April 2012 Archives

Hacking the Farm

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I just got back from Farm Hack Intervale/Essex, which was a weekend-long gathering of farmers, engineers, designers, fabricators, artists, and other good-hearted folks on the Vermont, then NY, side of Lake Champlain, meant to continue the imagining, reimagining, and development of better farm tools and practices.

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Festivities Saturday included a tour of the Intervale Center's community farm and the tools and toys in its infrastructure-sharing cooperative's arsenal, led by Rob Rock of Pitchfork Farm, followed by group "charettes" tackling farm challenges, followed by a ferryride to NY, amazing meal in the local grange hall, bonfire and dance party at Black Kettle farm with way too many bottles of lovely, potent Citizen Cider, and drunken crawl to the barn for some sleep in the hay. I can't tell you how comfortable it is to sleep in a spread hay bale, because I don't remember, but I did wake up to a sunlit barn without any aches in the ol' back. My head, on the other hand...

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Sunday, we toured Essex Farm, a mind-boggling, draft-powered, 600-acre, year-round, full-diet CSA farm helmed by Mark Kimball and made famous by his wife Kristin's book The Dirty Life. Keep an eye out for this charismatic guy; I really think he'll be the next Joel Salatin. Me, I got some serious barnheartburn kicking through the cow pies.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the trip was spending time with Andy Wekin and his fleet of pedal steeds. He owns Pedal Power Engineering, designing and building setups that allow folks to power electrical appliances by... pedaling. It's such a simple concept but really incredibly ingenious. A must for those of us homesteaders looking to get off-grid however we can. Check out his videos; he powers and charges laptops, kitchen appliances, and some more hardcore stuff. He's even working on small-scale hydropower and combining both hydro and pedal in some interesting ways.

To any homesteader out there with a farmy bent, you've gotta make it out to a Farm Hack. The inspiration and ideas and solidarity you take back with you are good and powerful. Keep an eye out for future hacks at the Farm Hack site. Even if you can't, or won't, travel, their blog and wiki are ripe for the pickin' for some great homsteady inspriation. Many of these large-scale ag ideas can be downsized and jigged a bit for the homestead.

Checked out the two overwintered hives on my roof to see how they were doing. The answer: Great! Healthy, strong overwintered bees are what I've got. Not looking too crowded just yet but I opened up the broodnest anyway, pulling frames of brood up into the area that other beekeepers might keep a queen excluder under to keep from getting brood in the honey they wish to harvest. This practice is called Unlimited Brood Nest Management and I think it's a good practice to get into. Toss those queen excluders, people!

Just checking in...

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I'm a mess right now. I've been a terrible blogger but frankly, I'm just too exhausted to know what to write about. My store, Hayseed's has been very busy...classes have been occupying what little free time I have and just being the go to person for everyone's questions is a big job. I love it, but it's LONG HARD WORK. As a result, my personal life is a total disaster. I've got dishes in the sink that have been there for over a week. My cats are bored and underloved. My garden is...well, it's looked better. I'm actually considering paying someone to clean my house. I feel horrified by the notion that someone else may need to do the work for me that I actually take pride in doing for myself. Instead of planting tomatoes, I just tossed a bunch of fast-growing greens and buckwheat into all of the beds to buy myself some time and get some verdancy going in the backyard. I feel like a fraud.

photo (81).JPG (Well, at least I look the part.)

I'm not happy about not being able to garden at home. I've been helping the gals at Domestic Construction with their garden (which is coming along very well), but it is not mine. I've put off doing much at Jewel Street because frankly, I am leaving and after the other landlord's freakout (which has been resolved) I just don't feel comfortable there anymore. I feel fragmented and without roots. I really look forward to August and my move to NJ. That lost sense of home has me feeling a little off-balance.

photo (80).JPG (The chickens promptly destroyed the beds I netted off so I gave up.)

But, I digress. Business has been good. I've never felt more confident in my abilities. My bees are in really fine health. My chickens are happy and robust, though not laying much anymore. I'm surrounded by kind, appreciative, helpful people. I feel really fortunate to be in a place where I can say that I am an urban farmer for a living but I welcome change. I'm ready to be transplanted to a place where I can set my tap root deep.

I've been dreaming of dairy goats thanks to Jenna's goat posts and I'm also thinking about the "B" word....babies. Who am I kidding though. I don't have time for babies!

God Save the Queen

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I stopped by my hives on the way home today to see how things were going. And to check on my queens!

frame.jpg In a package of bees, the queen is kept separate from the "swarm" in her own cage with a few attendants.

queen_cages.jpg When installing a hive, the queen cage is dangled between two frames, the rest of the bees are poured over her, the cover is shut, and the rest is history. The worker bees outside tunnel their way into the cage by eating through a candy plug (literally, it's candy) and free her. But the beekeeper - meaning me - has to remove a little cork to expose the candy first.

