The First of This Year’s Honey: Beating the Bear

We pulled four frames of honey today. They were capped and we are so afraid that the local bear will defeat our electric fence and get to the hives again that we decided to pull some honey as soon as possible.

Those of you familiar with our bear escapades will remember that last year the bear came by three times, knocking the hives over without managing to procure any honey. The bees were pretty traumatized, though, and took out their anxiety on Mr. Beeman, buzzing at him with a ferocity he had never seen.

Beeman, understandably, does not want to lose any honey to this bear.

Early this week, we noticed that one hive had some frames that were capped. Yesterday, Beeman put a bee escape on that hive to prepare for taking the frames. A bee escape is a maze-like board that goes between the top box and the next box down in the hive. At night, the bees go “downstairs” where the queen is. With the bee escape, the bees can go down, but they can’t figure out how to get back up. That leaves the top box relatively bee-free, which makes it a whole lot easier to take the box. Ha! We are smarter than the average bear.

Bee escape

Well, mostly smarter than the average bear. Beeman forgot to plug the electric fence back in after adding the bee escape. He remembered at 3 a.m. Talk about an electric jolt! He jumped out of bed to plug in the cord and then made his way by cellphone light to the bee yard to make sure the hives were still intact. If any bear were in the vicinity, the sight of Beeman in the woods in his underwear at 3 a.m. would have scared him away, for sure!

We spun the frames in our new-last-year electric spinner. It is much more efficient than hand-cranking, although it doesn’t provide quite the same upper arm workout.

Today’s honey is much lighter than last year’s. Last year’s honey had the strong molasses-like taste of tulip poplar. This year, the honey is lighter and more delicate with definite wild berry overtones. No surprise, since we have been picking blueberries by the bucket and tons of wild raspberries are just now ripening. (I just have to figure out how to beat the deer to those berries!)

The air has also been aromatic with wild rose, honeysuckle, and, recently, the oak leaf hydrangea, which is evidently a pollen feast for every pollinator in the area. They have been all over it!

So, 2018 was robust and 2019 is more delicate. Yum to both!


As though bags of cucumbers and bushloads of tomatoes aren’t enough to deal with the week before heading back to school, we just discovered some amazing gourmet mushrooms growing along our driveway. These aren’t the cute little morrels that John found where the ginko trees used to grow.  These babies are enormous.

Hen of the woods or black staining polypore?

The first is growing near the mailbox.  We contacted our chef buddy who contacted his mushroom buddy who believed that we have a hen of the woods.  Mushroom connoisseurs go crazy over these.  One hen-lover makes special lasagna with it—one to eat now and one to freeze for later. Hen of the woods mushrooms grow at the base of dead oak trees.  Sure enough, this one is at the base of a dead oak tree, and two more are growing on the other side of the tree.  The hen is a fall mushroom and can be found as early as late August after heavy rain.  It is not quite mid-August here but it has been unusually cool and wet…as our flooded basement can attest to.  They often re-appear in the same location year after year.  Hmm.  So maybe we now have a morrel location in the spring and a hen of the woods location for the fall?

Or do we have a black staining polypore?  The black staining polypore turns black where you touch it or cut it.  Growing under the oak tree, this mushroom is beautifully white on the underside and does not turn black when we touch it. However, once it is harvested and sitting in the mudroom, it immediately begins to turn and the cut edges are definitely black. The polypore’s season is July and August.  It has a wonderful earthy fragrance, more intense than a portobello.  While not as exquisite as the hen, it is edible and freezable, even in its blackened state.
Walking back to the ‘shroom for more photos, I spotted another mushroom along the drive.  After having researched the hen, I was pretty sure I was now spotting a chicken!  A chicken of the woods mushroom.

Chicken of the woods

Chicken of the woods has been described as tasting like…ready?  Chicken.  Or crab or lobster. Our new mushroom friend recently dipped hers in egg and flour and fried it for a heavenly meal that even her ten year old step-son liked.  

I thought we were having hamburgers for dinner tonight with a slice of tomato and home-made pickle.  Looks like the menu is changed to mushroom surprise.  It’s a surprise because I haven’t decided which one to cook first or how I want it prepared. I also have to decide what to do with what we don’t eat.  

This is feeling like Part One of a mushroom series.  And I haven’t even gotten to the intriguing topic of cucumber chips.

