“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, 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, jalapeƱos, 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!