Summer on the Farm
It's been a busy couple of months on the farm, and I know I always say that no matter what time of year it is, because it's always true! The biggest farm news this summer is that we have an adorable new member of the farm family - OJ is our new mouser! His story began as a new barn kitty at a farm about a mile up the road, but that's not where his story was meant to end. He found his way to 5R Farm a couple of months ago, and I guess he liked what he saw (or maybe it had something to do with the two cans of tuna I gave him when I decided his constant meowing meant he was hungry) but in any case he soon adopted me and I couldn't be happier to have him. I have long wanted to add a mouser on the farm, but I never quite got around to making it happen, so this couldn't have worked out more perfectly. He follows me around everywhere on the farm, and it's been a lot of fun having a companion with me as I'm taking care of farm chores. The chickens and even the turkeys are still a bit freaked out by him, but I'm hoping eventually they will get used to him because I think he's here to stay.
The other exciting news is that honeybees have returned to the farm! A few years ago I had three beehives, but over the course of a couple of rough winters the hives all died, likely due to a combination of varroa mites and weather related factors. I had been hoping to catch a swarm to start beekeeping again, and this spring it finally happened. I was in the greenhouse one day, and while it's not uncommon for a bee or two to occasionally find their way into the greenhouse, on this particular day I noticed several more bees than usual were taking quite an interest in my stack of empty hive boxes. So I quickly assembled a make shift hive and added a few frames of drawn out honeycomb, and a few containing small amounts of honey that I had left over from my old hives. Within a few hours I had a swarm congregating in the greenhouse. Of course they didn't make it too easy on me because instead of moving into the hive box I had assembled to them, they decided to attach themselves to a couple of two by four boards in the corner of the greenhouse. It was really exciting to see it all unfold, and I couldn't stop going out to the greenhouse to check on the rapidly growing swarm. Having never captured and moved a swarm, I was a bit apprehensive about trying to move the swarm on my own into a hive box. Thankfully I have a beekeeping friend that lives just a few miles down the road, and she was happy to come move the swarm into a hive box for me while I watched and learned. We kept in close contact over the course of the next couple of days, as she advised me via text message what to do to help get them established in their new home. The hive has done very well over the last two months, which is exciting to see. I even got a little taste of honey from the honeycomb they had built on top of the frames which got pulled apart when I opened the hive to inspect it a few weeks ago. I was never much of a honey person before I started keeping bees, but I gotta tell you, when you taste that honey from your very own bees, it's the best thing you've ever tasted!
The summer veggie garden has been a bit slow to mature and produce this year as a result of our cool and rainy spring. The upside is that we had a great spring for lettuce and peas. Potatoes, garlic, and summer squash are finally ready, and I'm just about ready to pick that first cherry tomato. My basil and peppers are enjoying the heat wave we are having and I think that will kick them into high gear. One garden success that's been fun is that I have beans growing up my arch trellis, and it's looking especially lovely. After failing to get luffa and cucumbers to grow up my trellis the last couple of years, I'm excited to have the beans doing so well. July means that it's time for the county fair, and since my veggie garden is slow this year, rather than entering the usual fresh veggies, instead I focused my entries on the preserved food category. I entered close to 4 dozen items in all, including lots of canned and pickled goods as well as dehydrated vegetables and herbs, dried foods including beans and glass gem popcorn, my naturally dyed and blown out Easter eggs, as well as a dozen flowers.
I had my best year ever, and I brought home the high point award in the preserved foods category and over 40 ribbons in all including two Champion ribbons and a Best of Division ribbon.
The chickens have a new expanded covered chicken run next to their coop, which triples the size of their outdoor covered space. There has been an especially virulent strain of avian influenza circulating this year, and we want to be ready to keep the ladies safe and contained if cases should occur near us. It also provides a lot of nice shade which the chickens have really been appreciating on the hot summer days. Come the rainy season and winter snow storms it will also be a great covered space to have. I've been overrun with eggs this summer, many days getting about two dozen eggs from the full-size chickens, bantam chickens and turkeys. It's been a challenge keeping up with all the eggs and finding enough customers since I live such a hermit lifestyle, so I've been donating eggs to the local food bank this year, which is something I've long thought about doing, and I'm glad I am able to make it happen this year. I've donated 22 dozen eggs this month. So even though it seems like most days I'm on the go from morning until night with everything that's happening on the farm, I wouldn't have it any other way.