Stayed tuned.  And if back-to-school side-tracks me, then you’ll just have to nag. I have a feeling we will be dealing with the bounty of the land for quite awhile.

Post-dinner update: guess what? The chicken of the woods tastes like chicken!  We cooked it up using a recipe from Forager Chef and it was like eating chicken tenders.  Once we’ve waited 48 hours to not die from the chicken, John plans to saute up some of the other.  I really deserve a prize for being a supportive wife.

Berries and Bugs

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries,  brambles, and raspberries are ripening.  The bugs on those berries eat ME.  My competition for that fruit is the deer.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries, brambles, and raspberries are ripening. The bugs on those berries eat ME. My competition for that fruit is the deer.

It took a couple of weeks for the Japanese beetles to discover the blueberries. For those couple of weeks I blissfully picked a daily supply of berries, rejoicing in the amazing abundance of them. After three years of waiting, the bushes were loaded with fruit and every day or so just enough of them ripened just for me.

And then one day I spied a shimmering iridescent bug chomping on one of my berries. How dare he! He has all of Maywood to eat! Stay off my berries! And then I noticed them everywhere. On the wild grapes. On the coneflowers. On random weeds. Ok, they can have the weeds. And maybe even the wild grapes, which do not usually amount to much.

But the berry battle had begun.

What to do about the beetles? I know NOT to buy a Japanese beetle trap. Those bags on stakes just announce to the beetles where the party is. Sadly, the garden wisdom I encountered indicated the futility of trying to eradicate the pests. Effective beetle “management” involves disrupting their life cycle. Using milky spore to attack the larva can take three to five years. Oh my. And there is the dilemma of where to apply it. It is unrealistic to apply milky spore to all of Maywood.

Step one in disrupting the beetle life cycle is to prevent adult beetles from reproducing.  This requires menial labor.  This involves chemistry. This requires battle equipment. And a little bit of bug psychology.

The age old tried-and-true method for battling Japanese beetles is to individually plop them into a container of soapy water. It is so age old that half a century ago my husband’s grandparents (who bought Maywood in the first place ) used to send him outside to pick off the beetles. Yeah, the beetles have been here that long.

The chemistry involves the soap which breaks the surface tension of the water so that the beetles can not float on top of it. They sink and drown. Rather rapidly. The process is long enough to watch but not so long that it sucks the life out of your day.

That said, Mom and I wasted a few minutes of our lives staring into a plastic bowl of drowning beetles one evening. We would wish those moments back but it was such a special bonding moment.
Mom (staring at drowning beetles): I can’t believe we’re standing here doing this.
Me (head to head with Mom staring at drowning beetles): Yeah.

Right. So, I now carry two containers with me on my daily walk to the blueberries:

  • 1. My berry box–a lovely ceramic replica of a cardboard berry box, the kind that has been replaced by lidded plastic boxes that rip the skin off your fingers when you open them. I bought it at Anthropologie for $14 and it makes me happy.
  • A plastic tub from Wegman’s olive bar, empty now of olives but filled with water and a squirt of dish soap.

The best time to pick beetles is in the morning because they are slower then. (Kind of like me.). I don’t actually pick them. I sort of push them, holding the water under so they fall into it. However, if one is actively chomping a berry, flicking is a bit more effective. At each bush, I look for beetles first, because picking a berry will shake the beetle into flying away. I don’t want it to go away; I want it to die.

Killing the adult beetle hopefully prevents it from laying eggs at the base of the plant so that larva won’t emerge next spring. And it keeps the invaders from chomping on more berries. Beetles (like college students) tend to go where the popular party is, so diminishing the size of the blueberry party discourages other beetles from showing up. Tossing away the beetle-chomped berries minimizes the smell of party food which is so attractive to us all. Leaving dead beetle carcasses at the base of the plant may also be effective (dead bodies deter most party-goers), but I’d rather not risk a potential bug resuscitation.  Most importantly, one must show up regularly to pick off the trouble-makers.  Going away for the weekend is an open invitation to trouble.

In the battle for the berries, the one with the most berries wins. And for the moment that happens to be me.


Gobble, gobble

This part of Maywood is photo-enforced!  Thanks to Tim McQuaid for these photos.

