Recently in beekeeping
The farm has undergone a huge transformation in the past few weeks. Where brown and grey we're the dominant colors, green and fuschia have supplanted them. The trees, grasses and hedgerow shine so brightly you see their negative burned into your eyes when you look away. This is the time where we steadily creep toward plenty. In a short few weeks we'll be up to our eyeballs in zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers. I'm wringing my hands in anticipation already.
In a little over 2 weeks, our CSA pick-ups begin. If you think my blogging is infrequent now, I'm afraid my dwindling readership may be in for a disappointment. You see, I've learned that you can't be a blogger AND a farmer and excel at both. I'll be checking in as often as I can. I hope you'll be there to receive my transmission!
It's been hard for me to sever ties with the city completely, even with all of the work that needs doing at the farm. My hive in Greenpoint is still kicking so it needs to be checked in on regularly. This means an hour drive into Brooklyn with some frequency. Frankly, I should have moved it to Seven Arrows by now but it's a big job and I'm still not entirely sure which method I'm going to use to pack it up. Beehives are heavy things and cumbersome, especially when they have to be lowered through a small hatch in the roof, carried down a steep ladder and two flights of stairs in an occupied building. In any case, it needs to move and I plan on doing it this weekend.
Another thing is pulling me back to the city, and that's the Brooklyn Grange Beekeeper's Training Program which I am co-teaching with Grange's head beekeeper, Chase Emmons. BG invited me to participate in creating a program that can be replicated year after year, one where serious wanna-bees can come and learn an entire season of beekeeping from procuring bees, maintaining them, harvesting honey and other products of the hive and marketing them to the public. The goal is to facilitate the creation of other career beekeepers like Chase and myself.
The group is small, about eight trainees total. What the group lacks in size though it makes up for in spirit. My pal Mark Negley, who has a bee business in Florida, was up delivering some of his overwintered PA nucs to us and he noted how impressed he was with the trainees 'go get 'em' attitude and iron work ethic. Many of them had never worked with bees before, but sat through my 8-hour recorded bee class to bone up on the basics.
Once Mark and I arrived at Brooklyn Navy Yard, the site of Brooklyn Grange's apiary, with the bees, we began to unload. Our soon-to-bee beekeepers gently carried the rickety nucs up the stairs to their new home, sat them aside their colorfully painted hives. The plan had been to let the nucs sit for a few days to settle down before transferring them, but everyone was so eager to get into those hives that we made a decision together to just do it and get those bees snug in their homes, stings be damned!
But few stings actually came. We demoed one introduction, and after we closed the full frames of brood and bees in their spacious hive it was game on! The gang was ready to give handling bees a try on their own. Chase, Mark and I gave some pointers to the group and one-by-one, they each lit their smoker, puffed the bees, opened the nucs and moved the frames gingerly to their new homes. Bees we're flying everywhere, but not a single jittery human was to be found on that Brooklyn rooftop.
My friend Alex Brown, who worked with me on my forthcoming book The Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees, was there documenting the day. Here are some of the highlights!
I'm incredibly proud of this team and I cannot wait to share more of the adventures we have this summer!
©2013 Alex Brown
Blogging has felt like a kind of drudgery for the past few weeks. For me it's felt forced and contrived and I attribute it mostly to the fact that we're kind of stuck in that in-between place that most farmers and gardeners find themselves in this time of year. We've had a few weeks of rest and contemplation about the next growing season and we know Spring is just around the corner. We've got work to do soon and we want to do it, not talk or blog about it. We want the warm sun on our faces and damo soil under out fingernails.
It's frustrating at times because we want to continue sharing everything that's happening here, but the reality of being a farmer/blogger is becoming clear. At some point you have to choose one or the other to focus most of your attention on.
Some things will be changing around here. There are plenty of blogs out there with daily content being added and we aspire to be that sort of prolific blog as well, but since this farm has become our first priority, that will be challenging and not always possible. I personally have had to rethink my strategy because I cannot find myself behind a computer for the length of time I am accustomed to. Lives are literally at stake daily. We need to be present mentally and physically, if only to provide damage control.
