Timing is Everything

We watched it snow this morning while making coffee and feeling a bit nostalgic for mountain weather of years gone by. The birds are busy maneuvering for position at the one feeder still remaining. This is the sacrificial feeder, a cheap $14 model from Walmart that the bear will soon pull down to announce that it’s time to stop feeding the birds.

We must remember to ask our friend, the weatherman, how long abnormal weather takes to become the new normal and a return to the old normal is abnormal. Do you remember when it was not uncommon here to have a frost in May, or even early June? (The fact that you’re reading a newspaper instead of a tweet this morning suggests that you might, and we appreciate your literacy and your support.)

We suspect that the appearance of tomato plants in the big box stores now in March is not quite normal, though we are confident that this is a clever way to sell more tomato plants. Our great aunt and uncle had a contest to grow the biggest tomato every year. He set out his plants early to get a head start. She waited until weeks later, when the ground was warm, and won the contest year after year.

Our grandfather taught us that here on the side of the mountain it was best to wait until both the persimmons and the black walnuts had put out leaves before assuming that the danger of frost was over. Timing is everything, in gardening as well as in so many other ventures.

Last year the timing of our normal abnormal weather was unfortunate for our beehives. Warm weather kept them active late into the fall, using up their stores of pollen. It is the pollen, by the way, that honeybees depend on for survival, more so than honey. Our three newest colonies were further weakened by the extended period of frigid weather we had in early winter, and by spring there were not enough bees left to maintain a temperature in the hive necessary for their survival. They died of hypothermia, still at their posts trying to protect the queen.

The ghosts of those noble bees hover around the honey in our coffee this morning. We take so much for granted, but not so much that we cannot pause to savor the bitter sweet taste of sacrifice.

This year we adjusted our timing and ordered replacement packages of bees early. Since pollen comes earlier and appears to have become weaponized in recent years, it gives us some satisfaction to know that at least something here on the farm is benefiting from the billowing clouds of  burning dust.

It just started snowing again,  and two tough little hummingbirds are dodging snowflakes to visit their feeder. They appreciate the warm syrup we took out early this morning to replace the 32 degree bottle left out overnight. (Bring those feeders inside on cold nights and your hummingbirds will love you even more.)

The bees will be inside today, staying warm and doing housekeeping duties. Tomorrow it will be sunny and mild and our hard working insect friends will venture forth to collect more pollen and bring it home inside the little baskets on their hind legs.  It’s a shame they can’t collect enough to reduce the pain of the many who suffer this time of year. It is unfortunate timing for those of us who yearn to throw open the doors and windows for some fresh air, but will abstain from that pleasure in deference to allergy. It is a cold comfort that, just a few aisles over from the sacrificial tomato plants, the big box stores will have antihistamines on sale.

 

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