This part of Maywood is photo-enforced! Thanks to Tim McQuaid for these photos.

There’s more gobbling going on at Maywood than just me eating up the Easter candy. It’s turkey hunting season. For the first time, Maywood Man is taking on the turkey.

We’ve lived here for…gulp…twenty years and the first turkey John saw was last year. I was dumbfounded when I saw a couple of wild turkeys a few years ago, and my father-in-law was the next to see one. But they have been scarce.

Well, they are shy and have excellent vision, so they are likely to see us first and avoid us. Usually our turkey sightings have been from inside the house. That’s where I was when I saw our dog chase after a turkey, who charged down our driveway like it was an airstrip and took off with great lumbering wingflaps over the trees. It was amazing, like watching an ostrich fly.

Maywood Man has been getting up in the wee pre-dawn hours to call in the turkey. His turkey caller (a disc scraped with a wooden stick) sounds not unlike nails on a blackboard…or certain family members when they get squawking. The annoying sound is supposedly a real come-on for the Toms. They come toward the screeching in search of a mate. Again, not unlike certain family members. He almost got one..a turkey, that is. The young male came walking right toward him. Fifteen feet away, Maywood Man aimed (sort of) and missed.

photo by Tim McQuaid's field camera at Maywood

photo by Tim McQuaid’s field camera at Maywood

A few days later, a turkey sauntered across the top of the driveway while we were grilling dinner. Clearly taunting us. We were chatting with Tim, one of the hunters who had stopped by to change the batteries on his field camera. This was Tim’s first glimpse of a turkey at our place. That is, until he got home and viewed the pictures on the field camera. The corn he had set out for the deer turned into a gathering spot for a few gobblers.

A certain family member who shall remain unnamed wondered how a camera strapped to a tree could get such great photos.
“It’s a motion activated camera.”

“Yeah, but the birds are so well centered in the photos.”

“It’s a motion activated camera.  It takes a picture when something is in the viewfinder.”  It took awhile for that to sink in to her turkey brain.  Nevertheless, she has a point.  The camera on a tree took some pretty good pictures.

No bird to cook on the grill yet. In the meantime, I’m rather stuffed myself from MarySue Easter Eggs.

Turkey selfie.  But the photo is  courtesy of Tim McQuaid & his field cameral.

Turkey selfie. But the photo is courtesy of Tim McQuaid & his field camera.

First frost and fingers crossed: winterizing the hive

Sunlight sparkling on the bees...a bee-utiful sight.

Sunlight sparkling on the bees…a bee-utiful sight.

The temperature has dipped low enough to zap the basil, which I did not snatch in time.  So much for making pesto.  A  more pressing issue is getting the bees ready for winter.  Saturday was a delightful day with crisp sunny weather and crunchy leaves underfoot, but it was still warm enough for the bees to be out and about.  Mr. Beekeeper had three tasks in mind:

  • put sugar patties in each hive for food and for mite control
  • put bottom boards on the hives to reduce drafts
  • insulate the hives with tar paper to keep the bees from getting too cold

We have had a 50% success rate in getting bees through the winter.  One year they were too cold and would not leave the warmth of their cluster to eat honey elsewhere in the hive and so they starved to death.  Last year, they were unable to maintain critical mass to stay warm, due most likely to a mite infestation.


Crisco and sugar. Bees eat the sugar. Crisco masks their scent so mites have trouble finding them.


The wax paper helps keep the patties on the frames instead of falling in them.

The mason jar is the sugar water feeder.  Giving them sugar did not make them lazy...they were busy little bees but get to store their honey for winter.

The mason jar is the sugar water feeder. Giving them sugar did not make them lazy…they were busy little bees but get to store their honey for winter.

This year we replaced all four hives.  Due to a lengthy winter in Georgia, the bees did not arrive in Maryland until the first day of summer.  They missed the abundant spring blooming season, so Beekeeper Man has been feeding them sugar water all season long.  He also started them off with sugar patties.  Sugar patties are a simple mixture of Crisco and sugar.  The bees eat the sugar but, in the process, get Crisco on them.  This supposedly masks their scent so the mites can’t find them.  As we head into winter, the sugar patties are a better way to feed than glass jars of sugar water which would freeze.

Sliding the plywood in sure beats lifting the entire hive.

