Starting Lily’s Farm: Counting Chickens Before They Hatch

Do you really have to choose between the chicken and the egg?

Katie and I thinned the beans the other day. I hate thinning and am not great at it. Katie is much better which, I find, is true of many tasks on the farm . (She is leaving soon to WWOOF in Hawaii, and I don’t know what I will do without her, and I also kind of want to join her).

Thinning requires me to give up on some plants in favor of others, and I often have a hard time with that. I want it all, for every bean I planted to survive and thrive and gift me with many, many beans. But that is not how it works. Every plant should have about eight inches of space around it, giving it plenty of room to grow big and strong and access all the nutrients and moisture it needs. Crowded, struggling beans are more susceptible to disease and insects.

I want it all, for every bean I planted to survive and thrive and gift me with many, many beans.

Sometimes you have to give up on one thing to make room for another. I’ve been letting broody hens sit on eggs, in hope of hatching more chicks and growing my flock. This has decreased my egg production and made it a struggle to satisfy customers, but I figured it was worth it in the long run. Unfortunately, time was passing quickly and no eggs were hatching. I waited a few extra days (OK, more than a week) and finally resolved to get rid of the eggs, break up the brooding party, and get back to business. I cleared out one abandoned nest and used the eggs to fertilize my acorn squash, which made me feel a bit better about the wasted eggs. I was set to continue clearing out the next day, but when I looked in the coop there was a little yellow fluffball cheeping!

I’m still waiting for her sisters and brothers to hatch (I hope mostly sisters), but even if there’s just the one, I’ll count it as a fun and worthwhile experiment. At least I learned it could be done, if nothing else.

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Weeks ago, Katie and I also thinned the row of iceberg lettuce, with the help of Mcrid, another WWOOFer, who is now volunteering in Africa. Katie’s section was evenly spaced as instructed (by me), while the areas Mcrid and I did were a bit more crowded. I made the executive decision that it was fine as is, and we moved on to the next pressing task. I was hoping that some of the lettuces would head up sooner than others, and we could effectively harvest and thin at the same time.

Last week, that kind of worked, though many of those ready to harvest seemed to be right next to each other, leaving others still crowded. But we had a lot of beautiful, delicious heads of iceberg lettuce, all raised without pesticides, chemical fertilizer, or even irrigation (I’m still working on it!) for the pop-up farm stand, the Greenport Farmers Market, and Lucharitos. So I’ll count that as a success, too.  Hopefully, there will be lots more of those this season, as well as a bit more confidence when making decisions about when to give up and let go, and when to have faith and give something a bit more time.

Read all about Starting Lily’s Farm here. 

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Lily Dougherty-Johnson is a native North Forker, finally pursuing a lifelong dream of farming. She writes from her home in Greenport, New York, watching out the windows as her chickens misbehave.