Tapping In and Warping Up


We are waiting for our third snowstorm in two weeks. Even so, the air, light, and birdsong feel like spring. Our earliest seedlings–onions and leeks–are lined up in front of the upstairs southern window, with kale, chard, lettuce, and peppers soon to follow. And this year, we were even more aware of signs of spring because we tapped maples for syrup.


The sap has been running for several weeks and there’s such a good flow this year that we actually have too much to use. We only tapped three trees and one–the big house-side maple that turns brilliant crimson in the fall–had such thick bark that we didn’t drill deep enough and gave about a third of the amount of sap of the other two. But, even so, we are drowning in sap.


The dogs love to go gather the sap.

On our first boil, we used our lobster pot on the grill-side burner outside. It is supposed to take about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so it has to boil for a long time. A very long time.


We finished it off on our kitchen stove indoors.


We ended up with about a quart and a half of syrup on the first boil.


We decided to do all of the second boil on our kitchen stove. It was much faster and we can use the added moisture in the air.


Our trees are red maple rather than sugar maple and the syrup has a distinctive vanilla-like flavor different than commercial syrup. Since we have so much sap, I’ve been drinking it. Delicious.


Right from the bucket with its own ice.

Aside from gathering sap, gathering wood, and our usual walks, we have been enjoying the last of winter’s snowbound inside days. As soon as the snow melts, we’ll be out pruning , readying the gardens, and starting building projects.


I have loved the inside time.  I made a small quilt to cover the couch for the dogs.


Note the wine for basting.

But I spent most of my winter blissfully spinning, restoring wheels, and weaving–for the first time in decades.


George resurrected my old loom.


The poor thing has been stored for about 40 years.



He made a new square beam, tightened up joints and glued a break, and made new dowel pieces for the sectional beam.


I made a new apron and replaced the old cords and tie ups with texsolv, a wonderful easy system using eye-looped cords and plastic pegs.


It’s a unique and wonderful little loom. The woman I bought it from in the 1970s said that her grandfather made it for her grandmother early in the 1900s.


The loom was thoughtfully made, and includes lights conveniently placed front and back. When George brought the lights in to have the wiring brought up to code, we found that one of the lightbulbs had a tungsten filament and dated from the 1920s. It’s still working.



Even the light clamp looks like it’s from the 20s

I had forgotten how much I love to weave.


Unlike some weavers, I enjoy all of the preparation steps–


winding the warp,


threading the reed and heddles,


and seeing the neat warp all wound on, miraculously untangled and ready to weave.


For this first weave, I made twill dish towels, without any set color or treadling pattern, just experimenting with both.


Ready to hem and clip the strays


I also took some Soay yarn that I have been spinning and did a quick sample, thinking I might use it in my next project. But I liked it so much that I wove enough to cover the seat in my spinning chair. Soay sheep shed their wool in lumps rather than being shorn, and the wool is fine and crimpy but with lots of short strands and little clumps.


I spun it nubbly, thinking it might look interesting in a traditional twill, and was surprised at how much I liked it in this rosepath twill.


My wheel herd continues to grow bigger and I have all of them spinning. Now to find new homes for some of the rescues.


Our aggressive male bluebird continues to plague us daily. He continued to attack the windows even on the most frigid winter days. I wish we could have him neutered.


Yardbirds and Going Undercover


We stopped feeding the birds sunflower seeds this spring after a chipmunk (or red squirrel) had an air-filter-and-hood-insulation feeding frenzy in our car. We hoped that the rodents that normally forage for sunflower seed debris under our feeders would move on down the road and, so far, it seems to be helping. We see very few squirrels now and our chipmunk population is down to two.


The goldfinches survey the garden but haven’t eaten the chard yet this year.  Perhaps they did so last year to get moisture during the drought.  

I dragged myself kicking and screaming into the decision to stop feeding the birds. George and I love watching the birds at our feeders. But now, several months later, I have found an unexpected boon to taking down the seed feeder. We seem to have a greater variety of birds in the yard now and an increase in the nesting population. It’s possible that I am simply more observant of bird behavior around the yard now that the bird feeder playground has been closed. But I think it is more than that and we actually have had a change in the resident bird dynamics.


A robin nesting in an apple tree in the middle of our yard.  

We still feed suet and added two more birdbaths, so continue to see most of the usual suspects. We see far fewer chickadees and cardinals, but now the more elusive warblers–which I usually hear but don’t see–have been putting in appearances in trees near the house. The biggest change, however, has been the increase in nesting couples.


Robin eggshells?

