Hard Lessons

Your friendly neighborhood farmer has learned some hard lessons in animal husbandry over the past three weeks. Since I last posted, all of my ewes have delivered with varying degrees of success. Of the fifteen lambs born to Runamuk this season, two lambs perished, and I have two in the house at this very moment. All of the others are strong and healthy, growing just as they should, without care or concern. I invite you to join me on the farm now, as I share the story of this farm’s 2022 lambing season with all it’s highs and lows.

I Love My Finnsheep!

Let me start off by saying how much I love my Finnsheep! I thank my friend, Kamala Hahn at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, for indoctrinating me into the Finn fan-club. A hardy breed, originating from Finland, Finns are not the largest of sheep, making them easier to handle. Their wool is next-to-skin quality, oh-so-soft, in a wide variety of colors, and their meat is reknown for being some of the most flavorful lamb you can get. Finns are relatively easy keepers, friendly and personable, with lots of character. The ewes are generally good mothers, known for producing litters of multiple lambs without fuss. After two easy lambing seasons, I felt fairly confident as I came into my third year as flock-keeper.

Up til this year, my ewes had thrown only twins and single lambs. I was looking forward to a larger set, and hoped this would be the year. In that regard, I was not disappointed. On a Saturday night, two weeks back, one of my ewes by the name of Maleficent, gave me my first-ever set of triplets. An hour later, Fiona produced a whopping set of four lambs! The following morning upon waking, a visit to the Ewe-Shed found a third mum had produced a set of twins in the wee-hours of the morning. What a night! I was beside myself─overjoyed with the productivity of my flock.

Everyone looked good to this novice’s eyes. Mums all came through with flying colors. Babies were all in tact. Though the lambs of the litters of three and four were all very tiny, I’d had some smaller ewes produce very tiny lambs before, so I didn’t think much of it. I made sure each lamb got latched onto it’s mum’s teat for a good feed of the critically important colostrum, and checked on them frequently throughout the day.

This particular weekend happened to be the first in two years that my sweetheart, Deron, could not be with me for our regular visit due to a family crisis. Typically he spends Friday and Saturday nights at the farm. Then, on Sundays, I join him at his parent’s home for a family supper, then spend the night at his place in Solon. Since everyone seemed to be doing well, and with the lamb-cam to spy on any new deliveries, I caved to my longing to spend just one night with my huny. I left the farm late that Sunday afternoon.

Hard Lessons

Of course I checked the lamb-cam while I was off the farm that Sunday evening─repeatedly. I even woke periodically during the night, pulling the app up on my phone to make sure all was well. Unfortunately, with so many little lambs, it’s hard to see some of the finer details from a distance like that. It wasn’t until I was back on the farm the next morning that I realized one of Maleficent’s three babies was missing. I released the ewe from the confines of the lambing pen, and only two lambs tottered out after her. Where was the third???

I checked behind the water bucket, and under the hay-net, to see if the poor thing had gotten trapped there. No lamb. Panic welled in my throat─where could it be? What could have happened?

When I spied a telltale tuft of white fuzz peeking above the litter of the lambing pen, I felt sick to my stomach. What had I done?

The ewes will often kick up the bedding material in the shed, and in their lambing pens too, to make a sort of nest for themselves to lay in. This tiny, little lamb had gotten buried in the litter. Whether or not it was intentional on Maleficent’s part, I cannot say. Sometimes, ewes will reject a lamb if there is something wrong with it, or if they feel instinctively that they cannot provide for that mouth. Even if the lamb was destined to be rejected by her mum, I feel fairly certain that if I had been on the farm to check on the lambs in person, I could have at least saved it to be a bottle baby.

To make matters worse, another of Maleficent’s babies took a chill that night. Concerned, and not wanting to lose any more precious babies, I corralled the ewe back into a lambing pen with her two remaining lambs. Thanks to my two previous “easy seasons”, though I diligently monitored the situation, I did not recognize the danger the poor fellow was in. He was nursing periodically, but sleeping more and more. The following morning when I went out at sunrise, the lamb lay sprawled, all but lifeless, on the floor of the lambing pen.

Near to tears with the shame of my failures, I immediately took the lamb into the house. I made every attempt to rescue him, but it was already too late. He slipped away from us. It took a few days before Maleficent finally stopped crying for her lost babies, her eyes pleading with me to return her lambs to her.

Maleficent and her remaining baby are doing well now.

I know that it’s entirely possible those two lambs might have been doomed with or without me, yet the pain of those losses lingers in my heart. I blame myself. You can be sure, the hard lessons those two babies taught me will not be forgotten. Larger litters of multiple lambs are a wonderful thing, but just as triplets and quadruplets born to humans, multiples of sheep are so much smaller and frailer than a single baby, or even twins. They require much more diligence from the farmer. Finnsheep may be fantastic mothers, but that many mouths are harder for them to keep track of. Perhaps most importantly, newborns require my vigilance for the first forty-eight hours─minimum. I can’t be caving to the longings of my heart for the nearness of my boyfriend. No matter how sweet he is to me, nor how much I miss him. Farmers do not have that privilege.

Rejected

It was a little over a week following the loss of Maleficent’s two babies that my last ewe finally went into labor. “Baby” was last year’s bottle baby, whom I never really gave a name. Laughingly, I tell people that she was named after the main character from the movie Dirty Dancing (“nobody puts Baby in the corner”), but the truth is─she was my baby, and I’ve just always called her Baby, lol. She is a very small ewe, from a very small mother. I hadn’t intended for her to be bred, but I guess my ram had other ideas…

I worried about Baby’s birthing prospects, and stayed with her through the entire ordeal. Indeed, she did struggle to bring forth the single lamb she carried. It was a long labor, and the lamb’s legs were not in the right position. Once the little guy had emerged, Baby was less than impressed. It was hard to watch as she head-butted the tiny lamb, pawing at him with her front hooves, and attempting to cover him over with the litter at the bottom of the lambing pen. I toweled him off and tried to get Baby to allow the newborn to suckle at her teats. Unfortunately, Baby wanted no part of this creature that had caused her so much pain and difficulty. She was still very young, and not ready to be a mother.

The shenanigans start at an early age…

Fearing for the lamb’s life, I made the call to take the rejected lamb from the ewe. I refused to allow another lamb to perish on my watch. For the last week and a half, the little ram has been living inside the farmhouse. He eats from a bottle, and sleeps in a playpen I scored for $5 last year at the Embden Community Center’s thrift shop. After such an awful entrance into the world, I thought the little guy needed some kind of empowering name, so BraeTek dubbed him “Big Man”. Mercifully, this little lamb is thriving under the care of his farmer.

Perks of the Job

Our young CSA member, Saffron (in pink), shares her farm with her friends.

One of the perks of the job is being able to share bits and pieces of farm-life with the public. Initially, the lamb was eating every two hours, so when I left the farm last Friday to make my CSA deliveries, I couldn’t just leave the infant at home alone. I put him on a towel in a wooden apple crate and placed him on the passenger seat of my Subaru. He traveled that way, making the Madison-Solon loop with me, pausing at Deron’s long enough to feed him another bottle before we continued on to Harmony to make our final delivery. On our way back to New Portland, I stopped by the Solon Corner Store to pick up some weekend provisions. Reluctant to leave Big Man alone in the car, I tucked the four-day old lamb under an arm, and took him into the store with me.

My friend, Trin, finds spending time with the lambs to be very healing.

Since Deron’s home is located in Solon, I am frequently in and out of the Solon Corner Store when I go to visit my sweetie. The clerks there have come to recognize me, and know something of my farm. They all knew I’d been welcoming new lambs to the farm, yet these ladies fairly melted at the sight of Big Man! I wish I could have gotten it on video to share with you.

Heedless of the other customers waiting to check out, Gayle came around from behind the counter to get a closer look. I placed that bundle of legs and wool in her arms for a few moments, allowing the cashier to gush over the lamb. She brought him close for a handful of other shoppers to pet him, before relinquishing Big Man back to my care. Needless to say, there was quite a line behind me once I’d finally checked out with my things, lol. And then Gayle offered to carry my bags out for me hahaha!

No one complained though…it’s not every day you get to see a teeny tiny baby lamb in the grocery store.

Quasimodo

It was the day following the grocery store scene that I realized something was not right with one of Fiona’s quadruplets. Again, with so many mouths to feed, it’s harder for the ewes to care for their offspring appropriately. Concerned about the runt of the litter, who was all hunched over and pitiful looking, I’d taken to bottle feeding him in the Ewe-Shed. Over the course of the week, I was trucking out there several times a day with a bottle for the lamb I called Quasimodo, the hunchback of Runamuk Acres (I know─not funny, but funny. What can I say, lol, I have a perverse sense of humor.). I had hoped that the bottle feedings would bring an improvement in the little guy. Unfortunately, on that Saturday morning Quasi was looking particularly cold and pathetic, so I made the calldecided to bring him inside for some extra attention.

That’s when I realized just how much Quasimodo struggles to move around. I did some research and found that sometimes babies of large litters can be born with under-developed hind legs. This can be due to a nutrient deficiency, or because of the cramped quarters in-utero. I believe that is what is going on in Quasimodo’s case, and have given him a selenium/vitamin E supplement, as well as an injection of vitamin B. Though I have seen some improvement, and overall he is content enough to keep Big Man company here inside the farmhouse, it will take time and exercise for his muscles to develop properly─if at all. Another of Mother Nature’s hard lessons in animal husbandry this year.

New Donate Button!

Pan, the Lamb.

On a completely separate note, I would like to take this opportunity to point out to followers the new Donate button in my website’s sidebar. I’ve fielded a number of requests for a Wish List on Runamuk’s website. Folks want to know what it is we are needing here, so they can donate items if they have something they’re no longer using that might help our cause. I have had one listed, but it’s rather buried amid the other pages listed on the drop-down menu under the “About Us” tab. This Donate button will now take visitors directly to that page. Woot woot!

Donations have come to Runamuk in many forms─monetary donations, yes, but also donations of materials, equipment, and supplies. I’ve even had folks volunteer their time and energy to lend a hand on the farm for a day. I also barter for the things we need, trading farm-goods at a fair market value for the item being traded to the farm. There is a PayPal button on that page for those who are able and inclined to donate funds to this farm, but donations come in many forms, and cash is not the only means of greasing the wheels here. Every donation makes a big difference in this mother-and-son driven farm. I am always grateful for every gift or trade, small or large, because they allow me to keep doing what I do─nourishing and educating my family, and my community. That’s what it’s all about, my friends.

The Life of a Farmer

Mother Nature is a beautiful─but sometimes ruthless─mistress. With these hard lessons, She’s reminded me this year that it does not do to grow complacent in Her presence. As a farmer, I must always be vigilant for the lives I am responsible for: human, plant or animal, vertebrate or invertebrate, fungal or microbial, wild or domesticated. This is the life I have chosen to live─the life of a farmer. While there are certainly a great many blessings to be thankful for, there are equally as many burdens associated with it, and I must bear them. Come hell or high water, this farm must thrive.