For farm information, you'll want to look to our posts at Seven Arrows East. The content will likely contain useful information alongside personal anecdotes. We're also contributing to The Anchor, an Asbury Park based culture blog. We're contemplating what to do with Brooklyn Homesteader. We're ready to move on, so now we've got the complicated task of figuring out what to do with it. We cannot depend on other people to post content with regularity. So, a name change is on the horizon and with it a slight shift in focus. More on that soon.
So are you guys ready for Spring or what? Renewal and verdure are on the horizon, y'all!
Of course you do. Beekeepers are rad as hell. At least the ones I roll with are.
(Photo: Eric Tourneret)
I'm teaching a three-part class here at Seven Arrows in at the end of February. If you are in the area and want to learn the ins-and-outs of beekeeping you should enroll! Classes like this one have been perfected at learning places like the New York Botanical Gardens but by taking this class with us, you directly support the farm and get to hang out with a bunch of rag-tag farmers on their own turf.
You can find out more about the class but clicking HERE.
Additionally, I will be taking orders for bees! I've partnered with my good friend Mark Negley, a young beekeeper with hives in Florida and Pennsylvania. He's got a hives ready to start making 5-frame nucs from and expects to have them ready by late March. They are a Buckfast/Pol-line Italian cross. I had some before Sandy destroyed their hives and they were lovely bees. Friendly, productive. If you are interested in getting some early nucs from my friend, please get in touch and I'll give you more info!
When a child enters the equation of a farm, especially one that isn't yours, you find yourself explaining the function of the place in different terms than you might use for an adult. One would think the terms would be simplified so that a young mind can easily grasp at what you are showing them, but in fact something about explaining a farm to a child feels more complicated.You are essentially responsible for delivering to them what I would consider to be a distilled version of the cycle of life and death and rebirth. Only, the more you explain, the more questions arise. Why do we eat certain animals and leave others to live? How do we know when to plant a seed and when to pull up an exhausted plant from the soil? Why do our dogs live outside when most other dogs live with people? How do you get a goat to make milk?
For a younger child, like Lulha, the daughter of the new on-staff yogi at Seven Arrows, there is a line that one must be careful not to cross. Some topics are easy enough to broach without fear of undermining someone's parenting philosophy, like the conversations about why our dogs live outside. But in regards to matters of life and death, how much truth is too much at once? How do you decide what is appropriate to share with a young, malleable person, dear readers?
The only answer I have that makes sense to me is to live the most honest and authentic way I know how to. I can only hope that somewhere along the way, the answers to the questions bubbling up from that young mind can be resolved through observation and an open heart. When there are questions I am unsure are appropriate for me to answer, I simply won't. After all, I still don't have all the right answers. Lulha and I are on the same path. We're all just trying to see where we fit into it all. I haven't discovered that for completely for myself yet, I'm just catching the trail. But, maybe this kiddo and I can help each other along in some way. Time will tell one way or another. One thing is for certain though, I welcome the perspective of a person still so new to the world. It keeps me reminded of my newness, too.
Hey-a, folks! We're happy to announce that we'll be opening up registration for our CSA on January 4th! Currently, our farm will be servicing the surrounding community, with weekly pick-ups at the farm but if we don't fill up the slots by early February we'll consider offering shares to our Brooklyn pals.
To find out more about pricing and sample harvest lists, please send us an email. Our farm website will be operational in the new year so stay tuned for that!
<3 Meg, Michael and Neil!
This holiday season, give the gift of a badass essential skill! Brooklyn Homesteader is now offering gift certificates for any of our online or farm-based workshops! We've been teaching for nearly 4 years at institutions like The New York Botanical Garden and 3rd Ward. We've taught private workshops during that same time as well!
We're offering classes on beekeeping, sustainable gardening, backyard poultry, and more! We're adding new classes every week! Classes on mushroom foraging and cultivation, raising dairy goats and intro to herbal medicine! Year-long passes ($225/ 12 months) and couples certificates (half off yr partners!) available as well!
All of our classes utilize strong visual presentations, hands-on activities and take-home references for continued study!
So help support the farm and give your friends and family members the gift of living a more sustainable, hands-on life!
