The Threat of Snow

threat of snow

October is a tricky month for farmers. One day it’s mild and beautiful─you take pause to admire the spectacle of Maine’s glorious fall foliage; the next day the temperature plunges, the wind picks up, and the threat of snow looms in the forecast. For the last few weeks I’ve been walking this line between preparing for winter and still trying to make the most of what’s left of the season, but with Samhain just days away, and Thanksgiving not far off─this is really it. The end of the 2018 growing season.

Winter Preparations

If I’ve learned anything about living and farming in Maine over the course of my 38 years, it’s that you don’t want to be caught unprepared when winter sets in. My personal deadline for all farm and household winterizations is Thanksgiving; experience has taught me that by the third Thursday of November, generally the weather is too cold and windy for much in the way of outdoor work, the ground is frozen, and the threat of snow is in the forecast. Having the apiary put to bed, critters snuggly and protected from the elements, and all equipment stowed away puts this farmers’ mind at ease and allows me to immerse myself in the festivities that come with the Persephone Period and the Dark Days of the Year.

closing in the chicken coop
Closing in the 3-sided shed that’s attached to the garage.

Winter livestock preparations have been the main focus here at Runamuk throughout September and October, but with more urgency as we’ve moved further into October.

The shed attached to the garage, which already had chain-link fencing covering the long wall, I converted into a Winter Coop for the chickens. On the open end I built a wall to close it in, then covered it with chicken wire. Roosts were assembled, along with a set of “Deluxe Nesting Boxes”─only the best for my ladies, I tell them!

The weather in early October was still mild however, and I really wanted to run the flock across the plot where I intend to plant perennial fruit trees next spring─so I held off on moving the girls into their winter digs.

winter chicken coop
Just add plastic (but only if it’s 6mil greenhouse film)!

Sheep: Free to Good Home

In the meanwhile, Runamuk was offered a pair of sheep. Yes! For reals! Beautiful purebred Romney sheep─free, and so sweet and sociable they’re sure to melt hearts.

Lily and Miracle were offered to us by friends we know through the local 4H group we were once a part of. Nina Blauvelt reached out to me to say that this had been her daughter Emily’s last year at the fair, as she is now a senior with a job and looking at colleges for next year. They’re downsizing their sheep herd, but these 2 in particular are very special to Emily, and she didn’t have the heart to send them to auction. The Blauvelts were looking for a good home for the pair and naturally they thought of me with my new #foreverfarm; was I interested?

Initially, I said no. Four years ago I had a not-so-great experience with free sheep that made a lasting impression (check out: Sheep in the Garden to learn the whole story!); ultimately it was a valuable lesson in the importance of proper farm infrastructure. That same year taught me to be careful not to take on more than I can handle─and I’ve been very mindful of that concept as I’ve been settling Runamuk in here. My hands are already full. I’ve been out straight all summer (and loving every minute of it! don’t get me wrong) but sheep were no longer part of the plan for Runamuk.

The next morning, as I was driving eastward toward Fairfield and the office at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, the sunrise painted vibrant shades of crimson and yellow across the sky, while the radio playing only my favorite songs─it hit me all of a sudden that I really wanted to be the one to give Emily’s beloved sheep a good home. With 13 acres of grass to my name, and fencing materials already on hand, I really had no reason not to take them. What’s more, grass-eating sheep would fill a gap in my farm and homestead operations that would be too beneficial to pass up: namely, added grass management, another source of manure for the gardens, and a red meat option for my family. Plus, sheep would add a definitive cute-and-cuddly feature to Runamuk; as much as I love them, bees and chickens are not necessarily the most endearing of creatures when it comes to marketing.

Right then and there I pulled over into the break-down lane to send Nina a message as cars and tractor-trailor trucks zoomed past me on Route 201A.

I wasn’t sure how soon the newcomers would arrive, so in case it was sooner rather than later, I put together a slick little moveable sheep-shelter the very next day. It’s similar to the chicken tractors, but without the nesting boxes and the roosts, which makes the structure light as a feather.

portable sheep shelter
Moveable sheep-shelter (for summer-use only!). Note to self: Next year anchor it with cement blocks!

I was pretty pleased with the thing, and it looked great set up in the pasture with the electric net sheep-fencing. A few days later however, autumn turned on it’s heel, wind and rain rolled in, the temperatures plunged, and that lightweight summer-shelter was literally blown away. I found pieces of it strewn across the yard; wryly, I decided that the time for temporary shelters was over, and set myself to work on a sheep-shed that would serve through our rugged Maine winters.

A Mom Win

Meanwhile, with temperatures plunging at night, and some pretty intense winds, I decided it was time to move the flock into the Winter Coop. My chicken-tractors are only meant to be used through the summer months, and as such are open at either end. I was increasingly worried about the flock suffering at night, so I made the final preparations to the Winter Coop (a door lol) and the boys helped me move the birds in.

With a child on the Autism spectrum, and having faced divorce and come out on the other side, being a mom and a farmer at the same time has not easy for me (that’s a whole post in and of itself!). Yet that evening I felt like maybe─just maybe─I’m an OK mom.

Bundled against the cold and whipping wind, headlamps strapped to our heads as we traipsed back and forth across the lawn in the dark, carrying bird after bird─my boys performed like true farm-kids. I demonstrated with the first chicken how I wanted the birds to be held as they carried them across the yard, and how to settle each bird onto a roost inside the coop. They did a great job of it, and with 63 birds it was no small task. When it was finished I felt a sense of relief for the chickens, along with this immense feeling of fulfillment. Afterall, it was for my children that I became a farmer in the first place, and to be able to impart some of these skills upon them is hugely important to me. In that moment it really felt like I might actually be doing an OK job of it.

inside the winter coopdeluxe nesting boxeschickens inside the winter coopPreparing for Sheep

With the chickens taken care of, I could turn my attention back to preparing for the arrival of sheep to Runamuk. Wanting to keep all the livestock fairly close to the house for the winter, I decided to build the Sheep-Shed off the backside of the garage using schedule 40 PVC conduit, and some wooden platforms that the previous owners had left behind. I covered the whole thing in Tufflite Greenhouse Film (I use this stuff for everything! it’s the best!) that I bought at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and voila!─Winter Sheep-Shed!

finished sheep-shed
Finished sheep-shed!

Having both chickens and sheep based off the garage, meant that I only needed to rig up one electric fence charger to energize fencing for both species. It felt good to be able to make use of one of the chargers I inherited from James Murphy during my tenure at his farm in Starks. That man did a lot for me in his afterlife, and even though I didn’t end up at his farm permanently, I’m beholden to Jim for the lessons learned there, and for the tools, equipment, books and furniture that I inherited from him. I’ll be forever grateful, and I’m still glad that I chose to name my dog after the man.

electric fence charger
I was pretty ecstatic when I managed to rig up my own electric fence charger WITHOUT electrocuting myself! Yes, Sam─you ARE a farmer!

