Monday, November 1, 2010

If you wonder where I have disappeared to...

This is the garden in May.
This is a little over a month later
This is a hot hot summer later...

And this is October
some lettuce that is growing now...or was 2 days ago anyway

School has started again and the brassicas are still feeding our community!

The fall colors are wonderous and the bees are slumbering all over the marigolds these days!
Gotta love some pumpkins!
Chinese cabbage beauty
Tat Soi amazingness
Onions, cabbage and stir fry mix in the background. YUM!

Farmer Tammy says..."we shouldn't be eating food out of plastic or boxes mom!" "we are so lucky to have a garden at our school" "this broccoli is SO GOOD"...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Early Street Community Garden Bee Class

Explaining the difference between honey and brood
Pass the bees pleaz

We can learn a lot without even opening the hive

Morristown Green wrote and article on it. Check it out!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Bees Knee(d)s

If you've visited the pumpkin patch at the Urban Farm at Lafayette, you may have seen first-hand the intricate connection between bees and flowering plants. Without bees - honeybees or otherwise - we would be pretty hard-strapped for food. 1/3 of our food supply in America is dependent on them to be exact. Pumpkins are just the beginning. Melons, squashes, blueberries, apples, nuts, alfalfa, clover, cocoa, vanilla, mango, plums, apricots, cherries, avocado, canola, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, cotton, carrots, coffee, and kiwi are just SOME of the crops that would not survive without the efforts of the bees. But can the bees survive without help from us these days?

According to the flyer that just came in the mail from a bee equipment supplier, they cannot. When I opened the mailed advertisement, the first page was told me that I had to put chemical and 'natural' remedies into my hive in order for my bees to be healthy and strong for the winter months. They craft yellow soy patties attempting to feed the bees protein posing as pollen. This little pamphlet is proclaiming the cheapest source of high fructose corn syrup to feed the bees you steal honey from. They sell essential oils to kill mites (which also kill microbes in the hive that may be beneficial to the bees), they sell prophylactic antibiotics to kill bacteria in the hive (some of which may be beneficial to the bees), they sell chemical insecticides to kill moths and beetles that can kill weak hives (which can also kill bees, they are insecticides after all!).

It may be a glum picture that I paint, but it follows what is innocently taught at most beekeeping courses throughout North America, and many people do not question the techniques. When walking into such an adventure as beekeeping, we tend to trust the people guiding the way, and usually those people have been using these invasive techniques because that is what they have been taught. It is, after all, how we will save the bees from disease and death.

But is it?

Mites are small parasitic bugs that attach to adult bees and bee larvae in order to feed off of them. Often the mites weaken a hive and bring in disease. If there are high mite levels in a hive, they can destroy that hive in a season, since they multiply much more rapidly than the bees. The 'organic/natural' approach to treating the bees for mites has been to apply essential oils (such as thyme) or acids (oxalic and formic). I have seen people use these and I am not convinced that they are all that 'natural'. Because bees use pheromones to communicate, the application of such strong oils will impair that ability (and if you want to use the wax for candles, your candles will end up smelling more like your treatment than the beautiful sweetness of bees!). Acids are caustic and can kill a hive if used incorrectly. These options don't seem viable to me.

Fortunately, a small movement has been forming here in the northeast around treatment free beekeeping. It is a more hands off approach to the bees, trusting that the bees know what the bees needs are and letting them follow their insticts rather than ours. Beekeepers are working hard at breeding bees that know how to deal with these mites. They are not breeding bees to produce tons of honey or to be gentle, they are breeding bees to survive. An average beekeeper looses 50% or more of their hives in the winter. Clearly the way bees are cared for nowadays is not working.