Aside from the bluebirds, swallows and wrens nesting in our boxes, I believe we have bluejays, robins (at least two pairs), mourning doves, catbirds, sparrows, nuthatches, and phoebes nesting in trees in and around our yard.


This past week, the late-nesting goldfinches and cedar waxwings have been gathering string and wool for their nests. I don’t know why we have become such a bird nursery this year. Perhaps there are less predators with our large fenced area and without the attraction of a feeder. In any case, I am glad that we took the feeders down.


Mourning dove nesting in the apple tree behind our compost bin.  The male sits on it during the day and the female takes the night shift.  

We were fortunate again this year to see the first flights of some of the swallow nestlings. They don’t fool around with little short flights to a neighboring tree.  They carve a wide arc into the sky, trying out all the swooping, gliding, turning, fluttering swallow acrobatics in that first amazing flight. It’s looks like utter exhilaration in motion. Imagine how it must feel to go from a crowded nest box to dancing on the wind like that.



Getting ready for the first flight with a meal of dragonfly.  The swallows are feeding constantly in the days before they leave the nest.  

The increased bird population has not been without its problems. Our male bluebird became crazed after the birth of his brood and starting attacking our house windows with mind-numbing (his and ours) zealous hits–boom, flutter, boom. Over and over and over. It looked as if it would hurt, but he persisted–for hours–then days. We leaned a piece of plywood against his favorite window to cut down on the reflection.


But he simply moved to our vehicles’ side mirrors,



becoming so enraged at his reflection that he couldn’t contain his poop, leaving us with cascades of lovely fecal matter down both sides of the car and truck.


I finally had to cover the mirrors.


The babes have flown and I suspect he thinks he’s warding off competition for a second brood.


Our other bird issue was not unexpected. We had our first real crop of strawberries this year and as they started to ripen, it was apparent that something was eating them. I didn’t know if it was birds, chipmunks, or mice until I caught a cedar waxwing redhanded. We quickly cobbled together a funky netting system to cover them, which has worked beautifully. Except for the fact that I have to crawl around to pick the berries and weed.


The netting is hard to see but so far it has kept the birds out.

We also covered our brassicas this year with agribon fabric.


They were devastated by cabbage moth caterpillars last year. So far, the plants are thriving under the fabric.  The agribon does raise the temperature, so may end up being too hot for the cool-loving brassicas.


We’ll see.



The wet weather last month may have contributed to the shoot blight we’re seeing on young poplars in the woods

Weatherwise, the past weeks have been perfect, with lots of gorgeous sun and warmth punctuated with afternoon and evening thunder storms.


George put in a water line to the vegetable gardens, but we haven’t had to use it yet, there has been such a nice mix of sun and rain.


Trench for the water line.

The bees are thriving,


flowers blooming,


and the dogs are doing their doggy things.



It’s been a good June.


First peach.


Something Other Than Dogs


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.


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.


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.


Last March

Not this year.


This March


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.


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.


Lilac buds before the cold


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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




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.


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


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


Lupine pods.


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

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



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.


IMG_7687After March’s spring tease, April was a reality check. My dreams of early gardening died a nasty death. The ground froze. It snowed. More than once. It iced. It rained. The wind blew from the north, the west, and now the southeast, a ferocious force here on our hillside. We now are under a high wind and flood warning. Fortunately, we are too high for floods, but the wind is making the house talk.  I’m hoping we don’t lose power before I finish this post.


A goldfinch transitioning from winter to summer plumage.

Although we have not been able to do much work outside, we have been well-occupied. I’ve been taking beekeeping and orcharding classes and keep starting seeds (they are taking over).  George built a hive stand, tung-oiled the bee hive, and moved compost over to our new raised bed sites. We just started pruning when the frigid weather hit. IMG_7743
As the weather forced us inside, the wildlife came out to play. Our wild turkey crew, hugely adult now, have been regularly cruising the yard and back woods. They scratched, scratched for what was left of the shriveled apples on the ground and were herded around like a harem by the Tom turkey. IMG_7707He strutted and puffed along behind his ladies.IMG_7712.jpg Until the truck distracted him.  He did not know what to make of the other Tom he saw in the bumper. IMG_7678.jpgPuzzled at first, he peered from below, above, and to the side. When it didn’t go away, he started attacking his reflection. Silly boy.IMG_7699.jpg
One afternoon when flocks of robins were wheeling around the house, we heard a massive thump as a bird hit our sliding glass doors. We don’t get many bird hits on our windows, perhaps because we don’t have many trees or feeders close against the house. This one, though, was a doozy. It was a Hairy Woodpecker, his body lying nearby on the lawn with a wing awkwardly outstretched. He appeared to be very dead. George and I gave him up for gone, agreeing that we would put the body in the woods as soon as we went outside.
Surprisingly, about fifteen minutes later, the given-up-for-dead one was sitting up and looking around. In another ten minutes or so, he flew up to the nearby pine that has our bird feeders and suet.


