Mother Nature brought us a whopping 12-14 inches of snow last week, forcing me to postpone the first class of bee-school, and while I’m sure we’ll get more snow between now and then, the first day of spring is just 6 weeks away now. Here at Runamuk, Keith and I are gearing up for the rush of the growing season. We have a lot of projects to accomplish this year in order to expand our farm, so we’ve prioritized them, and organized them, with the idea that careful planning and preparation will lead to success.
In order to increase the revenue that the farm is bringing in, we’ve decided to invest our time and money in 4 key areas. Livestock, garden, kickstart and marketing, with more minor investments into the apiary and homestead infrastructure.
Livestock at Runamuk
Since our land requires a lot of reclaiming to gain good ground for future pastures and meadows, we’ve decided to use livestock to gently work the land. This year we will be bringing goats, pigs, and poultry to the farm. While the production of livestock for meat will largely serve only our own family to start, we know that in the next few years we want to be able to offer our sustainably-produced meats to the communities that we serve.
Fort Knox for Goats: Goats love to browse on brush and brambles, and we certainly have plenty of that here at Runamuk! The idea is to first construct what I’ve deemed as “Fort Knox”, a rugged, permanent housing facility with a large adjoining paddock that is securely fenced. Once “Fort Knox” is established, we can then think about investing in moveable electric fencing, which we can use to rotate livestock about the property to reclaim one area at a time.
Milk for the Family: We plan to have just a couple of dairy goats to provide our family with milk, since the Burns boys go through an incredible amount of milk every week (I did the math, and we’re currently spending more than $700 a year on milk! and that’s with careful rationing.). I already have 2 goats from 5 Seasons Farm in Liberty, Maine that I bartered a honeybee Nuc for last year, but was unable to take due to the delay in our move. This spring they will come to Runamuk.
Meat Goats: The other goats will be Boar goats–for the start of our meat-goat herd. I hope to invest in at least one good breeding doe, and a couple of wethers, the later to be slaughtered in the fall, to provide our family with meat through the winter. The doe will be bred in the fall, in hopes that she will provide us with new additions to our herd next spring.
Looking Ahead: Next year we would invest in 1-2 more does to increase genetic diversity in the herd, but we likely will not bring a buck to the farm until we have half a dozen or more does, or until we’re ready to erect housing for him and his cronies (even a billy goat has to have someone to keep him company!).
Another tool in our arsenal, forest-raised pigs are excellent at converting recently cut forest land directly to pasture.
According to Joel Salatin, the successional sequence after logging is to go quickly to briars and brambles–not grass. Then the stumps prevent mowing to control this lush regrowth. He says pigs love the roots of these early succession plants, and could largely clear cut-over land by gnawing tree roots and the bark of young saplings.
Depending on how many pork CSA shares we are able to pick up, Keith and I plan to raise 2-4 pigs in the area where we want to expand the gardens in the next couple of years. They’ll have a shelter for the summer, and electric fencing, and any grains we feed them after their roots-and-greens diet will be strictly GMO-free.
The majority of our birds will be chickens, but we also intend to have guinea fowl to help with the ticks, and possibly ducks and geese too.
This is another case of constructing a “Fort Knox” for the birds, from which they will be able to come and go on a free-range system. Next year we will construct our version of a chicken tractor or moveable coop, and invest in lightweight, moveable electric net fencing to rotate the birds along behind the goats and pigs to help with pasture management.
We will have eggs available at the Madison Farmers’ Market, and at the end of the summer, meat for our family’s freezer.
The gardens are another key component of Runamuk’s farm expansion, and encompasses a number of projects.
Vegetable gardens: This year we will break ground on 3 new gardens, totaling approximately 5200 square feet of growing space. Using wide beds, along with intensive and successional plantings, these gardens will not only feed our family and provide us with crops for preserving and storing into next winter, but also provide the fresh produce for our CSA and farmers’ market stand. We’ll stick to our commitment to heirloom crops, and invest in irrigation equipment. I’ve just sent out orders for seeds, onion plants, seed potatoes, and garlic seed for fall planting.
Seedling production: We bought all the supplies for our mini high-tunnel, which I will use to grow seedlings for the gardens, as well as seedlings to sell at market. Annual and perennial seedlings raised bee-friendly, without the use of insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides.
Reclaiming the Orchard: We’ve already been in the old abandoned orchard assessing how best to proceed with saving the apple trees. I’ve tagged the over-topping trees that need to come out in order to allow more sunlight to reach the apple trees. There are some trees that are entirely dead, others with a significant amount of dead wood, and others who look largely healthy. We will harvest the dead wood to use in smoking meat later in the fall, and prune the best trees to promote regrowth. I’m really excited to bring life back to the orchard, and looking forward to grafting new varieties onto some of our existing trees in the up-coming years.
Composting system: This is a two-fold project, along with a 3-bin system for composting household food wastes, garden waste materials, manure and more, Keith and I are working to establish Runamuk as the repository for leaves in the communities of Madison and Anson. We know that a mulch program like this will benefit our farm as well as the towns, and we want to get it underway as soon as possible.
Looking Ahead: Moving forward with our farm expansion, we intend for seedlings to play a large role in our diverse income. Offering the annuals our local gardeners need, along with nursery plants that include native perennials, and young shrubs and trees–all grown without pesticides in order to be Bee-Friendly. In the next couple of years we will erect our first full-sized high-tunnel, further expand our gardens, and break ground on the nursery, planting the first plugs for future trees and shrubs.