Last weekend I went to a treatment free bee conference in Leominster MA along with 100 other people from near and far. I didn't hear much about bees dying at this conference, it was more about bees thriving. Thriving and Swarming! A swarm is a hive's way of procreating. When the number of workers exceeds the capacity of the hive, the workers will rear a new queen and when she is ready to be born about a third of the hive will go out with the old queen and find a new place to live. This is how bees thrive. This is how the bees move and populate an area. Beekeepers today are taught to stop this from happening at all costs. Some beekeepers clip their queens wings so that she cannot fly away. Bees make honey and if 1/3 or your bees go away then 1/3 of your honey goes away too. The thing is though that when a swarm leaves there is a break in the brood cycle which gives the workers less nest tending time and possibly more honey gathering time. This gives the mites less food and less of a chance of survival. The new queen will generally be vigorous and create a strong colony just on the fact that they created her. Bees that swarm are more likely to survive according to the low numbers of winter deaths that the beekeepers at this conference were giving.

Maybe the bees could live without us, but the fact of the matter is is that we are in a relationship with them that is thousands of years old and we have to find our way to balance with the bees and the bee nature. The land is in it's full glory right now and it is our responsibility to tend it, with love and respect. First do no harm. Meaning, when we see a problem, we observe it for a while before we intervene, because the intervention could be more damaging than we imagined. Let the bees be!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

So the ladies at the factory garden lot are doing great. One day about a month ago I opened the hive...Just a quick look see to see if they needed more room. I pulled out a frame and as I did I heard the unforgettable sound of a queen piping.

I quickly closed up the hive, afraid to disrupt any queen fighting that was about to ensue. When a queen is born she will let the other bees know that she has been born by making a high pitched beeping sound (maybe she is declaring..."here i am!!"). She is also declaring to any other queens that are being born or about to be born that she is going to annihilate them! It also means, that my hive was about to swarm. I had missed my chance to split the hive and make two of MY OWN hives. Now they would split themselves and find a new home somewhere else. The new queen would get acclimated to her new home and then go off on her mating flights.

All of this happened while I was busy starting a new project with Grow It Green Morristown and didn't pay much mind to the INSIDE of the hive. Oh, don't get me wrong, I would visit this lovely hive and breathe her in throughout the week. What a smell a hive emanates on these long hot summer evenings. Sweet, humid air being blown in my face by the buzzing wings of these little worker bees. 2 weeks ago I went into the hive and saw a freshly mated queen. She was stubby and adjusting to her growing abdomen. I checked on her today and WHOA! she has filled up a whole box with brood and is just bustling along laying eggs! I was impressed with her work! Then I saw her and she was long and strong, as a good queen should be.

Curiosity had the best of me and i dug deeper into the hive. The bottom box was just kind of sitting there so I wanted to check it out and see if I could just get rid of it. I lifted it up, it was quite light. I pulled out a couple frames that were covered in noisy drones. I saw a few eggs, a few capped brood cells about to hatch and then I saw her. The old queen. There were two queens living in this hive! My mind says that the new queen is honoring the old queen by letting her live in the basement until she dies with the rest of the useless ones in the hive (the drones...i don't REALLY think drones are useless, just a little joke). But it was curious how the drones and queen were all in the bottom of the hive.

I felt no need to DO anything. I am loving this new season of beekeeping. I think I finally know what I am doing and feel comfortable with them, like a second skin. I am in love with them and am more understanding of their process' and life cycle. I am going to the treatment free bee conference at the end of July and hope to learn more about the process of mite illimination (misspelling intentional).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An Update

Well, it has been awhile! So here is a little update:

After filling up the greenhouse at the farm in Lincoln Park and getting the square foot gardens in place I decided to try again at the factory garden lot.

chard, napa cabbage, and kale in a section of my square foot gardens

I thought I would get crafty and buy some cement and get the fence up for real this time. This time there was no ground hog getting in. I put bricks all along the outside to keep the fence down (no going under fence) and I cemented the posts to the ground as deep as i could dig. The thing is I am no fence builder (any ideas or tips or help is GREATLY appreciated!!) The cement blocks were not in a perfect line (lesson learned) and the chicken wire sags a bit. Sagging chicken wire means groundhog climbing

Groundhog climbing means groundhog eating....




even my spilanthes (toothache herb, which makes a human's mouth go numb!!)

but i am still planting...and caging certain my sweet diane and honey rock melon. who knows?! maybe will have a new post or two put up and make the fence rodent proof?

jokes on me i am sure

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Do you sell honey?

honey comb from Morristown
Do you sell honey?