As modern folks, many of us have that one website that we click to habitually for updates. Maybe you're addicted to friends Facebook status updates, or a message board of some sort. I've got a website of my own that I'm hooked on. It's the blog of author and young farmer Jenna Woginrich. Her homestead, Cold Antler Farm boasts a small flock of Black-faced Scottish sheep, two draft ponies, a menagerie of poultry and rabbits, working dogs and two dairy goats. She's been documenting her journey as a beginning farmer for years now, hosting events at her Washington County paradise year-round. She's got an impressive list of DIY books to her name. Jenna's been a huge inspiration to me, she's a force to be reckoned with.
Jenna's writing stands apart from many of the other homesteading blogs out there, which is why I love it so much. Her depiction is a romantic portrayal of farm life, sure, but she articulates her day to day life in a way that lacks the fluff and polish that some other blogs fall victim to. It is more robustly appreciative, even through the hardships she inevitably faces as the solitary steward of her farm. The boils and scars are all there for us to see. It's fascinating and there is much to learn from her experiences. So check out her blog, read on below. I'm certain you'll be clicking to check in on her as much as I do.
I've always been very impressed with your ability to juggle the daily maintenance of your farm, a full-time job (up until recently, when you took the courageous leap into self-employment) and manage to be a very prolific writer. Do you have any advice out there to the folks who struggle to find the time to follow their passion and also keep their everyday life in check? Possibly even some organizational tips?
I think my own secret to success is 100% unadultarated stubbornness. I made up my mind I wanted a certain type of life and went for it, blinders on. My advice is simple: prioritize what matters most to you as far as goals go and make sure every single day you are doing something to work towards that. If you want to be a farmer, for example, plant a seed today. Maybe in a few weeks you'll have a started plant you could sell to a coworker? See, that there is farming. It is possible in the middle of an apartment or on 500 acres. The proximity to land has nothing to do with it, your drive does.
As a writer, what do you think was the most difficult obstacle overcome? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you didn't go to school for writing, you just took to it naturally. When did you begin to feel like you were coming into your own as a writer? Was there one moment in particular that it dawned on you that you were, in fact, a writer and not simply an author?
I never took any sort of real writing classes, just the basic English and Composition style classes my high school and college offered. I went to school for graphic design, and always considered myself more of an artist than a writer. But as I moved around the country I found that writing was what centered and grounded me, it kept me in contact with family and friends, journaled my adventures, and made my life feel more one of myth. I wrote because I couldn't help it, and I think that's what really makes you a writer: not degrees and classes.
There's a certain contingent that sees the sort of lifestyle that you or I lead as sort of precious, overly romanticized and kind of unrealistic for the average person. What do you say to that?
I say they are right. My life is overly romanticized, extremely precious, and totally unrealistic. Which is exactly why I live it! You get one chance at this world and if you bought the chump story reality and peer approval are the same thing, you're in for a long, boring ride.
Can you describe to me your first experience raising an animal for slaughter? How did you choose what sort of livestock to raise for consumption? What was your first preparation of the meat?
My first animal I raised to eat was a Thanksgiving Turkey, America's favorite animal sacrifice! But I was a vegetarian at the time, well, a vegetarian on the edge. I didn't eat meat because I didn't want to support factory farms, but when I moved to Vermont I realized I could raise some of my own and wanted to start with that turkey. From day one it was food, not a pet and I named him TD. I never got attached or had a personal struggle with it. I am a firm believer in evolution and ecology's plan for us omnivores. I watched him die at a local outdoor poultry operation, get de-feathered and gutted and took him home in a plastic bag. He was 28 pounds dressed!!!! I felt nothing but pride and gratitude. I think it was the first Thanksgiving I ever actually understood the holiday, truthfully. But of course, my family was grossed out any my sister refused to eat turkey "she knew was an animal" and it ended up being traded for sheepdog herding lessons to another farmer. So it goes...
How has your perspective on life and death changed after several years of witnessing it, up close and personal at Cold Antler Farm. Has it affected your attitude towards your own mortality?
You can't farm and not think about life differently. Every day I am surround by life and death, blood and sex, dirt and seed. To those people who think my life is a precious escape from reality, I say to them to come to a hog butchering day or lambing pen in full swing. There is a visceral change that happens when the smell of opened pig intestines and placenta become as memorable as lavender and honey (though not anywhere near as pleasant). It took a few years but I am learning that these perceived "bad" things like offal and birthing, slaughter and finding dead chicks drowned in a watering trough are just part of the farm's story. There is so much life here, always thriving, but that means the opposite is here too. I guess to summarize: death went from being a character in life to a partner. I do not fear my own death, I just worry my body won't be used for its best purpose: to compost down and feed the soil that has fed me all these years.
