A Robin’s Nest and a Red Eft

Yesterday, Bill and I were out at the edge of the yard, between one of our big rhododendrons and our neighbor’s shed, rushing through a pushback against said neighbor’s ever-invading kerria. Wham, slam, whack at the long, pliable canes of the wretched thing and then as I parted the next clump – EEK! – right in the middle, a nest. Four beautiful robins’ egg blue blue eggs.

Something like this happens at least once every year. Last time around, my reminder to clean up in a more mindful way was comfortably nestled in a chunk of rotten firewood. I had the chunk in my hand, all ready to pick up and pitch into the weeds. Just happened to turn it over, and there was

eastern newt, Notophthalmus viridescens

An Eastern (aka Red-spotted) Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens

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Eric’s Pet Plant: Lupine (Lupinus species)

Being a Maine person, I have a particular interest in lupines, which will be discussed at the end of the post. First, however, the word from Eric, who not surprisingly is fond of them even though he lives in Connecticut. He’s having an open house this weekend, btw, scroll on down for the invitation.

clump of blue cultivated (Russell) lupines

The spikes of multiple flowers are wonderful in the vase, but also a great show in the garden. Used as a focal point in the perennial bed, as a Derby Day sentinel at the gate to the terrace or in the cutting garden, you can’t go wrong with a good thrifty clump of lupines.

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Home Harvested Sweetness, First Installment

bee on purple crucus

Where there are shoots, there will soon be flowers. Also bees.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed with imminent spring. It’s just so inspiring to see those fleets of tender crocus shoots pushing up; so inspiring ( in a slightly different way) to see those fleets of last autumn’s canned goods still lining the shelves.

Haven’t started raking yet, but I have been making Honey Bars, playing around with assorted vintages, pairing the perfumes of the honeys with different nuts: floral with hazelnuts, herbal with pecans, smoky with black walnuts.

That’s the thing about keeping bees:  if you get any honey at all, you generally get a lot, so even though last year was a total bust we’re in no danger of running out.

The thing that’s in danger is the bees. And as Bill points out in this guest post, the first wave of threats is already pawing away at the doorstep.

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Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) up close

Hyla versicolor, grey tree frog

Gray Treefrog, Hyla versicolor

Last night as I head back in from performing right-before-bed cutworm reconnaissance, there on the porch is what looks like a wad of leaves. Bend down to pick it up and no – it’s a little black and white toad. Bend down farther. It doesn’t move. Touch it gently. Completely still. Did I God forbid step on it when I was going out?

Nope, it’s just cold. The next time my warm hand hovers near it manages a sluggish hop.

By morning it has moved to the drainpipe and I have looked it up. Even though it’s notably bumpy and almost 2 inches long, it isn’t a toad. It’s a very large – as these things go – Gray Treefrog, Hyla versicolor, and it’s black and white because it’s sitting on the weathered cedar boards of the porch.

hyla versicolor grey tree frog grey form

I rotated the other picture so you could see him/her more clearly. Here’s the actual orientation. The porch is the same color as the wall on the left.

grey treefrog, green form, hyla versicolor

Gray Treefrog caught last summer on a hollyhock leaf; they don’t call ‘em versicolor for nothin’.

Coyotes! – Who Knew?

Certainly not I, not really,  even though I did know they were in the Northeast and, if it comes to that, in both of our home neighborhoods. In Maine, there’s a whole pack of ’em in the woodland right across the road. We hear them often on summer nights, yipping and laughing and howling.

Here in the Hudson Valley we don’t hear them nearly as often – or as close – but we do see them from time to time, including just a couple of weeks ago in a field near our friend Ilana the chicken queen‘s  farm.

Eastern coyote (with mangy tail), apparently hunting for voles

And then we saw what looked like coyote tracks while we were out skiing. The post on skunk tracks is a perennial favorite, so I asked Bill if he’d consider doing a guest post guide to reading tracks in the snow.

He did. It’s far more than I bargained for. And so are the quite scary coyotes.

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How To See a Moose (without really trying)

  1. Be in Maine
  2. Be in an area of open woods with water near, somewhat away from human activity but not necessarily far away.
  3. Be in such places frequently for other reasons: fishing, say, or hunting wild mushrooms.
  4. Look up when you hear a noise that sounds about like squirrels in the leaves but maybe not quite.
5. Notice dark shape in the distance.

5. Notice dark shape in the distance.

6. Pull the string around your neck to lift the camera out of your shirt pocket so you can send your wife a picture of a

Baby bull moose.

Baby bull moose.

Experience and photos by Bill Bakaitis

Getting Rid of Groundhogs, aka Woodchucks and Whistlepigs

If only. As a species of aggravation, Marmota monax, the largest and most pestilential member of the squirrel family is impossible to get rid of. There are a number of reasons we will get into in a moment.

First, however, the good news: you can get rid of one or more individuals, and that can often make the difference between having a harvest and not. Furthermore, you can get rid of them using a live trap, especially if you use one from Williams Trapping Supply.

young groundhog in live trap, about to take a trip

young groundhog in live trap, about to take a trip

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How Is A Blog Like a Baby Wren?

hungry baby photo by Bill Bakaitis

more soon, I promise.

posts upcoming on garlic,  garden volunteers , food gardening fine points, chocolate cake — and the Joy of Wrens.

photo by Bill Bakaitis

Foxes in the Garden!

What’s to say? A mom and three very playful kits. Beyond adorable – and they don’t eat vegetables.

In fact they eat grasshoppers, voles, mice and similar garden comestibles to which they are more than welcome.  

@ leslie land, fox-by-birch

Momfox, somewhat fuzzily through the back window at dusk. Stay tuned for the little ones if I can swing it. They must live in the neighborhood; this is the fourth sighting.

Bears, Bees, Bacon and Morels

While I’m in Maine getting the summer garden underway,  husband Bill, aka Mr. Mushroom ( see his most recent morel hunting tips here) has been holding down the Hudson Valley end: feeding cats, cutting vast quantities of asparagus, mulching peonies, tending the bees , collecting morels – and being inspired by your responses to send another  guest post:

Bears, Bees, Bacon and Morels

by Bill Bakaitis

Flash!  My neighbor just informed me that the bears are back.

A few days ago he went out in early morning to feed his horse and discovered that the large bin which stored the sweet feed and biscuit treats was missing. Well, not quite missing as there were drag marks and when followed led to one of the neighborhood bears (last year there were five) having an early morning snack of the biscuits. After a brief encounter and short stand-off the bear beat a retreat.

End of that story, but Whoops, thought I, I sure better check the electric fence around our bees and rebait the hot wires with the Rancid Bacon Bear Bait stored in the freezer for just such occasions.


A spreading patch of bloodroot is now encroaching into our small fenced-in bee yard, and over the past few rainy days had grown tall enough to be in contact with the lowest hot wire of the electric fence. 

The errant bloodroot leaves sizzled, snapped, crackled, popped and were draining the voltage of the wire. Good timing, I thought and went to the shed for a small sickle, to the freezer for the bear bait, and after disconnecting the solar charger trimmed all of the bloodroot and other vegetation under the fence. That’s when I found the morels. Read More…