First peek at bees, 2024

This is how this story ends:  Today I got down to the apiary and with help from my neighbor (who turns out to be a talented beekeeper), opened the three bee boxes comprising one colony, to see if my girls have survived winter (so far).  And they have!  Each box was well-populated and robust, which lifted my heart – I mean, I felt fairly sure that some bees survived November- December-January, but I was expecting a smaller population. 

Let’s flashback to fall. Before my sister Vicki (Bee Apprentice, First Class) and I tucked the bees in for winter, we checked them for varroa mite one last time in preparation for long months of cold, wind, rain, and dearth…meaning, no nectar flow to speak of.  

Vicki Lee Coleman, Bee Apprentice, First Class, shown here in May of 2023

What should have been a fairly straight forward, one-day job, suddenly became two – I had to abandon the work because I was stung on the one-inch of bare wrist peeking out between my protective sleeves and my simple nitrile gloves. The bee-threat pheromone left behind by the first stinging bee attracted more and more bees to my wrist. Soon, they were lifting off the frames in concert, 5 or 6 at a time, like little fighter jets taking off from an aircraft carrier, all zeroing in on my poor right wrist. After about 8-10 stings in that one little area, I gave up.  Yes, it’s ridiculous to take bee stings personally, but I did. I kept thinking, “Hey, I’m your ally. I’m here to HELP. Why are you attacking me?”

When you are stung, even when it’s multiple stings on a sensitive area like the face, beekeepers offer some sympathy to one another, but not much. Mostly, they shrug. Cost of doing business. You’re building your immunity to bee venom.  Some even claim that they don’t feel healthy and right in their bodies until they receive that first dose of bee venom for the season. If you want sympathy for your sting, you need to turn to people who have never handled bees. They will be aghast and properly horrified.

Anyway, after nursing hurt feelings and my hot and swollen wrist, we went in for another try. This time I wore the hot, leather elbow gloves that come standard with beekeeping suits. Gloves are cumbersome, and these are especially so. (If you’re imagining Gypsy Rose Lee elbow gloves…no. These are big bulky things.) Gloves make the hands insensitive, and the handling of frames becomes all herky jerky, which upsets the bees. They like a gentle touch, and it’s easier to feel what you’re doing bare-handed, and most serious beekeepers work without gloves.

I wear gloves.

We discovered that the mite load was just at the border between OK and not-OK: the test showed that 3 percent of bees were likely to have a mite sucking the life out of them, transmitting a virus absolutely lethal to bees. Varroa mite is the leading cause of hive death worldwide.  It is necessary, therefore, to check and treat the bees for varroa before closing up colonies for winter. 

But before I could place the Formic Pro into the boxes to arrest (or at least slow) the mites, I had to move boxes around, combining two colonies into one, because I was pretty sure one of the colonies was without a queen.

Our apiary is configured like this:  two colonies, consisting of two bee boxes each, for a total of 4 bee boxes.  Each colony of two boxes has its own queen.  Or, should have.

For this story, ignore that bright little box up top. That is a honey super, and I had to remove those later in the season. But here you can see the 2×2 colonies.

One of the 2×2 colonies seemed weak (the blue base); there was no evidence of reproduction to confidently point to…I saw no eggs, no larvae, and brood cells were few and scattered. I did not spot the queen. A colony can survive a while without a queen, but eventually, the hive will dwindle and die.  

(Aside: I love any opportunity I get to use the word “dwindle”. As fun as it is to write, it’s even better to say. Try it.)

The second 2×2 colony (purple base) seemed a little stronger, but again, I saw little that definitively proved that there was a queen in residence, doing her thing: no eggs, no larvae, no queen strutting around on the frames…brood cells were there, but not as robust as we’d like to see. Mysterious. Worrisome.

I was advised by trusted bee gurus that if I was good and truly convinced that one of the colonies was without a queen, then I needed to reduce the apiary from two colonies to one, with the one queen presiding over the whole family.  This meant going from four boxes, configured 2×2, to three boxes, configured 1×3: a tower of three boxes, stacked.  

To reduce two colonies to one, first I had to completely empty one of the boxes from the weaker 2×2 colony.  This involved shaking bees off of frames so that they landed on the ground in front of the colony I wanted them to join.  Because the homing instinct is so strong, with those powerful bee pheromones and all of that, the bees did not want to abandon the frame they have been living on.  I would shake them off, they would fly around in distress, and then come right back.  It took a while to clear each frame completely of bees, all while wearing big leather elbow gloves.

