Life on the farm is now deeply in ‘tuck-in’ mode in anticipation for colder months ahead. Word is (thanks to Farmers Almanac) that we have an intense winter ahead of us! We are prioritizing getting the soil mulched and older crops out and mulched.
With the help of our lovely neighbors to the south, we were able to move the hoop house to its winter position covering spinach and chard. Its amazing what 4 adults can do with a little elbow grease and 15 minutes. It took an hour and a half to prep for the move though–I cleared all of the track and deconstructed the anchors (that hold the hoop onto the track).
Andrew spent a good amount of time this past weekend fixing the hoop plastic! We made a bit of a mistake by putting the plastic on in February which resulted in a very loose, sail-like cover all summer. Every time it was windy you could hear major flapping. More pressing though were the small holes that started to form in the plastic from wear and tear.
A group of UofM students with the Michigan Sustainable Food Initiative came out to help us complete our huge mulching of all of the fields! They were really a big help and go the job done efficiently and beautifully.
It took about 3o large oat bales to cover 1 1/2 acres of field. The soil will be really well protected over the winter from all of the elements. The oat straw will also start to break down and add some organic matter to the soil. In the spring, I just rake back the mulch and can get planting super early…
It is also pretty cool for me to know that young people are interested in what we are doing and what to get involved in sustainable agriculture in some way. Perhaps the food system future is brighter than I sometimes fear it to be!
I also got a chance to hang out with the bees this week! Jon and his wife Mary come out to the farm every month or so to maintain their bee hives (they have 2 currently). Usually we are running around the farm taking care of business or not here at all. Luckily, I got a chance to talk shop with Jon and see how happy and healthy the bees are!
Jon and Mary have a philosophy very much aligned with our farm philosophy: simple and natural. They are very hands off in general with the bees and minimally try to give them what they need so they can continue to take care of themselves. Jon commented that sometimes he even feels gets in their way when hes working on the hives. Bee health and sustainability are top priority.
This is a really old-school, small scale way of viewing honey production. Most honey you purchase at the grocer was trucked around by semi load to different large farms around the country to pollinate huge crop monocultures (i.e. almond trees, etc). The bees are stressed out, get doused with chemicals to ward off pests and diseases and stripped of all their honey at the end of the season.
By not spraying chemicals or adding synthetic repellants to the hive to keep mites out–the bees are left to deal with any pest issues that may develop. In theory, this makes the hive healthier and stronger. I view it almost like a communal immune system. The colony must learn to adapt and fight off pests just as plants do in the soil as pests and disease are introduced. Managing things the old school way might not necessarily provide the most honey the fastest way, but it will yield more continually over time with less major problems (i.e. colony collapse disorder)!
Rather than taking all of the honey out the the hive at the end of the season, Jon and Mary leave a good amount of it so that the hive can sustain themselves all winter (afterall, that’s what the bees do all that work for, right?) and start again when the pollen is out. Bee colonies that survive over the winter each year are more robust and sustainable long term! And yet everyone wins! Jon and Mary get honey, their family and friends get a bit, we get a bit…and the bees get plenty! What a beautiful thing…