One July Afternoon

We had a few unexpected and unplanned hours.  We could have been napping, laying on the beach, or sweeping up the dirt we tracked into the back room this morning.  We didn’t even have much we needed to do, but neither of us could think of anything we’d rather do.

Why are we farming?  Because we can’t not farm.  Farming flirted with us, then seduced us.  We couldn’t shake the desire, as hard as we tried, and now we are lost in it, having released all control and reservation, happy and giddy in love.

Diego, our 40 pound rescue mutt had already been begging for a walk, so he was quickly silenced by being invited along, much to his delight.  Gone are the days when he needed to be drug into the back seat of the Mazda.  He has even developed a sixth sense for when we are headed to our, or seemingly his, little plot of paradise.  It was already his second trip to the farm for the day.  Spoiled Dog.

Chris is driving, like always, while I lounge with my feet up on the dash.  We travel the familiar seven minutes down 94 East, exit on Massachusetts, drive past the In & Out and gas station, turn right on San Miguel, left on Nina.

It doesn’t even have an address, a representation of the way in which this land has sat, seemingly forgotten for 30 plus years.  It used to house chickens; their rusted cages still sit under a rotting awning as a reminder.  For years chest high weeds have grown on the property.  Eventually the neighbors or the Lemon Grove Fire Department complains, and they are mowed to the ground by our landlord and then piled high to decompose.  The soil bears witness to this cycle and to its previous manure-making tenants.  Our first time on the land we knew by the rich color, the sensation that we were strolling on carpet, and the way in which it fell through our fingers.

This is good soil.

I check for eggs first thing, while Diego does his habitual lap around the perimeter.  Three of our Rhode Island chicks went to our friend Janet and her husband Dave.  Tuesday they found their first tiny egg, very good news for us, and our customers.   Today Chris found one of the young ladies hunkered down on the pot.  No egg yet, but it’s bound to be soon.  I feel like I’m eight again, counting down the days until Christmas, or embarking on an eight-hour car ride to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  The wait feels like an eternity and I can hardly bear it.

We maneuver between the sheds, under the apple tree, over the knee-high weeds to the back of the bee box, being careful to move slowly and quietly.  I haven’t been stung yet.  Chris brought word home that they had picked dry the comb that we transferred, which had been full of larvae, honey, and pollen, and started building on the opposite side of the hive.  I had to see it for myself.  A fresh start, amazing.  The hive is bustling with activity.  In and out they move, with twenty or so resting at the entrance at a time.  I peer into the viewing window.  Sure enough, we count out loud together the number of virgin comb, hanging perfectly in a line from the wooden top bars.  TEN!

“I hope we have the queen,” I say.

“We definitely have the queen.”

We walk the rows now, noting the number of bright red tomatoes hanging on the vines ready to be eaten, the majestic purple flowers on the eggplant and white ones on the peppers, and marvel together at the first blooming yellow sunflower.  The marigolds have germinated, the peas are dead, and the lemon balm never had a chance.  The orange tree is covered in green gumballs that will soon be oranges, the apple tree is starting to fruit, the custard apples aren’t soft enough to eat yet.  We count squash, making sure we have enough for ten boxes.  The pumpkins are turning orange. The mulberries are dried up and shriveled like raisins.  I missed my window, much to my embarrassment.  I heard they aren’t that good anyway.  We pick the flowers off the basil and feed them to the chickens, their distinct smell clinging tightly to our fingers, never to let go.

“Should we give basil this week or next week?”

Next, we decide together, or else risk killing the plants.  Basil is better when you’re swimming in tomatoes anyway.

Chris pulls a few striped Chiogga beets and some holey collard greens, while I search the three rows of broccoli for any head that has managed to resist flowering in this first wave of summer heat.

Dinner is served.

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