Training Wheels Are Coming Off!

The training wheels are coming off at Runamuk Acres! For the last 3 years, I’ve generated some part of the farm’s income from the rental of 2 of the bedrooms in my big old farmhouse. However, when my current housemate gave her 30-day notice recently, I knew those days were behind me. I just can’t do it anymore. It’s time for Runamuk to stand on it’s own. To that end, I am gearing up for a Big Year on the farm.

No more training wheels at Runamuk!

When I first bought the farm, 3 years ago, I was still working part-time at Johnny’s Selected Seeds. It quickly became apparent that I was going to need to be here full-time if I were going to make any headway. Though the Farm Service Agency tried to discourage me from giving up that dependable income, I forged ahead resolutely. To offset the loss of my income from Johnny’s, I opted to rent 2 of the 6 bedrooms in my house.

Room Rentals

At first I tried renting through AirBnB, offering a bed-and-breakfast to skiers and hikers of Maine’s Western Mountains. That worked okay for a while, but I found it difficult to manage the farm and maintain my common spaces (kitchen, dinning room, and bathroom) to meet AirBnB’s standards. When covid hit, I decided to take on long-term housemates instead, to reduce the potential risk of spreading the virus to my customers.

Room-rentals worked okay for a while. The rooms here are laid out in such a way that I could keep the guests at one end, while maintaining some semblense of privacy at the other end of the house.

Guest room #2, during our AirBnB phase.

Sifting through prospective candidates to find housemates I could tolerate sharing space with was always a pain. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t actually read the details before reaching out. There were seemingly endless inquiries from people who thought that “New Portland” was some sub-set of the city of Portland, some 2 hours south. People who wanted to bring their entire family to live in a single room. There were people who would ask if they could have their menagerie of pets, even though my advertisement clearly said “No Pets”. This is a working farm and I’m not willing to risk the well-being of my livestock, or add additional stressors to my own pets for the sake of a few hundred dollars.

I always insisted on meeting potential new housemates before agreeing to allow them space in my home. That seemed to weed out a good many candidates from ever setting foot on my property. The odds were against even those who were actually willing to interview for the space. With my teenaged son in the house, Deron’s teenagers occasionally at the farm, and my business to protect, I was super critical of who I brought into our lives. Unfortunately, even that didn’t save us from a couple of bad apples.

Most of the individuals I allowed to rent my rooms, were good and honest, hardworking young people just trying to get ahead in life. They liked the novelty of living on a farm, but none of them were really here to be a part of anything Runamuk-related. Most of them, I doubt, ever looked us up online to learn more about what we do or what we’re about. Certainly none of them tried to get involved, and I can only think of one that tried to lend a hand. They went to work, came home and slept, then did it all over again. That suited me just fine.

Trouble With Housemates

The trouble with housemates, it that it’s hard to really know the quality of someone’s character from one 20-minute encounter. There were at least a couple of housemates that caused significant disruption here. One came between my sister and I, seriously damaging a most precious relationship in my life. Another was prone to some unsettling mood-swings, that made me uneasy with his presence in the house. Something wasn’t right about him…

Eventually, he put me in the position of having to ask him─in no uncertain terms─to find somewhere else to live. It takes quite a lot to push me to that point, but after having worked so hard for this farm, I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow anyone to threaten it─in any way, shape, or form. After he’d departed, we found evidence of cocaine-use in his room. My gut instinct about the guy had been 100% correct.

This baby gate did not hold Beebe back once she realized she could jump…

Beebe brought a whole new source of anxiety to the situation, when she arrived on the farm. Slow to warm up to strangers, I was forever rushing to restrain her whenever one of my housemates needed to access to the bathroom. For her own protection, I asked Deron to build a half-door off the dinning room to keep Beebe out of the common spaces. She does eventually warm to new people, and once she does she is the biggest baby, wanting only love and tummy-rubs.

Incidentally, she never warmed up to the crack-head. She made it unmistakably clear that she viewed him as a threat, and I will never discount Beebe’s judge of character ever again.

Mainly, it’s just awkward trying to farm and share space with strangers. The first-floor guest room is right off the main entrance to the house, so I am forever anxious about making too much noise when we are doing our twice-daily critter-chores. That same room is directly on the other side of the kitchen, which means I worry about banging cupboards too loudly, or playing my music too loudly on Baking Days.

Those days will very soon be over, though. I’ve had my fill of trying to share this sanctuary of mine. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to move on.

The Training Wheels are Coming Off!

The scary part is that I am still very much dependent upon the income from those room-rentals. While the CSA generally pays for the farm, the income I’ve generated through renting those 2 rooms has been paying for the house. They cover the electric, water, and phone utilities, along with household supplies like toilet paper and laundry detergent. To make up the difference, I’ve decided to re-invest in Runamuk’s “Farmstand-on-the-Porch”. The time has come for Runamuk to stand on it’s own. The training wheels are coming off!

