee’s “drink your tea-eeeeee” in the sumac, I tried to get a photo as he hopped, maddeningly, deeper into the brush.  I never got a good shot of the Towhee but then was distracted by the blooming maples.  IMG_9378.jpgI spent a lot of time this past week just looking up and listening.  Fortunately, in retirement, I have no deadlines and can indulge in these lovely distractions. IMG_8510IMG_8958IMG_8993

The bees may be my biggest distraction, requiring detours multiple times a day to linger and watch.  I just can’t keep away from them.  We checked on our queen four days after installing the package and the diligent little ladies had properly released her from her cage.  They were building lovely waxy white comb and bringing in pollen, which generally indicates that the queen is laying.


Like planes stacked up to land at Hartsfield Airport.

Our trees have just barely started to leaf out and green up, so our woods remain austere and wintry looking.  But the bees are bringing in fat legfuls of psychedelic orange pollen and a more subdued yellowish stash.  IMG_9173I imagine the orange is from the maples.  IMG_9320IMG_9324The yellow likely comes from dandelion, coltsfoot, birch and willow.  IMG_9331IMG_8831IMG_9359IMG_9424I picked up our tree order on Arbor Day (a fact of which I was unaware at the time) and, that afternoon, planted three apples, two pears, two cherries, two peaches, two persimmons, and a giant medlar (no idea, really, what it is).  IMG_9163The birds were out in full force.  It’s mating season, after all, and the calling, squabbling, and acrobatics are at their peak. 


This Bluejay was drinking from the hose when I watered in a transplanted blueberry.


Here he’s puffing out his feathers at Bluejay on the neighboring branch. Attracting a female or intimidating a rival?


We have hordes of berserker goldfinches.

So, I would dig a bit, pause a bit, watch a bit, take a picture or two, and then dig, plant and water some more. 


This Northern Flicker blends in so well he’s hard to see.  The Flickers just migrated from their winter grounds.


The next day I planted blueberries, haskaps (honeyberries and new to me), an elderberry, a Carolina allspice, and made a nursery for some chestnut whips and my grafted apples (it looks like some of the grafts have taken).  Once I was done, I wandered off in search of the white throated sparrow that had been mournfully singing first on one side, then on the other.  I couldn’t spot the sparrow, but kept happily wandering, fully distracted by the buds and blooms in the exquisite afternoon light.IMG_9432IMG_8599

IMG_9328.jpgIMG_9375IMG_9440IMG_9436.jpgWe spent Mother’s Day weekend in Connecticut visiting my mom and now are looking forward to a week of warmer, sunnier weather.  Bring on the bloom.IMG_9499IMG_9237IMG_9471


A Bidding War

IMG_8748George and I have sold five houses and, every time, we go through the same dance.  We work like mad to make it more attractive to the (likely not as quirky as us) buyer.  Once we put it on the market, we obsessively track every development.  Each time someone looks at the house we gauge their interest.  A quick look or long?  Was there any feedback?  What can we do to attract more buyers?  When will we get an offer?  And on and on.

Selling a house to a bird is much the same.  We put up three birdhouses in during the third week in March.  They sat empty and unwanted.  Not even a nibble.  We thought that perhaps we had put them up too late and missed the prime spring house rush

Until a week ago when all hell broke loose.  Tree swallows showed the first interest.  After much flying around (they are lovely acrobats) and musical gurgling conversations, they appeared to settle right in. IMG_8745 It’s a largish house, so big enough for the swallows.  Apparently another swallow thought so too, because once the first pair established itself, he started to show an interest.IMG_8787  IMG_8788After an afternoon of warding off the dive-bombing interloper, the swallow pair left. IMG_8796And who should appear but a bluebird?  IMG_9061He checked the box in and out and staked a claim. After some wing flapping atop the house, a female joined him. IMG_9087IMG_9128IMG_9131I put out mealworms hoping to entice them to stay.  They were dried worms, not live ones, and the bluebirds were decidedly unimpressed.  Fortunately, they overlooked my gaffe and after lots of going in and coming out, the female started gathering nest material.  IMG_9085IMG_9080.jpgThe male stood guard.  IMG_9588He needed to, because the tree swallows still had an eye on the place, watching from a nearby dead tree. IMG_9135And so began the bidding war.  The bluebirds and swallows have been squabbling for days.IMG_9108IMG_9111First one pair takes up residence, then the other.  IMG_9226IMG_9210IMG_9586As of today, the bluebirds seem to have won. IMG_9546 IMG_9548All this fuss and there’s a perfectly good empty nest box in our front yard.  Apparently the neighborhood isn’t as attractive as the back yard.


The tree swallow even checked out the wren box. 


I swear the goldfinches were egging on the house hunters.

In the meantime, our fox family absconded last week.  Watching them had been such a treat.  Fox stuff-127.jpgIt turns out there were six kits and they had expanded their territory to include our yard.

Fox stuff-121

Playing keepaway with a piece of surveyor’s tape.

The little alpha kit dragged a gray squirrel outside our front door one morning and enjoyed a good meal of squirrel head before exploring the other side of the house.  IMG_8482We may have prompted their leaving by our nearby tractor activity, although it didn’t seem to faze them.  Fox stuff-132Apparently, they often leave the birth den at this age and move to a different den with more territory.  We miss them.  I hope we’ll have a new litter there next year.Fox stuff-107