“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

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 jalapeƱos, 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….