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Chick hatching is Aidan's project.


He uses his Grandpa Meyer's old incubator. It hadn't seen eggs for decades until we moved to our farm and Bill brought it here. He tried it out once, but it didn't work well, and he didn't have the time to deal with it back then.


So it was, once again, relegated to the shadows of a shed and forgotten for another decade or so until Aidan came along and got interested in chickens.


It took him a while to convince Bill to give the incubator another shot, but he did. Bill's a sucker for a good mechanical challenge -- especially when one of his kids ask!


They dug it out from under the other odds and ends that had accumulated around it and set it up. The electrical heating element still worked, but it had issues. They worked together to diagnose the problems and make the repairs. They got the stiff and frozen up fan to spin reliably again with some tweaks and a little oil. They replaced old light bulbs. They set up humidity and temperature gauges. They found pans to hold water and increase the humidity.


Aidan back in 2017 marking his eggs to help him keep track of which had been turned before putting them in the incubator


In the meantime, Aidan chose the hens from whom he wanted to keep eggs and separated them with the rooster in a pen. He added the extra chore of feeding and watering them to his list and waited for Mother Nature to produce the fertilized eggs he needed. Then when he had enough, he loaded the incubator and waited the twenty-one days it takes for a chick embryo to grow.


We couldn't believe it when some of the chicks started to pip, or peck and crack, the eggshells after the three weeks!


It felt like a success to us all.


But many didn't hatch. Aidan calculated his "hatch rate" and compared it to what one should expect. And while I don't remember what his exact percentage was, I do remember how his excitement faded as he realized his rate wasn't good.



Peeking through the ventilation hole of the incubator at the baby chicks..


I wondered if this was one of those


"Is it done? Did we do it? Is it over? It didn't really work, and I'm not doing it again"


kind of projects.


I mean, we all have them sometimes. You know, the recipe, craft, DIY house renovation that looks fun and cool but ends up being lots of work with an undesired result, and we're ready to move on to something else.


But I was wrong. This wasn't that for Aidan.


He delved in deeper.


He studied and asked questions of anyone he could find that was seasoned in hatching. He tinkered with the incubator mechanisms, searched out ways to increase the humidity, reviewed his records to better track his husbandry skills, and tried again.


And then again.


And then again several more times.


(We ended up with lots more roosters than any farm, or person that wants to sleep past 4 am, wants for a while! LOL.)


He wondered Why? and What about if? and ended up at I'm going to try again.


And then he did and got better.


He took the opportunity to learn instead of quitting because he decided this project was worth it to him.


And every time his hatch rate got better.


He became more disciplined and confident with his practices until he's gotten his rate as high as likely possible with this incubator. He doesn't even pay too much attention to the rate anymore, because he's mastered the skills needed to consistently produce a great one.


I remember when, along the way, Bill and I suggested to Aidan that maybe we should just spend the money on a newer fancy incubator that would be easier to use. He refused.


Aidan turning eggs this year.


He said that when he turns the eggs several times everyday, mimicking a mother hen's actions, he imagines his Grandpa doing something similar in a different era.


And it feels right.


I'm glad because I love watching his once-little-boy hands but now bigger-than-mine grown-man hands open the old wood door and thinking - not of those before him - but of all he's learned working with this incubator.


Not just about hatching chicks but, more importantly, about himself.


And it feels right.


Seeing the fuzzy little heads as he slides the tray out is just icing on the cake for me.


Enjoy the video below of when we find the first chick. And after it there's another from the next day when lots more chicks have hatched that you can watch also.



This is the big ol' sugar maple tree in our yard.




The one Bill tapped first when he wanted to try maple sugaring.


He hung a few little buckets on it and eagerly awaited for the dripping sap to fill them so he could do "the cook."


The gallons of slightly cloudy liquid he collected turned into only one solitary pint of syrup after he after hours on our stovetop.


I was surprised at how little there was but also blown away at how delicious it tasted!




We didn't waste a precious drop, quite a feat with little kids eager for more on their pancakes!


The next year Bill collected in earnest from the grove of many maples in his dad's woods, which now belong to us.


He still put a bucket on this tree but more as a gauge to know when the sap was running in the sugar bush six miles up the road than to collect from it.




I love this majestic tree not only for helping us practice syruping years ago, but because it's always felt like a wise, steady, and loyal presence that I can count on.

.

It's been standing next to the driveway witnessing the history of this land for years.


It was probably a good-sized sapling when the remnants of the long gone lumberyard's dirt dam below the barn were still connected across Byrds Creek creating a pond for floating logs that rode the creek down from the steep ridges to the north.


