Friday, June 25, 2010


We started keeping bees about three years ago primarily as a way to repopulate a disappearing community. If we got some honey, all the better, but it wasn't our goal. Of course, now that we have had two successful honey harvests I want the honey, too. Anyway, a couple months ago I needed a work break and stepped outside for a walk in the garden. I noticed a lot of activity around our two beehives and I got nervous. Last year our bees swarmed five times. Each time around 20,000 of the little buzzers took off to set up house on their own (which we always hoped was not in the side of one of our outbuildings). The upside, we were doing our part to help the honeybee by repopulating the community. The downside, we were worried that the queen who was left to reign might not be up to her calling and thus, leaving us with no honey to harvest. Turns out, we were lucky and the bees were successful all around.

But this was another season. Not eager to get back to my desk, I stood and watched and soon realized the bees really were swarming. Not again, I thought. I've grown to depend on the honey as have many people in our community. Who knew what sort of queen we'd be left with (if we were left with a queen at all). Andrew saw things a little differently. He was convinced that once they landed, I could capture the swarm. This was easy for him to say because his arm was in a sling from a surgery and he would be unable to help. He was talking about me catching thousands and thousands of bees. Part of me wanted to let them buzz off, but another part of me was craving excitement and more honey. It just so happened that we had an empty hive body that was built last winter just in case we decided to expand. I gathered the equipment and donned my bee suit while my one-armed husband watched and directed me catching the swarm.

It was a remarkable experience. I walked away feeling like a rock star. We checked on the hive a week later and there was proof that the queen liked her new digs. Larva filled the cells. Now I'm totally buzzed.

Garden Etiquette

I spent this past weekend in Queens, NY, at a family party and found myself wondering what is proper garden etiquette. Say you walk through someone's garden and see a bunch of things that aren't right but could be fixed in a second. Do you say something? Do you take matters into your own hands? Or do you just keep your mouth shut? And what if the garden belongs to a family member?

There I was, at a party when I was accosted by a cousin from Bensonhurst. Because he's from Brooklyn, I think he thinks he has license to carry on like dere's no tamorrah. If yous gets whad I'm sayin'. Surprisingly, he reads this blog. He called himself "our third reader" and kept referring to me as "the sustainable one" or something along those lines. He complained that I hadn't written anything in a long time but said it was probably because I was spending all my time screeching at everyone for not composting their teabags.

While he carried on, as only someone from Bensonhurst can do, I looked around the party girl's yard. Like Therese and Peter's garden in Brooklyn, my cousin had done a lot with her small growing area in Queens. Her garden held several thriving basil, tomato and pepper plants, and garlic with scapes that were as long as my arms. My cousin was standing next to me and said the garlic came from my parents. Lovely. But what was she thinking? Those scapes should have been cut a week ago. I tried to hide my horror from Cousin Bensonhurst but he was too quick. He caught my gaze. "What's the problem," he laughed. "She didn't compost something?" I wanted a knife. No, not to stab my cousin with, to cut those scapes. I scanned the yard for another cousin—who I know always carries a knife—but couldn't find him. Besides, Andrew was whispering loudly in my ear, "It isn't your garden. What if she wants her garlic to blossom?" I mumbled back, "Clearly, she doesn't know she's supposed to cut them. She's Italian, she planted a sauce garden! Her sauce will be ruined. She needs help!"

I forced myself to look away and focus on her container garden. She had the most gorgeous pot of coriander I've ever seen. The plant was huge, full, and bolting! I couldn't take it. I gently nudged Cousin Bensonhurst out of the way, bent over and snipped. I plopped the stem onto Andrew's plate and moved on to the dill. Caterpillars. Two little guys. I thought they might be baby swallowtails (and would have left them) but I wasn't positive so I snipped the little stem off and brought them over to my father. He took one look, said they weren't swallowtails and then dunked the branch in a cup of red wine. I couldn't take it anymore and was afraid at what else I might spot. I think Cousin Bensonhurst may have bet another cousin that I was going to collect all the food scraps and take them back to Virginia compost. The thought hadn't even crossed my mind. But I did decide that if you like the person whose garden you're in, it's okay to point out little things here and there. Of course, I didn't learn until later that my cousin hates coriander and had actually purchased it by mistake thinking it was parsley, she wanted it dead. Oh well.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Beach Balloon Bingo — A Trashy Story

Peter and I spent our 10th anniversary last month on the South Fork of Long Island, home to the fabulous Hamptons. We had a bit of a mishap with the car we had borrowed from his sister, which caused us to spend a few unplanned hours walking the shore between Westhampton Beach and Quogue, while the car was being fixed. No problem. It was a beautiful weekday, the sun was shining, there was nary breeze, and the beach was empty, except for…

Balloons. We encountered our first washed-up helium balloon fairly soon into our walk. I picked it up, punctured it to get all the air out of it, shook off the sand, and stuffed it into an outer pocket of Peter’s backpack.

We soon ran out of backpack pockets. I happened to have on me my handy-dandy-trusty Chico bag (I carry one in every purse and backpack now), so I started stuffing in it the all the beach trash we found: soda cans, liquor bottles, bits of rubber tires, string, rope, and general marine detritus. But balloons were by far the most persistent trash item we came upon.

And unfortunately, they’re also the most insidious. According to Save the Whales, thousands of marine animals are killed every year by balloons that have escaped birthday parties, baby showers, and the like, and end up in our oceans. “Balloons are ingested by whales, dolphins, turtles, seals, fish and water-fowl, who innocently believe they are food such as jellyfish or squid.”

I knew about the dangers of balloons to marine mammal life before last week, but I never had such a vivid illustration of the pervasiveness of the problem. This beach was relatively pristine — I’m sure the multimillion-dollar home owners who live along it make a point of keeping it clean — so I can’t even imagine how many balloons end up on a really trashed-out shoreline.

I know balloons are fun and celebratory, but Save the Whales suggests equally festive alternatives, such as wind socks, kites, flowers. And if you do use balloons, avoid helium ones and use the old-fashioned kind that you blow up with your own breath. Those have far less a chance of ending up in the ocean than helium balloons.

You might ask what we did to dispose of our collection of balloons and other beach trash. I’m proud (or maybe a bit sheepish) to report that we dumped it in a garbage can of one of those multimillion-dollar homes. I’m sure the owner would have approved.

The way a beach should look (handsome guy included).

P.S. If you want to a see a really vivid portrait of beach trash, check out this online exhibition from