Brooklyn Homesteader publishes regular entries on urban farming culture, homebrewing, mycology, beekeeping, and other related topics of interests to amateurs, professionals, city-dwellers and country folks alike.
Enjoy this video of my bees getting their hustle on this morning. They are building up fast and I expect that I may have to sell off a nuc from my 4 year old hive. They've never been treated and are on natural comb so if anyone out there in internet-land needs some hearty bees, get at me!
This video best enjoyed to the sweet sounds of Rick Ross:
Sorry for the prolonged silence over here at Jewel Street. A lot has happened in the past week. So much, in fact that my body shut down over the weekend and I've been bedridden with a nasty cold...feverish, sore all over and in desperate need of hot & sour soup. I need to take better care of myself. I need to work smarter and make time to do nothing on occasion. Running myself ragged ends up being counter-productive in the long run.
Last week I had a really fun experience helping out a network tv show shooting their pilot. I'm hesitant to say much about the show itself, but when it airs I'll make a big to do about it. What I will say is that the prop master and I worked together to come up with some pretty neat observation hives that would be filled with my bees and placed on set. The set just happened to be on a rooftop in DUMBO over looking the Manhattan Bridge and the lower Manhattan skyline. I got to talk bees with some actors and eat mountains of catered food....though most of the day was spent loading up bees and sitting around waiting.
We had to hoist the hives up through the hatch in my roof, which really had me on edge. I slept horribly the night before, wondering if my measurements were right and what to do if they were incorrect and the hives wouldn't make it up to the roof.
My measurements were correct. We got them on the roof and my friend Chase and I got to work moving the bees into their temporary accommodations.
(The hives, and the hives. Ready to be filled and transported.)
Once we filled the hives up with bees, we lowered them back down the hatch and into a pick-up truck to haul off to the set. If that wasn't enough to give me a heart attack, what happened next came close.
(At this point you can see that the insanity of the situation had finally become apparent to me.)
I feel kind of goofy getting all excited about it, since it might seem somewhat arbitrary, but today marks the vernal/Spring/March equinox. Even though we've been downright summery here in the city for the past few weeks (seriously... I saw neighborhood kids in a blow-up pool yesterday), I can't deny the bit of magic in the air today. We're springin' out!
Life is absolutely insane these days; I feel like one of Meg's bees. I may not be coming home dusted with pollen, but with the farm season picking up serious steam, a few family guests visiting me the past few weekends, and the rushed search for a new apartment, then subletter, then new apartment, then subletters for April 1, I'm empathizing with those little ladies.
But what would Spring's first calendar'd days be without a homestead update?
Today, I got down on some homemade crop covers. May seem pointless given our sunny warmth lately - and perhaps it will be after all - but with a last-frost date of April 10ish this season, there's still chance for a few freezes here and there.
Crop covers that are at least semi-transparent can function as mini-greenhouses, trapping in sunlight and maintaining a warm atmosphere inside even when the air chills outside. But even fully opaque covers can help in a pinch; if a hard freeze is predicted, throw them over plants to insulate and cross your fingers.
Covers can be made using scavenged or repurposed materials and a minimum of effort. There are truly a bajillion ways to go about it depending on your living situation and growing space. For those of us with smaller balcony, fire-escape, and rooftop container gardens, stuff like yogurt cups, soup take-outs, and milk jugs are awesomely sufficient.
Yogurt cups and take-out soup tupps
It doesn't get any easier than this. Take off the lid, remove labels to allow more light in (washing soda really helps with any stubborn ones), and turn upside down over the plant. Press the rim into the soil a bit to anchor it; weigh down with a stone or something if it's super windy. Le voilà.
I learned this one from my be-bop on his farmstead in North Carolina. Remove labels and cut off the bottom of the jug. Set over plant and press into the soil a bit to anchor. The benefit of this system is the lid... it can be removed during the day when the sun is strong so the plant doesn't steam to death, and replaced in the afternoon to maintain warmth inside during the cooler night. But you can also make two covers from one jug by cutting in half; only one will have the lid of course, but you'll get more bang for your non-buck.
