January 2012 Archives

I grew a hummingbird moth...

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...and I suspect my cats ate it. But it doesn't make it any less remarkable to me.

This summer I came back to Brooklyn from a week in the Catskills and found a weird little poop like mass in my travel bag. At first I was startled by it and thought an animal had left a happy little surprise in my bag, but it started wiggling around slightly, jolting me to my senses. It was some sort of insect in a pupal stage.

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Not knowing what to do with it and not wanting to kill it, i buried it in the soil of one of my house plants and forgot about it.

Several months later (last night) I hear a rustling in the dried leaves that I use to mulch the soil of my plants. I looked closer and saw this:

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It's a newly emerged Whited-line Sphinx Moth ...a type of Hummingbird moth, known for it's ability to hover while it feeds from flowers. It's also the adult form of a hornworm, which many gardeners detest due to their voracious apetite and ability to do some real damage to solanaceous crops like tomatoes and eggplant and tobacco.

Being as it's still winter and this critter would no doubt freeze to death, I just let it rest on a hanging plant and hoped my cats would take no notice of it. If it was still there in the am, I'd feed it some nectar and try to drop it of at the American Museum of Natural History where I have a friend that works in the Entomology department. That would have been the best I could do.

There's still a chance that the moth is hiding out somewhere in my apartment I'll be glad to see it, but I feel really fortunate that I was able to witness part of the lifecycle of such a beautiful creature in any case.

Insects are just so damned remarkable! Check out this video of a White-lined Sphinx in action!

Professor Buddy the Hen

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Last night like a sneaky sneak, I crept into the coop and scooped up poor Buddy who was roosting with her flock mates. I pushed her fluffy bottom into a cat carrier and carted her to Bushwick. We had a class to teach, she and I. We were headed to 3rd Ward to teach Brooklynites about the joys of being a city chickener! She's our best hen. The most easily handled and with the cutest darned face so she's been sort of elected as the mayor of chicken town around these parts.

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The class, surprisingly, was full and everyone was thrilled to be able to pet a real live chicken. Buddy was perched on the back of some stacked chairs trying as hard as she could to stay awake under the industrial lighting during my presentation but toward the end of the 3 hour class she was pretty well pooped.

Then Isaac, one of the dudes at 3rd Ward came in and played her a little song on his flute. She perked up a bit but the jury is out on whether or not she had an opinion of it either way. The gesture was nice though.

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I stuck around and talked to some of the students afterwards and as a result, we didn't get home until after 10 p.m. Easily 4 hours after her bedtime. I carried her back home and tucked her in the coop to cuddle with her pals. This morning everything was back to normal, though Buddy seemed to be sporting a bit of a hangover from all of the excitement. The life of a chicken superstar!

If you are interested in learning about chickens, bees or food preservation or plenty of other DIY-related skills check out some of the classes 3rd Ward offers!

Artemis is home

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There's always a favorite...one you want to spare. This one was mine and now she has a family in Brooklyn to look after her. She'll be paying for her room and board in manure for their garden.

Neil and I dropped off one of Salad and Ghost's offspring this afternoon after my beekeeping webinar. Dara from With Love, From Brooklyn took this little gal after she and her three beautiful daughters came by to meet all of the rabbits a few weeks back.

We taught Eva, the oldest of the three, how to pick up the rabbit and hold her properly, how and what to feed her and how to trim her nails. She took to handling Artemis like she had been wrangling rabbits for ages, even coaxing the rabbit to fall asleep in her arms. I feel pretty good about the outcome of this arrangement.

Afterwards Neil and I went around the corner for picadillo and pernil with beans and rice and maduros. I wolfed down my food quitely and tried to ignore the little empty spot, but it's there and there's no denying it.

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I'm in Love!

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Why worry? Just garden!

badge.png Ladies and Gents! I am now opening up sign-up for the 2012 Brooklyn Honey CSA! Last year was a success and much less stressful than anticipated, so frankly I am sold on this method of distributing excess honey from my Brooklyn hives.

This year, shares will include other bee-related treats in addition to the liquid gold we all know and love:

honeyalexbrown.jpg (Photo by Alex Brown)

"Share 1 will be available in July after Spring harvest. The honey will be light and herbal. I expect to be able to harvest enough to supply a 16 oz jar of chunk honey (comb suspended in liquid honey). Also included will be a small 4 oz jar of bee pollen.

