Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occupy the garden

The season has pretty much slowed down. Finally a breath to be had and some thoughts to share! The past few days i have been at the Women in Sustainable Agriculture Conference at Penn State and have met so many wonderful people and learned so many useful things!

Yesterday over lunch a fellow farmer who was probably 25 years my senior was kvetching about the costs associated with being a farmer (organic feed, costs of markets, costs of licenses and inspections...) She was complaining about how another farmer in one of her markets is a non-profit. 'They are there selling eggs for less than I am. Of course they can do that, they have grant money. I depend on $5 a dozen for my eggs, I just can't make it work any other way. I also need to sell more, but I can't if the grant run farm is selling right next to me."

This has been a conundrum I have thought about for a long long time. Two years ago after trying many different ways to make a farm happen in different ways, I joined the non-profit forces. I had been working and farming on a beautiful island in British Columbia and finally got so fed up with being nickled and dimed by the general wealthy public who would come to this island for it's renowned produce and farm fresh products that I decided to move to the city where 80% of the population lived (and needed to be educated about food and farming). I realized that growing food and selling it just wasn't enough. Big Ag was still the booming food business no matter how many vegetables and animal products we supplied. People are addicted to convenience and I no longer wanted to feed into that addiction. I wanted to educate. I did not want to enable. I was an angry farmer for a long time. So upset that no one who eats really understands the value of their food. Angry at the customers, angry at the government subsidies, angry at the education system, the big ag, the processed food producers, and sure, the grant driven non-profits. Mostly I was angry that making an honest living on this planet was seemingly impossible.

"It has gotten so much worse the past few years." this farmer says to the table of fellow female farmers. "What changed?" I ask, thinking it had something to do with regulations or markets. "My husband and I retired from our full time jobs and are now full time farmers."

This woman and her husband entered into a broken agricultural system and hoped to reap a living from it. Fortunately they had jobs for 40 years and probably some savings to live off of (for now). But the fact of the matter is that the system as it is doesn't work. It just does not work.

The whole system is broken. It reaches from Wall Street all the way down to the food we eat. To deny this is our demise. I think the conversation that I was in yesterday is a result of someone being stuck in the system and the choices that they made to be in it. I am sorry that so many people are in this situation, I do hope that we can all learn to work together and help each other out of it.

Today people are waking up, men and women are looking around. Looking at their lives and thinking 'nah, this ain't right'. And if fact, it isn't. Folks want to do something different, but don't know how or don't have the means to. Farmland is disappearing (for greed). The upcoming farmers who want to take care of the land and not just take from the land do not have many options. I spent 10 years working on farms and learning from different farmers. Who has the time to do this? I have had no money to buy a piece of land. I cannot afford taxes and tools and all the equipment needed to efficiently run a farm. I imagine most other folks don't either. What can we do to change the land accessibility for wanna be farmers? Most successful farmers that I meet in NJ have the family farm (no mortgage, no down payment, equipment already there...) or they had/have a good paying job (ie: worked within the broken system-usually supporting corporate greed) and have the money it takes to grow food for little profit.

I do think much of the onus comes down to each and every one of us in the daily decisions we make and the consciousness we carry with us when we purchase and eat food. The whole system needs to change, and in the mean time, or as a means to an end, how about we support one another with the food/knowledge/resources we have!


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Let go and let the weeds grow!



"Weeds are just plants whose virtues have not been discovered."

"Weeds are just plants in places we don't want them."

Two probable misquotes from a couple people, or just two old sayings that hold true in my heart.

Weeds.
Seems to be the topic of conversation and back breaking work these days.

Weeds.

When I think of weeds I think of strong plants that adapt to their environment; often in places where people do not want them.

Misunderstood.