What do you envision your farm (and your career as a writer, for that matter) to look like in 5 years? Is there anything you hope to learn or master in that amount of time?
I hope to be growing more as an artist and a farmer. I want to work more land, involve more people, and learn to really work with border collies as a team. I hope to become a better rider and driver of my horse, and future horses, too. And most of all I want to keep helping other people find and love this life I live here at CAF. Getting people started on this path is my favorite thing.
If you were to guess, what is your spirit animal?
I'm a fast, fast dog.
Never in my life have I ever felt more confident in my ability to teach. After nearly 5 years of delivering instruction on various DIY/ backyard farming subjects, I am really starting to come into my own. It all started with beekeeping, teaching that first class at 3rd Ward, then other more academic versions of my beekeeping and gardening courses at The New York Botanical Gardens popped up with a little help from friends. I felt I was out of my league in those classrooms, but I made it through those first sessions and I resolved to get better at it. Sometimes some enthusiasm and a little bit of know-how can make up for raggedy presentation.
Fortunately for my students, my presentation has improved. I've taught classes online, which require presentation to be seamless Urban Beekeeping 101 and Intro to Gardening Small Spaces have done well, giving folks outside of the New York City metro area a chance to learn about homesteading topics wherever they are. The classes are even recorded for playback convenience. Pretty spiffy, huh?
My favorite method of teaching though, is through hands on demonstration. Most recently, we hosted a mushroom workshop here at the farm and it was easily one of the best classes I've taught. We spent hours combing through the nearby woods, meandering the trails and talking about fungi and farming. We came home with arms full of mushrooms that we cooked and ate for lunch with a spicy salad from the garden and fresh goat cheese. It was glorious. At the end of the day, students left with mushroom log kits, and bags full of hens, chickens and blewits. It was a great day and I feel as though everyone left with knowledge and a perspective they may not have had before. It made me feel really proud and exceptionally glad to be in a position to share what I know.
I'm hoping to ride that high into our next class on the schedule: Homesteading Bootcamp on October 27th. This is a day of intense introduction to all manner of homesteading activities. It's one of my favorites, and quite frankly at $100 a ticket I think it's a steal.
Here's how this bootcamp goes down:
Students arrive for a tour of the farm at 9 am for coffee and pastries. Introductions are made and everyone gets comfortable, allowing time for anybody taking the ferry to arrive.
Once that is out of the way and everyone is settled, it's down to business. There's a lot of information to cover in one day. We'll start with Gardening basics; finding a location for your garden, types of garden beds and cultivation techniques, crop selection and planting schematics. After that, composting and a bit of foraging for wild edibles (mushrooms are in season in a big way around here!) We'll move on to raising livestock like chickens, rabbits for eggs, meat and manure, and there will be a very brief intro to dairy goats. We'll go inside for a bit to make some yogurt and chevre from our recently harvested goat milk. We'll eat a vegetarian lunch and then get back in the saddle, moving onto fermentation (sauerkraut, hot sauce, pickles) and canning. A beekeeping presentation will take place in my living room, so prepare yourself for cuddles from my fat cat Myra.
There will be some time at the end of the day for Q&A, feel free to bring a libation of choice if you'd like.
Classes like these are what will keep this farm operational during the winter. It's the only product I have to sell to keep the animals fed and cared for and to keep a roof over our collective heads. There is no consulting, no beekeeping, no honey during the cold months of the year. Just me peddling my big mouth. I'm shaking what god gave me.
Come spring, we'll have our CSA up and running, markets to attend and even more hands on workshops for DIY enthusiasts to participate in with more expert speakers (think intensive dairy goat workshops, shellfish farming, agroforestry, hunting, etc), but right now, it's never been more important for my readership to come and support the farm. So, if any of these classes seem intriguing to you, consider signing up. My online workshop calendar is going to be filling up with more topics all winter long so keep checking for new workshops HERE!