Tag Archives: Bees

Something in the Woods

Ruby is doing that growling thing again.  It’s not her normal grumble at all.  She’s all frizzed up as she stands on the deck with an aggressive posture.  She lifts her nose to sniff the air with a purpose.  Something is in the woods.  Something new.

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All ten hens are screaming bloody murder at once.  They usually freeze and go silent.  This is different.

The goats are in the same alert place.  All three run in wild circles and stop on some cue to stare in the same direction for long seconds.  Pearl, the head goat, leaps up onto our concrete goat mountain and stamps her foot repeatedly.  Wait a second — has anyone seen the cat?  Where is Garfield?

MamaRed, an oversized and rusty-colored coyote we spot occasionally on the road, is always suspect, because she’s always around.  We worked on coyote-proofing the fencing for years because of the coyotes.  The cougar that killed a goat about a mile from here is heavy on our mind.  That’s been a couple of weeks ago.  We don’t really worry about the bears.

But it makes us wonder about Hansel, Gretel and Batman.  They’re out in the woods.

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The kids are 9, 7 and 5-years-old, they have a fort in the forest between our neighboring houses and they like to spy on us.  We see their bright red shirts darting from bush to bush, and hear them giggling as they watch our 22-year-old son build a new back deck.  They know they are welcome on our trails.

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“They’re just now getting into the woods and we’re moving,” their mom told me this week, when I told her about the mysterious noises around here and how Sage the goat had actually growled.  Then I stopped in my tracks.  “Moving?”

“At the end of the month.  To save money.  It’s not our first choice, believe me.”

I am stricken.  We love these kids.

The next day, Hansel and Gretel appear at our front door to return an egg carton.  They are here saying goodbye, or at least one of many goodbyes, and I get them all to myself since the Bearded One and His Majesty have gone to Home Depot for lumber and cement.

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I give the kids another dozen eggs and a jar of jam.  Then we walk around to the deck building site and I show them where the former deck stairs gouged the 150-year-old cedar tree next to the house.  Gretel bends down and runs her hand gently along the scar.  She says they don’t know anyone in their new neighborhood.  Hansel says he goes to work on the new rental house with his dad, and Gretel says, ah, excuse me, she goes to the new house and works, too.

“Tell her what happened last night,” Gretel says excitedly.

“OH, BOY,” Hansel says and rolls his big brown eyes.  He tells how the whole family went to Godfather’s Pizza for dinner, and there was an old lady, maybe 70 years old, who had fallen on the floor with blood on her face!  They had come to her aid and called 911.

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Gretel nods enthusiastically.  Then she tells me that before that they went to a ton of garage sales and got a 1000-piece Lego set.  Hansel even knows the price.  Ten dollars.  A very very very good deal.

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Finally we talk about the fort and the woods.  They’ve heard the coyotes, and seen the deer and the owls.  But have I seen the bees???  “I’ve been stung at the fort TWICE,” Gretel says grimly, lisping between her missing teeth.  “Want to see?”

She means see the fort, she says, and I squeee with happiness.  I have just been invited to see their inner sanctum.  The fort!

“I’ll follow you,” I say, and Gretel heads for the gate.  Hansel brought his bike, so he’ll ride around and meet us at the fort.

Gretel carries the eggs and jam and leads the way across our backyard, past the potato garden, and I open the gate for her.  She marches ahead of me up our trail, chatting away but I can’t really understand her.

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Finally we turn off onto the fort trail and I see it.  A huge old stump.

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Their sanctuary, complete with its own bee colony.  Gretel turns and smiles big, showing it off, but then they start to swarm.

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Something in the woods, indeed.  Bees.

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The Boys and the Bees

Daylight Savings Time has started and we were still a bit stunned on Monday when we left, late, on our daily walk.  I slept in because it was dark at 7:00 a.m.  The Bearded One dreamed that a bear was chasing him, and he was pondering the episode at breakfast.  It’s spring and everything is waking up.  Time to eat and mate and pollinate!

“Got somethin’ for ya.”  Our neighbor, a Scandinavian-accented 75-year-old man, waved us into his driveway.  He has a small orchard and last fall had promised us some Mason bee tubes, and here they were.

The gift of bees; we put the cookie can in the black planter nailed to the stump for rain protection

The males will emerge from the mud-packed tubes first and wait for the females.  Then they’ll mate, the males will die, and the females will do the pollination work in our fruit tree orchard, three circle gardens, and berry trellises as part of their nest building.  I know this because our neighbor left us instructions in an envelope with the bees.  We used to have peach and apricot trees too, but we had to dig them up from leaf curl.

Bare branches still on the fruit trees. Plum, pie cherry, Spartan and Granny Smith apple

The female bees pack the tubes like this:  pollen/egg/mud/pollen/egg/mud/pollen/egg/mud.  There can be 10 eggs in a tube, all set to feed on the pollen in their little cell through the winter and emerge next year.  They’re called Mason bees because they’re mud workers.  They don’t make honey, they are not aggressive, and they don’t have much of a sting.  They’re all about getting pollen and they’re good at it.

Her furry legs are the main attraction. She can pollinate 1,600 flowers in one day.

I will keep watch, and, as farmers do, I will count.  When did I do that last year?  And the year before?  How many seeds in how many rows, how many poles in how many holes?  Calendars are very important to gardening.  Time springs ahead and falls back, it takes big leaps and giant tsunami gulps and never flows like sand through the hourglass.  This Sunday we’ll celebrate the Spring Equinox when the length of night and day will be nearly equal everywhere on the planet. 

When we got back from our walk, 6-year-old Hansel and 4-year-old Gretel (not their real names) from next door came over.  “We’re making cupcakes,” Hansel said breathlessly.  “We need to borrow an egg.”  Gretel smiled. 

“One egg coming up,” I said.  I am a good witch, and they were not afraid to follow me into the house.  They’ve been here before several times with their folks.

I opened the refrigerator and thought about offering them two eggs.  They both looked at me with large eyes.  They were on a mission, and they wanted just one egg.  Not two.  To offer two would confuse and dilute the moment.  Two would have been a pain in the butt.  Sometimes you don’t want more, and I decided not to risk messing them up.

“One egg?” I said.

“ONE,” Hansel said, holding up his index finger.  “For CUPCAKES.”  He took the egg, they both thanked me, and then they raced out the door and down the steps.  We’ve lived here for four years and watched both of these kids growing up at what seems like a furious pace.

“Time changes everything,” my younger Twenty-Something daughter said to me as she arrived later that afternoon with her boyfriend.  She was talking about her brother maybe changing his college major, but her words resonated across the landscape.  We lose track, our gauges break, we fall in love.  The two of them held hands and kissed, yet appeared to be interested in the as-yet-unconstructed hoop house.

$250 of hoop house supplies -- lumber, zipstrips and zipstrip tool, braces, hinges, guy wire, and hemp rope. The special plastic and chicken wire will probably be another $300.

The Bearded One's contribution on the hoop house this week

Then the two lovebirds headed for the trampoline, where they jumped and laughed and the boyfriend did so many sequential back flips that we all gasped.  We even forgot to count.