During the shaking and clearing process, hundreds of bees were flying all around me, buzzing their outrage at being so rudely evicted, and walking around on the ground near their prospective new colony.  It was all quite nerve wracking.  I didn’t want to step on any bees, but it was impossible to avoid.

Once cleared, I put the empty frames into an unoccupied box in the back of my car, and shut the door to the scout bees who were looking to return to their home.

So now, the apiary was down to one comparatively healthy 2×2 colony, and one single box with thousands of bees, but no discernible evidence of a queen in residence.  I searched those remaining frames for the queen, but did not see her.  (Spotting the queen is difficult; I’ve done it, but it’s always pure luck.  No luck this time though. You can look at this online and see if you are good at spotting the queen.)

No queen in this shot…right? She will look like a SUV among a bunch of Honda Civics.

The trusted bee gurus also advised that before joining the communities together, that we should place a sheet of newspaper between the boxes before putting that single box on top of the 2×2; once placed, to slit the paper in a few spots, (like venting a pie before putting it into the oven).  This way, the bees won’t immediately start fighting each other; instead, they will buzz and chew and vibrate the paper and in the process, marry up.  By the time they bust through the paper and are encountering one another face-to-face, they are a family again.

I have not mentioned that by late summer and into fall, the frames are full of honey.  This honey is survival honey – humans must not harvest this if they want their bees to make it through winter. Honey makes the boxes hella heavy. I use eight-frame boxes instead of the standard ten-frame, precisely because I’m weaker than I used to be, and hefting those bee boxes around…well, one frame full of honey weighs about 6-8 pounds, so a eight-frame bee box stocked for winter weighs nearly 50 pounds.  

Putting that remaining box housing thousands of bees onto the top of the healthy 2×2 colony to create one 3×1 colony was scary because I was unsure of myself as a beekeeper. If two queens end up in the same colony, it will be a bitter death match — and who wants to be responsible for the death of a queen?  True, I did not see her, and the brood was scattered and sparse, but that does not necessarily mean she’s NOT THERE somewhere on one of those busy frames.

My sister and I strained to hoist that third 45# box up onto the 2×2 colony.  It was a struggle! We were on the verge of disaster the entire time, and we totally rumpled the protective sheet of newspaper in the process.  By the time we wrestled that third box into position, and everything was settled and stable into a 1X3 colony, I felt defeated.  Had I just placed two queens under the same roof? Did the scrunched up newspaper create enough access for the bees to murder each other? Did I adequately treat for varroa mite before sealing up the colony for winter? 

All winter, I stared at that tall colony and wondered what was going on in there.  Sometimes, on sunny days, I would put my ear up to the side of the hive to listen for the low hum of bees at work. I kept supplementing their honey stores with 2:1 sugar syrup, and every couple of days, a quart would be consumed. (By the way, I think this might have been the wrong thing to do, but I did it.  I’m going to look into this later.)

And you know how this all turned out! It was so good seeing all the bees this morning.  Had I known my neighbor better (we just met this morning and I didn’t want to scare him), I would have hugged him for sheer happiness.

Since this morning though, the weather has changed, and it’s become cold and windy again; we are expecting rain.

The bees survived the first part of winter, but here comes Part II.

Notes in January

Oh hey, hello, thanks for popping in to see what’s going on at lasflechas-dot-farm; this first week of January has been dominated by addressing envelopes and jotting quick notes to my people — long-time friends, former colleagues from two different careers, family members near and far, new peeps, some of Maddy’s peeps, some of Vicki’s too (their people are my people) — and I’ve invited everyone to come check out this quiet, dusty blog.

So yes, Happy New Year. My intention is to pour some life into a dusty blog. A real audience motivates me, so here we are. I’ve asked you to come, and here I sit, writing to you. I imagine you in my mind’s eye, and I’m working to speak right to you.

Before I get going, let me just say: Retirement, yes. Yes, yes, yes. I loved working and I especially loved teaching, but retirement is what I was born for. (Why don’t they tell you this on Career Day?) I love shaping my days however I like, working hard, or lazing around with Pete. And thank goodness for Pete, and for the chickens — they make sure I get up and out, every day.

