Suddenly, Spring

Two weeks ago, after months of snow on the ground, it seemed completely absurd to start seeds. Now that the ground is bare and the days are filled with sunshine, however, I feel like everything is happening at once. The spinach is popping, garlic is coming up, weeds are already taking over parts of the barn garden, and the goats are anxious to graze on the barely green pasture. GREEN PASTURE… ok almost green.

We are very excited to start the season – it’s been a long winter and we’re absolutely psyched that March is here in force. We have a few new projects for the year. In particular our new Farm Share. It veers away from the traditional CSA box-system and caters to the farmers market. This change means we that instead of planting for specific harvest weeks and amounts, we have a little more flexibility, and so do our members. We are full for the season (woo hoo!), and we both look forward to seeing you all at market.

This year also marks the beginning of my master plan to standardize our fields and make our lives that much easier. By 2016 we’ll have six fields that are all 120′ by 60′ making our crop rotations super easy: two beds planted last year = two beds this year. It also allows us to cut all the drip tape, weed mat, and row cover to the same length every year. This may sound lame. Trust me, it’s VERY exciting. Micah and Katie of Ginger Roots Farm in St Ignatius are letting us borrow a few hogs to tear up a new area of the pasture in a month or two. The hogs, doing what they do best, will clear the grass and open up the soil for cover crop seeding. That saves me from using the disc and tiller on a large section of sod, which is not fun for anyone (especially for Margaret who almost had a heart attack watching the tractor bump around on uneven ground last time I tried this method).

Oh, and SAVE THIS DATE! This summer on August 30th we’re teaming up with the fellas at the Burns St. Bistro for an official farm dinner. They’ll prepare courses with our veggies (and other local fare), we’ll give a tour, and then summer’s bounty will be served in the orchard. Set price per head. Keep an eye out for more information!

This week there’s spinach a week or two from harvest in the field, seeds in the soil, and seedlings in the greenhouse that are itching to get into the ground. We have a batch of broiler hens in the warm room, a couple mama goats gestating their kiddos, and layer hens out in the orchard. One of our three hives survived the winter, and I’ve harvested honey from the other two.

Margaret and I renewed our lease with Steve recently, and knowing that we’ll be here for at least another 5 years feels wonderful. It’s a kind of security and stability that I’m welcoming; it doesn’t have to be forever, but it’s long term enough that we can plan for the future and settle in with the plants and animals that we love.

Happy Spring and Merry Planting to all ye farmers.

Sprung.

A little photo update of farm life this second day of May.

First, a brief tribute to Steve Dagger, our landlord/caretaker. He just never stops. The intern/guest cabin looks amazing. When we first started talking about this project, I envisioned a hap-hazard shack. But this thing is a beauty. Steve has done a lot of work these past few weeks finishing the siding and putting up screens for the porch. We can’t wait to have people in it. With a fantastic wood stove (thanks Lindsay and Bob!!), it’s open for winter visitors too… just fyi.


outhouse 4
Our current visitors, Fennec and Orion, started the base for our new outhouse a few days ago and Steve topped it off today – perfectly level. He says he’d like to build a stone house one day, so if you want a stone house, give him a call.

This will eventually be a two-seater outhouse. Blocking off one side at a time to let the other compost (not to be used on our produce).

That’s the old outhouse in the background. Functional, but in desperate need of rebuilding. I take it back; the roof is definitely not functional.

 

 

May first (yesterday) morning, there was a fine covering of two inches of snow. It was possibly the most beautiful morning I’ve ever seen at the farm. As the snow melted, blue skies came out, and everything stood tall under the sun.

 

Then today. It was 65 degrees. Sunny. Gorgeous. The perfect spring day. You’ll see some of these friendly greens at market on Saturday, and more next week.

