It’s a lovely, tender Friday morning in May. We’re up to 16 hours of daylight, and it’s definitely our hardest-working time of year. Planting in North Central BC is not like gardening on the coast, if you’ll pardon an understatement. The gardens are still buried in snow until April, frozen solid — doesn’t this cat get it that I need two hands to type? I am perfecting the loving gaze, eye contact that says “this is not about you but I still love you and will love you always”—and yet, seedlings must be started weeks ahead of the first hint of green in the landscape. Who knew that a south facing porch would be worth its weight? We make do. We have an east window, shelves can be fitted, the view of the pasture and hills beyond can be compromised for a couple of months. I can go outside in any weather to watch the sun rise; I can see it from the bathroom, actually the toilet-and-sink room. The bathtub is downstairs, in a dark cupboard with a spongy floor.
This is week ten of isolation for us. We are early adopters apparently, though not of everything. We let the world test cameras, phones, fashions for five or ten years before we buy. When my head is not full of research on trees, medicines, and dare I say flowers, now that I have a little fenced plot and the goats seem less ambitious (here comes Po for a head massage. Po is my middle cat, whose adventures are mentioned elsewhere, the one who hitched a ride with the horse hauler after going AWOL while I was packing up to leave my beloved East Van forever. Po is currently living under a chair, which is a step up from skulking under my bed all winter, after living rough for six months before that, just long enough to break my heart once again. The heart that must encompass every chick snatched by ravens, every piglet grown and gone to slaughter). Never mind.
I persist in recording the seasons, and lessons learned, and thoughts about the future, don’t I? Telling the meta mind to shut up, that editing before writing is not a thing. Yes of course I know it’s pathetic, spinning one thread of thought into the universe, partial – as opposed to impartial – and incomplete. What is my hope? That some glancing reflection, some remembered scent or sound will link you to me, even for a moment. I hope that, if I sit down every morning (nearly) and follow one of the paths that seems to open up in the dense forest of my thoughts and worries, some benevolent spirit (not a fairy, they can be fun for a time but are essentially malicious, not at all sympatico with the human plight) will reveal a bit of the mysterious web that connects all life, animate and inanimate –for even crystals move and grow, though slowly. Which brings me to my topic of the moment.
Today is a Flower Day, important to know if you’re planting by the Moon. There are incredibly elaborate charts and formulae, informed by immense amounts of study, insight and wisdom and by hearts much deeper and more willing than mine, that could be followed and traced and interwoven with three kinds of astrology and many years of background reading, but I am essentially a practical person who likes to see the results of their daily labour, and who measures their worth in productivity. I like to get shit done. So I pin the chart from the Biodynamic Almanac onto the fridge with a very strong magnet, having folded it to reveal the current month, and I truly welcome its guidance. On a Flower Day, you plant, transplant, harvest, prune or otherwise deal with any plant whose primary intended use is its flowers. That includes the obvious, but also broccoli and cauliflower if you think about it. So today I will harvest dandelions for jelly and vinegar, throw some seeds around in that flower garden that has remained a fantasy until now, and may yet need a five foot chainlink fence around it, and other than that I will take it easy, because leaf days are coming, followed by fruit and then root, and there will be time for everything.
Planting by the Moon is like having a caring teacher at your elbow, whispering instructions that you are free to ignore. There are so many ways to garden, and plan your garden, and order your activities to give every plant the best chance to come to harvest before that first killing frost, which can show up anytime after late August. I enjoy the simplicity of this method, and find I am not as nervous about timing everything, pushing myself and the family too hard, or despairing over the number and variety of tasks and the difficulty of prioritizing one over the other. This way, I can look ahead and see that there’s a root day, say, on the weekend (when my young people, who all have day jobs, might be available for labouring) so the work of digging the new potato patch can be spread out over the preceding few days. I am transparent, I reveal my sources, even to my skeptical Scorpio. I don’t claim credit for “just knowing.” Eyebrows might be raised and there might be a little muttering, but the crew tends to go along with my notions, because the results have been good. Germination is decent, seedlings are generally strong, harvest is fairly reliable. What’s not to like?
The Farmer’s Almanac is another source of unfathomable guidance, though I have no use for the modern version – glitzy, ad-filled, Americentric and lightweight. Still, the internet will reveal “best days” for all kinds of homesteading activities, including starting a diet and cutting your hair. We pay attention to the best days to slaughter farm animals and set eggs. Of course we have no way to do controlled experiments, and obviously many of you are feeling a bit superior about superstitious bumpkins but essentially, why not? In this world of far too much choice, all the wrong kinds of freedom along with the lovely and good kinds, why not respond to an archaic system that still persists? Especially when the teachings are distilled into a colour-coded chart that can be consulted while you drink your morning tea, let the dogs in, or out, and feed the cats, while checking the thermometer, the calendar, and the time. Oh, and the temperature on the incubator humming away beside me here.
