Digging In and Looking Back

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We had an anniversary this week. We moved to this tiny paradise on a hill two years ago. It was a marriage of sorts, of people and place, and deserves anniversary recognition. We celebrated by digging, planting, and constructing, and generally reveling in the explosion of spring in this lovely spot of earth.

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The day we moved in, the apple trees were in full bee-buzzing bloom. We had never thought to find a place with dozens of ancient apple trees and were amazed at our luck in landing here. We couldn’t have arrived at a more beautiful time of year. Aside from the apples, the lilacs and wild honeysuckle were just starting to bloom. It is a peak time for fragrance and birdsong. Intoxicating.

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That first year, we could just see the blossomy tops of what appeared to be a ring of old apple trees through the brush and small trees behind the house.

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Zoe in the yard the day after we moved in.  The blossoming tops of the ring of old apple trees are barely visible.

We decided to clear back to those trees and open things up for vegetable gardening and a small orchard and sitting area.

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The big oak when we moved in, surrounded by small trees and brush.  

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The first lawn mowing.

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We quickly cleared high grass for raised beds within a week of moving in.  The next summer, we moved the raised beds to the area below the house and turned this into our little orchard area.

It will be a work in progress for years, but has been incredibly satisfying to work on this beautiful property.

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The big oak and ring of old apple trees revealed.  

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Little orchard with swale and companion plants.

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First cherry blossom

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Now that we’ve been here through three blooms, we’ve seen the fruiting cycle of these old trees. We had heard that the wild trees often bloom and bear fruit every other year. And sure enough, the trees that bloomed that first year didn’t bloom the second year and now are blooming again.

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Last May.  Only two trees blooming and a branch here and there on the other trees.

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This  May.  All the trees are blooming, except for the two that bloomed last year.

This is the bloomiest year in the cycle.  Depending on where in the yard we are working, we can hear the buzzing of bees in different apple trees.

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This beautiful tree has little yellow apples that stay all through the winter–at least until the Waxwings visit for a mid-winter gorge.  

It is quite loud and makes me happy. Good for the bees and good for the trees.

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The past few weeks finally brought us some warmth and sun.

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Before the sun.  A little greening up on the hillside.

Green growing things, which had been patiently waiting through cold, rainy April, apparently decided to make up for lost time.

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From this …

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… to this …

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… to this in a few days.

A plant orgy of sorts.

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Maples just budding, with teensy developing seeds.

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Soon after, the leaves are popping out and the seeds developing their wings. 

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This chipmunk looks like he was indulging in excessive spring celebration–cheeks stuffed to overflowing with something.  At least it wasn’t parts of our car.  

Now that the weather has improved and the soil is warming, we have been working like mad to get things planted. George also has been busy making fences. Both pups are gourmands, LOVING veggies, flowers, herbs, grass, soil, fertilizer–if we plant it, they will eat it. And they have generously shared their personal fertilizer on a few choice perennials.

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So, we are putting up small fences, at least while they are young.

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We have eight raised beds this year (with little dog-proofing additions), two large beds for corn, tomatoes, potatoes, melons, and squash, and a separate bed for growing flax (which I’m going to try to process for spinning). Our little orchard trees are thriving. I will transplant the apples I grafted last year to the gaps in our ring of old trees.

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Last year’s grafted trees are ready to transplant.

And my herb garden is flourishing. We are rich.

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Aside from all our work outside, we’ve had visitors. Our son and daughter-in-law were here early in the month while the weather was a little iffy. But we had glorious weather and crashing waves on our trip to Pemaquid Point.

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Last week, we had doggy guests. Capp’s brother, Henry, and a sweet female, Quinn, came for two days.

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Capp and Henry.

One day was freakishly hot, so we had dog summer camp, complete with a pool.

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Our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren will be here in a few days so we are madly trying to get everything planted before they arrive. I think we are going to make it.

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May and a Walking Wheel

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Our drought is officially over. April did it in. We have had a soggy, misty, cold-footed, gray-skied, sodden-lawn spring.

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April’s wet and chill delayed the emergence of new growth, but in May, we are greening up.

