Three Sisters

The day is already hot and muggy with air that is hard to breath. I hope that a storm is on the way to break the heat and drop some water on our pathetic little garden of corn, squash and beans.  

I read about The Three Sisters planting system, credit to Native American wisdom, in which corn is planted first. Once the corn is six inches high, beans are planted, followed by squash a few weeks later. The idea is that each plant supports the others.

Corn is the big sister; she gives structure for the beans to wrap around as well as shade during the hottest part of the season. Beans are the middle sister; she replenishes the lost nitrogen in the soil. Squash is the baby sister, she grows on the ground, trapping moisture in and keeping weeds away from her sisters.

It seemed like the perfect plan. Plant the seeds at the right time, add water and let Mother Nature do the rest.   

Everything sprouted as planned but then, like with children, the siblings began to experience life and misbehave. I suppose the troubles started when the eldest sister was munched on by a passing deer, leaving just a few inches of her stalks. She regrew but was never as strong or developed as her cousins in the fields. By the time she regained her shape and independence, the beans were starting to shoot out tendrils in search of anything on which to climb and grow.

The beans latched onto the still weakened corn and they began to grow upwards together while their baby sister snaked around their bases, littering the ground with orange blossoms the size of a child’s hand.

Today, on inspection of the raised bed garden, contained within its wooden walls and on top of a miserable limestone shelf of grass and thin topsoil, the effects of the sibling rivalry, rather than sibling love, are quite clear. Bean tendrils are wrapped around the corn every few inches, the corn is crippled and choking, leaning over to the side and dangerously low to the ground.

So much for working together. I think of my boys, in constant competition for attention, toys, time and energy. I don’t let them fight without intervention, for the most part, and wonder if the same thought process should apply to the garden. Who am I to intervene, but the gardener who created this mess?    

My inner scientist wants to do nothing, just observe the relationship and see what happens. And the mothering part of me wants to fix it and implement a no-touching, hands/tendrils to yourself policy.

I look back to the early people for guidance and remain unsure on what to do next.

However, I imagine they never would have let things go so wrong.

Honeybee Pile Up

Part 1

Snow and ice covered everything, turning our yard into a magical, glittering world.

With each step, we broke through the ice crust with a satisfying crunch. Little Legs was up to his knees in the snow, red cheeked and happy, despite the cold.

“Let’s check out the bees,” Daddy Longlegs suggested and with no better options, we followed him around the house.  

It was like taking a Sunday drive, one goes along not expecting to see anything but with the secret hope of spotting a loose cow or a car accident, of course, the kind where no one gets hurt.

Where I prepared to see an empty landing board on the beehive, I found a pile of fresh honeybee bodies.

“Oh God,” I cried out for divine help.

They were not yet frozen or covered in snow, so this event, whatever it was, had just happened.

A buzzing pulled me closer, a lone bee made his way out. It pushed past the bodies, stopped at the edge of the mound, and buzzed his last buzz before succumbing to the same fate as his brethren.  

There were more bodies just below the pile-up that made me think of a buffalo herd going over a cliff, one after another. What could have caused this much seemingly senseless loss of life?

After an extensive review of the bee-keeping wisdom on the internet, we concluded that we did not know why they died. The colony may have removed the weaker bees that died of the cold, dysentery from waste build-up, starvation, or mites. There was a reason, but what it was, we would never know.

Nature was cruel and mysterious in her ways.

Part 2

I returned the next day, with Little Legs in tow, to show our respects and clear the ledge on front of the entrance to allow for proper ventilation.

Another surprise awaited us.

The mound was already cleared with just a few bee butts remaining, crumbs that fell from some wild animal’s mouth as it devoured part of the colony.    

I took comfort that an animal was able to survive the cold snap a little longer with this unexpected snack.

Sad to say, that was not the last nor was it the biggest surprise of the season.

Part 3

Just yesterday, we returned with Daddy Longlegs when the weather improved, and the temperature soared to fifty degrees.

Little Legs stomped about, splashing in ice puddles while his parents hovered around the hive.

“Let’s just take a look in here,” Daddy Longlegs said.

“Do you need the smoker?” I asked.

“Not for these sweet bees,” he explained, confident in their relationship.

He was eager to check on them after the disturbing event of the honey-bee pile up, concerned and worried as any bee-daddy might feel.

Carefully, he removed the bricks keeping the lid in place and then the lid. He pulled up a frame that should have been vibrating with life and instead discovered the absence of movement, a waxy void of noise and movement.

The bees were there, clinging to the comb and to one another in lifeless fuzzy masses on frame after frame.

The colony did not survive.

Our world felt sadder and soggier than before as the snow continued to melt.

Little Legs splashed over and surveyed the situation with a knowing nod, “Honey-bees nap.”

Yes, the honeybees nap. All of them.

For a very, long time.

Ba Tat, an uninvited guest

“He’s back.”

Daddy Longlegs stared intently out the window and beckoned us over with an empty mug in hand. He was surprisingly alert for having had only one cup of coffee.  

“Shhhh…” he hushed Little Legs preemptively without looking at the toddler stacking blocks.

“It’s the bobcat.”

Little Legs squealed and shouted, “Ba Tat!”

He grabbed a block and banged it against the window in excitement, scattering the birds at the feeder into a mad flurry of wings.

The bobcat was crouching low with its tufted ears and wide eyes barely visible through the weeds and bramble, using our bird feeder as an extension to its hunting grounds. It watched its brunch plans disappear into the air, stood up and glared at us through the window before bounding away into the woods.

It knew we were inside watching. Or at least, it did after Little Legs alerted it to the fact. When the watcher becomes the watched, it creates an eerie feeling, a prickling on the back of the neck and a good reminder that the window works both ways.

“How in the world did you see him?” I asked.

“I thought it was a bunny because I saw his tail moving against the rocks.”

Meanwhile, Little Legs demanded, “More ba tat, more ba tat,” as though the ghostlike feline could be magically summoned for the king’s court.

With less territory to roam, the prey and predators are getting closer and closer and closer until they are in the backyard deciding whether to join us or eat us for their next meal.

No, sire. The ba tat will not be joining us for lunch.  

https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/mammals/large/bobcat.html