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.
We're planning to start building infrastructure this fall for pastured rabbits and egg-laying hens, 1 acre of vegetables, a mushroom cultivation program, a greenhouse and a small goat dairy... so we really need your help to get started. Lots of building to be done. We've got some really great rewards offered for your pledges (online classes, farm stays, yoga workshops etc), so please consider donating!
I used to think it was impossible to get started with bees in NYC with swarms, over the more convenient (though arguably inferior) method of procuring bees in package or nuc form. This season has kind of got me second guessing myself.
Swarms have been popping up all over the place this spring. It's amazing. And while some high profile urban beekeepers like to make assumptions about the quality of stewardship being demonstrated when these colonies expand, I think it's safe to say that some bees are just determined grow quickly and divide. All of the brood nest expanding and super stacking in the world won't stop them. Heck! I know some of those beekeepers wagging fingers at new-bees and I've seen their bees clinging to the sides of buildings with children playing around beside them in spite of all their self-appointed expertise. Quit faking the funk! We all deal with swarming one way or another. It's in the job description.
Apis Mellifera make their own decisions...bees swarming may be seem like an inconvenience but it's also a blessing. A bee colony is a sensitive organism and if it can make it through the long winter and propagate itself in the spring, that's an accomplishment on their part. With these reproductive divisions of strong colonies, we might be able to ease up our dependence on commercial operations with our own locally adapted bees! That's good thing!
My suggestion? Instead of petty finger pointing, assumptions and nastiness, let's congratulate those bees on a successful overwintering and help our fellow beekeepers knock that cluster into a new hive for a change!
"Bring your leftover seeds and extra seedlings to Hayseed's Big City Farm Supply on Saturday, June 9th (1-3 p.m.) to trade with other backyard and rooftop gardeners. Make sure your seeds and seedlings are marked! The Hayseed's staff will be on hand to help ensure that swappers offer healthy seedlings to trade. During the swap, all seeds and seedlings are buy two, get one free!"
During one of the stops on my bee rounds this weekend was Brooklyn Navy Yard. While checking my top bar hive I noticed an herb growing in abundance around the hives that had recently been made known to me by my friend Liz Neves of Raganella Botanical Solutions.
It's called Sweet Clover (it comes with white or yellow flowers) and it smells heavenly. Liz gave me a smudge stick of her own making some months back so I thought I'd try my hand at making a few myself with some of the lavender we're growing at Design Plot.
Check out some easy instructions here! I've got mine hanging right now, but once they are dry I'll hit you guys with an update!
What a weekend! My beekeeper friend Mark Negley came up from Florida and brought up some bees for a few local urban farms and businesses. We made the rounds installing them before I had to teach a beekeeping double header. Needless to say, I'm bushed! Here are some pictures from the weekend!
(My buddy Mark Negley. Fellow carrot top and Florida beekeeper.)
(Putting the bees in at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm)
(Lookit all those hives!)
(Checking out som Navy Yard bees)
(Making a split from fellow Greenpoint beekeeper Kelly's hives to thin 'em out a little. The hive was full of bees!)
(Putting the bees on the Brooklyn Kitchen Rooftop! BQE Bees!)
(Continued from what? Read my previous post, here.)
I'm not sure I knew then how much of an impact those times with my great grandparents and their farm-dwelling siblings would have on me. I know now. What was intended to be a way for my grandmother to give my mother some personal time (or time away from my father) also served as a glimpse into an alternative to what I was accustomed to. I could have quiet, verdancy, family, love, and good food over chaos, anger, anxiety and noise. It was a choice I was being offered, one I would have to make as an adult. I stowed these experiences away as dear memories, but they would come back to me as a sort of guide, helping navigate through the rough patches in my life and directing me to places where I would be safe and could flourish.
