Wednesday, March 14:

Spring is here.  The calendar may lack a week until the seasons officially change, but the grass and the trees know already, and the robins, who are always the first to hear, are so ubiquitous as almost to be underfoot.  The soft, wet ground is prime hunting ground for worms, leaving aside only our compost bins, which yield dozens of red, squirmy worms in each forkful of decaying plant matter.  Cardinals and chickadees no longer provide our primary bird companionship; song sparrows visit the feeder outside the kitchen window, or sit in the small cherry tree, vibrating to their own song.  The late quarter moon illuminates the early morning as we go down to milk, while in the cleft of our valley Mars glows pink.  Our weather has been in the sixties and seventies for two days, and the four-year-old, S-6, announced the news in glad treble:  Spring is here.  Out come the water pistols.

Only two or three weeks ago we were feeding the bees pollen patties; today when we got into the hives, many of the disturbed insects had full pollen baskets on their legs.  Almost certainly tree pollen; the only flowers to be seen are the tiny white ones of rock cress , the pure blue of speedwell, and a few purple crocuses.  But the late afternoon sun illuminates clouds of particulate around the maple trees on the hill, which we assume is windborne pollen.  Don’t quote us.  The bees seem to be doing well.  They still have lots of honey from their winter stores, and there is quite a bit of capped brood in each hive.  The pattern, which should be almost solid, is a little spotty, which could indicate an old queen, but there is a great deal of younger brood, and we are not sure how long ago the mother bees will have started laying again after the winter hiatus.  We made sure there were plenty of empty cells around the brood cluster so that the mamas wouldn’t start thinking about leaving, and put a queen excluder and a super on each hive.

The pruning gets done in stages.  This morning we took on the three overgrown, ancient trees in the south pasture, unpruned in human memory until last year.  Drastic pruning is supposed, we read, to be done over a period of several years – three is the number we have seen most often – so we contented ourselves with removing all the dead and damaged wood we could reach, ditto suckers, and all the ingrowing branches under about three quarters of an inch in diameter.  Two of the trees have substantial branches at the top broken a year ago, when a tulip tree the men were dropping deviated from the line chosen for it and glanced off the apple trees.  Removing these was beyond the tools we had taken up with us, and we will have to go back and finish the job.

We pulled and raked weeds from the raised beds in the kitchen gardens, and raked compost into the asparagus bed.  In the afternoon the men brought hay from Neighbor B’s.  We cut and bale his south pasture on shares, and his horses have not needed all he got of last summer’s harvest; so he, with typical generosity, gave us permission to use it.  That is a savings for us, who will have another month at least before the cattle can go out on pasture.  In the meantime they are fenced into the barnyard, which is as muddy as a sacrifice paddock usually is this time of year.  For relief they go into the barn, which is relatively dry and solid, but they look wistfully through the fence at the thin greenup, and the young cow finds devious ways to escape.  Makes us wish for a heavy-duty fence charger to give her a good jolt.