I remember teaching a class of delinquent high school students in 1998. They were a group of kids no one wanted to have anything to do with, so they were given to the long-haired hippie teacher who could have a bit of patience with them, but were going to be cast aside none the less. He called me in to take them on a weed walk. I walked them around the school yard showing them the different weeds that they could use for health, wounds, sleep, depression... I explained to them that they are like weeds of the school system. Cast off with no purpose, but still they had many gifts to give to those who were wise enough to listen.

Weeds.

And then there were the times in Montana I viciously dueled with the cowboys about the value of st. john's wort. Billboards proclaiming "The War On Weeds" dotted the landscape while friends of mine fresh out of their resource management courses would get work for the United States Forest Service pulling up this weed. The same weed on which folks in the cities spend millions of dollars to curb their depression. Instead those neophytes rounded up the plants and ignited them.

Weeds.

Aster, clover, dandelion, goldenrod.
All delicious food for the three hives I have on the City Green Farm at Schultheis.
"Weeds!" they proclaim, with disdain for me and the organization that the farm is a part of. "Cut down those weeds!" It is a simple cry of ignorance. While I understand wholeheartedly the problems weeds can present (I am a farmer after all), I do wish to step up here and educate people about the virtues of plants that have been demonized by, ahem, corporations that stand to make money from you not wanting plants like, let's say, dandelion, growing in your pristine lawn.


In case you haven't noticed, habitat for insects and critters is disappearing. (The bees are dying!). Pesticides are over-used (often by unknowing homeowners), running into our waters and soils, poisoning not only the critters, but also ourselves. The latest greatest is that Scotts® has developed--and the USDA is allowing--GM lawns that are resistant to Monsanto Roundup! OMG! Now you can spray even MORE Roundup on your grass! Green grass at everyone's expense!

Weeds.

The toxic enemy.

The deep tap roots of dandelion and yellow dock will pull up nutrients from the depths of the soil and offer it to the surrounding plants. They aerate the soil and offer habitat and food for earth-loving worms. Nature knows balance; corporations do not. When will we stop being sheep to the slaughter of their greed? When will we wake up and allow the wisdom of the plant world to rattle us a bit and feed all of our senses?

Common Sense
Poison on the ground is poison in our food
Poison in the water is poison in our veins
Do not wonder why cancer is prevalent!
Do not wonder why allergies are everywhere!
Open up to the reality that clinging to the notion of control is killing the very essence of life.
Let go and let the weeds grow!



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice


Berries and Legumes in Paterson Children's Garden

today
the longest day of the year

i shudder at the thought of the darkness returning again
how could it be that we embrace the light so strong now and in a few months time it will be cool again?
*shudder*

as with every earth holiday, today is a day to take stock and honor the transitions of seasons and the paths that we have taken. today is a day to hone one's intentions for the coming days until lughnasadh (lammas) the harvest holiday of aug 1.

today i am in a whole different realm than i was on the winter solstice. 6 months have passed and i am now in a new home with my loving partner and her daughter. we have moved to millburn and i am so much more comfortable living close to the reservation and a walk away from the creek. neighbors are nice and the space is comfy. :)

Sarah and Leah painting pink

i am also working at a new job for an outstanding non-profit, City Green. i am teaching adults about farming. i am growing food for folks in Paterson and Clifton. i am working hard at starting up a new farm and growing enough food to have viable markets in the food deserts of Paterson so people will have access to fresh food. we will be taking food stamps and doubling their value thanks to Wholesome Wave. so many wonderful things are happening on this lovely day and here are some pictures of the progress

May at Schulties Farm in Clifton
Schulties Farm at Clifton
Paterson Farm at Eastside Park

I have 3 new beehives too!

a swarm that was probably knocked down from a tree in maplewood
it is so nice to have bees where i am and not have to travel to see them :)

buckwheat is going in tomorrow :)



Friday, May 6, 2011

Ranting of a toad

Analogy:

Lets say you are feeling a little off. Maybe a cold, maybe a bad diet, maybe lack of exercise, maybe you are just constantly told to behave yourself and feel no room to be yourself. Who is to say? No tests can measure the cause.