Sheep Delivery!

The Blauvelts came last Monday evening to deliver Lily and Miracle to me. I gave them the grand tour:  Runamuk’s #foreverfarm and my great big house (aka – “my castle”). Nina, her husband Gordon, and their daughter Emily, have followed my journey to farm ownership since our days in 4H, and they’ve watched my progress this summer on Instagram. As farmers themselves, they could see right away the potential this property has for me and for Runamuk. I think they felt really good about leaving their beloved sheep with me.

emily w her sheep
Emily Blauvelt with Lily and Miracle.

Emily led her 2 prized ewes: Lily and Miracle, across the yard to the paddock I’d created around the Sheep-Shed and the backside of the garage with my electric net fencing. This area had not been touched by the chickens, and despite the cold and the decreasing day-light hours, there’s still some lush grass in that spot; the 2 sheep were eager to graze when they saw it.

I got a quick download on sheep-care from the Blauvelts as Lily and Miracle checked out their new accommodations, along with the promise of help should the need ever arise, then they bade us all farewell. And so now I have sheep!

lily and miracle
Sheep at Runamuk! Lily on the left, and Miracle on the right.

Threat of Snow in the Forecast

We’ve already had a couple of snow-squalls here in the mountains of western Maine, and the threat of snow is in the forecast again this weekend. Typically these threats don’t amount to much in October, and, because the ground is not yet frozen, we generally don’t see any accumulation until around Thanksgiving─hence my Thanksgiving deadline for winter preparations. The window is fast closing and I know it. Every day I’m checking chores off my list one at a time, so that when Thanksgiving rolls around I can hunker down inside my house and just enjoy the season to come.

birdhouse in snowstorm
Snow magic. I’m in love!

There’s something magical about winter─maybe it’s just winter in Maine? or maybe I’m the only one in the world who feels this way, lol. Regardless, I find snowstorms absolutely enchanting: the way the snowflakes cascade from the sky and the stillness of the world around you. I revel in the energy of storms; the power of wind and the might of nature beyond our control reminding me that there are greater forces at work here. Sunrises after an ice storm are enough to bring tears to my eyes (and not because they’re blinding!); I adore the way trees’ limbs and branches are coated with ice, and how the brilliant pink and orange hues of the sunrise glint off them. And I love, love, love the way a power outage can draw the family together; playing boardgames by candlelight is a special kind of magic.

Once I loathed the Dark Days; it’s easy to feel isolated and to slip into the winter-blues at this time of the year. I’ve learned to take this as a time for self-reflection, a time for honoring the ancestors through tradition, and a time to be with family and friends. Mostly though, I think I’ve learned to see the good and bad in everything─the seasons, people, animals…even the slimy and the scary ones. I’ve learned to appreciate life for whatever it is, to accept it for what it isn’t, and to just be grateful that I’m here to experience anything at all.

Our world is a beautiful place when we chose to embrace it, and life really can be what we make of it. If we would only try: one foot in front of the other; one day at a time─there will be inevitable failures and set backs, but if we keep moving forward in the direction of our goals and dreams─there will certainly be progress too. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the way we look at something. <3

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 to receive the latest updates directly to your in-box. OR follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the day-to-day happenings on this Maine farm!

Garden Cover-Cropping at Runamuk

garden cover cropping

Last week was all about cover-cropping the garden here at Runamuk. The chickens had completed their work and I had my new broadfork, along with some seed to put down; there’s something particularly intimate and romantic about working soil, so I was especially jacked up for the project.

garden cover cropAside from the continued focus on the Runamuk apiary, getting the chickens established and prepping the garden for next year are my main goals this first season at the Hive House. Above all else, I’m concerned with the long-term agroecology of my new farm. Because we are all connected on this planet, and because healthy soils are fundamental to the overall profitability and sustainability of my farm, I’ve made it my priority to start with the soil and work my way up.

A Word About “Agroecology”

Agroecology is the science of applying ecological concepts and principles to the design, development, and management of sustainable agriculture systems.

The agroecologist views any farming system primarily with an ecologist’s eye; that is, it is not firstly economic (created for commodity and profit), nor industrial (modeled after a factory). Agroecologists do not unanimously oppose technology or inputs in agriculture, but instead they assess how, when, and if technology can be used in conjunction with the natural, social and human assets.

This method of agriculture requires a deeper understanding of the complex long-term interactions among resources, people and the environment. Since a love for nature and my fellow man is at the heart of Runamuk, this is how I choose to run my farm.

Prepping the Soil for a Cover-Crop

While there is indeed an existing garden─approximately 25 feet by 80─it was only growing weeds when we arrived at the end of June. I put the chickens on the plot to let them do the work for me, and in 5 short weeks they managed to eliminate the weeds entirely, exposing bare ground for cultivation. They really did an amazing job, and─as an added benefit, the patch got fertilized.

garden when we arrived
This is what the garden looked like when we first arrived at our new #foreverfarm.
chickens working the garden
Here are the chickens at work on the garden.
chicken prepped garden
Once the ground was exposed I moved the chickens over and the soil could be prepped for cover-cropping.

Up til this point I’d only shuffled the fencing along; moving the chicken tractors and the fencing to an entirely new spot while still keeping the birds inside was a little challenging, but I got it all in the end─without any shenanigans, I might add. I’ve put them on a section of earth just next door to the original plot, which I’ve dubbed “The Garden Adjacent”, with the intention of expanding the garden to double the size.

Once I had the chickens off the garden, I eagerly took up my new broadfork and set to work.

broadforkI’ve always loved digging in the dirt. Love love LOVE it! The manual labor, the smell of the earth, the glimpse of microbial life beneath the soil-surface. And I’ve always been particularly partial to my spading fork. The broadfork is simply a larger version─with TWO handles─and easier on my back and body to use. Even still, it took a bit to really get the hang of using the broadfork, and to develop a rhythm with it.

Now─I’m in pretty decent shape for my (nearly) 38 years, but the broadfork offers a really great full-body workout and it turns out that I just couldn’t fork that garden continuously for the 10 hours it took me to complete the job. On Sunday I did 4 hours, then I had to take time off from Johnny’s to get the forking done before the rain that was forecasted for Wednesday. I left the office early on Monday, forked the garden til it was too dark to see, and then was back at it come sun-up Tuesday morning and went to work late that day. Thankfully this is a slow time of year in the Call Center, and my supervisor and colleagues there can allow me some flexibility.