The materials you use can vary widely, but you'll want to make sure that whatever it is is at least semi-transparent; this will allow light in and warm the interior. Some kind of venting mechanism can help make temperature management easier, but it's completely unnecessary. For larger tracts of garden space, you can invest in floating row covers using Reemay or Agribon, weighed down with stones or bricks. You can use non-transparent materials like milk cartons and opaque yogurt cups too to help insulate on a particularly bitter night; just don't leave on for days at a time or your plants will suffer from lack of light.
Keep in mind that on warm, sunny days like today, no covers are needed. Remember, if you use a cover (unless it's floating like with Reemay or Agribon), and it's unvented, the warmth during the day inside the container can stress or, more likely, kill your plant. Make a few covers to have on hand and plop over plants before temperatures drop. Vented, transparent covers can be kept on all the time and just sealed shut in the mid-afternoon for night protection.
Onward, seedling soldiers!
P.S. One great way to celebrate the warm Spring weather is to make a tank top. Take an old t-shirt (I stick to crewneck) and cut a curve from around the neck to below the armpit on either side. Try it on and cut more if necessary. Once you have a good template, you can use it to make more by laying it on top of another shirt and marking where to cut. No need to finish edges, especially here in Brooklyn.
The early snap of warm weather has my bees building up quickly. So much so that I had to put a super on the hives at my current home. I had planned to move them in early April when I figured it was the most appropriate time to do so. Mother Nature had other plans. The hive is getting bigger and now I have to figure out if I can convince my landlords to let me keep the hives in their place until Fall, when I can split them up and recombine them in their new home. I'm not sure what to do, but quite honestly I wish I didn't have to think about it right now. With my deadline being TODAY and Hayseed's opening in two weeks I can't spend too much time worrying about it.
The bees are more than fine for now. In fact, they seem happier than pigs in slop, coming back dusted with bright yellow pollen and literally buzzing in that way that bees do when it's game on and it's time for them to all pitch in and hustle. I hear that sound and I know exactly what they are saying and it makes me feel proud.
Pride aside, I've got to weigh my options on this hiving moving business. I have to admit I'm a little stressed out about it.
I'm one of those shoppers that makes grocery lists and then forgets them on the kitchen counter. Without a list I end up just grabbing what looks good and forgetting the essentials. This time around it was toothpaste. It's been a couple weeks since we've has a normal sized tube...the boyfriend and I have been going through all of the random travel-sized tubes hiding in the medicine cabinet.
Today, we finally ran out completely. I could have just walked around the corner to the bodega for some crappy off-brand stuff but I just opted to make some myself. It was super easy, worked GREAT and didn't cost me a cent because it was made with stuff I already keep on hand.
Here's the recipe:
1 Tbsp of baking soda
1 tsp of stevia powder
2 drops of spearmint oil
4 or 5 drops of water to paste-ify it
Mix it in a small bowl, scoop some on your toothbrush and go to town on those toofs!
It's worth noting that this stuff does not have the saccharine sweet of commercial toothpaste. In fact the saltiness of the baking soda may be off-putting to some. While this stuff isn't as "tasty", it works better than anything I've ever bought. My breath is fresh as all get out this morning!
So, next time you are in a bind and don't want to go out into the world with kitten breath, whip a small batch of this up. It's so easy, you may even want to completely switch over to the homemade stuff!
During the event there will be cooking demos, a craft swap, a potluck, a cookbook swap and the main food swap (which requires an RSVP here) will take place at 4.
Read below for info!
"BK Swappers Two Year Anniversary at 3rd Ward // March 18
Demos and Discussions : 12:30 - 4:00 pm
Non-Edible Swap : 2:00 pm
Food Swap : 4:00 pm
195 Morgan Avenue, Brooklyn NY FREE Admission
Join us for a day of discussions, demonstrations and swapping with BK Swappers. BK Swappers is a bimonthly Brooklyn-based larder swap and social gathering. It allows home cooks who bake, can, preserve, prepare, grow or forage food to trade the fruits of their labor for other delectable homemade foods. BK Swappers' events build community and empower people to turn their home food production from a hobby to a habit.