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Trees are blooming, leaves popping out, and a few flowers are showing their colors. Our lawn is so green it feels more like Ireland than Maine.

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As I raked up the “mummies,” old apple drops from last year, I found that some were germinating the seeds within.

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It looks as if something chewed this and spit it out.  But it’s just the rotting apple with its seeds sprouting.  A perfect medium for growing.  I planted these in a pot.  It will be fun to see if I can bring some apples up from seeds at the same time we raise them from grafts.

In May, the birds and the bees are back.

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Rose Breasted Grosbeak

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Our bluebirds and swallows have been jousting over the most select bird houses, but seem to be settling into the same ones they chose last year. Several birds have checked out the new houses we put up, but last year’s houses seem to be the preferred real estate.

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When I cleaned out last year’s nests, I found the bluebirds had lined their nest of grass, twigs, and assorted vegetative matter with about an inch of compacted but soft, downy, white something. At first I thought it was sheep’s wool, but then realized it was Zoe’s fur. I like to brush dogs outside in the spring and summer and throw their fur to wind. It’s an easy way to dispose of the fur and I thought some birds might use it. Little did I think that I would find a lovely reminder of Zoe in a bird’s nest almost a year after she died. I hope Capp and Alice’s fur will line nests this year.

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As for Alice, we have discovered that she is a beast in the water. Her father was a hunting retriever and she obviously has his genes. I suspect she would retrieve to her last breath. When Alice is happy every bit of her being exudes pure joy in doing what she is doing.

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Capp, in the water, prefers retrieving sticks to bumpers. So far, he is an enthusiastic farmer boy, inspecting (and eating) all we do in the yard. A gorgeous bundle of swagger and sweetness, he is full of adolescent male curiosity and loving intelligence. We are fortunate to have two dogs packed with personality and love.

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Both dogs are garden marauders, though. George had to dog proof our raised beds to keep pups from cavorting in them. They love to eat every kind of green and brassica, charcoal bits, weeds, sticks, and Capp eats tulips (not good for dogs!).

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Our hillside is starting to look a bit like a little farm.

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Cold frame is filling up.

The strawberry patch is doing well, the asparagus shoots are poking up, our orchard trees are swelling with buds and we are putting in new beds for flax and more vegetables.

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George built a holder for the tractor’s shank ripper.  Looks like a throne or an electric chair.

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Even our mushroom logs look like they might produce something.

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The white is mycelium growing (so they tell us).

We are tearing out almost all of the rugosa roses that lined our parking area and the front of the house in a scraggly hedge want-to-be.

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I hate to destroy someone else’s vision for the property, but after two years, both George and I came to harbor a sort of hatred for the spiny invasive devils. Allowed to grow wild in a hedge, they might be wonderful. But they were not planted in wild-hedge territory. They sucker up huge unwieldy shoots and creep everywhere underground, through lawn, gravel, wood–persistent little spiny monsters. And for much of the year they are really very ugly.

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So, we dug most of them out and righted their severely listing retaining wall. We are planting a variety of sweet-smelling pollinator-attracting shrubs instead. RIP prickly invaders. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of you.

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We have installed a new package of bees in the hive and, on our few sunny days, they have been bringing in loads of yellow pollen.

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I did a post mortem (I wish–what do I know, really?) on the hive and concluded that I killed the bees through my worrying and ineptness. The hive was loaded with honey and I could find no obvious signs of disease. Without getting into too much detail, I believe that I should have insulated the hives and should not have opened them for what turned out to be totally unnecessary winter feedings of sugar cakes. I had large bee die-offs both times I opened the hives, so there clearly was a connection. The good news is that it doesn’t look like the bees died from mite infestations or other diseases. The bad news is that I probably killed them. Live and learn. In any case, I harvested one frame of delicious honey and the bees this year have a good head start.

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May also brought me a walking wheel.

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I am having a sort of love affair with antique spinning wheels. I now have three wheels. Mudd Sharrigan did a beautiful job in restoring the flyer and bobbin for my Connecticut wheel.

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The flyer, bobbin, and whorl, broken and chipped.