After a few rough hatches, some of which you’ve heard about in great detail, it came to my attention that indeed, I could also be setting eggs by the moon. I have an old, beat up incubator that I am somewhat afraid of, since there is no manual and its workings are mysterious. The woman who sold it to me said just leave it set the way it is, it’ll be great, and I can’t even tell you what might have led to my impulse to monkey with the one control but monkey I did and it’s been a hell world ever since. There are no calibrations anywhere, no numbers. Just a lever sticking out of the Styrofoam box, with a little wing nut to tighten it down. Inside the lid is a skinny little heat element and a round thing I have learned to call the Wafer. The Wafer has run my life for the past ten days, and will continue to do so until the eggs either explode or hatch, sometime around May 26th, 2020. This is probably as close as I will get to the lived experience of a broody hen. I am definitely as crabby. At night I have to give up checking the temperature every few minutes and trying to coax the light to stay on just long enough to bring it to 38 C but not beyond –oops, back the other way, oops, dammit! – wtf!! and all the other expletives I read into the broody’s growling when I come near to offer her water, or ask if she’s alright. In the morning, as I check all the vitals of my day, weather, time, almanac and so on, and discover yet another task I can do in my pyjamas – just moving this hose, just letting the chickens out, just fixing this dang latch again – and come to the incubator, I feel either supremely irritated –36.7! this fricking thing! They’ll be congealed in there! Or perhaps 39.4, oh nooooo! They’ll be cooked! or cautiously hopeful – 37.9, not bad! Maybe it stayed there all night and these things will actually turn into chicks eventually. I could take them out and “candle” them, shine a bright light at them and try to decipher what I see in that middle distance where everything is a bit fuzzy with or without reading glasses, which is why I have to do the holding, not the cutting, when we turn boar babies into barrows, but I have not yet learned the art of candling so I’m not sure what I would be looking for. Therefore, I am at the mercy of this thing, or maybe it’s the hygrometer (further hell, there’s a humidity range I’m supposed to be aiming for, though the internet varies on its exactness).
There are 36 of my hens’ finest eggs in there. On a good day, when I remember to set up the obstacle course on top of the incubator and the cats haven’t knocked the control, which I have given up tightening down because it seems to move the Wafer inside and the only time I feel free to check on the Wafer is when the temperature is too high and I need to lift the lid to let some heat out, which is also a good time to roll the eggs around like a conscientious broody would do, and I usually get a vicious little burn from the element – on a good day I might only have to adjust the temperature 20 or 30 times. Tempted I might be, but I can’t give up on my foster chicks; what if they’re tougher than I think and are somehow developing just fine in there? Again, I could candle them, but that would involve opening the damn incubator repeatedly and why would I introduce more complications? I’m as scared as you would be of exploding eggs, the mess, the smell, but I can’t lay awake thinking about it. My night worries are fully booked with the Pandemic and all.
Just when you thought I was at an end of explaining the complications of artificial broodiness, which are taking place while we plant the garden–by the Moon, but the moon doesn’t dig or turn the compost– build another coop for the meat chickens, haul in wire and posts for their fence, calculate a formula for their feed; order supplies that might never get here, like a drip irrigation kit and a new thermostat assembly for the incubator, yes; plan a trip to fetch the auxiliary piglets; plant and coddle 29 nut trees and berry bushes and tap our feet waiting for the orchard trees to show up – I need to tell you we received 18 Icelandic Chicken eggs in the mail. I carefully timed my order to correspond to one of the Best Days for Setting Eggs, so more teeth gritting. There was a slight misunderstanding and the eggs arrived two days later than I thought they would, so if I wanted to stick with the Moon, I couldn’t give them the full 24 hours to settle after their journey.
The whole point of this exercise was to calibrate the incubator with our eggs (callous, callous) so I could try again with the Icelandics after the Ravens fed the last of my three precious surviving chicks to their big-beaked ravenous young. Last night, under cover of darkness, which meant staying up three hours past my bedtime, we slipped an even dozen under the broody, who has remained broody for weeks already because every evening we stole the eggs her sisters laid in her nest. Actual broody hens are a whole other saga. The remaining six eggs went into the unreliable incubator. I have no idea how I will keep 42 potential chicks at 38.0 C while I install the new thermostat assembly, but that is a problem for another day, as is “lockdown” for the eggs that are 9 days further along. Maybe someone else will go broody in the meantime, and I can exploit her desire to become a mother. Callous.
I have enjoyed the luxury of this time with you, but my Flower Day will not likely be onerous, especially because my daughter has the day off and we’ll bumble through it together. I hope you are keeping well and finding reasons to be optimistic about the chances for a better world ahead, for all of us. Let’s hope the big meat packing companies and factory farms are forced to break up, and the far more sensible and healthy family farm model wins the day. Meanwhile, let’s all soldier on, stick up for the persecuted and fight for the rights of all people to a decent life.