Speaking of chickens…the chickens are on winter break, and our little white Leghorn, Yvie Oddly, is the only one laying eggs through these short, cold, grey days. I’m grateful for her (paltry) three eggs a week. Paltry poultry. Let’s see how things shape up once the days get noticeably longer and warmer; I hope to get 6-7 new babies this spring, and when those new girls reach maturity, we’ll be rolling once again in those rich, golden-yoked eggs. Not so long ago, the girls were producing more eggs than Vicki and I could use, but now it’s back buying organic eggs at the grocery store. Like city folk.

It’s cold and rainy this week, but I’ve got a tall stack of good seed catalogs, full of exciting pictures.

Here’s how it goes — I don’t even like Okra all that much, but find myself studying these gorgeous photographs of Okra, trying to remember why I don’t like it, then poring over growing conditions, days from seed to harvest, soil and sun preferences, etc. It feels like anything is possible, that any seed I put into the ground will grow, develop, and fruit. I’ve learned differently, but still…I believe. (I won’t be planting Okra though. I have limited garden bed space, so I only grow what I love to eat*, and Okra ain’t it.)

[*Exception:  decorative gourds.  I had them in the 2022 garden and have no idea why I didn't include them in 2023.]

Right now, growing in the winter garden is something new for me: garlic. I have three beds planted and a secret hope that I will be able to make a garlic braid — but a braid seems ambitious for a garlic rookie, don’t you think? Maddy says I am an optimistic gardener, and I guess I am. I secretly think everything will grow and thrive. And why not? “Seed, meet soil, sun, and water. Now, you do you.” Everything wants to grow. There are no slackers in a seed packet. Duds, maybe, but no slackers. There’s a difference.

The unoccupied growing beds are mulched with straw and oak leaves (oak leaves I happen to have in abundance) — they’re rain soaked, a little mushroomy, quietly waiting for spring. I’d like to be an Elliott-Coleman-Four-Seasons-Harvest kind of gardener, but I’m not there yet. Still trying to figure that out. I don’t have a green house or a hoop house, or a cold frame, but luckily I do have a most excellent sun room, which is where the seedlings will start this spring, (located adjacent to the baby chick corral).

Maybe the secret to blogging is knowing when to stop. Nobody wants to read long rambling posts about anything. I’ll tell you about the bees next time.

Here’s a thing though: I am working on my Chromebook that I inadvertently slammed into the floor like a WWF boss. You know one of those moments when you try to save something from falling and end up smashing it down instead. My track pad is no longer functional, so I got a cheap little mouse, and it’s not working perfectly. I am struggling to type and keep the weird little boxes that are mysteriously popping open to a minimum, but these Chromebook/mouse shenanigans are doubling the time it takes me to do what I want to do. Hopefully, I’ll get this technology thing worked out by the next time we meet.

Ahem. I’m not sending another card until 2025 or 2026 🙂 so please just bookmark this spot and come back in a month or so. That’s my modest goal: monthly posts, more if I can.

I’ll post on social media when there’s new content up.

One last thing, this last bit about writing…

In 2022, at my instigation, five of us local ladies — neighbors and friends and sisters — started meeting together once a month to share writing. It’s been a revelation, getting to know each other in this way. In this small group, made up of five friends who happen to live near one another — (talk about serendipity) — we have discovered evocative, funny storytelling, moving memoir pieces, and stunning poetry. I am more convinced than ever that many people are walking around chock full of rich experiences and insights, tales that need to be coaxed out, shaped up, and shared. But we fail to take ourselves and our stories seriously, fail to believe that what we have to say matters, and these insecurities keep us from getting it down on paper. I know this well; it is the story of my life as a writer. But bringing our stories forward is a source of great satisfaction and dare I say it? inner peace. EVERYONE needs a writing group, or a woodworking community, or a musical instrument, or a bunch of yarn addicts to talk and work with, or a sewing room, or a place to draw and paint. Don’t wait until retirement to carve out a creative space for yourself. It’s hard when you’re working. It is. But another life that is yours is calling.

Rain snow sleet mud

Now it’s early April, and the sun is coming out from time to time, hinting at warmer days ahead. It’s glorious, feeling the sun reach my bones at last.

And I find myself wondering what I did with the months of January, February and March.

