“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Last week we were relieved of another grey rain for the excitement of a nor’easter snowstorm! The storm began low in the Gulf States and slid east to the Atlantic where it developed off the coast of the Carolinas and moved north, dumping snow from Virginia to Maine in a matter of days.

We were spared from the worst here, receiving about eight inches of snow. Some parts west and north of us got up to twenty or more inches.

The horses loved it! Throughout the storm, they stayed in their paddock area kicking and romping and rolling in the snow. At times they got to playing “horse tag” – one would sneak up to the backside of the other and nip and run away, kicking up snow in flight. It was just like watching kids playing!

Snoop liked it too…following me through the drifts to the barn, hopping here and there, and pushing her nose into the snow as if to see what was “in there”. Once in the barn she was content to sort through the hay bales, picking out what ever it was that tasted good to her.

The chickens did not like the snow at all! Chickens tend to sink down in the snow, and their flailing wings do not lift them out, but work them deeper into the snow much like how quicksand did in the dinosaurs. A chicken stuck in the snow and in total contrast to the white background, is a billboard advertisement for a hungry hawk…so instinctively, the chickens roost. So that is what they did, and are continuing to do while the snow is still here. To accommodate them we’ve been putting their feed in a pan and placing it in the coop….they are a bunch (I mean flock) of spoiled chickens!

The bees are “balled up” in their hives now. The only evidence of them are a few dead ones that have been pushed out side the hive by workers who are still roaming unattached to keep the hive clean. Before the storm, I bundled hay bales on the sides, backs, and tops of the hives to insulate them. Now it’s up to them and God. Well, really, it always was and will be up to them and God…

The tv news anchors – those are the people who tell us to stock up on bread and eggs, and who work so hard to instill exaggerated fears into all of us for each coming wonder of nature – are already clamoring about the next snow storm that they predict will be here a week from now. I think that it is kind of funny how they try to hook us, but then again I think it’s sad. I just turn the tv off.

I like how the snow slows things down and quiets the world under an insulating blanket. Often I have wondered if the snow is meant to give us time to roost, or huddle up inside with our families. I think that our instincts have become separated from nature so much that we no longer know how to walk with her. No longer do we enjoy and live alongside her seasonal rhythms. Instead, we have replaced them with economic rhythms, which is not rhythmical at all. It is a forward burst that ceases to quiet down…it runs us over and then drags us along in an unending quest to catch up. Unfortunately, when nature slows down so that we can catch our breath, we’ve become so unconnected we don’t know it. We don’t enjoy those times or even appreciate that she is only trying to help us out….

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 20, 2009

…When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donner and Zippy!”

Zippy? Did he really say Zippy…????

Merry Christmas to All!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

December 9, 2009

Lately, the only thing that seems to be on my mind is the rain…there is a lot of it. Our area, and our farm, has received over sixty inches (that’s more than five feet!) of rain so far this year. We are close to twenty inches above the historical norm.

I have to admit that all the grey skies, water laden fields, and deep mud are getting to me. Nothing has time to dry out from one rain storm to the next. Not even my fleece jacket, or the coats and feathers of any of the animals. There is always dampness everywhere these days.

The horse paddocks have been churned from grassy waves to swales of draining water and deepening mud that seemingly sucks at my feet, and holds me in place. The horses, who do not mind the rain, mind the mud, as they have trouble lifting their feet through it, taking away their instinctive ability to take flight if necessary. So instead, they huddle in the stable, staring to the outside, no different than bored children at the window on a rainy day.

And so it is the same with Snoopie, who curls up in her house and stares out. And so it is with the chickens, which perch on their roost next to the shed door and blankly cock their eyes toward the clouded sky.

I keep reminding myself to not complain about rain. I know that some year coming there will not be enough and had I asked, I will then wish I had never asked it to go away. So I don’t.

I think God has His reasons for all this rain, and they are much more important and purposeful than I can sometimes comprehend or appreciate….

Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009

The CSA season has wound down, and now I am picking by request for members who want gleanings. There is more left than I had thought that there would be – mostly lettuces, bok choi, and chard. I’ve let Snoopy clean up what remains of the summer gardens, There is not much left, but some greens, spent pepper plants, and a few dried, crooked, corn stalks for her to root through. She’s happy!

A week ago I planted garlic, and covered it with a hoop system to moderate the soil temps for the winter. The hoop system is simple- it is done by placing wire hoops every ten or so feet and hanging a light fabric cover over them. The row looks like a foot high tunnel. I also covered a portion of the lettuce so that I can extend the season a bit longer into the winter.

The chickens are laying enough eggs that we have begun selling to people we know, while still sending a dozen or more to the food bank each week. Most days they have been free ranging, searching the farm for bugs and plant seeds. The hawk migration through the Cape May area is over, so it is somewhat safe again to let the girls out. A few weeks ago we were visited by red tails and sharp shins that patiently waited in the surrounding woodlots to pounce on an easy prey. So far this year, we’ve been spared their hunger.

