By 7;35 Monday 15 June I had looked out my bathroom window to see a pair of grackles mating in front of the bird feeder and stepped out on the porch to catch the first romps of a fawn. The Scrooge in me said, “damn, more of them!” but as a patroness of the meadow, I also had to admit to the privilege of such witnessing.

The fawn was adorable — all covered in speckles and testing its legs by racing around in wide circles. Its mother was trying to catch up with it to finish licking off the amniotic sac. Cute but not cute enough to want deer around.

Advice on eliminating or at least substantially reducing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is to cull the deer population by 90%. Erring on the conservative side, which would not be my preference, would cull this pack who appeared in April back to three. Even that would be a relief. In a restructured, post-covid world, I’d love to see resources spent on such a project. It would pay for itself I’m sure in the savings for the medical treatments and the reduced disabilities, which can be life-long, resulting from the disease. But here are photos of the other reason I could do with fewer deer: the chomping they do on plants. Images from before deer browse and after.

In the returning or emerging from hibernation category, I recently had my first good look (even if the photo isn’t) from that same bathroom window at the groundhog. My neighbors lent me their very large have-a-heart trap when I had evidence he was out of hibernation even if I hadn’t yet seen him. That was a couple of months ago. I pondered briefly what I would do once I had the groundhog in the trap, but decided those odds were so long that I could postpone giving that any thought. How right I was. Although last year this groundhog eat large helpings of kale from the veggie garden, he did not fall for kale as bait when in the trap. He is supposed to love cantaloupe as well. Not this one. My success with the trap was in causing the groundhog to move from under the folly back to his previous haunt under the kayaks. He’s still a free groundhog.

In the long interval of not catching him, he’s had time to break into the garden. So far he hasn’t. Scott finished re-enforcing the perimeter fence with 4-foot quarter-inch hardware cloth buried 2 feet. If this is the new deal: groundhog eats clover flowers in the grass but nothing in the veggie garden, I can return the trap to my neighbors and congratulate myself for not wasting time wondering what to do with a captured animal.

Other returners include the Baltimore orioles and the Ruby-throated hummingbirds who came back on schedule. And while I can’t count bees are returning, I unpacked a nuc of Carnolian bees into a hive on Monday. The nuc with its five busy frames of bees and a marked queen (blue dot) is henceforth the way I will replenish my bee yard. My previous method of renewing a hive by buying a package of bees is history.

Baltimore orioles at feeder

In the missing category — and this is serious — are the monarchs who have not returned. In past years, they have come back sometime in the first 2 weeks of June. Last year they were here on Flag Day. The milkweed is ready for them, and this year’s crop is a good one. I can’t imagine what a loss it will be if they don’t arrive. The privilege of monitoring this old field will be drastically diminished. More importantly, what does this foretell of the crisis facing the Monarch population? I’ll trade deer for the Monarchs.

Summer arrived in a downpour making it hard to distinguish from spring. While I’m still wearing fleece at the dawn and dusk, I have put away my flannel nightgown. It’s warming up.

Sadly, I was not snapping photos in the spring so that season is not represented here. With all the cool — really cold — rain, plants thrived. This was something of a triumph because last year I sent soil samples to the University of Connecticut only to learn that the three areas I have been trying to convert to gardens adjacent to my out buildings were nearly Superfund sites. The other area that did not test well was a corner of the meadow, what I now call the hillside garden, that for at least the three decades had supported Lonicera, Japanese knotweed and Goldenrod. There has been much speculation around here about why the soil next to the sheds and the old barn were so poor. Our favorite thesis based on elevated lead levels in those areas is that there was a good bit of dumping that went on there.

SKIP AHEAD if you don’t want to read soil reports. The clothes line garden had excessive calcium and below optimum Potassium. The outside shower garden had above optimum calcium and below optimum Potassium. The eastern side of the guest house garden, the only piece I tested because the other areas support plants, was below optimum for calcium, Magnesium and Potassium. I am pleased to report it has optimum amounts of Phosphorus. The hillside garden was below optimum for all four elements. Even the Winterberry garden that was planted in largely new soil imported as part of the 2010 renovation was shy of optimum Magnesium and Potassium. Only the clothes line garden was within a range of tolerable acidity and around here, we tolerate a lot of acidity.