Throughout the day we'll have demos from 3rd Ward Class Instructors and talks by some of Brooklyn's best DIY food crafters, writers and small-business owners including Liza De Guia (food. curated.), Emily Hanhan (Nomnivorous), Anita Shepherd (Electric Blue Baking Co.), Jackie Gordon (Divalicious), Rich Awn (Mombucha), Liz Neves (Raganella), Debbie Koenig (Parents Need To Eat Too), Alex Crosier (GranolaLab), your swap hosts Jane Lerner and Meg Paska, and much more!
In addition to the food swap at 4 pm there will be a swap for non-edible items (jewelry, medicinal herbs, candles, crafts, perfumes, body-care products, etc.) and cookbooks! Come early for the discussions, stick around to see first hand the wonderful world of BK Swappers."
Admission is free! Come for the demos and swaps! Just remember to sign up for food swap waiting list if you want to get in on it!
I'm hesitant to say it, but it appears that Spring is here. I know I may end up eating my words if a frost sweeps through in April, but it's been over 70 degrees for two days in a row and the forecast predicts a full week of balmy weather. Spring? Is that you?
I've been spotting my bees foraging for water in the backyard frequently. Now that it's not freezing at night I've got to go set up my water source again. Trees are blooming in the neighboring parks, so the bees are bringing in pollen. When pollen sources become available, they begin rearing brood again, and quickly. I will have to do an inspection this week to make sure the brood nest doesn't need expansion. Crowded brood nest=potential for swarming, no matter how many empty supers you put on top of the hive in the spring. Pulling some frames of brood into upper supers and dropping foundationless frames in the spaces left behind can help alleviate congestion and prevent swarming.
It looks like I'll be moving my Greenpoint bees in April to Brooklyn Navy Yard. My pal Chase is working out a little place for me to put my Top Bar Hive and my two Langstroth hives. I was going to move them to Jerz, but I still have honey CSA members here in Brooklyn so it makes sense to keep some hives here indefinitely. After all, I'll only bee a quick jaunt away so regular inspections will be a breeze.
In other news, our bee club, the Backwards Beekeepers of NYC ordered some packages this Spring. I expect we should see them in early to mid-April. If you need some bees, please get in touch. We have a few unclaimed boxes of bees that could use homes. If you need a hive, we have assembled ones at Hayseed's. We got yer back! If you don't really know how to keep bees, checkout the BBNYC website for classes. I still have some coming up at 3rd Ward and New York Botanical Gardens so there's time to learn. You can also donate what you wish for my recorded online course.
I'm excited to say that I have a couple new bee clients this season as well. It's kind of hilarious when I think about the fact that anyone would hire me to keep bees for them. It's like those people that get paid to eat ice cream. I honestly would do it for free if I didn't have bills to pay, but alas! I feel really fortunate that I get tell people I am a beekeeper for a living when they ask what I "do". I never tire of that horrified look on their faces--or the satisfaction I feel when I can hand my rent check in on time.
Just wanted to let the world know that my buddies over at Brooklyn Grange are starting a big project in conjunction with their new rooftop farm at Brooklyn Navy Yard this spring. They've teamed up with some great beekeepers to create NYC's first large 20+ hive bee farm!
Tim O'Neal is spearheading the apprenticeship program there and they are accepting applications from folks interested in getting hands-on with some beehives. I'll have some alternative hives and some of my first and oldest treatment-free hives in the mix. It's gonna be awesome! Read more below:
Big Apple Apiary Beekeeping Apprenticeship
Brand new rooftop apiary seeks 12 volunteer beekeeping apprentices for the 2012 bee season (April through October or November). Working in small teams, our apprentices will gain hands-on experience in both basic and advanced beekeeping techniques, with a focus on treatment-free and organic beekeeping, and have the opportunity to pay it forward and mentor next year's students.
