Tuesday, April 20, 2010


"Two inches or two miles"

The idea of moving a bee hive can can seem pretty intimidating if you spend any time reading about the many, many details that you are supposed to be paying attention to. Fortunately, we've approached bee keeping much like we approached farming in general, by using the ' jump off the cliff and flap really hard until you figure out how not to crash' technique.

Packy did take the precaution of telling the bees about their impending move, and I'm pretty sure that's what made the difference.

We inherited our hive from our good friends the Quennell Family a couple of years ago, when they left Oregon to move to upstate New York, where they are thriving on Three Stone Farm. (We mostly forgive them for moving.) The hive is a top bar design that Roger built himself, and he gave us some quick, basic advice about moving the bees before driving off into the sunset, which basically was:

Move the bees when it is dark, or on a cool rainy day when they will not be out flying around, so you won't loose the foragers. Block up the hole with something that will allow air circulation, but not allow the bees to get out- straw is good. Know where you are going to put them, because once you let them out, they need to be able to find their way home again. If you move the hive even just a bit more than a foot, but keep the hive within their familiar area, they will not be able to find the hive's entrance again, and will die. If you are going to move it, either move it a tiny distance–two inches– or you have to really move it, more than two miles. That way the bees will realize that they are in a totally unfamiliar environment, and re-orient to their new location.

It doesn't sound too complicated, right? Fortunately the bees took their first move to Seaside in their stride, which means we did something right. We decided not to harvest much honey from it the first year, as the hive was a bit small, although we did open it up under the guidance of our friend Mark, and enjoyed a wee bit of the most delicious, sweet honey we had ever tasted. Is honey more flavorful when it comes from your own hive? I think it might be.

Mostly we just loved having the bees on the property. I would often find Packy down by the hive, watching the bees in fascination as they buzzed in and out of the hive entrance, covered in pollen. The bees, not Packy.

It seemed a good idea to know exactly where we wanted the hive to go on the new farm before we moved the bees again, given that we did not plan to ever move them again if we could help it. Finally we felt that we had the right spot identified, near where we hope to plant our orchard next winter. The Quennells– Roger, Youngiee, Romneya and new family member Avani– were back on the North Coast for a brief visit a little over a week ago, and that seemed like A Sign- it was Time to Move the Hive!

Packy and I drove down to Seaside at dusk, checked the hive to make sure everyone was still alive inside (I have to say, putting your ear up to the entrance of a buzzing bee hive is an amazing sensation),

stuffed the entrance full of straw,

loaded it into the truck and then drove very slowly back to Olney.

Somehow, It didn't occur to us that it would be pitch dark when we got home. We found one of our emergency lanterns and set it out in the field to mark the designated spot, and then carefully carried the hive out, squelching and stumbling a bit in the dark through the boggy pasture soaked with recent rain, to the hive's new home.

After much arguing about which way the prevailing winds came from and which direction was which, (something you would think we would have sorted out before hand as it is not a discussion to be having in the middle of the night in a boggy pasture while carrying a hive of buzzing, annoyed bees) we set the hive down, unplugged the hole, said "Welcome!" and then took ourselves off to bed.

The next day was bright and sunny, and when Packy went out to check on our gang, there were bees buzzing in and out and all around the hive- exploring the new location and some even, he was relieved to see, coming home covered with pollen.

Now we just have to take some soil tests, get the orchard area sowed with cover crop (dealing with the Canada thistle infestation we've discovered in the area first), use the ten yards of compost that just got delivered to get some beds ready so that we can get our lavender finally moved, and figure out how to afford several thousand feet of fencing.

And that's just the short Farm To Do List.

Still, the Bees are Happy, and that is good for today.

All is well.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Burning Chair, Man!

I really meant to just have a small birthday party for Packy this year- a week late, since this year his birthday fell on the day before Easter, and people were busy that weekend.

Last year we had a great little birthday party for him- a farm work party followed by a bonfire, good food and a spontaneous Effigy-in-a-Chair burning. We dubbed the day 'Burning Chair Man'.

So we thought it would be fun to have Burning Chair Man 2 this year, to celebrate Packy's birthday on our New Farm. Which I guess really makes this our First Annual BCM for 46 North Farm. I want to apologize in advance for the shocking lack of good photos here- we were both too distracted to take pictures, so you will just have to use your imagination, or maybe people will send us some and I can add them in.

It wasn't a very well planned day. We started mentioning the idea of a birthday party to some friends, sending out some emails, and mentioning it to a few more friends, having the "Burning What Man?!?" conversation a lot. The 'work party' project was going to be attacking the invasive plants on the property- especially the impressive infestation of holly around the edges. We asked everyone to bring a potluck dish; extra points if the potluck dish included ingredients from local farmers. I made homemade marshmallows and graham crackers for s'mores again. (And for all our vegetarian/vegan friends- next year I promise we'll figure out the vegan marshmallow recipe!) Naturally there were delicious baked goods from the Blue Scorcher Bakery, and our great friends at the Fort George supplied a keg of Oatmeal Pale Ale for the thirsty workers.