So the doctor prescribes some prophylactic antibiotics. You take them like the good patient that you are and you get a bad case of diarrhea. The doctor tests the diarrhea and declares that your problem is...oh lets say...nosema...

Given what I know about bacteria and the delicate balance of life inside of our bodies as well as most other life forms on this planet, I am venturing to guess that nosema is no CAUSE of anything..

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Update on the state of the Japanese Hornfaced Bees in my Pilates Rope

For those of you who did not read the previous post from last spring about the Japanese Hornfaced Bee, catch up on it here. Essentially this new bee friend came into my apartment and moved into my sadly seldom used pilates cord. After roasting in the summer sun in an attic apartment I wasn't surprised to see no bees emerge in the fall. I waited to the spring to see if they would emerge then, but to no avail. So an autopsy is done...

razor blade to cord with crunchy bees under the plastic
there was a layer of mud in between each of the larvae
the bees were fully developed and had this tiny mouse turd looking
things on them.



we took out the magnifying glass and looked closer...
I am not sure what they were? Bee poo? or maybe a parasite of some kind that killed
them? They looked like little grains to me.

Bee Parts
Japanese horn faced bee wing with pollen on it

And the pilates cord in back in use...a bit shorter for the journey, but usable :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring has Sprung!


Upon our arrival back from Massachusetts today we were greeted with muggy, hot weather. Along with the heat was the blooming cherry trees in front of our house, COVERED in bzzzz. Not only were there honeybees, there were mason bees, wasps and bumble bees! WOW, WINTER IS OFFICIALLY OVER!!


Notice the black dots in the picture...the big ones are bumbles...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Significance of Swarming (as seen in NOFA-NJ newsletter)


Learning about bees has been one of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever embarked on. I have been a treatment free beekeeper since 2007. The way that I keep bees requires me to pay much closer attention to my environment because I have to understand what health and disease truly are. Coming from a point of view that all life is sacred and connected, I appreciate the profound message of interconnectedness that is permeating our society via the ancient honeybee. Bees have been the focus of much study lately due to the mass die-offs that are happening in commercial beekeeping. There are many factors that can be attributed to this problem, and swarm prevention may be a part of that. Swarms are a natural progression in a healthy hive, and allowing such reproduction may very well contribute to the overall health of the colony.

Inside the hive the queen bee does not rule, for there is no hierarchy. She maintains the hive with her scent and by the remarkable fact that she lays hundreds to thousands of eggs a day. A queen bee egg is laid vertically, in alignment with the sky and earth, and fed a continuous diet of royal jelly as she grows into a fully formed queen. By contrast, the worker bees (the females in the hive) and the drones (the males) are formed from an egg laid horizontally and fed a diet mainly of bee bread -- a mixture of pollen, nectar and microbes.

When a hive is healthy and strong it will want to multiply. This is the absolute beauty of the honeybee colony. The old queen will lay a fertilized egg(s)s in a vertical queen cell(s), and the workers will begin feeding the new queen(s)-to-be a milky substance excreted from their heads called royal jelly. When the queen cells are about to hatch, the old queen and about a third of the colony will engorge itself with honey and fly off to find a new home. Biodynamic beekeeper and author G√ľnter Hauk likens this to parents reaching their 60s, leaving the home to their kids, and going off to start a new life elsewhere. This is another selfless act of the bees.

All at once the queen and thousands of bees take flight. They find a nearby spot to gather while scout bees venture off to find the perfect hollow vessel in which to start building comb. Once a spot is agreed upon, the cluster of bees will disperse and fly off to their new home. This new home will be a hollow vessel such as a hollow tree trunk, an eave of a home, a pot, or a birdhouse. They do no structural damage to the vessel they choose as their new home. The hive begins building comb as soon as it settles in; the queen beginning to lay eggs as soon as there are cells to fill. Thus a new colony is born and life continues on for the great honeybee.

