Categories
Community Spring 2014 Spring Cultivation The Farm at Stonehill

All A-Buzz at The Farm

Guest Post: All A-Buzz at The Farm

By, Devin Ingersoll (2014)

As the weather warms up there is something new buzzing about among the fruits and veggies at the Farm at Stonehill – Italian Honey Bees!

photo of Some of our honeybees hard at work on June 13th.
Some of our honey bees – hard at work on June 13th.

            In May of this year the Farm began working with The Best Bees Company, a company based out of the South End of Boston, MA offering beekeeping services to over 200 clients throughout New England in rural, suburban, and urban habitats.  All profits fund research to improve honey bee  health at the Urban Beekeeping Laboratory & Bee Sanctuary, also located in the South End.  The company installed our very own beehive stocked with Italian Honey Bees on May 16th. The hive is located near a boggy area (for water) and our Apple Orchard, but the bees can travel up to 5 miles from the hive as they complete their work and will happily pollinate our crops for this season and years to come. 

picture of The bees will help to pollinate many of our crops, including our apples.  Pictured here: Crimson Gold Apple Blossom - located about 100 feet from our hive.
The bees will help to pollinate many of our crops, including our apples. Pictured here: Crimson Gold Apple Blossom – located about 100 feet from our hive.

           Why Italian honey bees, you say?  This species of honey bee is known for its productivity and docile nature – hardworking and friendly (a lot like our farm crew!).  Beekeepers will come out to the hive once a month to check on the bees and at the end of the season harvest the honey and wax for us as well.  The company provides friendly and informative monthly reports like this:

Dear Bridget,

After checking your hive last Thursday, we are happy to report that your hive is very active and healthy.  The queen has been laying, giving your colony around 8 frame sides of brood.  There are nearly 4 frame sides of honey production under way, but nothing fully capped to pull yet.  We added a second box to your hive, giving your bees another 20 frame sides to inhabit. Your colony is utilizing 16 out of the now 40 frame sides currently in place. 

Warm Regards,
Operations at Best Bees

Alia, one of the beekeepers informed us that we may see up to 10-20 lbs of honey this first season.  Depending upon the amount of honey we see we will decide upon where it will be sold or donated – keep an eye on the blog for more information on this as the season progresses!

photo oHoney bees arrive on May 16th. The beekeeper pictured here is looking for the queen.
Honey bees arrive on May 16th. The beekeeper pictured here is looking for the queen.

            Honey bees live in a very well-organized and well-maintained hives usually in small, enclosed spaces.  Humans have used this trait to their advantage and have created boxes where honeybees are usually perfectly happy to create a home. The bees work together to build their geometric honeycombs from wax secreted from their abdomens.  Each individual honeycomb hexagon is used to store pollen, honey, or developing bee larva.  Just as caterpillars turn into butterflies, bees undergo metamorphosis as they transform from the egg to larva to pupa to adult honeybee. 

photo of Alia, a Beekeeper from Best Bees shows me a healthy crew of our honey bees on June 13th - less than 1 month after installation!
Alia, a Beekeeper from Best Bees shows me a healthy crew of our honey bees on June 13th – less than 1 month after installation!

            When you peek into the hive thousands of bees – our hive was started with around 10,000 bees – are busily buzzing about performing their designated tasks.  Each hive has one queen bee that lays all of the eggs for the hive (up to 1,000 a day!). The majority hatch into worker bees who take care of the larvae, build and clean the nest, and leave the hive to forage for food all in their 5-7 week lifespan.  Lastly there are about 100-500 male or drone bees that hatch and subsequently leave the nest to mate with other queens in hives nearby and immediately die.

photo of Rows and rows of tomatoes will soon produce flowers and undoubtedly be visited by the honey bees from the nearby hive.
Rows and rows of tomatoes will soon produce flowers and undoubtedly be visited by the honey bees from the nearby hive.