Peas-and-Oats

johnny's peas and oats mix
The peas-and-oats cover-crop mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Once the cultivation with the broadfork was complete, I happily I brought out the seed I’d bought to cover the garden with. I went with Johnny’s peas-and-oats mix because it’s a super easy to manage cover-crop. The peas─like any legume─help to fix nitrogen in the soil, and the oats serve as a nurse crop, sheltering the seed during germination and then offering crop support for the pea plants. Both are annuals and will be killed this fall by the first hard frost we get, and if I leave the plant residue on the plot it will provide a great mulch layer for my new garden.

I followed Johnny’s recommended sowing rate of 5lbs/1000sq.ft. for the peas-and-oats and bought (2) 5-pound sacks to do that 2,000sq.ft section of earth, along with a package of inoculant.

Question: What is inoculant? and do you really need it?

garden combination incoluant
Garden Combination Inoculant─good for ALL legume-family crops.

This is something we are frequently asked in the Call Center at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. What I tell folks is that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t inoculate your legumes; you’ll still get a crop of peas or beans, or whatever it is. Inoculant is simply a packet full of microorganisms that are specific to legume-family plants, which aid in the legume’s nitrogen-fixing abilities. Personally however, I’ve always felt that anything I could do to help the little guys in the soil do their work of facilitating the availability of nutrients and water for my plants is worth the extra $5 and an extra step. But that’s just me; you’ll have to make that call for yourself.

To apply the inoculant I simply took a pail, dumped the first 5-pound sack of seed into it and added half the contents from the package of inoculant. I stirred the seed around with my hand (it’s not harmful in the least), seeking to ensure that all of the seed was evenly coated with the dark powdery inoculant.

Seeding the Garden for a Cover-Crop

It just happened to take 16 passes up and down the garden with the broadfork to complete this first half of our new garden, so it was easy to plan how I would walk down through the plot with the seed and hopefully ration it so that I had enough to do the entire space. I knew Johnny’s said I’d bought enough to do the job, but I also know from experience that when sowing by hand it’s easy to sow too heavy, and then you run out of seed before you cover the whole plot.

And even with my experience and careful planning, I was still too heavy-handed with the first half of the peas-and-oats mix. I found myself rifling through my seed-stash looking for something I could mix with the second half to stretch it out so that I could get the rest of the garden cover-cropped. Lucky for me I work at a seed-company and have access to “up-for-grabs” seeds; my “seed-stash” is sick…no, seriously─I have a problem, lol.

dwarf essex rape via johnnys selected seeds
Dwarf Essex Rape cover-crop; photo courtesy Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

I found a 10-pound sack of Dwarf Essex Rape seed; score! Rape is a member of the brassica-family and somewhat cold-tolerant, which is really ideal because sometimes we can have several more weeks of growing season after that initial killing frost, so this plant will linger into the fall, but still won’t survive our Maine winter so I won’t have to worry about tilling anything under next spring. I mixed some of this with my remaining peas-and-oats, added the rest of the inoculant, and then managed to finish seeding the garden.

Why Not Just Till it Under?

One of Runamuk’s Instagram followers has asked why I’ve done all this work by hand rather than simply taking a rototiller and tilling the plot under? Perhaps you were wondering too?

Certainly that would have been a quicker alternative and I wouldn’t have been so sore afterwards, lol. However, as an agroecologist I’m concerned for the organisms living in the soil and the impact that tilling would have on them. Tilling destroys their homes and populations. I want to encourage their numbers, help them thrive and aid them in their work so they will in turn aid me in my work: building a farm that not only supports it’s farmer, but which also works in tandem with nature, even helping nature.

That being said, I’m not necessarily opposed to tilling; it has it’s place. If I were facing heavily compacted clay soil I would have brought in a tiller, but as it is, the soil here is a nice sandy loam and this spot has been cultivated for years so I didn’t feel the plot really warranted tilling. The soil was workable with the broadfork, and I am strong and capable. I enjoy the work, and I take pride in knowing I’m doing my best to work with the natural forces in play all around me. So I did it by hand and I feel really good about that.

So Satisfying

broadforking at sunset long shadowBy the time I was on my second cup of coffee Wednesday morning, it was drizzling outside and my cover-crop was being watered in. The whole project was so immensely satisfying: clearing the garden with just the chickens, investing in the broadfork, using it to work the soil, and laying down that precious cover-crop seed─the whole experience was really very intrinsically rewarding to me. And that’s why I’m a farmer: because its fulfilling, because I enjoy it, and because I feel called to do this work and live this life. Thanks for following along!

What are your thoughts on cover-cropping? Have you ever tried it? Or, how do you feel about the notion of agroecology??? Leave a comment below to share with the readership so we can all learn together!

The #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter

Land-access is one of the biggest challenges facing beginning farmers today, and one that I have certainly struggled with as I’ve worked to build my income from farming. Runamuk has moved a number of times and it is always such an ordeal that─to make light of the situation─I’ve come to refer to these transitions as the “GreatFarmMove”. I am overjoyed and hugely relieved that this #GreatFarmMove will be my last, and so this particular “moving of the farm” also gets the hashtag: #finalchapter.

Moving a Home VS Moving a Farm

I’ve never met a person who liked moving. It’s a big undertaking for anyone, whether you’re moving from one apartment to another, or from one home to another. First, you have to get the boxes and organize and pack all your belongings. You have to make sure the fragile things are protected and that the boxes are labeled. Then you have schedule to have the utilities and communication services turned off at the old location and scheduled to be turned on at the new location. You need to get forwarding forms from the post office and update your mailing information for all of your banks and credit cards. And finally, there’s the actual moving of all your stuff. Hefting each box and loading it into the moving truck or your buddy’s pick-up─and don’t forget the furniture!

When a farmer moves, they have all the tasks you’re already familiar with, along with the added responsibility of farm tools, equipment, and livestock. Tools and supplies have to be brought in from the fields and gardens, equipment has to be prepared for road-travel, and the relocation of livestock needs to be carefully orchestrated so as to cause as little stress to the animal as possible. Sometimes fencing needs to be taken down, or livestock housing needs to be moved too. Even compost and manure piles need to go, as those are valuable resources to the farm. It’s quite an ordeal.

Before I can even think about moving the Runamuk chickens to the new property, I have to set up a space in the barn there for them: construct roosts, nesting boxes, and a pop-hole, set up a fence. Ultimately the plan is to have them in a moveable chicksaw, but I’ll need a place for the ladies to land before I’ll have time in my schedule to construct anything as elaborate as a chicksaw. For the time being they can occupy the stall in the back corner of the barn at the Hive-House, which I’ve already decided will be their winter coop.