It is a question I am often asked when someone realizes I am a beekeeper. The answer thus far has been no.

What I have been doing for the past 3 years in working with the bees is trying to wade my way through the teachings of experienced beekeepers.
You see, for some time now beekeeping has been about stealing honey and pollination. Otherwise, (the other, all to common question) "what use are the bees?"

We live in a society that places high value on things (a.k.a living, sentient beings) that reap profit. If these things do not reap profit, we disregard them or manipulate them to make them into profit.

The other day I got into a discussion about wasps. The person I was speaking with was struggling with wasps continuously building nests on their deck. "What are they good for, what use are they? I am just going to kill them."

Rewind a week and I have Bob, the farmer telling me that before the wasps came to his place he struggled with worms in his cabbage crop. "No more worms for this place, the wasps have eaten them all!"

I digress. Or do I? There is a point to this. All creatures on this planet are here for their own reasons. I will not pretend to know what the reasons are. Not even sure what the human purpose is, but I am sure it isn't to exploit every other species and I am pretty sure that every other species' point isn't to serve humans. I could be wrong though.

So the bees...most books and teachers come from a background of years of exploiting bees for profit. Few have taken the time or have had the inclination to understand 'beeness'.

some top bar hive bees a few days after being given this bar
Bees have their own nature as do humans. We hurt each other when we view our relationships merely as a give and take; when we view 'other' as an object to exploit or take advantage of. As a culture, it is important for us to learn to listen. Yes, time is money and listening takes time, but aren't relationships the mainstays of our existence? Isn't it time we put more value on our relationships (our friends, family, animals, bugs, land, food...)?

beautiful bees and burr comb in Vancouver

So no, I do not sell the wonderful honey that the bees make from their hard work of harvesting nectar from the numerous dandelions, clover, linden, sweet william, salvias and numerous other wild and cultivated flowers that grow within their reach. I am too busy working on a relationship with a species whose nature I have barely begun to understand. After 3 years with them I am realizing I barely understand my own human nature.

I do know that it is in my nature to love sweetness and the bees graciously offer that to me and for this I am thankful. I am also thankful for all the beekeepers who love and care for their bees while taking the extra honey they make to sell to us folks who have a love of all things sweet. I am thankful for the bees for making extra! I am thankful for the land for producing so much sweet bounty for all creatures. I am thankful for all creatures! I am thankful that you are reading my words.

40th anniversary of earth day...what are YOU thankful for?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

MMMMM! Spring Salad!

Just add radishes, garlic mustard, dandelion greens and spring onions. Salt and pepper and I am one happy lady!

The Japanes Hornfaced Bee

The Honeybee Alliance's newest member:

For a few days a couple weeks ago I found my apartment a buzz with bees. I was confused as they would come as early as 6:30 am (much to the chagrin of my gf) and honeybees are late risers. Who were these bees poking in every hole in my apartment?

I watched as each morning between 6:30 and 11 am anywhere from 1 to 5 bees would come into my little apartment and check out all the holes. These bees sound and look like honeybees but they have their mandibles open, where honeybees rarely do. Hence the horn face, I suppose?

I watched as two bees took to an end each of my pilates cord which hangs from my curtain rod. Over the corse of a week these pods were growing inside the cord.

I watched as the mother bee would bring in pollen, sometimes even dropping it on my floor. I was so excited to have a hive IN my apartment, a little nest of solitary bees growing right before my eyes as I went about my days.

The pollen was sweet when I tasted it off my floor.