Well, in all my excitement this weekend, I seem to have forgotten to remove the cork in my third hive. So today I quickly panicked, scraped it out with my hive tool, said a prayer, and stuck the cage back in the hive. Then I called Tim, who calmed me down. I imagined her in there, dying of thirst and hunger and needing to go to the bathroom just really badly, but Tim assured me that the bees wouldn't let her die so horrifically. Let's hope they're hungry and eat through that candy quick!

So far, everything else looks great! I was able to spot my other two queens, busily marathoning around the frames. They really are beautiful. Especially her majesty from the hive that stung me.

dark_queen.jpg I think that hive is going to be a real winner. Out of all three, these ladies really got down to business. I couldn't believe how much comb had been built already, though I didn't notice any eggs.

But I did notice a large "bump" of comb towards the upper corner of a frame. I'll need my fellow beekeepers to help me identify what's going on, but my first thought was supersedure... so early? Share your thoughts! I'll keep an eye on it, of course.

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Aren't bees fun.

Update: Turns out the comb bump is just extra that the girls drew in the relatively large space between frames propping up the queen cage. Thanks, Tim, for the diagnosis. So looks like no need to worry about supersedure or swarm... for now.

My friend Patty from Livingston Brook Farm (who you may remember took me on a ride in a meadow brook cart pulled by her draft horse Steele on a visit to see Jenna and drop off my rabbits) came to Hayseed's to pick up some bees and bring a load of meadow hay for us to sell. In addition, she surprised me with this pretty gal. A Flemish Giant doeling that I promptly named Carrot. She's going to be a big girl (Probably around 15 lb or more) but she's not for eating.

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This sweet, friendly rabbit will be part of the team at Hayseed's. She'll help with the production of fertilizer and compost fodder. She'll help to educate budding urban farmers about the benefits of having a pet that can contribute to the garden. Once the end of the 3 month stay is over, she'll either come with me to NJ to join the rest of the colony or she'll find a great home with a loving family somewhere around here. I'm leaving things open-ended. For now, the gals at Domestic Construction are happy to let us have a mascot for the shop. Look out for a new class on rabbit care coming up soon!

I freaking love these images. They never get old.

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(Image by Harry Whittier Frees)

The Easter Buzzy

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To those of you at yesterday's Backyard Bootcamp to whom I promised a beer bottling post today, sorry to make you wait. Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew.

But I have a perfectly good excuse... Bees!

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I've been contemplating keeping bees for a couple years, and thanks to whatever special blend of tipple and other intoxicants I was enjoying one cold evening this winter, I had decided that this was the season to start and placed an order for three packages.

And then, suddenly, they're here, buzzing anxiously in their little cages, waiting for me to give them homes. Oh boy.

Over the past few weeks I'd been re-reading up, watching clips, and generally prepping myself, but had for various reasons put off probably the most important part: getting and prepping my supplies. I put a hold on some woodenware (gorgeous stuff made in NJ by Evans) and tools at our farm store Hayseed's, and Meg saved my life by assembling frames for me... and also letting me borrow her car to schlep everything around Brooklyn. I love you, Meg.

So last night, I picked up my three packages, plus one unclaimed straggler for the Brooklyn Grange Apiary (which we're currently campaigning for on Kickstarter - please please please donate here!) I sprayed them down with so much syrup I thought they'd harden into one big lollipop, set them in my room on a burlap sack, crossed my fingers, and went to bed. Boy and Girl were intrigued by the buzzing and tried just about everything to break into my room for a flying-insect snack, but luckily failed.

This morning, I installed foundation* on half of my frames and prepped and waxed strips on the others.

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Well friends, the day has arrived. After months of planning and hard work, Hayseed's Big City Farm Supply is opening today at noon! I can scarcely believe it. For those of you who are scratching your heads wondering what I'm talking about, Hayseed's is a store dedicated to urban farming created by me and my partners Gwen and Chase from Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm. The store is hosted by and styled by Domestic Construction, a Greenpoint-based design duo. At Hayseed's we'll be providing seeds, soil and amendments, tools, books, beekeeping supplies and weekly workshops. To read more about it, check out our website.

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Tonight we will be having our opening party from 6-9, which so far looks like it will be very well attended. The fine folks at The Drink, Breuckelen Distilling," Red Jacket Orchards and Brouwerij Lane have been swell enough to provide some wonderful libations for the celebration. If you plan on coming by to embibe, PLEASE BRING A DRINKING JAR OF YOUR OWN. Sorry, but the idea of buying a bunch of disposable solo cups makes us cringe...besides, drinking out of jars is the bees knees! We'll also have some live music later in the night...some banjo pickin' from Hillary Hawke and friends to be exact!

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If you cannot make it to the grand opening today, please feel free to come by during our normal business hours; Wed-Fri 12-8, Saturday 10-6 and Sunday 12-5. We're located at 218 India Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

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