Thank you for following along with the journey of this female-farmer! It is truly my privilege to be able to live this life, serve my family and community, and to protect wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram or Facebook! Much love to you and yours, my friends!

Farming as a Way Forward for Maine’s Economically Depressed Regions

dharma farm

Not too long ago I attended a town meeting in Madison in which I told selectmen that I see farming as a way forward for our economically depressed region of Maine. A new zoning ordinance had been passed in Madison that affects agriculture in my hometown, and I was there in official capacity as a representative of the Madison Farmers’ Market. It is my hope that people will see the rationale of this concept. We can revitalize our rural economies through agriculture. Farming IS a viable way forward; I truly believe this.

dharma farm
Jeff Knox of Dharma Farm in Washington, ME. Photo credit: Dharma Farm. Find them online today!

Even in the midst of the local foods movement, it’s difficult to persuade the mainstream public that farming is a viable option for regional growth, and I doubt my words bore much weight with Madison’s Board of Selectmen. For far too long society has viewed farming as work that any simpleton can do; work that involves long hours of toil and drudgery, and results in little pay and a low-quality of life. Farming has not been a career choice parents generally wanted for their children. I’m taking this opportunity to present 7 reasons why I believe in farming as the way forward for Maine’s economically depressed regions.

1. Support Local Economies

Supporting family farms and local community food systems is a powerful strategy for jumpstarting our fragile economy and strengthening communities across America. Agriculture is a frequently overlooked source of economic development and job creation.

The economic impact of the nation’s food producers stretch far beyond the limits of their farms and ranches. Food systems link farmers with other enterprises, from input providers for seed and fertilizers, to retail chains, restaurants and everything in between. Every year consumers spend over $1 trillion on food grown by US farmers and ranchers, yet the real value of agriculture to the nation lies much deeper.

Farmers are the backbone of our nation, the first rung on the economic ladder; studies show that when farms thrive, Main Street businesses and local communities thrive too. Consider farming as a way forward.

2. Cultivate Food Security

farming as a way forward
Harvest-time at Daisy Chain Farm, Belfast, Maine. Photo credit: Daisy Chain Farm. Find them online!

Studies show that access to healthy, affordable nutritional food is an issue in urban areas, as well as rural regions. Michelle Kaiser, researcher in the School of Social Work in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, says:

People don’t think of rural areas as places without healthy foods. However, many people live miles from the nearest store, and this makes them less likely to buy fresh, perishable foods because they buy groceries less often. In urban areas, many people buy their food from restaurants or convenience stores, where nutritious food is scarce. Even if there is a nearby grocery store, many people don’t have access to reliable transportation to those stores.

Increasing the availability of whole-foods, such as fruits and vegetables, enables people to avoid processed, unhealthy foods.

What’s more, local food production enables a country or region to overcome food insecurity and recover from emergencies. When disaster strikes, distribution channels can fail and supermarkets can become out-of-stock in short order. By focusing on farming as a way forward, we’re investing in our own long-term food security.

3. Stewardship Opportunities

A 2012 report by the UN titled “Food & Agriculture: the Future of Sustainability” suggests that significant investment in small and medium-sized farms is needed to improve the overall health and viability of our food system worldwide.

Small family farms have been shown to be the most effective, per acre, at ecological stewardship, biodiversity and production of nutrition. These small farms are better able to maintain the quality of soil, air and water, compared to large scale agriculture, which degrades soil and water quality in the short term, reducing the biological health of the soil ecosystem, and also making them more vulnerable to disease, drought, crisis and collapse.

Farming key to reducing greenhouse gases and improving our overall health with better food options. It’s time to support these small farms and invest in local agriculture.

4. Increased Self-Reliance

Fostering local agriculture increases a community’s self-reliance and reduces our overall dependence on Industry. Small farms are teaching facilities where people can learn that there’s something everyone can do right now, to improve their own self-sufficiency and live healthier lives. Your local farmers can teach you everything from how to cook the vegetables and meats you buy at the farmers’ market, to how to bake your own bread, how to compost, and how to grow your own food─farmers are always willing to share their knowledge and skill-sets.

Increased self-reliance allows us to avoid more processed foods, live healthier, more meaningful lives, and save money too. These skills give us independence from big Industry, which doesn’t always have our best interests at heart, and affords communities a measure of security knowing that if something were to happen tomorrow to prevent the distribution of food and goods to the supermarkets, we have the capability of providing for ourselves and those around us. Farming as a way forward allows us more independence.

5. Build Community

Scientific studies indicate that food, specifically when shared and experienced with others, has also shown to benefit our minds, enrich our feelings toward other people, and it can increase people’s trust and cooperation with one another. Social psychologist, Shankar Vedantam states:

“To eat the same foods as another person suggests that we are both willing to bring the same thing into our bodies. People just feel closer to people who are eating the same food as they are. And then trust, cooperation—these are just the consequences of feeling close to someone.”

It may not seem like a ground-breaking discovery, but sharing food with other people can have longstanding effects and should be utilized as a powerful tool in our community-building arsenal. Food has an amazing ability to draw us together. We all have powerful memories of being cooked for, and those acts of generosity and love run deep within us─they inspire us, and compel us to reciprocate. Through food we can foster relationships, motivate people and build community.

6. Vibrant Farming Community

farming as a way forward for economically depressed regions
Seedling production at Bumbleroot Organic Farm, Windham, Maine. Photo credit: Bumbleroot Organic Farm.  Find them online!

Maine has a longstanding agricultural legacy that pre-dates the arrival of European settlers, and at one time our great state was considered the bread-basket of the nation. Since the 17th century farming has changed significantly, but agriculture has continued to be a driving force in our state, with new farms being started at a rate nearly four times faster than the national average. Maine also boasts one of the highest organic-to-conventional farm ratios in the United States.

We’re fortunate to have a robust farmer support system, with MOFGA─the nation’s oldest and largest organic farming organization, the Maine Farmland Trust, and a surprising lack of partisan preoccupation when it comes to agriculture in the state-houses. Why shouldn’t we build upon this industry that’s already established and thriving in our state?

7. Land-Rich

Maine is a land-rich state. With the exception of the coastal region and some scattered cities in the southern and central part of the state, we’re still very rural, with large tracts of land yet undeveloped. Land that had once been farmed has since been abandoned and is just waiting for a good steward to breathe life back into it. Entire fields where dairy cows once grazed have been forgotten, and in many cases are merely bush-hogged annually to keep the forest at bay.

Many homeowners own more than half an acre, and some families possess larger tracts that are passed down from one generation to the next. If you were born and stayed here in Maine, there’s a good chance you know someone who has acreage where opportunity for farming exists. This is a huge resource that Mainers can utilize to generate income for themselves─if only they would consider farming as a way forward.

Consider Farming as a Way Forward

Society’s long-standing perception of farming as a poor career choice is pervasive, but slowly beginning to crumble thanks to the modern agricultural movement. There’s a new generation of farmers on the horizon─they come to farming from all walks of life, and a broad spectrum of demographics and interests. Not just young people, but parents seeking a better lifestyle for their families, older folks looking to make a change in their lives or to start something new; they’re an incredibly diverse group. 

These new-age farmers want to make a difference in the world; they’re into the idea of clean food and living more sustainably on the land. People are finally beginning to realize that our natural resources in this world are not going to last forever; these new-generation farmers want to do their part─not only to conserve what we have for future generations─but also because it’s the right thing to do.

Who are we to think ourselves so superior to every other life-form on this planet that we can justify the consumption of Earth’s resources? How can we legitimize the ravaging of the planet that we share with other creatures? And what gives us the right in the here-and-now to disregard those who will come after we are gone? What kind of legacy are we leaving behind? and would our descendants thank us for it if they ever could?

If we search our hearts, I think we all know the answers to those questions. No, you’ll likely never get rich serving the land and community, but farming IS a viable way forward, and I urge you to consider it. I urge our elected officials not to overlook the possibilities that agriculture holds for our rural regions. I ask parents not to disregard the opportunities that farming might offer your children. And I beseech people young and old to consider farming─on any scale─to make a difference in this world.

What do YOU think? Feel free to weigh in; leave a comment below!

Stepping Down as Manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market

friends at market

After 6 long years, the time has finally come: I am stepping down as manager of the Madison Farmers’ Market. This was a difficult decision for me, but with Runamuk’s new #foreverfarm home, I feel confident that I am making the right move for me. I’m looking forward to devoting all of my time and energy to Runamuk, and to bringing my vision for a pollinator conservation center to life.

Why Volunteer?

For the last 10 years I’ve given my time and energy to a number of local organizations, trying to do my part to support my community, striving to be the change I want to see in the world. I truly believe community involvement is important─not just for the community, but also for ourselves. Volunteering your time and energy for a cause helps you grow as a person, you learn new things, meet new people, and are intrinsically rewarded for the service you do. I really think everyone should be involved somehow in something that matters to them.

Volunteer-work is also a good way for someone to establish credibility in their community, build a reputation and network with new people. For me, it was a powerful tool in growing Runamuk; people in this region of Maine have come to associate me with Runamuk, and Runamuk with bees and bee-conservation. I strongly encourage beginning farmers wanting to break into the market (or any person looking to make a name for themselves) to seek out ways to get involved with the community you will be serving─get to know the people and learn what gaps exist that you could fill, or seize unexpected opportunities that might present themselves through associations with the locals.

Serving the Madison Farmers’ Market

For me, it all started with the Master Gardeners’ program at my local cooperative extension. From there I went on to establish the Somerset Beekeepers and served as president of that group for 6 years. I served as a 4H leader for a time, and of course, there’s my service to the Madison Farmers’ Market. I know that many of the opportunities I have had, would not have been presented to me had I not put myself out there, given of my time and energies to these programs and my community.

Of all of those programs and services, the Madison Farmers’ Market is the one that is nearest and dearest my heart. Facilitating local food in my hometown, supporting local agriculture in this region where I grew up, and just getting to know my community on a very personal level─has had a profound impact on my life.

maine regions map
Madison on the Maine map.

For those who are not from the area, Madison is a fairly rural town, located along the banks of the Kennebec River, in what is known as the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine. Even with fewer than 5 thousand inhabitants, Madison is a mecca for the many outlying villages that are scattered throughout the Foothills and the closest access to a grocery store, banks and gas stations.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market, not only have we cultivated meaningful friendships between fellow farmers, we’ve also developed some strong relationships with the locals of Madison, and it’s “sister-city”, Anson, just on the other side of the river. We’ve met people from the villages of Starks, Embden, and North Anson. One woman comes from as far north as Salem (an unincorporated Maine township located 10 or so miles north-westerly from Kingfield) to visit the market. These relationships, and getting to know the people of the area where I was born and raised, where I have chosen to stay and raise my own children─these are what I treasure most about being a part of the Madison Farmers’ Market.