The fall and early winter were busy times for soil amendment campaigns. This spring as I planted in the areas that had tested poorly, I kept up the soil augmentation. The process has been taxing. Although I mix my own fertilizers, I could not make one batch for all areas because each area needs a different prescription. Then UCONN gave the rates of application for areas much bigger than mine so I had to do more arithmetic to scale down to my small gardens. Patience is a virtue in gardening but one I don’t always have. I hope I have not put too many plants into unhealthy soil because I spent only a few months making amendments.

Ninebark and Buttonbush

Astillbe, Bloodroot and a non-native Solomon’s seal

Box and Meadow rue

Penstemon and Oakleaf hydrangea

Lamb’s ear and Iris

Rhododendron maximum and Hay scented fern

Douglas fir new growth

Blue spruce new growth

While its too early to tell about the “new” gardens, the old ones thought they were in England and thrived. Not only am I an impatient gardener, I am also untrained when it comes to garden design. The one design idea I do employ is leave shape and color contrasts. If Eskimos need hundreds of words for ice, I could use a larger hue vocabulary for green.

On the fauna front: the honey bees did not make it to the spring but they left me a full box of honey. I was in Holland and Germany at the time when I would have started new hives, so I’m going without this year. First time in a decade. Honey bees are around. Today I saw quite a number by the empty, open boxes stacked beside the mud room porch.

A Monarch returned on the exact day she arrived last year — 3 June. It was sunny and relatively warm that day. She did the first-Monarch-back thing of looking as though she barely had energy to fly, limping from one milkweed to another. Then she seemed to be gone. Another has appeared as of today. This one is full of energy, flitting around the meadow.

The June bugs seemed to come later than usual, although I don’t make note of when they arrive. Maybe I shouldn’t expect them before mid month.

There’s nothing special to report about the birds: all the usual suspects have been here more or less on schedule. No maybe the Hummingbirds were later than usual. There also seem to be fewer of them. Only the Grackles and the Cardinals come to the feeders most days so I have slacked off in keeping them full. The other birds are busy catching bugs to feed their babies. The Orioles liked the new feeder that Charlotte gave me for my birthday. I like it too; it requires half and orange and no syrup.

The Eastern bluebirds who seemed to be taking up residence in the early spring moved on. I culled some 15 eggs from the two House sparrow nests in the nesting boxes. I set the trap when I saw a few juvenile House sparrows but I only ensnared a Cat bird, a male Cardinal, and a Cow bird so I disbanded that activity for the year. Tree swallows have a nest box in the meadow that’s about to fledge. A Wren has the fourth box.

We have a good crop of Downy woodpeckers. A couple of juveniles were squawking from a low branch of the Sugar maple just off the porch as I eat breakfast. They were soon feed some no doubt yummy bugs and then went about trying for themselves to find something in the bark of the tree to eat.

Great horned and Barred owls call at night. Peepers and other amphibians keep the nights noisy until first light when the bird ruckass starts. Yariv was here with his family over Memorial Day weekend. It’s louder here than Second Avenue, he said at breakfast.

A lone deer appears many evenings at dusk. Perhaps I’m sleeping through their calls, but I haven’t heard coyotes or foxes since I returned from Europe in early May.

So on to the shortening days of summer. If past years are a prediction, we’ll soon be in a heat wave accompanied by a drought. We’ll be longing for the cool rains of the spring even if, from time to time, they were torrential.



Something’s wrong when you’re taking honey off a hive in March. This is the make-or-break season for a hive. You’d never take its food stores. If you’re extracting honey now, it means you have a dead hive. I actually have two. All the glitches that I invariably encounter when extracting — foundation that separates from its frame when spun is a good one — pale in light of the loss.

Today, I took honey from one super of one hive. It produced about 10 pounds of honey, minus what’s in my hair, on my clothes and, I hope, mopped up from every kitchen counter, cupboard handle and the floor. I feel badly about all the honey that doesn’t make it into a jar given how hard the bees worked to produce it.

The honey is better than the last batch I took a couple of years ago. It’s the right viscosity. The color is good — not dark and not light. It tastes like honey from an old field, by which I mean good.