Sliding the plywood in sure beats lifting the entire hive.

To help the bees stay warm, Mr. Beekeeper slides a bottom board onto the bottom of the hive which is just open screen.  This minimizes cold air rushing in.  Bee Man also wraps tar paper (the kind used for roofing) around the hive and on the top lid.  We’ve had bees survive without the tar paper and we’ve lost them from pests with the tar paper.  If nothing else, it keeps a certain beekeeper’s worry level low.  He will still fret over his “girls” all winter, but at least I won’t be hearing him moan every time it snows, “I should have wrapped the hives.”

The black tar paper will help with solar heat in the cold winter.

The black tar paper will help with solar heat in the cold winter.

A primary but unlisted task when opening the hives is always to assess how the bees are doing and to enjoy them.

Opening one hive broke open some burr comb that was attached to the lid.  And it gave me a chance to peek at the bees on some honey.

Burr comb...the bees don't always keep their honeycombs in the frames.

Burr comb…the bees don’t always keep their honeycombs in the frames.


Assassin bugGoing in the hive also means checking for pests.  One was found outside of a hive–an assassin bug.  Assassin bugs are considered a beneficial bug in the garden and they don’t thrive in numbers to make them a danger to the hive, but this hapless bee sure did not benefit from the bug at her doorstep.  The assassin bug inserts a paralyzing enzyme into the victim and then sucks the “juice” out of it.  The assassin bug normally hangs around flowering plants where nectar loving insects hang out.  With the first frost killing off the flowers but warm weather keeping the bugs alive, this guy was running out of places to hang out.

A more nefarious pest was found in the third hive–small hive beetles.  But that will require some research and another post.

Small hive beetles can ruin a colony.  We'll have to get on this.  Stay tuned.

Small hive beetles can ruin a colony. We’ll have to get on this. Stay tuned.

Plodding and Stomping Toward Spring

The clocks are set forward and my sleep schedule is skewed.  The delight of coming home to hours of sunlight will not have me springing forward into my day.  I will be staying up too late for the next week and then feeling morose when the sunbeam that had finally started coming in my window to wake me delays its entrance until I’ve left the house.  Sigh.

But springtime is a time of optimism.  After the week of the no show snow-quester, the balmy weather this weekend was exhilarating.  It was a good weekend for getting outside.  If I hadn’t been conserving energy for an overnighter with our toddler granddaughter, I would have attacked the yard. Still, even with little Emily en route to our house, I couldn’t resist pulling out the rake and at least poking around the gardens.

The daffodils are popping up so I was sure I’d unrake some Spring.  I was on a search for chives.  Even though I need to replenish them this year, I’m still on the lookout for the first sprigs for my eggs.  Nothing yet.  They really don’t peek until St. Patrick’s Day, another week from now.  I raked their bed anyway.

Crocus.  If the daffodils are popping, shouldn’t the crocus be hiding under the leaves?   I raked the crocus/black-eyed susan bed and found nothing but dirt and some mole trails.  ACK!  Moles!!!  I thought that bed was safe because it is surrounded  by sidewalk.  Errrrgg.  Now I don’t know if they have totally destroyed the bed or if I’m just peeking early than usual because of the early daylight savings time and a balmy weekend.  It’s not officially spring yet.  The susans should not be up yet anyway, but have the moles destroyed the crocus?

In the fall, a colleague of mine gave me a mole “device.”  If I call it a mole killer, someone will get weepy over the poor little critters.  So I won’t call it a mole killer.  It’s a “device” for dealing with moles.  I will say, though, that the “device” looks like it was invented by Edward Scissorhands.  When I brought it home from school (It never entered the school, by the way.  We transferred the “device” to my car in the parking lot, although it could have been a very effective class management tool.)…anyway, I gave it very carefully to my husband who was ready to nonchalantly toss it into the outer mudroom.

Some people don’t know we have an “outer mudroom.”  They’ve seen the mudroom and thought that was bad enough.  The “outer mudroom” is the room beyond the mudroom door.  It is supposed to be the place to put the stuff that people who have garages store where the car is supposed to go.  Are you with me?  Because I’m getting lost–which is what happens to anything that goes into the “outer mudroom.”

John was about to toss the mole “device” into the outer mudroom when I started “talking” to him:

“You can’t throw that thing in there!!! It will cut someone’s hand off!”