Share 2 will be available in early October and will contain a 16 oz jar of darker, late summer honey, a jar of propolis tincture (for curing colds/flu, as an alternative to neosporin) and some homemade wax tealight candles.

All honey harvested is raw and unprocessed...exactly as nature intended it to be. It's great for natural treatment of allergies, colds, burns and wounds and tastes amazing on practically everything it touches! "

I will have full shares which include all that you see above and half shares. If you are interested, please email me and I'll send over the application which has further details listed.

Thanks!

Right on!

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Back on Track

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After a few weeks of pity-partying, I've decided there will be no more of that sort of thinking. I apologize to my readers for having to endure it. I've recognized a fault in myself that I am going to fix right now. I think it's likely one of those things that most people do from time to time, but I think I am especially bad about it. I am speaking of the tendency to harp on all of the negative things going on in your life to the detriment of all of the positive.

I have a lot to be grateful for so it's important for me to occasionally remind myself to can it and just enjoy all of the exciting projects and people I have in my life right now. None of it is perfect. It never will be. If it was I wouldn't strive to improve. I'd just lie around basking in the perfection and frankly, that sounds really boring. I'm a big fan of turning lemons into lemonade. The lemonade always tastes better when you're exhausted from all of the squeezing. Am I right?

dig-for-victory.jpeg One of the things I'm happiest about at the moment is that my classes have been really well received. My goal is to really focus my attention on perfecting that part of my work. Better presentations, original print outs, videos, info-graphics. More web-based workshops for those of you that can't make it to my NYC classes. I'm working on improving the website so information about classes is easier to access.

Things at my home have improved a little. Where there is tension centered around one relationship, there is solidarity in another. There are people who have my back and I certainly have theirs too. I'm just going to approach everything on a day-to-day basis, lighten up a little and try not to let anything rob me of the joy all of this craziness brings me. I do hope it brings other people some joy too. It's difficult, if not impossible, to enjoy things alone.

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One of the Chinchilla kits from Salad's litter will go to a home where she can help fertilize an urban backyard garden and teach three wonderful girls about small animal husbandry. This little gal is one of my favorites from the bunch so I'm glad to see her go on to make some other people happy.

I also find some comfort it knowing that some of Salad's genes will be going out into the world. She's a sweet, friendly rabbit with amazing mothering talent. If Little Sal has half of the charm as Big Sal, I'm sure her new caregivers are going to be very happy with the new addition to their household.

This weekend I will begin the process of "thinning out the herd". I am filled with dread over it.

Bleeeeehhh!

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The time we live in is a time of tremendous emotional pressure for many folks and for many reasons. I've been able to exclude myself from much of the to do about the economy and politics because to some degree personal autonomy is at the kernel of what my life has become...or so I thought. Things are starting to change a little...I feel the tension creeping in from the sidelines. It's pulling the invisible strings that tie me to the things I had forgotten I needed and it's caused me to reevaluate my plans for the future. I hate strings. I just want to be free, you know?

We've had some upheaval here at the house. One of the neighbors seems to feel they have been treated with some inequity and as such, the house has been subject to weird outbursts, temper tantrums random acts of destruction targeted at me primarily. It's awkward and unfortunate but part of the deal when you live with other people. You never know how they are going to react to interacting. Not everyone is equipped to deal.

This persons erratic behavior has caused me to start thinking about what it is that I want for the future. Do I want to continue contending with people that I cannot escape from? Do I actually enjoy trying to work around these limitations?

I can only continue to square peg/round hole it for so much longer before it starts to get ridiculous. The rabbits I think have really pushed me just slightly over the threshold of reason. I am thinking of selling off one of the does and keeping the breeding pair down to two and breeding them twice a year for my own personal use. It takes up less space, fewer cages, smells less, and requires less daily clean up from me. I'm culling most of Sal's litter over the weekend. They could be bigger but they have got to go. I haven't the space for more cages. They are going through feed like crazy. It is time. Much longer and the quality of their life will become an issue.