This 20 hive apiary - poised on an expansive rooftop in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard - will play host to NYC's first hands-on beekeeping training program. Through education and outreach we aim to foster an inclusive community of new beekeepers and arm them with the tools they need to play an active role of the long-term sustainability of our city. The apiary is a joint project of Brooklyn Grange Farm and Timothy O'Neal of Borough Bees.
Benefits & Responsibilities
Our apprenticeship program is structured to give you all the first-hand knowledge you need to start a beehive of your own on your roof, community garden, or backyard. We will provide teams of two to three apprentices with several beehives, beekeeping equipment, basic safety gear, and close guidance through a season of hive management in a small group setting. Our goal is to give you the training you need to apply your knowledge independently by the end of the season, and leave prepared to be a mentor to new beekeepers next year. We'll also arrange for a few field trips and special guests throughout the season to welcome you into the greater beekeeping community in New York City and beyond.
Apprentices will work directly with experienced beekeepers and gain hands-on experience that covers the gamut of beekeeping tasks: basic hive inspections, pest identification and management, swarm prevention, requeening, combining and splitting hives, and honey harvesting. You'll also learn about more advanced techniques like cell size regression, queen breeding, and managing top-bar colonies.
Apprentices are required to devote an average of 3-4 weekend hours per week to the maintenance of their hives. On a typical weekend the instructor will give a quick, hands-on lesson (30-60min) using a demonstration hive on what to look out for at that point in the season, at which point apprentices will break into small teams to inspect their own hives under supervision from the instructor. Teams are responsible for maintaining close records of hive conditions and manipulations. Some heavy lifting required, must be able to climb 4 flights of stairs and work in all weather.
Who We're Looking For
This is not a beekeeping 101 course; ideal candidates will be able to demonstrate some degree of knowledge, but hands-on experience isn't necessary. We're a brand-new program so we need people with a sense of humor, patience, and a willingness to help us find ways to improve as we go!
In addition to the valuable hands-on training using provided equipment, we may be able to provide starter bee colonies to apprentices who successfully complete the whole program, to start their own hives next year. Students will get a portion of the honey harvest - but be aware that first-year hives sometimes produce little or no harvestable honey. This is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who's interested in getting started managing their own bees and giving back to the larger community.
How to Apply
Please respond to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than March 21st with an email telling us about yourself and your interest in the apprenticeship. We will be reviewing applications as they are received. No resume necessary, creative applications encouraged.
We encourage teams of two to three to apply together. Those who do not apply in teams will be paired with other selected applicants. Youth, members of under-served communities, and people from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply.
Applicants who will be available during the work week, or with an interest in queen breeding and genetics will be given special consideration.
I encourage any of the folks who have taken my classes at 3rd Ward or New York Botanical Gardens to apply, as some beekeeping knowledge puts you ahead of the game!
Yesterday was a big day. I took Neil to our future home for the first time. I was fairly certain that he would be happy with what he saw, but I was concerned that the realization that we would be moving outside of Brooklyn would be met with cold feet. Fortunately, that didn't happen. He's just as stoked as I am.
The drive to New Jersey was unlike the picturesque voyages I made frequently to the Catskills last summer. There were no mountains, creeks or unkempt fields of wild grasses. Our path to Locust was mostly made up of 10 lane highways and dollar store strip malls. Only right as we turned onto the road that Seven Arrows is situated on did we feel we were in a place where the word "farm" could be uttered without irony. I can still appreciate the area. Just because it's no Catskill Mountain region, it doesn't mean it can't use a couple farms. I can't wait to venture around Middletown to see what's out there. Oh yeah, did I mention there is surfing within a mile of the place? SURFING. (yesssss!)
Seven Arrows abuts Hartshorne Park, which spills out onto the roads and encircles the dozen or so homes around it's boundaries. Wild animals venture out to graze in backyards and hunt for their meals in the open. This will be one of the challenges of farming here, but I've got plans. What farming enterprise doesn't have it's fair share of challenges? We'll just have to do our best. I also see the park as a blessing. I've been told of fiddleheads and maitake in them thar hills!
(Part of the old orchard and a nice site for some beehives!)
