In case you haven’t noticed, Mother Nature is a serious fan of routine.

Renee Kiff

Renee Kiff

That is defined as “a regular, more or less unvarying procedure - customary, habitual, proscribed.”

It’s what she prefers and anyone who wants to succeed in working with her had better conform and be comfortable with this mostly predictable way of living. (Fires, floods and earthquakes not included.) Therefore, right on schedule, with the arrival of May comes one of the least loved yet most important tasks of the proper care of fruit trees: fruit thinning.

It’s that time again and you know the pattern. It will take hours to clear your apple and peach trees of the hundreds of extra fruit that will form if you don’t lower their population. My routine demands that I first take care of the animals before I enter the plant world.

A few weeks ago I had on my radar a weeding job that would take the first of many days and I needed to begin early in the morning when I had the most energy.

The chickens come first. I open their coop door and out they rush — some on feet and some airborn. Scatter their scratch feed in their yard and fill their laying mash container. Refill their water bowls. Done. Bring alfalfa into the backyard for the two sheep and refill their water. Start toward their little house, which is closed for the night. Two roosters and one single hen share their home.

But first, because it is going to be extra warm that day, I stop to water three hanging baskets after I’ve filled the sheep’s water. I head out to the orchard to begin work on that important weed job.

(Hey, Reader, did you catch anything wrong with that? I didn’t!)

So, the day was going just as planned — the weeds were disappearing from under the apple trees by my trusty whacking tool and eventually I had one side of one row done.

At some point I came inside for a break. I always look to see my silent, calm sheep eating the backyard grass. They weren’t in sight but that wasn’t odd. Often when they have been outside for a while they return for a little nap inside their house.

In the early afternoon, I crossed through their yard and they still weren’t outside, but then, it was too warm and they hadn’t been shorn yet.

I actually heard Paddy, the wether lamb, bleat: “Maa,” but he does that often and I didn’t think more of it.

At 4 p.m. I cross the grass to reach the chicken coop to gather the day’s eggs. I didn’t consider anything else but the day’s eggs.

At 6 p.m. I went out to clip some carrot greens and measure the COB (Corn-Oats-Barley) for the lambs, who, loving this evening snack, lead me into their safe abode for the night.

Wow! They are not outside! Walking to their shed, I see that the door is latched shut. My thought is “Who locked them up so early? Nobody puts them to bed except me! Why did somebody do this? Who, among the other nine folks on this farm locked them up?”

I go to the nearest family and interrupting their dinner ask, “Did any of you lock up the sheep today?”

“No, Gramma, none of us did!”

Thunderstruck and miserable, I announce, “Then I never let them out today.”

Returning to the sheep shed I opened their door. Immediately out came two lambs and three chickens. They all rushed out for water, while I stood watching and wondering how on earth I had forgotten them.

Change in routine was my answer. Instead of walking immediately to their house after filling their water bowl, I had turned the hose onto the flower baskets and my brain went into “plant mode” — never to return for the remainder of the day.

Lesson learned, I hope.

The other lesson: don’t put off thinning your trees. Every piece of fruit demands energy from the tree. Orchardist Bryce Austin’s words guide us: “It takes seven leaves to nourish one piece of fruit.”

Use your fingers or a small snipper to drop those extra apples and peaches to the ground, which you’ve already weeded after you have watered, fed and freed up your house or farm animals.

Renee Kiff weeds and writes at her family farm in Alexander Valley.

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