The Plan for the #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter

Closing is scheduled to take place at 9am on Wednesday, June 27th, at the Somerset County USDA office in Skowhegan. I’ve scheduled the #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter to run from June 27th through July 3rd, and I’ve almost got all my pieces in place to make the transition as smooth as possible.

I’ve already contacted the utility companies, the phone and internet service provider, and sent out my change of address forms. I’ve been packing slowly but surely for the last month and a half, and I put up a simple shed made of pallets, electrical conduit, a tarp, and some of the snap clamps that are sold by Johnny’s Selected Seeds. This simple structure allows me to begin moving stuff out of the cramped one-bedroom trailer, collecting all of my belongings into one central location.

My friends and long-time supporters of Runamuk, the Hiltons, are loaning me the use of their horse trailer─again. They’ll deliver the trailer to my current location Tuesday night. Wednesday, Thursday, and probably Friday too, the boys (who are now on summer vacation) and I, along with some help from Paul, will load Runamuk into the the trailer, and Saturday evening the Hiltons will hook onto it and tow it the 19.5 miles from my current location in Norridgewock to New Portland─a 30 minute drive northwest.

#greatfarmmove horse-trailer
The Hiltons also allowed me to use their horse trailer in Oct 2016, when I moved away from Starks.

I am blessed with some really wonderful friends. Friends who have encouraged me along my way, who have supported me, or lifted me up when I was down; they kept me going when times were tough. The closest of these friends will be on hand Saturday evening to help unload the horse trailer. I’ve promised the customary pizza and beer, along with their first look at Runamuk’s new #foreverfarm and the opportunity to celebrate with me.

Sharing the Joy

Yesterday Nathan (my FSA agent) contacted me to let me know that he delivered my loan documents and the FSA’s closing instructions to the title company who is finalizing the transaction. He said they are in the process of advancing my loan funds to the title company’s escrow account where they will be held til closing. Eeeeeeeeeeek!

Nathan will be there Wednesday morning at the Somerset County USDA Service Center for Closing, as will Janice Ramirez─the Somerset County FSA Farm Loan Officer that I originally saw when I first approached the FSA─and Andrew Francis, Somerset’s FSA Program Technician, who has also helped orchestrate my farm purchase. They are all so happy for me and it feels right to have them there to share in the joy of this accomplishment; really, when you think about it, my victory is their victory.

And I can say that of all my friends, and of the community which I serve and which serves me. There have been so many people who have helped me make this happen who all deserve to share in this victory─I’ll have to write a post exclusively dedicated to calling out these amazingly wonderful people who are a part of Runamuk’s story, because there are just too many to attempt doing it here and now. You all know who you are, and if you’re reading this, please know that─with all my heart─I am so grateful. Truly.

Days Away

Closing is just days away now. The #GreatFarmMove #FinalChapter has been organized, help has been recruited, I’ve scheduled a Saturday off from the farmers’ market and even taken time off from Johnny’s. I have about 9 days to make the move and settle in at the Hive House. I’m calling this my “Honeymoon”. A time to get acquainted with my new farm, to settle my kids in there, the chickens, Jules the old fat-cat and my dawg Murphy. I can’t wait to walk the property, cleanse the house with sage, and set up the first hives at this permanent location.

It’s really happening folks! Check back soon for more updates coming soon! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your inbox!

Official Closing Date

At long last I have an Official Closing Date on my #foreverfarm! We have overcome every hurdle─Runamuk and I, and this property I’ve affectionately dubbed “the Hive House”─in order to come together to form this union between farmer and farm. There’s no going back now; it’s only a matter of time before I finally have a permanent location for my farm and family.

Everything that I am, and everything that I have ever done in my life, has been leading me to this moment. It has taken everything I have to get here─years and years of hard work, determination, and sacrifice. Now I am exhausted from my long journey, and I’ve reached the end of my proverbial rope.

This week, my agent at the FSA, Nathan informed me that the title search had come back clear and as such has been approved. They’ve ordered the title insurance─the last piece of the FSA loan puzzle. Nathan was about to schedule Closing for next week, when we discovered an unexpected speed bump.

beeswax soap at amrket
Some of Runamuk’s beeswax soap on display at the Madison Farmers’ Market.

Up til now we’d been operating under the impression that Closing would happen just as soon as all of the hurdles had been overcome and the paperwork could be ready. However, to allow enough time for the FSA’s interminable loan process we’d sited on the Sale Contract that Closing would occur on or before June 29th. Since this was my second time through the process, Nathan has been pushing my paperwork through as quickly as he could, but we learned this week that the Sellers will not be ready to Close before the June 29 deadline.

In order to Close early both parties have to agree, and that is not going to happen in this case.

I was shocked. I had not entertained the notion that it could possibly take til the end of June to resolve this part of my life and move onto the next. What’s more, it’s become increasingly difficult to live and farm under my present circumstances. These temporary lodgings have served their purpose─this tiny trailerstead in the backwoods of central Maine has been the stepping stone I needed to make Runamuk’s farm-purchase happen─but I was aghast at having to live and farm 5 more weeks under these conditions.

Runamuk needs the proper infrastructure to be able to function successfully. I need a proper home for myself and my family, and space to do my own thing. In these temporary conditions I’m lacking space to assemble and store hive equipment, I have no place to dry the herbs used to make Runamuk’s various beeswax salves, there isn’t space to extract the remaining honey that I have still waiting in combs from last fall’s harvest, and I am lacking pasture to move my new pullets onto so they’re eating way more of that expensive organic grain than they otherwise would be.

What’s more, while I was able to plant my potatoes, onions, and garlic at this temporary location, I was intending to plant the remainder of my garden at the Hive House. With a Closing Date of June 29th I’ll have to abandon many of the full-season crops I typically plant: the tomatoes and winter squashes etc, which directly impacts my ability to produce food to store to see my family though the winter.

All of this will affect my farm-income and I’m concerned about being able to meet the financial projections I forecasted for the FSA when I assembled my paperwork for this loan. Unfortunately there’s really nothing to be done for it. Legally the Sellers are within their rights. If you look at it from their perspective, you can imagine what it might be like to have to say goodbye to the home they’ve known their entire adult lives. I’m sure that’s not easy either.

limited availability
Signage at farmers’ market explaining the sparseness of Runamuk’s booth; currently I’m out of honey, and since the new flock has not yet started laying, I don’t have eggs either.

Since there’s nothing to be done for it, I’ve accepted this year for what it is─a year of transition for Runamuk. I’ve decided to take it easy on myself; buying a farm through the FSA is a daunting prospect even under the best of circumstances. Moving a farm is challenging for any farmer, and trying to continue farming while relocating your operation is an ambitious proposition for even the best of us. I’m doing good just to be at market, to still be making soap at all, and to be working with bees even as a landless farmer.