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Mudd retained the original flyer as much as possible, while rebuilding the arms and filling in the chipped areas.  

I took the ancient flax off of the distaff–it has been on there longer than I have been alive–and found that the distaff was made of a sapling, stripped of bark, with the branches curved upwards.

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The distaff on a flax wheel holds the prepared flax to be spun. 

Such distaffs are not uncommon, but just think of someone going out in the woods and picking out a young tree and shaping it so long ago. I love the history of these old wheels.

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A comparison, of the size of the Connecticut flax wheel with the New Hampshire Walking Wheel.

My new/old wheel probably dates from the 1800s in New Hampshire. Walking wheels–also called great wheels–were used for spinning wool and are huge compared to the Saxony style flax wheels.  My new wheel is as tall as I am.  What a beauty.

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She has a spindle–the Sleeping Beauty prick your finger kind of spindle– with an accelerating head (also called a Minor’s or Miner’s head) patented in the early 1800s.

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I am just learning the ins and outs of spinning on her. It will take a while.  When I hit the sweet spot, it clicks, literally, with a tick-tick-tick sound of the spindle and wool. I can see that it is a dance of wheel, wool, and spinner.

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More on this wheel later.

Something Other Than Dogs

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This past year was dog-dominated.  Zoe’s illness and death, building a dog fence, searching for a pup and adult dog—we had eleven months straight of thinking about dogs.  But now our little pack is complete again.

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Our house feels satisfyingly full of life and just right.  We can finally can turn our full attention to other things—and bring the dogs along.

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So, here we are, heads full of outside projects and bodies eager for physical work–primed and ready to go.  Only to be thwarted by weather.  Last year, March found us pruning, moving our raised beds, digging drainage, and preparing for planting.

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Last March

Not this year.

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This March

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Closer up, the little swale is solid ice.

March has been kind of a brat.  The deep snow from our February storms lingered for weeks.

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By the time March pranced in, all lamb-like and sweet, it was mostly melted.  The soft air, smelling of new growth, lasted for two brief days before we descended into an icebox.

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Lilac buds before the cold

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Sticky pine buds

Not a surprise.  March in Maine is notorious for weather extremes.  And, sure enough, after the first cold, mild weather returned, which combined with longer daylight teased us for a few days into thinking that spring might be approaching.  I walked the property looking for the emergence of some of the bulbs that I planted last fall.  Not a one.  I was disappointed, but not for long, because temperatures plummeted again giving us the coldest weather that we’ve experienced since we moved to Maine.

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New poppy growth on the south side of the house had emerged and then got zapped by the cold.

The temperature kept dropping  after we got up yesterday until it hit 4 below zero (Fahrenheit) mid-morning, with screeching winds, driving wind-chills to about 25 below.

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Perhaps the bulbs knew better than to poke their delicate stems into an impending arctic blast.   If my bees were still alive, I would be very worried about them surviving these extreme variations in temperature.

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Unhappy rhododendrons

This late deep chill cannot be easy on our local wildlife.  The ground is frozen solid and any emerging shoots have had all succulence stripped by the cold.  We have seen a few signs of the fox near last year’s den, but our fenced-in area comes much closer to the den now, so I suspect the fox will not be raising its kits there this year.  We have had plenty of rabbit tracks in our woods, but very little sign of deer this winter.

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Therefore, we were surprised when, during the warm spell, we saw a dead deer, lying about twenty feet off of the road in a field on the hillside down our road toward town.  It was a full-sized adult and had already been partially eaten by some largish animal.  We suspected coyotes, but there weren’t evident tracks and little sign of a struggle.

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Lots of deer tracks on the roadside but no coyote tracks

A neighbor had seen a deer the day before that had seemed “not quite right,” so we wonder if it had been grazed and injured by a car and then easily taken down by a coyote or, perhaps just died on its own.  We did hear coyotes howling the next night, for the first time all year, right below our property.  In any case, the deer carcass attracted eagles, which hunkered in the large trees lining the field, overlooking the bolder crows and ravens.  The smaller birds cawed and called at the eagles, flying up to the trees near them, whether to try to warn them off or not, I don’t know, but it was fascinating to watch.

