May 19, the afternoon in photos.

We checked in on the hives yesterday afternoon and managed to remember the camera – then I went trigger happy and took loads of shots of.. well, here you are, with brief descriptions.

Jeremy and Anna Karenina’s hive. A topbar with a full comb. Capped brood, brood (if you look closely at the comb in the lower photo, there are big, juicy white larvae – baby bees. Cuties), and honey (sparkly, top of the comb).

Fava bean flowers. Potato sprout, this one is an All Blue. Garlic about to get their scape on. What the field looks like these days. Grape vines are growing leafy.

Peeking under the hoops and row cover at newly planted lettuce, napa cabbage (with bok choi behind), and dinosaur kale.

Honey bee sipping water from the lettuce tray. Jeremy checking in on tomatoes. Chard.

Quick quick.

The pace has picked up. Substantially. It seems everything needs to be done, right now. It’s all very exhilarating. Pulse quickening. And nerve wracking. Maintaining the successional planting schedule. Planting in the beds outside.Transplanting tomatoes and eggplants into larger pots. Trellising the peas. Figuring out an irrigation system. Purchasing and installing the irrigation system. Hose watering in the mean time. Watering. More watering. Weeding. Still working on the hop trellis poles. And the greenhouse.

And then there is a growing list of things that we want to do, and should do now – but maybe are less of a priority. For instance, getting a batch of dandelion wine going, mulching the monster pile of tree pruning debris, mowing the croquet court, playing croquet.

We have already started in on the harvest. Very exciting. Meals these days have been including early French Breakfast radishes, sauteed hop shoots, garlic greens, arugula and radish greens. We even foraged a healthy bunch of asparagus from the wild patches along the irrigation ditch last week. A sack full of Grandma Ginny’s rhubarb went into ginger rhubarb jam, Cycle Farm’s first preserves.

The farm bike is being put to good use, running errands to town and hauling loads back and forth down the field. Flats of plants, boxes of potatoes, and tools. I was able to catch a couple shots (below), the glory of human powered machinery.

More on smart tools: Jeremy designed and built a tool to help in planting rows of onions at smart 4″ spacing. It’s brilliant, I’m calling it an onion fiddle, see below. The fiddle neck supports strings set at 4″ spacing, and frets on the neck are Sharpied with marks at 4″ as well. Looking for someone to play washtub bass, and a grass-leaf whistle. We can start a band.

We’ve had a few CSA members come out to tour the farm, meet the bees, help plant peas, taste radishes, check in and ask questions. Thank you all for your interest and enthusiasm! SO GOOD. We are excited to get to know our community better and equally stoked to share the farm with everyone.

And finally, things we’ve learned recently: It turns out irrigation equipment is very spendy. Cross-combing on topbars in Lolita’s hive is a mess, straightening those comb out isn’t as easy as it would seem. The honey mess that results in the comb-straightening is absolutely as sweet as it would seem. Hop shoots are delicious. I can play a mean onion fiddle. And above all else, having friends come visit and help – is the most wonderful thing. It gets me all warm and wiggly, misty-eyed, knowing there are other people as excited about this as we are.

Hello honeybees

The UPS truck made a extra special delivery yesterday morning – three packages of honey bees. The topbar hives are set up about half way down the field, near the concord vines, in a gorgeous field of blooming dandelions. Jeremy has been working hard on cutting sod to make beds for row crops. I stole him away in the afternoon, quick – to help load the hives. Here are photos.

It was a cool day and not too windy. The bees were darling and docile. And so fuzzy. My understanding is that bees in a package like this are in swarm-mode which doesn’t mean “watch out, we’re going to get you”, but rather “let’s stick together, find a home, and be happy.” And that’s what they did. For each hive, we opened a package of bees, removed the sugar-syrup-tasty-food-cup, and pulled the queen cage out. The queen is sent safely tucked in a little cage within the package, isolated from the rest of the bees by a tiny door made out of candy. As she eats her way out, and the other bees eat their way in, (it takes a couple days) they get to know each other. When the queen bee makes her way out of the little cage, the hive adopts her as their queen, and they go about their hiving. It’s lovely.

After removing the queen cage from the package, we tied her cage to one of the top bars, so she hangs out in the hive. Then the super fun part. To get the bees out from inside their shipping box and into the hives, we got to pour the bees out, like molasses. Like fuzzy, writhing, blobs of molasses. Delightful. And then it takes some pretty thorough shaking to encourage the rest out. Once most of the bees are in the hive, we slowly covered the hive with the top bars, making sure not to squish anyone in the way. The hives are then covered by a sheet of plywood to help keep the hive dry. And the whole deal is then tied down with rope to two stakes in the ground (using the very same knot you’d use for staking down a circus tent).

We were well outfitted for the bees: bee veils, and smoker (thank you Lundberg Organics). Mason jar feeders. Lots of slow, deliberate movements. Gentle, happy, encouraging words.

We went out to check on them this morning.  Holding our breath. Did it get too cold last night? Did winds blow them over? Have they absconded? After the sun hit the hives and they warmed up, they all seemed pretty happy. Buzzing around. I could watch them forever. Worker bees flying in and out of their little doorway. I’m looking forward to them getting their bright orange pollen pants on.

These are Russian Carniolian bees, ordered especially because they are cold hardy and have a natural resistance against mites. Since they are Russian, I think it’s really only apt if we name the queens Anna, Lara, and Lolita. Jeremy’s not completely on board with this, but he’s not made any other/better suggestions.

Topbar bee boxes

Cycle Farm was awarded grant funding from the Lundberg Family Farms’ Raising Organic Family Farms program to help us start bee hives this spring. Since taking a backyard bee keeping course last year with Les and Heather of For the Love of Bees in New Mexico, we’ve been really excited about topbar bee keeping and promoting local pollinators. Jeremy and I spent yesterday afternoon building bee boxes with the generous help of Jeremy’s father, David, and his well-equipped wood shop.

Assembly was pretty straightforward. The boxes are from pine boards, and the bars are cut from scrap. The wood is all untreated and the outside of each box will be seasoned with linseed oil (flax). The box is a trough shaped container (think hollow log) on which the top bars line up, creating a lid.  The bees build a comb from each bar, and to help prevent cross-combing, we’ve attached a cleat to several of the topbars. The bees use a slit in a wall of the box as their primary entrance/exit.

Our next bee-project will be a mason bee nesting block to encourage additional, industrious local pollinators. Here’s a photo from a visit to Sol Feliz Farm, near Taos, NM.