I covered the entrances to the hives still in the meadow with screen to prevent robbing by other bees. I plan to save at least some of the honey that’s still there for the new bees who will arrive in May. I’m not sure what I should do with the frames that held the honey I took today. I didn’t think this through very well. Maybe the wet frames need to go in the fridge? This problem could make honey in my hair seem like a cake walk.

The next wrong could be ants.

Being a negligent bee keeper has its rewards. I harvested about 30 pounds of honey from one of the two hives that did not make it into February. The second hive with last summer’s captured swarm had not capped off any honey. I wonder how the bees made it to January.

Taking honey from a dead hive allows the beekeeper to skip the worst step of honey extraction — fumigating the frames with stinky stuff so the bees fly away for a breather. There’s another advantage to working on a dead hive; there are not as many bees trying to get on the porch to watch. The job is still strenuous and, of course, sticky. My extractor holds 2 frames. I am the motor.

Frames of capped honey are heavy. Spinning them entails sitting on the extractor so it doesn’t wobble too much and a long bouts of cranking the handle. Then I strain the honey through paint filters to remove the wax caps and other debris. It takes about a week to get all the bits of stray honey off the counters, door knobs, hand rails and floor after the process is over.

The harvest

Most of the harvest

This honey is dark no doubt because much of it started as goldenrod. It’s also thinner than usual as though the wax caps the bees made could not compete with the condition’s of this winter. Still, a honey harvest is compensation for a lost hive.


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An Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera ligustica) landed on the grey wool turtleneck I had shed to better enjoy reading the Sunday paper in the midday sun. Italian honeybees are not native. The ones around my property are ones I introduced. But both my hives died sometime between Martin Luther King Day and Valentine’s Day. Last …

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The rain petered out briefly just as I came in from swimming. I jumped into my bee suit, grabbed the fondant from the fridge and the hive tool from the mud room. Imprudently, I decided to skip the smoker. It looked as though it might rain again any minute and more extreme cold weather is predicted for the coming days. I had already missed the chance to feed the hives in the mid December heat wave. This task is overdue.

Dead bees littered he landing areas of both hives. I lifted the rock that holds the outer cover of the smaller hive against extreme wind and improbable bears and pried up the inner cover. Bees were moving around on the frames. Eureka! They had made it through the recent bouts of cold. Ouch! One stung my ungloved hand as I began adding the fondant. The bees were alarmed by the opening of the hive.

I had only slightly zipped up my costume and had not put on my gloves possibly as a psychological hedge against the disappointment of finding a dead hive. But the bees, knowing they were live and well, wanted no part of this intrusion. Promptly they were on the war path. At least one seemed to be inside my bonnet before I could get it closed up. Another was walking down my leg into my boot.

Ladies, relax! I come bearing gifts. Isn’t fondant the modern equivalent of frankincense and myrrh? It is, after all, a resin of sugar and water. Perhaps they surmised that, despite my elaborate costume, I was no wise man, having come sloppily dressed and without a smoker. Maybe they have enough honey and don’t need the fondant. Or maybe bees don’t know this Christian tradition of gift bearing on 6 January.

I quickly closed that hive — its the one Carl brought down from the Spruce tree after it swarmed this summer — and moved as swiftly as a bee keeper should to open the larger hive. It too was buzzing with bees. I quite literally threw the fondant into the hive and beat a hasty retreat.

In the safety of the porch, I turned my bee suit inside out and gave it several vigorous shakes. A bee was buzzing somewhere close to me but I could not find her. Once upstairs, she staggered out of my fleece jacket and flew into the window. She’s in bee heaven now and in the accompanying photo.


At least 2 bees died in this caper — the one who stung me and the one I killed. But the hives seem to be doing all right. The coming months are the trickiest. Until the bees can forage for food, it’s my job to keep them fed. I’ll check them again around Martin Luther King Day. I hope we won’t have a civil rights type confrontation then.

Carl, my meadow mentor, and I were finishing a loop around the field having agreed not to mow this spring when we noticed the swarm. Unlike last week’s, this one was headed for the upper branches of a spruce tree behind the hives. Their queen must be freshly minted to swarm that high.