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Immature bald eagle.  He was huge.

The cold is not all bad.  It has given me time to finish up my indoor winter projects.  Spring cleaning—ugh, I hate housework—is underway.  And I finished my kaleidoscope quilt.

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The quilt is made of fabrics that reflect our life here in Maine—foxes, birds, cows, the ocean, the sky, garden flowers and vegetables, wild flowers and plants, apples, bees—all in there, in little triangular pieces, forming larger circle-like kaleidoscope designs.

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New potholders from the quilt scraps.  That’s a stuffed opossum on the floor, not a dead animal.

Now that the quilt is finished, the sewing area–with a bank of southern-facing windows—will be converted to our seedling nursery.

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I started onions and leeks two weeks ago and am planting celery, chard, lettuce, and herbs today.  Last year I used a variety of pots for the seedlings—peat, plastic, and yogurt cups.  The best planters by far were gallon water jugs.  I poked drainage holes with scissors and cut around the middle.  I left a hinged area last year, but probably will cut off the hinges as I plant more this year, because the hinged tops take up too much room.

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Little greenhouses

I left the tops down, cloche-like, when I wanted an extra green-house effect and lifted them up when it got hot and moist.  I had read about this method on-line and decided to give it a try.  They worked brilliantly.  I didn’t need a heat mat or grow lamps.  Granted we get a lot of sun in our windows, but the greenhouse effect of the bottle really made a difference in heating the soil.  When it’s time to harden off, again the tops serve to heat the soil and protect the plants from wind when they are set outside.  They transplant easily and I had no problems with damping off (I did with some of the peat pots).  I was converted and will be using only water jugs this year.

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While it feels like mid-winter outside, the chickadees’ sweet mating calls continue, and we have warm soil and seedlings inside.  Happy March.

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Sunrise, Sunset

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As if to compensate for the fading leaves, our late October skies exploded with color. Morning temperatures drew gauzy mists up from the lakes or created fog banks hunkering over the shore.

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The sky became a brilliant contrasting backdrop to the mist and fog, as the sun rolled up over the blue Camden hills.

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We have an unobstructed view of sunrise, but being on the southeast side of a ridge, do not see the sun drop under the horizon at sunset. No matter. We get a show just the same. As the old day heads toward nightfall, colors so extreme as to best be described as lurid or garish light up the western, then southern, then eastern skies. Honestly, this photo looks muted in comparison to the real thing.

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October’s variable weather, golden light, and temperature inversions contribute to these remarkable bookends on the day.

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Typical for this time of year, the weather has been fickle–summery one day, scudding clouds and rain the next, followed by a bit of frost and wintry air.

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The poor honey bees do not know whether to hunker down or get out and forage.

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There are still a few lingering flowers, but the bees go quickly from one to another, finding little on offer.

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Some are still bringing in pollen, however. I fed them sugar water for a few weeks to help them shore up their winter honey supply. I likely will slip in a fondant patty in a week or two, strap the hive down, build a straw-bale windbreak, and the bees will be on their own until early spring.

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Whether it is due to the bees’ pollination, the summer drought, or something else altogether, the fall berries are especially abundant this year.

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The milkweed is bursting out of its pods.

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The geese are migrating so high overhead that we can hear them well before they become visible.

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All kinds of mushrooms are springing up in the lawn after it rains, making me paranoid that Capp will eat some (he eats everything), vomit profusely, twitch a little, and promptly die.

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We continue to put the gardens to bed, and ready the orchard for winter.

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Capp helps cover the strawberries.

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The last of the carrots and beets.

I am absurdly proud of my little orchard nursery. All of the apple grafts that I clumsily attempted at the spring grafting workshop were successful and grew into impressive little apple trees.

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The grafted apples in May.

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The same grafted trees in October.

Next spring we will replant them in various places on the property. We will have more area cleared and ready for fruit trees, flowering shrubs, another vegetable bed, and a sitting area with some scattered perennial and annual flowers.

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Thanks to George’s hard work, the fence is almost finished. It looks like arms enfolding our garden and orchard.

