A BEE-autiful weekend!

Here is one of our five new "top bar" bee hives, located amidst the trees of our "oldest" orchard. (The box on the ground is the empty cage the bees came in.)

Meet this week’s vegetables:

  • Purple sprouting broccoli
  • Kale rapini — It’s a “greens heavy” week, thanks to a field full of thriving green plants. It’s wonderful to finally see some significant growth out there. It’s still all on over-wintered plants, but the new growth is tender nonetheless (and it’s amazing to see how fast plants can grow when they have such huge root systems!).
  • Chard
  • Cabbage rapini
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potatoes — I bet you didn’t even remember that we grow sweet potatoes, eh? Well, every year we do, and sometimes we get stellar crops, and sometimes we get just a few. We’re in a marginal climate for sweet potato production (in terms of temperature), so it’s no surprise that a cool summer (last year’s) would produce lower yields. The reason we keep growing them anyway is because: 1. they taste so good! 2. they store so well! We’ve been holding on to these, because we knew they’d be a fun late winter/early spring treat. Our favorite way to eat sweet potatoes remains the most simple preparation: scrub clean; chop into largish cubes; toss with oil and salt; roast on a pan at 400-425° until crispy outside and tender outside! To get crispy skins, we recommend not using too much oil, turning only once max during cooking, and then letting sit in the air for a few minutes after removing from oven before turning or serving up.
  • Beets
  • Green onions — Two kinds of onions this week, to help you eat all your cooking greens! We use green onions in all kinds of dishes, but they are especially lovely minced and added to a simple salad dressing. The fresh flavor is awesome!
  • Dry onions — This might just be it for our storage onions this year. Hopefully soon we will be enjoying some fresh sweet onions!

How profoundly different this Monday feels from last week! Instead of sitting inside, looking out at a flooded field, I am sitting outside at our picnic table, enjoying all the sights and sounds (and smells!) of spring! The air is calm, a comfortable temperature for human bodies, and filled with bird song.

The water receded from our main property quickly (the new land is lower, but it too will dry in time for summer), and we were gifted enough dry and sunny weather last week to turn our moods around completely!

We spent much of the week preparing for Friday, which was “Bee Day” — the day when beekeepers all across Northern Oregon and Southern Washington travel to Ruhl Bee Supply in Gladstone to pick up their “bee packages.”

For the uninitiated, a “bee package” is a surprisingly small cage filled with approximately 10,000 bees, including one queen in her own inner cage. The old fashioned way to start a new hive is to catch a “swarm,” but bee packages are a more predictable way for us modern beekeepers to get going.

To prepare, we finished the final touches on the five top bar bee hives that Justin built — sealing the wood, putting on roofing, and painting a strip of beeswax down the middle of each bar to help the bees find the proper spot for starting their own comb. We also made some sugar syrup and bought some chick waterers so we could provide food for the bees for the crucial first few weeks or months — since they don’t have any stores of honey, they’ll need some help until everything in the wild is blooming.

Procuring some of these supplies created some unexpected adventures and fun — I didn’t expect to visit Roth’s with a toddler in tow only to buy a 10 lb bag of white sugar. We’re not big sugar eaters, so I felt acutely self-conscious! We also weren’t sure where to buy beeswax at the last minute but found a connection via facebook and were given some by a long-time CSA member — hoorah for community!

Picking up the bees was its own mini-adventure for Casey. Fortunately, he was prepped for this adventure ahead of time by a friend, so he knew to go early and expect some chaos, but it was still crazy to stand in line with dozens of people — Ruhl Bee Supply had 1400 packages they were distributing that day! That’s a lot of bees and a lot of people to pick them up (of course, some folks were coming for dozens of packages at once, but there were plenty of people standing in line for one hive).

And, then of course, there is the nature of bees — buzzing, humming alive creatures with an energy all their own. Casey had to park a few blocks away, and had some fun carrying two cages at a time down the street. We picked up bees for a friend too, so he drove home with nine packages in the back of our Honda — only one escaped that he knew of at the time (although it simply clung to the outside of its cage, wanting to be with its queen). But later that evening, we drove to dinner, and when we sat down I felt something buzzing in my hair! Apparently a bee got out of the cages, hung out in the car for a few hours, and then found its way onto my body while I was driving! What fun!

Our friend Christine helped Casey and Jesse install the first hive, which was another surreal, multi-step process. Simplified: you “bump” the cage to get all the bees to fall to the bottom so you can remove the queen cage and set it in the hive. You unplug her cage and replace the plug with a marshmallow (so she can get out eventually, but not right away). Then you literally pour the thousands of bees in around her and close it all up.

