Christmas day six

If you have been following my journal entries during this Christmas season, you probably expect me to write something clever about the gift of six geese a laying. It isn’t as if I haven’t considered the possibility of just that gift for our son’s farm. They raise chickens. Some years they raise chickens for meat, but they did not do so last year. The years that they have they joined together with two other families, each raising a third of a hundred chicks and processing all of the birds in a single day that requires the help of all of the families. I’ve had a bit of an aversion to processing chickens that dates back to my childhood and young adult years. When I was a college freshman I waited until I was sure that all of the chickens were in the freezer before going home to visit for the first time. I was convinced that otherwise they might butcher on the weekend I went home and I would have to participate in the process, which is not something I enjoy. When our children raise meat chickens, I quickly volunteer for childcare duty, preferring that to direct involvement in processing the birds despite the fact that I do eat chicken.

That, however, is not really a Christmas story. And our family mostly raises chickens for eggs. Egg production slows in the winter with shorter days, but they have enough chickens to have sufficient supply in winter and an excess in the summer.

I enjoy the eggs that I might consider making the gift of six geese a laying to the farm at some point in the future. Goose eggs are a delicious alternative to chicken eggs. They are much larger and a single egg can be substituted for two chicken eggs in most recipes. Eating a goose egg for breakfast provides richer flavor. It is, however, hard to find a carton for goose eggs.

Goose eggs, however, will remain in the future of the farm as long as they have young children. Geese can be intimidating. As much as we loved to hear my father and his siblings tell about how Aunt Phoebe got trapped in the outhouse because she was afraid of the goose and the goose would chase her whenever she appeared outside, I don’t really want to have aggressive animals around my grandchildren.

Of course it might be possible to engage in a bit of silliness over the various meanings of goose eggs. A couple of hundred years ago, British slang used the term “duck’s egg” to mean zero. That somehow morphed into goose egg for a “big fat zero.” In current slang, goose egg means the score of zero in a contest. It is also used to indicate a venture that produces no profit. My income from writing this year was goose egg. It really was. I didn’t get paid for any of my writing this year. Free lance writing gigs are harder to find each year and although I’ll keep looking and probably will find a few in the future income from writing will not be a big part of our family’s economic future. I’m also likely to earn goose egg in tennis, a game at which I am not a skilled player.

A goose egg is also the swelling that comes from a bump on the head and I have no desire to earn one of those, either. I don’t mind, however, being called a silly goose by my grandchildren, though I’d prefer not to have my goose cooked when it comes to their grandmother, which generally means I am in big trouble.

But I said I wasn’t going to write about six geese a laying and I’ve already completed more than half of this journal entry.

What I did do yesterday and hope to get back to today is build bee boxes. My plan is to expand my apiary by two colonies next year and there are few things in life that give me as much pleasure as building something instead of buying it. My bees, though generous with their honey, earned goose egg last year. The investment in start up supplies exceeded the value of honey produced, something that is very common in any agricultural venture. I should break even by the end of the coming year and be in positive territory after that. However, reaching that goal means carefully controlling expenditures on bee equipment. Making bee boxes just makes sense to me. In addition, I intend to switch my bee operation from Langstroth hives to Warre hives, something that probably only makes sense to bee keepers and doesn’t make sense to the majority of bee keepers for whom Langstroth hives are perfectly sensible. I prefer, however the smaller boxes and the style of beekeeping that is done with less intervention, fewer inspections, and more natural processes for the bees. I have read of bee keepers who put out Warre boxes and simply wait for wild bees to move in, though I will start my hives with purchased nuclear colonies as I did with the colonies in my Langstroth boxes. The distinction is not very interesting except to a few bee keepers and I won’t go into an explanation of why I am switching to top bar hives from using frames which has been shown to decrease honey production even though the switch makes sense to me as a strategy for long term bee keeping for an aging keeper.

Building things out of wood in the shop is a kind of Christmas present I give to myself. I love the smell of sawdust and the precision of making tight joints in wood. I am proud of the way the boxes are all exactly the same size and stack neatly with no gaps. I enjoy the feel of hand tools and the skill of driving home finishing nails with a hammer instead of using an air gun.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me time to pursue my hobbies. And that is a deeply appreciated gift. I wouldn’t be nearly as happy having responsibility to care for all of the birds the song promises.

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