Put a little mud on it
October 17, 2013
Jack Frost knocked the door down and there isn't much doubt now what season we're in. Three freezing nights in a row have been enough to level the garden and I let the chickens out to start the gleaning for the first time yesterday evening.
The chickens are really happy to get out again and be able to scratch and peck and pick all over the garden. They perform a real service by cleaning up all of the excess produce, particularly the tomatoes that have fallen to the ground or remain attached to the vines. I cut some of the vines and put them into the chicken yard to let the chickens clean the fruit off during the day, then accumulate the vines in a pile and let them dry before I decide what to do with them. Tomatoes are such wimps and are susceptible to so many transmissible diseases that I'll probably burn the vines or just send them off to the municipal composting.
I need to be nearby whenever I turn the chickens out because there's no way of knowing whether the foxes are around or not. I try to schedule things so I'm working in the garden in the late afternoon and it is time well spent on these warm Indian Summer afternoons.
There's a short window now where I can clean up all of the vegetation, clean out the chicken coop and pigeon loft and get that tilled in, then plant the winter rye and hope that I'm early enough that it will germinate and grow enough to hold the garden for winter. Naturally some plots get done earlier than others so the density of the cover crop varies depending on the timing. At the same time I want to give the chickens enough time to clean up all the fruit so I don't have volunteer tomatoes, squash or melons to deal with next spring.
There is one plant that survives these first frosts fairly well and that is the Hollyhock. It's obviously coming to the end and most of the 4-foot stalks are lined with mature, marble size seed pods, but out on the end of some stalks a bloom or two still survives and if the sunshine continues, maybe even a few more will open. These aren't forlorn, "I survived the frost" beaten and battered flowers either, they are healthy, full blooms that punctuate the otherwise nuked garden with spots of color — red, pink, white and yellow.
My memories of Hollyhocks go way back, in fact they are tied to some of my earliest curiosities about the natural world. When I was 5 or 6, I remember catching bumblebees in Hollyhock flowers. You just wait until the bumblebee is deep in the flower, intent on collecting pollen, then you slowly close the flower petals, capturing the bee inside. This was fine, little boy feats of daring, but the next step was to let the bee go, and some of them were not too happy with being trapped like that. Inevitably I would finally irritated one of those gentle bumblebees to the point that she stung me. When I told my mother she simply said, "Oh Tommy, just put some mud on it and the pain will go away in 5 minutes." I did, the next time I was stung, and sure enough, in 5 minutes the pain was gone. I thought my mother was wonderful. I've told this story before I'm sure.
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I was impressed, at the age of 5 or 6, by how practical my mother was. It wasn't until I was a grown man and had launched off on the crazy idea of making a living as a beekeeper that things came into perspective. I took a lot of stings in the early days of beekeeping, those earlier strains of bees were much hotter than they are now. I learned very quickly that it was the time, not the mud, that made the difference. You could put almost any substance you wanted on a sting and the pain subsided in just a few minutes.
The Honey House is coming together, bit by bit. There isn't any real rush, I won't be able to start running wax or dipping candles until the daytime temperatures are low enough that the bees aren't flying. I'm making my rounds of the bees, setting them up for winter, making sure that none of them are too light. Given what we've experienced over the past few years it's hard to predict what the winter will bring, colonies that go into the winter heavy and strong still don't make it far too often, but we have to give them the best chance we can and hope for the best.
I try to enjoy these warm fall days and take a little more time in the beeyards than I might normally. In the summer there is always pressure to get done and get on to the next beeyard, but things aren't quite so urgent once the honey is off.
I have a little more time to think on these relaxed fall rounds and sometimes as I work I take a sting or two and smile as I hear my mother's words in the back of my head, "Oh, just put some mud on it Tommy." My mother has been gone for several years now, but the memories live on and I think as I work that maybe she was more prophetic than she thought. Maybe this mud thing is a metaphor for life, put a little mud on those problems that seem so urgent and compelling and wait a bit. A little time, a little mud, and sometimes problems will just resolve themselves. ❖