So he put it in a  box.  And tossed the box into the outer mudroom.  I would not be able to find it today if my life depended on it.  He will claim that he knows exactly where it is.  But in case he doesn’t and something should happen to my husband and me, I’m hereby alerting dear grown children who would have to go through our possessions that there is a mole “device” in a box in the mudroom.  Somewhere.

We have another ten days until the official start of Spring.  Ten days for the crocus and chives to present themselves.  While I wait, I’ll stomp on mole trails and try to get Someone to activate a critter management plan.

Charcuterie:an alternate way to spend time–and money– on the links

Breakfast sausage with Fresh Ginger and Sage

The aroma of freshly grated ginger, minced sage and garlic has my mouth watering for the sausage that John is preparing.  The man-cave, where John works his culinary magic while watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, smells amazing.  This is serious aroma therapy.  This can waft through the house any time.  As for the apes, well, that is what a man-cave is for.  And they usually waft in after a few hours hunting from a deer stand.

“The organ donors are here!” With that pronouncement, a hunter hands me a plastic bag containing a fresh deer heart and liver.  Delighted with the gift, I immediately put it into the man-cave fridge.  The hunters used to toss out the heart and liver, but now that John is into charcuterie, the organ meat is a special treat.

John launched his interest in charcuterie with his (in)famous venison liverwurst.  Then he wowed us with his pepperoni-like jalapeno venison sausage.  Now he masters non-venison sausage.  Last week we had turkey-dried cherry sausage.  It was amazing for dinner with some roasted potatoes and sautéed brussel sprouts.

LEM sausage stuffer with the breakfast link attachment

With the success of the ginger-sage pork sausage, we are now hooked on these little breakfast links.  I’ll use them in the Thanksgiving Day stuffing.  They will be featured at the Christmas morning brunch menu.  What’s left from this batch will be gobbled up by Harper for breakfasts.

My husband can spend time on the links whenever he wants.  Sausage links, that is.  (He doesn’t play  golf–ever.) He’s gotten really quite good at making sausage and we really enjoy the quality and taste of his homemade charcuterie.  However, like anyone addicted to links, his hobby requires the necessary toys…  I mean, equipment.

Heavy duty Waring Pro meat grinder–no plastic parts on this baby.

First he needed a meat grinder.  A good one.  So he got one for Christmas.  Then he needed a smoker.   Well, those are a bit pricey, so he made his own with a few inexpensive items bought at Home Depot.  Yeah, it’s pretty red-necky but I think that’s part of the charm.  Plus, it works.  The meat grinder came with a sausage attachment, but it was annoying to use.  So…next came a sausage stuffer.  And then an attachment for doing the breakfast links.  Now he’s talking about converting a fridge into a humidifier to replicate cool Italian  caves for making  dry-cured sausages.  You see where this is going.  Oh, he’ll get his fridge, but I’m insisting that it be the old fridge and that I get a new one for the kitchen.

The right equipment helps produce good product.  That doesn’t rule out an occasional sub-par performance, from which John has learned some things:

1. There is such a thing as too much fat in sausage.

2.  Not everything tastes better smoked.  This was a hard lesson to learn.  Ten pounds of meat went into a smoked liverwurst that was so bad we didn’t even offer it to my sister’s dog.  To make the loss even worse, John stood over the smoker in the rain protecting it with an umbrella to finish it.  He not only couldn’t eat it, he got cold and wet in the process.


3.  A good cookbook is invaluable.  Recipes for Breakfast Sausage with Fresh Ginger and Sage, Turkey Sausage with Dried Tart Cherries, and Summer Sausage all  came from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (W.W. Norton, 2005).  The book gives excellent instructions on the basics of sausage making and the recipes produce delicious sausages you just can’t buy, as well as sauces and relishes and such to go with them.

If you come over one day and find a new fridge in my kitchen, you’ll know John has gotten his “Italian cave.”  But it will  be a win-win-win situation–I’ll have a new fridge, John will have a new “toy” and there will be more sausage curing in the man-cave for us all to eat.

Sure beats golf.

Not a bee, not a yellow jacket, and why is it out at night?

