May 5, 2017 // 10:01 AM

Cultivating Life

Written by Juanita Fox

On Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 to 11am, Jane Keene can be found in the greenhouse caring for the plants. “I’m the cucumber girl,” she says with a laugh. Her experience trimming cucumbers helps yield a bountiful harvest, even in the dead of winter.

A nature lover as a small child, Keene began helping her mother tend a small patch of the garden at age 3. Her brother and sister didn’t enjoy gardening as much as she did so her mother relied on her help.

Her father was a naturist and enjoyed gardening and hiking as well as beekeeping. He taught her to tend the bees from a young age. He never wore protection although he placed tea leaves in his nose to keep the bees from buzzing there. As a young girl Keene wore a net to keep the bees from getting tangled in her long hair. Keene loved the bees so much that at age three, when she found the bees gathering nectar under the sickle pear tree, she quickly gathered them up in her bare hands to take them home to their hive.

She has many fond memories of harvesting honey with her father. She carried the supper (the box from hive with the frames of honey on it) to the stripping room in their barn to extract the honey. Her father decapped the honey frames and put them in the extractor. Then she turned the crank to spin the honey out of the frames.

When her father became ill, her family sold the bees and Keene turned her attention to other outdoor pursuits. “My father taught me about nature,” she says.

As a young married woman with small children, she made gardening a priority because it provided the vegetables she and her family needed. In addition, working in the garden provided an opportunity to teach her children discipline and the art of growing fruits and vegetables. Cherry trees, Bartlett pear trees, fig trees, gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, wineberries, sage and dill were just a few of the trees and plants Keene cultivated over the years.

She also cultivated the love of nature in her children and other young women through leading her daughters’ Girl Scout troop for six years. They would camp each fall, winter and spring and she would take them on trips, where they would explore new communities and find new adventures.

Keene moved to Garden Spot Village in August 2015 because it was near her home in Leola and she had multiple friends who encouraged her to join them there.  Upon arriving, though, Keene didn’t realize the boundless opportunities she would have to live with purpose.

When the greenhouse opened in spring 2016 Keene jumped at the chance to volunteer. She says, “It’s peaceful. You can see things growing. While you are here on earth, you do for others what you can.”

The bee hives offer another avenue for Keene to engage her experience and share with others. Keene says, “I thoroughly enjoy it. I never thought I would care for bees again.” As a member of the bee keeping club Keene tends the hives on campus, helps to harvest the honey each fall and receives a portion of the honey. With the hives beginning to come alive after the long, cold winter, Keene looks forward to the tending and caring that brings life to her and the hive.


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