What does a beekeeper do in the deep depths of winter when it’s too cold and snowy for bees and beekeeping? I know you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to, lol. My season at the orchard is over, my vacation was wonderful but that is now over; and on January 4th I started back at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, resuming my post at a cubicle in their call center in Fairfield, Maine, where I sit for hours on end tethered to their phone, taking seed orders and answering questions.
It’s not bad. I get to talk to lots of people about gardening and growing, I work with a great group of gardeners and farmers, and the desk-job allows me to be able to work on other things between calls (my duties for the farmers’ market, or this blog, for example).
When I’m not working for Johnny’s I’m working for Runamuk, and have come to the realization that I need to be able to designate all of my available time (ie-when I’m not working for Johnny’s) to the farm and getting the ball rolling so that the farm is generating enough income to sustain itself─and me along with it at some point! It was a hard decision, but I’ve decided to let go of a number of projects in order to better focus my limited time and efforts on Runamuk; that includes the BeeLine─the bi-monthly publication for the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association that I’ve been serving as editor of for the last year and a half. I just finished my last edition for the MSBA, which felt like something akin to a herculean feat. The articles covering the different lectures that took place at the November beekeepers’ convention took a long time to write, and making time around the holidays and the orchard was incredibly difficult.
But it’s done now and I’ve already switched gears, focusing on revamping Runamuk’s business plan, adjusting my farm-plan to better suit the landscape and infrastructure available at Jim Murphy’s farm. I’m performing my annual SWOT analysis, and gearing up to pay a visit to my local Farm Service Agency, the NRCS, and the Maine Farmland Trust, to learn more about possible opportunities for Runamuk’s continued growth. Having these reports and details in order are crucial in my efforts to secure the future of Jim’s farm for farming in the future─hopefully for my farming future, but at the very least to keep it as a working farm for future generations.
I’ve started working on garden planning for the upcoming season. Growing produce for market is no longer a leading aspect of Runamuk’s business strategy─the gardens here are largely for self-sustainability. I know that if I can grow the majority of my own food it will save me a lot of money, which is then freed up to be invested back into the farm. Excess produce however, might be sold at the Madison Farmers’ Market or at road-side here on the farm. I have fiddleheads along the river, a large and well establish asparagus bed, and plenty of garden space to play with. And every little bit helps!
The goal is to increase production of Runamuk’s beeswax products, expand distribution and increase sales. With our young chickens due to begin laying in the next 4-6 weeks we’ll have plenty of eggs for the start of market in May, and I have high hopes to have some honey available this year. Meanwhile, it’s a big goal of mine to generate income through my writing, as I see that as the best way to replace my off-farm income. As soon as my business plan has been polished up, I’ll begin working on a media kit in hopes of drumming up sponsorship for the blog. I’ve been reluctant in the past to do too much advertising through the blog, but with an ever-increasing readership and growing traffic numbers, I feel it’s time to take a shot at it. If I could support local and sustainable businesses and Runamuk at the same time, it’s worth the effort. So if you know a business in central Maine who might be interested in a mutually beneficial relationship with the Runamuk blog feel free to share your favorite post with them.
The really big news is that I’ve ordered 10 more nucleus colonies for May and June pick-up from my favorite local beekeeper, a kermudgeony old silver-haired beekeeper with a fantastic bushy mustache and a stern glint in his eye. What’s more, temperatures were mild today so I took the opportunity to perform my January hive-checks. I am over the moon to share that 5 out of 5 hives were alive and looking strong. With the warm fall we experienced here in Maine I’ve been anxious about the fate of my colonies; once you close them up for the winter there’s nothing you can do but hope for the best. The sugar-cakes I had added just after Thanksgiving were not completely gone yet, but I added more sugar to each hive before I closed them up again. We’ll check them again in February, hoping for the best─that each of these hives make it through to the spring and we can continue to grow the Runamuk apiary.
So it may be the middle of winter, but this farmer is busy as a bee gearing up for what is looking to be a great 2016 season. Now that the divorce in behind me and Runamuk is settled into it’s new location in Starks, I’m confident that this small farm can finally gain some ground. It’s a new year full of new opportunities to be had and I am gung-ho to take advantage of them. Stay tuned folks!