138. the missing bees

I lied.

In a post a few weeks ago, I waxed poetic about the blooming catalpa tree in the side yard. And I said, “Birds and bees love her”.

This year there were no bees buzzing around the catalpa blossoms.

I know because the hammock is hung on the lowest branch of the giant catalpa tree, and this year, the only hammock hazard was from falling catalpa blossoms. There was no potential problem of a bee sting, because there were no bees.

In a beginning backyard fruit tree orchard, this is not good.

In an effort to see if the bees have really disappeared, we stopped mowing the back yard and let the clover bloom. There actually seems to be more clover in the back yard than grass — perhaps a leftover from when clover was routinely sown between the older apple trees.

And we watched.

Over a period of a week, we saw about ten honey bees in the clover (and five rabbits, ten deer, and a groundhog).

This has become such a worry that Mr. H.C. has actually suggested we buy a hive of bees for next spring.

We’re thinking of buying the hive, the bees, and some supplies, and asking a friend to take care of it the first year, while he is mentoring us. This is quite a step for Mr. H.C. — he actively dislikes bees — though neither of us is allergic to their stings.

It has become a national anxiety about bees. You can read about the issue here and here and here. No one will say exactly what the problem is, but to me, a non-scientific, tree-hugging, crunchy, suspicious-of-all-big-corporations type of person, it is obvious. Pesticides.

Duh. If we spray to get rid of insects, we’re going to get rid of insects, yes?

It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD for short) and since 2004-2005 beekeepers have reported a loss of bees in their hives from 35 to 90%. What is most mysterious is that rather than finding dead bees around the hive, the bees just disappear. And once I started reading about it, there are several dozen reasons/theories/government plots for the disappearance of the bees. (To be fair, there is a wide range of opinion –some people doubt if the bees are really disappearing and some people think the bees are being abducted by aliens….)

But if you want to be concerned about this issue, consider these points (that are all taken from the above articles.)

  • A full third of the American diet is dependent on pollination, and wild and domestic honeybees are responsible for 80 percent of pollination.
  • About 200,000 species of plants rely on insects and a majority of those rely on bees.
  • Commercial beekeepers are often feeding their bees on high fructose corn syrup, a questionable man-made sugar substance at best; a cancer-and-diabetes-and-obesity causing substance at worst.
  • Not surprisingly perhaps, organic beekeepers have not experienced CCD, leading to speculation that overall greener management practices could be the answer even if direct causes are not determined.
  • If honey bees disappeared, the following crops would be affected: tree fruits — think apples, oranges, pears, lemons; tree nuts — think walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, almonds;  garden vegetables — tomatoes, beans, squash, cucumbers, onions, pumpkins; alfalfa and clover — think hay for animal feed;  berries of all sorts — straw, blue, cran, black and razz; coffee; cocoa; cotton; flax;  and you can read a much longer list here. (And also to be fair, I must note that we have a bumper crop of raspberries this summer, so something is pollinating the berries.)

So come next spring, we may look like aliens ourselves. But we won’t be abducting bees; we’ll be helping to pollinate catalpa trees.

And apples and peaches,

and cherries and beans,

and pumpkins and peas…

137. Critter Wars: they shoot groundhogs, don’t they? 

The long, gentle summer evenings of my childhood were sometimes pierced by the crack and zinging whine of a twenty-two rifle.

It was my grandfather, defending his country sweet corn patch from the groundhogs.

His main garden was in town behind his house, where he planted and tended and grew enough vegetables to feed us and his entire neighborhood.

But oh how he loved his sweet corn. And in the country below our house, there was plenty of room for as much sweet corn as he could plant. It seems we had corn on the cob every night for dinner in July and August.
Corn on the cob

Pa wasn’t a cussing man — he was a school teacher — except when it came to the groundhogs who ate his corn. For awhile when I was a kid I thought damgroundhog was one word.

I feel his pain.

He would sit in a yellow lawn chair in the back yard above his garden with a glass of sweet tea and his twenty-two across the aluminum arms of his chair. Waiting.

