Thursday, June 1, 2006
The Birds and the Bees
First View of the Morning, 2006, Oil on Panel, 18x24
And just in case I needed more to do each day, I recently decided that we had to get chickens. What is a farm without chickens anyway? Most of our neighbors have chickens and there is a rumor that chickens used to live in our house along with Tony Yakos (after his wife died of course) and I happen to know for sure that they lived in our garage because I can still smell them fifteen years later.
But the real reason that I wanted to get them is because I wanted to make a commitment to living here. I have had a very transient life. As a child we moved to a new house or apartment or town almost every year. In college I moved every semester or year to a new dorm room, apartment or again to a new city. When I met Doug, I lived in a crappy apartment in South Philly, then moved to a nicer place Northern Liberties and then again to another row house a few blocks away. We moved to Connecticut for two years (that was the first place I ever lived in as an adult, that had both a dishwasher AND a washer and dryer-it was pure bliss) and then to Utah for ten years. While we were in Utah we lived in four different houses, two rentals and then we finally purchased our first home, where the girls were born in the upstairs bedroom. Soon we had four kids and needed more space, not to mention another bathroom, so we bought a larger house where we lived for three years, a personal record for me. However, I really didn't want to stay in Utah permanently (that's a whole other post!) so we picked out upstate NY as the place for us and despite missing the right place (Woodstock, NY, my favorite place) by a hundred miles or so, we did land in a beautiful spot.
The problem now is that I still have an itch to move. It's a habit at this point really, I don't want to actually move again. I love our house and our land and I am just starting to feel more comfortable in our town, despite how different I feel from most of the people we know. So buying the chickens and having a bee hive is a conscious decision to do something that is rather difficult to undo, to give away or to put in a moving van and take along to the next stop. I mean we could if we really had to, but by making things more difficult, perhaps my urge will lessen with each new connection that I make.
So, I did some reading, a bit of internet research and talked to our friends, Randy and Jenny, who have chickens. We determined that the old outhouse, not needed thankfully, that had been relocated across the road from us (the road divides our property into two sections) would be perfect for a hen house. It's kind of small, 6'x8', and has a small side door previously used for, uh, removal, which is perfect for the chickens to go in and out of. The interior needs to be gutted, insulated and then covered with plywood and a window needs replacing. We need to build an enclosed coop so that Penny, our very sweet, but bird, rabbit, woodchuck killing dog won't kill them too. Doug and I had a big debate about whether the building would need electricity so that the birds could have heat in the winter and we found conflicting advice about this. We read that if there are enough chickens in a small enough space they would be ok. We are going with that, for now, but will look into getting electric to the building this fall if it is practical. I ordered 25 chickens from McMurray's and they arrived, unbelievably, in a small, chirping box by mail. I must admit to having a very girlish reaction and saying oooooohhhhh when I opened the box and first saw them, they are so cute! Anyway, Doug built a brooder box and they are in the garage under a heat lamp for now. I check on them every few hours, totally stressing about whether the temperature is ok or if the poop needs to be pulled off their butts (it gets stuck and they can die from that-who knew?). This weekend and next we will get the hen house in order and the chickens will move in about a month or so. They are egg layers so we should have our own fresh eggs in about 4-5 months, which I might add, are incredible compared to those things that pass for eggs in the grocery stores. We have 27 chicks (they send two extra, expecting a few to die in transit, but ours didn't) and if even most of them make it, we will have a lot of fresh eggs each day. However, we will pass them along to our chicken less friends and neighbors.
Now for the bees. When Doug was a kid, he and his family had a beehive in their backyard, right in the middle of suburbia. The neighbors weren't too happy about it, but were appeased by jars of honey and beautiful pollenated flowers in their gardens. Doug has always wanted to have bees again and this seemed like the time to do it. Last Friday he went to pick up the bees, all 18,000 of them, plus THE QUEEN, who is in her very own special container. The other bees have to pierce the seal on the container that she is in so that she can come out and settle into the hive. All of this sounds very ceremonial and pretty sexual, but maybe that's just me. Anyway, Doug and the boys put on the helmets, veils, and gloves, put the bees into the hive and now we have bees everywhere. However, they are very busy with my lovely gardens and pay no attention to us, so far anyway. I guess it could go bad and turn into a straight-to-video movie, in which case we may just pack up and move. Heh. Or we will have honey next spring. Either way.
The bee hive. I know, it's not very exciting.
Gratuitous baby chick picture. They tend to get all atwitter and then bunch in the corners when an arm with a camera descends into their space.
*I am adding this quick story about the bees. Doug went out this morning to check on them. In order to look into the hive you have to smoke them out and so when he came inside he smelled of smoke. Which for some reason smells exactly like pot. He was running late to go on a field trip with our daughter so he had to frantically make a quick clothing change and we slopped a lot of smelly bug oil on him. That just would have been classic, going on a field trip with first graders, smelling like pot....