 

Our greenhouse has desperately needed some extra ventilation (it was over 120 deg in there in July last year… in fact I don’t know exactly how hot it was, because my thermometer doesn’t go any higher. But it melted our seedling trays). And now it has some. This attic exhaust fan (HomeDepot, $89) comes complete with thermostat. It doesn’t have a fancy louvre system to go with it, but for a low cost vent solution, this is it. I was able to use a jigsaw to cut through the polycarbonate and put a quick frame around it, which will be sealed later. I’ll need to build a little door or louvre to keep warm air in when we want it, but it’s already keeping things cooler.

Today’s second project was to rebuild the goat feeder. Tinkerbell enjoyed sleeping and eating INSIDE the old one, and finally busted it apart the other day. This is an altered version of what we started with. It no longer has bars for the goats to stick their head through (except for minerals), but the trough under the feed still saves a lot of fallen hay.

Also, Lucinda is due in 5 days. LOOK AT THAT BELLY.

And, finally, a honeybee on a grape hyacinth. My favorite.

bee on hyacinth 1

 

Farm Update: Bees, Beds, Voles, and Veg

The giant puzzle is complete! Ok only a third of it, but that third is as big as our dining room table. Winter is officially over. The spring season has begun.

Steve and I started pruning the fruit trees last week, a good learning experience for me as I’ve never managed an orchard before. We have apples, pears, plums, apricots, cherries, and grapes to think about. The apples and pears get pruned first, the apricots last. I’m excited to be more involved with the fruit this year as we barely assisted at all last season.
Warm enough to know for sure now: the bees are alive and well! During a cold winter, bees will go into a hibernation of sorts. Shutting down their bodies and the hive until it’s warm enough to move around and fly. A warm winter, like this one, has meant that the bees are more active… and they eat more.

You can see the mouse guards I put on the fall are still in place. Even in the warmer weather, the critters are hungry.


The three hives at the farm have gone through almost all of the honey they stored up last summer.

I resorted to feeding them honey and sugar in January when the hives were hopelessly light. Now that spring appears to have arrived, the bees are working for their dinner.

All three hives are bringing in willow-yellow pollen and looking gorgeous.

Two hives are fabulously strong, and the third is sluggish but not in terrible shape for the season. If it rains for a week I’ll have to feed them again, but for the moment they’re holding their own.
This week we put into action our plan for early vegetables. Because we don’t have a nice big hoophouse/high tunnel to seed things in before it gets warm outside, we’ve had to come up with a different system.

So we’ve built a temporary hoophouse over two of our beds. You might call this a low tunnel. We bought a huge roll of “heavy duty” plastic and 3/16″ steel hoops from Nolt’s Produce Supply and put them up on Thursday.

The hoops are fantastic: it’s not easy to find strong, sturdy, pre-bent hoops. I tried to make my own this winter and failed miserably. Nolt’s offers 5′ and 6′ hoops relatively cheaply and pre-bent. A much better deal than buying wire and forming it myself. The plastic, however, I’m a little disappointed with. “Heavy duty” apparently means tissue paper thin. It did survive through a wind storm yesterday, but it’s just not strong enough to last until May. If it calms down today and tomorrow, I’ll go out there with row cover and reinforce the plastic. It’ll keep the ground warmer and the tunnels stronger in the spring winds.

We do have two small hoophouses that we have seeded with greens (mostly for ourselves). Unfortunately, there are a group of smart ass little critters who refuse to be tricked by my traps. If you have a mouser you’re looking to get rid of, we are in need of a good cat on the farm.


Everyday the greenhouse gets greener. Onion, cabbage, kale, collards, asparagus, and other seedlings have begun to take off in the sunshine.

Soon these boring brown trays will be infant vegetables. Some of them are already in the few days it’s taken me to pull this post together.

And some great news. Our 2012 Farm Share pick up will be at 1500 Burns Street, next to the Missoula Food Co-op! We’re really excited to be in this space and can’t wait for share season to begin. A huge thank you goes to the Missoula Co-op and the NMCDC for working with us and supporting the farm.

We still have lots of open shares for 2012, so send us a membership form and get ready for a great season!