Enormous “bees” bounce off the glass of our front door.  Dozens of them.  Unlike moths, which flit annoying around light, or June bugs, which bump clumsily against the glass, these look threatening, like mutant yellow-jackets.   They are so big they make a wasp look like a mosquito.  They scare me.

Yes.  They scare me.  Me, beekeeper wife, who takes a cocktail down to the bee-yard to relax while watching honeybees come and go; who can calmly keep reading on the porch even though I am allergic to the black wasp on the screen; who takes pictures of her hubby petting bumblebees and smiles at grandson who does the same.

European Hornet, over an inch long. This one has already taken the oil bath.

So now dozens of them are bouncing off the front door.   We turn off the interior hall light to stop attracting them.  This is not a permanent solution, however.   I refuse to live in a dark house because of a few insects.  I tell John he has to do something.

John used an unobtrusive clear soda bottle…and he even took the label off!

Not knowing what they are or where they nest, the best John can do is kill the ones who show up at our door.  He resurrects his bug-catching invention that he devised years ago to catch live insects for our frogs Frieda and Franny.  The contraption involves cutting an opening in the side of a two liter soda bottle and hanging the bottle from an outside light.  The insects are attracted to the light, bounce off the soda bottle and fall in.  John’s original live bug trap added an aluminum light-reflecting shield (aka, a sliced open beer can).  This time we want the bugs to die.  John fills the bottle with a couple of inches of vegetable oil, thinking that the bugs can drown in it.

The front light goes on.  The hall light goes out.  And we wait. (Well, we go watch tv and check from time to time.)  Unlike moths, they don’t show up immediately.  It isn’t until about 10 p.m. that we notice activity around the light…and a soda bottle filling up with the dead.   As it turns out, they die as soon as they come in contact with the oil.  The next morning, John tosses the marinated bugs into the woods and some critter comes along later to eat them.  Ah…the circle of life.  I love it–as long as I’m not the one in the circle.

A bit of internet research identifies our flying monsters as European Hornets.  The only true hornet.  They were introduced to the U.S. in the mid-to late 1800’s.  I do not know if they were invited or if they crashed our garden party, but they are here now, and happily ensconced all over the East Coast.

Although they look like big yellow-jackets, they do not eat human food and are not a threat to barbecues.  They will not hide in your open soda can.  They eat live insects like crickets and cicadas.   They are not attracted to the porch light per se; they are attracted to the other things that are attracted to the porch light.  They’re just showing up where the action is.  They eat many insects that truly are considered pests.  In Germany, they are a protected species.  Good thing we are not in Germany.

I know where the red viburnum is.  As for the hornets nest…

Unlike honeybees, who give their lives with a single sting, hornets can sting repeatedly and the European Hornet has a nasty big stinger.  Fortunately, they are rather shy and really not aggressive–unless they are defending their nest.  The problem is–we don’t know where the nest is.  They nest in the woods at least six feet off the ground, but they have been known to nest in exterior house walls.  At this time of year, late summer into fall, the colony could range in size from 300 to 1000 hornets.  Homeowners with a nest in the house are urged to call a professional exterminator.  These hornets are tricky and will create new escapes if one tries to block their entrance or spray it.  The last thing anyone wants is a few hundred of these things inside the house.

I know they are not nesting in our solid log walls.  No saying what nooks and crannies they may have found though.  But John says he used to see these way back when he was building the house…so they’ve been here since before the house.  Most likely, they have a nest in the woods, a teeny tiny flight to our front door.

With cold weather, the drones will die off leaving the queen to care for the brood over the winter.  Until then, we’ll be preparing marinated hornets for some unknown creature in the woods.

This mantis is praying that we’ll leave him alone.

What’s bugging you?

Which is worse–a three-day power outage or seeking refuge in the Hereford Zone where bugs are a fact of life?  Temperatures in the 90’s led daughter Julie to choose the Hereford Zone.  She walked in the door to a warning from Dad.

“There’s a big spider on the kitchen counter, but don’t worry, it’s dead.”

Ok,  I know.  Normal people dispose of dead spiders.  But this thing was so big it was worthy of a photo and we had not finished staging the photo shoot when Julie arrived.