Thanksgiving morning I placed straw bales on the sides and back of the three bee hives to protect them from the winds and to help insulate them from the cold. The bees are still feeding from the sugar water feeders in the warmer hours of afternoon, and I have observed some bees coming back to the hive with yellow pollen – could be from the sporadic dandelion blooms, left over mums, or whatever – somehow the bees find these things. It amazes me how they do all the things they do.

I’ve opened up another “field” for next year. I initially tilled it in September, and Kath and I have been spreading horse manure and compost over it since. It will be ready for planting for early summer next year.

The horses are really doing well. With the CSA growing season slowed, we have been able to spend a bit more time working with them on weekends. Kath is working with Patrick, training him mounting and riding cues. Zipps is recovered from the popped splint and I have been working with him to get him into better shape and to build up our trust for each other. Louie…well Louie doesn’t need much work. I just saddle him up and we go for walks. Louie is sorta like an older car that has no bells and whistles, but always starts up and gets you where you are going and back home again. He might just plod along, but he never stops plodding along! Mr. Dependable.

As the weeks take us into winter, I will be doing more for winter at the farm. There is always so much to do. Animals and plants and soil are year round….I am glad that it never really stops.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009

Lately I’ve been asked how my bees are doing…I’m not really sure…

The swarm I caught and successfully hived last spring has been decimated by the varroa mite. The varroa mite feeds on pupae; disfiguring and weakening the ones that survive to become bees, to an extent that these affected bees cannot forage, and do not live too long. Over time mites weaken the colony through population loss and subsequently lack of food. As the colony continues to weaken, it cannot defend itself from other insect pests or from robbing by stronger colonies of honey bees. The mites attach themselves to robbing bees, and are then spread through the apiary. My other hives have evidence of mites, yet so far these colonies show evidence that they are strong enough to keep the mite populations from reaching damage causing thresholds.

I had few choices with the mite infested colony – treat it with pesticides or close it up and let it die off. Not easy choices for me. I want to stay pesticide free here at the farm. I do not want my colonies to become dependent on pesticides. And even if I broke my principle and treated, there still would not have been enough bees to overwinter successfully. On the other hand, it is not easy to kill off a colony. It is no different than euthanizing a favorite pet, as these colonies are a part of the farm and our family as is every other living being here. But unfortunately, it is what I had to do.

I removed three frames of honey, said a short prayer, and closed the hive, sealing up the entrance and securing the covers, ensuring that the weakened colony would not be robbed and mites carried to my other three colonies.

After a week – which is the period that mites without host bees will die – I will give the three honey frames to the “log” colony (October 15 post) for winter reserves to improve their chances of survival. In this way, the colony will not have existed for nothing.

Next year, I will change some things around to aggressively manage mites. There are a few things I can do that do not involve pesticides, such as using screened bottom boards, foundationless frames, feeding them with essential oils, and dusting them with powdered sugar….but more on all this later.

The “log” colony is doing well. The queen is laying eggs, there is brood, and the workers are making comb and capping some honey. It is still a small colony and I cannot even begin to speculate on its chances of surviving. With the three frames of honey from the lost colony, along with a frame of honey donated by a fellow “no-pesticide” bee keeper, there are four full frames of honey reserves, making chances of survival a whole lot better than they were a month ago.

The other two colonies are very strong, with lots of bees, and reserves. The newest of these colonies, which I got last spring, has less reserves than I’d like, but it is what it is and I think that it will make it. All the bees from these colonies are still foraging in this warm fall, finding pollen and nectar, and taking sugar water. I’ve been treating them to mint candy, which contains natural menthol oil, and supposedly suppresses the mites.

In the end, nature will determine everything, and I respect that. Next spring will tell if there were enough reserves and not enough mites…

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November 15, 2009

The summer growing season is coming to an end. I’ve been slowly cleaning up the summer fields. A few days ago we had our first hard frost, which finished off the summer stragglers – the jalapeños, green peppers, and lima beans that had been holding on, even if just barely. The last of the fall red raspberries took a pretty good hit too, and the buckwheat I had planted as a fall cover crop and source of nectar for the bees was killed off. The lettuces, cabbages, carrots and swiss chard grow well in the cold though, and are still growing strong. All this reminds me - “for everything, there is a season”….

Yet each season has its rebel… Right now our farm’s seasonal rebel is one of our dwarf “Liberty” apple trees. In late summer one spur produced a spectacular bloom – about five months later than what is normal. Somehow, the bloom was pollinated. Apple trees cannot pollinate themselves – they need another apple or crab tree in bloom at the same time…which means that another rebel spur hung on a tree somewhere. The spur now has five very red, half sized apples that look pretty good. Being formed late, there have been no fungi or insects to attack them, so they have no imperfections. The apples that had formed in the spring never made it to the ripening stage due to attacks from the ever increasing fungi populations that exploded with the summer rains. Rebels are pretty cool…I like rebels. They teach me that I don’t always have to follow form. Sometimes rules are best to go….

Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31, 2009

Day Light savings time is ended. Standard Time, the “real time” based upon the sun’s highest noontime point, is back in effect. And although we get the hour back that we gave away last spring, it seems the very opposite…

The trees are speeding through their colours and are shedding their leaves to the ground, to re nourish their roots come next spring. Orion floats high in the sky, and the mornings are bearing sunlit frost…winter is coming. I can feel it. I can know it.

Here at the farm, there seems to be an unusually large population of wooly bear caterpillars this fall. I see them every where – in the stable, the hay barn, in the fields and lettuce garden, on the porch, driveway, and walks – so many that I need to walk with my attentions directed to the ground to avoid stepping on any. The other evening Kath reminded me that with so many, it will be a cold winter. The farmer’s lore says that if there are a lot of wooly caterpillars, and especially if their middle brown band is “short”, bordered by wide black bands, the winter will be a tough one.

And there are other signs of a cold winter coming….

The horses are telling me that it will be cold. All three are quickly growing thick coats, which they started back in the warm months of August. Zippy, whose coat is normally thin, is the thickest I have ever seen it in the years since he’s been here. Louie’s coat has gotten very dense and his mane is growing out, and Patrick already looks like a huge, unkempt wooly sheep!

Even Snoopie is fuzzy these days. It looks as if she’s put on weight, but it really is the thickening layers of fine hair building up on her body that makes her look fattened up.

The older chickens have finished their molt a bit earlier this year, and they have grown in thick layers of insulating feathers.

And then there are the bees. They are storming the sugar water feeders that I have set out, making every drop important. I have been refilling the feeders one, two, and sometimes three times a day when I am home. With very little natural nectar available at this time of year, they are taking the sugar water back to the hives and turning it into honey reserves for the winter. The bees innately know that the days for foraging are coming to an end, and that they need to make the most of these shortening autumn days to prepare for the coming winter.

The technological world has pretty much taken a stand and spun out “rational” data to disprove the farmer’s tales. I can understand the transparent fallacy of events like Groundhog Day, which is too farfetched, and theatrically staged for an insatiable media, but I still cannot necessarily discount all of nature’s foreshadowing. Nature seems to have ways to prepare for the seasons and take care of her self, and I feel comfortable trusting her on this one. And let’s face it, that even with Doppler radar and computer forecast models, man is still left to guess at the future, and nature’s odds of being right about the future have always been just as good, if not better. The signs that mother nature is showing me here on the farm are telling me that it’s going to be a cold winter and that I need to begin splitting the firewood…I’m listening.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

October 25, 2009

I thought that I would ramble on a bit.

I was always taught to write in a manner that led with an introduction to a subject, then the body of the theme, ending with a conclusion that basically wrapped all the thoughts up into s few well worded sentences. Right now, I don’t feel quite like following form – and for most of us that is hard to do. We’ve been taught since childhood to follow forms. The result is that we have unsuspectingly standardized ourselves. Socially, it creates for us a safe, predictable way of living, and it keeps most of us on a one way street. Standardizing the population makes it easy for us to be grouped, led, and most importantly, marketed. We easily fit into “a one size fits all” box for easy handling and shipping. Maybe it’s why we’ve become such good Wal-Mart and Target shoppers. Pay less and live better, whatever that means. How’s that working for the people who make all that stuff that we love to throw out?

I normally don’t go to the big box stores. Once in a while I have to, because these corporations have bought out, or run every mom and pop in the area out of business, leaving me no other choices. But the real reason that I rarely go into one is that I don’t need too much stuff…have less and live better.

On to something else now…The other night Kath and I went to see a 40th anniversary concert performed by one of my favorite bands, Renaissance. Sitting in the audience, I really felt my age…it seemed everyone there had grayed hair. A year ago, Kath and I had gone to another concert, this one by Death Cab For Cutie…and there too I really felt my age. Most in the audience of kids had color highlights in their hair, piercings, etc, and when ever someone bumped me, he/she apologized with “I’m sorry sir! Are you ok sir?”

Maybe I am getting older – but not old. As I have aged, I have come to a change. I have realized that up until a few years ago I was a sort of gatherer. I went out into the world everyday to gather things for myself and my family to provide for our own well being. I was not necessarily selfish, but bent instinctively to hoard away reserves. Lately, the gathering instinct is weakening, and the giving urge is strengthening. It’s a good change. I feel better. If that is what getting older is, I am liking it.

That’s my ramble…I guess I should get back to farming.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 15, 2009

Last week an owner of a tree company gave me a section of a hollowed log with a cluster of honey bees hanging tenuously inside. It seems his crew was taking down the tree when they cut into what they thought was a hornets nest. They sprayed it down with wasp and hornet spray and when all the bee activity ceased, they opened up the cavity to see the remains of a honey bee colony. The bees that came to me were maybe a thousand of what maybe had been a population of 10-20 thousand.

