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If at First   //   On Learning Lessons the Hard Way


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If at First // On Learning Lessons the Hard Way

Kim Wilkinson

We started off pretty strong. We told you all about bread. We drew some parallels between what we’re doing and what we believe. We took some pretty pictures. 

And now we’re going to blow it. Second real post, and we’re going to break all of the rules. We should be telling you about all of the things that we did right. We should be telling you how you can do them right too. But when we asked ourselves what we wanted to share in this space, it wasn’t step-by-step recipes. It wasn’t lists of “Top 10 things to do in your garden in March, err... July” (shoot. How did that happen?) No. We wanted to share stories. We’ve always been drawn to writers that can share with a simple eloquence the real, vulnerable, honest, hard bits of life. It’s authentic. It’s relatable. It’s who we are striving to be.

So instead we are going to tell you all about what actually happened. The good, the not-so-good, and the really-not-so-good. 

So. This season. It has brought its fair share of hiccups. We’ve been learning our lessons the hard way. Our bees. We lost all of our hives. One of three didn’t survive the winter. The other two succumbed to the temperamental mood swings of the on-again-off-again relationship that this Spring has had with sub-zero overnight temperatures. Not without a fight though. Not without a frantic morning spent breathing warmth on tiny stiff bee bodies until they began to crawl again. Not without coaxing a nearly-dead Queen to drink sugar syrup off of a fingertip. Not without, in a moment of desperation, relocating an entire beehive into the warmth of a certain farm director’s bedroom and whipping off a text message to her exceptionally tolerant housemate “There’s a beehive in our house. It’s safe. I promise. Ish.”

Someone decided to forgo the bee suit and had to deal with the face-inflating consequences. For four days. 

We got a pretty late start in the garden. A busy season of other projects precluded adherence to any seeding schedules. We haven’t cleared as much new garden space as we were hoping. The slugs gave us a run for our money again.

In an effort to compensate for a late start, we started approximately one billion times as many tomato and squash plants as we actually had space for.  

Our pride took a hit when, after a year of successful soap making we found ourselves staring at an entire rack of brittle, crumbly soap, scratching our heads and asking ourselves “what the heck?”

None of this would be worth sharing if that was where it ended. It would just be discouraging. But here’s the thing. That’s not where it ends. Those bees. They taught us a lot. We are better beekeepers for their loss. We’re filling our heads and our Google searches with questions like “What do we do differently?”, “What’s the difference between Nosema Apis and Nosema Cerenae?” and “Can you overwinter a beehive in a greenhouse?” And we are learning. We started fresh. Three new colonies are getting settled in their new homes.  

Okay. We got it. We will always wear the bee suits.

We busted our butts to get back on top of our garden schedule. We worked our potato patch, dumping buckets of sweat and bags of potatoes into the soil. We raced to get our seeds tucked into their seeding trays and are writing ourselves all-caps notes for next year “START TOMATOES EARLY MARCH!” We are coming up with clever places to grow things. We are playing around with pest management options, volleying ideas back and forth, contemplating the feasibility of copper barriers, predatory slug-eating snails (guys! This is a thing!), and the good old-fashioned beer trap. 

With nowhere to plant our several billion extra seedlings and too much attachment to toss them on the compost pile, we threw a desperate message on Facebook begging our neighbours to come and take them off our hands. And they did. We made some new friends. Maggie and Tony became the official Keats Island Seedling Adoption Agency, distributing plants far and wide. Thanks guys. We may just “accidentally” miscalculate (ahem… not calculate) how many plants we need again next year.

And the soap. We went back to the drawing board. We consulted the internet. We learned that the cure temperature for soap is, in fact, pretty important. We learned that making soap in the Winter is not the same as making it in the Summer. In a last-ditch effort to salvage the crumbly bars, we pushed them through a grater and mixed the kaleidoscope of soap threads into more soap base. With our parents’ voices ringing “if at first you don’t succeed…” through our heads, we bundled the soap up and put it somewhere warm to cure. And then we waited. And dang, guys. It’s good. So good. These kaleidosoaps (see what we did there?) may end up being some of our favourites.