When I started our farms blog on Christmas day 2013, not quite 6 months ago, I had no inkling of how many people it would reach. I could never have dreamed that my blog postings would be viewed by people in so many countries. It is quite humbling, overwhelming and thrilling at the same time. Below is a list of the countries where people have viewed my blog. WOW… simply WOW! -Thank You-
Life on the farm is a wonderful series of seasonal events. There is a flow of one event into another, just as the seasons flow one to the next. Some events have short timelines, others long. For instance plant a radish seed and in 3-4 weeks you have a radish to harvest. Pretty simple, minimal input. Other vegetables you may plant in Spring but not harvest until late Summer or Fall. Some may take multiple seasons to produce a first harvest. Yet other crops may take several years to bear harvestable fruit. -You learn patience. A lot can go wrong over the course; much of it you have little, if any, control over. -You learn resilience. You must always be thinking, planning, changing course if needed, all in advance of the actual event. -You learn to be flexible. There in lies the challenge of farming. -I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
Last week, on Mother’s Day, we did our first hive inspection since reestablishing our beehives with packages of bees in late April. We had opened the hives briefly days after installing the bee packages to check if the queens had been released and to remove the queen cages. The only other interference from us has been to remove the roofs and refill the feeder jars with more sugar syrup.
It was such a joy on this day to share the adventure with my favorite people, my husband Bob & my young adult children Beth, Emelia & Will. Bob & I wore our bee jackets and hoods; the kids were armored only with their cameras and curiosity. The day was mildly warm and the bees were actively foraging and bringing in lots of pollen. We chose not to smoke the bees before opening the hive. Our experience with smoke is that it seems to agitate more than calm the bees. We were looking for signs of active queens, eggs, larva, and capped brood and to check on the progress of comb building, nectar (sugar syrup) and pollen storage.
For each hive, in turn, we remove the roof and then the feeding jar station exposing the brood box to the open air. The first sensation to wash over you is the intoxicating smell of the bees, propolis, beeswax and honey. It is heavenly. Second is the audible buzzing of the bees as they continue going about their work despite the human invaders poking about. Then there is the appearance of guard bees lining up at the top of the frames to check us out, the movements of workers dancing about messaging their hive mates, and the choreographed busyness of everyone in the hive working together for a common goal. And finally there is the sheer beauty of the artwork they create, it is breathtaking.
As we carefully begin lifting each frame from the box to examine their progress, human bodies lean in, cameras are raised to capture the moment and a sense of awe permeates the apiary. The girls have been busy. Old comb has been repaired and polished clean. Cells are being filled with sugar syrup, some already being capped as honey. A kaleidoscope of colors, pollen- nearly white, light green, buttery yellow, deep yellow, bright orange, and nearly black are being stored away. Bees, backs covered with pollen, pollen pouches filled to bursting are everywhere. New combs are being built; exquisite, delicate, lace-like yet so strong. The queens have been busy also. There are many cells containing small white C-shaped larva as well many more cells containing larva that have been capped, a new generation of honeybees developing underneath. The first box on each hive is nearly full and a second box has been added so they have more room to work & grow their colonies.
We carefully put the frames and boxes back as we found them, refill the feeder jars with syrup and replace the roof. We all spend a few moments mesmerized by the comings and goings of the bees at the entrance. We take away with us many photos and a wonderment of the world we have been allowed access to.
Due to erratic Spring weather and the general busyness of farm life, finishing the end walls of the hoophouse has taken longer than expected. I am very happy to report that we have finished the exterior portions of the building project and the structure is all closed in!
Before an expected lengthy spell of heavy rain, a drain pipe was installed in the ditch on the uphill side of the hoophouse. The intent is to carry the rainwater that will be coming off of the roof as well as any run-off from the garden above away from the site. The drain was thoroughly tested over the following week and it works well!
When the weather finally got around to cooperating we got busy closing in the building by installing the clear, single wall, polycarbonate sheets on the end walls. The polycarbonate is lightweight, tough and fairly easy to cut and install. We found a heavy weight pair of shears cut the polycarbonate both with and across the corrugations pretty well. The sheets are four feet wide so most of the sheets had multiple cuts for the arch of the bow as well as openings for the shutters, exhaust fan and doors. By holding the sheet in place we were able to draw the cutting pattern onto the sheet with a sharpie marker, then remove the sheet and place it on sawhorses to do the cutting . To attach the sheets to the wall we held them in place, pre-drilled the polycarbonate and then attached the panel to the underlying metal frame with self tapping screws and washers. Starting at one edge, and overlapping the sheets by one corrugation, we progressed across the width of the building, finishing up with covering the door frame. Once the south wall was covered with the polycarbonate we finished off the edge where roof meets wall by taking the overhanging edge of the poly roof covering , rolling it upon itself and screwing it to the vertical edge of the polycarbonate. This made for a tidy way to close the gap between the two materials and the two surfaces. After many delays we moved on to the north wall by first installing the exhaust fan in the gable above the door. Then using the same procedure of fitting, cutting, pre-drilling and attaching the polycarbonate we enclosed the second end wall. The final step to completely closing in the hoophouse was to roll the poly roof material over the edge and screw it to the polycarbonate wall just as we had on the south wall. The end walls are finished and the hoophouse project is nearing completion. Next we move indoors.
