New work – Eli Creek

We recently spent a week out on Isle Au Haut, an island about twelve miles out from Stonington, Maine. Acadia National Park occupies half the 100 square mile area and maintains hiking trails, a five site campground, and rangers on site for the summer season. We stayed in staff housing; a hundred year old cabin with a spring-fed stream rushing through the front yard. No electricity or water, no visitors, nothing to do all day but hike over the rocky coast, draw or paint as the inspiration hit, and cook dinner over a propane burner as darkness came on. If there’d been a vegetable garden it would be my idea of paradise. We did see a few gardens on the “town” side of the island – fenced all four sides and over the top to keep out the hungry island deer.

This is Eli Creek viewed from the cabin – a lovely opportunity to paint the landscape “at home”. The panel is 24″ x 18″ and is a study for a larger format in progress.

Eli Creek, Acadia National Park, Isle Au Haut, Maine
Eli Creek, Acadia National Park, Isle Au Haut, Maine

The bees come home. . .

On Monday afternoon beekeeper Andrew Dewey delivered my package of honeybees from Spicer Bees in Whitefield. It’s a long trek from Whitefield to the Downeast region, so thanks, Andrew! My co-workers at Maine Community Foundation had an opportunity to admire the stacks of buzzing packages in the back of Andrew’s SUV and then we were off: me to the empty hive waiting in my front yard on Mount Desert Island and Andrew playing Santa to beekeepers across Washington County.

There are many, many books and websites with instructions on hiving bees. I’m only sharing some hard-won hints here – and mostly as a reminder to myself since I don’t do this more than once a year (I hope).

Have all your tools handy. My bucket contains: hive tool, exacto knife, straight edge screwdriver, duct tape, and paper towels. A container of Benadryl gel is nice if you’re not working in a full suit. Place your covered pot of sugar syrup somewhere it won’t be knocked over.

new hive box with tools

The package looked great – lots of lively, noisy bees and very few casualties littering the bottom. I don’t use smoke to calm the bees when I’m hiving them, but spraying the outside of the package with a little sugar syrup keeps them happy and occupied while you’re moving them around. I wear a full bee suit and gloves while hiving a new colony because I find it makes me more comfortable with a new colony – and they’re more comfortable if I’m not anxious. My suit has velcro sewn in to the headgear, presumably to stick to a matching piece on a cap? In any case, it messes with my hair – remember to wear at least a bandana under there!

package bees ready to hive

I hived this colony by myself in a short window of warm, sunny weather on Monday. (I was lucky to get that much good weather – it snowed this morning!) R. wasn’t around to take photos of the actual transfer and I’m too much of a wimp to stop and do that myself while three pounds of bees are whirling around my head, even in the suit. This colony was remarkably business-like and proceeded to disappear into the frames as soon as I installed the queen cage. I placed the nearly empty box near the front of the hive to encourage the stragglers, filled the top feeder and put the cover on. Done!

colony installed

I picked up my tools and left them alone for about an hour. Although it’s very tempting to micro-manage a new colony, I find benign neglect is probably my best beekeeping technique. When I returned there were already scouts landing on the crocus blooming on the south hill and the heath and heather in the alpine garden.

heather in bloom

Just to round out the Maine beekeeping experience, this morning we woke up to snow!

spring snow MaineNote the hive wrap around the bottom of the box: I use a screened bottom board and for the first few weeks a wrap will cut down on the drafts and cold wind that might chill a new colony.



The bees are coming, the bees are coming!

. . .so I spent most of Sunday making them a nice clean home.

New location for hive

Last year’s hives were down the hill in the garden proper (one of the originals is visible in the photo above). Unfortunately, neither colony was particularly strong and bald hornets attacked in July. They’re carnivores and attack the hives for their larvae as well as honey and pollen stores: neither colony survived the long Maine winter. The new site is not too far away, on the hillside overlooking the garden in a nice, sunny spot where the hornets may not find it right away. My research suggests it doesn’t take much displacement to confuse the predators.

Sunday was clear and warm although you can see that we still have plenty of snow around the yard. The exposed ground was soft and the air temp stayed @ 50 F during daylight hours. The first hatch of mosquitoes is still a week or so in the future (I hope) so it was a pleasant day to spend outdoors, cleaning and smoking the used hive boxes and bleaching the hive-top feeders. I may even have gotten a little bit sunburnt around the edges.

