Sunday, September 19, 2010

News Roundup

Well, lots of things have been happening here, and rather than try to do a post about each one, I'm going to cheat and just do a roundup of the latest news. Long on pictures, somewhat short on words, but covering all the essentials.

Here goes:

The Disappointing Thing:

Our two swarms of late June both abandoned us, leaving their temporary hives empty but for a bit of comb and honey that one hive had started producing. One left fairly soon after Thom helped us capture them, but the other hive hung in there for quite a while, and we aren't quite sure why they left. According to Thom and his lovely wife, who came by the farm to check out the abandoned nuc boxes with us, sometimes This Just Happens. It could have had something to do with the queen of the new swarm dying before she mated, which would make the hive freak out and leave. Having no queen is Very Bad in the bee world.

Fortunately the original hive is still hanging on in the old top bar box, although it looks like the hive hasn't built up enough stores to safely get through the winter. We have been advised on a feeding schedule to make sure they can make it until things start blooming again in the spring. Thom observed them to be healthy, and 'very nice bees' (meaning not aggressive or mean) which we were oddly proud of, as if our children had been praised for having nice manners.

Packy was sad about the swarms leaving us (I mean, I was sad too, but he was especially sad,) but we figure that this gives us a chance to actually get properly prepared for expanding our bee population. We'll take Thom's bee keeping class in March and maybe I'll get to have my own snappy bee keeping suit by then too.

The Practical Thing:

It has been so frustrating not having much of an edible garden this year, due to our Wildlife Issues. We grew some tomatoes, basil and beans in containers in our greenhouse, which have done sort of ok in this rainy, challenging non-summer we've had. The soil isn't so great where this greenhouse is, so this is going to be our plant propagating greenhouse where we will grow all our seedlings and plant starts, and overwinter tender plants. But I just couldn't bear to not have any greens or lettuce this winter, and we had lots of random plant starts left over from what we sold at the Astoria Co-op.

So I built a quickie raised bed from some straw bales we had left over from the Slow Food North Coast potluck we hosted (straw bales make a great seating option for large gatherings) and some cinder blocks that we used as part of our plant table system on the old farm.

I was so lazy I didn't even weed first, I just put cardboard down on top of the weeds, which Eddie the Cat found oddly fascinating.

I filled the bottom half (carefully not burying Eddie the Cat) with straight compost that we got from Laurelwood Farm out on Hwy 26, (well, I screened out the larger woody bits, their compost is great, but a bit...woody sometimes) and then filled the rest of it with a compost/potting soil/manure mix.

Then I dug in some all purpose organic fertilizer. I mix our own using the recipe from Steve Solomon's 'Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades' book, and it seems to work fine for us.

Then I rounded up as many of the stray seedlings I could find, planted them in a reasonably orderly fashion and then sowed some arugula, beets, maché and radish seeds in between the rows. The seeds were sort of old and I just wanted to see what would happen.

Not bad! All the seeds germinated, and I've already been harvesting salad greens after just a week. I'm looking forward to a winter of fresh kale and chard, lettuce, radishes and maybe beets if they take off fast enough.

The Beautiful Thing:

Our dahlias finally started blooming in mid- August, and we get almost as many compliments on them from our neighbors as we do for having a new roof put on the barn. We took a big bouquet over to the community potluck and pig roast hosted at the Olney Store and Big O Saloon the weekend before last (along with homemade mac and cheese), and were flattered to hear later that the bar and the store were fighting over who got to keep the bouquet on their side of the business. When it stops raining, and the flowers dry out a bit, I'll try to cut some more and bring over enough for them each to have one.

We also brought our dahlias to decorate the tables at the Olney Grange Beef Barbeque that took place this past Sunday. What an amazing event- I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. We helped out on Saturday night wrapping 750 lbs of beef, onions and sauce in foil, and then in wet burlap. There is a huge pit at the Grange where an enormous fire is built, and when it banks down to coals the beef is placed on the coals, metal sheets are slid over to cover the pit and dirt is shoveled on top to seal the heat in. The beef is left to cook overnight for 12 hours. I went back on Sunday to help out in the afternoon- I believe almost 450 meals were served. I asked Judy, our Grange Master, about the history of the Beef Barbeque, and how long it had been going on for. She said it was already an annual thing when she was a child, and figured they've been doing this each year at the Olney Grange for at least fifty years, if not longer. Wow.

I was so honored when Judy asked if she could take the dahlias with her after the barbeque. She planned to visit the cemetery and wanted to take the flowers to her parents who are buried there–the Olney Grange Beef Barbeque was always a huge event for them. It made me so nostalgic for when I was young (er!), and my family used to visit my Mom's hometown in West Virginia, and take flowers to our family graves at the cemetery there. I have always had a deep love of old cemeteries, and that's probably where it came from. We have a very cool one near the farm, maybe we will adopt someone there to bring flowers to.

Sadly for him (but not for the farm!) Packy ended up missing the barbeque because he was busy with:

The Machine Thing:

This really deserves it's own post, so I'll just do a teaser now. Our sexy new Italian-made BSC walk behind tractor arrived last Friday, shipped all the way from Earth Tools in Kentucky. When I told the delivery guy who called to schedule the drop off that it was a tractor he was delivering, he laughed and said "What the heck kind of tractor comes in a box?!"

Well, sexy two-wheel Italian ones do! Our friend Dan is of the opinion that our neighbors will fall over laughing at the idea of it (especially if we ever buy the hay-baler attachment for it ) but this is a serious agricultural machine, used widely on small farms throughout Europe and becoming more well known on American small farms. It's just not how things are done in Olney. Yet.

We are starting with two attachments (they are quite pricey!)–a flail mower and a disc tiller–which should get most of the jobs done that we need to do. These two-wheel tractors are great tools for small farms like ours–you can even cultivate inside your greenhouse without having to build such a big structure that you can drive a big beast through it. Plus, less weight=less soil compaction, especially when it is wet. And- it's a very, very good workout, as Packy can now attest too.

I really am looking forward to learning how to run this thing too, although the gearing system looks a bit intimidating to me. The tractor arrived not a moment too soon, as we are late getting our cover crop sown and lime spread on the two areas we've been working on this year. It looks like we'll have a bit of clear weather this weekend, and hopefully we can get it taken care of then.

Small progress, but at least we are moving forwards!