I took the hollowed section, bees and all, home and transferred them into a hive body containing a frame of comb donated by Bill, the area’s beekeeper’s mentor, and a few frames that I had around the house. Later I searched for the queen which I thought the odds of finding were zero, considering the colony had been sprayed down. I did not find her then, but until three days later during another inspection. I was really surprised to see her!

The problem now is this. The bees have no reserves of honey, and most likely the cluster will not be big enough to protect and warm the queen through the winter. In all likelihood, as it stands, the colony will not make it. At this point my plan is to keep feeding the bees sugar water for them to make honey, and maybe steal a frame or two of extra honey from another hive if their reserves are enough, to give to this new colony. With a little luck, that might work. The other option is to join this colony with another hive. To do that I will need to kill one of the queens, ‘cause there cannot be two. That involves playing God. No matter what I decide, their chances are better now than what they would have been.

October 14, 2009

I’m not quite sure why, but every time Snoopie and I go out to do errands, people tend to look at us a bit funny, and some even point at us. I mean, doesn’t any one else take their goat to the store, to get gas, etc.? Doesn’t any one else’s goat eat pennies from the coffee holder?

Monday, October 5, 2009

October 5, 2009

Sunday was the first distribution of the fall season CSA. I harvested mixes of baby lettuce and mild greens, radishes, and chard. I also gave everyone a bell pepper as my plants from summer are still yielding. Coming on are spinach and cabbage for weeks the ahead. Although not part of the fall CSA yield, I am still picking eggplant, sweet corn, jalapeños, and lima beans from what is left over from my summer garden. Its not a lot, but enough for Kath and I to enjoy. And to my surprise, I have been harvesting a handful of Heritage red raspberries every few days this week!

The eight chickens that we got in late April and raised from one day old chicks are just beginning to lay their first eggs. As it is with any beginning chicken, the first eggs are small, approximately half the size of a grade A. Over the next few weeks, the chickens will gradually lay normal sized eggs, and get into the 26 hour egg laying rhythm, although the colder months of winter will temporarily slow them down. Our older chickens – one is going on 7 years – are starting to molt, and have slowed their egg laying down considerably. Most likely they will resume laying more consistently next spring.

Keeping a flock naturally is a lot different than running an “egg farm”. There the chickens have been bred for peak production, are kept in cages, and at first molt, become chicken fingers. They are kept under artificial light to keep them laying, fed special foods, and given medicines to keep them from passing diseases through the crowded buildings.

I will gladly accept the egg laying inconsistencies to watch my flock free range, and live longer lives…

A week ago, I opened up my hives and checked to see if there was enough honey to “take off” for myself in return for all my bee stings. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. I was a bit disappointed, but it’s the way it goes. This year was not the best for honey production. Some beekeepers did rather well, but most saw a big drop off in reserves from previous years. Most blame it on the rain.

Honey bees don’t leave the hive when it rains, which means two things – they are not bringing in pollen and nectar, and they are eating “from the hive” – two negatives. Also the rain washes out the pollen from the flowers and sometimes the nectar, lessening availability for the bees. It makes it hard for the bees to supply enough food for the brood, let alone reserves for the winter, and any extra for the beekeeper. So hard, that a few area beekeepers have lost colonies due to starvation.

So I am counting my blessings. My colonies seem to have enough honey stored for the upcoming winter, and are healthy. I am continuing to feed them just to make sure. Still, there is no guarantee. Winning and losing is all part of the game.

I think that I have made this post long enough, so will stop here. I’ve got a lot of work to do today too, so I had better get along! More on the farm later!

Monday, September 28, 2009

September 28, 2009

This weekend has been solemn around here. Nittany, one of our cats, passed away peacefully Saturday afternoon.

Nittany was one of two cats that we had throughout our kids growing up years. The other cat was Sara, who came first, and passed away two years ago from what we suspect was ingesting rat poison used by a neighbor in his tool shed, on one of her escapes from the house. Along the way, we took on a third cat, Odie, who was a stray and shared four years with us before disappearing.

Kath brought Sara home from the Acme grocery store– a young girl was giving away a weaned litter of orange tabbies outside the exit doors to any takers. Kath was a taker! I named Sara originally as short for Syracuse, a favorite college basketball team. After about six months, we thought it would be best if Sara had a playmate, and the whole family headed to the animal shelter in Cape May to pick out a buddy.

For some reason, that trip still is pretty vivid and detailed in my memory. We had no idea where the shelter was, and it took forever to find it. It was at the end of a crumbly asphalt lane that ended at the Cape May canal. The shelter building was old and in poor, but sufficient, repair. Cats and dogs were in all kinds of cages and outside sheds and makeshift shelters...I was having a bit of trouble taking it all in, and while the kids and Kath went to look at the kittens, I took a walk out to the canal and watched the boats until I was called in to see the cat they had picked out. There he was - a ball of grey fur that we came to call Nittany, after a certain college that I had graduated from.