Gardeners diligently work in the seed starting room when howling winds outside reach deep into the tree canopy, and fling dead and weak bits to the cold and muddy ground. I did not start seeds, or sharpen and oil my tools, or order and organize seeds (more things farmers do in winter). Every morning, there were new branches on the path; one wild night, a tree broke in half, fell, and smashed the fence down. The clouds hung low all winter; it rained, it rained, and it rained some more. It snowed; it sleeted. Power went out. I did not remember that there would be a garden someday. What did I do to prepare for the season during the first quarter of the year? Not much.

I remember when I was dreaming of this place, I called my future self a farmer. Even the phrase “hobby farmer” seemed too cute, too diminutive. I read books and blogs, and watched videos of small farmers putting in rows of this and that, erecting cold tunnels and green houses, and thought, “Yes. That’s what I want.”

But now I really see what farmers actually face, and I know they do not get nearly enough credit for the work they do. I underestimated their labor, even while thinking I had a clear view. This website address features a “dot farm” URL and one of my Instagram accounts is @las.flechas.farmstead, and let me say now that calling what I am doing “farming” is a bit embarrassing. I had big dreams, and I really believed I could make a go of it, mostly by myself, and in my 60s. This just demonstrates how little I understood what farmers do, each and every day, even when the ground is pure mud, and the skies are threatening to dump more snow and rain.

Today I embrace the role of gardener, and I still have so much to learn. I had a really good year last year with tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, gourds, pumpkins, and melons, but beans? Cauliflower? Greens? I put in so many seeds and baby plants that never really took off. I made goofy mistakes, like putting cold weather crops in the ground in May, for example. I naively thought that this farmstead project was about me, my effort, my intentions, how much I wanted it to work, how hard I tried, how carefully I tended what went in the ground. No. Not so.

But I’m glad I had that big crazy dream, because it fueled my ambition to get out of town, buy land, and get started on growing food.

Last Thanksgiving and Christmas, I made pumpkin soup for the dinner table from the pumpkins I grew — such a satisfying experience.

I’m starting late, but I think I am going to have the best year yet out there in my vegetable garden.


When the student is ready…

…the teacher appears. This book is just what I want right now.

In chapter 9, Dr. Connie Zweig lists the many teachers who have been among my inspirations and guiding lights, who are now spiritual elders or who have recently passed from this world. Just seeing their names fills me with gratitude and delight; I’ve added and subtracted from Dr. Zweig’s list, but we share many: the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Ram Dass, Roshi Joan Halifax, Alan Watts, Joanna Macy, Joseph Campbell, Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzburg, Ken Wilbur, Pema Chodren, Richard Rohr, Joan Chittiser, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Matthew Fox, Thomas Berry, Starhawk, Bernie Glassman, Wendell Berry, Brother David Stendahl-Rast, Jack Kornfield, Reggie Ray, Father Thomas Keating, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jean Houston, Mary Catherine Bateson, Marianne Williamson, Reverend Michael Beckwith, Thomas Moore, Cynthia Bourgeault, Rick Hanson, Mary Oliver, Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, Anne Lamott…and there are so many more — I’m listing here spiritual teachers, a few poets and writers, but there are so many artists, activists, performers, thinkers who have influenced my inner life; I love every moment I’ve spent with these wise voices in my head, so fortunate that they live here, within my own lifespan, and that seeking and serendipity brought them to me.

I haven’t spoken publicly much about my spiritual life before. I guess I’m coming out.

It’s good to live in the country

Frozen hail on the north facing porch

Well, forgive my lapse, but I’m back.

Things I’ve heard from locals: (during the Caldor and Mosquito Fires, 2021-2022: “this is the worst fire season I’ve ever lived through, and I’ve lived here 30 years!” In the garden: “We’ve never seen a gopher infestation like this! It’s terrible!” And now, in 2023: “There hasn’t been rain like this, ever. We need it, but this is ridiculous.” So I guess I arrived in time for some record-breaking nature events.

I’m hoping things will calm down; I’m hoping for a few boring years. But with the unraveling of social civility, public trust in government, and extreme weather brought on by climate changes…these hopes are likely naive.

My sister and I argued a little last night because the perfectly legitimate fears she holds about the future evoke a kind of helpless anxiety right in my solar plexus, and all the hope and happiness I feel about scientific breakthroughs in fungus research (for example), and public conversations we are having about genocide, slavery, misogyny, xenophobia — as painful as they are — I cling to them as a promise of better days. 