He looks a little roughed up, but not bad for one who looked grave-ready ten minutes earlier.

And this was the really fascinating thing–he rubbed his head thoroughly, up, down, and sideways on the branch in front of him, as if giving himself a head massage or trying to ease the pain. I’ve never seen a bird do that before. Then he stopped, sat quietly for a time, flew to the suet, had a good feed, and flew off. He’s been fine since. I suspect that any bird other than a woodpecker wouldn’t have survived such a hard hit. Woodpeckers skulls have evolved to cushion the pounding that their brains take when they drill away at trees. Apparently hardheadedness has some advantages. I’m glad this one made it.


Our tulips are suffering with the crazy weather. This one looks okay.


But many look worse for the wear.

During our tempestuous weather, we had one good cool, windless day for burning. George, with Zoe’s company, burned several huge brush piles in preparation for stump and rock clearing. IMG_7431George has been busy since fall clearing brush and cutting trees in the area below our lawn. He is clearing back to a curve of ancient apple trees. IMG_7783We will have our garden beds and a sitting area in the cleared space. We don’t have the equipment to pull the stumps and big rocks, however, so hired someone to bring in a little backhoe to do the job. Maine’s glacial hills are rock strewn and ours is no exception.IMG_7720
A day and half with the backhoe and the big rocks and stumps were out.


Looks a bit moonscape-ish.


The rocks are endless.  Dig some out, and the frost brings new ones up.  IMG_7790And we’re talking rocks of substance, not little nubbly things.  IMG_7792We have some new stone walls in the making. I am in awe of the early settlers who cleared these Maine woods.


This old stone wall is the back border of our property. No back hoes used for this one.

How they got those rocks and stumps pulled without modern machinery, is mind-boggling to me. IMG_7786So much work to clear fields. And when farmers moved West after the Civil War, the fields grew up so quickly again.IMG_7528
Our land was pasture not too many years ago, but has grown up again. I took a walk around it last week to see if we had any skunk cabbage in our low area, or any other surprises–I was hoping for lady slippers. I didn’t find either, but found plenty of interesting fungi and bark. IMG_7531IMG_7456IMG_7606IMG_7590IMG_7535.jpgIMG_7616.jpg
Aside from the turkeys, the foxes also have become very active again. We suspect they may have a den near our side yard. They come and go over to an old stone wall at all times of the day. Zoe sniffs with great interest and barks in that direction. She’s not a barker, so something has her attention. Perhaps we’ll see fox kits again this spring.IMG_7797.jpg


IMG_6535February has been a motley month. Outside, the days swing from winter snow, to pelting rain, to a golden, sun-infused, warm calm in a few hours. Back-and-forth, keeping us on our toes. IMG_6354.jpg
Sunrises are working their way north across our hill horizon, but the transition to spring is erratic. IMG_6151We have ice on puddles some mornings, while in the background we are starting to hear the birds’ spring mating calls.


This bell-shaped piece of ice was hanging over a stream at the edge of a small waterfall.

IMG_6747Perhaps the best harbinger of spring, though, is the maple sap, which has started to flow.


In modern sap collection for maple syrup, tubes carry the sap out of the tree, to the sugar house. Ugly but efficient.

The Bohemian Waxwings have hung around for weeks, dwindling from enormous flocks to smaller groups of thirty or forty. IMG_6271IMG_6215At first, they were spooked if I even opened a door, but eventually they grew more comfortable with us and I was able to get closer for photos.
We took a road trip last week to the FEDCO warehouse, a little more than an hour away. FEDCO is a seed, tree, and garden supply cooperative that is one of Maine’s treasures. On the way home, we swung over to Unity, the little farm town that hosts the Common Ground fair, is next to Bryant’s museum, and has a sizable traditional Amish population (previous Unity posts, Finding Common Ground, and Bryant’s).

