A prolonged winter, combined with a cool, wet spring, made for a late start to the 2019 growing season, and even now temperatures remain rather on the cool side. These conditions have made it difficult for the planting of some temperature-sensitive crops. The apiary is particularly tricky to manage in such cool weather, but I am undeterred. Runamuk’s first growing season at it’s new forever-farm is underway! Yes, there have been some unexpected hiccups, but overall I am gaining ground and things are going well.
In the Apiary
The cooler temperatures we’ve experienced this spring have made it difficult to work in the apiary. Ideally, it should be 65 degrees or warmer when inspecting a hive. Cool outdoor temperatures can chill brood in the combs, which can cause larvae mortality. Death of the larvae directly translates into in a drop in the colony’s population, which can set a hive back significantly.
With snow on the ground right through April, I waited and waited for the weather to turn, checking the weather app on my phone daily and monitoring the thermometer on the side of the garage here on the farm. Unfortunately, it’s been cool all season. It was May, before we saw our first 60-something degree day, and then I leapt at the chance to get into the hives. I had to know what condition the surviving hives were in so that I could determine how this season was going to go.
It’s June now, but things haven’t really warmed up too much. I’ve managed to do what I need with the bees, though sometimes I’m forced to push the envelope with the temperature in order to get it done. I’m forever watching the weather forecast, waiting for the right opportunity to get into the hives. Sometimes I’ve had to resort to working on some 60-degree days, when it’s just a tad cool for bees.
Despite the challenges, the first of my overwintered nucs was retrieved this past Saturday by a beekeeping couple from Farmington. Later this week, Kyle DePietro from Tarbox Farm is coming to pick up the nucs he’d reserved back in March. I’m assembling nucs promised to other local beekeepers, and I’ve started a batch of Queens. Woot! Woot!
The dandelions have finally bloomed, the apple trees are blossoming, and there’s tree pollen in the air. The girls are bringing in copious amounts of nectar and turning it into honey; this stimulates the Queens to lay more eggs─up to 2,000 a day!─and the colonies are expanding to fill multiple boxes. I’ve even found a few swarm cells…it’s still a cool, wet spring, but bee-season is here at last!
I am absolutely in love with the gardens I’m creating here. When it comes to gardening─having a permanent location is such a beneficial thing. Knowing that I am going to be here for years to come allows me to invest in the soil, invest in the gardens with my time and energy, and invest in perennial plants that I’ll be here to nurture and care for over the years.
I might have gotten a little carried away at the Fedco Tree Sale this year, but having waited years for the opportunity to add certain perennials to my farm, I have no regrets whatsoever about it. I really want to make a big push for perennial food plants these first couple of years, and so this year I’m putting in 8 apple trees, 25 raspberry plants, 3 highbush blueberry plants, 10 elderberries, and a Shagbark hickory tree going in, as well as some perennial herbs like lovage, parsley and chives. For the pollinators: an allegheny serviceberry, a pagoda dogwood, lots of echinacea, coreopsis, bee-balm, mint, lavender, and whatever else I can make time for this year.
There are 3 perennial flower beds already in existence here, though they all need some TLC. The front perennial bed was overgrown and neglected, so I began first by cutting back overgrowth in the form of dead rose-canes, tree saplings that had taken root, and a shrubby pine at the front end that shaded that whole corner of the garden. Once I managed to clean up the garden, I planted my pagoda dogwood there. I have a number of my perennial flowers and herbs started from seed to plant there, too. Running parallel to my small orchard, and nearer to the roadside, this perennial bed is going to be a beautiful feature in the farm’s roadside landscape.
Regarding the farm’s large vegetable garden─it does not good to plant if the chickens are going to scratch it up, the dog is going to tromp through your beds, or the deer help themselves to your crops. So when my friend, Roberta Libby of Madison, offered Runamuk the gift of several rolls of previously used deer-fencing, I couldn’t say anything except thank you. With 6-foot T-posts, zip-ties, and an extra pair of hands, I was able to get a big fence around the garden, and that is a huge asset when you live in the wilds of Western Maine. I even have a fabulous garden gate!
Partly because the bees always come first, and partly because I’m still establishing permanent beds in the new garden, I’m a little behind with planting of some crops. However, with the kind of cool, slow Spring we’ve had, that’s not such a horrible thing. This week I’m making a push to prep the newer half of the garden, which more than doubles the size of the previously existing garden.
As soon as the snow had melted from that area I had laid heavy tarps on the soil to keep the grass from growing up before I could break ground on this new section of the garden. All spring while I’ve prioritized other projects those tarps have been smothering the vegetation beneath, creating a warm bed that is attractive to worms and other soil life. When I finally pulled back the first tarp I could see worm castings covering the soil surface and the grasses and weeds were dead and dried, ready to be incorporated into the soil. The soil itself was fairly soft from so much worm-activity, and I felt guilty just walking upon it.
The soil in the previously existing section of the garden is absolutely beautiful. It is dark and fluffy. You can tell it’s been used and taken care of for decades. Who knows how long that plot has served as a homestead garden for this old farm property? But the soil on the rest of the property is not great. It’s rather acidic and─judging by the type of vegetation growing and the sparseness of it─I suspect it is significantly lacking in nutrients. That can be cured over time with amendments and care, though.
On the up-side, the soil here is just slightly sandy, which makes for good drainage, and contains practically no rocks whatsoever! When I smother a patch, as I’ve done this spring, it’s a dream to take the broadfork to it and create new beds for planting. No tilling necessary! It’s a really beautiful thing.
I am Grateful
I have some livestock-related updates I’d like to share with you as well, but as I have a lot to say about rotational grazing and chicken tractors and such, I’m going to save that for another post. For now, just know that I’m working everyday to accomplish the goals I’ve set for Runamuk. These first few years are largely about establishing the farm at this site, and cultivating a larger customer-base. It’s a huge challenge (I’m perpetually sore these days!), and─if I’m being honest─it’s just a little overwhelming at times.
I’ve got my giant chalkboard, though, and my notebook of to-do lists to keep me on track. Ups, downs, rain or shine, aches and pains─I’ll take it all as part of my farm-journey, and I am grateful for it. With such a beautiful piece of Earth to call my own, how could I not be grateful every minute of every day for the life I’ve been granted here? How could I be anything but grateful that I can spend my days doing work that I love to do─work that has real purpose and meaning to it? This is what I was put here to do, and I will do it wholeheartedly.
Stay tuned for a livestock-related update coming soon! Check back for the next article in our Soil-Series, and don’t forget about our up-coming giveaway of “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution”. Subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box, OR follow us on Instagram at @RunamukAcres for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!