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We still need to do some post leveling, attach the screen, and hang the gates. Once the fence is done, we will start looking for another dog to keep Capp company.

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It has been a busy fall, tempered and bounded by very bad and very good news from loved ones. Grief, happiness, and change all mixed up together. Bring on winter.

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Picture Perfect Days

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I love this time of year in Maine. No sadness for me over the passing of summer. I am ready for the cool wood-smokey air, the thick golden afternoon sunlight, and the magical color explosion that is fall in New England.

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The color in the perennial garden pales next to the maples.

When we lived in Alaska, I always became depressed in the fall. The season there was so brief–a week or so of glorious yellow aspens, soon stripped by strong winds.

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It was a jarring transition from the wonder of an Alaskan summer to a very long stretch of winter darkness and cold.

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Fall in Maine, on the other hand, gradually unfolds in a lovely progression of harvest and colors so exquisite they almost hurt.

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And the colors change day by day, as one tree fades, others peak, making every walk and drive a changing palette of brilliance.

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Photographs do not adequately convey the way the sun illuminates the trees, transforming them into glowing, blazing living sculptures.

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The colors this year are the most vivid I have ever seen.

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Out kayaking when the leaves were just starting to turn, the reflections were so clear that they created kaleidoscope-like patterns.

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Reflection of a log turned on its side.

The water was very low and I had to carefully work my way over the shallows from lake to river–just an inch to spare.

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This sand bar was a foot underwater in the spring.

But I was rewarded by basking turtles and a heron unfazed as I slowly drifting nearby.

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No frost yet, so I am slowly–very slowly–putting the vegetable gardens to bed.

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The sunflowers continue to feed the birds and one acrobatic red squirrel.

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George has been working hard putting in our back fence.

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And Capp is enjoying our picture perfect days.

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The door is open and I’m not sneaking outside. Good boy.

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Empty Spaces

IMG_3539Zoe’s death left recurring, sometimes unexpected, often random, but always heart-sad, voids in our life. Her absence permeates our daily routines. Her weight on our feet at night in bed, the expectant face as we stirred in the morning, strings of drool as she politely, patiently waited for her breakfast, the intent eyes and head tilt at the slightest sign of an impending morning walk, her serene pose in the shady grass under the apple tree as she surveyed her domain, her joyous enthusiasm for countless daily pleasures (fetch! ride in the car! snow! popcorn! you’re home!), helicopter tail wags of utter pleasure, twitching tiny-bark dreams, and–to the very end–the thump, thump of her tail when we entered the room–all that love–it’s just gone. All those empty Zoe spaces. IMG_2107.jpg
So, what to do. We have never been of the school of thought that it is disrespectful to soon replace a dog with another dog. In fact, in my experience, the only way to really heal from the loss of a dog is to get another one. But, it’s not so easy. We really want another Lab. Although we have had several rescue dogs over the years, it’s hard to find a rescue Lab in Maine. Labs are in high demand here, being the quintessential Maine dog, posing beside fireplaces and Old Town Canoes in countless L.L.Bean catalogs. The few available rescues are imported from southern states and have only a passing resemblance to actual Labrador-hood. And we are serious about taking in a dog–it’s for life, no matter what. We want a good fit. For us and for the dog.

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I don’t want to keep posting  endless Zoe pictures, so am putting in some random shots.

But litters from reputable breeders are reserved for months in advance. We were desolate at the thought of six months or so without a dog. Noooooo!!!! So we have been hoping that people will drop off litter reservation lists. Zoe came to us that way. She had been promised to the Fire Chief of a coastal Alaskan town, but he was about to be divorced and decided not to take her. His misfortune was our gain. Zoe would have loved being a fire station dog (and living on the ocean) so I always felt that we had a high standard to live up to.

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Pinkish Queen Anne’s Lace

All this leads to the fact that we have spent a great deal of time researching potential dogs. It’s time to fill the house with dogs. We believe that we have found a male pup that we can bring home in September. We are going to look at the litter tomorrow. I’m so excited I likely won’t sleep many winks tonight. IMG_3245In the meantime, we are busy. We have visitors throughout the whole month of August, including our children and grandchildren (and a family reunion in Connecticut). We are so full up with visitors, work on the gardens, and dog research, that I have not had the time to even look at other blogs, let alone leave comments. I doubt that I will have any real blog time until September. Forgive me, blog friends.

