May 2010 Archives

My favorite sweater lost a button last week. And it wasn't one of those situations where I looked down and the button was dangling by a thread. It fell off at the laundromat, in either the washer or the dryer. That button was gone. Another one fell off a few days later when I attempted to wear the sweater. Clearly, I needed to take action.

Replacing buttons is a quick process - it only takes 5-10 minutes to attach each button - and it can transform a favorite jacket or sweater. Buttons are pretty inexpensive at craft stores, and you can find them at thrift stores as well. When you're buying them, I recommend getting an extra one to keep stashed away. One important thing is to make sure that the buttons are similar in size to the ones that you're replacing, otherwise they either won't fit through the buttonholes, or won't hold things in place.

War is Hell.

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 For the past 3 seasons, I've been at war. It's a quiet war, one most would not even realize was happening with the exception of the few times you may find me shrieking like a banshee in my backyard... lobbing dirt, rocks, hand tools or anything not bolted down when my turf has been invaded.

The enemy is shrewd and determined. They rise in the morning earlier than I do. I'm greeted each day with a trail of destruction that rivals any viking raid. And each day I swear vengeance. They hit me exactly where it hurts: lettuces, kale, radishes...all of my earliest harvest put off indefinately. I am not cunning enough to stop them or bold and callous enough to kill them and feast on their diabolical flesh.

PierogiVsSquirrel

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Damned squirrels. Cute as can be but devious as hell. My chickens, who aren't the brightest bulbs in the bunch, still understand this and take any opportunity to drive them from the garden. But no one can stop them.

In spite of their impressive evasive maneuvering, this season I am trying to outsmart them. I've moved the cucumbers they snacked on enthusiastically to our hanging wall garden in the hopes that they will be out of reach. I built a ridiculous looking tent around the kale they had been pillaging. I may have to do the same for my lettuces. Yesterday I witnessed one of these arrogant little creeps rip handfuls of radish greens out and cram them into it's greedy little mouth. All while standing about 5 feet away from me! The audacity! The worst offense was last summer when I would find whole, beautiful beefsteak tomatoes that I had been coveting for weeks thrown upon the ground with only a few bites taken out of it. I nearly became homicidal at that point. Have they no conscience? What waste!

So how do I get 'em? How do I make them stop without reducing my yard to a serious of boobie-traps and gauntlet-esque contraptions?? I need to win this fight. I have to see these rebels fall and I want to be the one responsible for it.

RooftopFarmBees

Hiving packages of honeybees is arguably best done "quick and dirty".  Essentially, it involves dumping 3 lbs (about 12,000) of flying, stinging insects from a shoebox-sized container into a new hive. There are less dramatic ways of doing it, but this is how I was taught.

A few weeks ago, packages of bees were carted up to NYC from Georgia overnight. I gathered with about 30 other people at a community garden in Ft. Greene to pick up about 6 of them for myself and a friend. It was cold, damp and really not an ideal time to be handling bees but with limited food stores kept in tin cans in each box and very cool temperatures being forecast for the next few days it was now or never. The bees had to be placed in their permanent homes.

One by one I visited the sites where I would be keeping bees or assisting new beekeepers. I started at home first, introducing a new companion to my already thriving rooftop colony. I moved on to the hives of my friend who was regrettably out of the country the day the bees came.. Their cheerfully painted kelly-green and butter-yellow homes waited silently for their new tenants in the backyard of a generous couple who volunteered to host them. I know my friend was sad to have missed the introduction but she would have plenty of time to bond with them when she got back to Brooklyn.

MegRossConrad From there I went to Eagle Street Rooftop Farms to home three new colonies, one being placed in a Top Bar Hive which Ross Conrad kindly assisted in hiving. He had a more civilized and kindly way to do it: put the lidless package in the hive, place the queen cage between the top bars and then close 'er up. The bees could, at their own pace, exit the package and proceed to release the queen and build comb. I would just have to come back to remove the box the next day. Lovely! Through all of those hivings, it was raining down hard. Neil, my faithful and brave boyfriend, held an umbrella over me while I worked. If the bees had known any better they may have felt gratitude towards him as well. Thanks to the help of some friends I was six packages in and had not a sting to report.