            As worker bees forage for food (pollen and nectar) from the flowering plants nearby they also act as pollinators for those plants. Without pollination the plants could not complete their life cycle and produce all of the fruits and seeds necessary to continue life as we know it – there would be no fruits or seeds to provide energy to humans and all living things to thrive. We need bees and other beneficial insects, no matter how small, to ensure a healthy ecosystem.

photo of The Lady Bug - especially while in it's larvae stage - is another beneficial and naturally occurring insect thriving at our farm - they are known for their good work of eating soft-bodied pests like aphids.
The Lady Bug – especially while in it’s larvae stage – is another beneficial and naturally occurring insect thriving at our farm – they are known for their good work of eating soft-bodied pests like aphids.

As the summer rolls on we are excited to see the bees buzzing about knowing that without the bees and other pollinators our crops – flowers, veggies, fruits and herbs – would not be as bountiful and delicious as they are today!

photo of The Lady Bug - especially while in it's larvae stage - is another beneficial and naturally occurring insect thriving at our farm - they are known for their good work of eating soft-bodied pests like aphids.
Our first bouquet of the season picked on June 13th. The bees will love these flower and we, in turn, will enjoy all of the colors and perfumes they provide.

~~~

photo of I hold up our first - of many - bouquets that we will harvest this summer!
Farm Manager Bridget holds up our first of many bouquets that we will harvest this summer. Lots of rain last week with sun this week will produce hundreds of blossoms – which will make our bees and customers very happy!

             For more information about the social behavior of bees check out the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium following and Beespotter.

            Maybe you may want to try out beekeeping for yourself next year – check out this site for some information to get you started!

            Next time you are at the Farm check out the hive (next to the compost pile) and watch our bees buzzing about!  

 

 

Categories
Community Spring 2014 Spring Cultivation Spring Volunteers 2014 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Elements of a Living Canvas

Spring is a miraculous time to be a farmer – it is a time of creativity, renewed energy and productivity.

On these cooler days in May the fields appear to be a blank canvas that we are given the opportunity to fill up with colorful, nutritious crops.  We start each growing season with the memory of bountiful fields – thousands of plants producing fruits faster than we can harvest them – as we look out at many open rows waiting to be filled with tiny, seemingly vulnerable seedlings.  With the knowledge that these small, fragile seedlings often grow rapidly into strong, vibrant plants, we forge ahead and begin to paint the farm once again.

photo of Volunteers plant sunflowers and onions in early May.
Volunteers plant sunflowers and onions in early May.

The volunteers are plentiful and eager to help the farm have another successful year!  During the months of April and May we often welcomed 25-30 helpers each Friday who quickly got right to work: planting, mulching, watering and prepping beds.  We have them to thank for the rows and rows of healthy plants that are growing along beautifully now on these longer, warmer days.

photo of so many seedlings to plant
I choose a tray of zinnia seedlings for Ryan and Jeremy to plant on a sunny Farm Friday.

The plants are adapting well to the somewhat harsher environment that lies outside of the protective hoophouse, and with some water and time in the sun they start to grow.  We can’t help but anticipate all of the delicious flavors that our first harvests of High Mowing Mesclun Mix, Shanghi Green Pac Choi and Deer Tongue Lettuce will bring to the table.

photo of busy farm volunteer hours
Busy farm volunteers water and plant flowers, onions, collards and kale.

In addition to careful planting, the light and heat from the sun, and nutrients in the soil, our crops will also require water and some help competing with the weeds to ensure that they achieve their full potential.  Volunteers assist in the important tasks of rolling out the irrigation “lay-flat” tubes and drip tape and delivering mulch to the fields.

photo of tijana and dan unroll the drip lines
Tijana and Dan help unroll the lay-flat that will carry water to the drip tape that will water the plants in the fields.

We are experimenting with doing some more mulching between the rows this season using hay purchased at the end of the last season and newly purchased salt marsh hay.  This mulch will add organic material back to the soil and allow us to cut back on hours spent weeding and weed whacking!

photo of mulching
Sarah, Kaylie and Devin transport seasoned hay out to the field to mulch the areas between the rows.
photo of spreading out the mulch - adding organic content and suppressing weeds
Devin helps to spread the mulch between rows of sunflowers, zinnias and onions.

~~~

In addition to volunteer groups, a number of classes visit the farm regularly to deepen lessons introduced in the classrooms across the street.  The Farm was the subject of this year’s Faculty Focus piece, created by our marketing team to highlight how a number of faculty members are utilizing The Farm as an outdoor learning space.

photo of Father Steve's students help with the grapes
Father Steve’s students help to cultivate the grapes.