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Raised beds, corn, tomatoes, and our growing brush pile.

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The gardens are doing fairly well, despite a prolonged drought.

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We dug this swale this spring and now are filling it with rocks. It diverts the water that had been soggying up our orchard area.

It’s been a month of lilies.  A few survived the lily beetles and others grow by the roadside. IMG_3390.jpgIMG_3306.jpgIMG_3296.jpgIMG_3672.jpgIMG_3294We have more vegetables than we can eat and are about to be hit with an avalanche of tomatoes.

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Baby watermelon

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Tonight’s tomato sauce ingredients

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I found two enormous tomato hornworms and quickly drowned them in a soap bath.

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Voracious and bloated-looking.

My herb garden is flourishing, loving the dry weather.

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Herb garden in mid-July.

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Three weeks later (and looking from the opposite direction).

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I’ve been continually harvesting and drying herbs.

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The bluebirds that had been casually hanging around the bluebird house turned out to have had a second brood. The babes never thrust their hungry beaks out the box opening as did the swallows, but, for about a week, we heard them clamoring for food every time their parents approached the box. The fledglings emerged last week and sat upon the box top before taking small experimental flights.

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One of the fledglings.

It was quite different from the swallow babes, who took off like acrobats at first flight, swooping and confident.

Even though it’s been very dry, we continue to have some nectar flow for the bees and the hummingbirds.

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I guess it’s the pistil of the blue globe thistle that curls as it matures.

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No curling on the younger flower.

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Corn doesn’t need bees for pollination, wind is sufficient, but there were some bees on the corn.

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We had a lovely day at Fort Knox, up the coast, with our son’s in-laws, and enjoyed the dizzying views from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory.  IMG_3504

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I love the shapes, lines, and textures at the fort and the bridge.

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The observatory is at the top.

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Happy August. See you in September.IMG_3541.jpgIMG_3649IMG_3724.jpg

Midsummer

IMG_3126We received bad news on Zoe this week. She initially rallied on steroids but then did not continue to improve. After further tests, it appears that she does have a fast-moving cancer. So, we are staying close to home to keep our sweet girl company, just as she has kept us company throughout her life. She remains happy, although she is getting weaker and less mobile.  IMG_3188As we come to grips with the bad news, our whole property is pulsing with midsummer life. The bees were coming in so laden with deep yellow pollen last week that they looked as though they would miss their landings. IMG_2649I traced the bees to the staghorn sumac, which was in full bloom and bursting with pollen. IMG_2730We have several varieties of sumac on our hillside, but the bees were ignoring all but the male staghorn blossoms.

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Close up of red sumac blossom, with no bees in sight.

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The plentiful hairs on this bee indicate that she is relatively young. The hairs will wear off as the bee ages.  She’s in the staghorn blossoms here and has pollen even on her rear hairs.

After the sumac flow slowed, the bees were driven to a frenzy by our Flemish Antique poppies. Each poppy only lasts a day and every morning they were mobbed with wild and honey bees frantically gathering nectar and stripping the pollen. I have never seen anything like it.IMG_3066Our borage, in comparison, was almost deserted. IMG_3110.jpgIMG_2939.jpgAnd the bees were much less interested in our small jelly bean poppies. IMG_2896All the pollinators have been on the wild milkweed, however, which has been spectacularly lush and sweetly fragrant this year.IMG_3172IMG_2841.jpg

IMG_3138.jpgOur yard has been alive with butterflies, moths, bumblebees, sweat bees, unidentified wild bees, wasps, and moths. IMG_2785.jpgIMG_3145.jpg

IMG_2877IMG_2936IMG_2988IMG_3029IMG_2812But, our baby swallows are gone.  After entertaining us for days, we watched them leave the nest one by one. It was such a thrill to see their first flights.  We still have swallows and bluebirds in the yard, so apparently they like it here.IMG_2446.jpgIMG_2463

Although the weather has been extremely dry, we have had enough rain to keep most of our vegetables coming along nicely. We are harvesting peas, lettuce, early potatoes, baby onions, collards, kale, carrots, and lots of herbs. IMG_3112

I had to pull out some cabbage being chewed by pesky cabbage worms. The cabbage moths continue to hover over all the brassicas, so I will harvest them soon and then put in a new, unmolested, bed for fall harvest and cover it with agribon fabric to keep the moths out.