Casey and Jesse installed the five hives without incident — thanks to prepping from Christine and some intentional calmness. One philosophy that Casey learned about ahead of time was to approach the bees with the right attitude and wear as little protective clothing as possible so as to be more aware (and thus kill fewer bees, keeping them calm too!). Casey did the pouring, and with the help of a veil (but no suit), he managed to come out of the afternoon with only a few minor stings (Jesse got none).

And, then of course, it was the perfect weekend for bees (and any living thing really): dry, warm, mild, and sunny! Casey and I spent part of Saturday working in our “yard” (the area we continue to domesticate near our house), and we were excited to see plentiful honeybees active in the dandelions. Even though the orchards on the island (including our own) have yet to bloom, our vegetable fields are full of blossoms (some from the over-wintered plants, but also whole fields of blooming winter weeds). They too were abuzz this weekend!

We checked on the bees again Saturday (Rusty loves watching the bees come and go from their new homes), and Casey topped off their sugar water on Sunday morning. So far, the hives seem to be establishing in their boxes, and Casey continues to learn about how to work around them with comfort.

Interestingly, he has already noted distinct “personality” differences between several of the hives that have been present since the installation. One hive he characterizes as being much “crankier” than others. And some are remarkably mellow. There’s no question that adding this new enterprise to our farm has created some fun already — we’re also glad to have just a few hives to manage at first, since we already have ideas for tweaking aspects of the program in the future! (And, I know we’ll continue to learn over the season.)

The successful start to our new enterprise was certainly a mental and emotional boost after such a dreary feeling series of months (weeks? It’s so easy to lose track!), but the sun itself was also deeply good for our souls. Just puttering in our yard ended a funk I had been fighting last week — in fact, I felt elated simply from some simple weedy and pruning (and of course, this is the kind of work that can continue to put a smile on my face every time I walk past my very modest little landscaped garden).

We enjoyed a beautiful outside Easter egg hunt with my parents on Saturday afternoon (followed by a delicious early supper and then a walk with the whole family to visit the bees and check on our new orchard trees at the new land). On Sunday, we went to Lincoln City to visit Casey’s family and the weather was perfect for a leisurely walk on the beach after our mid-day dinner (and when I say leisurely, I mean leisurely, since we had three children ages two to three in our group!). There was much picking up of shells, piling of sand, and all sorts of soul-warming activities.

So, there’s no question we’re starting this workweek with renewed enthusiasm and energy for spring work. Of course, we still need the relative dryness and warmer temperatures to last so that we can hopefully start working up ground for spring planting! But we know that will come, and at least there are other things to mark off our “to do” lists in the meantime.

And, I suppose that such a bright and cheery newsletter is as good of a place as any to share another big piece of farm news: as of today I am 20 weeks pregnant with our second child! We should have a baby here at the farm late this summer, probably at the end of August. Even though I’m sure baby’s arrival will add some complexity to the harvest season, we are feeling nothing but excitement about growing our family and the farm community in this way! Rusty certainly is ready for a playmate on the farm, and we are excited to have a little baby again now that our first baby is becoming such a big boy. Just this last week I started feeling kicks and pokes regularly, bringing many smiles to my face.

We hope you too had some soul warming experiences this sunny Easter weekend! And, may they just be the beginning of many this spring and summer season!

Enjoy this week’s vegetables!

Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
… and the rest of the farm crew!

P.S. We also received a fun postcard from Emily this week, marked with a special postmark that read, “Mailed by mule at the bottom of the Grand Canyon”! She’ll be back at the farm next Monday, and we’re excited to hear about all her adventures from her three week rafting trip!

Next week’s vegetables (probably!):

Radishes • Purple sprouting broccoli • Salad mix • Rapini • Cabbage rapini • Celery root • German butterball potatoes • Leeks

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One Response to A BEE-autiful weekend!

  1. Nadya says:

    I remember being told by a friend who’s a flower essence practitioner that a Peruvian shaman bespeaks how important the *hum* of the bees is in helping bring balance to the land! And love your description of the process.
    Some beekeepers plant lemon balm around the hives, which is a prime bee plant! I have plenty to spare if that appeals :)
    And your description of Casey’s calm with the bees brought to mind a visit to my uncle Lloyd’s just S of Monmouth. He was showing my dad & me around the yard, and behind the house, mentioned some bees had their home in the attic! As we talked (OK, I was just listening to the grownups!) One landed on his hair, and he put up a calm hand to send it on his way! It flew off, and I recall how impressed I was at his gentle & calm reaction!

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