(If you have come to think that I name all the animals, you are mistaken. Odie was really Ude, named by my wife after her college, University of Delaware. Kath also named Snoopie, and other animals we’ve had and have! And our daughter named our dog Nana, and also several chickens. Allen named his duck... )

Both Sara and Nittany were “inside cats”, or house cats. Both were very different in personality. Sara didn’t like to be petted – one or two strokes and then she’d bite! Nittany liked to be petted – for hours at a time. Sara liked wet food; Nittany liked dry. Sara bonded with Kath; Nittany bonded with Steph. Sara was over active; Nittany was content to sleep all day (and night). Sara would play with toys; Nittany could not be bothered most times. Sara would sit on the window sill watching birds; Nittany would sleep on the couch. Sara was skin and bones; Nittany was what you might call plunp. Sara didn’t like the in-laws, especially a certain aunt; Nittany couldn’t be bothered to have an opinion. Both extremes are what made them special.

Losing Nittany this weekend was as if an era had passed away with him – the kids growing up. Now both are off to college and beginning new lives in new places. It brings back the memory of when I went away from home; I left behind my childhood dog, Sarge, who also passed away along with my childhood, but who is still a part of me today in daily memory. Just as I had Sarge, Kath grew up with a big lab named Rufus, who never left her heart, no matter how many animals and pets came after.
Like Sarge and Rufus were to Kath and I, these cats were just as much or more a part of my kids childhoods as their friends, soccer, karate, and high school plays. They were that extra brother and sister that they could always count on to be there, waiting, and listening...and they will be missed very much. They shared a very important time in our kids lives.

Sara and Nittany … we love you, and always will.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

September 20, 2009

My daughter asked me why I didn’t post anything on my blog last week, as she was coming to expect one every Sunday or Monday. I guess I have been going through writer’s block - or maybe writer’s confusion. I seem to think about too many things that I’d like to share so that I can’t really grasp any one of those ideas fully enough to make good. And then when I do come up with something it sounds great in my head, but not so great on paper. Lately, every post that I have tried to write I have set aside for one or both of these reasons.

Maybe my reasons are a symptom of the things that are going on. I am working to get the fall CSA up and running between rainstorms. And we’ve adopted Zippy which I wrote about previously. Zippy hasn’t been acting right so we have been working with the farrier and now the vet to find what’s wrong. The vet was able to diagnose that Zips tore a tendon that attaches the splint bone to the cannon bone – not a serious thing, but painful to the horse until it heals. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and spending extra time at the stable.

Then there are my kids – both away at college. No real problems there, but still, they are my kids and will always be on my mind.

Add my day job to that, the rest of the farm and all the animals, crops, and bees, my blog, sometimes volunteering, and my duties as a Quaker co-clerk

So I am pretty busy which makes it very hard sometimes to relax enough to settle down and let things come to me…This hit home the other night while I was taking Snoops for a walk along the outer fence lines. Every so often I take her out there to eat the weeds, sumac, and mulberry sprouts that I can’t get with the mower. As we slowly moved along the fence row, stopping more than walking, I could hear all the cars and trucks going by on the highway that parallels the fence no less than forty feet away. Suddenly, it sounded like my life – rush after rush, faster and faster. And of late, fast and faster has not been fast enough.

The realization stopped me in my tracks. And I just watched Snoopy, just taking her evening one leaf at a time. A few yards away Louie was content, swaying that huge head of his left and right, rhythmically pulling on leaves of grass, without any apparent sign of anxiety. Beyond Louie, the chickens were gathering near their shed readying to roost for the night…and everything fell quiet, despite the traffic going by. The moment was almost like Quaker Meeting. There, in the small clapboard meeting house with its open door and windows, it is always silent, no matter how much noise the world is making.

I need more moments like those. Moments to just know that I breathe. Moments that will bring me back to ground and teach me that more than anything else I am a living being, and not an economic gear in the world engine.

I need to enjoy the quiet more often…and spend more time away from “time”.

Monday, September 7, 2009

September 7, 2009

Ever since I got my goat Snoopie, I have had to answer the question “does she really eat everything?” I used to think that she didn’t, but after I began writing things down, I am slowly changing my mind. Here is a list of some of the “things” she eats and does not eat – of course this list could grow or change at any time…

The “things” Snoopie has eaten:

- poison ivy
- my good hammock
- my wife’s new pool brush
- brooms – plastic and natural
- car bumpers (any car make or model)
- plastic shopping bags- her favorite is from Acme
- jalapeño peppers
- house plants (but only when she is in the house)
- poison sumac
- lawn furniture
- bumper stickers – Bush or Obama, it doesn’t matter, but she butts the Palin stickers for whatever reason
- roofing shingles from her “dog house”
- gas cans – preferably when filled with gas
- the cowling on my wife’s riding lawn mower
- tee shirts, especially while I am wearing them
- cobwebs (not spiders, just the cobwebs)

Things Snoopie hasn’t eaten:

- any very expensive “show grade” goat feed that’s supposed to be good for her
- ducks…at least not yet!