I don't think this type of experience is unique. I believe we all have these places and times in our lives that inform who we are to be or what we want but sometimes we fail to defer to them in moments of doubt. I don't want to give myself too much credit, but I cannot recall a single time in my adult life where I've not fallen back on these times to gain some clarity. I find myself in a tough spot and I think to myself, "How can I get back to that place? What do I have to do to get to those blue mountains again...at least in my heart?" The way often presents itself in time. Sometimes the way makes you wait. It took a long time after I first moved to New York to feel like I was treading on the right path.
Before New York, I was back in Baltimore after a failed moved to Arizona. I had cruelly left one man to be with another that I had developed strong feelings for. I was in my early twenties and frankly, I was a complete shit. I would barrel through whatever and whoever to get my way and people got hurt sometimes. It was a terrible flaw but I feel I have tempered that part of myself in my more adult years. In any case, I fell in love with a person that I had always considered out of my league. His affection was returned, and I was done for. At first it was a like a dream. It had seemed as though we wanted all of the same things (we both had a reverence for nature and a desire to live the "good life".) For the first time I saw myself with a real future with someone. We created a really wonderful home and dug up our first vegetable patch together. We took a beekeeping course and cooked meals from food we harvested. We had a routine of eating breakfast and drinking tea on the front porch every morning with the cats. I was in domestic bliss.
Except for when I wasn't anymore.
I don't know what happened. It's been a long time and I've picked that relationship apart down to it's atomic structure. I'm not even sure what parts are true and what I've allowed my imagination to embellish. But what I know for certain is this: I was immature and unfulfilled and he fell out of love with me, leaving me to contend with the ghost of our relationship. I had gotten my just deserts for all of the times I had done the same to other people, and it really sucked.
He went to NYC to start over, and I followed. It took me a long time to admit, though it was obvious to anyone with eyes, that I wanted to work things out with him. It was insane of me. I uprooted everything for a misguided attempt at salvaging a relationship that had absolutely run it's course. To be fair to myself, I also just wanted to get out of Baltimore. I had loved that city once but there was nothing there for me anymore. I recognized a good opportunity to move on and I took it. I landed a good job with a small clothing company in the Lower East Side, a great apartment with cool landlords and was doing pretty well, on paper. Behind closed doors, however, I wasn't even a person anymore. I was a pulsating, raw nerve prone to bouts of hysterical blubbering and insanity brought on by the fact that this man I was attached to had moved on and I was in a city I wasn't sure I liked very much. My friends endured a lot during that time and I'm glad to have had them around.
I tried dating again and I proved pretty quickly that I was not ready for it. I made a mess of things right out of the gate. I just couldn't do it. In some roundabout way it occurred to me that I should focus my attention on something that would make me feel like everything in the world was right where it was before. I recalled all of the times I'd lay in bed thinking about spring and tender green things and warm sunlight and the farm and I knew that instead of seeking a romance with a man, I'd do well to seek romance with the way of life I dabbled in back home in Baltimore.
I jumped in with zeal. That first Brooklyn spring, I started a garden with my neighbors. The next year, I set up a beehive (a total life changer) and got a small flock of laying hens. WIthin the year I quit my job to start teaching classes on the subjects I've learned so much about. I've documented much of it here. I continue to learn and I've remained hungry for even more knowledge and understanding.The most important thing I've gleaned from all of it is this:
No matter what hardship and drama is going on in your life, the world lives on as it ever has. You cannot let these things unravel you. None of the things that happened in my life had the capacity to ruin me unless I let them. The world beyond my own heart is still the same. There are relationships at play out there that are age old and far surpass the silly human need to chase romantic love. Our overly intense, cartoonish impression of what it should be is wrong. It's out of balance. No one person should love any one thing to their own detriment. We would do well to direct some of that intensity inward towards ourselves and outwards to the rest of the world. The world is a cruel, forgiving, amazing, beautiful place and it pains me to see people take it for granted. It pains me to see people hurting themselves as I once did.