I’ve learned so much about farming and growing food just by spending my Saturdays peddling my wares in the parking lot at the Main Street Park in Madison, Maine. Sitting there in all types of weather, with my comrades in arms (just figuratively, lol!), discussing all manner of topics, learning from each other as we offer locally produced foods and goods to the people.

Though I am stepping down as market-manager, Runamuk will continue as a member of the market, and dedicated patrons will still be able to find me at the Madison Farmers’ Market every Saturday selling my wares.

Some Highlights From My Career as Market-Manager

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ISO Volunteers

So who will step up to fill my shoes? What will happen to the Madison Farmers’ Market now that Sam is stepping down?

That I can’t say….

Currently the Madison Farmers’ Market is in search of a volunteer─or better yet: a group of volunteers─who can take on the responsibilities of the market duties. There is the possibility of a stipend for a “market-manager”, though I do not know yet how much that stipend might be. What we’d really like to see is a committee, made up of at least 3 volunteers: a treasurer, secretary/marketing person, and an EBT-point person who will spearhead the Maine Harvest Bucks program for the community (the program that allows the market to offer EBT/SNAP shoppers bonus-dollars for purchase of fruits and vegetables).

Without help the Madison Farmers’ Market will no longer be able to accept credit, debit, or EBT cards at the market, and we will surely have to relinquish the Maine Harvest Bucks program.

Serve Your Community!

If you’re reading this from the Madison-Anson area and are interested in supporting local agriculture─consider giving of yourself to the Madison Farmers’ Market. If you have a passion for increasing local food access, serve your community by serving it’s farmers’ market. And most definitely, if you’re a beginning farmer in the Kennebec & Moose River Valley Region of Maine, think about building your reputation by getting involved the Madison Farmers’ Market.

Even if you’re located elsewhere, I still encourage you to participate somehow in your local community. Many wonderful services and programs exist only because of the people who freely give of their time and of themselves to facilitate them. What’s more, you’ll be enriching your own life at the same time. But (in the words of Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow) “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Get involved today and find out for yourself!

Please share this post to help the Madison Farmers’ Market find new volunteers so that we can keep our special services going for the people of Madison-Anson and the surrounding rural areas. Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer!

Geez, Sam!

maine nucleus colonies_2018

It’s mid-October, the temperatures outside are dropping and the beekeeping season is winding down. Runamuk’s 2018 farm-season has certainly been one for the books, mainly because this was the year we finally made farm-ownership possible─but for honey production it wasn’t the greatest of years. Even still, I’m happy with the way the season went and with the hives that I have going into the winter.

hyl-tun apiary
The Runamuk apiary at Hyl-Tun Farm in Starks, Maine. Early August 2018.

Season Review

After losing twenty out of twenty-one hives over the course of the 2017-2018 winter the state of the Runamuk apiary was just a little precarious this spring. I’ve experienced hive losses before and have come to accept it as just another part of beekeeping, but it certainly makes it difficult to gain ground in this industry. With the purchase of a farm on the line, it was especially stressful.

I imported 10 packages of replacement bees from Georgia, bought 5 overwintered nucs, and managed to raise about 30 Queens of my own. Those Queens either replaced Queens in the southern packages, replaced bad Queens, or were added to nucleus colonies that are going to be overwintered in hopes of supplying my own replacement hives for this winter’s inevitable losses.

agriope at luke's apiary
Luke’s apiary in Madison, Maine.

For the last 2 seasons I’ve been managing the apiary of my friend, Luke Vigneault, in addition to my own. Our beekeeping journeys have run parallel over the years; we’ve shared orders on Queens, tended bees together, and learned from each other. I’ve been so impressed by Luke’s honeybee stock that I grafted from his hives to produce two-thirds of the Queens I raised this year.

Between the 2 of us, I’m managing 27 colonies at the moment─Runamuk’s 15, and Luke’s 12 hives. Hopefully this winter is kinder to us than last winter was.

Poor Honey Season

uncapped honey
Nectar of the Gods!

As for for honey production, this beekeeping season wasn’t really the greatest. Runamuk was not able to supply customers with the local, raw honey they’ve been clamoring for and I can’t help feeling like it’s a failing on my part (“Geez, Sam! What gives!?”). At the same time, I know what a set-back the harsh winter and loss of colonies was for my operation─because I had to wait for replacement bees and only had one weak hive in May (when the nectar-flow really gets underway here), I wasn’t able to capitalize on Maine’s spring honey-season.

In addition, the earlier part of the summer was exceedingly dry and flowers really weren’t producing much nectar, so I was feeding the bees a lot of sugar-syrup. Because the majority of my hives this year were new colonies, or were new Queens I was trying to establish, I wanted to give them every possible resource so they would have the best chance for survival. That means I fed all but the hives that were making honey, and whatever honey that was produced got redistributed among the nucs to ensure every hive has the stores it needs to make it through the winter.

Keeping Colonies Small & Tight

runamuk's hive set up
Runamuk’s single deep and medium hive set-up.

It’s my goal to keep my honeybee colonies “small and tight” going into winter. After 8 seasons working with bees, learning from other beekeepers, and learning from my own experiences, I’ve come to the conclusion that bees overwinter more successfully when they’re not trying to occupy so much space. With this in mind I’ve adopted a single deep and medium box set-up for my brood nest. The frames of larvae to occupy the deep-box, positioned on the bottom, with a medium filled with honey settled on top.

During the season I’ll add more mediums as necessary─either to increase the colony’s capacity for brood, or for honey production, but I always want all that extra equipment to come off before the winter sets in.

Prioritizing Mite Treatments

I’m feeling really confident in the condition of the 27 colonies under my care. I’ve learned to prioritize mite-treatments and perform them as a rule the first week of August and mid-to-late September. If the infestation were severe, I would do another late October treatment as a final clean-up before the long winter. Mite-treatments are the pits, but having seen hives go down as a result of varroa─I know that it’s not pretty and it’s not a good feeling knowing that, as the beekeeper, you’re the one responsible for it.

I’ve learned too, that I can significantly reduce mite-levels in my hives and grow my apiary at the same time just by breaking up large colonies to make more nucs. That’s a win-win in my book. By breaking up hives and sticking to my schedule for mite-treatments, I’ve been able to keep some very healthy-looking bees these last few years, and I know that these methods─in tandem with my newfound Queen-raising skills─set Runamuk up for some big growth in the next few years.

I’m not treating the hives for nosema because this disease has not historically been an issue in my apiaries. If I had hives that were coming through the winter and had an excess of brown staining on the front of the hives, I would know that the fungus had infected the colonies and I would use the Fumagillian, administered in the sugar-syrup fed to the bees in the fall. There are lots of resources about nosema and how to prevent and treat that problem; the main thing is to be aware of it and to ensure your colonies are healthy and strong going into winter, and to take steps to ensure your hives are appropriately set up.

Winter Preparations

wintering bees
Two of Runamuk’s hives back in December of 2012.

That brings me to winter preparations. Things are almost over at the apiary for the 2018 beekeeping season. I’ll be taking mite-treatments OFF the hives this weekend. After that I won’t go back into the hives for anything more than to administer sugar-candy or pollen patties (should hives make it to March), until April.

At this point in the season I’m not manipulating frames. Since August I’ve been managing the hives with an eye toward winter; that means I’ve been moving brood “downstairs” to the bottom box, and positioning honey stores so that the colony can move up through the hive in what I hope is optimal fashion.

Sometime between now and Thanksgiving all of the inner covers will be switched out for wintering inner covers, which are deeper on one side and allow space for sugar-candy to sit under the telecoping cover. Many beekeepers fill that space with candy, but I prefer to lay my candy directly across the top bars─as close to the bees as I can get it.

I’ll put the candy on at the same time, then top it with some kind of moisture-absorbing material. This is crucial, and I think my attention to this detail is the reason I haven’t had much issue with nosema in my hives.

Nosema is a fungal disease which─like all fungi─thrives in wet conditions. I’ve tried homasote board and newspaper in the past, but nothing seems to work so well as a box of wood shavings above the inner cover. I tack a piece of burlap to the bottom of a medium box, and add several inches of wood shavings─you can even use the same type of pine bedding you might use for livestock (but not shavings that have actually been used by livestock! yuck!).

I also like to ensure my hives have both lower and upper entrances, in case the snow should cover the lower one. I make it a habit to check the apiaries periodically throughout the winter, and I’ll shovel out the front of hives just so the girls can take cleansing flights, or to ensure air-flow, but I prefer to allow the snow to pile up around the back and sides to protect the bees from the wind and cold to some degree.

“Geez, Sam…”

It’s certainly disappointing to not have honey available for my loyal customers at the farmers’ market. Not everyone understands why I chose not to take honey from the bees this year. Some folks look at me and say: Geez, that Sam─she’s been doing this for years now and she still can’t give me honey when I want it!

And I can’t deny the truth in that.

Beekeeping is probably the hardest form of agriculture. It is not easy to keep a colonies of bees alive in today’s modern era where poisonous pesticides have infected the landscape and the changing climate is altering our world on a very basic level. Even if you do everything “right”: you feed them, manage them in a timely fashion, perform mite treatments and leave honey for the winter─you’re still at the mercy of the natural world around you. You might face drought conditions, floods, bear-attacks, or extreme temperatures; the list of what could go wrong─all of which is out of your control─is fairly extensive.

As the beekeeper and a caring, nurturing farmer, I have to be the one to say to those folks, “I’m sorry, but I need to give my bees every chance for survival that I can give them. The bees need to be super-healthy in order to cope with the pesticides and mite-infestations, and they’re healthiest when they’re eating honey and plenty of it.”

maine nucleus colonies_2018
The nucleus colonies at Runamuk Acres, New Portland, Maine.

What’s more, it takes honey to build colonies, and I built a lot of new colonies this year with an eye toward the future. 15 of the 27 hives going into winter are nucleus colonies housing my Maine-raised Queens; I’m really proud of the state of the apiary, regardless of the fact that I wasn’t able to sell honey. Afterall, no one gets into farming to get rich; and certainly no one gets into beekeeping if they’re not bat-shit crazy about bees (it’s called: “passionate” thanks!). No, I’ve evolved enough that there’s really only one reason I do anything anymore: I’m doing it for love. Love of the land, love for nature─and love for bees.

Thanks for following along with my farming journey!!! You can support bee-friendly farming simply by buying our products; check out our online farm-store to get yourself something nice today! Subscribe by email or follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for behind-the-scenes peeks into the day-to-day happenings on this Maine farm! 