Beginning Monday, March 14th, the farmstand will be open 6 days a week. I’ll stock it with my own handmade bread baked daily in Runamuk’s licensed kitchen. There will also be an assortment of delectable goodies: muffins, cookies, my “Fantabulous Granola Bars”. Our fresh microgreens and eggs will stock the shelves, too. Then, later this season, local patrons will have access to a full gamut of vegetables. Customers should check in with us for seasonally available products like our raw honey, pork, and lamb.

Previsouly, when I tried to keep a farmstand going here, there was some confusion about where it was located, and how it worked. One of the many projects I am currently working on are some new signs to eliminate confusion for customers. Our farmstand is located inside our enclosed porch, and is self-service. Usually, BraeTek or I are kicking about the farm somewhere, but with just the 2 of us to manage things, we cannot drop what we are doing to wait on customers, else nothing would never get done, lol. That being said, I never discourage visitors from seeking us out if they have questions or need help.

Fantastically Foolhardy?

At the moment, I’m not sure if giving up the room rentals is a fantastic idea, or a foolhardy one. Likely, it’s both: “fantastically foolhardy“.

I admit that when I stop to dwell on the matter, the idea of trying to get by without that income twists my gut with fear. The electric bill is already past-due, and the water is in arrears─if I could get off those public utilities, that would be a game-changer! The car needs work to take a sticker, and the truck needs parts just to be useful. Doing this kind of work, I’ve worn through every pair of jeans I own─I’m down to my last pair, which I keep washing and re-washing. I did splurge recently on a package of underwear, lol, but I have just 1 bra left─which is missing 1 of it’s 3 hooks to hold the thing on my body (insert facepalm here)! I could go on, but I think you catch my drift…

It’s downright terrifying to be letting go of that dependable income. Yet, I am just so damned burnt out on trying to accommodate strangers in my house, that I need to do something different. I make money with my hands. I literally grow it in the ground! Whoever said that money doesn’t grow on trees, definitely wasn’t a farmer…just sayin’. And since when have you ever known me to shrink from a challenge? If I wanted to do things the easy way, I would not be here today, doing this work that I love. No─I think this is the right move, at the right time. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, and hope like hell that it works.

Thank you so much 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!

Cool, Wet Spring

runamuk apiary

A prolonged winter, combined with a cool, wet spring, made for a late start to the 2019 growing season, and even now temperatures remain rather on the cool side. These conditions have made it difficult for the planting of some temperature-sensitive crops. The apiary is particularly tricky to manage in such cool weather, but I am undeterred. Runamuk’s first growing season at it’s new forever-farm is underway! Yes, there have been some unexpected hiccups, but overall I am gaining ground and things are going well.

In the Apiary

The cooler temperatures we’ve experienced this spring have made it difficult to work in the apiary. Ideally, it should be 65 degrees or warmer when inspecting a hive. Cool outdoor temperatures can chill brood in the combs, which can cause larvae mortality. Death of the larvae directly translates into in a drop in the colony’s population, which can set a hive back significantly.

runamuk apiary
The apiary at Runamuk with violets all in bloom!

With snow on the ground right through April, I waited and waited for the weather to turn, checking the weather app on my phone daily and monitoring the thermometer on the side of the garage here on the farm. Unfortunately, it’s been cool all season. It was May, before we saw our first 60-something degree day, and then I leapt at the chance to get into the hives. I had to know what condition the surviving hives were in so that I could determine how this season was going to go.

frost advisory_Maine_cool wet spring
We had a frost advisory at the end of May!

It’s June now, but things haven’t really warmed up too much. I’ve managed to do what I need with the bees, though sometimes I’m forced to push the envelope with the temperature in order to get it done. I’m forever watching the weather forecast, waiting for the right opportunity to get into the hives. Sometimes I’ve had to resort to working on some 60-degree days, when it’s just a tad cool for bees.

Despite the challenges, the first of my overwintered nucs was retrieved this past Saturday by a beekeeping couple from Farmington. Later this week, Kyle DePietro from Tarbox Farm is coming to pick up the nucs he’d reserved back in March. I’m assembling nucs promised to other local beekeepers, and I’ve started a batch of Queens. Woot! Woot!

The dandelions have finally bloomed, the apple trees are blossoming, and there’s tree pollen in the air. The girls are bringing in copious amounts of nectar and turning it into honey; this stimulates the Queens to lay more eggs─up to 2,000 a day!─and the colonies are expanding to fill multiple boxes. I’ve even found a few swarm cells…it’s still a cool, wet spring, but bee-season is here at last!