Our goldfinches turned out to be unexpected garden marauders.  They have been dining on the rainbow chard. They are not eating bugs or worms, but the chard itself. Goldfinches generally eat seeds, so I’m wondering if they sought moisture from the chard leaves in our recent dry spell.IMG_3025.jpg

Our wild apples are plumping up and looking less disease and pest-ridden than last year. We did some pruning in the spring to cull out branches and let in more light and air. It appears to have improved the apples.IMG_2766

And so, life goes on.IMG_2516.jpgIMG_2567.jpg

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Lupine pods.

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Old Dog Days

IMG_2053.jpgJune put us through the wringer. It started out all flowers and bees. And then, as the world drama escalated with violence, Brexit, and the everpresent Donald, our world contracted to one sweet old dog–Zoe. IMG_2121.jpg
She had been showing her age this spring. Her arthritis was worsening and she became increasingly unwilling to do much of anything in the hot weather (Alaskan to the core, she has never liked the heat). The vet thought it was laryngeal paralysis, related neuropathy, and some aspiration pneumonia.

Zoe went on antibiotics and we drove to Portland, an hour-and-a-half away, for an assessment as to Zoe’s suitability for surgery for the laryngeal paralysis. Before we could even schedule surgery, however, Zoe’s condition precipitously declined. A cliff-dive of hurt. She ran a continuous fever, was in pain, and was becoming increasingly lame. It got so bad that she could barely stand up and when she did, she tented her legs and looked at us pleading “please help me” in her eyes. Eventually, she refused breakfast. Not good. Zoe always eats.

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Last month

Throughout this we had several veterinarians, here and in Portland, trying to figure out what was going on. Even in her wiped-out condition, she charmed them all. After multiple trips to Portland, a stay in the doggy hospital, rounds of antibiotics, IVs, and numerous tests, it looked as if she had a fast-moving and incurable cancer. We tried to be resigned for the worst when, happily, her bone marrow test came back negative for cancer.  When Zoe then responded  well to steroids, the prime suspect became an immune-mediated condition.IMG_2052.jpg
We brought her home and she’s been gradually, but steadily, improving. Not quite the old Zoe, but good, nonetheless. Her blood tests today–a week later–showed improvement, so we are cautiously optimistic.

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Smiling again

Zoe was always what you would call a good eater and the steroids have made her even more enthusiastic. She is sleeping lots but still enjoying the pleasures of food and lying in the sun. She’s been reluctant to leave the house, even for a survey of the yard. But the past few days, she has seemed more like her old self. Whatever happens, to be honest, we did not think she was going to live past last week. So, for now, we are simply enjoying her wonderful presence. IMG_2188.jpg
In the meantime, life goes on around us. IMG_2221.jpgOur swallows have a second brood hatched and we sit with Zoe on the porch to watch the parents feeding their ravenous chicks.

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I took this photo for the clouds but caught a swallow parent swooping toward the nest box with food.

The poor parents are going continuously and I’m hoping that our cabbage worm population is going right in the mouths of those chicks.

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Checking out the world

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Feed me

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The blur at the right is an insect in the parent bird’s bill.  It doesn’t look like one of my bees (although I’m sure there have been some casualties).

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Our bluebirds may have a second brood, we’re not sure. Whatever they are up to baby-wise, they are still hanging around and wonderful to watch.

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Anchoring himself in a strong wind

The garden is dry. We are woefully short of rain. But we are harvesting our early vegetables, the corn was on track with “knee-high by the Fourth of July,” green tomatoes are forming, and the potatoes are going nuts. IMG_2071.jpgI’ve neglected the perennials. IMG_2167But, of course, they continue with their lovely blooms, despite whatever else happens in the world.IMG_2063.jpg
So July starts as June did with more flowers, bugs, birds, and summer skies.