While there I spent some time surveying the grounds. I use the term "survey" loosely. I measured the garden plot in paces. 40 paces by 70 paces. I estimate that makes the plot 80×140 or nearly 12,000 square feet. Not a bad size to start with. We could probably get a 20-30 person CSA out of it, what with the eggs, honey and foraged edibles from Hartshorne Park. We'll have to plant intensively and get creative to maximize yields, but I feel up to the challenge. Failure is not an option!
(The garden plot, overlooking the Navesink River.)
The best thing about this place is undoubtedly the location. We drove there late in the morning, looked around, had lunch and were back in Brooklyn by 3 p.m. Our friends in the city will be able to visit us easily (and hopefully help us build some outbuildings!) I'll still be able to teach classes and keep some hives in the city and Neil won't have to leave his job. We can have city folk come for weekend intensives and farm getaways. We're so fortunate to have this opportunity to farm without having to completely remove ourselves from the place we've worked so hard to thrive in. I don't know that I am ready to completely leave the city behind. This is a good in-between.
Check out my neighbor Tom from The Meathook showing suckers how to make an easy, cheap smoker to make bacon and other tasty meat treats in. I'm totally making one this Spring! You should too. You can smoke tofu and veg in it if you're not a fan of the meats! I, for one, will be smoking it all!
After waxing farmy and poetic with my last post, I was struck yesterday with inspiration for an actually practical update for y'all.
With the season officially commencing at Brooklyn Grange, there's lots of work to be done. I was up bright and early yesterday getting ready to head in to start some seed in our hoophouse, among other things.
Of course, the homesteading fairy bopped me on the head as I grabbed my bicycle for the morning commute.
I have been a devout cyclist for a while now. I tell everyone I can how great it is to ride a bicycle in the city: the sights, the thrill, the sovereignty over your transportation. But what still can throw me for a loop is a good ol' flat tire.
I feel kind of lucky to admit that in all my city riding, I've only had one major blowout during a ride. Knock on wood. But I have had more than my fair share of flats.
And it almost always goes just like this: I'd have been riding problem-free, a little pump here and there, for what seemed like ages. And then, on a day when I really need to be somewhere at a certain time, I go to leave with my bike and one of the tires is puddled on the floor.
My reaction inevitably is a quick runthrough of the seven stages of grief. And since I've got somewhere to be, it's especially heavy on the ornery. I call it the flat-tire funk, and it can last well beyond the fix and trip and just really ruin my whole darn day.
The good news is it can be a piece of cake to fix a flat, depending on the kind and severity.
Remove the wheel by loosening axel nuts. Back wheel is a bit harder due to powertrain stuff, but still easy!
Use tire levers to loosen and remove tire from wheel and tube.
Patch kits usually include sandpaper for roughing up the surface near the leak, vulcanizing fluid, and patches.
The finished patch.
There are a bajillion resources online - descriptions, photos, and videos - that describe the process in detail. If you haven't done it before, make it a lazy-Sunday afternoon project where you'll have time to spare. Remember, it's easy and you'll do just fine, so don't shy away from learning.
Here's a pretty good video from a bike shop down south:
Also, this crazy guy Sheldon Brown has pretty much a one-stop site for all things bicycle. I have it bookmarked.
Here are some extra tips for ye:
-Before you do any fixing, look for any obvious foreign objects in the tire: glass, metal, prickers. If you find what is probably causing the flat, put a piece of tape or something right near it on the wheel rim and/or tire to remember its location. It can really help save time when searching the tube for a hole.
-City streets are harsh. If you can, think about investing in strong, "puncture-proof" tires. My Gatorskins weren't cheap but have paid for themselves many times over and saved lots of tubes from the landfill.
-Don't feel too bad about buying a new inner tube. Sometimes it's just not worth the time and effort to patch, especially if you've made good use out of the old tube and there are several holes.
-If you're not in a rush, give the ol' hog a little extra TLC while you're at it: clean and lube your chain. You can never do it enough in the city.
-*Prevention prevents lots of unnecessary headaches. Try to get into the habit of very regularly checking your tires for any imbedded things that will eventually cause leaks and flats, and pull them out if you can (tweeze!). A small piece of glass might not hurt your tire today but can dig in over time.