It's 9 a.m. on a Wednesday. It's raining and the chickens are in their enclosed run with dry hay. The garden is planted with tomatoes and herbs and beans and buckwheat and the linden trees are about to pop. This will be the biggest source of food for the bees this spring. I've been cobbling this blog post together for a few days now, and I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say with it. Maybe I just want my readers to understand where I come from so that they feel what they want is within their reach too. Perhaps what I want to say is that the choice to live this way is what saved me. Perhaps it's given me a chance to gain some perspective, to see more clearly. It's pulled me out of my own head, where I had trapped myself. It's thrust me into the world to be part of it. Whatever it is that I am trying to say, I know one thing for sure. I feel so grateful. So eternally grateful to have loved, to have been hurt, to endure and to be alive.
The rewards that come with beekeeping - honey, pollen, wax, propolis, sharing, sovereignty, joy - don't come without a price - care, maintenance, dollars, and, not least, stings.
I've had my share of bites and stings in the past. Growing up in south Florida, there wasn't a spider or yellowjacket or bumblebee in my yard that didn't make its presence known at least once. I'm lucky to not have an allergy, and perhaps those early-years stings are why.
So far in my first season as a beekeeper, I have been leaning towards a no-treatment, no-supports (except for post-install syrup), no-stuff 'keeping. I wore a veil at Tim's recommendation while hiving, but having spent time with keepers like Meg, Sam Comfort, and Michael Leung, and reading through what these friends and others at Backwards and Bush Farms have had to say, I'm confident in my decision to do as little as possible and let the bees take care of themselves, or perish.
Well, after two successful (i.e. stingless) inspections since hiving, I learned a good lesson yesterday. On the way home from work at Brooklyn Grange, I stopped by for a peek.
I decided to start with my more productive, but more fierce, hive. I was amazed. Though two central frames had been combed together, I pulled out frame after frame of capped comb and saw that the ladies had even drawn substantial amounts on the foundationless frames. Then I pulled out the two joined frames together. Mistake number one.
I guess lifting and moving around two frames worth of busy bees all at once set off some kind of alarm. Suddenly, I feel that familiar burning in my left hand, smack on the thumb joint. I closed my eyes to focus and plan next steps, still holding the frames. Mistake number two.
I had learned, but forgotten in the moment of truth, that bees release an alarm pheromone when stinging that calls out to the rest of the hive, "hey everyone, come show this intruder who's boss!" Less than a minute after being stung on the hand (I'm surprised they waited that long), I feel another zap on my eyebrow. The bees buzz a little more loudly, and start flying en masse out of the hive. Alarmed myself, I set down the frames, and, well, ran to the stairwell.
The panic started to set in. How the heck was I going to get back to the hive, put the frames back inside, and close up shop without hurting any bees by going too fast or getting stung to death? I couldn't just leave the hive open, I felt bad calling in reinforcements, and I really didn't want to end up like Thomas J. in that scene from My Girl I saw way too many times as a kid.
What a pickle. But I was determined to clean up my own mess. I noticed that there were a couple angry interlopers trying to sting me through my jeans and shirt, so I brushed them away outside and grabbed my bag.
Luckily, I found a plastic baggie, which I used to cover my stung hand thinking this might hide any pheromone residue on my skin. I summoned every ounce of courage I could muster, and approached the hive. Somehow, I was able to lift up the frames, which subsequently split apart (bonus?), carefully replace them, and put on the cover without any further stings.
As I write this, my hand and wrist have ballooned and my fingers look like longish vienna sausages.
My left eye is swollen shut and the right is threatening to do the same. I look like a live-action Beast from Beauty and the Beast, only with less hair and money. Or the vampires from the early seasons of Buffy before they got all CGI. Thank goodness for ice packs and big sunglasses.
