Through the bee’s eyes

So much depnds on how you look at it; on whether the sweet and beautiful children we adore are bickering with one another or are creating the most breathtaking drawings, forts, and stories, on whether or not we have a few extra bucks to buy some yarn with or other such fun purchase or we are staring at the checkbook wondering how to cover all those bills.  I am always in awe of this phenomenon.  One day this house can seem like it will never see order again and the farm will appear covered in weeds when the next, perhaps with the fresh eyes of a new day to view it all with, it will rival Eden in all its glory.  It all depends on the lens we are using.

As we gear up for one of our annual CSA open farms, we can’t help but think of “all” that needs to be done before the party.  This is the kind of event that immedietly brings out the worst sort of glasses for us to wear, not a hint of rose shading to help ease the glare that comes from certain areas of the farm (not to mention the house which is in mid-bedroom-switcheroo anyways).  All that seemed possible to keep up with in spring has reached its hey day, meaning that in those areas I didn’t make it to, the weeds I so desperately wanted to knock back have once again gone to seed. 

With just a few days in the midst of what is still a pretty busy time on the farm, I know that things are going to look mostly the same on Sunday as they do today.  We used to go crazy trying to whip this place into shape for such events–and we still do make this an opportunity to take care of certain things that we have been meaning to get to, things on the farm that get pushed to the side in favor of planting and weeding and harvesting the food crops–but I have also come to realize that it matters so much less than I used to worry it did.  The fun of these events is the getting together, the beautiful countryside, the spectacular view and warm summer evenings.  Sharing the growing space with the folks who eat from it.

So, like the bees and other wild critters who thoroughly enjoy not only the wild areas we intentionally create as homes for them and as buffers from our neighbors’ conventionally managed farm fields , but also the wild areas we meant to tend to that are now covered in thistles gone to seed, I will try to enjoy it all too.  The farmer doesn’t even want me to mess with those thistles anyways, he loves how many bees feed from their pretty purple flowers.   My take on it is a little different.  I figure since we provide a lot of bee forage from other plants on this farm, this one–so prickly and poking when it finds its way into the vegetable beds–I am going to try to get rid of, at least on this side of the property.  But since that didn’t happen this year, I am trying to look at it as I have in other years.  Positively.

Through the right lens, everything is as it should be.  The tale of this farm, this year, when you come to visit, is the tale of another year of living here, many things coming more and more to look like our vision of the farm, as well as many, many things that fell by the wayside.  It was a year with a new baby in tow, with three busy big kids to tend to, and lots of farming to be done.  All in all, what you see means good things happened.   It means time for the kids, for play, for summmer!  It means lots of food grown for our community.  And it has made a lot of bees very, very happy too.  Through their eyes, this place is a thing of beauty.  And when I look at it with my heart, that is what I see too.

Thistle Blooms

In the last four years that we have lived here on this property, the summer’s have  brought with them hordes of this nasty, prickly weed.  The first few years, it was hard to squat and work in the veggie field without getting poked, and if we tried to work in our regular, thin gardening gloves, we were constantly wincing through our weedings.  Each year has gotten better, with fewer and fewer of these beasts in the main field that we have been working since the beginning, and virtually none in our lower field which is just too fertile for thistles.  Our one pasture, which had the largest patch of thistle and queen anne’s lace where the previous owner’s horses spent a lot time, is finally recovering thanks to the beauty of goats in just such cases.  And the ground we tried to work for the last two years but decided not to grow on again was luckily mostly covered back up with grasses and queen anne’s lace.  All in all, we have so many fewer thistles this year that this in itself is enough to be happy about.

But there is this patch where we had last year’s burn pile, covered in purple flowers right now, and a new field where we have potatoes growing where all the weeding is prickly and a pain…not to mention the rogue thistle, here and there.  We have been pretty diligent with what thistle’s we have, keeping most of them from flowering.  But this one patch is all in bloom.  And this year, this actually makes us a little happy.

The thing is, we can’t help but notice how many of the things that we classify as weeds are just the things we have that are covered with bees.  And since we haven’t taken much time to specifically plant a season’s worth of bee food flowering plants on our property, we find a small bit of joy in seeing how our sometimes “wild” farm really is benefiting the “wild” creatures that find refuge here. Granted, many of the bees on our property traveled here from a large honey bee keeper just up the road.  Still, we now have large populations of native mason and bumble bees.  Early in the spring, they cover the dandelion flowers, then a bit later our flowering cherry trees, then on to the orchard trees.  Then later,  the lamb’s ear (which I almost classify as a weed) is covered.  Having a lot of ground clover in the lawn that we do cut helps a bunch too, and they love the mint, blackberries, and raspberries too.