I have to admit that this farm was a very different place before Snoops joined us here. Days were very routine. All the other animals pretty much lead predictable lives, which in itself is a good thing. It’s a good thing that a 1200 lb horse is predictable most of the time! But having at least one goat –or any other type of animal- that lives outside the box, giving every shared moment a newness, is exciting. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

August 30, 2009

Seems that every week there is a lot of things going on here…

We were introduced to a woman who loves horses, and she took us up on our offer to exercise Zippy and give him attention. Lilli has come over twice now this week and patiently, Zippy and Lilli are getting to know one another. It is a great situation for both of them and Zippy is already responding really well to the extra attention. He looks happy! And it’s good for Kath and I as it gives us time for our horses too, so that all the animals are receiving the time and attention they need.

Karen stopped by to help weed the strawberry bed, and spent the evening tugging at ragweed, crabgrass, etc. Karen helped me feed the bees for her first time. She mixed the water and sugar, and brought it out to the hive. As I was getting stung and she wasn’t, she poured it into the feeder jars I was holding. Oh well….

The other day I was wearing loose shorts when I was feeding…that was dumb. I never thought about the places a bee could go – such as up my shorts. And I guess the first one up called out to a few friends to come join her! I think I will end the story now and let your imagination finish it, cause that’s exactly what happened.

Well anyhow, Karen didn’t get stung, but she says that she got a case of chiggers from pulling weeds, so it all evens out.

Monday I tilled part of my field preparing to plant for fall crops. I am planning to grow spinach, mesclun, lettuces, radishes, cabbage, and some mixed greens for the fall portion of my CSA. As of weeks end I was able to seed spinach and cabbage. Yesterday we received 3” of rain which made things pretty sloppy out there and I was unable to get any more seed in the ground. Next week a few members of the CSA are coming out to help with the planting, so I hope to get the seeding done then.

A few chickens hopped the fence and got into my tomato patch last evening. They helped themselves to a few tomatoes…I can’t get too mad at my chickens. After all they do for me and the farm– eat bugs and weed seeds, lay eggs, and provide fertilizer – losing a few tomatoes is really a small price. I just let them stay there and took some comfort watching them enjoying themselves. Chickens are pretty cool.

So all in all, it has been a good week on the farm!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

August 22, 2009

We have taken on a third horse! Zippy has been boarded here for the last two and a half years, and a few weeks ago his owner offered him to us. We were happy to take him over, as we’ve always considered him a part of our family, and we would have been crushed to see him sold off. Zip now will stay here with our other two horses, Louie and Patrick. We are really glad that its worked out this way!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

August 15, 2009

I am not too sure what to think about this, but I will share this story with you and let you think about it for yourself…

We called it the “pot plane”. There was a small single engine plane that flew very low over our farm almost every week. Not just a fly by, but it circled three, four, and sometimes five times. It then repeated the same circling maneuvers over other properties in the area. It continued its circling patterns right down the highway.

We suspected that big brother was looking to see if any of us were growing marijuana on our farms, in our backyards, or in the wooded areas around here, hence we began calling it the “pot plane”. I doubt they were counting our horses, or appreciating the colorful view of our free ranging chickens from up there…Every so often, some one does get busted in the area.

This year I left the white plastic on my hoop house, where I store perennials over the winter and begin vegetables for spring. Normally I remove the plastic once the weather warms up, but this year it stayed cooler than usual, so I decided to just leave it on.

I came to accept the circling plane each week, wondering what they were really doing up there. When it came over, I am sure they saw me go in and out of my hoop house with a watering can to water my daylilies, spinach, and garlic sets, although they could not have seen inside the hoop house to know that that was what I was watering in there. I often wondered if that made me suspect. That is, if they really were pot cops.

After a few weeks of this, I came home from work on a Saturday afternoon and found that the white plastic had been torn from the hoop house, exposing the perennials and vegetable plants inside. No one had been home that day to see what had happened. There was not a storm or wind that day. But there was the plastic – ripped all apart, though still attached to the batter boards. There was nothing left to do but take it all off.

Since that day, the plane stopped circling my farm…. I haven’t seen it since. I can’t help but to wonder if it all was a coincidence, or if someone needed a better view?

It does give me something to think about…

Thursday, August 6, 2009

August 6, 2009

In the garden, or with my animals, I am always reminded that we are braided together in this life. There is an interdependence and interaction that deep down, is spiritual – I think of it as a continuous equal trade between us, and a trade with all things else in the immediate and distant environment. This trade supports a steady balance in this interconnected life of give and take.

For everything here on earth, there is a reason and purpose. There is a reason and a purpose that we did not design, and at times we do not fully understand. But God does….

