Loss, Birth, Eggs, & Rain

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The past week or so has been quite the whirlwind of bittersweet nature around here. Sheesh! I suppose there are always the ups and downs of reality to deal with, but our attempts at urban farming bring us closer in sync with birth, death, seasons, science, and the random.  There may be reasons why a favorite fruit tree comes down in an ice storm, but why one and not the other? Why this year and not last?

We lost our bees in the last big storm–after nearly a foot of snow, then freezing ice, and then days of torrential rain–the colony succumbed. We noticed that there wasn’t any flying and buzzing action during the first sun break after the storm and, upon inspection, it looked like some dampness had gotten into the hive and the colony was no more. Needless to say, we were bummed. As Teri said, “We were doing so well!” There is a temptation to  give up and abandon an endeavor once one feels the pain of failure, but for us, that just wasn’t an option. We love being beekeepers and we knew we were beginners–now we’re challenged to learn more about beekeeping in a very damp winter environment. Teri embarked on cleaning out the hive and we’ve ordered a new colony and queen to be delivered in early April. We’re starting over.

As we were discovering the loss of our beloved honeybees, we were also in the midst of the hatching adventure. We turned our eggs, took copious notes, and hoped for a successful hatch. In the chicken-hatching world, 50% is considered a passable grade. We only had three chicks hatch on this first time out of the shoot. We cracked open every other egg to do an analysis of what might have happened. For us and farming, this is a learning experience and every situation is an attempt to gather knowledge and prepare for a better outcome later. We remind ourselves that a mother hen does not fuss over the eggs that didn’t hatch, but turns her attention to caring for the ones that do and that is what we must do too; it’s nature’s way.

As if this wasn’t enough to keep two middle-aged-gals-with-day-jobs occupied, our six sassy adult hens have all started laying eggs like mad. We are gathering 5-6 eggs from the nests every day and have graduated from being able to tuck an egg in our sweatshirt pocket on the way back to the house to having to take an egg-gathering basket with us when we head out to the henhouse. This is good, but it is also overwhelming in its own way. We’ve been working to build a solid laying flock so we would have enough eggs to share and sell and now we have to make a plan for how to manage that!

And, the garden must go in…despite the daily rain showers. The temperatures are mild, all the bulbs and perennials are stretching above the winter mulch; and the fruit bushes are starting to leaf and bud–we can’t ignore the signs. So, as we plant out our cool season seeds and seedlings, we begin the slug battle too. Those slugs and snails love this mild, wet weather and can’t wait to slime all over our tasty young veggies.

It is a constant, dynamic roller coaster of chores, lessons, disappointments, and delights. There are cycles, seasons, and only so much time in a day. There are things we can’t control, some we can, and there truly is a fair amount of random luck thrown into the mix too. Our garden never looks like the photos in the magazines, nor does our chicken coop gleam with radiant newness. There are mud, poop, weeds, pests, and our own exhaustion to contend with. But, as Kori likes to say, “a person has to do something…”

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