The Nor’easter of October 2011 hit our town pretty badly. Actually, it was just a small snowstorm, not too heavy, not long-lasting. But the trees were not ready for it. It was only the fourth time that there was snow before Halloween in NYC since the civil war! Add to that that the trees now “think” (for good reasons) that it’s summer at the end of October…

So they were still flush with green leaves, which had only just started turning. The snow stuck to them and that’s what weighed them down. This was the view out my living room window the morning after the storm.

Gorgeous, but dangerous. None of those trunks or branches are usually that diagonal. Several tops snapped off after the picture was taken.

The night before this picture was taken, the night of the storm, I lay awake in bed listening to the creaking and straining of the trees, the tearing of wood fibers, then the crack, then whoosh and finally thump of limbs and branches crashing to the ground. After a couple of hours of this, you just fall asleep from exhaustion, your brain telling you: que sera, sera.

None hit the house, the cars, the roof with the panels. But the hoop house was hit, and two of our fences (metal) are beyond repair. The veg garden is a mess.

There are still a lot of snapped limbs – some the size of small trees – hanging in the canopy, waiting for a good gust of wind to tear them loose. It’s the reason why Halloween is canceled!

Well, to be precise: the town is leaving it up to the discretion of the parents but advises to do an “alternative Halloween”. DH and I know what swords are hanging above our heads, so we’re not letting Amie venture outside.

Another reason for canceling Halloween is that, after over 50 hours, 25% of the town’s population still doesn’t have power back. School was canceled today too, and Amie’s elementary school might still be out of power tomorrow. 56% of people in my town were without power.

We were among them. The evening of the stormwe heard a loud thump and then the power was out.  Our solar is entirely grid-tied. The grid goes down, all our solar harvest gets diverted into the ground.

But we were prepared with one head lamp each with batteries that are always charged.

We also had our trusted stove – the best investment we ever made – and lots of wood! It provided heat, crucial because the temperature dropped to 25 F the following night. The town opened an emergency shelter in one of the schools.

The stove also allowed hot water for washing dishes and even for a bucket shower with shampoo, and for tea. I also made a wonderful stew on it of garden vegetables and sausage.

Our power was restored after 40 hours. Not too bad, compared to last time (after Irene), which was a little over two months ago. That time we were without electricity for 6 days. So we knew the drill (it was warmer then and I cooked outside on the camping stove).

With the way the economy is going I don’t see all those wires and cables going underground, as they are in most of Europe. So we’re looking into battery backup for our solar.

{UPDATE} When I told Amie we couldn’t go trick or treating she burst into tears, so we went along the safe side of the street, just 10 or so houses. She also opened the door and doled out a lot of candy. So she was happy. Not our usual Halloween, but some of it, anyway. Many people from the North of our town, which is still without electricity, came to our neighborhoods.

I harvested the last potatoes yesterday and got two surprises. First, when I pulled the straw away, there was this:

The first time  I noticed this dark, crumbly soil, I thought there was something wrong with it. Did some sort of cement get into it? What insect does this? Is it good? Then I realized. A few days later I told a friend who used to be a farmer and she said: “You’ve arrived!”

Yes. It’s worm poop! A half inch deep layer over the entire 4×8′ bed! Here’s a closer look:


Then I started digging up the potatoes – all the Keuka Golds I had left in because they were unaffected by the brown spot. I had high hopes because the plants were healthy and the only of my potatoes that actually flowered.  Well, plant after plant came out but I found hardly any potatoes! It was only when I reached the other side of the bed that I discovered what had happened. I plunged in my potato fork and eek! I had speared a fat, loudly squeaking vole! Startled, I shook it off my fork over the fence. Later I came across two more voles and took a picture of them.

Funny creatures. Unfortunately for me and for that one very unlucky one, we both like potatoes!

out of our living room window


  1. that the house does not benefit a whole lot from being shaded by the trees to the south in Summer,
  2. that we could grow a more successful garden where it already is and expand it even more
  3. that we would make room for fruit, nut and coppice trees,
  4. that if we removed those trees we can put solar hot water and perhaps a small PV on our solar south facing and perfectly pitched roof,
  5. and that we would get wood to fire up the stove for a decade,

… we are now leaning towards removing some big trees on our property. These are two beeches – one of them quite huge – two big red oaks and one big white oak, one double-trunked pine tree (might be on neighbor’s property), a couple of smaller oaks and pines, and possibly two more  large red oaks on the west side of the veg garden (not in photo). All the roots will also have to be removed if we want to plant new trees.

We’ve not decided yet because we need a couple of quotes, an equivalent amount of savings, and a lot more thought about the alternatives and, if we go ahead, the replacements. I’m just saying we’re leaning.