I’m incredibly stressed and anxious about the whole thing, and these last few weeks I’ve just been trying to hold on til Closing. When I learned I would have to wait 5 more weeks I wasn’t sure I could make it. But when I posted to my facebook community expressing my concerns, a wise friend (thank you Janet!) quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt:

tie a knotIt brings to mind this mental image of myself clinging to the knot at the end of my rope, hanging on for dear life while the Journey finds me whipping in the wind and rains like a ragdoll. And I just keep telling myself “Don’t let go!”

Come June 29th the Hive House will be mine and Runamuk will finally have a #foreverfarm. It’s a huge relief to know that everything is a GO─nothing can stop this sale now. If I can just tough it out a little longer I will soon be moving Runamuk and my family HOME. Check back soon for details regarding our upcoming Farm-Warming Party!!!

Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest updates from Runamuk directly to your in-box! Or find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for behind-the-scenes peeks at this working farm and apiary!

Runamuk’s 2017 Year’s End Review: Part 1

banjo!

Here we are at another year’s end. This always seems to be an introspective time for me. A time for reflection and review, for letting go of what no longer serves us and for embracing new things into our lives. Before we move on to 2018 and all that a new year brings with it, I’d like to take a moment to review 2017 at Runamuk: what worked and what did not─in hopes that this information helps some other beginning farmer steer his or her own course along the rutted and bumpy dirt road to earning an income from farming.

This year I’ve broken the annual review up into 2 parts to make it easier for readers to digest. This first post is about some of the more personal aspects of farming, while the second post is focused solely on the business side of my operation. It’s scary to share my personal struggles with the world. Yet I feel it’s important to share these things with readers because the issues and events this farmer faces as a person─as a farmer and a mom─have significant impact on the choices I make in the management of Runamuk.

On a Personal Level

at the orchard
Marie (my sister), myself, and my younger son BraeTek at North Star Orchard this fall.

I’m going to be frighteningly honest and admit that this year was really tough for me on a personal level. When I made the decision in 2016 to let go of the farm in Starks I was faced with the prospect of moving my entire operation and my family─not for the first time. Not even for the second or third time, I’m embarrassed to admit. I was pretty morose and even a little angry with the Universe about having to give up that property. Now I see that it was the right thing to do; the right thing for the Murphy family and the right thing for that particular farm. The type of operation I want to have was not best suited to that piece of land. That piece of land needs grazing livestock, a farmer who can afford miles of fencing and a new tractor for haying. That’s not me.

These last 18 months have been difficult though. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my crusade and the toll it has taken on my children, my family, and the people around me.

Housing

I’m a single mother working part-time at Johnny’s while at the same time committed to working full-time on my farm. I just could not afford the cost of a rental by myself. What’s more, finding a landlord who will allow homesteading or farming on their property is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

hoop-coop noreaster
As a landless farmer I’ve learned a few tricks that allow me to quickly establish facilities at new locations─like my hoop-coop! This thing withstood last year’s winter with flying colors, and is now facing it’s second winter still standing!

Paul suggested I take up residence at his place in Norridgewock. Initially I balked at the idea, concerned about the tight living conditions my family would be under in the remodeled old trailer. However there really were few options and the low overhead  at Paul’s place has allowed me to gain ground financially. That financial traction was instrumental in my success in gaining the loan approval with the FSA to purchase the Swinging Bridge Farm. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Paul Smith, who has followed Runamuk’s progress since it was young, and has now helped make farm-ownership possible for me.

with william at woh_nutcracker
William and I at the Waterville Opera House.

Yet it’s been really hard for me to live at 26 Goodine’s Way. The trailer is unfinished and cold all winter even with a woodstove to take the chill off. Runamuk is crammed in around us so that I can continue to make soap and salves to keep my farm moving forward, leaving no space for family or friends to congregate. Norridgewock is also outside the district where my children attend school so I spent a lot of time shuttling kids back and forth when I should have been in the field farming.

I struggled during the winter and early spring, sorting through my guilt and anxiety regarding the choices I’d made that had brought me to that precipice. As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I made it a point this year to practice positive thinking and gratitude, being thankful for what I do have and making the most of the here and now. I took extra special care of myself this year.

Embracing Music

banjo!
After restringing my banjo for the 1st time ever!

I got a banjo! I’ve always loved banjo music and have long aspired to play. I couldn’t justify spending money on a musical instrument while I was so focused on building Runamuk’s finances. Instead I posted to facebook offering a trade of honey, soap, salves, eggs─basically anything of value that I had on hand─for a used banjo. I was totally blown away when within 5 minutes of posting someone had offered to hook me up.

Paul Gallione (another Paul, lol!) is a commercial sales representative at Johnny’s Selected Seeds and he brought me his old banjo which had reportedly been living under his bed for the last 20 years. It came complete with a hard case, picks, spare strings and even some sheet music! What a guy!

ken the banjo instructor
My friend Ken! Lots of love for the Hahn family!

Having never played any instrument before it’s been a slow process to learn to use my newly acquired banjo. I’ve been inducted into lessons with my friend Ken Hahn, and I can now play a couple of songs without feeling like I’m torturing anyone within earshot. I’m really enjoying it too. I find playing music distracting, soothing and relaxing to play, and I would recommend taking up an instrument to anyone as a form of stress-relief and self-expression.  Afterall, music is food for the soul.

Time for Communing With Nature

the bigelows_2017
The view from the top of Little Bigelow: simply breathtaking!
with william at borestone
My attempt to get a picture with my 14yo son, who is now apparently too old for selfies with mom.

I feel really good too about doing a lot of hiking this year. I’ve been hiking Maine’s forests and mountains since I was a teenager and have always had an affinity for the high peaks. It’s where I go to reconnect with myself─and to reconnect with my Earth Mother. This year I climbed Bald Mountain in Rangeley, Pleasant Pond Mountain in Caratunk, and Little Bigelow Mountain in Lexington, as well as hiking the Fox Pen Trail with my boys at the Borestone Mountain Audubon Sancturay in Elliotsville.

A Few Good Friends

Through my work at Johnny’s and within the community, I’ve finally found my tribe─people like me (ok, maybe not quite like me lol), who want to eat real food from sources they know and trust, who want to preserve the Earth for future generations, and who value friendship, family, community and camaraderie. Many of my friends also play music, and I find myself surrounded by good friends, good food, and good music on a regular basis. I spent a lot of time with some very good friends this year.

maine maple sunday at jss
This is my friend Rebecca with me at Johnny’s! Weekends are a good time for shenanigans in the office!

