The Gloriousness of June

I will write you a letter, 
June day.
Dear June Fifth,
you're all in green,
so many kinds and all one
green, tree shadows on
grass blades and grass
blade shadows. The air
fills up with motor
mower sound. The cat
walks up the drive
a dead baby rabbit
in her maw. The sun
is hot, the breeze
is cool. And suddenly
in all the green
the lilacs bloom,
massive and exquisite
in color and shape
and scent. The roses
are more full of
buds than ever. No
flowers. But soon.
June day, you have
your own perfection:
so green to say
goodbye to. Green,
stick around
a while.
         -- James Schuyler

James Schuyler has written the perfect poem: a love letter to a day in June. Not just any day. Today.

June green is unlike any other, vibrant and alive, still nourished by the spring rains, not yet ruined by hot sun, nor eaten by insects. Next to the June green, the peonies are more vibrant, the sundrops more sunny, the daisies more pure. Yes, June green is more.

The gardens are planted, red pears and green apples are growing, cherries are ripening, birds are nesting, perching, and singing.

The wild primrose opened in Sunday’s sun and surprised the surrounding motley plants. Her dazzling yellow perks up the shabby shed and makes the neighboring weeds look more stately. 

The new gate opens wide and the new fence keeps the fruit trees in and the riffraff critters out (so far).

If I stand by the garden gate I can watch the grape vines growing, their tendrils curling around and around. The grapes are too small still to be more than a vague hope. Will they be sweet? Will they be juicy? Will they be jam or wine?

The cherries are yellow, blushing pink. I ate one today, still sour, still small. Bluebirds are nesting in the eaves of the porch; wrens are nesting by the door. They can have some cherries as long as they share the deep blue June sky.

Dear June fifth, you are glorious. You are enough.

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…

3. More Circles

Joe and Clara named the road, and hand lettered the signs. Now it’s on Google Maps…

I don’t want to deceive my readers; this is a close up and the apples look much bigger than they really are! They are really about the size of small walnuts.

There haven’t been any new fruit trees planted at Apple Hill Cottage for many, many years. Two old apple trees that really need to be pruned overlook the hillside. This spring we were too late to prune them–they had already bloomed by the time we got to thinking about pruning. Our neighbors have many fruit trees dotted over their yard, and he told Michael that those old trees still get apples on them. So one morning about 6 weeks ago we cleaned them up. Cut out the dead limbs and the branches that had tent worms; cut off the extra long suckers that we could reach and then burned the tent worm cocoons in kerosene. Michael cut up the limbs into little pieces and now he has an endless supply of apple wood chips for grilling. We dragged the rest of the limbs over to our fire circle and had a lovely bonfire that early spring night. Now, six weeks later, they both do have apples on them–very small, but we’re hopeful.

We’ve been working very hard on the house, but every once in awhile, one of us would say wistfully, maybe we should plant some fruit trees this spring. And the other would agree–it takes so long for fruit to get started–yes, we need to, but there are so many things that need doing…

Over Memorial Day weekend, on our way out the road and back to Pittsburgh, we stopped at the new business where the main barns of the orchard used to be. First it was Longanecker’s Fruit Farm, then it was Little Greene Apples; now it is Mother Earth Farm and Greenhouse Outlet. We spent awhile poking around in the barns and talking to the nice folks who run it. They have all sorts of nursery plants, veggies, flowers, and they sell antiques and pottery also. The potter was at her wheel making lovely little vases. And they sell fruit trees! How wonderful to be able to buy fruit trees in the place that used to sell apples. How could we resist? We bought two apple trees–an Ida Red and a Honey Crisp–and two pear trees–a Bartlett and a variety called Luscious. Then, of course, we had to have a cart for the tractor to pull them home. (We’d been planning to get a garden cart anyway, for gardening and pulling around grandkids!) And we planned to spend a whole day the next weekend planting them.

The next Saturday was a beautiful day. Sunny and in the sixties–more like a day in April than June, but it was perfect for planting trees. Michael found wood to make the cart taller, hooked up the cart to the tractor, and went driving down the road to get the trees.

Michael fretted a bit about not having a big orange triangle for the back of the cart, but I told him he didn’t need one, his tractor was very visible! Clara would have loved the color.

We were admiring the cart and discussing the hitch (well, Michael was talking about the hitch, and I was listening) and we discovered this sign on the back of the tractor:

The tractor originally came from Apple Tractor, Inc. in Zelienople. Very perfect!

Even though the temperature was in the high sixties, the sweatshirts came off very soon.

While Michael was having fun on the tractor, I started digging holes. There are no pictures of me working at all, but believe me, I did. The holes for an apple tree have to be twice as wide as the root ball and 10 inches deeper. They were big holes. Michael dug perfect holes. Mine were less than perfect, but we sweated the same amount!

One of Michael’s perfectly dug holes.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are the fruits of our labor:

Planted, watered, mulched and…

Had to cage them so they wouldn’t try to escape…


It was a full day’s work planting these four little trees! Up at 6 AM and in bed before dark—with red necks, aching backs, and a lovely sense of the circles of life. There are new apple trees again at Apple Hill.

Even the kitty was tired, and he didn’t help at all.