Wildflower meadows will be a key component to Runamuk and our pollinator education center–meadows geared toward native bees, another for butterflies, etc. We will erect a variety of native bee nesting sites, birdhouses, bat-boxes, and more, with walking paths, a picnic area, and a learning center where we can hold different workshops.
Runamuk’s Kickstarter Campaign
The livestock are an integral part of our plan to make all this happen, but livestock can only do so much of the work in reclaiming these overgrown pastures. A tractor is going to be an essential tool moving forward with our farm expansion.
We have many trees to be felled (we’ll leave as many as possible, and a 10-acre section untouched on the far west end of the farm, but that still leaves a 40-acre forest to contend with and there are going to be a lot of trees that have to go), swales to be dug for permaculture irrigation, new gardens to be plowed, compost to be turned, and much more. We’ve decided to utilize Kickstarter’s crowd-funding platform to raise money for this large investment.
We’ve already planned out our reward system, which will include things like bee-themed Thank You cards that I will draw by hand myself (didn’t know I was artistic, didjya???), our handcrafted beeswax soap, raw honey, Runamuk t-shirts, and native-bee nesting boxes–just to name a few.
The plan is to launch the campaign in August–so stay tuned for updates!
Marketing for Success
An essential component of any business, my mind seems to be continually thinking about how better to get the word out there about Runamuk and what we have to offer. This year, marketing our farm is dual purpose–promoting our farm and blog not only helps to gear us up for the Kickstarter campaign, it also increases our visibility in our community, and–hopefully–generates sales).
The Runamuk Blog: I’ve been hard at work on the blog, adding new content and working with other bloggers to increase the readership on our site. Our seasonal newsletter will build our mailing list, which we can later use to share the news of our fundraising project, and promoting my articles and posts, along with current goings-ons via social network sites helps grow our following.
Going Old-School: I haven’t forgotten the real world either, I’m hoping that my old-school flyers and brochures generate subscribers to our CSA, which will bring in some much needed funds for some of these projects. And our presence at the Madison Farmers’ Market will not go unnoticed either.
Investing in Marketing Materials: I’ve just ordered new professional-looking business cards, and this summer for the first time ever, the Runamuk truck will be adorned with magnetic advertizing promoting the farm, all of which I ordered through Vistaprint during their “Big-Sale”, which gave me a discount of half-off on these valuable materials. We also plan to put up a farm-sign at the end of Burns Road–this will be the first time we’ve ever had a roadside sign.
Taking a Step Back: Having pushed my girls rather hard over the last 2 years, focused on increasing the numbers of my hives, I’ve decided to take a step back from that this year. While I do still hope to add at least a few new colonies to my apiaries–I’m going to wait and see how the season progresses before I set a particular number in stone. I’ve learned over the last few years that the weather does not always favor making splits and nucs, and that sometimes splitting a hive before they’re really ready can be detrimental. So this year I’m going to let the bees tell me if and when they’re ready.
Location, location, location: I have had my eye on what I think will be a great location for Runamuk’s main apiary, but we’ll need to clear some saplings in order to gain access to this grassy knoll, and fell a few trees to open the clearing up enough to provide the hives with the sunlight they need. Once we’ve done that we can move the hives there and sit them so that they can soak up the sun on this south-facing slope.
Native Bee Nest Sites: This year, too, I’d like to set up my first “Native-Bee Hotel”, to start our good work as native bee conservationists, promoting native bees on our property.
Processing License: The biggest concern regarding the apiary is preparing our kitchen to pass inspection so that we can gain our Home Processing License. Last year Tracy and Rick Kniffin of Kniffin’s Specialty Meats in Madison, generously allowed us to use their commercial kitchen to extract and bottle our honey. However using our own kitchen would make things much easier, and allow us to expand into other processed foods.
While our main priorities this year largely involve projects that will bring a return on our investments, there are some basic components we need to have in place before next winter just to support our own family.
Cold-Storage: In order to preserve the root crops we grow for our family’s winter consumption, we plan to put in some form of cold-storage system. The scale of the cold storage system will be dependent on the success of the kickstarter campaign, since a tractor will enable us to dig into the hillside to hollow out a cavity, which Keith could build a structure into, and then berm the structure using the tractor once again. Without a tractor a cold-storage is still possible, but it would be considerably smaller–such as a discarded freezer buried in the ground, or maybe just a couple of garbage cans buried in the ground.
Dehydrator: Another key piece of the infrastructure for our family homestead is the solar dehydrator, which will allow us to dry tomatoes, apples, herbs, and more for winter storage. I’m hoping Keith will find time to slap something together for me to utilize, however I’ve seen plans that require little more than a screen, and should there be no other options, it will still be possible for me to dry foods for storage.
Starting Seeds and Waiting for Spring
For the most part we’re in a state of limbo, waiting for spring to arrive, and the snow to melt. However we’ve been able to get a tentative start on some of these projects–like the orchard, and our marketing campaign is underway. This week the mini high-tunnel is going up and I will be able to get started soon sowing seeds. I’m anxious to get started, but at the same time trying to enjoy these last few weeks of relative quiet before all hell breaks loose! lol! 😉