The Gardens

I am absolutely in love with the gardens I’m creating here. When it comes to gardening─having a permanent location is such a beneficial thing. Knowing that I am going to be here for years to come allows me to invest in the soil, invest in the gardens with my time and energy, and invest in perennial plants that I’ll be here to nurture and care for over the years.

I might have gotten a little carried away at the Fedco Tree Sale this year, but having waited years for the opportunity to add certain perennials to my farm, I have no regrets whatsoever about it. I really want to make a big push for perennial food plants these first couple of years, and so this year I’m putting in 8 apple trees, 25 raspberry plants, 3 highbush blueberry plants, 10 elderberries, and a Shagbark hickory tree going in, as well as some perennial herbs like lovage, parsley and chives. For the pollinators: an allegheny serviceberry, a pagoda dogwood, lots of echinacea, coreopsis, bee-balm, mint, lavender, and whatever else I can make time for this year.

There are 3 perennial flower beds already in existence here, though they all need some TLC. The front perennial bed was overgrown and neglected, so I began first by cutting back overgrowth in the form of dead rose-canes, tree saplings that had taken root, and a shrubby pine at the front end that shaded that whole corner of the garden. Once I managed to clean up the garden, I planted my pagoda dogwood there. I have a number of my perennial flowers and herbs started from seed to plant there, too. Running parallel to my small orchard, and nearer to the roadside, this perennial bed is going to be a beautiful feature in the farm’s roadside landscape.

Regarding the farm’s large vegetable garden─it does not good to plant if the chickens are going to scratch it up, the dog is going to tromp through your beds, or the deer help themselves to your crops. So when my friend, Roberta Libby of Madison, offered Runamuk the gift of several rolls of previously used deer-fencing, I couldn’t say anything except thank you. With  6-foot T-posts, zip-ties, and an extra pair of hands, I was able to get a big fence around the garden, and that is a huge asset when you live in the wilds of Western Maine. I even have a fabulous garden gate!

garden gate at Runamuk
New-to-me deer-fencing and garden gate!

Partly because the bees always come first, and partly because I’m still establishing permanent beds in the new garden, I’m a little behind with planting of some crops. However, with the kind of cool, slow Spring we’ve had, that’s not such a horrible thing. This week I’m making a push to prep the newer half of the garden, which more than doubles the size of the previously existing garden.

As soon as the snow had melted from that area I had laid heavy tarps on the soil to keep the grass from growing up before I could break ground on this new section of the garden. All spring while I’ve prioritized other projects those tarps have been smothering the vegetation beneath, creating a warm bed that is attractive to worms and other soil life. When I finally pulled back the first tarp I could see worm castings covering the soil surface and the grasses and weeds were dead and dried, ready to be incorporated into the soil. The soil itself was fairly soft from so much worm-activity, and I felt guilty just walking upon it.

The soil in the previously existing section of the garden is absolutely beautiful. It is dark and fluffy. You can tell it’s been used and taken care of for decades. Who knows how long that plot has served as a homestead garden for this old farm property? But the soil on the rest of the property is not great. It’s rather acidic and─judging by the type of vegetation growing and the sparseness of it─I suspect it is significantly lacking in nutrients. That can be cured over time with amendments and care, though.

On the up-side, the soil here is just slightly sandy, which makes for good drainage, and contains practically no rocks whatsoever! When I smother a patch, as I’ve done this spring, it’s a dream to take the broadfork to it and create new beds for planting. No tilling necessary! It’s a really beautiful thing.

I am Grateful

farm stand roadsign runamuk acres
Runamuk’s roadside farm stand signage on Rt 16!

I have some livestock-related updates I’d like to share with you as well, but as I have a lot to say about rotational grazing and chicken tractors and such, I’m going to save that for another post. For now, just know that I’m working everyday to accomplish the goals I’ve set for Runamuk. These first few years are largely about establishing the farm at this site, and cultivating a larger customer-base. It’s a huge challenge (I’m perpetually sore these days!), and─if I’m being honest─it’s just a little overwhelming at times.

I’ve got my giant chalkboard, though, and my notebook of to-do lists to keep me on track. Ups, downs, rain or shine, aches and pains─I’ll take it all as part of my farm-journey, and I am grateful for it. With such a beautiful piece of Earth to call my own, how could I not be grateful every minute of every day for the life I’ve been granted here? How could I be anything but grateful that I can spend my days doing work that I love to do─work that has real purpose and meaning to it? This is what I was put here to do, and I will do it wholeheartedly.

Stay tuned for a livestock-related update coming soon! Check back for the next article in our Soil-Series, and don’t forget about our up-coming giveaway of “The Organic No-Till Farming Revolution”. Subscribe by email to receive the latest from Runamuk directly to your in-box, OR follow us on Instagram at @RunamukAcres for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into life on this bee-friendly Maine farm!