Farm Life

Two Years In Review: A Progress Report

About 2 years ago I published a post called “Resolutions and Accomplishments“, in which I detailed some pretty ambitious goals for the farm.  I’ve only written one other post since then, and that’s not a coincidence.  I’ve been working hard on this stuff, friends!  We’ve had some failures and some successes, but overall I feel really proud of the work DH and I have accomplished over the past couple of years, and even more excited about what’s to come.

  1.  The 1,000 Trees
  2. That first year we planted all the pawpaws, persimmons, and spruces.  It was harder work than planned, and I ended up injuring both of my knees, which knocked me out of commission for the entire fall planting season.  I stashed the other trees safely in trench rows in the field, where they survived just fine.  In late spring we found out we had been chosen for an EQIP grant from NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service).  The grant will reimburse us for part of the cost of the trees, and our NRCS rep has been super helpful and has taught us about even more awesome wetland tree species!  One of the requirements for this grant is that the trees must be planted pretty close together (10 feet apart), so this dramatically increased the number of trees we will plant in the edible riparian buffer.  This year went much more smoothly, and we planted 200 American Plum, 100 Elderberry, 100 Pecan, 100 Red Maple, and 200 Spicebush in the riparian buffer.  Next year, we’ll finish the project by planting more plums and elderberries, plus 100 Swamp White Oak, 100 Shellbark Hickory, 200 Hazelnut, and some number of Highbush Cranberry Viburnum, Serviceberry, Willow, and Hackberry.
  1. The Bees
  2. I built 5 mini hives the first winter and set them up in various locations, each one scented with beeswax and lemongrass to lure wild swarms of honeybees. I had hoped that some bees would move into at least one of these “swarm traps”, but sadly it was not meant to be.  By the end of swarm season when I knew I wouldn’t catch any wild bees that year, it was too late to purchase bees for that year.  I didn’t want to take the risk of another year with no bees, so this year I purchased bees.  I first ordered two “boxes” of bees for pickup on April 7.  I built two beautiful top bar hives in preparation for them, and drove to Kentucky to pick them up so they wouldn’t have to spend any extra time on a delivery truck.  Tragically, I took some bad advice which resulted in the death of those first bees.  FYI friends, if anyone tells you not to put your bees in the hive right away because the weather sucks, and instead advises you to put them in a cold basement and mist them with sugar water until a warmer day, please do not listen to them.  Additionally, maybe don’t order any bees for April pickup.  After that sad mistake, I decided to give it one more go and I purchased another box of bees for May pickup.  The weather was warmer in May and the hive succeeded!  These bees have built lots of beautiful combs and stored a lot of honey in their first year.  Winter is an uncertain time for a bee hive, but I’m doing my best to help them succeed.  Winter preparations include:  building the hive out of 2x lumber instead of 1x for better heat retention, inserting a divider so that the bees only have to worry about warming the space they are actively using, packing the empty side with wood chips, providing a candy board feeder inside the hive in case the honey supply runs out mid-winter, and topping the hive with a “quilt” made of burlap stuffed with pine shavings to absorb moisture and provide insulation, adding a mouse guard to protect the hive entrance, and not opening the hive when the ambient temperature is less than 50 degrees.
  1. The Birds
  2. DH and I took an epic roadtrip to Lindsborg, KS to adopt our first baby chicks in spring of 2017. I asked for 12, paid for 18, and left with 23 beautiful new souls who insisted on riding the whole way home to Indiana sitting on my lap and drinking water droplets off my fingers. I did a ton of research in advance but I have to tell you, I had no idea what I was getting into.  Every day these amazing birds teach me something new about the world, and I am grateful for the opportunity to know them in this way. To my immense joy, my rooster plan has been a success, and we have been able to keep all of our roosters safely and happily together in their own little frat house. There have been some hard days too, and I’ve had to bury four of my sweet chickens.  I give them the best care I possibly can (including veterinary care when needed), but sometimes it isn’t enough and sometimes there simply isn’t anything that can be done.  When this happens, I try to take comfort in the knowledge that although their life may have been short, at least it was filled with sunshine and love and good food, and I lay them to rest in the orchard and mark their grave with a sapling. Through the good days, bad days, and hard days, I will say it is always worth it.
  1. The Solar Panels
  2. The solar panels went up last December and they have been a roaring success!  We haven’t paid an electric bill since April.  DH really rocked this project!
  1. The More Cover Crops
  2. The crimson clover did great. It was so awesome that I decided to let it go to seed, even though it’s an annual and I thought I’d only keep it for one year. The bees love it and it has done an awesome job rehabing our soil! I also did a round of buckwheat cover crops last year as a part of our grant project with NRCS. The buckwheat wasn’t a roaring success, mostly due to the dry weather at the time we planted it. I tried again this year, and it still didn’t grow very large but it did flower and it was awesome to have something blooming for the bees in the mid summer when not much else is blooming. My favorite cover crop by far has actually been the dandelions! They are free, and they are amazing. They have a strong taproot that loosens soil very effectively, they need zero care, they are edible, they are useful in herbal medicine and skincare recipes, they provide high quality food for our bees and for our chickens and I personally find them very beautiful. If I had it all to do over again, I would have skipped the sorghum-sudangrass and I would have just planted clover and grass and let the dandelions take care of the rest of it.  Next year we plan to sow pasture grasses on the high land and wildflowers in the low land and that will be the final and permanent (we hope) cover crop.