Farmer Talent Show a Success

fts sonia and wren

What a great time we had at the Farmer Talent Show Sunday night! It was a hugely successful event, and thanks to those who participated and came out to see the show, we were able to raise the funds needed to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

farmer talent show signageIf you’re a regular reader of the Runamuk blog, you might recall the post from a couple months ago announcing the Farmer Talent Show as a means for raising funds to support the Maine Harvest Bucks (MHB) program at the Madison Farmers’ Market. MHB increases access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables for SNAP/EBT shoppers at local farmers’ markets and is made possible by government funding and various grants procured by the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. However there was a gap in the funding this year that meant farmers’ markets across the state either had to temporarily suspend the program, or step up to cover the funding shortfall themselves.

At the Madison Farmers’ Market we were adamant that the community we serve, located in Somerset County─an economically depressed region of central Maine─should continue to have access to the benefits the MHB program offers, and so we devised a fundraising strategy that included reaching out to local businesses, as well as hosting this Farmer Talent Show.

I really can’t take much credit for the event that happened last night. The Open Mics at the Madison and East Madison Granges were a concept breathed to life by my friend Sonia Acevedo from Hide & Go Peep Farm in East Madison. Sonia is a dedicated member of the East Madison Grange and last fall she initiated the monthly Open Mic events, which have since been taking place on the last Sunday of the month.

When the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets notified us of the funding gap for the Maine Harvest Bucks program that our market participates in, Sonia proposed the idea of using the regularly scheduled Open Mic as a Farmer Talent Show to help raise funds for that program. I fell in love with the idea and ran with it, coming up with the singing goat graphic to promote the event, and with the help of some of the other vendors at the Madison Farmers’ Market, Sonia and I actively promoted the event and hoped for a good turn-out.

tomato tattoos
Epic tomato temporary tattoos donated by Backyard Farms!

There were refreshments in the form of cookies, brownies, chips and salsa, and even fiddlehead cake! Given that this was a farm-themed event, it was totally appropriate to have a baby goat on site, and my cousin Josh Richards, who owns and operates “Leaping Lizards” a rescue center for exotic lizards, brought a few specimens to show off to the crowd. We even had “I Love Farmers’ Markets” and epic tomato temporary tattoos to offer in exchange for donations.

Not only did we have a good turn-out, but we managed to fill the meeting room at the East Madison Grange and we had a long list of performers in a wide range of ages and skill levels that made for a really great show. There were guitar-players, a trumpet-player, an accordion and a dulcimer, a fiddle and banjos, even a story-teller.

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ellen and dog special guest judges
Our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog!

 

It was especially fitting that our special guest judges were Ellen and Dog, 2 of our market’s most devout patrons. They did a great job awarding recognition to the various talents who entered our show, designating “Best Trumpet Player” and “Best Story-Teller”, “Crowd Favorite” and “Best Performance by a Band”, were among some of the winning categories.

Winning performers had their pick from a table laden with various gifts, trinkets and prizes our market-members had assembled, including a gift basket of soaps and body rubs from S&S Kid Farm, a big beautiful potted petunia and a basket of fresh eggs from Hide & Go Peep, and a pair of wooden book-ends depicting a horse to name a few.

Here’s my group below: “The Appalachian Sheep Dawgs”, including Alyssa (all but hidden behind the curtain from this angle─sorry Alyssa!), Ken Hahn (my banjo instructor), myself (in red) and the daughters of Ken and his wife Kamala: on guitar is Victoria , and Amelie on the fiddle.

Note: Don’t laugh at me when you watch this!!! I’m still a novice when it comes to playing the banjo, with only a year’s experience on the instrument under my belt. It takes utter concentration for me to not drop the ball in front of a room filled with 70+/- people!

At the very end of the evening we raffled off the tub-trug gift basket donated by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, containing an assortment of seeds, garden gloves, a Johnny’s beanie, a trowel and a hand-held seed-sower.

jss gift tub trub
Gift tub-trub donated by Johnny’s filled with misc. garden supplies!

Thanks to everyone who participated and came out for this show, our market was able to raise nearly $300 between the raffle and the tickets-by-donation. These funds, in addition to a $500 donation from Backyard Farms and a $200 donation by Paine’s Dairy Farm (both of Madison, Maine), means we have surpassed our fundraising goals and we will be able to keep the Maine Harvest Bucks program going at the Madison Farmers’ Market! Yaaaaay!

No…I can’t take credit for what happened at the East Madison Grange on the night of Sunday, May 27th, but as I sat there amid the crowd gathered together to watch this wide-ranging display of talents in the name of local food, local farms, and community support, I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of love and affection, and I knew that I had contributed to something really special. In rural central Maine, a small, wayward band of grassroots activists─also known as farmers─collaborated to bring the public out in direct support of the community they serve. Life doesn’t get much more beautiful than that, if you ask me, and I am grateful every day to be able to call myself a farmer.

Thanks for reading and following along with my story! Feel free to leave a comment below if you are inspired to share with us. And be sure to subscribe to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly to your in-box!

Chicken-Run: Updates From the Farm

chicken run 2018

This past weekend Runamuk kicked off it’s 2018 growing season with a bang. We joined our fellow farmers at the Madison Farmers’ Market on Saturday, retrieved the first round of new bees for the apiary, and made a chicken-run for the 50 new layers I’d ordered several months back. The flurry of activity kept my mind occupied (mostly) as I await the appraiser’s report following his assessment of the Hive House on Friday.

Back at Market

It felt good to be back in the parking lot at the park on Main Street in rural Madison, Maine. The weather was fair and the sun was shining, and we saw many members of the community come out to catch up after the long winter. I admit that I felt a little cheesey setting up my table with only my beeswax soaps and salves under the Runamuk sign; at the moment the only honey I have is still in combs waiting to be extracted, which won’t happen until after our impending farm-move. I don’t even have eggs, as I’ve donated my aging flock of layers to Paul’s operation so that I wouldn’t have to move them. My new birds hadn’t arrived yet and won’t start laying for a few weeks yet.

To support my market and reconnect with the community after our winter hiatus, I went anyway. On my table I put a sign that read:

Currently in the process of buying our #foreverfarm! Please excuse our limited availability of products during these next few weeks, as we prepare to move our farm and transition to that new location. Thank you for understanding!”

Most people did understand─my fellow farmers certainly, and dedicated patrons of the market who know Runamuk well enough to know what I am up against at the moment; those people want me there at market even with limited availability. Those are the people I am happy to serve as a farmer.

First Round of New Bees!

runamuk apiary_may 2018
The Runamuk Apiary, May 2018.

Following market I ran home to empty my Subaru of tables, tents and other market-garb, before driving an hour and a half east to Hampden, the home of Maine’s Bee Whisperer, Peter Cowin. I have 10 packages and 12 Saskatraz Queens on order with Peter this year, as I push to expand my apiary, as well as 5 nucs on order with Bob Egan of Abnaki Apiaries in Skowhegan. Saturday evening I brought home the first 5 packages, and I spent Sunday morning in the sun at the apiary installing those packages. It’s always a thrill to see the bees emerge and begin circling the hive, orienting themselves to their new home.

Note: Check back soon for an apiary update; I have some news to share on that front that other beekeepers might be interested in…

Chicken-Run

I’ve laughingly dubbed my trip to retrieve my new layers “the Chicken-Run”, because riding down the road with livestock in your car is always a good time. This is the stuff that memories are made of. These events bring color and meaning to life, and I treasure them.

golden comets
Golden comets make great layers for commercial operations!

Sunday afternoon, I lay the seats down in my Subaru to allow enough space for all of the boxes and crates I would need to transport the 50 new layers I’d ordered back in March. In preparation for our upcoming move I’ve been collecting boxes from Reny’s in downtown Madison, and I commandeered these for the chicken run. I cut air holes in them (about 1.5″ x 3″ a couple inches up from the bottom of the box─about where a chicken’s face might be if they were sitting in the box), and taped the bottom flaps to secure them.

After 10 years keeping chickens and having moved my flock a number of times, I’ve come to be a fair judge of how many birds I can put in a box and I counted as I collected boxes and loaded the Subaru with them. 3 birds in the small pet taxi; 4 birds in this box, 6 birds in the larger pet taxi and 8 or 10 birds in this larger box, depending on how big these pullets are…. I got up to about 40 or so and ran out of boxes lol; so I opted to stop somewhere along the way to get a couple more and brought the packing tape with me.

I don’t own a truck at the moment, and was a little worried about whether or not the boxes would all fit together in the car, so I filled the car with the empty boxes to test it before I left. It was tight, and I would have to use the passenger’s seat too, but they all fit!

Note: For your reference (cause you never know when you might need this obscure bit of information lol) you can fit 50 pullets in boxes into a Subaru Forester. I’d be willing to bet I could get up to 75 birds into that car; but not a single bird more.  😀

The Scenic Route

I really don’t like traveling at high speeds on the highway, and so I opted to take the scenic route over through Jay and Livermore Falls, which was 15 minutes longer. I set the GPS on my phone and set out on the 2-lane road down through a part of western Maine that I rarely travel through. With the sun shining and a breeze coming through the open windows of the car, I had to marvel at how beautiful and adventurous a farmers’ life can be.

I only got turned around twice on the way to Poland. At one point I was checking my GPS and made the mistake of touching the screen on my phone and suddenly I was being re-routed. To keep my phone bill low I don’t have internet access on my phone at all times, so I had to find a place to stop where I could access wi-fi and reconfigure my GPS. Eventually I made it to my destination though, and within range of being on time, too! I’d promised to arrive “around 6ish” and got there about 6:20.

Empire Acres Farm

Empire Acres Farm in Poland, Maine is owned and operated by Jim and Nancy Green, who moved there about 15 years ago and immediately took advantage of the big horse barn to begin raising chickens. They’ve got an ideal set up too, with large brooders in the central isle of the barn where they start the chicks, and large stalls that have been converted into caged pens where young pullets are kept til at least 8 weeks of age, at which point the birds are available to sell.

Since most chickens begin laying eggs somewhere between 18 and 20 weeks of age, this is an ideal stage to buy them at. It allows the farmer or homesteader to bypass the whole brooding-of-chicks phase, which was necessary for Runamuk this year as we prepare to transition to a new location.

Being familiar with the going rate for ready-to-lay pullets I had expected to pay $15 per bird, but Nancy and Jim had theirs listed at $10/bird on Craigslist where I found them. They would have a couple of batches available this spring and were taking orders for the Golden Comets.

Note: Nancy tells me they are currently taking orders on their next batch of birds which will be ready by the end of June. If anyone reading this is interested you can reach Empire Acres Farm at: 207-998-3382 to reserve your own.

chicken run 2018
The new flock is temporarily house at Oakenshire Farm in Norridgewock til we are ready to move.

I had hoped to wait til after the move to buy my new flock, but I know that by June or July availability of chicks and ready-to-lay birds becomes much more scarce. When I saw the ad on Craigslist and their price on the birds, I decided to email to see how long they’d be able to hold the birds for. The response was May 15th and not a day longer, so I decided to act on it. 50 pullets for $500 saves me a chunk of money, even if I have to move them twice.

