Giving(Thanks)giving

Thanksgiving, giving thanks, gratitude, Eucharist, hakarat hatov.  Regardless of the words you use to recognize the good in our lives, the feeling that comes from acknowledging what we are grateful for can be life changing as we recognize blessings great and small with praise.  This Thanksgiving, I’m taking a moment to acknowledge the joy my chickens have brought into my life this year, fulfilling a long awaited dream that seemed far fetched for a girl with no farming background.

It was on Thanksgiving last year that coop construction began.  A surprisingly balmy November day that stretched before us with changes to our plans for celebrating the holiday, left a window open to possibilities, dreams and happiness.  While I prepared a small meal that included only holiday favorites, my husband dug deep into the ground to bury footers for the new chicken coop.  Once in place, the kids were drawn to the project and soon, hammers amid laughter could be heard from outside as they diligently worked to make my dream of owning chickens a reality.

For me, it was amazing to see it actually happening.  When we moved out here 13 years ago, on the day before Thanksgiving, I surveyed our little parcel of open land where livestock was a way of life for adjoining properties, and announced that one day, we’d have chickens.  My husband laughed.  I did too in all honesty, but that spark never died over the following years.  Rather it grew with each visit to a farmers market, each purchase of local eggs from friends and farms, and each spade that sank into the soil of my expanding garden that relied on so much more than my labor.

The honey bees came first of course and in hind sight, it was better this way.  Learning bees is a lot more involved than learning chickens for one.  Seeing first hand the impact they have on our environment was awe inspiring.   Recognizing the impact human choices have made on their environment was crushing as I saw and heard of honey bee losses and learned more about their vital role in our environment.

Chickens were my first choice, my original dream of how I wanted to use this property, but over the years, that vision has evolved.  I’ve learned to nurture this property with proper plantings, absence of chemicals, and enriching the soil, not so much using the property but giving to the property and in return getting so much more back.

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Isabella, the Easter Egger, practicing integrated pest management during the early fall days.

The contribution the chickens make is different.  Yes, there’s the obvious contribution of the eggs and there’s no denying how wonderful fresh eggs are both in my kitchen and in their discovery in the nesting boxes.  They contribute to my garden as well since their poop goes into the compost and enriches the soil that I later add to the garden beds to grow organic foods for my family.  Foraging in my yard and garden, digging through leaves and debris, greatly enhances my modest pest management practices, that relies on hand picking and squashing and not chemical interventions.  And of course, their amusing antics bring us all together in laughter.

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Lulu, the Columbian Wyandotte, laying an egg, listening to me thank her for her eggs when I happened upon her.

So as we gather this year, I’m sure some discussion will ensue regarding the girls’ contributions and that’s delightful.  I’m thrilled to keep chickens now and to look out of my kitchen window and see a lovely coop that my husband built for me, knowing we’re practicing good animal husbandry, minimizing food waste via composting and feeding back to chickens and enriching the land we live on with their byproducts.  I’ll be proud to bake with the fresh eggs packed with nourishment from the organic diet my girls enjoy and I’ll revel at being able to send dozens of eggs home with family and friends.  With 6-8 eggs per day, the refrigerator joyfully fills quickly!

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In addition to Blue Seal organic feed, my girls find bugs and other goodies chickens should eat which is good for them and good for us, in more ways than one.

But I won’t ignore the fact that so many of the foods on our plates will be there courtesy of the amazing honey bees, not just in my backyard, but in our world, particularly as the growing season here ends and I rely on produce from stores.  Starting with the pumpkins adorning my coop waiting to be split open for the hens to the one bedecking my Thanksgiving table to the ones used in recipes like pumpkin pie and pumpkin rosemary dinner rolls.  Honey bees, squash bees and bumble bees are essential to pollinating deep pumpkin blossoms to make pumpkins possible for us to enjoy.

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Thanks to honey bees we have herbs to enhance the flavors of our foods, including the turkey and potato dishes so commonly enjoyed on this day.  The carrots drizzled in honey, the thin green beans cooked just so and Brussel sprouts teased with crumbled bacon will remind me of honey bees.

We always enjoy fruit at our gatherings, particularly with children that settle on a roll after hours of meal preparation.  As the children enjoy their raspberries, blueberries and strawberries, I’ll know that they would not sit before them absent honey bees.  For the adults, we will enjoy a salad made with spinach, roasted butternut squash and cranberries, apples, pears and sunflower seeds- all compliments of the pollination services of honey bees.  And when we cap the indulgent meal with dessert, the coffee too will need to be appreciated for the honey bees’ diligent efforts in bringing the caffeinated, life enhancing java to our cups.  While pecans don’t require honey bees for cross pollination and can rely on the wind, the service of the bees carrying pollen back and forth greatly enhances the crop.  As for almonds, one of my favorite nuts, no honey bees equals no almonds.  They are essential.

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Honey bee pollinating one of my strawberry plants.
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Blackberry plants, from blooms to berries, thanks to honey bees, awaiting the sun’s warm contribution. 
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Brilliant sunflower heads aren’t just pleasing to our eyes, but to bees of all varieties as well and as a bonus, we can enjoy sunflower seeds.

The benefits of honey bees reaches even further.  They pollinate cotton, so the clothes we wear, the tablecloths and napkins on this festive day and the sheets we snuggle into with full, gratified bellies, all come to us from the work of honey bees.  And since cows eat clovers and grasses pollinated by bees, well, you can see how the list grows with our dairy products, the rich butter and milk in our mashed potatoes, the whipping cream for our pies, and the half and half in that cup of coffee or herbal tea.  Herbal tea, see, it just goes on and on.  My point is that honey bees impact more than we recognize, beyond the fruits and vegetables we acknowledge as coming from pollination services, vitally impacting the world as we know it.

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This image on my t-shirt from the New York Bee Sanctuary says a lot more than the words on it.

While I prepare our feast, I will delight in using garden fresh produce that remain from another productive gardening season.  I love sauteing homegrown garlic for buttery mashed potatoes, clipping rosemary, thyme and parsley into my offerings and roasting a butternut squash that started as a seed, matured into a vine that presented big orange blossoms to bees, became pollinated and evolved into butternut squash that hung large and fat from my trellis as I waited for the green stripes running down the fruit from the stem to disappear, signaling harvest.  It is a full, grateful experience to then prepare such a thing for family and friends in a harvest feast of gratitude.

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Butternut squash just about ready for harvest.  With proper storage, they can last months, reminding me of warmer days and generous harvests.
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Heads of garlic harvested in summer to dry and use for months to come.
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Potato plants blooming next to Brussel sprout plants.
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Thick Brussel sprout stalks with tiny cabbages ready to be twisted and enjoyed.
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Brussel sprouts ready to be washed, doused in olive oil and herbs, roasted and garnished with crumbled bacon to entice even my youngest diner who boasts Brussel sprouts as a favorite vegetable when prepared this way.

While we feast on this day and in truth, every day that we have such abundance awaiting us at various grocery stores, much of which we would not have without the contributions of honey bees, we have much for which to be thankful if we just stop long enough to consider it all, not the least of which comes from our connection to honey bees in our impressive ecosystem.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship indeed, as honey bees have enjoyed the pollen and nectars of the blooms they visit and then pass on the fruits of their labors to other animals.  If we care for our environment, reducing chemical interventions, planting more pollinator friendly plants, accepting nature for its offerings instead of forcing our vision upon it, then we all benefit, working together for the greater good, just as the honey bees teach us it can be through their relentless endowments to our world.

Peace, blessings and thanksgiving!

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    When you look at life through eyes of gratitude, the world becomes a magical place.                             – Jennifer Gayle

 

 

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