It witnessed the conventional farmers planting only corn and alfalfa that came after that lumberyard and before us.


And it saw Bill and I pull in for the very first time, full of excitement for our possible future, to view the house before the auction at which Bill and his dad placed the final bid.


Since then we've gone in and out countless more times for countless reasons - some trivial, some happy, some routine, some tragic - over the past twenty-six years.


It's nestled my kids an equally countless number of times. They could depend on it's huge crooks to hold them whether they climbed it to see how high they could go, were tucked in behind it's branches during a hide n' seek game, or even needed a solitary spot to sort out a dilemma.




It's stood sturdy and steady as we've questioned, fumbled, and found our way as farmers.


And I trust, it'll still be right there with it's shaggy bark and abundant foliage reaching towards the sunlight long after we're gone..


When I stop and look at it, I feel my place in this world better.


I know I matter so much to some but not much at all to many, many others.




I know events in my life seem hugely important to me but are just a speck in the hugeness of time and space.


Feeling that perspective and letting it settle in my soul calms me even when it seems there's no calm to be found.


The maple tree seems to be telling me to hang in there.

To continue being true to myself and others, and most importantly, to never give up hope, because that's what has always gotten me through the hard times.


So I continue to hope and bring awareness of, and connection between, the health of our soil, food, and body as we share the abundance of this life - always there for us to see - if we only choose to do so.


And I thank that big ol' sugar maple for always being there holding the hope.


Stacey

February is a notable and complicated month in several ways.

The obvious difference is that it’s shorter. While all the others contain at least 30 days, it falls short with 28 (and 29 in a leap year).

February is notable to me for personal reasons, and while I was contemplating that, I began to wonder more about this odd month in general.

I found a somewhat confusing mix of science, history, and superstition. I’m sharing some of it with you, but please don’t think I speak as an authority on the subject. If your interest is piqued, I encourage you to do some digging on your own - it is fascinating!


As I dug in a little on this anomaly of a month, once called Februarius but that we know as February, I was reminded, that a year, according to the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII and a modification of the Julian calendar, which itself was a modification of the Roman calendar, is 365 days and is based on how long it takes the Earth to orbit the sun.

BUT, and here the trickiness begins, Earth’s orbit isn’t exactly 365 days.

It’s actually closer to 365.25 days.

That necessitates the addition of a “leap day” every few years, otherwise the calendar would be off by five hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds more each year. And after 100 years of that, the seasons would be off by 25 days - or almost a whole month!

Leap day falls, generally every four years, to keep us lined up with the seasons.


(But not every four years - alert - more complications ahead!)

Follow this link to find out why

That explains why we need a leap day, but why in February? And not a different month?

Interestingly, the Roman calendar - the original ancestor of our current calendar - was based on the Calendar of Romulus, a 10 month lunar calendar, that kicked the year off in March (with the vernal equinox) and ended in December.

January and February didn’t even exist!

That left approximately 60 days of winter unaccounted for on the calendar. It continued this way for a time because, as some say, a people of planters and harvesters, winter was considered a “useless” time and hardly worth noting anyway.

Then around 738 BC, King Numa thought it ridiculous to continue ignoring a sixth of the year and added January and February. (For a while they were actually at the end of the year.) And in keeping with superstitious Roman belief that even numbers were unlucky, most of the months had 29 days, a couple had 31, and leaving only February with a bad luck 28.

That got the calendar to twelve months, but only 355 days. So, for a long time a leap month called Mercedonious was added every two or three years to catch up.

But according to timeanddate.com, “By custom, the insertion of the leap month was initiated by the pontifex maximus, the high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome. However, this system was vulnerable to abuse. Since the Roman calendar year defined the term of office of elected officials, a pontifex maximus was able to control the length of his term simply by adding a leap month.”


(Does politics ruin everything? Sure makes me wonder . . .)

Then in 46 BC when Julius Caesar became pontifex maximus, he did away with Mercedonius instead adding days to the twelve standard months leaving them similar to what we're familiar with. Well, except February had 29, with one day in leap years, and Sextilus had 30.

But we had the current 365 and 366 in leap years anyway.

His successor Augustus Caesar, and adopted son, renamed the month Quintilus to July in honor of Julius and Sextilus to August after himself. Oh . . . and stole a day from February to add to “his” month increasing it to 31 to be equal to Dad's!

That left February with 28 - 29 in leap year - and a yearly tally of 365 days. I didn’t find an actual reason for leap day to be in February other than one suggestion that maybe it was by default simply because it was the last month added, or maybe since there had to be an unlucky month, it was better to add the extra day to the shortest month.