Going Non-GMO

At long last Runamuk will be offering Non-GMO eggs at market. Over the last 5 years we’ve seen an increased demand for them, and with our new #foreverfarm home #comingsoon I am ready to make the leap to organic grain─though I make too much money to call them “Organic” eggs. The law dictates that farmers grossing over $5K must be officially certified as Organic to be able to use that labeling; and, as I have no interest in becoming certified as an organic grower, I am happy to simply refer to my eggs as non-GMO.

Moving On

For years I have been waiting to invest in certain aspects of my farm-operation: the non-GMO grain, the new bear/skunk fence for the apiary, investing in larger numbers of new hives to grow the apiary at a faster pace, and countless methods and projects I have been wanting to employ but could not because I was a landless-farmer. When a farmer has no permanency he/she cannot put down roots and really dig in to a piece of land, and that has certainly hindered Runamuk’s growth in some very big ways.

But that phase of our journey is coming to a close. Soon we will be moving to our long-awaited #foreverfarm home and I will be able to establish my vision for Runamuk and my “pollinator conservation farm”. I’ll finally have the infrastructure that both Runamuk and my family require, and I’m looking forward to spending my next 40 years giving my blood, sweat and tears to this one piece of Earth. Stay tuned folks! Things are about to get exciting!

Thanks for reading and following along with my journey as a farmer, beekeeper and blogger! It is my hope that my compulsion to journal my story both inspires and educates. Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly in your in-box.

200 Days

200 days

Today marks the 200th day since I first dropped off my application with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency back on September 28th. 200 days slogging my way through the red tape associated with the government-financing process in hopes of one day owning my own forever-farm. Everyone wants to know what’s going on─have we Closed yet? when do we move??? My perpetual answer seems to be “Not yet.”

runamuk apiaryPermanently Part-Time at Johnny’s

Farmers everywhere are gearing up for the season ahead. At Johnny’s Selected Seeds, most of the seasonal employees (local farmers like me, hired to help man the phones in the Call Center during their busy season) have returned to their farms. It’s bittersweet to watch my colleagues depart one by one. I’m happy for them to be able to do the work they love because I know all too well how farming can consume the soul, but I’m a little envious that I can’t go too.

Originally I was hired as a seasonal employee 3 years ago, but following my divorce I’ve required the stability of a dependable paycheck year-round. What’s more, with a new mortgage I expect to continue to need supplemental income year-round for another 2 or 3 years, so I’ll be there in the Call Center 2 days a week all season. Permanently part-time…ouch.

It only stings a little though, because I’m finally buying a farm! Squeeeeeeee!

Guesstimated Closing Date

No, we have not moved yet, and we don’t even have a date for Closing. My agent at the FSA (Farm Service Agency), Nathan Persinger, likens their loan process to an iceberg…what you see above the water is nothing compared to the mass of ice below the water, and it takes a long while to navigate a safe path for your ship.

The good news is that my loan request was approved, and I’ve received word that the job for the Appraisal was accepted by Farm Credit East, who states they will have it done “on or before May 11th”. That’s much sooner than Nathan had expected; officially they have a full 90 days to get the Appraisal done, and this is a busy time of year too, so I was very lucky to get it scheduled so soon.

Once the Appraisal is done that just leaves the Title Search between me and Closing. So long as nothing pops up in the county registry regarding the Deed’s legacy, then the FSA will schedule a date for Closing. Typically once the Appraisal is done, Closing can happen within a couple of weeks.

I have this gut feeling that the Appraisal will be completed before May 11th, and so I’m guesstimating that Closing will take place somewhere around May 18th.

OMG that’s just 4 weeks away!

Validation

200 daysTears sting my eyes whenever I think about signing those papers at Closing. When I was young, my family moved around a lot… We never left Maine, but we moved from Anson to Madison, to Skowhegan, to Salem (Maine), to Kingfield, North Anson, and then back to Anson/Madison again. I thought when I became an adult I would finally be able to set down roots somewhere, and while I came close a few times, I have yet to gain that sense of permanency that my spirit craves.

It was 9 or 10 years ago, following a move that was particularly difficult for me, when I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I was a stay-at-home homeschooling and homesteading mother and wife, and while I didn’t want to give that up, I came to realize that in order to buy a home and put down roots I would have to have an income of my own─my husband’s paycheck alone was not sufficient to buy the home I’d long envisioned. And so I set out to generate an income for myself. I decided I could use the skills I’d learned as a homesteader to make money while I continued to stay home with my children: I became a farmer.

Since Runamuk’s inception, I have experienced many ups and downs along my journey as a farmer─even some serious set backs that might have caused a lesser woman to abandon the path for a smoother road altogether. For better or worse I have kept on and soon my life-long dream for a home─a farm of my own─will become reality. Soon, so many hardships and sacrifices will be validated. When they put those keys in my hand every struggle will have been worth it.

Note: I plan to Facebook Live the contract signing, so stay tuned for details on when Closing will take place; you won’t want to miss this monumental occasion!!!

Ramping Up at Runamuk

Meanwhile, being permanently part-time at Johnny’s does not mean I’m only farming part-time. No, I’ll continue to farm full-time in addition to my off-farm employment, and─like my seasonal colleagues who are departing the Call Center─I am ramping my farm up for the season ahead of me.

This season, for the first time ever, Runamuk will be attending 2 farmers’ markets. I’m pretty stoked to say that we’ve been accepted into the Gardiner Farmers’ Market, which is held on Wednesdays from 3-6 throughout the summer months. The Gardiner market will hold an extended market from 3-7 once a month, and this is when you will find Runamuk there with our raw honey, beeswax products, and GMO-free eggs. It’s going to be a long haul for me from New Portland (where the new farm is located) to Gardiner, some 65 miles south, and since customers don’t necessarily need to buy products like honey and soap on a weekly basis, I’ve decided it will work best for me and my family to only make the journey once a month.

To prepare for the season ahead, I’ve been busy making soap─so much soap! All the old favorites: the Randy Lumberjack, the Girl Next Door, and the unscented Honeybee soap; the seasonal fragrances, including the ever popular Lilac-scented spring soap. Some of last year’s trial varieties will be returning: Maine Lobstahman, Caribbean Escape, and Hazelnut Toffee, and there will be a few new fragrances too: Strawberry-Rhubarb (you won’t believe how yummy this smells!), and Lavender─by popular request.

forum onion crop
I sold my onions in bunches of 3 and 4 at the farmers’ market. They were a big hit!

I’ve got 50 new egg-laying chickens that will be 16 weeks old and about ready to start laying when I pick them up on May 15th. I’ve made my pre-season supply purchases: seeds (because you can’t work at a seed company and NOT buy seeds in the spring lol), onion plants and onion sets, seed potatoes, new beekeeping gear, wooden-wear for new hives, and candle molds and supplies for candle-making. I’m planning to debut my first beeswax candles this year.

Naturally I’ve got more bees on order, and even some new Queens from Hall’s Apiary in New Hampshire. I fully intend to raise some of my own Queens, but with the new farm I really want to boost my hive numbers in a big way this year─and buying in additional mated-Queens to make my own nucleus colonies is a sure-fire way to do that. Over the next few years I will be working hard to increase the scale and productivity of my apiary; the plan is to scale up to 40 honey-producing colonies by 2021, and to focus more on raising lots and lots of nucleus colonies, both to replace hives lost in the winter, and to be able to offer overwintered nucs for local beekeepers. So many bees!!! I can’t wait!

200 Days and Counting

follow runamukThe long process to Closing on a real estate loan with the FSA is one of the major reasons why more farmers aren’t utilizing this avenue to farm-ownership. Even with a Sale Agreement and Approval for the loan, nothing is certain until you’ve signed that contract at Closing. It’s months and months of anxious uncertainty to gain the keys to your home and place of business. Only the most determined farmers will successfully navigate their ship through the iceberg-infested waters that is the government process.

I am that determined. I will have a home and forever-farm.

What had initially begun as a means to an end, has consumed my soul; I am a farmer, through and through. I have such love for the Earth and the natural world around me─like a clean, clear mountain spring that wells eternally from deep inside me, driving me to this work─compelling me. I am a producer and I will feed my family and my community─nurturing their bodies and their spirits with my labors of love.

The end is in sight!!! Check back soon for news of Runamuk’s Closing Date! Be sure to like Runamuk Apiaries on Facebook so you can watch me sign the mortgage contract via Facebook Live!

Runamuk’s 2017 Year’s End Review: Part 2

employee shirt_jss beekeeper

When I first started selling vegetables nearly 8 years ago, I was a stay-at-home homeschooling mom to 2 rowdy young boys. I wanted to earn an income without having to get a job outside the home, and what started with a 10-family CSA has grown and transformed into a diverse apiary operation with supporting acts from egg production, vegetable gardening and writing.

sbf_sideview
In 2018 Runamuk will be moving one last time!

Studious research, careful planning, dogged pursuit of goals, and lots of hardwork and patience has grown Runamuk to this precipice. We’ve climbed the ladder, one year at a time, taken the knocks and kept on going, and now we stand poised to receive this storybook farm where I hope to continue my work, and inspire more farmers, gardeners, homesteaders and homeowners to employ bee-friendly practices wherever they are. At long last, I can finally begin in earnest this important work. Read on for Part 2 of our 2017 Year’s End Review: the Farm….

Note: Click this link to read our 2017 Year’s End Farm Review Part 1: The Farmer.

Johnny’s vs Gardening On the Side

We all have strengths and weaknesses. I am a compulsive “Doer”. I almost always want to be “doing something”, working on something and being productive. It’s incredibly difficult for me to be in a cubicle in an office building for 8 and a half hours a day─sitting there. It was a big adjustment when I first began working for Johnny’s Selected Seeds 3 years ago, after I’d been a stay-at-home homeschooling and homesteading mamma for 12 years.

Johnny’s hires local gardeners and farmers to staff their research farm, the offices, and especially to answer the phones in their Call Center. Not only do they sell seeds and tools, Johnny’s offers information─to assist gardeners and farmers in successfully growing food. That’s what I do for the company, and it can be very rewarding sometimes. January through June the Call Center is a madhouse as growers from all over the world rush to purchase seeds, potatoes, onions, berry plants and tools from the Maine-based seed company. Johnny’s has grown exponentially over the last decade and has become synonymous with the small and organic farm movement.

employee shirt_jss beekeeper
Check out the sweet shirt Johnny’s gave me! Perfect for working in the apiary!!!

To meet the demand during the busy season Johnny’s hires extra help referred to as “Seasonals”. These are often local farmers like myself, with their own farming operations, and that’s how I was hired. Except I’ve loitered about the establishment a bit, working 1 or 2 days a week even through the growing season, after all the other Seasonals had returned to their farms. Following my divorce I needed that supplemental income. They’ve offered me full-time more than once, and I’m sure if I set my mind to it I could land a position in a different part of the company─on the research farm perhaps, or in the warehouse where the seeds are packed and shipped. But the Call Center is the only part of the company with the flexibility to be able to allow me to work just part-time. With my own farm to look after and children too, each day that I spend away is a day taken away from Runamuk. For Runamuk, my time is a precious commodity.