Things got a little hairy toward the end of the day when I met up just Justin from BK Farmyards to pick up orphaned packages that Stacey Murphy (founder of BK Farmyards) and I had struggled to find a site for. Justin works on some sweet cars on the weekends in Crown Heights at a garage in the backyard of a beautiful duplex home. Generously, the owners of the property offered one of their rooftops as a possible permanent location. The roof of the garage turned out to be a perfect home for the bees. It gets loads of sunlight, is inaccessible to children, but is still fairly easy to get onto. The homeowners agreed to the placement and seemed excited about the prospect of getting a sampling of the harvest. Who wouldn't be?! We all climbed a ladder onto the garage, setting up the hives so that they face south-east. We tilted them forward to ensure that moisture rolls out of the entrance. We tweaked everything to make sure it was just so and then I proceeded to spray down the package with sugar syrup in preparation for the "big dump". I did not put on my veil, which I would normally do, as it was wet and sticky and very hard to see through. I had good luck with the other hives though so I felt comfortable risking it. I tied my hair up in a scarf and prepared myself. I pried open the top, removing the queen cage and can of sugar syrup and then swiftly turned the box over and started shaking it. It took a fraction of a second to regret it. These were some very unhappy bees! I got about 4 or 5 angry bees in the face, neck and scalp. I stepped away briefly to pull out stingers, light my smoker and put on my sticky mess of a veil. I was not excited to resume but I had to get the rest of the bees out of the package. I went back in for more. No less than 5 minutes later, the two packages were safely in their homes. I was inside now, our hosts painting my face and neck with baking soda paste while I sipped children's Benadryl and chuckled about the experience. "This is what you sign up for when you become a beekeeper!" I tell them. And it's true...as a beekeeper, you will get stung from time to time and you have to be ok with it. This does not mean you should not try to prevent it. From now on I will be carrying an extra clean veil for emergencies.

I had only two more hives to complete in Carroll Gardens the next day and we had another angry bee situation then too, but I learned my lesson and brought a windbreaker and clean hat and veil. As before, I opened the package and ended up with about twenty bees on me, bodies curled in anger, determined to get their stingers sunken in. A few flew up my pants legs and stung me in the ankles and calves but I kept working. I had endured enough stings and I just wanted to get it done so I could enjoy a week of downtime before I'd have to make the rounds for first inspections. I could be dealing with bees with a grudge! A week later was inspection time. The weather was much more pleasant and the bees seemed to notice. All of the queens were released from their cages and were laying eggs. The colonies were building comb at a nice pace. The sting-y hives seemed to have mellowed out and forgotten all about their traumatic homing. All was well, and I was relieved. It's going to be really interesting to see how this season progresses. I plan to keep detailed records of each hive that will include harvests, super dates (when honey supers were added), requeen dates and details regarding temperament and number of stings associated with each inspection. The hope is that next year I will be able to split the colonies that overwintered well, have good "personalities" and foraging ability so that the bees I am maintaining are well suited to this area and to regular handling. Wish me luck! I think I have my work cut out for me! More pictures of hives to come...

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When I mention to folks that I keep bees, grow vegetables and have a small flock of hens that produce the best eggs ever, all in the backyard of my Brooklyn home, they seem surprised and a little confused. "Why don't you just go live on a farm somewhere instead of the city. It seems like you'd be happier there, no?"

It's an honest question, but there is a big difference between what I am doing and being a real farmer. Truth be told, I consider myself a glorified gardener. I am a hobbyist. My activities certainly haven't resulted in a salary, health benefits and 401k. Hell, I'd be happy if I made minimum wage working in my backyard. That would be pretty cool.

The reason why I started to involve myself is some of the most un-NYCentric activities started before I even lived here. I gardened a lot in my hometown of Baltimore, MD. My ex was a Zen practitioner and through him I learned that laboring outdoors can be one of the easiest ways to get out of your own head. Random "thoughting" was a big issue for me and I'd find myself dwelling on negative aspects of my life or just drifting off into some dream world to get a moments peace. Gardening brought me back to Earth literally and figuratively and gave me a sense of control over my emotional well-being. It became a tool in healing my own mind and heart, but didn't hurt that you got to experience food in it's most vibrant and lively state.

Honey newsletter

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After what felt like a brief and precipitous winter, we've leapt headlong into spring and our second year hives have been working hard for several weeks. This year we added a few more apiaries in conjunction with some great organizations. BK Farmyards, Eagle Street Rooftop Farms, and Eco Brooklyn are all hosting Honeybees this Spring and it seems that they couldn't be more excited about it. (Especially considering no one is breaking any laws by keeping them in NYC!)

We've spent the past few months assembling hive bodies and frames in preparation of the arrival of our package bees. The day they arrived was wet, cold and altogether unpleasant to work in, but the ladies needed to be put into their new homes immediately so we got down to business, hiving about 10 new colonies in the damp cold. Some stings ensued but I am happy to report that all of the new colonies are building out quickly and the queens are laying eggs like gangbusters! So far, so good...we could have a bountiful harvest this season if the weather co-operates!

For those of you anxiously awaiting honey, we expect that we will make our first harvest in mid to late June. Do not fear, we will notify you all promptly. Brooklynites will be able to purchase honey at the Brooklyn Standard Deli in Greenpoint and at Whisk on Bedford Ave. in Williamsburg. As always, you can also purchase through our website.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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