Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Of Wind, Water, and Unexpected Harvests...

Many thanks to farm hands Lauren and Kyle, as well as to the unnamed random visitor to the farm, for your help weeding Area Two this week. Much appreciated.

The new insect group examines the honey bee hive. This hive has had a hard time. It was thriving in February (see This Post ) but then all of March, April and May were unusually rainy and cold.

During those cold, wet months the hive experienced mold, mildew, mites and ants. Meanwhile the queen seemed to be acting odd. The former bee group did what they could but in the end the hive started to falter.

After this examination the bee group pronounced this hive nearly dead. My theory is that because the queen was acting strange the hive swarmed taking a good part of the population with it. At the same time, the queen did not produce a replacement population so as the worker bees died of natural causes there were fewer and fewer to replace them. The bees did not die off of unnatural causes they simply were not replaced.
 Bad news for the honey bees, but on the bright side, the overall bee and pollinator 
health seems to be thriving. Here are some pictures of the activity in the bee yard. 
The flowers are swarming with insects. It is gratifying to see all the activity.
A bee says hello to the calendula.

Here is a bee coming in for a landing on the phacelia.


On Thursday I came in to find that several flowers had been harvested out of the bee yard. The cut stumps of phacelia and sunflower were the most obvious. In consulting with the farm manager I discovered that the PSA students had harvested the flowers based on a "misunderstanding." There was a rumor that these flowers had been offered up for sale at the campus farmers market. The harvest of a few flowers was not a huge deal but the trampling of the planted area was unacceptable.

"Too 'In Your Face'." - Farm Manag

It was suggested to me by farm staff that I make a sign for the area to reduce the possibility of new misunderstandings. Here was my first sign.
The farm manager objected to my first sign as being too
"In your face", too big, and too close to the path. She
suggested a smaller sign, set
back in the yard.

This was
my second sign. So far there have been no objections to this one.

Notice the soaker hoses in the above picture. I planted several herbs and ground cover in Area Three and am experimenting with different watering strategies.

Another challenge was the big wind storm we had on Thursday. I came in Friday to find all the sunflowers lopped over onto the dill. I ended up spending a good part of the day tying them up to supports. Since sunflowers track with the sun I tried not to tie them too high which might have impeded their movement.

In the community garden next door a large sunflower also blew down and it snapped off at the base. None of the bee yard sunflowers broke and I think I was able to save most of them. I attribute their survival to the presence of the dill in front of them and also to the fact that I had done a heavy watering that day so their whole root mass leaned with them and helped prevent snapping off.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Amelia's Phacelias

Click on flower pictures for a larger view


At the suggestion of one of the greatest PSA students ever I planted a patch of Phacelia in the bee yard.

This variety, Phacelia tanacetifolia also known as Lacey Phacelia is a gorgeous plant that the bees go wild for. 

 The foliage is beautiful too and it was a joy to watch this plant grow. Now it is coming into bloom.

Many thanks for the great suggestion, Amelia! I call the patch "Amelia's Phacelias" and you have made a lot of  bees very happy.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Friday, July 1, 2011 Area Three.

The project this week (in addition to the on-going weeding and watering) was to prepare "Area Three". In the original planting plan (see earlier post) this area was going to be where I put a table and chairs, amidst a variety of plants, for farm students, staff, and faculty to sit. The Honey Bee Group was going to move the hive(s) along the fence in Area Two and Area Two was going to be planted in ground hugging flowering cover crops.

This would have been a better place for a table because it is more accessible than Area Two but unfortunately the plans of the Honey Bee Group fell through and the hive was not expanded or moved. I planted the plants I had for this area in Area Two (it is a larger area so I did not get the coverage I wanted but it is working out ok). By then the new PSA class was getting well established and I thought some of them might be interested in doing something with this area so I left it alone for a while.

At this point no one from that class has expressed any interest and the site has been getting progressively more overgrown with unintentional plants (I am avoiding using the word "weed").  This is how the site looked this week.

Here it is part way through the process of prepping. You can't tell from this picture but I have dug down fairly deep here. Initially to try to get the deeper rooted plants out and make a deep seed bed, and then to bury some of the weeds I removed.

I learned this week that the farm is no longer going to make any compost, so there is no place to pile crop residue and weeds. I have to admit I was in a state of disbelief when I heard the farm was going to get all it's compost from off-site. Soil fertility building and composting were such a big element of the PSA class I was in, and it was one of my main topics on interest that I just found it hard to grasp the idea that it wasn't happening any more. I am very grateful I went through PSA before this policy went in place.
Sad sunflowers

Prep almost done

I found these sunflowers wilted away in the unheated greenhouse. These were plants I started from seed. A couple of PSA class members asked me to leave them any extra plants I had for use in some of their project areas but none of the plants got used and they were not taken care of. I went ahead and planted these poor little plants but I don't have very high hopes for their survival. Not just because of their weak, spindly condition but because of the poor quality of the soil in Area Three.

I added a few wheelbarrow loads of compost from the wind row in the driveway. It has a lot of carbon material in it (wood chips) but I think it will improve the soils fertility somewhat and also the water holding/drainage capacity of the soil. I am not sure, however, if it will be good enough to nurse those sunflowers back to health (planted upper left by door).

Side Note: Notice the patch under the bee hive that still looks messy? I just can't lift those 
heavy concrete blocks to get the rest of the plywood out so for now it's going to stay. 
I think the plywood was part of the "mulch" project.

Prep done. View from Pole Barn door.