But a sucking fear creeps into my body, and before I’m even conscious about what is happening — well, I become a rude sister; I need to apologize today.

To be sure, there are things to worry about that are close-up and personal, worries that are local. Recently when Maddy was up for a visit and was filling up her truck, an unseen guy at the opposite pump (bemoaning gas prices, evidently) said, “If I ever meet anyone who voted for Biden, I’m going to slit their throat!” A mountain lion (who lost habitat in the Caldor Fire) killed two of my neighbor’s goats last year, right on our peaceful road. And plenty of folks here will vote for Trump in 2024 if they can, and even seem to think that, secretly, he still IS the president.

The great big nightmares of our time are loud and insistent; many have dogged us forever; some nightmares are getting worse — police violence against Black people and random mass shootings spring to mind.  Countless children die before they learn to bounce a ball; resource pressures are closing in on 8 billion of us. Illiterate children growing up now face stunted futures, millions in our own country… frankly, the nightmares are overwhelming.  

These nightmares situate the sucking fear lodged in my solar plexus into a broader context, and I realize (again, again, again) that my suffering is a piece of global suffering.  The pressure I feel in my human body is a pressure that blankets the world, a nightmare that stretches back into time, farther than recorded language. 

All of this sends me to the cushion. I’ve renewed a lifelong meditation practice that brings me into silence several times a day, where I face my life, its flow, its purpose and meaning. I am grateful to have the time and inclination to stop and look closely. I’ve been able to slow down, swim past all of those internal voices that ask, “shouldn’t you be doing something else…you know, something actually real?” and when I was a mother, a teacher, a communications worker, an activist, an adult student — a fast-moving woman fulfilling multiple roles — the answer was always, Yes. Yes, get up. There are 100 things to do. You can sit later.

Well, it is later; I don’t recommend that anyone wait until they retire for this inner work, (a little can go a long way; we can find vast silent spaces to inform us, in 15-second increments; Buddhists call this “small glimpses, many times a day). 

Eternity is not sitting out there on a timeline somewhere. It’s now. It is always right here, present and shimmering.

Living on a country road helps. Retirement helps. My advanced age helps.

Trees are events, not things

When I sit down to practice open awareness, or to engage in somatic practices that lead me into my own wise body, practices that show me who I actually am (nobody), and what I am (star stuff), and experience, quite literally, Whitman’s words, that every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…it’s a little miracle, right out here on a country road.

Surrounded by these loving trees, and the clamoring fungi, (who thrive, who have thrived on this planet long, long before we arrived on the scene with our big fat brains and a tragic tendency toward amnesia), I am called back to simple, open awareness.

We constantly forget who we are, but silence, and the natural world can call us back. And from that silent space, I stand in my time, in this beautiful, suffering world. 

Wildflower season! News from Las Flechas Farm

Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada Foothills Photo credit: Michael Frye

The Sierra Nevada foothills are gorgeous green in the spring, and wildflowers are bursting out everywhere. Here on the Las Flechas property, I’ve been able to find (besides the aforementioned Henbit Deadnettle), Baby Blue Eyes, Fivespot, Western Buttercup, Miniature Lupine, Redstem Storkbill, Hairy Vetch, Desert Rockpurslane, Spring Madia, Yarrow, Common Daisy, Garden Sorrel, and the unfortunately named Blue Dick, which despite its stupid name, is quite beautiful, with a tall, elegant stem and three or four purple-blue blossoms clustered together at the top.

My friend Michele learned that the Miwok Indians, who have lived on this land for thousands of years, call the plant Oocow. I prefer that. I planted California Poppies, but have not seen them sprout yet, though they are blooming everywhere along the roadside. I’ve scattered thousands of wildflower seeds, and am waiting to see them take hold and flourish. The native varieties are dominant of course, and Hairy Vetch is downright aggressive, taking over flower beds and covering over anything in its path. Beautiful though.

Rattlesnake Aversion Training

Our beloved dog Pete dives headfirst into every bush or gopher hole he sees, so in addition to the recommended series of rattlesnake vaccines — which buy us time in the case of a bite — I got a guy to come out with a bucket of poisonous snakes.