I want to have a farm where I needn't worry about issues of space. That is my goal. I want to be a real homesteader and a real educator. I just don't know how to do this here if I don't live in this weird house in Brooklyn in this condensed impractical and sometimes strained way. It works if you are working a part-time job and making up the difference with homegrown food. This situation just...I don't know, it isn't working. I don't know of any other landlord in NYC that would rent me an apartment with a sunny backyard and allow compost, a small chicken coop, rabbits for meat AND bees. That's farm stuff. I need a damn farm. A REAL FARM. Give me an empty lot or a rooftop or a couple acres or SOMETHING. I need harmony or I need people to just let me do my own thing. It's a lot to ask in this situation, but I don't think it's impossible in some other context.

Anyway, enough of that...as you can probably tell I'm feeling a bit weathered right now. Between house drama and teaching, plans to rework my website, finishing my manuscript and planning for a REALLY AMAZING AND FUN PROJECT I'LL TELL YOU ALL ABOUT SO SOON, I'm just feeling low on energy. Send me energizing brainwaves. Please. I could use them.

On an upbeat note, I want to say that this weekend my mushroom class went really well. It was a really wonderful group and everyone left the 2 hour session beaming and excited about their new mushroom logs! Cannot wait for my next workshop! Thank you so much to all who attended and BIG UPS to Cafe Grumpy for hosting the class!

Congratulations EVAN MARC DVORSAK and RISE AND SHINE! You each one a spot in my 3 session online intensive beekeeping 101 workshop. Please email me and I'll get you enrolled in the class!

Thanks so much to all the folks that entered and shared the class with their followers and friends! If you'd still like to participate in the class, check out my Eventbrite calendar below and sign up! It's a great way to learn beekeeping at your own convenience, as the classes will be recorded and available for playback when you are ready!

On Death and Sacrifice

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I've been spending a lot of time marinating on the complexities of raising animals for food. It's one of those things that everyone has an opinion of, but so few have any experience with. I am pretty new to raising livestock but I find that I've learned a lot fairly quickly, which I think in large part is because I've readily accepted the rabbits, chickens and bees as part of my day to day life. There isn't a time where in the back of my mind I am not considering plans to buy more hay or build hives, organizing free range time for the rabbits, scheduling time to clean out the coop and cages, or just scheming on how to get money to pay for feed. You learn the most when you are present mentally. These critters have have built a nest in my mind.

In a few weeks, I'll be slaughtering the rabbits that I've loved and cared for since the day they were born. I've selected a couple to keep aside to either trade to friends or acquaintances as pets or for breeding stock. The rest will become food for my household.

When the kits first arrived, I had serious reservations about what lied ahead of me. Did I have it in me to take the life of some fluffy vulnerable ball of fur? I can say truthfully that no, I could not willingly harm a baby animal. They were just too cute and defenseless. As they grew, they became inquisitive and friendly. They would often kiss the tip of my nose when I put my face into the cage to say hello and get a closer look. It was easy to be charmed by them. I wasn't sure how I was going to do this.

Now, at 9 weeks old, they are different. They look like smaller versions of adult rabbits. Their faces lack the rounded shape of kit-hood. While they've taken to being handled quite well, they are less interested in interacting with me and are behaving less like curious babies and more like the adult rabbits that I am familiar with. They are like their parents, who see me not as a friend, but as a supplier of things. The creature who brings the food and water and sets them free to run around in the yard. They see me as the thing that pulls them from their hutch by the loose skin above their shoulders and cleans their ears, a routine they absolutely hate but absolutely need.

I believe I've reached another level of acceptance about the nature of this relationship, and the nature of death. I accepted the inevitability of my own death some years ago. I still think about it every day. As someone who has experienced loss many times over, I get it. We're all just visitors. Accepting your own mortality and loving something only to snuff out it's light are two totally different situations. The latter is more complicated. You're making a choice. You are sacrificing a bit of yourself too when you kill something you love.

When my boyfriend Neil and I recently spoke of death and loss, I said to him, "We don't cry for the dead. They're off on another journey. We cry for the living, because we are left behind to carry on with a hole in our lives where that person used to be." I feel that way about the animals under my care as well, though not to the same degree as if a human companion had passed. They have a place in my life. Each morning I go to them, feed them and spend a little time interacting with them. A scratch on the chest here, a stroke of the ears there. This is my favorite time of day.