What did I learn from this first high-stakes experience as a beekeeper? Always be prepared. I have a smoker, but got into the habit of not using it, riding on my no-frills beekeeping dream, so I didn't even have it on me when I went to inspect. I didn't have a veil, and I was wearing dark colors. While things like smokers and veils are considered by some (including me, up to this point) to be unnecessary, I realize now that, at least for me as a novice 'keeper, having the proper safety equipment is important especially when working alone. Being completely unequipped save for my hive tool was mistake number zero.
Not that I expect to never be stung again. In fact, I would be much less happy about being a beekeeper if that risk weren't a part of it. In some way, I feel like it's an important part of keeping these hard-working ladies and will help me to better appreciate all of the goods I'm getting out of the deal. You get what you pay for. But a sting on my hands or arms is one thing; my face... let's just say I'm too vain to handle another week's worth of swollen self-consciousness if I can help it.
So next time, better believe I'll have that smoker handy.
It's 4 a.m. and I'm staring at the ceiling. I cannot get my mind quiet. I had already spent about a half hour gazing at a spot above the bed thinking about how absolutely unrecognizable my life has become from what it was just a couple of years ago. Hazily my mind meandered to the progress of my book, the store, the move to start a real farm of my own. How did I get here? How did I manage to find myself in a place where people would think of me as someone worth getting advice from and spending their money to learn from? As I write, it blows my mind that anyone will read this. To be clear, I am not complaining. I'm just struggling with acceptance of it as reality.
I laid under my blankets with the warmth of cats at my feet thinking about some of the nasty things folks had been saying about me online. I haven't lost much sleep over it, but it admittedly bothers me that anyone would think that I moved here some privileged brat and that I don't deserve to be a resident of New York City. How ridiculous. I've worked myself to the point of near insanity for what little I have. I scrape by. I'm not getting rich and pricing people out. I'm fighting to keep my head above water like everyone else. When I'm broke, I work my way out of the financial hole I've dug myself. I sacrifice. No one has ever given me anything that I didn't have to hustle for.
So let me explain to the world who I am and how any of this came to pass. By "this", I mean someone like me being able to pay my way doing what I love. I don't have a college degree, I've never been thought of as accomplished, but I'm here now living the life I've wanted. I'm hoping that by explaining this, those of you out their bursting at the seams to get out of your day-to-day rut might glean some insight into how you can live authentically too. Some of you might question my motives for a blog post like this, but articulating these thoughts is as much about the process of connecting to who I am as it is about connecting with my readers. I'm just trying to figure it all out. So humor me, let me work it out here.
I'm going to take a risk and start at the beginning. I was born nearly 32 years ago in Baltimore, Maryland. My father was a troubled guy who worked at Bethlehem Steel. My mother, who had just barely graduated from high school when she had me, her oldest child, worked a couple of low paying jobs while my grandparents and aunt looked my baby sister and I. My parents had a very tumultuous relationship. Without getting into to many details, I'll just say that it was an unpleasant place for children to grow up and even more unpleasant for my mother. Things were pretty bad for the first decade of my childhood, but there were two constants in my life that always made me feel like everything would be alright: My great grandparents Myra and George and summer trips to the family farm in Virginia.
My great grandparents were both bootstrappers. They each came from humble beginnings, my grandma being raised on a farm just outside of Lynchburg, VA. She moved to Baltimore after a failed marriage with 3 kids and no savings. She was scared shitless but she made it work because she needed to. After demonstrating some serious hustle of her own, she ended up getting a fair paying job with the government. My grandfather was a plasterer with his own business. They met at a nightclub sometime in the 40's, got married and George took over fathering Myra's 3 children. He was a tough man, but fair with the kids. He liked to hunt for deer and rabbits and he loved to garden. He was hardworking and shrewd with money, even though he didn't have a great deal of it.