As the bees settled into their basketball-sized formation, Carl marveled — this was his first swarm — but I vacillated between relief that they had chosen a spot too high for a capture effort and dismay that again I had failed to provide space in the form of a deep super at the right time to keep the bees in residence. After last week’s debacle in which I killed more bees than I captured, I had no appetite for another woe-begotten interaction. This swarm would rest overnight in the spruce and then move on tomorrow to their new home.

Carl wanted to know what it would take to capture the swarm. Too high, I said. But we could climb the tree, he said. No box into which to knock them, I said. I took all my boxes to the dump last week and the agricultural cloth I had used last week had been a bad idea. The bees’ feet got caught in the mesh. But the more I explained methods for capture that admittedly have never played out in textbook fashion for me, the more Carl saw spruce branches as a ladder and recapture as a goal. He was up the tree and then down.

If it’s OK to saw off the limb they’re hanging from, I think we can get them down, he said.

He went home for a tree harness to attach him to the tree. I put together a hive with some foundation and space for the branch. We decided on a bee bonnet as the “box” into which to slip the portion of the limb with the swarm.

Carl put on the bee suit and climbed back up the tree. I lit the smoker, and more usefully played sous chef tying first the loppers and then the bee bonnet, wallpaper paste brush and back-up butterfly net to the pulley system we used to get supplies up the tree.

Do the bees seem suspicious? I asked from the safety of the ground sounding like Winnie the Pooh. They don’t seem to notice me, said Carl. Good. My sous chef tasks would not include Christopher Robin’s of walking under the tree carrying an umbrella, proclaiming the likely onset of rain.

Carl first cut the more distant part of the branch with the loppers that sadly needed an adjustment in order to bite correctly. Grrrr, he said. But then he gently sawed the near piece of the limb into a length that just fit in the bonnet. After some missteps because we’d tided the bonnet to the tree, he passed it down to me buzzing with unharmed bees. We had most of the bees from the swarm.

Day two, this morning, Carl stopped by. A subset of the swarm had regrouped on the trunk of the spruce, but most of the bees were in the new hive. I went in to remove the bonnet and fill out the hive with frames. I saw the queen.

Before the next swarm, which I feel is in the planning, the meager remains of last week’s swarm will have to join with another hive, maybe the newly captured one. I bought more equipment this afternoon. I hope Carl stops by again for the next swarm.

With the temperature in the 50s on the afternoon I returned from Belize via Boston, it would have been an OK time to remove the cover to check for bee life. But the hives were already in the shade of the evergreen hedgerow. I put a juice glass between my ear and the side of the hive. Definite buzzing in both hives.

Now that’s again cold — we even had a dusting of snow the first morning I was back — I can’t provide any sustenance until it warms up. We’ve had half a month of lion. I’m more than ready for the proverbial lamb portion.

Monarch, after seeasonSome insect population is always a wings’ thickness away from annihilation. The Times reported a couple of days ago on the severe loss of habitat for the Monarch butterfly. Where’s Monsanto in this tale? Front and center, as you might imagine. But habitat destruction, drought and abnormally high temperatures also play a role. It seems the forest the butterflies use in Mexico to rest before turning around to migrate north has been reduced to 2.94 acres, just a bit bigger than my meadow!

My Monarchs made a very long season out of 2012. I thought they might have had a plan to skip the migration last year. The photo is from October 22.

What does the coming season hold for the bees and the butterflies?

It’s really too cold to work a hive (NB snow on the ground!). But both hives had live bees when I removed the covers to add pollen patties and fondant in anticipation of my departure tomorrow. The bees were mighty surprised to see me, if I may anthropomorphize.

If any Eastern bluebirds are reading this post, note you have 3 boxes ready for occupation in the meadow. You’ll find a 4th one mid March.

I also wish to record that I saw a American robin and a Red-winged blackbird on 16 and 17 February. The Robin has not come back but the Blackbird seems to be around. They showed up outside the times I was counting birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count so I have to make a note here.

The round of House fly hatching that started in the back house on the sunny days in the aftermath of Nemo earlier this month has come to a halt. What prompts these annual early hatchings? All the flies always die.