Biggest Lessons Learned (as a Person)

I was almost ready to throw in the towel this spring. I gave serious consideration to whether or not I should continue to farm at all─being a simple homesteader would be so much easier and much less stressful. Paul is kind and thoughtful, eager to be a part of everything Runamuk; he would have liked nothing better than for me to settle with him and farm his sandy, bramble and oak forest; it would have been easy to say “Yes, let’s make a go of it”.

However, following my divorce I’ve come to realize I’m just not comfortable building my relationships on the need for land to farm on. It doesn’t feel good to me. That revelation─in combination with the affects of tight living conditions’ on my family, and the persistent vision I have for Runamuk─ultimately drove me to renew my campaign for a forever-farm, and led to the impending purchase of the Swinging Bridge Farm.

Here are 3 big things I learned in 2017:

  1. It’s all in the attitude.
  2. Practice, practice, practice.
  3. Keep moving forward.

Life is What You Make of it

pkg pick up of new bees
Here I am with my packaged bees─in the car!

2017 was a monumentous year for me. Not just because I’m finally buying a farm, but because of the attitude I kept even in the face of failure. Sometimes life just happens, but sometimes life is what you make of it. I believe that by focusing on love and living wholeheartedly in the present I was able to rise above, I was able to continue farming even as a landless farmer, with my friends and the support of my community to spur me on. With every cell of my body I am humbled and grateful. Thanks be to the Universe and whatever gods may be.

Check back soon to read Part 2 of my Year-End Review, where I will discuss the business end of Runamuk and the ups and downs my operation faced in 2018! Thanks for following along with my story! Be sure to subscribe by email to receive the latest posts from Runamuk directly in your in-box, and stay tuned for our continuing saga in 2018! In which Runamuk moves to the Swinging Bridge Farm!

years end review 2017

Winter Growing Challenge!

pea shoot salad_winter growing cahllenge

Announcing Runamuk’s Winter Growing Challenge 2017!

winter growing challenge
Eat your greens all winter long by growing your own shoots and sprouts! Photo credit to: Backyardfarm.co

The further I travel along this road toward an increasingly sustainable lifestyle, the more I learn about food and good health. I want to provide my family with healthy fare so they can reach their full potential─that was the reason I started gardening in the first place. I’ve learned to feed my children from the garden during the summer, to store and preserve the harvest for the winter, and we’ve learned to eat less meat, and less processed foods. But nothing beats the health benefits of eating fresh greens, so I’ve been working to increase our family’s access to those nutrient-dense greens all year.

winter growing at runamuk
Crops growing under row-cover.

Those who have been following along with Runamuk’s story know that I’ve extended my growing season by using row-cover and greenhouse film on a couple of my garden beds. The plan is to be able to harvest from that all winter this year, and so we’ve sown a variety of cold-hardy greens including kale, tatsoi, radishes, spinach, mizuna and a lettuce mix for good measure.

In addition to that I’ve decided to take up the Winter Growing Challenge and I’m planning on growing shoots and sprouts this winter to further supplement our family’s available greens. I’m inviting you to follow along with our progress as we make space in our kitchen this winter for trays of green veg and jars of tender sprouts. Learn how easy it can be to grow your own food; then gather your courage to try it too. We can do this together.

Note: To learn more about our food system and the immediate impact each and every one of us can have on it, read this article I wrote: Vote With Your Fork to Save our Broken Food System.

What is the Winter Growing Challenge?

I, Sam(antha) Burns─farmer, beekeeper, gardener, blogger, and Mom to 2 rowdy young men-to-be─challenge myself to grow more food this winter. I am challenging myself to  grow shoots and sprouts in order to provide the most healthful and nutrient-dense diet I can, on my limited budget, and in tight quarters.

Join me in taking up the Winter Growing Challenge, grow more food this winter to feed your family fresh veg for a healthier and more sustainable, self-sufficient life.

Who Can Play?

winter growing challenge_pea shoots
Pea shoots grown by Magic Valley Greens n Things.

Anyone!!! From the homesteader or the home gardener, to the individual who has never grown anything before─I’m inviting you to follow along with my Winter Growing Challenge, learn from my adventures (and misadventures) and give it a go. Grow your own shoots and sprouts this winter, share pictures of your tender green shoots to Instagram to share your excitement. Post to Facebook your recipes for creative new ways to use your fresh greens; share your experiences and encourage others around you to take up the Winter Growing Challenge too!

When & Where?

For 3 months, beginning the first week of December and running through February, I will be posting that story once a week for you to follow here on the Runamuk blog. There will be new how-to articles that I hope will inspire you to give growing shoots a try, as well as recipes, and links to resources to help you grow your own fresh greens this winter. I’d recommend you subscribe to receive new posts from Runamuk directly in your in-box so that you don’t miss a thing!

Up-coming giveaway???

I see another giveaway in our future! To help other home gardeners get started with growing your own greens this winter, I want to give a few of you the gift of a pound of pea seed for shoots from Johnny’s Selected Seeds! Check back soon for the details on that!

Let’s Do This!

pea shoot salad_winter growing cahllenge
Delicious pea shoot salad grown and prepared by BackyardFarm.co

Nearly 80% of Americans say that sustainability is a priority to them. People are waking up to the pervasive financialization of the food system and the dangers of a diet made up of processed foods. We are increasingly opting to purchase organic or locally grown or grass-fed. More and more households are choosing to cultivate gardens in their backyards, and urban farming is on the rise. Growing our own shoots and sprouts during the winter is just one more way we can improve our own self-sufficiency. It’s one more way we can take a stand against the corporate consumer-based system, and one more way we can eat healthier for a long and happy life.

Join me! Follow along with my Winter Growing Challenge 2017! Leave a comment below if you want to play along!

winter growing challenge

Holiday Gift Baskets from Runamuk

runamuk raw honey

Brighten someone’s day with a gift basket from Runamuk Acres! With raw honey, beeswax soaps and wildcrafted herbal salves, our baskets are unique and useful even beyond the holiday season. Healthful and practical, all natural and bee-friendly, just about anyone would be happy to be blessed with such a gift. It’s a great way to show someone you care.

I fully admit this is a shameless plug for Runamuk’s fine products lol. Afterall, I’ve worked hard to learn these skills, to develop my own methods and recipes. As a farmer and beekeeper I’m damned proud of Runamuk’s products. If you’re going to be buying gifts for family and friends anyway, definitely consider raw honey and beeswax products from Runamuk Acres, a bee-friendly farm and apiary in central Maine.

gift baskets availableIf you haven’t visited the Runamuk Farm-Store definitely stop by to see the listing of products currently available from our farm and apiary. We’ve recently updated the shopping cart so that it functions more efficiently, and the shipping charges are priced so as to make it more affordable for out-of-state customers.

Orders can be placed online for local pick-up too: pick up orders at the Madison Farmers’ Market, OR coordinate with us for delivery to another mutually-convenient time/location.