This weekend I’ll get packaged bees delivered from Spicer Bees in Whitefield and we’ll start the 2014 garden season with a new colony. I’ve fitted out the old hive box, below, with smoke-cleaned frames, applied Bee Charm to the inner surfaces, and left the bottom entrance fixture open to see if we can attract a swarm.

finished new hive

A view from the garden down the bee highway:

bee highway


Garden revolution

There are a few articles floating around out there about a garden revolution in the front yard, but somehow I feel they don’t go far enough. I understand that swapping out a lawn for raised beds is already a sea-change for many folks (and their Homeowner Associations) but I’d like to encourage us to make that extra step toward welcoming everything that lives in a garden, even the ones we can’t see. Maybe especially the things we can’t see. It’s difficult to structure a raised bed to readily welcome fungi, soil organisms, minute insect life, and opportunistic seed growth, but any old patch of dirt will prove a living welcome mat for all those things if you just leave room.

I’ve come to understand that organized garden beds are really for the humans. We like to keep inventory and we’re easily distracted so we plant what we want to keep in neat rows and discard the rest. Moving toward the idea that our choice edibles grow best when hidden from predators and mulched against extremes of weather, here’s a set of photos matched up with a list of what has been planted amidst the chaos in my yard.

Gardening front yardThis section of the front yard contains: amaranth, Kentucky Pole and Scarlet Runner beans, daylilies, witchhazel, rhubarb, peas, crabapple, tomatoes, potatoes (4 varieties), sweet corn, persimmon, pumpkins, cucumbers, winter squash, willow, sour (pie) cherry, quincy, lingonberries, cranberries, plum, comfrey, grapes, and allium.

garden inventory side yard

The side yard, and along the path to the driveway: dill, madder, strawberries, tomatoes (5 varieties), parsley, carrots, leeks, garlic, one pumpkin plant (I guess I lost track), grapes, willow, elecampne, hosta, gunnera, astilbe, blueberries, cecephalus, and just off to the right of this photo, plum, apple, tree peony.

garden inventory dooryardIn Maine parlance this is the dooryard – just down the steps from the front door: edible dandelion, calendula, columbine, mullein, anise hyssop, golden beets, Bull’s Blood beets (grown for the ruby-red foliage); yellow Australian, Red Sails, Winter Romaine, and Thom Thumb lettuces, assorted mustards, bergenia, feverfew, tatsoi, senposi, minutia, poppies, and honeysuckle.

Therefore, a manifesto to gardeners everywhere (and with apologies to Freemasons), chao ab ordo!

Favorites from garden season 2012

January’s garden is buried under hard-packed snow and the ground is hard as iron. Subzero temps this week have collapsed any remaining evidence that there were swaths of green in those beds this summer, but. . .

we’re nearly through January, the 2013 seed order is on the way, and Spring will be here, well, soon enough. As a reminder, here are a collection of favorite plantings from the 2012 season – a hedge of pink mallow in front of the tomatoes.

mallow hedge

Prostrate astilbe growing in a shady, wet site with gunnera and a royal fern,

creeping astilbe

and bouncing bet (Soapwort) sprawling over the hot, dry alpine garden.

bouncing bet soapwort

Witch Owl

Social Capital Owl does Halloween:

witch owlSeveral passers-by have commented on the owl lately, and I’ve mentioned to them that the backstory is on this blog. Rather than make them hunt through several layers of old posts I’ll put the short(er) version here.

During one of my periodic garden expansions (10 years ago now!) I cut down some young spruce near the road and left one of the trunks to use as a birdhouse support. The next day one of my neighbors anonymously perched a plastic owl statue – commonly sold in hardware stores to keep birds away from your raspberry bushes and seagulls off your dock – on the tree stump. The next day someone else had dressed the owl in a child’s dress and sunglasses, and a tradition had been launched. When my son graduated from high school the owl had a tiny mortarboard (where did they get that?), and from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July it always sports bunting and tiny flags. One year for Halloween it had a pirate costume with a tiny bird perched on one shoulder. Last week this lovely witches hat showed up by our front door with a note asking that I trim the brambles back so that costuming would be a little easier. The hat has plastic spiders on the veil – how could I resist?

Oh, and the name. . . growing up in a small town I’ve never been very fond of the social capital concept. To me it is a professional nostalgia that emphasizes the value of social networks while glossing over the cruelty and restrictions that represent the darker side of the extended family group. The owl and its anonymously donated wardrobe represent the finest kind of neighborhood organization, with nothing at all at stake and the only benefit our communal delight.

The Night Garden

I worked outside until 8:45 tonight – it was plenty light to plant the State Fair zinnias that outgrew their 4″ pots a week ago. The temps dipped to 60 tonight so the mosquitoes are on hiatus, the goshawk flew a patter 15′ over my head hunting the red squirrels, and the bees flew into the hive and went to sleep. Perfect.
Red Mars onions, Thom Thumb buttercrunch and “Pablo” lettuce, all coming along nicely.

New arrivals

The Post Mistress called at 7 this morning, “Come to the back door and ring the bell. We’re not open yet, and you need to pick up your BEES!”

So I did. Not they’re resting in the hoop house, well-sprayed with sugar water, under a length of Agri-bon to keep off the chill.