Thursday, May 14, 2015

Unity Farm Journal - Second Week of May 2015

While I have been traveling in Eastern Europe, Kathy has been busy with bees, alpaca, and the daily duties of running the farm.

There have been many articles about accelerating bee deaths/colony collapse disorder.

On our organic farm, there are no pesticides, herbicides, or significant stressors for the bees.   We keep them warm by having south facing hives painted in dark colors.   We provide them extra nutrition - pollen and sucrose during late fall and early spring.   We use minimal medication - oxalic acid treatment in Fall for Varroa mites and fumigilin B for nosema (bee dysentery) control.

The results have been promising.   We started one of the worst New England winters in history with 11 hives and end the winter with 7 hives.   2 of our queens have overwintered for two years.

In spring we have split 3 of hives and purchased a few new nucs.

As of this week we have 6 hives at the farm plus 2 nucs.   We have 6 hives set up on properties in surrounding towns.

By Summer we’ll have 12 hives at the farm and 8 hives off the farm, creating a very strong pollinator workforce.   The apple trees are all blooming at Unity Farm, so they are ready for pollination.

Yesterday, Kathy supervised the shearing of all the alpaca and llama.   The professional shearer was able to complete to the entire herd in 2 hour, taking off their winter coats in a single piece.    I’ll post before and after pictures next week.

One of the challenges of travel (and I really try to minimize overnight travel) is that the farm is filled with complex equipment and systems.  We have extensive water management and irrigation systems.  We have sophisticated heating/cooling systems for all the buildings.  We have a 400 amp electrical system backed up by generator.   In effect the farm is like a small city for 100 inhabitants.     Although I have maintained every system and replaced a great deal of the infrastructure, the heating/cooling systems are 22 years old and still vulnerable to breakdowns.    As a farmer, I know to conserve capital and avoid purchasing too much too fast - that’s what causes economic stress for small farmers.  The heating/cooling system replacement is likely a 2016 project, since our big improvement in 2015 will be replacing the driveway/paved areas of the farm (which are also 22 years old).   One day after I left for Eastern Europe, the primary ventilator fan for heating/cooling the house failed.   The weather station also failed but that is IP connected and I was able to reboot it/reconfigure it from Eastern Europe.   However, our heating/cooling infrastructure is no IP connected so I had to diagnosis it manually with Kathy serving as my eyes, ears, and fingers.   It’s clear that that relay failed and since the ventilator was manufactured in 1993, the parts are only available on eBay.   I was able to locate the needed part and Kathy purchased it, so it will be ready for my repair work when I land in Boston in 13 hours.

The work of a farmer is never done - keeping the bees healthy, the alpaca/llama cool in summer/warm in winter, and the systems of the farm running is immensely satisfying.

It also gives me a context to experience the traditional arts of other cultures.   Here’s a few photos from the Latvian Natural History museum - Eastern European bees, traditional bee keeping and even an alpaca (imported to Latvia from South America).

As I posted yesterday, I can imagine running a castle and farmlands in Europe, and I really have an affection for Eastern Europe,  reinforced by a visit with Latvian IT leaders at the American Embassy last night (pictured above), but I look forward to returning to my own “castle” in Boston tonight.  

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