I was very adverse to such drastic measures. The wooded feel of this place  and neighborhood is what we fell in love with, and that strong, majestic beech in particular is such a joy. But we won’t be cutting them down for a lawn, and there are a great many more trees on the property. Still, it  is the thought of making solar hot water possible that brings me this far. What with the stove and solar hot water we would need to rely very little, if at all, on the oil burner.

This should have been a joyous day, a glorious day. Instead there was cussing. I don’t often cuss, so it was shocking. What happened? The chipmunks got to the first tomato of the season.

THE first tomato.

The ICONIC tomato.

The one you take a picture of:

Its good side

Its chipmunk side

They also got the second one, which wasn’t nearly ripe. There are, by my latest count, hundreds of tomatoes ripening in that hoop house. At this rate we’re not going to get to eat any of them.  The chipmunks have dug tunnels underneath the sides, so putting on doors will not help. What do you think? Coyote pee?

I wrote last time about my concern that my colony is behind. At my last inspection they still hadn’t drawn out (built wax comb onto) enough frames to warrant the second brood box. Still, my inspection indicated that the queen would soon run out of immediately available space to lay eggs. In the summer a good queen can lay 1500-2000 eggs a day!

So yesterday I went in to move one of the empty outside frames in couple of spots in.

When bees build comb and then fill it up with brood lives in two boxes, they will always use it for brood {UPDATE: this turns out not to be true: the bees can clean out honey and use the cell for brood}. As the new bee emerges from her cocoon, her pupal lining stays behind and is not cleaned out – neither are waste and bits of pollen and propolis. Over the years, brood comb, then, gets darker, even black. Since the chance of disease rises and the cells become smaller with each new shedding of a cocoon, brood comb needs replacing every four or so years (though it depends). Comb filled with honey will always use be honeycomb {UPDATE: nope}, which is lighter in color, because each cell always gets cleaned out totally when the bees go into their honey stores.

The brood nest (adult bees, eggs, larvae and pupae) forms a sphere in the middle of the hive. When you add a second box on top, the bees will gradually move the nest up. By winter, the nest will be in the top box. In spring you reverse the boxes, so the nest is in the bottom box again. And so forth.

My brood (B) nest, confined as yet to one single box, was honey-bound: it was enclosed on both sides with honeycomb (H), and not large enough.

One of the solutions is to put the second  brood box on top: no less than ten empty frames. But it is desirably that the bees draw out all the frames in both boxes. This means the beekeeper often needs to move frames around. I moved the empty first frame into the third slot, in between two frames of brood, so the bees will draw it out and fill it with brood.

This is what I love about beekeeping (or what I have experienced of it so far). It is like a good game: rule driven, with a challenging array of variations. You observe patterns, deduce what is going on, and manipulate to get the best outcome. But the game is much bigger than that. All that the bees do, all that the weather brings, all that the flowers offer and all the interference from other animals and beekeepers, etc., it is all rule-driven: it has causes, reasons. Most of these are natural.  And nature is vast. We, beekeepers, have very limited insight in them. So the game is new every time. Keeps you on your toes.

Every Spring, since we’ve been here, we’ve had a Robin’s nest near the house. That’s why we call the place Robin Hill – plus it has a little bit of Robin Hood in it.

Year One (2008) they chose the rafters of the carport and Year Two they chose the nook next to Year One’s nest. We never understood why they do this, as the carport is a relatively busy place. Each time we would walk in or past, the Robin on duty would take off with a great flutter of wings to perch on a nearby tree branch from which to scold us until we left.

I know that Robins will return ever year but will never re-use a nest, and now it seems that they won’t even use the same space. In anticipation of their return I had moved the two old nests so they could go there again, as they seemed to like it so much. Instead they chose to move into the Japanese Andromeda that is right next to the mudroom entrance and the guest room window. An even busier place!

We now use our other (main) door – which leads straight into the living room – as often as we can, and try to tiptoe around, but it is difficult not to disturb them. The frantic escape from the dense bush is even more alarming what with all the leaves flying off as well. Still, it makes for great observation. Maybe we will install that webcam.

So far there are three beautiful blue eggs in the nest (Robins lay one egg a day and usually stop at four) — ah, that was based on my quick peek yesterday: today there are four!

And one wary Momma Robin (it’s usually the females who incubate the eggs).

There must be a bird’s nest in our shed as well. Each time we walk in there is a loud chirping, but we haven’t located it yet, so I can’t say what it is. Maybe the wrens, who always hang out in that shed.

My friend, Laura Medrano-Hernandez, has been nominated for the Ocean Hero Awards and I’m voting for her.

Oceana, which organizes the awards, was founded in 2001 and is the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation. Their website is a gem, with tips for play, research, activism and (if you’re so inclined) shopping (with a sustainable seafood guide).

You can vote for my friend too by simply clicking the button. Please do, she so deserves it!