This spring, I decided I was not going to be left behind when the other farmers left for the summer. To take the place of my Johnny’s paycheck I offered my skills as a gardener to my local community and lined up more than half a dozen clients. I bade farewell to my colleagues and the office, drove home in the sun, and seemingly the next day the spring rains began.

When it wasn’t raining I enjoyed the work immensely. Not all of the clientele I’d lined up followed through with their job offers, but the 2 that did were great folks to work for. A friend of mine in the Madison community who has a large family and a homestead of their own who just needed some extra help, and an older couple in Skowhegan who have an immaculate yard with beds of gorgeous irises and lilies, as well as an assortment of shrubs, trees, and other flowering things. Marvelous folks.

But the rainy days took their toll on my bank account, and I discovered that gardening as a side-business was just another business to run. By mid-summer I was back to working 2 days a week in the Call Center because my finances required the stability of the paycheck from Johnny’s.

The Apiary

Following the drought in the fall of 2016 I had opted to leave the fall honey stores on my hives going into the winter. Inevitably not all of my hives survived the winter, and I was able to harvest some of the honey I’d previously written off. For the first time in 2 years I was able to sell honey at the farmers’ market, and those sales in combination with the exceedingly low overhead at Paul’s were a boon to Runamuk’s financial situation.

choosing apiary location
Site your apiary in a location that will keep hives dry, buffered from the wind, and with good sun exposure.

I was determined to continue growing my operation in spite of the set back of not actually having a property to farm on. I replaced lost hives with packaged bees purchased from Peter Cowin of Hampden, and brought a number of nucleus colonies from Bob Egan in Skowhegan to add to my own surviving colonies. These colonies all built up well this spring, and with adequate rainfall we had a decent honey harvest in the summer, allowing Runamuk to offer local customers the choice between the dark, fall honey, and the recently extracted spring honey, which is lighter and sweeter in flavor.

In addition, I tried my hand at raising my own Queens for the first time in my 7 years of beekeeping. The intention of learning this valuable skill was to be able to make my apiary more sustainable, and inherently more viable. It was incredibly rewarding to see those long slender Queens, and I’m looking forward to devoting more time to Queen-rearing next season.

queen cells
Queen-cells the bees and I built this spring!

Farm & Garden

The farm aspect of Runamuk currently consists of it’s chicken flock for eggs, which we have traditionally sold at the farmers’ market as well as direct from the farm. While we do grow a few vegetables to sell at market, the underlying focus of the Runamuk garden is to feed it’s farmer─myself and my family─a significant undertaking in itself.

egg-production-in-a-hoop-house
Farm fresh eggs from free-ranged chickens!

At our present location we are able to free range the chickens, who happily scratch up the forest underbrush hunting for greens and insects. However with no pasture to speak of, and less than ideal coop-conditions, I opted to hold off on buying new chicks this year. Not unexpectedly, we have experienced a significant decrease in egg production as the flock ages. I opted to hold off on replacing the birds til after the #GreatFarmMove #theFinalChapter and had intended to slaughter the oldest birds to send to “Freezer Camp”, however timing was prohibitive and I was only able to get a handful of meat put away.

This is where friends and community are a huge asset. My friend Sonia over at Hide & Go Peep Farm in East Madison had a couple of pigs to process and needed help. In exchange for our participation in a good old fashioned hog-killing party, Paul and I received half a pig in the form of various cuts, packaged and frozen for us to add to our “Freezer Camp”. We also received some venison, moose, and bear meat from Paul’s family, who are avid hunters and had good luck this hunting season. I think with our largely plant-based diet I should be able to stretch the meat til spring; what a blessing!

The garden at Paul’s place was a first-year plot that we had to reclaim from the raspberries that had cropped up following some selective cutting done several years ago. It’s a very sandy patch of land off the Ward Hill Road in Norridgewock that Paul owns adjacent his parents, grandfather, and aunt. The oak trees love it and the sound of the acorns raining on his tin roof in the fall is fantastic, but it took some adjustment on my part to grow crops there. At previous locations I have grown in heavy clay soil, fine loam, and somewhat sandy conditions, but nothing compared to the dune-sand (not an exaggeration) we have here.

awesome carrot crop_2017
Awesome carrot crop!

Keeping things adequately watered was the biggest challenge and Paul made it his priority to keep plants alive utilizing a second well to feed the series of soaker hoses and drip tubing he’d rigged up. We also scored several loads of wood chips from a local arborist, and everything was heavily mulched to retain moisture.

In this sandy garden we produced some very fine-looking onions, green beans, dry beans, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, amaranth, lettuces, radishes, beets, summer and winter squashes, and the best crops of carrots and cucumbers I’ve grown in all my 20 years of gardening. We managed to produce enough vegetables to eat primarily out of the garden all summer, and we’re still eating our own vegetables even now. I’ll let you know when we run out, but I think I almost have enough to get us through to April when I can sow the first crops of the 2018 season and once again eat from the garden.

forum onion crop
I sold my onions in bunches of 3 and 4 at the farmers’ market. They were a big hit!

I do less in the way of market gardening then I once did, choosing instead to focus my efforts on the bees, but I still grow for myself and I like to have the diversity at my stand during the market season so I take a few vegetables every now and again. When Johnny’s presented “Forum”, a short-day onion available in the form of sets, I saw an opportunity to get onions to the market before the other veggie vendors and perhaps corner the market on that particular crop. Forum did beautifully; I managed to get them to size up by July and I had big beautiful, fresh-looking onions in bunches well ahead of the competition. Customers ate them up. Literally lol.

Blog & Writing

growing food is radical protest
Growing your own food is a radical form of protest.

For me, writing is as much about self-expression as it is a form of activism. Afterall, I am a devout environmentalist, seeking to affect change by first starting with myself. It is my hope that by boldly leading the way and bravely sharing my story, I will inspire others to follow suit.

Why should I do this? Why subject myself to scrutiny and judgement?

For love of course.

If you have been following along with my story, you know that I have a deep affinity for nature. A connection with the Earth that has never been matched. I seek to protect what I love─the beauty and wonder of our magnificent planet─this place we call home.

It is this love that compels me to take action in the face of the injustices and the maltreatment of this planet. I cannot sit idly by and ignore the grievances, so I work to change my own behaviors first. I’ve given of myself to my community, affecting change on a local level, and I write to reach a broader audience in hopes of swaying more people to also take up the cause.

This year I wrote 18 articles, 29 journal entries related to my journey as a beginning and female farmer─as well as my progress in pursuit of a forever-farm home. I updated 4 older articles, and published 1 guest post to the blog─for a total of 52 pieces of writing in 2017.

The readership of the Runamuk blog grew from little more than 300 to over 3500 subscribers; THAT’s pretty huge. We continued our relationship with our sponsor, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, who worked with us to connect one lucky grower with a new Jang JP1 Seeder. I was pretty proud of that, but coming in at 36 on the list of Top 100 Homesteading Blogs really took the cake.

Reader input invited: I’ve been toying with the idea of expanding into YouTube videos. There are several farmers I watch regularly on YouTube─ John Suscovich of Farm Marketing Solutions and Richard Perkins of Ridgedale Permaculture I follow religiously. I also watch Curtis Stone and Diego Footer on occasion, but I haven’t found similar valuable content distributed by female farmers and so I’m considering moving to fill that niche.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact gender can have on the farmer. Is it really an issue? Or is it just my perception that it’s an issue? Are other women feeling it too? Or is it just me who feels the effects of gender bias in this male-dominated career/world? To get some outside perspective I recently bought “The Rise of Women Farmers & Sustainable Agriculture” and “Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers“, and I’ve been listening a lot to the Female Farmer Podcast. So the idea is to make videos for women, by women…

I worry though that I don’t have the same aptitude for talking so casually on camera that seems to come naturally to these guys. I’ve always maintained a motto of “practice makes perfect”, even when it comes to something like socializing, but do you think one could overcome their innate social awkwardness to do justice to the service of providing valuable content via YouTube? Would it be worth my time and effort I wonder? And to what degree would it detract from my work here on the Runamuk blog, which has come so far?

Yet it seems that much of mainstream society no longer wants to read and prefers to watch videos instead. It’s possible that expanding Runamuk to YouTube would grow our audience even more. Maybe we can reach more gardeners, homesteaders and farmers and help them to learn the skills to be more self-sufficient. Maybe I can inspire even more folks to live sustainable lifestyles, and teach the world to be more bee-friendly.

What do you think? Should I try my hand at making YouTube videos? Leave me a comment at the end of this post to share your thoughts…

Madison Farmers’ Market

As Director of the Madison Farmers’ Market I devoted a lot of time and energy to our local association of farmers. Food has become increasingly important to me: real food, local food, organic food and food that hasn’t been modified or coated with chemicals. Access to real and local food in my hometown community is almost as crucial to me as pollinator conservation. Did you know that?

sonia at market
My friend Sonia of Hide & Go Peep Farm at the Madison Farmers’ Market this spring.

This was the Madison Farmers’ Market’s 5th season. When I first embarked to create a farmers’ market in my hometown it was just myself and 1 other vendor sitting alongside Main Street. The market has grown to 9 now, with a devout following of regular customer and a blossoming community centered around real and local food. Our customers tell us we are the friendliest market of all those they visit, and we pride ourselves on that welcoming atmosphere.

After 4 years growing our market, the collective group of farmers that make up the Madison Farmers’ Market finally decided the time had come to switch from a Sunday market to Saturday. The positive reaction from the community was palpable. We saw a significant increase in traffic at the market this season as more people took advantage of the market to stock up on fresh veggies, baked goods, grass-fed meats, goat cheeses, raw honey and more─all grown within 20 miles of Madison.

Last year we had some serious complications with the company who was handling our credit card transactions, which effectively allows the farmers’ market to also accept EBT from SNAP shoppers. This year, with the help of the folks at the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, we were able to line up a new processing company, new equipment, and an improved system at the Madison Farmers’ Market. It made a world of difference.

snapshot week at mfm
We’ve grown a community of market-going patrons in Madison! A truly grassroots movement in this small Maine town!

Our EBT program has been instrumental in attracting new customers to our growing market, and it makes shopping local affordable for more households within our community. By participating in the Maine Harvest Bucks program our market is able to offer SNAP shoppers matching bonus bucks for their purchases with EBT; they are then able to use those bonus bucks to purchase more fruits and vegetables. At the end of every market day my farmers receive a check for transactions processed by the market on their behalf.