Runamuk’s Apiary Products

runamuk raw honey
The lighter honey on the left is the spring crop, and the darker honey on the right was harvested in the fall.

Raw Honey: We have raw honey available in pint-sized (1.4lbs) mason jars, with a choice between the spring and the fall honey. The spring honey is light-colored with a sweeter flavor, while the fall honey is darker in color due to the types of flowers the bees feed on at that time of the year. The fall honey also has a more robust flavor and it’s higher in antioxidants─a boon going into the winter cold and flu season.

Beeswax Soaps: Runamuk’s soaps are all made with a base recipe that includes plant-based oils and fats, as well as beeswax and honey. These are long-lasting bars that lather well even in hard water. We have a variety of mainstay soaps, along with seasonal-fragrances available while supplies last.

Wildcrafted Herbal Salves: These are lotions, skin creams, balms, or liniments made with beeswax from our own hives. The medicinal plants are either foraged from the surrounding landscape, or harvested from Runamuk’s gardens, then dried and infused for 8 weeks in olive oil before being combined with the beeswax and packaged into recyclable aluminum tins.

Beeswax Wood Polish: By combining raw linseed oil with our own beeswax we’ve created a product that is completely natural. Beeswax is a superb protectant for wood furniture, kitchen utensils, or even leather. Runamuk offers the wood polish either unscented or lemongrass-scented in 4oz tins; larger sizes available by request.

Gift Baskets

Small Basket: $25 

  • 1 pint (1.4lbs) raw honey: your choice of the spring or fall varieties
  • 3 bars of beeswax soap: mix-and-match
  • 1 tin (1oz) herbal salve: your choice of any herbal salve (includes lipbalm) OR 1 tin wood polish: unscented or lemongrass-scented

Large Basket: $50

  • 1 pint (1.4lbs) Raw Honey each of the spring and fall varieties
  • 6 bars of Beeswax Soap: mix-and-match
  • 1 tin (1oz) Herbal Salve: your choice of any herbal salve (includes lipbalm)
  • 1 tin (4oz) Herbal Salve: your choice of any herbal salve
  • 1 tin (4oz) Wood Polish : unscented or lemongrass-scented

How to Place an Order with Runamuk

Central Maine residents can find Runamuk’s beeswax soaps and herbal salves at North Star Orchards in Madison, and in Skowhegan at Ginny’s Natural Foods right on the rotary downtown.

To purchase directly from the farm we are available at the Madison Farmers’ Market right up until just before Christmas. We can take pre-orders in person, by email, phone, text, or even social media.

Or place your order online through our farm-store and we can ship it to the desired destination. We’re currently offering a $4 flat rate shipping charge on any order over $25, and FREE shipping on orders over $50.

Be present

I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind us all that the holidays are not about the gifts and the tinsel. It’s about taking the time to show the people in our lives that we care, and if you can do no more this year for those you hold dear than to show up and be present, then I encourage you to do so wholeheartedly. Be present. Be light and love for those around you and they will remember and thank you for it.

Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of us at Runamuk!

FarmRaiser Party! Beekeeping, dinner & music!

barn party

Come to the Runamuk apiary on October 1st for a crash course in beekeeping and stay for dinner and live music at the historic Hilton barn in Starks! As part of the Runamuk FarmRaiser: a Bee-Friendly Farm gofundme campaign, I’ve organized this 2-part event that I’m really excited to share.

Beekeeping 101

beekeeping 101Sign up early to participate in my Beekeeping 101 workshop which begins at 9am on Sunday, October 1st. The course will cover the basics of getting started with bees in Maine, including where to get bees, apiary location, how to set up your equipment, installing the bees, pests & diseases, and overwintering your bees─among other things. Weather and temperatures permitting we may crack open a hive for some hands-on experience.

I have permission to use the Hilton’s barn for this event, so the workshop will take place rain or shine. Coffee, tea, and refreshments will be provided, but participants should bring a bag lunch of their own.  This is a 5 or 6 hour course and participants will take a beekeeping guide book home with them and numerous handouts.

The course is one of the perks I’m offering in the upcoming Runamuk FarmRaiser campaign with a $150 donation, however I’m offering a 11% discount on Early Bird registration RIGHT NOW. Sign up to participate for just $75!!! You may have two adult members from the same household for this price, requires confirmation of address and a book is shared.




FarmRaiser Party!

Runamuk’s supporters, friends and family are all invited to come to the Hyl-Tun Farm on route 43 in Starks for a pot-luck dinner and live music! From 5-8 join us in the historic Hilton barn for the Runamuk FarmRaiser Party and celebrate with me all that Runamuk has achieved thus far, and all that we will attain in the future. A celebration of life, love, and community that you won’t want to miss.

farmraiser flyerI’m hoping to have a contradance, but I’m still working to nail that down. At the very least I know we will have some great live music, plenty good food, adult beverages (as well as family-friendly drinks of course), good company and a great setting. It’s sure to be a good time for the whole family.

VIP Passes: Here’s another great campaign perk I’m revealing early: VIP Passes to the Runamuk FarmRaiser Party! Except in this case, VIP stand for Very Important Pollinator. VIP guests will be seated at an exclusive table and served by yours truly, plied with wine or beer or whatever your beverage of choice is, and honored as revered supporters to the Runamuk cause. Receive a tour of the apiary, the Hilton’s conservation pasture, and gain exclusive “backstage access” to the evening’s musicians. These VIP Passes won’t be available until the campaign goes live, but a pair of passes can be yours with a $250 donation. Come be my guest, let me shower you with love and appreciation!!!

On-Going Campaign Prep

As you can see, I’ve been busy preparing for the upcoming crowdfunding campaign. I’ve put together what I think are some great gifts to give in exchange for donations, I’ve got a list of online promotion and another of offline promotion to work through, a video still to make, and the actual campaign launching on September 1st. And all this in addition to my regularly scheduled duties. Yes it’s hectic, but I’m confident it will all be worth it in the end.

I’ve put together a jam-packed campaign Media Kit that includes the official press release for the campaign, a full-length article, campaign highlights, social media images, flyers, and high res images. Anyone interested in helping to promote the Runamuk FarmRaiser can access the Media Kit by emailing me directly. Aslo feel free to email me for collaboration; I welcome any and all support!

Already I’ve been passing out flyers at the farmers’ market, posting them about the local community, and sharing the news of the Runamuk FarmRaiser campaign─and our upcoming party! I’m really excited; however much we raise is going to be a help when we finally go to the FSA next March to begin the long process for financing our forever-farm home. I’m just glad I get to share the journey with so many wonderful friends.

Thanks for following along! Stay tuned for more from Runamuk!