*I am hereby promising myself that I'll be better about this last one. No more flat-tire funk for me. Please.
Special thanks to the great Steven Ma for teaching me about bike maintenance many moons ago. He is a superstar cyclist, bicycle advocate, and mechanic/designer/inventor, and he even comes down to earth from time to time to teach bike maintenance classes at 3rd Ward in Bushwick. If you don't know your way around an innertube, definitely do yourself a favor and learn from the best.
Like for Meg, there's lots of hustle going on over my side of the fence. Work at the farm I manage, Brooklyn Grange, is ramping up pretty quickly as the season approaches. Which means finishing up the hoophouse, starting and nuturing seedlings, finishing up crop plans and maps, organizing interviews for summer season interns... and we haven't even started tilling. But, it's the best kind of hustle in the world. I ain't complainin'.
Speaking of the hoophouse, here we are applying the skin... a gnarly (seriously) process involving a thin, delicate plastic sheet, a large metal and wood frame with lots of pokey edges and corners, and this ingenious but also devilish stuff called wiggle wire. Don't ask:
Anywho, I somehow managed to make a quick farm field trip last week to Maine. It was an experience I'll never forget.
Clara Coleman, a great CO-based farmer and daughter of extended-season (well, year-round) farming guru Eliot Coleman, invited Brooklyn Grange head farmer Ben, myself, and fellow farm friend Zach Pickens, up to visit her father's Four Season Farm.
Visiting a farm in winter, in Maine, in a foot and a half of snow. What the what?
We headed to the farm expecting to help him build one of his famous movable hoophouses in exchange for some wisdom and ideas to take home...
Instead, we got to the house, peeled off our coats and boots in the mudroom, and were invited into the dining room where Eliot's wife Barbara Damroch (a master gardener in her own right, and amazing chef to boot) was cooking up a city-block-wide pork roast, which turned out to be from one of their own hogs. We ate more than our fair share of heritage pork, salad from their kitchen garden (also, under a hoophouse), and potatoes, and washed it all down with Eliot's own homemade wine from grapevines he trellised along the back patio. The only thing not grown on grounds was the vanilla ice cream for desert, but it was topped off with Barbara's homemade, homegrown grape conserve.
Yesterday the gals from Domestic Construction hosted a work day for their project Design.Plot which doubled as a Top Bar Hive build for a bunch of us bee nerds. There was a lot going on (compost building, pizza eating, beer drinking) but some friends snapped some shots through the day.
I was outside for most of the work, getting coffee sack planters set up (how-to blog post coming up soon) and building a new huge compost pile so I was unable to get shots of the hive build in action. I'll update as more images become available, and of course if you were there and got some primo snapshots, send 'em my way!
We'll be having another work day at Design.Plot soon to build and plant some raised beds. Follow my Facebook for updates!
(Instagram Photos by Trevor Rager and Meg Paska...click to embiggen!)
Ever wanted to learn how to grow, make and preserve your own food in a small space but need some hands-on guidance to do so?
Join Meg Paska, the "Brooklyn Homesteader", on her own turf as she teaches you how to raise chickens, keep bees, grow a garden, compost, forage, can, pickle, preserve and homebrew all from her tiny Greenpoint homestead.
Coffee and homemade donuts will be served in the morning before the class commences. It will tentatively go as follows:
-Building Raised Beds and Planning a Vegetable Garden
-Food Preservation (Freezing, Drying, Canning, Fermentation)
-DIY Home and Body Care
WIND DOWN with local beers and Q&A
Attendees will get hands on experience in all aspects of the above mentioned topics and will leave with care packages of assorted goodies! (Books on the subjects covered, seeds, canned and pickled items from the class, etc)
Please email Megan@BrooklynHomesteader.com with any questions.
Students are expected to bring notepads and pens, dress in light color clothes, be able to climb ladders and are willing to sign a waiver, as we will be getting up close and personal with stinging, venomous insects, boiling hot jars of food and eating weeds from the nearby park.
All other materials are included in the cost of the class.