The market invested in it’s own tent and table this year, having previously been operated out of the Runamuk tent, and it was dubbed “the Information Booth”. I took on the responsibility of setting up and manning the Info Booth, and I found that we could use the station as a way to further cultivate the sense of community that our farmers have grown in Madison.

Inspired by the idea of a Kid’s Club I gleaned at the annual Maine Farmers’ Market Convention, I decided to launch a program of our own. I visited elementary schools in Madison, Anson, and North Anson alongside Cheryl Curtis of Somerset Health to pitch the idea to my target audience. The children were excited by my enthusiasm I think, and we saw a number of them throughout the course of the summer, come to solve our weekly market riddle and participate in silly games and activities we crafted for them.

new kids club at mfm 2017
We saw many kids visit on a regular basis, taking advantage of our free Kid’s Club program and getting to know their local farmers.

This was a very good year for the Madison Farmers’ Market. I am so proud of the progress we’ve made!

Biggest Lessons Learned

At the start of this year I was all but ready to give up on farming. As a mother I’ve moved my children around too much in the name of my own dreams and desires and I wasn’t feeling particularly good about where we’d ended up. Yet it was that same maternal drive that compelled me to take up the cause once more, and to lay it all on the line one more time in hopes of giving my family the life I’d always imagined. Thanks to that perseverance we will be moving to the Swinging Bridge Farm in 2018, where we will begin a new chapter in the Runamuk saga.

3 biggest lessons I learned as a farmer/beekeeper in 2017:

  1. Working locally as a gardener was just another business to manage.
  2. Start earlier in the season with the Queen-rearing project.
  3. You can grow your own food just about anywhere, if you set your mind to it.

Totally Worth It

I’ve been gardening since I was 16, becoming increasingly zealous about homesteading as a means of sustainable living, but it’s been just these last 8 years I’ve been working toward earning an income from farming. I’ve faced the same challenges other beginning farmers face, including the learning curve, lack of capital, and land access. I’ve also faced challenges specific to women farmers: gender bias, the demands of children and family upon my time, and lack of support. Even some that are unique to me alone─a child on the Autism Spectrum, divorce, and the decision to base my business on bees at a time when keeping bees alive is challenging at best. Here I am now, at the conclusion of 2017 fresh with the victory of the FSA’s approval of my loan request, and on the cusp of closing on the purchase of my very own #foreverfarm.

I hope that the biggest take-away from my story is to never give up. Farming is hard and can certainly be challenging at times, but the rewards are so sweet and so tremendous that I promise─if you stick it out─it will all be worth it in the end. Carpe diem, my friend. Seize the day.

Thanks for following along! Check back in 2018 for more of Runamuk’s story as we get ready to move to the Swinging Bridge Farm in New Portland, Maine!

years end review

Save bees! Help Runamuk go home!

Sometimes I joke that my status as a landless farmer and the on-going search for Runamuk’s forever-farm has given new meaning to the name “Runamuk”. Originally I named the farm after the chaos homeschooling 2 rowdy boys inspired in my life, but we’ve had 6 moves in Runamuk’s lifetime (7 years). Lack of capital and land-access are the number one challenges beginning farmers are facing, so I know at least that I’m in good company. With so many moves it’s been hard to get ahead in the business; each move is a financial set-back and only serves to delay the good work that I could be doing.

A farm is built up through the farmers’ efforts at building soil, crops and livestock year after year; that can’t happen unless there is a long-term situation for the farmer. I feel almost as though I am in suspended animation. There are plants I want to grow, agricultural and conservation methods I want to try, animals I’d like to raise, and the kind of production that can only come through years and years of dedication to the same piece of Earth.

But Runamuk is meant to be so much more than just a farm. Runamuk is a conservation and demonstration farm.

runamuk farmraiser infographic

bee-friendly farmingWe’re practicing regenerative agriculture and bee-friendly farming to lead by example, teaching others how they too can live in coexistence with pollinators and the natural world around us. Agritourism is meant to be part of my business with on-farm workshops, bee-schools and tours. In our current situation the apiary is located on someone else’s farm, while we live and homestead in a situation that is not conducive to having the public stop by.

Farming isn’t always picture-perfect, but to sell a product or idea, to influence folks to your way of thinking (as in to persuade the public that bee-friendly living and farming is a good idea)─you have to meet folks halfway. The reality is that people have preconceived perceptions of what a farm looks like and in order to change someone’s way of thinking you have to meet them half-way in order to gain any traction with them.

That’s why I’m still searching for a forever-farm home that fulfills the vision I have for Runamuk. It’s also the motivation behind my 2-part campaign I’ve dubbed rhe: “Runamuk FarmRaiser: a Bee-Friendly Farm”

The Vision for Runamuk (the short version)

Set in the heart of the western Maine mountains, this 100-acre conservation farm will be ideal for raising superior honeybee stock adapted to Maine’s challenging conditions. Perennial food forests and gardens will be laid out to feed both the farmer and the bees, along with wildflower meadows and pastures which are rotationally grazed or mowed to conserve wildlife and local populations of beneficial insects like pollinators, while still allowing income and management of the fields.

Well-defined walking paths will lead the way throughout the conservation farm, with plaques identifying the habitat and the wildlife supported by it. Nesting boxes for birds, bats, bees and butterflies will be scattered about the conservation farm attracting wildlife and educating the public─with a grand “bee hotel” providing habitat for a spectrum of native bees.

Visitors will find benches about the farm for sitting, allowing them to absorbing nature and take in the extensive demonstration gardens. A picnic area and a fire pit for community gatherings and celebrations will attract school field trips or families on vacation. The Runamuk Conservation Farm will be a welcoming stop for tourists passing through the area, and a destination for anyone looking to learn about beekeeping, pollinator conservation, bee-friendly farming, regenerative agriculture or sustainable living.

Read the Vision for the Runamuk Conservation Farm in it’s entirety.

Going for it

This is the vision that I have for Runamuk and whether it is I that cannot let go the dream, or the dream that refuses to let go of me, I cannot say. I only know that it burns inside me and I have neither the strength nor the will to deny it any longer. I’m going for it.

The Campaign

In 2 parts, friends and followers can help Runamuk find it’s forever-farm home and raise funds for the down payment on that property.

Part A: Utilizing social media to spread the word about what we are looking for to connect with a land-owner who might potentially be willing to work with us to preserve their property for future generations. I’ve listed below the kind of things I’m looking for in Runamuk’s forever-farm and created a sharable graphic to make it easy to circulate the information. Begin: NOW!

Part B: Crowdfunding for the down-payment on that forever-farm property. I’m shooting for  $20K─that would give us a 20% down-payment on a property with a $100K price tag, but any amount raised will help in the purchase. If we should raise more than that it would mean a lower mortgage or a better property (maybe even one with housing?), and if we don’t raise that much that’s ok too─at least we’ll have a chunk of change to offer.

I’m brainstorming a list of perks to offer in exchange for a pledge of support for my cause. Some of the ideas I have include: pollinator-themed refrigerator magnets, a Soap CSA─3 bars a month for 12 months, gift certificates for pollinator plants, Beekeeping 101 with me (either at my apiary or via Skype). Those are just a few ideas; I’m open to suggestions, and if you’re interested in being a part of the team to help organize this campaign and finally take Runamuk home to begin the work of promoting pollinators in earnest, please let me know.

“Runamuk FarmRaiser: a Bee-Friendly Farm” Campaign Launches: September 1st, 2017.

What we’re looking for

help runamuk find forever farm

Acreage:

You can grow a surprising amount of food on a smaller parcel of land and increasingly farmers are doing just that. I’m helping Paul to establish a perennial food-forest garden right here so that his Norridgewock property will support itself. For the scope of the Runamuk project however, we’re looking for at least a hundred acres to farm on.

Price: I’d prefer to keep my debt as low as possible, so I’m shooting for a price tag of about $100K. The bigger the number the more queasy I get. After scouring the market for the last 5 years I know that the beautiful old farmhouses with acreage still in-tact can be anywhere from $150-$360 or even more. So unless a golden opportunity comes along, we’ll probably be looking for land without existing infrastructure.

A View: Such an view on the horizon lends much beauty to the setting, and Runamuk will surely inspire it’s guests to make big changes in their lives.

Secluded: My strategy is to develop a hygienic honeybee strain that is adapted to the mountainous region of western Maine, tapping into potential feral colonies that might still reside in the reserved public conservation lands in that part of the state. A location apart from the state’s other commercial apiaries offers more control over genetics.

Phillips-Area: After spending so much time pouring over realty listings, I’ve only recently come to realize that the area around Phillips, Maine seems to best meet both my vision and my needs. It’s not too terribly far from Madison-Anson to Phillips, and Route 4 is a main avenue for tourists traveling to our Rangeley Lakes region. Set right in the heart of the mountainous Maine wilderness with some great farmlands along the Sandy River, this area really speaks to me.

Those are my must-haves, but I have some other things that I’m looking for when exploring property. Here they are in order of importance:

Pasture: This is actually very high on my list and I warred with myself on whether it should have been listed with the must-haves. 5 acres of open pasture would allow for quick set up of the Runamuk farm, offering open ground for gardening, bee-forage and a source for the medicinal herbs and flowers I use to make our value-added beeswax products. I would only be willing to sacrifice the pasture for “the Right” property.

Gnarly trees: I have a thing for old gnarly trees and would love to have some on my property. And I have a thing for mature-growth forests─forests that have not been cut for a long, long time. I am the proverbial tree-hugger.

Water-source: Having some kind of water source available would be a big boon to the operation, be it a stream, farm pond, or old dug farm-well.

History: There’s so much to be learned from those who came before us, and a sense of richness that comes from that kind of depth in a property. I would love to have one of the old 1800’s farmhouses with the fields all bisected by rockwalls and gnarly old trees lining the drive. Or even just a chunk of land that had once been a working farm, but has since been reclaimed by the Maine wilderness─with rock walls dividing the forest, an old stone-lined well or the crumbling stone foundation of the farmhouse that once lived there hidden amid the growth of the forest-floor like ghostly whispers from the past lingering to tell the story of that land.

Housing: I have very mixed feelings about our current housing situation, but because Paul has this remodeled trailer I have quite a lot of flexibility in this department. Even a run-down house will drive up the price of my forever-farm; by looking at land-only we can afford the larger acreage that we really want. These factors have moved existing housing lower and lower on my list of priorities for my forever-farm property.

How you can help

Lack of capital and land access are the two largest obstacles facing new farmers today and they have certainly played a role in Runamuk’s journey. Investment in the right property would enable us to establish a permanent location, allowing for Runamuk’s expansion into agritourism as a conservation farm.

Share our Story! You can help Runamuk right now just by sharing our search for our forever-farm property! This can help just by connecting us with land-owners who might be able to help us, or it might inspire friends in your network to share our story too. Sharing also helps us to grow our blog and reach new people who have not heard of Runamuk or our mission to save the world by saving bees. Share our forever-farm graphic, share my articles, share the link to our website or our facebook fanpage; share share share!

