It has not been a good season for our backyard projects.

Last season’s lone survivor, Dorcas, had made it through the winter. And there was much rejoicing as we planned splits to restore our apiary to its usual size.

In early May we treated her with a thymol preparation to knock down a not terribly high mite count. Whereupon we let busier-than-usual life distract us.

We never found time to visit the hive but merely looked on from a distance until one day the usual clouds of bees seemed suddenly smaller. And then one very hot day there was no bearding. We still could not find time.

Eventually, with trepidation, we finally made time and found Dorcas not overflowing with bees although with comb after comb full of brood. Unfortunately it was all drones. Not a single cell of worker brood. No queen to be found so laying workers. The hive was not yet dead but doomed.

Rather than let the drones hatch along with however many mites we scratched open every cell, cut loose the comb, and scattered the bits far from the hive for the wildlife to snack upon. We left Dorcas open to the elements, not knowing what else to do with the remaining bees. Somehow killing them quickly may have been the merciful option but we were ill equipped to do so.

Our hypothesis for what went awry this time is that Dorcas swarmed without our noticing and her new queen failed to begin her reign. Eaten on her mating flight by a bird is an oft-mentioned scenario. Had we been paying closer attention we may have obtained a new queen in time. But we did not.

We thought we were getting competent at this but here we are, beeless once more. We have been so for quite a while, late even reporting our loss due to distraction and sorrow. In spite of the wildlife that passes through and the singing birds flitting about and other pollinators to observe the place seems peculiarly empty without the bees diligently ignoring us watching them as they work the blooms. Next season we begin yet again.

On the other hand we are giving up on the wee orchard. The quince tree, our favorite, had succumbed to fireblight last year in spite of our best efforts so we cut it to the ground. Raccoons have ever consumed the apple crop, leaving us only broken branches. This year they also devoured the Asian pear. At least they denied the wasps a chance to hollow out the flesh and leave a deceptive, empty peel. Enough. All these will also be cut to the ground.

And the tomato crop this year? Let us simply say ‘crop’ has the wrong vowel.

QuinceBudsNow that we are no longer beeless and Michigan spring is truly upon us (although frost is not out of the question) it is time for one of those tedious inventories of our various plantings. We begin with the joyful observation that, three bloom-less years after planting, the quince tree has a great many rosy buds. We can hardly wait to see our bees on the coming blooms. And then dare we hope for a small crop to poach?

By contrast the apple trees are disappointing with one mere blossom on the Fuji and none at all on the Calville Blanc d’Hiver. All three of these are getting large enough that we ought to remove their protective cages while we can still somewhat easily lift them off.

Among the Asian pears our Shinseiki, having survived the winter, is leafing out nicely while the recently replaced Hosui, the original having died during winter, has finally grown tired of its pretense of being a stick and its lone green bud has developed into a few wee leaflets. Unfortunately a tiny green caterpillar reduced their number before we crushed it.

BushCherriesGreenBushCherriesRipeningThe bush cherries happily survived being transplanted and some of them finally bloomed for the first time. Alas our bees did not get here in time to take advantage. Nevertheless we see fruit forming on two of the shrubs, one riper than the other in spite of all getting the same amount of sun. With so small a crop the birds are sure to get them all. Not that we mind too much.

The mulberry has not yet leafed out but the green buds promise it shall. We seem to have neglected to mention that our first mulberry, Wellington, did not make it through its first winter and was replaced by the current Oscar.

The lindens are both looking good although the tupelo seems to have died. The tiny remnant of the shortened-by-nibbling, more-twig-than-tree locust has sprouted greenish growths and, as Granny Weatherwax might say, aten’t dead yet. Sadly the same can not be said of the even tinier and much more shortened-by-nibbling bee bee tree. It is now a been been.