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April 21st, 2012

Yelp and Howl

They’re back.  Under the greenhouse, through the barn, into the woodpile.  Scraping and plundering about, eating all that’s new and green, making passionate, squealing woodchuck love in the middle of the night.

I was even jolted out of bed last week at two in the morning to what sounded like a chicken meeting the toothy  end of a fox or raccoon.  After a blind and bewildered stumble out to the coop, pellet rifle in hand, I made a quick tally, and all wattles were accounted for.  Then it sounded again, from underneath the barn floorboards: The horrible yelp and howl of woodchuck sex.

what, me worry?

What, me worry?

If this springtime ritual is that painful for them (truly a little death) why don’t they just stop breeding, or adopt a one-pup policy like the Chinese?   Works for me.

They actually tunneled under the greenhouse foundation and up into beds of March-planted seedlings recently.  Of course, they took out the much-coveted kale first; hopeful young shoots, barely into first leaf, gone.  Then the tender loose-leaf lolla rossa lettuce, about to be hardened off, gone. And, of course, my faltering humanity, gone.

I have to admit, I was impressed by their determination and insight.  How did they know the farm season begins in the greenhouse?  That this was nursery of wonders where seed was maturing into soft chloro-filled bites?

After finding their tunnel, I blocked it’s entrance with old bricks and rocks, which they handily excavated around.  I laid down wire and heavy terra cotta pots, which they gingerly pushed aside, with a varmint snicker.  Finally, I mixed two sixty pound bags on concrete, and poured the hole shut at both ends.  I’m just waiting to hear something from inside their cement tomb, like a Tell-Tail heart, or – God forbid – squeals of woodchuck ecstasy.

SGF 5-11-1220

Seedlings in the newly-fortified greenhouse, ready to fend off another pillage.

Woodchucks are as perennial and unflappable as weeds.  The more burrows you empty out each year, the more vacancy signs dance in their furry little heads.  Like sub-prime speculators, their waiting for the market to open up so they can settle in. Sprees like these can only send agricultural economies South, as a band hungry, ravenous woodchucks can easily undo you as a farmer.

For now, the greenhouse appears to be protected, and seedlings are thriving again, standing tall and brave in their refortified world.  In a few weeks, they’ll move out to live under an open sky of sun, wind and rain, safe behind fencing, as objects of insatiable, four-legged desire.    –Mb

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April 1st, 2012

Buzzed

How sweet they’ve been, the first days of Spring. Though March played with our sense of seasonal order, growling out like a temperamental lion, we harvested twenty pounds of honey this week; a sap of sweet, slow, amber translucence.

Our old school honey harvest meant using the slow drip method; letting gravity do its thing as open combs were warmed in front of the fire.


Our bees buzzed off sometime late in the season, so we feared the worst: That the honey stores had been plundered. But it seems our three Russian colonies swarmed like Cossacks, leaving empty hives and all of their hard-won honey.  So we’ve ordered Italian bees and queens this year. After all, a hive of matriarchal Italians is surely going to center around the making of food. Buon appetito for us!
It turns out beekeeping is as fraught with loss as anything else on the farm, the only constants seem to be the hives themselves. You don’t imagine a lot of neurotic bee keepers out there – one just can’t be type-A anxious and high-strung when working with all the unknowable quirks of the natural world. Hopeful resignation tends to reign. Bees have ideas of their own.

Newly-jarred honey, almost a gallon of it, glows on the window sill.


Because bees will travel far to find pollen, often beyond an organic oasis and up to seven miles from the hive, pesticides used on neighboring farms are a concern. For more than a decade, as bee populations around the globe have declined dramatically, pesticides have been thought to play a part in what’s become know as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  Just last week, the New York Times reported on the increasing scientific consensus that neonicotinoids, or systemic pesticides that move through plant tissue and into their nectar and pollen, make bees more vulnerable to disease. These pesticides, rubber stamped by the influence-pedaled E.P.A, weaken the immune system of bees, mess with their sense of navigation, and stunt juvenile development.

A planet without bees is not just a planet without the miracle of honey: bees pollinate 30% of our fruit and vegetable crops. The imbalance will lead to increased consumption of petro-chemical grains and feed lot protein – already a scourge in our fast food nation.

If the vanishing bees are a warning, their decline may be prophetic. Monocultures made possible by corporate profiteers such as Monsanto, ADM, and Cargill will be all that’s left; acres of GMO produce dripping with lethal chemicals  It’s no wonder we’ve been kicked out of the garden by higher powers.

Einstein wisely said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” and small organic farms are on a mission to change consciousness, one bee at a time.  –Mb


Oeuffington Post

Free range eggs from our flock of hardworking hens are available for pick up!  They’re in the create by the front door.  $3/Doz.

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