Father Steve Wilbricht is one of the faculty who is utilizing the farm as a living classroom. He is committed to growing grapes with the help of his class on the Sacraments and can often be found weeding, watering and monitoring the health of the grapevines at The Farm.

~~~

One strategy to ensure productivity or all of our crops involves supporting our populations of pollinators, both native and imported.  This year we are adding a hive of Italian honeybees to the farm, which will be managed by the beekeepers of The Best Bees Company in Boston.  This addition to The Farm is the result of a Sustainable Agriculture semester long project by students Devin Ingersoll and Jess Lantos – both members of the Class of 2014.

photo of bees arrive Best Bees
10,000 bees arrive at The Farm with a Best Bees Beekeeper on May 16th.

The construction of our second hoophouse is another current exciting activity at The Farm, and is also the result of a student project.  In my Sustainable Agriculture class last spring, Dan Gardiner (Class of 2014) and Jack Bressor (Class of 2013) outlined how we could extend our growing and learning season at The Farm with the addition of a second growing structure like this.  With the help of a second year of funding from the Harold Brooks Foundation we were able to purchase the supplies to make the addition this spring.

photo of hoophouse going in
Chuck and John set the ground posts for Hoophouse #2.

Despite their own busy spring at Freedom Food Farm in Raynham, MA, Farmers Chuck Currie and John White are making some time to put up the hoophouse for us. We plan to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other warm weather crops in this structure during the summer and then chard, kale, lettuce and other greens during the colder months.

photo of pounding in the stakes
Sledge hammers, bulb augers, a level and pure, hard work are the most important tools for pounding in the ground posts.

One of the unexpected benefits of this construction project includes temporary perching for local tree swallows. Seeing them enjoy this space reminds me of the lessons I teach in the classroom – we are part of a larger ecosystem here at The Farm and have an important duty to be stewards to the land and to support the biodiversity that thrives on the farm and in the fields and trees that surround us.

photo of Sparrows enjoy ground posts
Tree Swallows enjoy the view from the ground posts after construction is done for the day.

We have also seen toads, bees, crickets, robins, bluebirds, nesting killdeer and many other creatures at The Farm this spring, which encourages us to continue to think about ways to provide a diverse habitat as we simultaneously work to grow, harvest and deliver our crops to nurture the human members of our community.

photo of Killdeer in the lettuce
A Killdeer sits on her nest which she chose to build in the shade of a Red Oakleaf Lettuce seedling.

I was relieved to see that this Killdeer (pictured above) decided to lay her eggs in a row after it had been planted it with seedlings.  She actively defends her nest whenever we approach the area to plant or weed in a nearby row.  We are happy to let her have this head of lettuce and hope that she stays in this part of the field out of harms way of the rototiller or a hoe.

photo of Summer Farmer Chris plants onions with Jeremy, our new Farm "Into the Streets" coordinator.
Summer Farmer Chris plants onions with Jeremy, our new Farm “Into the Streets” coordinator.

~~~

photo of Summer farmers planting
Summer Farmers Kayleigh and Andrew plant out the last of the onions in late May.

This summer, 3 summer farmers will be helping to care for our farm: Kayleigh McDonnell, Andrew Curran and Chris Astephen.  Together we will work with the volunteers, visitors, killdeer, bees, community members, and whatever the weather brings us to grow vegetables and flowers.

photo of seedling enjoy the hoophouse head as they prepare for life in the field
A view of The Farm through Hoophouse #1 – thousands of plants that will soon be moved out into the fields to grow.