2012 For The Win

Our seed order is in. Everything from eggplant to watermelon to kale ordered and (mostly) received. In a great feat of concentration, our 2012 Organic System Plan has been sent in to the Montana certifying entity, and the planting plan for 2012 is on the verge of completion. To cap it all, our taxes are done.

Margaret and I spend most of our time on a ginormous puzzle or with a nose in a book. As the season creeps closer and closer, the Farm Shares begin to roll in and our pantry is relieved of more and more jars.

As of 2 weeks ago, the bees are still alive and well. We’ve begun to sprout roughly 400 asparagus seeds, which will be a challenge to fit in our greenhouse before they’re transplanted in the spring. The goats are fat and happy and one is (fingers crossed) growing a couple little goats inside. We’re looking forward to 2012 and hoping to fill it with baby plants, baby goats, and honey.


Our 2012 mascot, Hipster Coda, wishes you a very happy new year.

October on the Farm


We’ve cleaned up all of the Far Garden. The irrigation pipes and cattle panels (aka cucumber trellis) will stay here through the winter.

Our oats and clover cover crop is doing very well in the Front Garden. In the spring we’ll till under the residue from this winter-kill crop and plant asparagus… a lot of asparagus.

In order to regulate their heat better, the bees have started to propolize their entrance. I’ll put a mouse-proof grate on in the next few days.

I’ve put up an insulation barrier for the bees. The straw bale on the right will be put across the front to bales to block the east side, and the north and south will stay open to avoid over-winterizing the hive (if it gets too warm they’re too active during the cold months).

We cut and hung our (mostly green at the time) hot peppers in the hoophouse to mature and dry. These Ring’o’Fire peppers are as hot as their name.

The buckwheat on the left of the strawberry patch will continue to die over the winter and in the spring we’ll till it under to prepare a new strawberry bed.

We also tore up a new section of field this week. We’ll seed it in the spring with a variety of cover crops to prepare it for vegetable planting in 2013. Having one more piece of land is critical for the kind of rotation we hope to establish: a four-year system involving intercropping clover as well as a year of rest coupled with a cover crop.

I used a moldboard plow to open up this new garden. It’s not the best option in terms of soil sustainability because it turns the top soil over, messing with the microorganisms and nutrients already in place. However, because the grass on this patch of land is so thick, it’s worth turning it over onto itself to kill the grass without letting it reseed. The moldboard plow also compacts the soil pretty hard, so in the spring we’ll go over this patch with a disc, a chisel plow, and a till. Again, not ideal.

Pollen-ho

The bees are bringing in pollen like crazy. It’s a good sign: they’ve found nectar, they’re pollinating the trees on the farm, and they’re feeding the brood (baby bees) inside the hive. The larvae need a high protein diet, and they can’t get it from just nectar, so they are fed “bee bread,” a mixture of pollen and honey.

These workers are bringing pollen into the hive. You can see the pollen sticking to the workers’ hind legs. Bees mix dry pollen with nectar and have special sticky hairs and a cup-like pouch to hold the pollen to their legs. That pouch is called a corbicula, or “little basket.” There are a couple guides to identifying plants by the color of the pollen the bees are carrying. I’ve seen bright orange, light grey, and yellow pollen coming in. The orange is probably dandelion, grey could be blackberry (we just planted some canes a few weeks ago – I’ll have to check if they’re blooming yet) or plum, which is more likely. The yellow could be a number of different things including cherry and apple.

The following video is a series of photos from that same hive, taken a second or less apart from each other. It comes out to about real time, and you can really see the amount of traffic going in and out of the hive.

I have a series of photos from each hive at the farm, but I think this one is the clearest and most exciting.

Beez!

When introducing bees to their new home, the smart beekeeper waits for a bright and sunny day with more of the same to follow. This allows them to forage for nectar and pollen to feed themselves while they build new comb and re-furbish their hive. Friday was grey and cool, with more of the same for the weekend, but I was so excited to have the bees in my paws that I installed the bees into their hives anyway… before I really thought it through.