This guy shows up in a Members Only jacket and flip flops, and a Prius full of rattlesnakes. Not at all what I was expecting. The whole process was both terrifying and fascinating. Even with the snake’s mouth taped shut, it’s unnerving to see rattlesnakes hanging around on the property. These fuckers are hard to see, and I pray we never encounter one. But they are native here, and although they say that at our altitude of 2100 feet it is less likely that we will see a rattler, it’s certainly not impossible, so we opted for training, which involved a snakeskin to smell, several live snakes, and an electric shock collar.

Pete moved in to check out this fat bastard below, and the trainer deployed the shock. He told me that Pete didn’t require much juice; he’s worked with chihuahuas who required the full monty. After a series of such exercises, the trainer positioned the snake between Pete and me, and told me to call Pete. Pete took a W-I-D-E path around the snake to come and sit on my foot. Then he went to hide in the juniper bush until the mean man with the 80’s jacket and the shocky collar packed up his snakes in a bucket, tossed them into the back of his Prius, and went home.

Let’s pray Pete remembers.

A muzzled, disgruntled Western Diamondback rattlesnake

The garden is in

Vince built the fence twice as tall as last year, so hopefully this year the deer won’t jump into my garden in the middle of the night to chow down on the fruits and vegetables that have take months to cultivate and nurse along to maturity.

For detailed gardening news, check out my new link, “Garden Journal.” It’s a work in progress.

The Mantle

Have I told you about the mantle?

When I bought this place, the living room was two colors. blue and tan; the grout between the fireplace rock was dark grey, and the mantle was made of the same crown molding that ran around the perimeter of the room at a variety of heights.

Crazy, right? But the potential is there.

Well, my woodworking daughter Maddy, and my woodworking neighbor Karen, collaborated on choosing a log from a collection Karen had built after clearing some land for her garden; they took a half-log, cut and milled it, and began to prepare it to become the mantle. It’s a live-edge beam, mounted to a dovetail box that Maddy built with her uncanny attention to detail; then the unfinished mantle piece sat in Karen’s shop, waiting for another span of time when Maddy could come up and finish it.

The time is now! It is June 2022, and the mantle is in our fledgling workshop.

In this photo, the rounded part is facing down, so you can see the top (where the knick-knacks will go)

I wish you could see the front — it’s irregular and beautiful, just like a tree — and in an upcoming post, you will see it installed in its spot above the wood burning stove. That mantle, made by my daughter with help from my friend, and made from a tree that lived on her property, will now be seated in a place of honor in my home, into perpetuity.

Peace and goodwill.

I missed posting in March

How to Retire Happily: start multiple projects that you have no real expertise in, and learn on the go. And naps. Take plenty of naps. I live Siesta Culture.

Spring is busting out everywhere here, and I lost a night’s sleep and an entire day to allergy suffering. I went through two boxes of tissue yesterday, and sneezed so often and so hard that today, my back hurts. Vicki watches the local news, and she tells me it’s time to put the mask back on, and to shut the windows and doors. But I can’t do that. Spring is so seductive; I cannot resist, plus there’s lots of work to do outside. I went around the property recently, taking photos of all the wildflowers popping up — I have enrolled in a botanical drawing class, and I’m aiming to document what grows native here. This is one of the first things Maddy recommended that I do, and I remember looking at her at the time, thinking, “WTF? How am I going to do that?” Turns out that she’s smarter than I am. And really, how can you live in a place and not know what is growing under your feet?

I have lots to do today, so I’m going to keep this short, dear Reader. I just wanted you to know that you live in my imagination, and I am thinking of you.

This weekend, I hope to burn a pile of branches and plant detritus from winter, and paint the bee hives. Vince put the electric fence up to deter bears (more on this later!); Maddy built the hive stand and built the bee boxes; her dad assembled the frames. It’s getting close to the time to pick up the bees!

Henbit Deadnettle

Henbit Deadnettle: first wildflower of the season

Dear Reader:

We’re all hoping for a little more rain around here this winter. It rained four days in February last year, and three days in March, but we haven’t seen one drop since January. It’s pretty warm already, and the earth is starting to firm up. This patch of earth is covered in wildflowers in spring; the first flower is out already, and I’m scattering more seeds now. Dear friend Gregorio Taniguchi sent our farmstead a half-pound of Mountain Meadow and Butterfly wildflower mix, enough to cover the big wild field to the south. I’m weak in math, so I’m not exactly sure, but a half-pound is A LOT of seeds. While I’m pretty sure we won’t see another freezing night, a good rain would sure help establish these wildflower babies before we mow them all down in late spring.

