Snow, seedlings, serious.

Little green things in the greenhouse are faring the snow and cool temperatures fantastically. Radishes are just starting to bulb up. Lettuces are thrilled. Spinach and arugula, standing tall. And the potatoes are on exhibition, lined up like glowing, spring-break sunbathers reclining on sun-kissed, sandy beaches. snow on greenhouse

We did, however, end up bringing the tomato starts inside. After watching the temperature in the greenhouse continuously fall earlier last week, and because we haven’t finished building the north cob wall (no thermal mass), and we don’t have a door on the east end, we finally tucked our chins and shuffled the tomato trays inside. It’s tough playing chicken with mother nature, nerves of steel, she never swerves. The tomatoes would likely be absolutely fine in the greenhouse. If the potatoes are alright, the tomatoes should fare well too. Everything is under rowcovers at night, wrapped snug in a blanket of good intentions. We are no doubt being unduly nervous. Weak nerves partner well with lack of experience and fierce desire to share a bumper crop of tomatoes with our wonderful CSA members. (We still have a few CSA shares left, please contact us soon if you’d like to join us for a season of farm fresh vegetables).

So for the meantime, this is our living room.April13_livingroom_nomoreroom

And our roommates.

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We are feeling very grateful for the surge of moisture. In planting fruit trees last week, it was unnerving to see how dry the soil was. Hopefully, our rich, healthy, no-till soil will work some magic moisture retention and keep going strong for our early plantings, before the irrigation ditch is turned on in May.

The snowy, inside days offered us a good chance to process honey. We collected honeycomb from Anna and Lara’s empty hives a couple weeks ago. The combs were cut off the top bars and collected in 5-gallon buckets. We ended up with almost 80 lbs of honeycomb. The next step was crushing the comb to release the honey. Larger operations will use a machine called a ‘honey extractor’, a barrel centrifuge that spins the comb around, pulling honey out.  But, on our scale, crushing the comb works just as well and is five hundred million times more fun. The comb is crushed by hand over a sieve which separates the wax comb from the honey. The honey drips down into a bucket. We’ll offer the crushed wax bits with relic honey back to Lolita; the bees should be able to clean up whatever honey is left.

crushing honeycombWe have loaded up flats of starts of bee-friendly flowering plants. If we have enough food sources here for our bees, it may reduce the amount of time they have to spend foraging off-farm in areas where neighbors in the valley might be chemically treating their lawns and gardens. We need to do a better job encouraging/educating folks to avoid using neonicotinoids and similar chemicals that harm honey bees, native pollinators, and other insects. And plant bee balm and Phacelia instead. But how do you do this when people have been treating their lawns since forever? and they love their thick, green manicured grass, mowing it, faithfully, every weekend? and the TruGreen lawn care truck is cruising the neighborhood, sprayers drawn like sabers, a fierce knight defending the neighborhood lawns from the dragons of a flawed green mat? Please don’t treat your lawns. The decline in bee populations (honey bee and natives) is a serious and urgent issue in terms of food security and land health. Not to mention honey production. They need our support. So please, plant for the bees.

Other recent farm activities include: fence repair, filing farm taxes, tool maintenance and repair, cleaning the garage and Pemberly, rescuing the bags of chicken feed from an onslaught of hungry mice, more fence repair, digging holes for fruit trees, seeding successions of lettuces and brassicas, weeding in the greenhouse, research into health insurance plans and cool-bot refrigerator designs, coochi-cooing the chickens. And fence repair, again.

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Almost entirely unrelated: It’s occurred to us that the website has become a repository of pretty farmy photos and cheery stories. We don’t do a very good job of conveying the especially trying parts of our days. We try to be honest, I think we do a good job. But, by nature, Jeremy and I also are both more comfortable focusing on the positives. So we post photos of vegetables.

Transparency is important, but it’s also easier to communicate face-to-face, face-to-farm – it’s harder to write about. There is a remarkable amount of stress associated with growing food and running a small business, it seems everyday we’re discovering new aspects of this stress. Farming involves more aches and aggravations, more worries, uncertainties, and disappointments than either of us has ever dealt with before. It’s frustrating and humbling and utterly exhausting. On the flip side, this is also absolutely the most rewarding work we’ve ever done, the most challenging puzzle. It is always the best way to spend a day. Working with nature to grow food feels sacred and uplifting. And as food producers and land stewards, we are able to engage with and serve our community in a way that’s pretty damn magical.