I’ve been suggesting to Mr. H. C. that he do the same with the deer. Of course, we aren’t allowed to actually shoot them, but he could aim above their heads… (Or he says shooting in front of them on the ground is the safer way). Perhaps they would think it was hunting season and disappear into the deep woods.

He didn’t seem to be interested, so I got out the yellow lawn chair and the twenty-two rifle for him yesterday. This evening, I saw him cleaning it, and there is now a clip sitting near the back door. I suppose I could try it, but I think I am such a bad shot, I could accidentally hit one when I’m aiming over their heads.

Can you be arrested for poaching the King’s deer on your own land?

Yes, you can.

waiting for a groundhog

136. The Mail Came Bringing Me Old Photos…

Not much exciting comes in the mail these days.

Yet hope springs eternal, and I always walk out to the mailbox with an anticipation that is rarely fulfilled.

Until yesterday — the mail came bringing me an unassuming envelope with a hand-written return address from Texas. I  knew immediately what it was and who it was from: my second cousin, Buzz, who visited last October had promised me some old photos of the cottage, taken when he was a boy visiting the farm.

Precious old sepia photographs spilled from the envelope. Carefully numbered, he had labeled each one with names and sometimes a date. The cottage is older than we thought.

Apple Hill Cottage, circa 1936

I wish I could tell what kind of flowers and shrubbery that is. When we first started work on this side of the house, I pulled out a sad looking, old-fashioned thorny white shrub — bridal veil I think it’s called. The pump is long gone, but the well is still there. Mr. H.C. is forever mad at his mom for selling that pump…

Buzz is hanging on to the pump handle, and that’s his older brother Jack next to him. This is circa 1936 or 37, and those are the kitchen windows we lovingly restored. The landscaping around the house makes me think that the cottage is at least a few years old when these photos were taken. That puts it considerably older than the early forties, which we had estimated.

Here’s a shot of what the windows looked like after Mr. H.C. put up the storm windows. You can tell the window on the right was not quite finished. I guess I should take another photo…

Kitchen windows from outside

I love the simple trim around these windows. If you look carefully at the old photos, you’ll notice all the windows were trimmed like this.

This is the front door of the cottage where the living room windows are now. There’s no way to bring back that charming little entrance with the lattice and the vines — at least in that spot. But I’m thinking on it…
buzz mariam mom

I especially love this photo because that’s my mom on the right with her cousins, Buzz and his older sister Mariam. I knew right away it was my mom, because, I have a photo of myself at that age, and oh my goodness, we could be twins. Mr. H.C. took one look at the photo and said, “That looks like you!” My Mother, My Self…
buzz Jack Mom
In this photo, if you look very hard, you can see the awning that is decorating the kitchen entrance. That’s Buzz, and his brother Jack in the wagon, and the little giant girl next to them is Mom. Mariam is in the background, and you can also tell that there aren’t many trees in the side or back yard yet, and the huge sycamore in the front yard is not yet planted.

Old folks at the cottage

That’s the old folks sitting out in the front yard by the road. The fence was gone by the time I was a girl and playing in the front yard. My grandma Carrie is on the left, then her mother Laura, sister Edna and her husband Jim (who I always heard was in the circus) and sister Ethel and her son Buzz are on the right. He dates this photo ’36 or ’37 also. It’s hard to tell where in the front yard this is, but again, there aren’t many trees…

So one of my secondary categories on this blog is 40s houses. I guess I’m going to have to change it to 30s houses.

Here is a painting that Joe and Clara had done of the house when they bought it in 1974, before they started renovating. Painting of Apple Hill Cottage, ca.1973

And here’s what it looks like today — still under construction. We haven’t really gotten to the outside of the house yet. But we hope to have the gray cedar shakes all painted white by the end of the summer, as well as replicating the trim around the front windows.

Oh yes, and siding over the Tyvek, and new gutters, and a repointed chimney, and… and… and...

Oh yes, and siding over the Tyvek, and new gutters, and a repointed chimney, and the sliding glass doors replaced… and… and…

But for now, there’s nothing like old photos to bring home the amazing circles of life.