But right now, they love the thistle flowers.  Later when these seed heads dry up, these same flowers will be covered with birds.  Now, we love and revere and worry about the bees tremendously, but we like the birds quite a lot too, so this is another benefit to be found in one of nature’s most unfriendly weeds.  And all of this is above and beyond the real reason these thistles are here anyways…to improve the disturbed and less than fertile soil they have taken root on.  In these lights, seeing all these purple heads can’t be too bad.  We have suffered through the worst of it already as we slowly turn bad soil to good all over this misused old farm.  Even as we continually refine how we are going to make a good living off of this land, we never lose sight of the underlying reason we are even living out here on this piece of ground in the first place:  to build a healthy, natural ecosystem for us and the wildlings to thrive on and enjoy.  The thistles are as much helpers in this journey as they are headaches.  As with most things, really, there is more good in them than bad, more beauty than we at first imagine.

Spring love matures (and so do the weeds)

As much as I knew it would come, being here at the end of the giddy stage of spring, when our farm (where landscaping has taken a second seat to things growing for the business) abruptly turns green after that splash of color, is still something like walking on uneven ground, that bumpy step a little jolting. Everywhere I look it is green, the green of grasses, mostly, and other weeds loving the warming up of the weather just as much as the rest of us. The fruit trees are done blooming, the spring bulbs and flowering trees too, even the early weeds have already blossomed and set seed (shudder). Thankfully we are able to leave the beautiful white and pink blooms of our winter arugula and black spanish radsishes along with the unmistakable yellow flowers of the mustards and turnips for a bit longer…the bees and my eyes need something colorful to feast on. But these blossoms too, begin to feel like weeds as they get in the way of working around new growing things.

As ambitious as early spring is with its newfound energy, the rising from winter’s slumber and slow going, the inevitable next step comes and its reality is not as flippant and full on as the sowing of a new year’s seeds. The season gets warmer, and the watering and weeding begin. That is what we did this weekend,; recovered beets and kohlrabi and carrots from the mat of other growth thinking it had found a nice place to grow too, freed some broccoli from the start of a dangerous relationship with the nasty bindweed, gave our bunching onions access to more light, and started on getting the grass out of the fava beans although their growth is vigorous enough to withstand sharing–we just don’t want the slugs having ladders to the pods which are now setting.

And this kind of work is more sobering than planting even when the sense of accomplishment is almost more fulfilling when you finish. Now our early spring love affair with a new season is tempered by what time brings. Just like any love affair, your vision at first is beautifully rose colored. Now that the first flush of petals have fallen, some of those irksome growing challenges are up for evaluation. There are still spots in the field where the difference in soil quality is fairly dramatic. There are still some broccolis buttoning (producing a small head before the plant matures because of stress from soil or heat?), still poor germination on our first planting of carrots, still flea beetles on the pac chois, and spotted cucumber beetles on the chard. Things are not picture perfect, for sure.

Still, the upshot is that we are seeing all of these things on a much smaller scale than ever before, and we can see that at least from the pest perspective, the plants are stronger than the damage they can do this year. Soon they will have outgrown the worst of it. Carrots are in the queue for succession plantings into July, and in truth the germination percentage on that first planting is close to 50% where we had 0% on our first planting last year (I suppose we are just pushing the envelope for carrots with that first planting anyways). We way, way, way overplanted broccolis because they are so fickle anyways. And at least after the main growing season comes to a close, we can clear this space and really work with it for soil improvement since we have a separate space for fall/winter plantings. That will make a world of difference.

So the season matures, we settle into its routines. We have the bulk of our spring planting done (which is why we took the last few days to weed, weed, weed). Most of the tomatoes, the eggplant, some more corn, and more basil…that is what is left besides things that are continually planted in succession. We won’t have another big planting push until July, so weeding and watering do become our main occupations, along with the all important harvesting! And even though all the early spring colors have turned to blankets of green over here, when we weeded the raspberries yesterday, our first year’s planting was vibrating with a steady bzzzzz! Many of those early flowers are working there way towards summer fruit, a feast of colors for the plate. And we planted all those annual flowers, a quick fix for more lavish blooms for us and cut flowers for all of you. And even the humble vegetable blooms that proceed the harvest are beautiful in their own right. It may be green right now, but just around the corner will be summer’s color show, one that holds steady and true into winter even though it doesn’t take our breath away quite like the first of spring.