No honey to sell….again

honeybee on royal hybrid

It’s difficult to be at market and have to tell customers that I’m not going to have any honey this year, but that’s the state of things at the Runamuk Apiary. Two years in a row and no honey to sell.

apiary update 2016The reason for this honey-shortage is largely related to the fact that we’re still building up the Runamuk Apiary and it just takes time. After losing all of my hives during the brutal 2014-2015 winter I had to start over last spring with 5 new colonies. 4 of them came through the winter looking great, but only one of those has been making any amount of honey.

This year with the drought Maine has been experiencing, the flowers are just not producing much in the way of nectar. Everything is dry as a bone and though the bees are actively searching, they are not bringing in what they need to be able to produce a honey crop. Not only does this affect honey production, but it also makes for slow building colonies.

Paul (my partner) and I brought 10 nucleus colonies to Runamuk this spring, and we were also able to make 3 of our own using swarm cells we found in our existing 4 hives. There was also a swarm we managed to catch and hive. But all those new hives need to build combs and fill them with bees and honey and pollen, and in order to do that the bees need plenty of nectar available. As a result of the drought the hives have been slow to build up and we’re feeding them a lot of sugar-syrup to stimulate production.

We’ve been right on top of it all though. Every week we go out to check that the production hives have enough space and that the new hives are building up the way they should. We used our screened bottom boards to gauge the level of mites in the hives, and though the numbers were not terrible we decided a half-strength treatment now was warranted to ensure as many hives as possible will come through the upcoming winter. Later in the fall we will do a final knock-down of mites with the oxalic acid.

honeybee on royal hybridTiming of mite-treatments is crucially important in the fight against varroa; in order to ensure a healthy population of bees that can withstand the long cold winter months, beekeepers need to treat early enough in the fall that the bees will be able to raise another round of bees before the temperatures drop and brood production ceases for the season. That time is now.

I took all of 8 frames of capped honey off the 1 hive that was making excess honey. That translates into maybe 20-25 pounds of honey if I were to extract it. However we’re going to divide those frames up between some of the slower-building hives and accept the fact that we’re just not going to have honey for sale this year.

It takes time and patience to build an apiary and Paul and I are focused first on building strong, healthy colonies─and lots of them. Honey will be a by-product of apiary production; I’m confident we will have some to sell eventually, but we’re not willing to sacrifice the health of our bees to make it happen. For now I will have to send those customers elsewhere─I do however have plenty of eggs and beeswax soap available at market. 😉

January hive check

winter beekeepingWhat does a beekeeper do in the deep depths of winter when it’s too cold and snowy for bees and beekeeping? I know you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to, lol. My season at the orchard is over, my vacation was wonderful but that is now over; and on January 4th I started back at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, resuming my post at a cubicle in their call center in Fairfield, Maine, where I sit for hours on end tethered to their phone, taking seed orders and answering questions.

It’s not bad. I get to talk to lots of people about gardening and growing, I work with a great group of gardeners and farmers, and the desk-job allows me to be able to work on other things between calls (my duties for the farmers’ market, or this blog, for example).

january hive checkWhen I’m not working for Johnny’s I’m working for Runamuk, and have come to the realization that I need to be able to designate all of my available time (ie-when I’m not working for Johnny’s) to the farm and getting the ball rolling so that the farm is generating enough income to sustain itself─and me along with it at some point! It was a hard decision, but I’ve decided to let go of a number of projects in order to better focus my limited time and efforts on Runamuk; that includes the BeeLine─the bi-monthly publication for the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association that I’ve been serving as editor of for the last year and a half. I just finished my last edition for the MSBA, which felt like something akin to a herculean feat. The articles covering the different lectures that took place at the November beekeepers’ convention took a long time to write, and making time around the holidays and the orchard was incredibly difficult.

But it’s done now and I’ve already switched gears, focusing on revamping Runamuk’s business plan, adjusting my farm-plan to better suit the landscape and infrastructure available at Jim Murphy’s farm. I’m performing my annual SWOT analysis, and gearing up to pay a visit to my local Farm Service Agency, the NRCS, and the Maine Farmland Trust, to learn more about possible opportunities for Runamuk’s continued growth. Having these reports and details in order are crucial in my efforts to secure the future of Jim’s farm for farming in the future─hopefully for my farming future, but at the very least to keep it as a working farm for future generations.

I’ve started working on garden planning for the upcoming season. Growing produce for market is no longer a leading aspect of Runamuk’s business strategy─the gardens here are largely for self-sustainability. I know that if I can grow the majority of my own food it will save me a lot of money, which is then freed up to be invested back into the farm. Excess produce however, might be sold at the Madison Farmers’ Market or at road-side here on the farm. I have fiddleheads along the river, a large and well establish asparagus bed, and plenty of garden space to play with. And every little bit helps!

winter hive checkThe goal is to increase production of Runamuk’s beeswax products, expand distribution and increase sales. With our young chickens due to begin laying in the next 4-6 weeks we’ll have plenty of eggs for the start of market in May, and I have high hopes to have some honey available this year. Meanwhile, it’s a big goal of mine to generate income through my writing, as I see that as the best way to replace my off-farm income. As soon as my business plan has been polished up, I’ll begin working on a media kit in hopes of drumming up sponsorship for the blog. I’ve been reluctant in the past to do too much advertising through the blog, but with an ever-increasing readership and growing traffic numbers, I feel it’s time to take a shot at it. If I could support local and sustainable businesses and Runamuk at the same time, it’s worth the effort. So if you know a business in central Maine who might be interested in a mutually beneficial relationship with the Runamuk blog feel free to share your favorite post with them.

The really big news is that I’ve ordered 10 more nucleus colonies for May and June pick-up from my favorite local beekeeper, a kermudgeony old silver-haired beekeeper with a fantastic bushy mustache and a stern glint in his eye. What’s more, temperatures were mild today so I took the opportunity to perform my January hive-checks. I am over the moon to share that 5 out of 5 hives were alive and looking strong. With the warm fall we experienced here in Maine I’ve been anxious about the fate of my colonies; once you close them up for the winter there’s nothing you can do but hope for the best. The sugar-cakes I had added just after Thanksgiving were not completely gone yet, but I added more sugar to each hive before I closed them up again. We’ll check them again in February, hoping for the best─that each of these hives make it through to the spring and we can continue to grow the Runamuk apiary.

January Hive Checks4So it may be the middle of winter, but this farmer is busy as a bee gearing up for what is looking to be a great 2016 season. Now that the divorce in behind me and Runamuk is settled into it’s new location in Starks, I’m confident that this small farm can finally gain some ground. It’s a new year full of new opportunities to be had and I am gung-ho to take advantage of them. Stay tuned folks!