However, February isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s also the month when we begin to receive at least

10 hours of daylight per day, again.

According to the Greek myth of Persephone & Hades, this is the time that Persephone comes back to her mother Demeter the goddess of agriculture, from her annual season in the underworld with her husband Hades.

And as Demeter's sadness lifts, the growing season restarts.


Welcome back Persephone!

February is the thing before the thing.

The ten hours is significant because that approximate amount is just enough to increase photosynthesis in plants so that new green growth can happen. Under that threshold, growth slows way down, and plants basically sit in limbo using their stores of energy to maintain the growth they already have until there’s once again enough to support more.

The increase in daylight gets the growing season revved up for spring, a time of fast lush vegetative growth!

It's a big deal for us all and signals the coming of healthy fresh lettuces and other greens along with abundant pastures for animals.

The mere basics of February origins and significance is complicated in and of itself.

  • A possibly unlucky month

  • with a changing number of days, depending on the year,

  • that’s an afterthought added to make the other months line up.

  • Yet, one that also heralds increased daylight, plant growth, and warmth.

Yes, February is messy.

For our family, it gets even more complicated as February is both a month of celebration and sadness.

Along with having Valentine’s Day to celebrate our relationships, there are several family birthdays including my mom’s, Bill’s dad’s, sister’s, and niece’s.

And there’s also Bill and my wedding anniversary. (We picked the day after Valentine’s to help Bill remember it - lol!) This year marks 25 years for us. Or in other words, long enough that the line between before and after we met has become blurred in our memories. We say things to each other like, “We were together when such and such happened - weren’t we? Or was that before you?

Bill actually calls it B.S. - Before Stacey

Our wedding was a fun day. We’d waited four years to have it and enjoyed the day without any reservations about solidifying our future together. We ate, danced, and visited, with many friends and relatives. It was beautiful - sunny and cold, but not too cold - and ended with a magical snowfall at midnight.

I felt like a princess. And when I looked at Bill throughout the day, his handsome and happy face confirmed to me that he felt lucky also, if not specifically a princess!

It was even ended up being a prophetic day for our future. One of our gifts was a recipe book from family friends Linda and Mark of Sunporch Cafe and Moen Creek Cottage Farm fame printed for the CSA coalition now known as FairShare - - the first edition of “from Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce.


Linda decorated the Beet page for us saying,

Some couples have a “Song.” We suggest a vegetable -- the BEET. Its heart shape and rich red color make it perfect for your Valentine marriage. Solid, sturdy roots are balanced by exuberant leaves dancing in the sun. We advise you to plant beets for a long and happy marriage.

It was years before we became - or even realized we’d someday become - dedicated vegetable farmers and members of FairShare ourselves and would be selling the next editions of that cookbook along with our produce!

As you can see from the photo, the book, with its bent corners and food stains, has been well used these many years.

Happy days, but February is also the month we lost my dad to suicide. It was eight years ago. A family milestone that’s forever entwined with those celebratory days, and the month itself, in a complicated mess of emotions and memories.

Fun, guilt, joy, wistfulness, regret, melancholy, happiness, laughter, sadness, and pain all stirred together in a big bowl of feelings is as close a description as I can come to. We never feel quite sure which spoonful we'll ladle out.

Thankfully, the feelings aren’t usually as intense, or ”spicy” to continue the analogy, as they used to be. And that helps but doesn’t always protect us against the difficult challenge of accepting them.

Reflecting on them all and what February represents for us, I’m quickly overcome with gratitude for my mom, dad, and sisters, for Bill, our marriage and children, for our friends, neighbors, and farm members, and for the chance to serve others with our work.

And also for the many happy memories of my dad. But I never stop missing him terribly. As my sister Lauren advised when we spread his ashes, I consciously refuse, every day, but especially in February, to let his life be defined by its ending.

It was so much more.

So.Much.More.

Yeah, February is complicated in many ways.

But no more than life is for any of us. And I can no more blame it on February than the Romans could blame

bad luck on uneven numbers.

There aren’t any guarantees in life but one – that it, life, will end.


And we don’t know the experiences that lay ahead. The best we can do is accept them like we accept leap days whenever they come and cherish the preciousness of each one. Because, even though we sometimes forget, each one,

just like every day is significant.

Take one day out of the month, and the year isn’t a year. Take one experience from a life, and we aren’t “us” anymore. The picture is no longer complete. Important to remember when overwhelmed by feeling all the feels.

Here’s to February, and to each one of our lives, in all their complicated glory.

And once again, thank you for sharing the journey with us.

Stacey


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