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Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Valley Loses Another Farmer. In Memoriam: Tim Frohning, March 31, 1956--May 8, 2016...

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psalm 1:3

Friend, neighbor, and farmer Tim Frohning left our Valley and this life May 8, 2016. I knew Tim had been in failing health the last few years. When I heard his passing was imminent, I realized I had some unsaid thank-yous I needed to share with him and to this purpose, I paid Tim a visit. As I drove the Lower Loop Road to the Frohning Family Farm, I mulled over what I wanted to say and how I should broach the subject without my visit appearing to be a last farewell, which, I'm sad to say, happened to be the case.

Tim had been under hospice care for some time, so I wasn't sure what to expect when I approached his bedroom. To my surprise Tim was alert, called me by name, and lifted a hand in greeting. His grip was strong, and as I held that meaty hand, I thought of all the work, all the farming that hand had done over the years. Two visitors were just leaving and for the next forty-five minutes it was just the two of us.

We talked about our history in the Valley, mine which began in 1975, his, of course, much earlier. I chose this tack as it steered me to the thank-you I had come to deliver. I reminded Tim of the pile of concrete slab, remnants of our backyard patio, that had to be removed to make way for the sun room we added to the house in 1981. The pile was an eyesore, full of weeds, a hindrance to the landscaping of our side yard. Sometime or other I must have mentioned that heap of concrete scrap to Tim. He offered the loan of his farm truck which had a dump bed. "Haul it out here," Tim said, "I've got just the place for it." And I did, two loads. Tim remembered that truck and the dumping site, as well. Thus my thank-you for his neighborly kindness. Then it was idle talk until I noticed Tim was tiring, drifting in and out of the conversation. "You must have had a lot of visitors, "I said, and asked if there were too many at times. "A lot of people," he replied, cue for me to take my leave. I gave that big hand a final shake, told him to take care, and left. That was the last time I saw Tim Frohning.

At Tim's memorial officiating pastor and close family friend shared with the large audience how that tough old farmer hoodwinked death time after time during his last six weeks. Death would hover around Tim's bedroom door, peek in, realize he was wasting his time, and take his mission elsewhere. That was their relationship those final days. Death would show up, Tim would send him packing...too much yet left to do....

It's impossible to know for certain a dying man's thoughts during his last weeks, days, hours, but that was not the case with Tim Frohning. Sometime during the final days of the "end game" Tim decided the Frohning Farm needed ten thousand strawberry plants. One evening--it had to be Tim's final week--I get a phone call. To my surprise, caller ID announced "Tim Frohning." I picked up the phone and there was Tim on the other end, voice strong and gruff as ever. He was concerned about his raspberries, wanted to know if I could bring down a hive of bees to set the season's crop, a last request I was only too happy to honor--one neighbor helping another as Tim had helped me. The day of Tim passing, the bees were hard at work in his raspberry patch. That was Tim Frohning, lifetime Valley farmer, thinking about his farm,  farmin' away until his very last breath.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Man Who Poked the Bumblebees' Nest...

Last summer a pair of chickadees nested in one of our nest boxes. I left the abandoned nest, a soft mound of fluff constructed mostly of moss, in hopes they'd return this year.This spring I've seen a pair, perhaps last year's, checking out the nesting box. A half dozen times they've inspected the nest, popping in and out and then going on about their chickadee business.

It's nesting time for our local avian species and the chickadees have apparently decided to relocate. A couple of days ago I think I discovered the reason. I opened the nest box door and noticed the floor of the box was damp and nasty looking.
My thought: I'll clean it out, let the chickadees build a new nest...plenty of building material around, especially in our backyard. I pulled out the old nest and tossed it nearby, went to the outdoor faucet and rinsed out the inside of the box. When I returned to hang the box, I happened to glance down at the discarded nest and noticed a bumblebee hovering around it.

I bent down to investigate. Mid-nest I noticed a number of cocoons the size of hummingbird eggs. I poked around in the moss and to my surprise two or three little bumblebees, like fuzzy baby chicks, emerged: the chickadee nest had morphed into a bumblebee nest.

Doing my best to keep the nest intact, I carefully picked it up, reinstalled the clump in the nest box, and quickly closed the door. I checked the ground for any stragglers. Circling a fragment of fluff was a large bumblebee. The queen, I thought. Her majesty landed on the remnant, perplexed, I'm sure, as to the whereabouts of her brood. I captured her in my glove and after a shake or two dislodged her into the nest and closed her in, hoping she'd set things to right again.

Since the incident I've peeked in the box two or three times and each time saw a couple of baby bumblers prowling about the moss. Yesterday I looked in again. No activity. I poked the nest a time or two, eliciting an angry hummmm from within the moss. Today, hoping for a photo op, I opened the door again and six or eight of the babies came swarming out in full defensive mode. I took my photos and with a couple of  irate bumblers orbiting my head backed quickly away.

As a staunch advocate of all species of bees, I maintain the more plentiful they are, the better for us all. At this posting the outdoor temperature is fifty-seven degrees with a light rain falling. My honeybees, fair weather folks, are taking the day off, in out of the weather. Yet bumblebees are foraging in my black raspberries, setting this year's jam and jelly crop. A nest of them on the property is a blessing indeed.

But I'll miss the chickadees.