New apple trees arrived last week in a long cardboard box; the skinny trunks tied together like stranded refugees, their bare roots dampened with shredded newspaper. I like to get them into the ground as soon as possible. Gabi White came over last Sunday and helped me dig the holes. This new collection of trees is now planted in three rows at the top of the potato field. The first row is all Honey Crisp, the apples that everyone clamors for, the next one is planted with Golden Russets alternating with red apples, and the third row, has Roxbury Russets interplanted with cider apples: Dabinett, Eliss Bitter, Kingston Black, and Foxwhelp. Blase, who grows potatoes every year in this field, has worked hard on the soil and it is beautiful. I have never planted trees with such ease, digging into actual soil, not into rocks as in the orchard.
Looking up from our shoveling, I continuously marveled at the surrounding wetlands, the Medicine Wheel in the distance, and nearby, between the ancient willows on the edge of the pond, one of the new beehives that also arrived this week. It’s not white and it’s not square, the traditional Langstroth hive designed by Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810–1895) to facilitate beekeeping with its easily removable frames. Our hive is a Top Bar, made of western cedar, and looks more like a newborn’s cradle.
There are some 15,000 bees and a Queen in each hive. The Queen arrives in her own little box that is plugged with candy, hardened sugar water. She is segregated from the hive because as a foreigner, the bees would otherwise throw her out. To gain their acceptance will take time. Thus the bees are prevented from getting to her for a few days while they eat through the sweet candy. In this way they get used to her pheromone and, hopefully, will accept her as their queen.
Our beekeeper is Melissa Ljosa from Maynard, MA. Her yard is too small for her to keep bees so she is delighted to keep two hives at the farm. Melissa is a devotee of Top Bar hives. In a Top Bar hive there are no frames, only a series of wooded slats. The bees build their honeycomb down from these slats determining the shape of the comb and size of the cells, unlike the Langstroth hives with machine-made standardized frames and cells. Melissa feels this system is more natural for the bees.
Her other hive is out in the orchard behind the lightroot boxes. All day Friday with the help of two farm workers, we planted more new trees in the orchard. The hive was out of site, but in the afternoon I said let’s check on the honeybees. We saw them flying in and out of the hive and gathering nectar from dandelions and a flowering groundcover similar to ajuga.
With all this activity, we can finally say that Spring has arrived and everyday we see new species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians, along with new artwork. On the edge of the potato field is Gabi and my newest collaboration, Temenos, Greek for sacred grove. Seven leaf-filled columns create a small sanctuary. Evoking Greek caryatids and trees, these pillars offer a poem about the sacred and mysterious life of the forest. It will be installed along the Muddy River in Brookline near the Longwood T stop as part of the Studio Without Walls exhibit, opening on April 30. Gabi and I will be there on Saturday from 11-1pm. If you live nearby please come by and say hello.
Melissa stopped by again and we inspected the Queen's box together. She had been liberated, a good sign.