Category: Bees

Hobbiton Farm

I have a farm. (I feel like Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen: “I had a farm in Africa,” sans empire and imperialism).

I was reluctant to call what I had, a farm. I had chickens and bees and several vegetable areas–but somehow, it did not feel like enough. Likewise in the early days of writing, I couldn’t bring myself to say I was a writer. But with all identities, the pendulum shifts at a certain point; with writing, I gained confidence, I gained some achievements, and I formed a community, which helped me make the transition to calling myself a writer.

Someone once told me that identity is composed of three things:

  1. Legal identity
  2. Social identity
  3. and most important: Self identity

At some point, Hobbiton Farm became a farm not just in name but in function. Over the winter, I began ripping out ornamental plants with the intention of replacing them with edible plantings. I chopped down some nameless, non-fruiting trees and built a hugelkultur bed in their place (and using the wood therefrom). I’ll be experimenting with hugelkultur and planting vegetables in that bed at some point.

I got some frustrating news mid-winter, so what can you do when you feel helpless and exasperated? You learn to use a chainsaw and tear down a twenty-year-old trumpet vine, of course. Over the course of a few days, that vine came down. I sawed and hacked away at it. I was covered in tree detritus everyday. I chopped that thing down bit by bit, and then I dragged the pieces away one by one, too.

And I added the vines and branches and leaves to the–yes, the hugelkultur bed.

By week’s end, the wall was rid of vine. The trellis was rid of vine. It was ready for a peach tree. And it was ready for grapes.

My daughter was dismayed when she saw I’d cut down the trumpet vine. But has been consoled by the peach tree and grapes. (And yes, it was exciting getting bare root fruit trees delivered in the mail–such is my life that this is what excites me).

In the past year, I made new farming connections. From them, I learned about no-till practices. And also Korean Natural Farming practices. We geeked out on farming information. On gardening. On plants. On horticulture. I started making lactic acid bacteria. I’ll tell you more about that in subsequent posts. Along with bees–the bees the bees the bees!

But mostly, I’ve been out in the garden every single day. This winter, I became a farmer.

I’ve been obsessed with amending the soil. Last year, I could tell the soil needed help–plants would top out at a certain point in certain places in the garden. And that I’d have to lay down new foundation.

I learned about sheet mulching. Thank goodness the Amazon boxes have finally come in handy–the cardboard boxes are the first layer when you do sheet mulching (which I like to call “lasagna gardening). Which then you top with compost and leaves and what have you. This method chokes out the weeds below. It builds new soil. It is a no-till method, whereby you don’t disturb the earth (and micorizzhae and earthworms and what have you) below. It replicates what happens in nature: earth, then the leaves that follow upon it.

It’s been therapeutic for me to hang out with my bees and chickens and experiment with soil amendment and learning about new gardening practices. Maybe it’s the Vitamin D from sunlight. Maybe it’s touching the earth. Maybe it’s the adrenalin from sweating. Maybe it’s witnessing the matriarchy of the bees (and the matriarchy of the chickens). But it makes me feel better. It makes me feel comfortable in my own skin. I just want to share it with you, in hopes that it enlightens and maybe makes you feel better, too. Or know that the world is still somehow working, even though the world feels like it’s going sideways.

So I’ve expanded. My goal is to turn the entire yard into an edible landscape. Whatever is on it, I think, must serve a purpose. I’m making space.

I feel helpless a lot–and it’s not a feeling I like to carry around with me. Farming makes me feel less helpless. There’s always something to do. The farm is self-sustaining. It is about having purpose. In that sense, I’ve always been a farmer.

I’ve believed in productivity my entire life. It happens when you’re a child of immigrants. I was raised to be aware of where I put my energy, and what the harvest might look like. This is the place.

As a woman, I wasn’t raised to hold tools. As a woman, many of the tools sold at the store are too big for my hands. But this winter, I learned to use a chainsaw. I used big-ass drills to help build a trellis. I bought cattle fencing and fence posts, so I can build a squash arch. It feels good. A tool belt might be next. Do they come in women’s sizes, I wonder?

(picture of the garden, Summer 2017)

Chickens and Bees

I’ve been meaning to write about my burgeoning urban farm (I’d say homestead, but I’m just not there yet–though it’s my ultimate goal to have one). The other night, I picked up a nuc of bees, and I figure it’s now time to share a little with you.

I’ve wanted bees since I was 8 years old and did my animal research report on bees. What little I learned then, nurtured a growing love and interest for bees. Where my friends had bee fear, I had none. I loved their diligence and found their worker hierarchy endlessly interesting. My uncle on my mom’s side was a chicken farmer and chicken veterinarian. I remember seeing his farm of chickens and being intimidated by the raw number of cheeping chicks and squawking hens. But I was struck and interested, once again–they had entered my psyche and my world and were no longer a foreign thing but a farm animal to be grown and nurtured.

Then I visited my friend Novella Carpenter’s urban farm about ten years ago–and that made me want to undertake an urban farm and get some chickens.

My husband-at-the-time was firmly opposed. He wanted a strictly ornamental, well-manicured garden. And he wasn’t too hot about livestock, let alone the two tomato plants I did have that ended up attracting rats, to his great dismay. So those plans were on hold indefinitely. Until they were not. Continue reading