Now it has another attraction. A world-class chef, formerly at Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s restaurant, left the high-pressure restaurant life, became Amish, and set up a charcuterie in the woods of Unity, with no-electricity, in the Amish way. His story has received considerable publicity lately (here’s a link to a great NPR piece amish deli) and, after driving down a rutted dirt lane, we found a long line inside the little store. People from all over were patiently waiting to buy sausage and cured meats, while watching what was kind of a show. This former chef, with a long beard and traditional Amish clothing, talked everyone up while he cut meat on fascinating non-electric slicers that looked like hundred-year-old relics. He was always moving, efficiently wrapping the meat and cheese in butcher paper with string pulled from overhead, while his young Amish assistant rang up purchases on an old-style cash register. We went home with some bacon, smoked pork loin, and smoked cheese. I can attest to its deliciousness. I am continually amazed by what Maine has to offer.


Smoked provolone.

February has been spring-planning time. Our (massively over-ambitious?) seed orders have arrived, we are gauging drainage and soil moisture to plan our orchard and garden bed lay outs. Likewise, we have been paying careful attention to winter sun and wind for locating our bee hive. We ordered the hive early and I happily spent two mornings constructed the frames that will hold the wax foundation for the bees to build their comb.


We will not be locating the hive in the spare bedroom.

Much more to come on the hive when we set it up for the bees’ arrival near the end of April.


Building the frames.  I have mise en place for nails.

Our winter garden revealed a new side this month. It sprouted rocks and shells. IMG_6417When we moved here late last May, we could see some shells and unusual rocks peeking out from under the perennials. But only now, with the snow melted and last year’s greenery gone or flattened, is their loveliness revealed. IMG_6510IMG_6631_edited-1Oyster, clam, mussel, and scallop shells are flanked by small collections of rocks with garnets, mica, rings, striations, and unusual shapes. IMG_6618IMG_6616They are beautiful against the dead winter leaves and stalks. Another unexpected treat from the former owners of this garden. IMG_6611Among the shells and rocks, some sprouts are emerging. Soon we will complete the final first year in this garden, seeing what bulbs will emerge.IMG_6247

Pemaquid, Waxwings, and the February Garden

We live in the hills and look out on more hills. When the light is just right, a shimmering sliver of water is illuminated on the far edge of our view, letting us know that the ocean is not far away. We decided recently to take a short road trip to the ocean at Pemaquid Point. It lies south of us, on one of a series of irregular peninsulas, formed by glaciers, and extending into the Atlantic between Rockland and Bath. IMG_5729
At Pemaquid, the land ends with a series of striated ledges extending into the water. IMG_5670A small lighthouse and bellhouse perch above. IMG_5665A woman was swept into the sea from these rocks the week before our visit. IMG_5676.jpgIt was during a swell arising from the storm that dumped snow on most of the east coast, but swerved out to sea below Maine. The swell produced some towering waves and one of them took the woman right in. IMG_5693.jpgFortunately, she was fished out with some injuries and hypothermia, but alive. IMG_5678.jpg
Although the sea was less lively during our visit, I stayed high on the rocks. Where I stood, when I looked inland, the sky was brilliantly blue IMG_5712.jpgIMG_5715and, when I turned to the water, there was a bank of shore clouds in beautiful, almost tubular row formations. IMG_5745Unfortunately, my picture-taking was cut short when I found my extra battery was dead. We’ll be back. IMG_5714
Soon after our Pemaquid trip, a flock of Bohemian Waxwings invaded. They have been here off-and-on for over a week.  They fly in over the valley and first settle on one of the larger trees, all facing in the same direction. IMG_6090IMG_6106After some time, with a great swoosh of wings, they all descend on a tree still covered with apples, where they noisily gorge on the likely fermented fruit and then wheel off again. IMG_5776.jpgIMG_5774Their post-feeding frenzy flights appear somewhat haphazard. Perhaps they are a little drunk. IMG_5783But they settle on a large tree again, compose themselves, and fly away in a neat formation again.  IMG_5778At first I thought they were cedar waxwings and there may be a few in the flock. But most seem to be Bohemians. IMG_5780


This distance shot is blown up, with poor resolution, but you can see the beautiful wing markings.

In any case, they are gorgeous birds and extremely entertaining.

Finally, inspired by bloggers in England, Ireland, and Australia, showing a lovely array of colorful February blooms, I thought I’d share our February garden. After unseasonably warm weather on Thursday, we were unexpectedly blanketed by almost 12″ of snow on Friday. IMG_5865.jpgAs a result, our February garden consists of empty seed pods,IMG_5995.jpg
rocks in snow,IMG_5944
berries in snow, IMG_6003.jpg
spruce in snow,IMG_6057
shriveled rosehips in snow,IMG_6016
a few baby cones,IMG_6044.jpg
and Zoe.IMG_5881IMG_5887