Many beekeeping books and courses discourage swarming. Coming from a capitalistic standpoint, swarms could mean a loss of field force, which would mean a loss of honey production. Given that most authors and teachers are coming from a commercial background, it makes sense that this is routinely taught. But upon further examination of all that plagues the honeybee faces, we might want to reconsider our actions of swarm prevention.

As I mentioned earlier, swarms are an indication of a healthy, vibrant hive. Swarm prevention is like birth control. In a climate where hives are dying at such a rapid rate, it seems only logical to allow the reproduction of healthy hives. Swarm season in this area begins in May -- an exciting time for beekeepers. There are many tools beekeepers can use either to encourage swarms or split hives in a way that mimics the natural inclination of the bees. Beekeepers can even register with local police or fire departments to be on call to trap a swarm if spotted in the area. (Free bees!)

I have seen that hives that are allowed to swarm have a much higher survival rate than those routinely prevented from swarming. In addition, swarming creates a period of time in the brood chamber where there is no brood: an excellent way to purge mites from the hive, since the parasite’s larvae is deprived of its food source during this time.

When a hive is strong and robust it will reproduce. Trusting nature and not interfering is the recommended course of action. If you are focusing on hive health and pollination, it is best to support the natural instinct of a colony rather than impose your own will. When we let the bees be we can learn much about their health and healing. I do believe that there are times to help bees when they are in need (such as when they appear to be starving), but swarming is not a time of distress; it is a time of celebration! May our skies be filled with buzzing this summer!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Images from a cut out of a bird house


This is a video of Mike Tarbett doing a cut out of a hive that had settled into a birdhouse. He did this as a demonstration at the Southeast Organic Beekeepers Association conference in Florida.







Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Absconding


"People who have found themselves in the midst of a mighty swarm or who have observed this incredible act from a distance cannot help but admit that the experience itself evokes rather indescribable thoughts and emotions. Swarming is a powerful and vibrant expression of a healthy, well-functioning bee colony. It is at once mysterious, lucid and transcendent. Swarming supersedes, by its very display and magnitude, all that is commonplace, 'status quo' and subdued in our everyday human activity. We may discover upon closer examination why swarming is so intrinsic to the bee's physical and spiritual health"
-Gunther Hauk, Toward Saving the Honeybee

A cluster of bees on a branch
"A swarm!! A swarm!" Brenden bounds excitedly into our beeginner top bar class. 90% of the newbees rush off to the congregating area of the bees. A swarm is a hive's way of reproducing. Where there was once one hive there is now two. The old queen has laid an egg that will become the new queen and the old queen takes about 1/3rd of the workers of the hive and sets off to start a new colony. All at once the queen and thousands of bees take flight. They find a nearby spot to gather while scout bees venture off to find the perfect hollow vessel to start building comb in. Once a spot is agreed upon (through the waggle dance), the cluster of bees will disperse and fly off to their new home.
Bees taking off from a cluster

AS the student interest waned and they started heading back to class, someone noticed that a newly formed nearby nucleus colony was empty. This wasn't a swarm it was an absconding. The bees had just up and left. Bees will do that. Possibly because of the fire ant colony that the hive was inadvertently put on top of. Possible they were sick of being moved around, maybe they just felt that their new living quarters were just unacceptable. They had not invested much into their new home so they just left. Who knows why, only they do. Bess are like that.

The next day it was pretty obvious why they absconded. Sam had been called to do a bee removal from a soffit. Looked like a pretty easy job.


Sam feeling around inside the soffit to find out where the comb is

Notice the comb through the crack.

There is the colony with mango honey

Easy enough, dripping mango honey everywhere, new comb sloppily being banded into lang frames to take home, stings galore...but the queen, where was the queen? Sam is known for his queen finding abilities, but this day he just couldn't get her. After hours of trying he decided to pull out the bee vac.