There are almost too many connections to list here, and then so many more that are yet to be realized. Some are easy for me to see and follow, like the relationship and connectedness of bees and flowers. And then there are those that are less pronounced and I did not expect. Two recent experiences follow:

It took me a while to figure out why there were green frogs in the beans and chard, as my experience could only allow me to associate frogs with water and lily pads. But finally it dawned on me that they were feasting on the insects in the garden, keeping these predator populations in check, while staying sheltered and moist beneath the leafy canopy of these same plants. I never had seen or heard of this before, but here it was…frogs and plants helping each other to survive another day.

Every bird nest here on the farm – bluebird, wren, martin, barn swallow, etc – to some degree is weaved and lined with the long horsehair shed from the manes and tails of our horses Louie, Patrick, and Zips. These same birds spend the day swooping over the pastures eating up the mosquitoes, greenheads, and horse flies that can make grazing impossible for the horses. It has always been easy to see how the birds helped out the horses, yet I had never given thought that the horses traded back. Now I know better!

I could go on with other examples that have given me some surprise, but the point of these two examples is that we are all connected somehow. We live with, and from, the help of each other, whether we are a frog, bee, bird, horse, human, plant, etc. Each day we trade, whether we know it or not. Each day we need to remind ourselves that our trades need to be fair, otherwise our relationships will fall out of balance, and then life will lose its sustainability.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26, 2009

It is a very quiet Sunday morning – not a whole lot stirring. It’s the way I think Sundays should be. I think that we do not get enough down time. We’ve created a social lifestyle that does not allow for much rest or reflection. I don’t think that it’s good for us at all. Sometimes we need to stop long enough to just listen to our own breathing. Just long enough to pull us back to the reality that we are a living being, and that we don’t always need to let ourselves be chased by time, that we can live in the wholeness of a moment – moment after moment.

In a bit I will be getting shares together to distribute to the CSA members, and then leave for Connecticut to see my daughter who is doing a summer internship at a theatre along the Connecticut River.

My horse, Louie, and our boarder horse, Zippy, got themselves into a nest of chiggers while grazing and have had an awful time of it this week. Both broke out with itching, allergic sores on their cheeks, chins and noses. Zippy also broke out on his legs. We’ve been keeping the sores clean, and applying anti – itch sprays to these guys two to three times a day, and hosing them down with cool water in the evening. It all seems to be working as the sores are starting to heal, and the itching subsiding. I feel so bad for these guys…if you ever have had chiggers you can feel the pain just thinking of it!

Snoops had a good week – she’s my “garden disposal”. Snoops gets all the food that is still good, but might have blemishes that I don’t feel comfortable giving to my members. This week she has enjoyed radishes, a huge squash, some chard, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, bolted arugula, bolted lettuce, and even a jalapeño pepper! With a goat, nothing much goes to waste around here!

Speaking of jalapeno peppers…I had picked some and thinking that they were not too hot, I snapped one in half and gave it to Snoopy, who thought it was the best tasting thing since the tin can. So I shoved the other half in my mouth and…ran to the hose and shoved that down my throat! That damn jalapeno was so hot - I was not expecting it to be hot at all after watching Snoopy gobble it down and beg for more! I should know better than to trust a goat to tell me what’s ok to eat!

My corn has been having a time of it too. I did not plant very much –maybe thirty seeds. It’s about waist high now, and doing ok. But I don’t think its going to make it to the dinner table, because I am not the only one who likes corn around here! First, Patrick, my wife’s horse, was grazing nearby, reached over and pruned down about five plants! A week later, Louie, who usually is a good horse, slowly creeped over to the corn plot, and “Chomp”! Louie doesn’t prune like Patrick – Louie pulls the whole plant out by the roots and runs, chomping away! I think he was proud of himself that he was clever enough to get away with it. Then Snoopy, who I had on her leash, pulled me over and got a stalk too! I don’t really get too mad – I kinda like it that the animals like what I grow.

Interestingly enough, the horses have all been getting beans lately. The ones that have gotten too big on the bush have become great “treats”!

I did get stung this week, but it was my own stupid fault. I have a very bad habit of just opening up a hive to peek in – without smoke, veil, or gloves. Sorta dumb! I lifted the top of my friendly hive and started pulling frames, and they came out like popcorn from an uncovered pan! When it was over, I was as bad as Louie with chiggers! I deserved it – I should know better than that, but I don’t seem to learn!

That’s about all for now. I am going to get shares together and hit the road…

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 19, 2009

In last weeks edition (7/17/09) of the Ocean City Sandpaper newspaper, Bill wrote an article about beans and quoted me several times, and included a picture he took of one of our yellow wax bean plants, which I have posted here. I’d like to thank Bill for taking the time to talk “beans” with me, and for mentioning the farm in his article. Bill writes a column which he calls the “Edible Shore” and features local food and the local farms and farmers who produce it. Some of his other articles featured greens, strawberries and blueberries. He is the only local writer that I know of who is doing this. Thanks Bill!