We are keeping busy moving the seedlings from Hoophouse #1 into the fields and have started to harvest a few things – lettuce and Pac Choi – for our community partners and the people that they serve.

photo of first harvest
First harvest of colorful Mesclun Mix – delivered to the Easton Food Pantry on May 19th.

~~~

Season #4 is officially underway… looking forward to seeing what new elements we can add to this year’s masterpiece.

Visit us at The Farm or on Facebook to see it all unfold.

Categories
Spring 2014 Spring Volunteers 2014 The Farm at Stonehill

Spring’s First Heralds Hum!

With temperatures falling into the teens at night for much of March, it feels like an understatement to say we have had a slow start to spring  here in Easton, MA.  In his poem, “I Have a Rendezvous With Life, ” Countee Cullen includes the line “I have a rendezvous with Life, When spring’s first heralds hum.”  This year it is almost as if Spring is waking up a bit late and almost lackadaisically going about getting herself ready for a very important date with the calendar.  Rest assured, I’m confident that the tilt of the earth and the intensifying sun rays will hurry her along and these colder days will be replaced by warmer days before we know it!

photo of Crocuses burst from the earth despite frigid nighttime temperatures on March 20th.
Crocuses burst from the earth despite frigid nighttime temperatures (March 20, 2014).

At The Farm at Stonehill, we are making good use of this slower start to the season to organize our growing spaces and to plant early crops like onions, greens and flowers to ensure a productive fourth season!  Regular “Farm Friday” volunteer hours will recommence on April 10th promptly at 2:30, but thankfully some of the students have started to appear at The Farm to lend a hand even though they must do so clad in hats, gloves and windbreakers to keep out the chill.

photo of Kraig, Gabby, Dan and Devin use the wind to help them fold up a tarp that was used to protect a sling bag of our seed starting Fort Vee mix from Vermont Compost from the elements during the winter.
Kraig, Gabby, Dan and Devin use the wind to help them fold up a tarp that was used to protect a sling bag of our seed starting Fort Vee mix from Vermont Compost from the elements during the winter.

Volunteers have helped to clean up our hoophouse to make way for trays upon trays of seedlings that are currently germinating in the greenhouse at Shields Science Center.

photo of volunteers
Kaylie Bissonnette and Kayleigh McDonnell (both students in the Sustainable Agriculture class) help to clean up an experimental plot from last year’s Sustainable Agriculture class.

Some of the projects seem small, but to the farmers at Stonehill, an organized hoophouse, is satisfying and beautiful thing to behold – especially when we picture the tables filled with trays teeming with a diverse array of crops!

photo of Chris, Burke and Kraig help to set up seeding tables.
Chris, Burke and Kraig help to set up seeding tables.

It won’t be long before these onion seeds have germinated and turn from brown to green (or red and purple)…

photo of Seeding onions on March 6th under sunny skies in the hoophouse.
Seeding onions on March 6th under sunny skies in the hoophouse.

…like these beets,

photo of Beets seedling drink in the sun in the greenhouse.
Early Wonder Beet seedlings drink in the sun in the greenhouse.

…these lettuce,

photo of two star lettuce seedlings
Two Star Lettuce Seedlings.

…and these Mesclun Mix seedlings.

photo of mesclun mix
My favorite – High Mowing Mesclun Mix!

In addition to our intrepid volunteers, we have had other visitors to The Farm, like Candidate for Lieutenant Governor James Arena-Derosa  in Massachusetts.  One of the main focuses of his campaign is “Ending Hunger While Creating Jobs” and he took some time while he was on campus to visit with me and Professor Chris Wetzel at The Farm and also meet with students in my Sustainable Agriculture class to share his views on the matter.  We all enjoyed his visit and wish him the best of luck with his campaign.

photo of Candidate for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, James Arena-Derosa visited with me and Chris during his visit to the campus on March 17th.
Candidate for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, James Arena-Derosa visited with me and Chris at The Farm during his visit to the campus on March 17th.

Unlikely as it may seem, Spring is arriving and bringing the sensation of softer fields underfoot, the lively whooshing of running water in the melting streams, and the cheerful songs of Spring Peepers and Robins.  

It won’t be long before Season #4 is in full swing!

photo of Melissa, Burke, Kaylie, Gabby, Kraig, Devin, Chris, Dan and Kayleigh - basking in the post volunteer hours glow.
Melissa, Burke, Kaylie, Gabby, Kraig, Devin, Chris, Dan and Kayleigh – basking in the post volunteer hours glow.

Stay tuned for updates on the true arrival of spring here – with exciting news about the college’s commitment to Real Food to come in my next post!

photo Zuri is happy that mud season has arrived and is looking forward to welcoming any and all volunteers to The Farm!
Zuri is happy that mud season has arrived and is looking forward to welcoming volunteers to The Farm!