Actually, I was sure I had killed them because of my impatience and bad timing. But, lo and behold, the bees are flying today. Assuming the queen survived the ordeal, they will be just fine. If I don’t see the bees bringing pollen into the hive by Wednesday or Thursday, I’ll take a peek inside to find either the queen or brood (eggs/larvae). If those are absent as well, I’ll have to find myself a new queen or three.

If you’ve never seen it happen, installing bees is a thrilling and mostly painless experience. See below!


The bees arrived in Polson, MT in these boxes (called packages). Each weighs approximately 3lbs and contains about 10,000 working bees and one queen. They have made the journey safely, fed by the can of sugar water you see inserted into the middle of the package. To the right of that jar, is a metal tab connected to the cage the queen is in. Here the packages are in the back of the truck.
I’ve already suited up and entered into our brand new bee yard with the packages. Although bees are extraordinarily tame and calm when they don’t have a hive or baby bees to defend, I always wear a veil (I’ve never been stung in the eye, but I don’t want to know what it feels like). This is the third hive I installed that morning. When I did the first two hives, I wasn’t wearing gloves and got stung on my hand – when bees sting they let out a pheromone to tell other bees to attack. So I put on my gloves for number three. The queen. She’s in a cage for a couple reasons. For one, it makes finding her and not accidentally squishing her really easy. Secondly, the queen and the bees in the that package are almost always from different hives. Bees give off pheromones that distinguish them from other hives, like a family smell. The queen is in the cage so that the bees can get used to her smell and accept it as their own before she’s let out. If she were just thrown into their hive, they’d probably kill her as they would any other intruder. As time goes on, she’ll eat her way out of her cage via a candy cork and by that time the bees will have accepted her.
Next I took the hive apart so I could dump the bees into the hive. First the queen goes in. The bees will stay close to where she is and make their way towards her if they get separated. Those pictures of people covered in bees? They’re able to do that because they have a queen (usually in a cage) attached to them somewhere, and the swarm of bees surrounds her and keeps close. Anyway, I took some of the top bars out so the bees would fall more easily into the hive rather than fall out onto the ground. More bees in the hive means less energy they have to expend before they can start gathering nectar (or sugar water which I had set out for them) and building comb.

The fun part! I take the package and "tap" the side of it until almost all the bees fall into the hive.

And when I say tap… I mean bang. Hard. Thanks to Margaret, we have these great action shots of the bees pouring out of the package.

Thar she blows.

Now that the bees are all in the hive with the queen, I put the package somewhere near the hive so the bees that haven’t been forced into the hive can find their way into it from a moderately small distance away.

As the bees make their way into their new home, I help them along so I can put box number two back on top of box number one.

And the bars go back onto the box.

Bees inside, the second box goes on top and then then roof onto that. Our friend Kristen watches and prepares to install her own bees back at her farm in Moeise.
The only thing I love more than watching bees is taking pictures of them.

Bee Boxes

Many of you know that I’m obsessed with bees and beekeeping. This year I made my own bee boxes (i.e. bee hives). My boxes are a variation on the Warre style hive. There’s a great explanation about this kind of hive, as well as plans if you’re interested in building your own at TheBeeSpace.

The coolest thing about my boxes is that they started out as old worn down Langstroth hives. These are the hives you’ll see honey producers and many hobby beekeepers use, they’re by far the most common.

I took these old boxes, tore them apart, and trucked them to Home Resource – Missoula’s totally awesome re-use lumber and household appliance store that has a professional wood shop in the back where you can rent time… which I do. There I sanded off the worn and weathered wood until the boards looked almost like new.

Because Langstroth boxes are so much bigger than my Warre hives, I was able to saw off the split finger joints and make stronger new joints. The wood looked nice, and the boxes looked really nice, but it wasn’t until I painted them with lindseed oil (for natural preservation and protection) that the beauty wood really came through. Most of this is cedar.

Regardless, the bees arrive Friday. If you’re in the area and you want to be a part of the process, let me know – it’s quick, painless, and really thrilling.