Right after turning the vacuum off he spotted her (one does not want to vacuum the queen if one can avoid it as she may get hurt). He hesitated and reached for her. But in such cramped quarters

and the sneaky bug that she is, in that moment she and the rest of the bees (the bees with brood, comb and honey in the box along with all the bees in the house) took off. Took off is such an easy thing to say. Absconding is a word that folks use. But to describe the absolute palpability of that moment is beyond me. Sam and I just looked at each other KNOWING that something was happening but we didn't know what. Like the course of life had been altered for everyone in that moment. An excitement was in the air and maybe even a touch of sadness as they were leaving their babies and had to start all over again.




Bye Bye bees. Thanks for the magical experience!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Florida Bound!!

Heading to sunny Florida! It is springtime there you know! Spring time means bee time! I will be full on running around with Anarchy Apiary's Sam Comfort and will be teaching a bit at the Southeast Organic Beekeeping Conference! Plan to soak up the sun and post some really interesting stuff next week!


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Autopsies


These are images of dead bees (if you have an abundance of bee butts and little honey in your hive, your hive has starved)

After being introduced to the honeybees in 2007 I knew that I was in love! I decided to take a year of my life and get into as many hives as I could with as many natural beekeepers as I could meet so that I would really get a feel for what beekeeping was all about.

In the spring of 2008 I packed up my things and left BC for New Paltz, NY to apprentice with Chris Harp. I met Chris in the fall of '07 at a beekeeping class at The Pfieffer Center. While I knew that there was another way to keep bees (as I had read Steiner's lectures on Bees and felt that there were many aspects of nature that most beekeepers were not paying attention to) I had never met anyone who agreed with my inner knowing.

Upon arrival in the spring (there was still ice all over) we began our work getting called out to do numerous autopsies. What a great way to begin your year studying the LIFE of the bee! Witnessing it dead and/or dying. While I know that death is such a part of life, it was so hard for me to see so many dead bees. I mean, these are the ladies I had just fallen in love with!!

This Valentine's day I was reminded of those first autopsies that I had to do because I had to do one of my own for the first time. One of my hives in Lincoln Park had frozen to death. While there was about 40 pounds of honey, there were not enough bees to keep warm through the last cold snap. The pile of dead bees at the bottom of the hive was substantial and the bees clinging around the queen was small. They had all frozen to death.

Now while this is sad, I must admit. I was happy to take the top box full of honey (I left some honey for the other colonies in the area and put some in my TBH) for myself and my loved ones! This was my first year beekeeping at this spot and the flora made an abundant, delicious crop!
feeding a top bar hive with dripping honeycomb

feeding myself with some dripping honey!
the problem with NO foundation (notice the way the comb is going in 2 different directions!)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Join me on Feb 10th for an Intro to Natural Beekeeping Class!


I am working with Grow it Green Morristown on Feb. 10th at 6:30 at the Dodge Foundation Board Room (14 Maple Avenue, Morristown, NJ) to find out just what it takes to start your own hive.

In this introductory class we will cover the basics of equipment (including

both langstroth and top bar hives), where to get bees and equipment and the

most ideal location to house them. We will also touch on what

organic/biodynamic beekeeping means. Educational resources will be

shared.

This class is Free and open to all.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Weather



No one other than the farmer notices the weather. Most people around these parts only notice the weather when it gets in their way; when it gives them something to complain about. "I hate the snow". "Damnit, it is snowing AGAIN!" "Why is it so cold?" Indeed, we hear it daily around here!

This morning on my walk, the world was quietly being showered in big white fluffy flakes. The neighborhood felt so serene and safe. The small layering of snow covered up the harsh reality of trash and ice and dead christmas trees and made the world fresh again. The blanket apparently protects the delicate earth underneath. The jays are currently screaming. Maybe they are commiserating with the humans "I hate the snow!" "It's too cold!" Skreetch skreetch! "I hate the quiet!" Who knows what they are saying, I don't speak bluejay!