So as regards full disclosure, here’s a list of some of the things we don’t have pretty pictures of: The deer are inspiring mutterings of full-spectrum colorful language these days. We have just laboriously installed a very expensive, yet, it seems, entirely decorative, deer fence. We could really use some lessons in marketing. And fence construction. The greenhouse is nearly twice as expensive as we initially budgeted. We have bare-root trees that need to go in the ground immediately, and we have 2′ of snow. The male guinea is bullying our hens so badly, most have beaten tail feathers and bald backs. We’re considering guinea stew. Or kebabs. Farm financial feasibility study is in review, needs serious work.

Of course, having said all that: the eggplants have sprouted, Jeremy is making some incredible bread these days. And we have honey. More honey than I’ve ever seen before.bread in cloche from Dykstra Pottery

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sometimes ups outnumber the downs.

hive inspection_compilation

We checked in on the hives last week. This winter we lost Anna Karenina and Lara. Lolita is doing alright.

In looking through the hives, we inspected each bar closely and took lots of notes. It’s not clear to us exactly why the two hives didn’t survive the winter. Starvation of the hive during overwintering is a big concern. For this reason, and not knowing how much honey the hives would need, we left the bees with all their accumulated honey reserves. We were unable to locate a remaining brood nest in Lara. There were a few unhatched brood cells in Anna, but they were in close proximity to honey reserves.

We did find a few varroa mites in Lara’s hive. Varroa mites are a parasite that attacks both adult bees and the developing brood, weakening the hive. It is common for beekeepers to treat hives to control varroa mite outbreaks. This treatment most typically involves using an insecticide to attack the mites. Trouble is, bees are insects too. We do not and will not treat our bees with miticides, medicine, or synthetic chemicals. Continuously treating hives perpetuates weak bees. Instead we will encourage bees to grow healthy, evolve to be strong and naturally resistant.

Russian Carnolians (our bees) are a variety that have been bred to be naturally resistant to varroa mites – We would like to replace these two hives. We’ve checked into ordering nukes, but they are extremely hard to come by, as everyone is suffering losses especially this year. Our best bet may be to keep our eyes open and try capturing a local swarm (please let us know if you find a swarm, we’ll come pick it up).

On warm days, we had been watching bees go in and out of all three hives. It turns out, Lolita’s hive has been poaching honey reserves from the other two unoccupied hives. Anna and Lara both have several full honey combs. We’re feeling pretty blue about the loss of Anna and Lara. But also pretty damn proud of Lolita, she’s proven resilient and resourceful.

bike bucket braceJeremy and Marcus (mainly Marcus) have been toiling on completing the deer fence around the orchard area.  We’ve ordered bare root fruit trees which will be arriving soon and, with the number of deer we have, a fence will be essential to giving these little trees a chance at survival. The fence posts are leftovers from the hop trellising we set up last spring, the posts are set in 3.5′ holes. On the west end of our field, the delicious valley top soil stops at about 1′ and meets with a hardpan clay layer, sometimes gravel. In order to power through this, Jeremy and Marcus are soaking holes to soften the clay.  Because there is no access to water back there, Jeremy built a smart Bicycle Bucket Brace with which he can carry four 5-gallon buckets of water from the pump out to the field. This will also serve useful this summer when we are watering trees.

april 3rd greenhouseSeed trays are filling up and multiplying, special things planned for our CSA share members (there are still a few shares available, call us quick!).

This part is ridiculous fun. There is something about spending time with young vegetable plants, a raw optimism that is completely contagious.seeds_compilation

Some random notes: Calendula seeds are my new most favorite seed as they bear striking resemblance to ogre toenails. Totally gnarly. Jeremy and I have found drilling holes for native pollinator habitat to be very therapeutic in light of our recent loss. And I’m trying to salvage some Dester tomato seeds “saved” from last season. The rotten tomato mush got neglected in a yogurt container for too long and may have prematurely germinated or rotted the seed, we’ll see.

preparation 500_compilationHere are a few photos from our preparation 500, many thanks to friends at Meadowlark Hearth Farm in Scottsbluff, NE.

And it’s official: the first vulture of spring is here.