I learned that the Japanese Hornfaced bee is actually one of the best pollinators in the world! I read on that, "In an apple orchard, an Eastern honey bee on an average day will pollinate around 50 flowers. The Japanese Hornfaced Bee (Osmia cornifrons), which falls into the classification of mason bee (genus Osmia), can visit 15 flowers a minute, pollinating as many as 2,450 apples a day. It's a solitary bee commonly used for commercial apple pollination in Japan and is at least 50 times more effective than the honey bee when it comes to pollinating apples (as well as most other tree fruits.) "

After a long day at work and a long drive to NY state I came home and went to look in the tubes to see a bee face looking out at me...but this time, there was no bee, but a seal of pollen/mud? I guess this is it until October? More bees are coming around looking for holes and I am in the process of making a home for them with Japanese knotweed (a noxious weed in the area that is full of hollow tubes just the right size for these little pollinating delights)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Ode to a Blade of Grass in April
-Gunther Hauk

New and new, and ever new
On dry souls like freshening dew
You glisten and shine
With emerald green
Bold blade reaching for the blue
Drinking light and
Fettering fleeting sylphs
Into bondage of substance.

You, trodden 'neath harsh cleats on fields of play,
Unappreciated when growth is abundant
And mower-charges soar high,
When pollen fills field - and watery eyes;
You, who quicken the heart's beat
When dandelions wink with golden eyes
At resentful suburbanites.
Yes, you! Image of life
Resurrected from dead of winter,
You feed beasts with bloating udder
So fat milk flows,
Feeding us all.

You bowed your head
Under the graceful, etheric step
Of the Great Gardener.
You emerald banner of life,
Let me tread lovingly on you
Who vowed to green with us,
Year after year -
Till the end of days.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"I spend all of my time shopping for food"

A brief commentary on this quote I hear way too often:

Yes, we spend our time going from one store to another to get the best deal and the right product. TJs has the best deals but they don't have organic. WF has organic but jeese they are expensive. HS is great with local foods, but they are often out of what I need. What is a lady to do? Shop around is what we tend to do...

But if you spend A LOT of your time driving from store to store to get food (which, in my humble opinion sucks for you and for your loved ones {who don't get to see you because you are driving around} and the planet {driving around...buying crap from all over...}, maybe you should consider a garden this year!

Makes sense right? Instead of miserably driving around with the rest of the rat racers...pull out a shovel and some seeds and plant your dinners for the summer. Now is the time. Get moving!

If you want to stop feeding the pockets of cooperate greed, this is the soul (intended) solution.

Blessings to your wet spring and fruitful summer!

Monday, January 11, 2010

What is the definition of a farmer?

pic from
How about we just redefine the word farmer?

I for one am tired of calling a middle aged business man a farmer. A guy who buys produce from the produce auction in Vineland NJ and slaps his name over it isn't the guy who farmed the food. The same guy who manages a bunch of seasonal migrant workers to do the labor while he does the pricing and marketing is not a farmer either. According to the dictionary on my computer, a farmer is a person who owns or manages a farm.

I want to know how owning 30 acres in one of the wealthiest counties in NJ makes you a farmer? It doesn't. And the notion of what a farmer is has got to be changed if we are to see food growing in our county. Most of us know that agribusiness has been a big contributor to the environmental destruction on this continent, but we do not consider the notion of small monoculture being a detrimental thing. Why blueberries and cranberries are wonderful economic boosts for our department of agriculture here in the garden state! Why question that?

Farming on a small scale with diverse crops is a fading art that is wanting to be brought back to life by the youth that is waking up from the sleep of the past couple generations. Greenhorns abound but here in Northern New Jersey they are often pushed out by the politics of the day. Mainly the business men who have been around much longer and the market managers who aren't quite educated about the politics of food or what a farmer is.

What if the definition of a farmer was anyone who grows food? "Then every housewife gardener would be at the farmer's market selling her bumper crop, how ridiculous is that?" Comments one well established poultry farmer who has just entered the business of market garden management. Yes, and if everybody was at the market competing prices would go down, friends would be made, and community gatherings would ensue. Maybe people would agree to get together and take that bumper crop of tomatoes and make a bunch of sauce and give it to the local food pantry instead of just throwing it on the compost heap at the end of the day.

Maybe if we broadened our view of what farming was we wouldn't be so attached to neat rows of the same crop that require fertilizers and pesticides. Maybe the notion of bigger is better is wrong and maybe a small dose of diversity is the medicine of the day. Maybe? Maybe not?

What do you think?

Next, we redefine farm...

baseball field turned into organic farm