Robbing Bees

The work is finally wrapping up for the season! I’ve fed my bees sugar syrup to get them through the winter but with the warm weather they’re out flying around, robbing anything with even a trace of sugar or honey on it. In the fall, there are lots of worker bees who want to collect nectar but there is no nectar for them to collect. Instead, they steal honey or sugar from anywhere they can get it. That means they’re sneaking into my extracting room to take honey from the honey boxes I’ve taken off their hive. Once in there, they get disoriented and can’t get out again.  They’ve been clustering on the top of my window overnight and in the morning I knock them into a bucket and take them out. I’ve only had to do it twice, but even that is too much. Robbing bees spread diseases and once they get robbing they are more likely to rob out neighbouring hives, which can devastate that hive’s ability to overwinter. So next year the top item I need is a 100% bee-proof extracting room.

On another note, thanks to the folks who came out and helped harvest potatoes! I have lots of beautiful potatoes available now, so contact me if you would like to stock up on your winter supply. I’m selling them unwashed to maximize storage life (but they’re just dusty rather than dirty so they’ll be easy to wash), and I would prefer to sell in 25 lb or larger quantities but I can do smaller as well. So contact me if you’re interested.

And I’m still selling honey at Salisbury Farmer’s Market. On October 6th the market moves inside the greenhouse for the winter and I’m looking forward to see how the indoor market compares to being outside!

I’m also still working on the little cabin… I spoiled myself by buying a beautiful soapstone stove to heat it over the winter. And I managed to get my paws on some 1″ limestone flooring to use as my hearth! I’m really excited to install it and I’ll post photos once it’s in.

Salisbury Market

In my ongoing quest for a simple, effective way to connect to members of the public, I am now a regular attendee of the Salisbury Farmer’s Market! I discovered this market three weeks ago and I’m really happy with it. If you’ve never been, there is a lovely array of vendors, from people selling fresh cream and other dairy products (the line-up is always amazing at their stall) to baked goods, vegetables and meats. This week I traded honey for strawberries from another vendor and they are The Best strawberries I have ever tasted. If you haven’t been to this market, you really ought to go check it out. It’s small and laid back and the vendors are all top-notch.

Best of all, it’s where you can find me peddling my wares!

Salisbury Market Stall

Salisbury Farmer's Market, every Thursday from 4:30 to 8 pm, year round and Salisbury Greenhouse in Sherwood Park.

Presentation on the weekend & the birds return

We’re well into spring now, with the rain this week! So far I’ve planted carrots,  beans, potatoes, three types of swiss chard, five types of peas, four types of specialty beets and two types of spinach. I’m excited to see what the beets look like when they’re beautifully bunched together. I planted most things last week and then we were all sitting waiting for some moisture.

A big thanks to the folks who came out and helped plant potatoes! It would have taken ages if I were out there on my own.

Yesterday I planted a cover crop of buckwheat, wheat and rye. The rye should keep the weeds suppressed (and hopefully will not become a weed itself), as should the wheat. The buckwheat will add lots of organic matter to the soil when I till it in. I’m also hoping it will be flowering at a time when not many other plants are flowering (mid-late July) so I’ll be able to get some buckwheat honey.

Other recent news: I now have five new bee hives! If all continues to go well I should have plenty of honey for the Terwillegar market this summer.

And there are more birds arriving by the day. So far there is a pair of American Kestrels setting up a summer home in an old woodpecker nest in a dead poplar tree. Some people might dislike standing dead trees, but if it means I get a first hand look at a breeding pair of kestrels out of my cabin’s loft window I’m all for them.

There is also a gang of yellow-bellied sapsuckers claiming the yard as their territory. One male drums all morning on an old chimney pipe (he’s the loudest) and the other drums on the powerpole twenty feet away. They’ve taken turns chasing at least one female, who mews like a sick cat. Between them and all the other birds, the yard is a pretty exciting place to be these days.

The only unwelcome visitors are the mice! I think it was an ideal winter for mice, what with all the snow, and there are more mice out there than I could have imagined possible. One ate all but two of my melons yesterday. Yes, I was growing melons. They were happy little plants but a mouse came along and ate off all their leaves so now they’re just stubs sticking out of the potting soil. I’ll keep the two or three I still have and maybe I’ll start more but probably not because it’s getting a bit late for melons.

The biggest (most intimidating?) news for this week is that I’ll be giving a talk for the South Edmonton Vegetarian & Gardening Club on the weekend about the contents of the Canadian organic standards and what we could ask farmers at farmers markets about how they grow their food. I’m doing it without powerpoint, in a workshop style format, which is a new style of presenting for me so I hope it goes okay!

If you’re planning on coming, please think about what prompts you to buy food from farmer’s markets. Between all of us, I’m sure there are a million reasons, which we will be brainstorming at the beginning of the talk/workshop. You can find more info here.

And then there are the vegetables

My winter planning is continuing, although it is now becoming spring planning. I’ve had some feedback that my “thoughts on sustainable agriculture” post was depressing. I didn’t mean it to be sad, just realistic.

However, I feel I need to follow-up on that post. At the time of its writing, I had been planning on leaving the vegetables to concentrate more on honey. Vegetables are a lot of work and worry for very little profit, if any. But as the weather has been warming up I’ve realized I love growing vegetables. This will only be my fourth year but already I don’t know what to do with my spring if I’m not planning for my vegetable fields. Maybe I’m spring-crazed or maybe it’s because the hours at my other job are reduced for April and I suddenly have more time, but I don’t care anymore what my returns are for vegetable production. It’s just so wonderful to be growing veggies for people, spending time in the dirt, with only the birds calling in the trees and my dog lying on the compost pile watching everything I do.

So I will be growing all sorts of vegetables again this year. I even have a market stall at a market in Edmonton, which means you’ll be able to easily access my farm’s products! I won’t tell you where yet because it’s not 100% confirmed.

On a slightly different train of thought, I went to a market gardening workshop in September on Salt Spring Island. One sentence really stuck with me- “nobody should be growing vegetables for other people. Everyone should be growing their own vegetables. Farmers should be growing meat, eggs, honey and other livestock products that urban people do not have the space nor permission to produce.” Not all urban folks can grow their own vegetables either, but this is a sentiment I agree with. Everyone who has the interest, space and capability should have their own garden. I will try to integrate this idea into my farm however I can. I’m still thinking on ways I can do so.

(And about not being allowed to keep chickens or honey bees in the city-  just do it anyway! Bylaws shouldn’t be allowed to dictate our ability to be food secure.) But I didn’t say that. Nor do I keep chickens in town…