I recently found that “No More Trenches”, a poem that I had written and published in the August 2003 edition of “Friends Journal” was included in the book “Answering Terror – Responses to War and Peace after 9/11/01”. The book is an anthology of articles, poems, letters, etc that were published in “Friends Journal” from three years after the 9/11 attack. I am very humbled to be one among so many Quaker authors…

Sunday, July 12, 2009

July 12, 2009

The state apiarist came by last week to inspect my hives and with him was Bill, who is the area’s best known beekeeper and is referred to as the “sage of bees”. Bill has gotten countless people into bees, including myself. He began the local bee association, runs educational programs, helps everyyone with their hives…I' m not sure how he does it all, but he does, and the beekeepers in this area are grateful to him for his help.

Tim, the apiarist, tore into my hives- he took the hive tool and separated the supers, pulled frame after frame checking for mites, afb, and a host of pests that mess with bees. He checked the brood, the workers, looked for drone and queen cells, burr comb, capped honey and assessed the general vigor of the hives. All my hives were in good shape and very strong, which, as a novice, made me proud, and his positive remarks helped me to forget all the bee stings I had gotten during the past year!

I have one hive that goes after me all the time and the plan was to re queen the hive. Tim and Bill ripped into it without the benefit of veils or gloves and found the queen without getting stung once. Meanwhile I had my veil on and was being attacked. Tim hesitated. He changed his mind. He asked if it would be ok not to re-queen, because the hive was very strong and healthy, and one of the better colonies he had seen lately. He pointed out that he wasn’t being stung, nor was Bill. The sight of bees coming through my veil at the time did not seem to be an issue. For some reason, I conceded, and we left the queen, put the hive together, and walked away…bees all over ME and none on them. “Why don’t they like me?” They had no answer, but seemed amused at the show of bees circling me as if I was the center of a bee solar system.

So I let the queen live. Last night I stopped by the hive to give them their daily feed of sugar water. I had already fed my two other hives without any incident as usual. But this hive! Well, I put the jar in the feeder, and Wham! I got stung, then another and another and another. I fast stepped to the barn with bees all over me, stinging me anywhere they could. I got to the barn, turned the water hose on myself and showered them off me. Eleven stings on my fingers, body, and face. Soaking wet… swelling up…in pain….thinking to myself “why didn’t I re queen????”

I could not have even done it then. I can't kill a bee, no matter what. Even in the pain of eleven stings, there is a voice deep in my consciousness repeating “Long live the queen!” It had reminded me that that is why I am a beekeeper in the first place...

Monday, July 6, 2009

July 6, 2009

This morning I took the field mower off the tractor and reattached the roto-tiller, and drove out to the strawberry patch to till between the rows. Spring a year ago I had planted 500 June bearing strawberry plants in five neat rows of a hundred, spaced apart by the width of my tractor. I did this so that I could easily add compost and till between the rows, so that when it was time to replant I’d plant the new rows where I had been tilling, and till where the old rows were, thus keeping the bed sustainable. It’s working pretty well so far.

It gave me an odd kind of feeling today to be back in the strawberry patch, weeks after the first harvest was over. It seemed an abandoned and lonely place all the sudden.

Scattered around between rows were the white buckets that those who came to help with the picking turned upside down and sat on as they moved down the rows. Today they looked more like discarded plastic than serviceable stools…

The plants looked different too. No white flowers. No bent branches of strawberries. No honey bees and no bumble bees zigging and zagging around. Even the small rabbit that lived under the plants was no where to be found today.

I could not help to remember how only a few weeks ago this small patch was a center of all kinds of activity.

My wife and I spent a lot of “down” time picking each night, talking like we don’t get an often enough chance.

Some evenings a neighbor would show up…one was unemployed at the time and it made me feel a bit more useful as a human being that I could offer something to help.

We also picked strawberries to be given to a homeless family through a program called Family Promise. And we shared some more with my wife’s family, and my son took buckets to school to share with his class.

Karen and Bill, members of my CSA and fellow Quakers, came over once a week to help weed rows and pick the CSA shares. They’d bring Hunter, their dog, who would try to spar with my goat, Snoopy. Jessica and Mark would also stop by, and bring their young son Griffin to pick, and one afternoon, they stayed around to watch as I climbed up a ladder to catch a swarm of honey bees in the fir tree in my front yard.

Snoopy was always happy to be near the patch, as everyone who picked would toss strawberries to her the whole time- I think she got the most strawberries of anyone. Even the horses would lean over the pasture fence and “snicker” for a strawberry handout!

It just seems now in reflection that this was not just a patch of strawberry plants, but became a place of community for a time, where we got to know each other a bit better, shared conversations and ideas, enjoyed the animals, and watched the bees. People and beings came together who would not have reason to intersect otherwise…

Maybe this is the way it used to be, long ago before farms became industrial and giant businesses. Long ago, farms also grew community. And as I look back on those few weeks, I can see that this little strawberry patch did just that.