In about two weeks I'm going to end that part of my life so that I can eat. I'll do everything in my power in the meantime to do right by my rabbits, providing them with comfort and opportunities to "express their rabbit-ness" as Joel Salatin might say. When the day comes to harvest them it will be difficult. I don't think I want to have visitors or spectators. I just want it to be me, Neil and the rabbits so that they can feel at ease until their last moments. There won't be distractions or noise. I think quiet is respectful. With the next litter, perhaps I will invite a couple friends over to experience the process but for now it's just too close to the heart and I can't bear making a show out of it. Not these guys. They are my first and they are special.

Holding on, barely.

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For the last few weeks I feel as though I've been walking around with a boulder on my back. Money problems, deadlines and....well it's mostly money problems and deadlines that have been bringing me down, but pepper in a little bit of stress over lack of time and insecurity about my future and you've pretty much got a case of the "free woman" blues. It's the pits, right now. Is this how career independence is supposed to feel? I can't let myself believe that this is how it will always be. I have to know that I can live the life that is right for me without having to spend 1/3 of my life as a cog in the wheel.

I'm kicking myself for possibly getting in over my head, thinking I could just cobble together a sustainable life on my own, but now I'm in the thick of it and I have no choice but to keep pushing forward. I can't imagine going back to a normal job. I'd feel like I was merely puppet-ing my way through each day for little more than some spending cash in my pocket. Frankly, I'd rather be poor.

I'm having a hard time justifying the things that I'm doing these days. Yields across the board are pretty low because I have so little to work with. I'm speaking mostly of space to farm, but I suppose you could use that as a metaphor for other parts of my life. The only thing I feel really confident about is teaching. I enjoy sharing what I know with those who want to know. It's a great exchange and I always leave classes feeling light.

I'm really fortunate that I've been able to teach workshops to make a little extra cash here and there. So, thank you to all the folks out there who have put their hard-earned cash and faith in my abilities. I won't let you down.

I'll never ask for a hand-out, but I will ask for a chance to earn my way. Please consider helping me carry on by signing up for any of the workshops or classes below or the ones I'm presently teaching at 3rd Ward or New York Botanical Gardens. You'll be helping me to not only pay the rent, but to grow as an urban farmer and teacher. And, of course, you'll learn something!

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Online Urban Beekeeping 101- 1/22:
Learn the ins-and-outs of beekeeping from a city-dweller's perspective. From honeybee anatomy and behavior to pests and diseases to honey harvesting, we'll cover a full season of beekeeping from Spring through Winter so that you can feel confident starting your first beehive this year!

Growing Edible Mushrooms at Home- 2/12:
In this workshop, you'll learn how to turn waste into delicious, meaty mushrooms. We'll make mushroom logs from tree cuttings, grow oyster mushrooms in espresso grounds and discuss stem butt cultivation with salvaged burlap sacks! Students will take home a mushroom log of their own!

Backyard Homesteading Bootcamp- 4/7 (all day):
In this day long workshop, you'll learn how to turn your small space into a functioning homestead. Learn gardening, composting, chicken and rabbit basics, beekeeping basics, diy home and body care, homebrewing and food preservation.

More workshops coming soon!

<3 Meg

Swanee River (1915)

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Happy Tuesday, everybody!

I hope you all are as pumped about the new year as I am. One of the things I'm energized about is my new three-part online urban beekeeping seminar on January 22nd. In this class, I'll teach you the ins-and-outs of beginners beekeeping, from honey bee behavior, hive types and placement to pests, disease, honey harvesting and swarming. We'll cover it all, with great visuals to help get you cozy with the idea of bees on your rooftop of backyard. What best, is that you can watch the seminar whenever it suits you, as it will be made available for replay to any enrolled wannabees!

To kick the workshop off, I've decided to GIVEAWAY two spots in my class! To enter, just repost the details from the Eventbrite link above on your blog, Facebook or Twitter and post the link in my comments section. Deadline is 3 p.m. on Sunday January 15th. The winner will be announced the following Monday.

Learn beekeeping in 2012 and fall in love with BEES! <3

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2011 is the previous archive.

February 2012 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.