I love the snow. I love the forced stillness. I love the opportunity to go inside myself and look around. What am I needing? What am I wanting? What do I want to accomplish this year, what are my dreams telling me? The snow falls so heavily to the ground and the steam from my oatmeal effortlessly rises up. The warm cup of tea by my side brings me comfort. How fortunate I am! To be able to sit and watch and dream. A cupboard full of good food, a switch to make the room warmer, and blankets to snuggle into.

How fortunate am I to know that under the snow there is life stirring. That in a month's time there will be green bursting forth from the wet cold soil. That the trees will be opening their buds and feeding my little wonders assuring their survival and feeding them their first pollen of the year! How fortunate are we all to be a part of such a magnificently perfect cycle of life and death? We have lost loved ones in these cold dark months and while the pain of loss is real and difficult, chances are that we will welcome new loved ones into our lives and feel the joy and celebration of life anew. Life just does that. It carries on.

As I look forth into spring I have some sadness. As of today I am unsure as to where my seeds will be planted. Nothing worse than a landless farmer. But as I look back on my life I see that as long as I have seeds to plant and a will to carry through the life of the plant, I can do anything! I may just take to the streets and continue the gorilla gardening movement. No crack in a side walk will be safe from this seed bomber! Maybe I will meet new neighbors in Maplewood who would like their yards turned into food producing gardens. Maybe I will teach more. Maybe I will find lovers of the honeybees who want me to keep bees on their property.

Like the weather one cannot predict such things, but rather look at the patterns and commit to the journey. Life and death will naturally continue. The earth will thaw, soil will be exposed and a new path will be revealed.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Winter Bees



"What are the bees doing now?" is a question I often hear this time of the year. The temperature is often below freezing and the snow keeps piling up. What also keeps piling up are the dead bees at the bottom of the hive.

This time of the year is difficult for most of us in the northern hemisphere. The bees' strategy is to cuddle together around their queen mother and generate heat by flexing their wing muscles. The bees rotate from the outside to the inside of the cluster and from the inside to the outside. The ones on the outside move into the center when they get cold and the ones close to the center move towards the outside. They do this or they just fall to the bottom to their icy death. The weather is too cold or the hive is too moist, it is unclear as to what makes one bee drop dead and another move back towards the center.

When the weather warms up a bit (which happens every now and again throughout the winter...freeze, thaw, freeze, thaw...you get the point), the ladies will break cluster and go to the 'outhouse'. Some bees venture out for a cleansing flight (the bees slowly eat through the food stores and fly away from the hive to defecate) and are rendered impotent when hit with the cold air. They are unable to move when this happens and unless the air warms up a bit or the beekeeper puts the heat of her breath on the apparently dead bee, she will die.

By now the queen has started to lay eggs again, hopefully building up force for the first signs of pollen in the next couple of weeks. Willows and maples will feed our insect ally during the hard month of February and hopefully they will have enough honey to get them through to the first major push of dandelions! And if they have left overs when dandelions hit...Tammy will get some sweet stuff for her culinary enjoyment :)

Sometimes though, the bees just don't make it through the winter. The hive might be too big and starve, or too small and freeze. A mouse might get into the hive and destroy the comb and the queen has nowhere to lay eggs. CIrculation might be week in the hive and moisture builds up and chills the brood or bees. So many possibilities in the next couple months, it can worry a beekeeper sick! But I am trusting the dreams that I am having (last night I had a dream where some children had beehives at their school and were actually PLAYING with the bees!) are telling me that the bees will carry on and the human relationship to them is reforming based on understanding and respect and not fear of being stung. When I go to my hives and I put my ear up to the cold boxes, I hear the sound of the bees alive, a quiet humming that resonates with my heart. I sing with the bees and trust that they will be just fine.


top bar hive in winter