The food and drink begins to assemble

I was chatting with our friend Tim Kennedy (the wonderful woodworker behind our new barn roof) about needing to find an old chair to burn, and he said, "You know, why don't you let me make you one? We've got all that scrap wood left from re-roofing the barn, and I'll get a bit more. I'll take care of that."

I think our Barn Nisse is still looking out for us, and took care of the weather because after a wretched week of rain and hail, the day dawned clear, with just a light breeze. It was a glorious, sunny day. Packy thinks we should have called the place 'Lucky Weather Farm', but I think that's tempting fate.

Tim and our friend Luke rolled up early Saturday morning to build the chair. Their rules were: only scrap wood, and the only tools could be a chainsaw and a nail gun. I glanced over at the field a few times in the course of my running around doing party prep and wondered "Why are they setting up scaffolding to build the chair?!"

As they arrived, Jean-Marc, Dennis and Luke #2 all joined in the construction project, and I stood there watching as they raised the first side of The Chair up off the ground. This thing was HUGE. Over 15 feet tall huge. Closer to 20 feet tall.

Trying not to think about what is happening behind me...

I confess to a few twinges of nervousness at the thought of setting the thing on fire, but the look of sheer joy on everyone's face as they banged The Chair together was so lovely, I just tried to let go of it. "Don't Worry!" Tim and Luke cheerfully assured me. "It's far enough away from the barn that when it collapses, it won't affect it. Probably." Packy turned to me with a huge smile on his face. "This is GREAT! " he beamed. "Terrifying, but totally great!"

Somehow the day just happened. People showed up. There was enough room for everyone to park. Everyone's dogs got along, and as the cats Eddie & Squeaky were safely hiding upstairs in the house, there was no cat chasing.

The holly brush pile begins to form...

An amazing crew of people with loppers and machetes followed the sound of Doug and his chainsaw to the holly infestation battle site, and they cleared out so much holly from our woods, Doug bucking the larger trunks up into firewood for us to season for burning next year. Mark and Kristen helped James get a lot of trees planted, although I don't know if he's managed to offset the carbon footprint of those trips to New Zealand yet.

Jean-Marc is always up for a destructive project....

Teaching the next generation about invasive plant removal

Dan tries out the straw bale seats, while Bob documents the day.

Dan brought hay bales for seating, as the ground was super muddy from all the rain, and a bushel of oyster too.

In fact, every one brought
great food- special thanks to the Amazing Fred Johnson of Fred's Homegrown Farm & Produce in Naselle, WA. A chef turned farmer, Fred took charge of the barbeque, grilling the lamb ribs we got from Lance's Farm Vittles that were marinated in the sauce that Dana (chef at the Fort George) made for us, making burgers out of the local beef and elk meat that Doug brought, and making To-Die-For onion rings on his portable tempura set up. (!!) Our friend Sandy jumped in to frost the birthday cupcakes that I ran out of time to do, along with bringing some of her always delicious soup to share.

I think Michelle, our friend from Friends of Family Farmers wins the most local food points for her contribution. A former chef herself, she made the most amazing salad using ingredients both from her own garden and sourced from her local farmers around Portland, and also brought these incredible local ingredient fig and some-other-fruit cookies that were phenomenal. Everyone who had one was stunned. I need to get that recipe from her. We can't wait to have her and Fred cooking together next year. It was, as someone observed, a very high quality potluck, and there was enough for everyone to go back for seconds, and even thirds.

It was SO great to see the lovely Romneya again!

An award for the greatest distance travelled to the party goes to our beloved and much missed friends Roger and Youngiee, and their two lovely daughters Romneya and Avani. Former North Coasters, they now farm just outside of Ithaca, N.Y., and were back in town to sign the sales papers on their former farm land here in Astoria- it was bought by people who are hoping to farm it, which we are thrilled about. More farmers on the North Coast- yes!

But you don't want to know about the food, or the people. You want to see The Chair Burning, right?

All the creative energy had been spent making The Chair, and we never did get a Man put together this year. I decided that really, it's all about the punctuation.

This year it was ' Burning Chair, Man!'

From first ignition to final collapse: about 30 minutes.

The crowd waits patiently for ignition

Luke and Packy head to The Chair with the Super Fun and Handy propane torch

It was SO satisfying!!

Then a hard core crew of pyromaniacs burned all the holly brush, and everyone ate lots of s'mores and cupcakes, drank more beer, explored the property, ate more food and sat around and talked until the fire turned to embers, the sun went down and it was time for bed. And there really wasn't even that much to clean up.

It was a completely awesome day. Thanks to everyone for coming out to share your time, your food and your friendship with us, especially our farm friends like
Fred, Lance, and Ginger who took a rare sunny spring day away from their farms to come celebrate with us. Our farm feels very warmed, and very blessed, and Packy says it way the best birthday party ever.

Tim and Luke are already plotting about next year. I thought I heard Luke mutter something about 'pyrotechnics', but I'm sure I was mistaken....