Speaking of the big wild field to the south, there’s a pair of mating geese who have taken up residence there. Actually, the geese are probably thinking, “who is this lady who thinks this is her field? We’ve lived here for years.” My neighbor named them “Harold and Marge,” which seems like a strange mash-up of the 1971 rom-com Harold and Maude starring Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon, and The Simpsons. And my dad. My dad is a Harold too. Anyway, I need a real camera with a zoom lens so I can get a good photo of them for you. They’re quite elegant, and loud, and they are owning that field. (If you’re reading this on February 11, you can catch a blurry pic of them on the @las.flechas.farmstead Instagram story.)

It’s February, and suddenly so busy. This morning, I incorporated a load of Sasha-the-Beautiful pony poop (pure garden gold) into my garden compost, and as I was using my shovel, rake, and pitchfork, I realized I had better ease into garden season the same way I used to ease back into the gym. I climb up and down stairs, walk around this hilly property, walk up and down the road with Pete, and continue my gentle yoga practice — but my body is not in “garden-shape” right now, and I can feel it. I’ve got to start easy, or risk injury.

(PS: I also had to use my stern voice with Pete — he is obsessed with eating Sasha’s poop. That’s how good it is.)

Speaking of injury…it was right about this time last year that Pete broke his toe. His puppy convalescence slowed the whole garden process down, so I am very conscious of the risks as I negotiate all of the lumpy bumpy parts of the property, avoid the gopher holes, and the holes Pete digs trying to catch those gophers.

We have a new Meyer Lemon tree in a pot in the sunroom. It’s a beauty, fragrant and unfolding from its USPS packaging, opening up to the light.

Let me tell you the main things that are in the works this weekend: finish scattering wildflower seeds; start more vegetable seedlings in the sunroom; speed-read Beekeeping for Dummies and attend Beekeeping for Beginners class with the El Dorado Beekeepers; finish machine quilting the MHS tshirt quilt, and bind; learn to use my Speedweve darning loom; work on this website (adding two poems after this); and, I want to keep my Wordle winning streak going!

Finally, let me leave you with a little information about Henbit Deadnettle, the pretty purple flower and delightful edible herb with medicinal properties, popping up everywhere around here. Here’s a brief blurb from the linked website:

Henbit leaves are especially versatile. You can eat them raw, cook them as a potherb, or boil them to make herbal tea. Younger leaves taste especially delicious in salads while older ones taste better cooked as a potherb. The flavor of henbit leaves compliment egg and pasta dishes really well. Other ingredients that will taste amazing with this edible include spinach, soft cheeses, mushrooms, nuts, poultry, pork, and wild game meats.

Currently reading:

  • How Proust Can Save Your Life, Alain de Botton (Audible)
  • Dreyer’s English, Benjamin Dreyer (Audible)
  • Circe, Madeline Miller (Audible)
  • Prayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement
  • Beekeeping for Dummies, Howard Blackiston
  • Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Malinda Lo

My dentist loves birds

Little by little, I’m settling in here. I have friends. I have a doctor. I have a dentist. My doctor is a little scary — she dresses to the nines, does not care to exchange pleasantries, and poses questions the way a lawyer would if the patient were on the witness stand. On the other hand, I feel like given half the chance, my dentist would have hugged me. She is a warm, lovely person. Every patient chair in the dental practice faces a big window, and outside every window is big bird feeder (that one of their patients built for them), and as you’re having teeth cleaned and examined, or getting xrays, you can watch cute little birds during breaks in the action. Love my new dentist, her friendly staff, and those bird feeders.

This is the time of year in El Dorado and Amador counties where the world greens up. (El Dorado County has an Instagram tourism account @visiteldorado, and Amador County has accounts for wineries, a craft distillery, gardens, and makers like @madeinamador.) If you look at the El Dorado account, you can see that every hill is turning green; my own space is getting green, and even the rocky dirt path that bisects the property is filled up with little green growing things. Miner’s Lettuce and baby lupines are popping up everywhere, and in a few months the whole world will be covered with flowers. I’ll be sowing more wildflower seeds this weekend, preparing for our future bees. My head is full of plans — too full, maybe. Though the trees remain winter-bare, the landscape is slowly waking up, I have to remind myself to slow down, that it is still morning-frost-on-the-ground winter. It’s winter, dammit. Spring is weeks away.

Greening up
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