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Gorgeous hummingbird moth

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Cedar waxwing

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Face in the cloud

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Something has twice wound the suet feeder up into the tree for easier access (maybe?). IMG_2054.jpgWe suspect the brown thrasher, who seems to find the suet and the hanging rope to be a personal challenge. IMG_0806Our birdbath has an evening line of birds waiting to enjoy a little cool-down.IMG_1703.jpgIMG_1705.jpgIMG_1656.jpg
Zoe enjoys a little cool down too.IMG_2253.jpg

Sweet Symbiosis

IMG_1835A teacher at my beekeeping class this spring warned us that, once we had bees, we would never view plants in the same way again. He was right. I love plants. I like to grow them, observe them, smell them, eat them, identify them, revel in them, and occasionally talk to them. But now, I also see them as allies in keeping my bees healthy and happy.IMG_1193_edited-1
The relationship between bees and flowers is more than just mutually beneficial–they need each other for continued existence. To reproduce, most plants must transfer pollen from the anther to the stigma–a difficult task to pull off alone when you are rooted to the ground and cannot move. That is where wind, animals, and–mostly–flying pollinators come to the rescue. Bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and birds do the job that plants cannot do for themselves. IMG_1755They spread the riches. And, at the same time, take home some for themselves. A neat arrangement developed over an unimaginable amount of time. A sweet symbiosis.IMG_1851
My daily walks and garden checks have taken on a bee-like perspective. I have become keenly interested in exactly what is blooming, what pollinators are attracted to those blossoms, whether the nectar is flowing, and where my bees are foraging. I have a whole new appreciation of the intricate dance between plants and their pollinators. IMG_1314
After the apple blossoms faded, we had a long spell of dry weather. Although the honeysuckle was blooming, the nectar didn’t seem to be flowing and there were only a few dump-truck-sized bumblebees tumbling around. IMG_0894.jpgWe finally got much-needed rain, after which the flowers and pollinators went into high gear. IMG_1125.jpgIMG_1141_edited-1.jpgIMG_1400Our bees wasted no time in finding our neighbor’s lupines. The bees stretched open the bottom petals to get at the nectar.   Fascinating.IMG_1229
IMG_1235IMG_1234IMG_1237Many of our showiest blossoms are not honey bee magnets.

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No bees yet.

The honey bees have avoided the rhododendrons and peonies, and have shown little interest in the iris or oriental poppies.   Here’s a bee-less poppy through all it’s stages.IMG_1275IMG_1278

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All that pollen. Some bees have been bringing in dark pollen like this, but I haven’t seen them visiting the poppies.

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The bumble bees, in contrast, love the rhododendron and irises.IMG_1296IMG_1389

I discovered the honey bees instead, often deep in the woods, feasting on the inconspicuous green bittersweet blossoms and drifts of raspberry brambles.

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Bittersweet

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Wild bee on a wild raspberry blossom.  I haven’t learned to identify the wild bees yet.  Next year.

Our honey bees are not the only pollinators, of course. We have plenty of wild bees, butterflies, wasps, and birds doing their part. IMG_1465

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He sips lots of flower nectar, too. I just haven’t caught him with the camera.

As an update to previous posts, we have had three active nests in our bird boxes. The bluebirds seemed to have successfully raised their chicks. One day they were coming and going with slugs and worms for their little ones and the next day they were all gone. We missed their departure from the nest.

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Swallows nestbuilding.

But this morning we watched the tree swallow fledglings emerge from another box to take their first flight. They almost crashed into George. Exuberant, glorious things. We still have wrens nesting in the front yard box.IMG_1658
And George built Zoe two ramps. IMG_1563.jpgShe’s appreciative.IMG_0867

One Full Circle

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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:

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

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Now garden beds.

A year later:IMG_0297

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

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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,

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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.

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I love strawberries.

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Still drawing comb in this frame.

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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.

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It looks lush, but it’s very dry.

 

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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.

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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

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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