When things at home were at their worst, my grandparents home became a sanctuary for us. My granddad would let us play in the garden, showing us the greenhouse he built to grow african violets and tomato starts. He liked building squirrel and bird houses and there were dozens of them in the trees around his yard. He liked watching critters go about their business and would sometimes feed the resident squirrel a chocolate kiss when he wanted to show off for us. He was a bit of a rascal and I loved him. My grandmother was an ornery devil at times, too. Between the two of them we got razzed a fair bit, but it was always a loving kind of teasing. My fondest memories are of staying at their place and waking to pancakes with faces made of strawberries and bacon.
When school was out for the summer, my grandmother would drive us 5 hours south to the place where she grew up. The old homeplace, nestled in a valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was one of the first places I remember feeling reverence for anything, or feeling a sense of awe. A sense of God. I'm not a religious woman. I never have been, but as I wandered alone on the worn paths made by the leisurely walks my uncles, aunts and cousins took often, I'd marvel at how many living things managed to exist in every square foot of soil. I was awestruck. I was also shocked by the quiet. I'd wake panicked by the sound of a mouse crawling on the floorboards, a sound that resonated like a clap of thunder in dark quiet of my Aunt Joanne's country home. As a city kid, it was a hard thing to get used to.
(me on a recent trip to the Old Homeplace)
Aunt Joanne is my grandmother's younger sister and easily one of the most loving and kind people I've ever known. A religious woman, she liked to go to bluegrass revivals and would visit families she knew needed some help by bringing them some food or clothes. She'd look forward to our visits and as such, each morning she'd wake before sunrise to make an obscene breakfast for the whole family that included homemade buttermilk biscuits, peach preserves from her pantry, virginia ham, baked apples, fried eggs, fatty bacon (the more pork the better) and sliced salted tomatoes. Oh, and coffee. Lots of milky, sweet coffee. They never let me have any though until I was grown. Now I'm hooked.
We'd all sit around the table, the men would tease the kids and pile their plates high. When they had them adequately cleared of their portions, they'd go to tend to the things that needed doing. They'd check the tobacco drying in the cellar, for instance or to move the cattle to another bit of pasture. I got to ride in the pick up truck once when my Uncle Johnny would go out to move his herd to a different paddock. I remember him walking up to a big bull and patting him on the side like a dog (men in my family were show-offs) and I thought for sure he'd be killed. I knew little of livestock. I thought they were all deadly and would stop at nothing to avoid becoming hamburger. Needless to say, the man lived (for a while at least) and the bull presumably became hamburger.
I'm looking for a short-term intern until the end of July. I've been inundated with stuff to do and I could use an extra hand for about 10 hours a week doing stuff like responding to emails, starting seeds, weeding, transplanting, assembling bee gear, tweeting, entering email addresses for mailing lists, and organizing, organizing, organizing! This is an unpaid internship, but I'll do my best to make it worth it for the right person.
I'm looking for an individual who is interested in learning a bit about urban farming, self-employment and social media and is a quick and efficient worker. I'd prefer a person who is available on a weekday either a full 10 hours in one fell swoop or two 5 hour days dedicated to helping me tighten up my operation. The ideal person is well versed in Microsoft Office, WordPress and Movable Type. Someone with some interest and perhaps a little experience would be great, but I'm flexible. Brown-thumbs welcome as well. Please be able to start ASAP!
Here's what I can offer:
An opportunity to learn a bit about gardening, raising small livestock and beekeeping. This will not be the focus of the internship but you'll be brought into the loop and will be able to participate in classes offered at Hayseed's and will get to absorb information by just being around it. On days when there's no paperwork to be done, we will garden and clean rabbit cages and chicken coops and turn the compost. Farm work. So be able bodied! We lift 30-50lb sacks of feed and stuff often so if you've got a bad back, it might not be a good fit.
One paid meal for each work day...and coffee, plenty of coffee. We drink a lot of it around here.
A monthly Metrocard or cash equivalent. If we can't pay you, the least we can do is help get you around.
If you are interested and committed, please email me if interested with a paragraph or two about yourself and a resume!