You can follow the steps in the photos below. Just click on the photo to see the brief explanation.
hoophouse uphill drainage
cutting polycarbonate for end walls
cutting polycarbonate sheeting
installing polycarbonate on south end wall
polycarbonate end wall
detail- end wall polycarbonate
finishing edge of south wall
detail- rolling poly roof fabric over end wall polycarbonate
south end wall finished
installing exhaust fan- inside view
installing exhaust fan in north wall- outside view
installing polycarbonate on north end wall
installing polycarbonate on north end wall
finishing up north end wall
end wall detail
Hope you have enjoyed following our building project. Is there a hoophouse in your future?
I am a soil farmer, a student of soil. My job, my mission, is to build soil health and fertility. If I am able to accomplish this task all else will fall into place. The goal is to grow beautiful, healthy, nutritionally dense, wonderful tasting products, both plant and animal. To do this I need to focus on the soil under my feet. There is a whole other, mostly invisible, world below us. One teeming with life; so much life that there is estimated to be more living organisms in a mere handful of soil than there are people on the planet Earth.
Soil is Life; it is that simple. You are what you eat and it is what it eats. Therefore the food you eat, whether plant or animal is only as healthy as the soil it, or its food, is grown in. The end goal should be more than yield per acre it should be quality of product balanced with soil health. Soil health is much more complicated than the NPK that is posted on bags of chemical fertilizers. It is pretty short sighted to think that there are only 3 elements important to plant growth. Unfortunately that attitude tends to be common. Yes, you may get impressive yields but at what price. Soil life degrades along with soil quality. Nutrition in crops decrease as less and less nutrients are available to the plant. Insect & disease pressure increases as the plants health is compromised and they become more vulnerable to attack. With this cascade of declining health the usage of an arsenal of chemical “fixes” increases. This is not a sustainable model, especially in a time of climate change, peak oil & the incidence of chronic human health problems on the increase. Don’t misunderstand me. I do admire all farmers. Theirs is a very tough job. But I do believe that there is a much better way and it is right under our feet.
We must build soil fertility. Increase soil tilth. Return mineralization to the soil. Find a balance. A way to provide food that is healthy for humans, the plants and animals we consume for food and that does not degrade the planet. I believe it is possible and the movement is gaining momentum. There are many small farms that are working very hard to do just that. Consumers play a huge part in the success of a return to food sanity. Support the efforts of small local farms. Get to know the farms and the farmers and the practices they use, ask questions and respect the job that they do. Be willing to pay them the extra cost it takes to operate a farm in the manner it takes to produce really good quality nutritious food. Show them you believe in what they are doing and to allow those farmers to make a decent living.
“There is no alternative to fertile soil to sustain life on Earth.”
2013 was our first year of beekeeping. Shortly after installing our 1st package of honeybees we quickly decided that we wanted/needed to start a second hive the following year. We learned a lot about the art of beekeeping our first year. But we also learned that honeybees are fascinating & fun! They were gentle, not scary. They were much more interested in going about their daily tasks than they were bothered by us snooping about their hive. We always treated them calmly & with respect and they in turn allowed us access into their fascinating world. What a thrill!
Our first hive thrived over the season and we were even able to harvest a small amount of honey at the end of summer. They went into Fall strong, though probably with too many varroa mites. In February 2014 they still seemed strong. But only a month later a long, cold & wet winter took its toll, the colony died.
Today we started over. We began our 2nd year of beekeeping by installing 3# packages of Italian Honeybees, about 20,000 bees in all, into our 2 modified Warre hives. It was a cool, rainy & blustery day, definitely not ideal. The previous day had been brilliant sun one minute and dark and pouring down rain the next. We took advantage of one of the brilliant moments and set-up a canopy over the hives so we could install the bees into their new homes with out any of us getting soaked. We have chosen to do foundationless frames so the bees need to build all of their own combs. I had salvaged some clean empty combs from the dead hive so every other frame I placed in the new hive boxes had wax comb to give them a head start.
To start the installation we opened up the hives and removed 4 of the 8 frames to make room for the bees. One at a time, each package was banged on the edge of the hive to drop the bees to the bottom of the box. We then removed the can of syrup and the queen cage from the package. The hole for the can was then covered to keep the workers from escaping. The cork was carefully removed from the queen cage and a small marshmallow plug was inserted to keep the queen contained a little longer until her workers could chew thru the plug and release her. The queen in her cage was placed on the bottom bar of one of the empty frames. The package of bees was then shaken into the hive. When most of the bees were in the hive box the nearly empty package was set at the entrance so any stragglers could find their way into the hive entrance. We then replaced the remainder of the frames over the ball of bees letting them settle into place. We then installed an in-hive syrup feeder surrounded by a second hive body above them. We will feed the syrup until the natural nectar flow is adequate enough and then remove the feeders from the hives. Finally the roof cover was placed on top. The bees were safely installed in both hives.
Before leaving them to get acquainted with their new hive, each other and their queen, we spent a few moments gazing at their beauty, drinking in their glorious smell and wishing them well. As I was walking away from the hives I glanced over and there was a new worker bee already checking out the unfurling leaves on the grape vines. The work ethic of the honeybee is to be admired.
Please click on the pictures below to follow the steps we took in installing the packages of bees.