Joyce Bupp, farm wife

Labor Day is unofficially over, as of Monday. It is the meteorological and unofficial end of summer.

As a kid, it was a day we dreaded — and looked forward to, maybe just a tad — because the day after Labor Day meant back to school.

There was the anticipation, and again a little uneasiness, of whose classroom you were going to be assigned to — would it be a teacher that everyone liked? Or one whose reputation was “tough” and a disciplinarian? Or maybe the teacher would be a heavy homework assigner, news of whom had long-circulated through the student population.

And, good grief, it meant having to wear shoes again. All day, no less.

Yet, we all managed to survive the dreaded post-Labor Day, usually happy with the classroom assignments we pulled for the year, or resigned to making the best of it, if not quite as thrilled. And, it was always great to catch up with friends you hadn’t seen or heard from since June.

Of course, now most students already have at least a week or two of this year’s school experience behind them and Labor Day is a welcome, brief respite, offering one last day of summer swimming, picnics, family gatherings, hanging out with friends, maybe even celebratory fireworks.

While computers have mostly replaced textbooks in our local school districts, and the excuse that “the dog ate my homework” has become not only questionable, but highly unlikely, Labor Day still ushers in a time to focus on a new agenda, not only for students, but for farmers.

The Farmers (old and young, here) predict that some of our early corn will likely be dried down enough and ready for the combine to roll through in a week or two, much earlier than most years. A few neighbors have already been chopping silage, as stalks dried down in record time.

An earlier harvest offers farmers the advantage of being able to get back into the fields after the crop is off and get cover crops planted with plenty of (hopefully) growing time left through the fall.

Several fields planted with a soil-health cover crop mix put together by The Farmer after our wheat came off have turned colorful with buckwheat blooms, sunflowers beginning to open their cheery heads, and an assortment of other, less showy, plants to enhance the nutrient residue and feed the underground bacteria. They’ve also drawn the attention of lots of pollinators, fluttering, hopping and buzzing around the blossoms of some of their favorite floral tastes.

Not all of the pollinators around, though, are quite as happy as those flitting and fluttering over our early cover-crop plantings.

Our front porch area has always been shady and difficult to grow anything with much color under moisture-sucking tree roots. So, years ago, porch boxes became my “go to” method for adding floral color there through the summer. Fibrous-rooted begonias, what my mom called “wax plants,” have proven to be durable, dependable bloomers, along with the bright leaf color mixtures of coleuses.

As the coleuses have pushed up their long, slender seed-setting blooms, they have attracted what look like bumblebees, but are a bit smaller, perhaps a wood bee of some type. Normally, those fliers might “buzz” as the plants are watered, but pose no more threat than that. One of those furry insects, however, apparently never got the memo to buzz-off. As I watered one box of the plants on a sweltering day last week, it came aggressively toward me. I was wearing a loose, lightweight top, and the next thing I knew, the bee had gotten into the sleeve. Before I could yank it off, I felt a sting on my back.

By then, that bee was mad. I know it was defending its territory, but it’s also my territory. Despite being out on the porch, I jerked the shirt over my head, freed the bee ... and it kept coming after me. I raced inside, grabbed some meat tenderizer to put on the sting, and then grabbed a flyswatter. The bee came at me again when I stepped back outside. After a couple of missed swats — still dodging the attacker — I connected. The bee fell to the pavement, wiggled a bit, and Donna, the perpetual porch cat, ate it.

With Labor Day comes a more intense focus on school, harvest time and insects working overtime to make the most of what remains of their relatively short lives.

Some of those little buggers are long on aggressive attitude and short on temper.

Beware. Don’t become a victim of one of those biting, uninvited Labor Day picnic guests.

Joyce Bupp is a freelance writer in York County, Pennsylvania.