Make the Connection! Sometimes land-owners and new farmers work out arrangements that allow the beginning farmer to purchase land when traditional financing is not an option. If─by chance─you or someone you know has property in the Phillips, Maine area that they are committed to preserving for future generations, and if that someone has the means to offer a beginning farmer like me an owner-financed option, by all means─please share our search for Runamuk’s forever-farm home with them!

Join the Team! Crowdfunding is a big deal and not to be taken lightly. It’s a lot of work to run a successful fundraising campaign. If you’d like to be a part of bringing the Runamuk Conservation Farm to life, feel free to drop me a line. We could use all the help we can get!

Donate! If you are able to donate and want to give to our project we are humbled and grateful. Every dollar pledged will be used to secure a forever-farm home for Runamuk so that we can build this pollinator conservation farm, allowing us to teach bee-friendly coexistence and make those lessons accessible to the public. You can wait until the official start of the crowdfunding campaign on October 1st, or feel free to donate now using the “Buy me a coffee” widget in the lower left-hand corner of our site (powered by PayPal). Local friends and supporters who wish to help can pledge their support in person too, which actually means we’ll get to keep the entire donation as opposed to online transactions which accrue a processing fee.

For the good of us all

Runamuk’s income is growing─I’m projecting Runamuk will gross over $12K this year; that might be enough to go for a loan with the FSA or Farm Credit East. Regardless of which path I take to farm-ownership I know I’m going to need a down payment. Currently I’m working at Johnny’s Selected Seeds part-time to be able to bring my dream to life. I have $1200 saved and I’m working hard to keep expenses down so that we can continue to save for our forever-farm property.

I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not to attempt a crowdfunding campaign for Runamuk. It’s not easy to ask people for money─hell! I have a hard time sometimes just charging friends for eggs! The idea of exposing myself online in such a big way is terrifying and I hesitate even as I am continuing to work on this infernal campaign. Yet, sometimes strangers actually do donate to Runamuk─see the “Buy me a coffee!” graphic at the bottom of the sidebar along the left here? Sometimes total strangers actually donate significant chunks of change because they found the info on this site useful, or because they were inspired by our mission. That was the deciding factor in the “Runamuk FarmRaiser: a Bee-Friendly Farm” campaign. People are noticing that our pollinator populations are significantly reduced and they want to help.

runamuk beekeeperIn a bizarre twist of fate, the girl who was once fearful of “bugs” has found her calling in life working with bees and for bees and other pollinators. Whatever the reason, this dream that I have for the Runamuk Conservation Farm won’t leave me be and so I must try however I can to see it brought to life. For the good of us all, people need to know how they can help pollinators; much in our world depends on these tiny creatures and the job they perform. If I can help through my work with the Runamuk Conservation Farm, then I feel I will have served the Earth and society in the best way I could.

You can help Runamuk find it’s forever-farm just by sharing our story with friends and family! Be sure to check back soon for more updates! Things are getting interesting! [paypal-donation]

Fast Growing Garden Vegetables

fast-growing-vegetables

Following the long winter, as my stores of vegetables dwindle and I am once again reduced to buying Olivia’s spinach at the grocery store, cringing over the kale and lettuce there which never compares to the quality of my own home-grown produce─I am all too eager to get seeds in the ground to grow my own vegetables as fast as possible.

fast growing garden vegetablesI’m not just boasting when I say that my own home-grown veggies are in every way superior to the grocery store produce. Studies show that fruits and vegetables from your own garden actually are higher in nutrients than those that are picked before they are ripe and trucked thousands of miles to get to you. Home-grown vegetables have superior flavor, not just because you can pick them when they are perfectly ripe, but also because the varieties found at the supermarket has been strategically adapted for commercial farming─they’ve been bred for increased yield, improved disease resistance and for their ability to withstand being shipped to the consumer. At home we can select varieties according to our own personal preferences; whether that preference is for a particular flavor, a specific use or increased disease resistance.

Growing my own vegetables to feed my family also saves me money, which I can then use to pay my bills (go figure) or invest back into my farm! This spring I assembled this list of crops that I can grow to produce fresh veg for myself and my family in just 30-60 days. These are important crops because they fill that stretch of time while you’re waiting for crops that take longer to mature.

Note: Maturity dates are typically found on seed packets or within the description in the seed catalog. It might say “Days to Maturity” or “Days to Harvest”, which is key information the seed company is providing you about that species. For direct-seeded crops count from the first day it pops up above ground to the projected date of maturity. The maturity dates for transplants may be delayed by a few weeks.

Super fast growing vegetables (5 – 38 days)

Sprouts: These are so easy and simple to grow that─even in the smallest of apartments─it’s just good sense to utilize this source of fresh veg. Check out this article I wrote about growing your own sprouts. (5-7 days)

Shoots: Much like the sprouts, you’re eating the baby greens of select plant varieties to gain a fresh vegetable source that is power-packed with nutrients at this juvenile stage. My favorites are buckwheat, pea shoots, and sunflower shoots. (10-14 days)

Cress: Grow this like shoots, or direct sow a patch in the garden as soon as the soil is exposed in the spring. You’ll be eating fresh greens in a little over a week! (10 days)

Grow Radishes Super Fast
Colorful easter-egg radishes grown by my buddy Crym at Sidehill Farm in Madison!

Radishes: So easy to grow and so versatile. Everyone knows you can eat radishes sliced in a salad, but have you tried sauteing them? or roasting them in the oven? Some varieties, like the Rover radish and the popular D’Avignon (aka – french breakfast radish) mature in just a few weeks (21 days); eat those while you’re waiting for the more exciting red meat radish (aka – watermelon radish) and the increasingly popular Nero Tondo radish (both mature in 50 days).

Greens! There are a whole host of green leafy vegetables that can be grown in just under 30 days. Many lettuce mixes reach maturity by 28 days and work great in raised beds. Select varieties of lettuce mature in 26, 27, and 28 days respectively─as is the case with the red salad bowl, flashy trout back, and the favorite black seeded simpson. Some types of pac choi will mature in 30 days or eat them at the baby stage, and magenta spreen (a spinach-like alternative) is ready in just 30 days too.

Broccoli raab: These look like small florets or shoots of broccoli, but they’re actually related to turnips and you would harvest and eat the stem, leaves, and broccoli-floret. While it’s less popular in the States, broccoli raab is probably the number one vegetable in China. If you like to stir-fry this one is for you. Grow this one to eat while you’re waiting for the later-maturing heading broccoli. (35 days depending on the variety.)

fall hakeuri turnipsTurnips: some varieties mature very quickly─like my absolute favorite: the hakeuri turnip. This small white turnip is sweet and delectable and has been increasingly popular with commercial growers and home gardeners alike. Eat them raw as a snack, on salads, boil them or roast them in the oven with other root-crops. You can even eat the greens! So good and super easy and fast to grow! (38 days)

Still pretty fast-growing vegetables (40 – 60 days)

More greens: if you can wait a little longer the options for green leafy vegetables are almost limitless. Claytonia (40 days), mustards (40 and 45 days depending on the variety), tatsoi─a succulent fleshy spinach-like asian green (43 days). Some lettuce varieties take longer, but some of my favorites are ready to harvest in 45 and 48 days: check out Skyphos and Cherokee. Swiss chard (50 days) is popular in the summertime, but will actually tolerate some cooler temperatures and a light frost; get it in the ground as soon as the soil temperature is 40°. Kale is ready is 50 days and if you select cut-and-come again varieties you can have that plant all through the season and even keep it into the winter. Mache is a simple little green (50 days), but so cold hardy that it’s worth keeping an established patch in the cold frame of high tunnel all through the winter.

Turnips & Radishes: Later maturing varieties from those listed in the “super-fast” grouping. The scarlet queen turnip is newer (43 days), while the purple top turnip (50 days) is a traditional New England root crop. In recent years the watermelon radish (50 days) has gained popularity because of it’s red flesh and green skin, which is a fun culinary delight; and the new Nero tondo radish (50 days) is black with white flesh.

Red Ace beets grow fast!
Looks at these beets from Sidehill Farm! A 2-for-1 vegetable: cut the greens off and eat those, then eat the roots too!

Beets: Are a crop that offers 2 sources of veg─leafy greens and tasty, fleshy beet-roots which can be cooked in a variety of ways. Most people are familiar with the traditional red round beet, like the Red Ace (50 days) or the Merlin (48 days), but the Babybeet matures much faster (just 40 days) and so does the Early Wonder (45 days) which also produces excellent beet-greens. Yellow beets (55 days) like the Boldor and the Touchstone Gold add more visual interest to any dish but seem to take just a few days longer to mature.

Summer Squash: Once things warm up enough, pop zucchini (47 days) and yellow summer squash (50 days) seeds into the ground and in less than 2 months’ time you can have squash coming out your ears! There are lots of different colors and shapes to experiment with too!

Beans: Another warm-weather crop that offers a quick return on your time and efforts, and also easier to grow too. Lots of varieties to choose from. (50 days depending on the variety)

Sugar Ann peas grow fast in the spring and fall
Peas are a fairly quick crop that prefers the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, affording the gardener a chance for a dual-harvest.

Peas: If you have an established garden you can just pop these seeds in the ground as soon as the soil is exposed in the spring. Snap and snow-peas mature fairly quickly and tolerate the cooler temperature of spring and fall, which means you can sow them twice in the growing season. Eat them raw as a snack, steamed, stir-fried, or blanched and frozen for winter-use. (52 – 60 days depending on the variety)

Cucumbers: A classic summer treat, either on it’s own, in salads, or pickled. This warm-weather crop offers opportunity for succession sowing over the course of the summer as they reach maturity in 48 – 52 days depending on the variety.

Okra: Less popular here in the north than it is in the southern states, Okra can be grown to harvest in just 50 days.

Mokum carrots grow fast
Some varieties of carrots mature faster than others. Photo courtesy Sidehill Farm.

Carrots: Some varieties are mature relatively early, like the Mokum (36 days to baby-size, 54 days full-size), and the Adelaide (55 days), referred to as a “true baby carrot” because it matures early and has real carrot flavor in small 3-4″ roots that you don’t normally get in premature carrots.

Scallions: A larger version of the common chive, scallions will be ready long before those onion plants or sets you put in this spring. (60 days)

Grow food fast!

Use this list to create a strategy for your garden to grow your own produce as fast as possible in the spring when the stores in your pantry are depleted. Or go ahead and plan succession sowings of some of your favorite crops─some crops grow so quickly that you can get 6, 7 or 8 harvests over the course of the growing season, which really allows you to make the most of your space. Growing your own vegetables not only saves you money, but ensures a healthier diet and lifestyle for yourself and your family, as well as an increased appreciation for food. Now get outside and get busy!

Do you grow your own veggies? Got any super-fast growing recommendations to share? Feel free to share! Leave a comment below!