Before her arrival, while we were prepping the family room for a carpet shampoo, a humongous wolf spider scooted across the wall.  It was too big to even risk squashing, but the handy-dandy bug zapper took care of it in a flash.  (Literally.  It’s an electrified tennis racquet.)  Zapping the spider had the added advantage of not destroying the spider, so we were able to get a good look at it.  John carefully unfolded the legs to display the spider to its full advantage.  It was horrific.  It was even bigger than the wolf spider that gave Shelley a Psycho-like shower scene one time.  We had to take a picture of it.  Ah, but something must give some perspective to the size of this thing.  We found the perfect item when we cleaned out behind the tv–a broken Monster Classics DVD.  Alas, we will never again watch Gammera the Invincible, Night of the Blood Beast, or Attack of the Giant Leeches. (Can’t say that I ever did watch them.   If I did, they were that memorable.)

After the photo shoot, John carefully stored the spider in his desk drawer.  Hey, he had to show Harper when Harper got  back from vacation.  Julie worried that Shelley might open the drawer and freak out, so I showed Shelley the photo and watched her freak out from that instead.  Harper, upon his return, examined the spider under the microscope on the kitchen table.  Shelley’s reaction: “Will you put that thing away??????

Three days after discovering the wolf spider, right after Julie’s departure, I found something even better while weeding the black-eyed susans.  On the fence, a fuzzy black creepy-looking spider was being menaced by a red-bellied six-legged spidery bug with long antennae.  The antennae even had patches of glowing red on them.  And the bug’s aggressive stance toward the spider was positively ninja-like.

A bit of bug research later, I discover that it was a nymph wheel bug.  The adults are brown-grey with what looks like a circular saw blade sticking out of their back.  It is related to the stink bug and the adults do kind of look like big stink bugs, except for that saw blade sticking out of their back.  The nymphs are scary red.  They are a True Bug  (as opposed to insect) and  belong to a group called Assassin Bugs.  They sting their prey to paralyze it and then suck all the juices out of it.  No wonder that black spider was afraid.

The wheel bug venom is not poisonous to humans but really hurts (ten times worse than a wasp) and takes a long time to heal (up to six months).  Treatment is to quickly soak the affected area in ammonia water and epsom salts.  In spite of its nasty sting, humans are only stung by accident and, since it is a beneficial bug, it should not be killed.  They like to hang out on daisy-like flowers (hence, the black-eyed susan garden) and wherever there are a lot of caterpillars.

I am glad I discovered the bright red nymph first.  And I’m glad I know to watch out for them while I weed.  Julie, I’m sure, is glad to be home in the city with asphalt and air conditioning.

There were actually 2 wheel bugs. This one appears more red in the picture than the other one.

The Home Stretch

Bumblebee on the raspberries

After a visit to the bee yard to watch the take-offs and landings of the honeybees, we noticed that bumblebees were all over the wild raspberries Sunday evening.  They have been busy pollinating and there looks to be a nice batch of raspberries this season.  Saturday morning I took a stroll down to the blueberries to gauge their progress.  Little fistfuls of berries are still green.  It is so tantalizingly close to summer that I can’t stand it.

This week is the home-stretch at school.  It is exam week.  Half-days.  I love exam days.  (Hee hee.)  I have finished instructing and assigning work.  It is time for the students to show me what they have learned.  They work at their exams while I sit at my desk.  Ahh…the luxury of sitting at my desk.

I have nothing to do but…grade papers, enter grades, inventory books, declutter and pack up the classroom, check out the teachers in my department, write end of year reports for the media center, technology guru, and various adminstrative people.  I should also make a supply list while I’m looking at the empty supply box instead of trying to remember in August what wasn’t in it in June.  Somehow every year I get it done, even if some years I am literally shoving things pell-mell into the closet in a dash to flee the school year.

But I am so tired.  Is there enough pep to sprint the last little bit of this year?  Or will I stagger to the finish line like my brother in one of his marathons–legs locked and refusing to cooperate?

Just a few tantalizing days and I can bumble like the bees.

What is it about bumblebees?  When I think of honeybees I think of an extremely organized and very efficient society.  Go, go, go.  Honey, honey, honey.  But bumblebees?  They are  bigger and slower but they make honey too.  It must  be the name.  You can’t be efficient and bumble at the same time.  (Unless your name is Bourdon, which means “bumblebee” in French!)

Well, I’m tired of being efficient.  I’m ready to bumble.  One more week.