Monday, April 16, 2012

Welcome, Ladies!

We welcomed several thousand new residents to the Farm on Sunday, nearly all of them female.
I installed two new nucleus colonies ("nucs") of honey bees in their new quarters. It was an exciting event, and probably stressful for the ladies. For one thing, the drive was probably longer than they would have liked (especially after they had already ridden a truck from Louisiana to Missouri over the weekend). A few restless workers escaped from their boxes, and were blown away along the road. But it looked like we still had strong populations when I moved them into the hive boxes at the farm (though I confess I didn't take an exact census).
For another thing, the whole operation was carried out under threat of thunderstorms, and in a strong wind. Not really ideal conditions for beekeeping, but I didn't get any choice in the timing. This spring's unseasonably warm weather meant that the queens were ready several weeks earlier than usual at the breeder in Louisiana, so the delivery of the nucs to the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association was also moved ahead.
The addition of these two colonies brings our total to three, which should still be manageable, even from a distance.
Spring turkey season starts today; I'm planning to be out at the Farm to try to harvest some wild poultry next weekend, and I'll see how the new ladies are settling in.

Monday, April 2, 2012

CRP burn

We're planning to burn a few acres of CRP on April 14. Obviously, the weather has to cooperate, but if it isn't too dry, too wet, or too windy, we'll have a nice big crew. Having enough people makes up for a certain lack of experience on our part. After all, we not only want to burn the thick vegetation on the parts that should be burned, but we also want to avoid setting things on fire that should not be! And it's a nice celebration: we'll plan to take the whole tired, sweaty bunch to dinner at the Santa Fe restaurant in Ethel when we're done.
Anybody have any tips or helpful suggestions about the best (or worst!) ways to proceed when burning CRP?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Awe, Curiosity, and Care

In the last couple of days I've come across several things that caught my attention (in spite of the fact that I don't actually have time to "waste" on such things!) and led me to ponder Big Questions. What are Big Questions? Here's one example: How should we think about the world around us? Yeah, that's a Big Question--too big for a quick & dirty answer. But here are a couple of notes in that direction anyway.
source: New York Times
The New York Times ran an online review of an unusual new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. (By the way, that museum is one of the best reasons to get away from the farm for a while and visit New York City!) The exhibit looks at bioluminescence, and it looks incredibly cool! In my neck of the woods, about the only living things that give off light are fireflies, of which there were an abundance last summer. Turns out, there are beautiful, amazing creatures all over the place that are built to emit light.
My reaction to that: "Awesome!" Literally. Encountering such "Creatures of Light" (the title of the museum exhibit) triggers a spontaneous response of awe and wonder and amazement. We encounter things all around us in the world that make us drop our jaws in wide-eyed wonder.
And it doesn't stop there. The next step for a human being after sheer awe is curiosity. How does that work? How do jellyfish do that? What makes it tick? The natural move from awe to curiosity is the root of all science, all practical knowledge. And the one doesn't replace the other. We do not cease to be amazed by things, just because our curiosity leads us to understand them better, and even begin to use them.
source: New York Times
And the mind doesn't stop there. When awe leads to curiosity, and curiosity helps us begin to understand, the human being has another responsibility. We need to care for the amazing things we are just beginning to understand. Another NY Times piece reported recent studies that suggest that even small, non-lethal levels of certain pesticides can disorient bees, and contribute to colony collapse disorder. This is something we should care about, and not just if we're beekeepers. Honey bees are enormously important pollinators, and their disappearance would be catastrophic for food production generally. They are awesome, wonderful creatures (even though they don't--or shouldn't!--glow), and our curiosity has made it possible for us to work with them, and to understand what we are (unintentionally) doing to them. Now it's time to make our choices carefully.
Awe, curiosity, and care. That's how we think about the world.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Harvest time

The garden at the Farm was productive this year, thanks to my mother-in-law's green thumb and (I am convinced) the bees, who keep everything well pollinated. In fact, even after some good hard freezes, there is still some Swiss chard that seems quite happy to go on doing its thing until it gets buried by snow. Almost everything else is over and done with, of course, a week before Christmas.
One of the beehives failed (unproductive queen, I think), but we were able to get some honey from the other one. Some we sold, some we ate, and some got turned into my first attempt at mead (now resting in bottles). Next year we hope for more.
The harvest doesn't stop when the garden gives out and the bees hunker down for the winter. The Farm still yields what we need and what we can use. We took another deer this season, a nice buck (after a fat doe last year), and the meat gets shared multiple ways. The little food plots have been visited by birds and animals a-plenty; I "harvested" one head of a sunflower to have a few seeds to scatter next spring.
I don't collect acorns, hickory nuts, or black walnuts, but they apparently feed the deer and squirrels well enough. And the trees themselves are a crop, of course, providing firewood that supplies at least half the heat we need over the winter. (We could probably heat entirely with wood, and maybe we will some day, but for now we simply don't have the time to cut that much wood!) So far we don't need to cut down any living trees: we have all we can handle skidding downed logs out of the steep ravines, and then cutting and splitting and hauling and stacking.
Truly, we often reap where we did not sow. What we "harvest" is not always (and not only) what we planned and initiated and nurtured directly. At least as often, we harvest by simply receiving what the place gives us. This kind of farming isn't far removed from the ancient hunter-gatherers: we try to keep dancing between design, opportunism, surprise, and sheer gratitude. That is the dance of harvest time.

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Elemental Life

If you want to get in touch with life at its roots, life at an elemental level, there's nothing like a hundred acres of farmland (or raising small children!). The reality of the land is both more beautiful and less romantic than the world of ideas (where I usually live). The Farm resists idealization, the soil is resistant to theories. Land is always this specific land, and working the place always means working with this particular combination of the basic elements.

The ancients viewed the world as composed of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. That scheme turns out to be inadequate for purposes of physics and chemistry, but it's remarkably useful for capturing daily experience with the concrete specifics of life and work on the Farm.

Here's an example: when we got the Jeep or the Polaris stuck in the slippery rain-soaked mud, we wrestled with earth and water. To avoid those problems again, we need to work with the earth (soil) and the water and not against them. The messy details all come about from the way these ingredients interact!

And here's another example: we burned off about 20 acres of CRP grassland last week. It was an impressive interaction of fire and air! We were careful, well-manned, and well-equipped, and nothing bad happened: all the stuff that was supposed to burn did, and nothing that wasn't supposed to burn did! No injuries, no running around screaming in terror! All in all, a successful day. But here's the rub: we were "in control" only in a limited way. The direction and speed of the wind, and the heat and the speed of the fire, were more important for our success than our plan or our tools. A contrary wind could have cancelled the whole business, and fire in the wrong place would have turned it upside down.

To live and work happily with the Farm is a series of adjustments and accommodations, a dance of compromises between our human intentions and the elements we are given to work with. The elemental life of the Farm is a life in which we are not sovereign, not the masters of all we survey. We have to learn to live with only limited control.