The internship so far…

I can’t believe it’s already been a month! You heard all about my first day on the “job.” Days #2 and #3 were cut short due to some off-farm commitments Cyndi had, but last week we got to spend the whole beautiful morning on the farm. We had a guest along for the morning as well. We weeded, again, fed the bees, re-arranged some fence panels in preparation for loading the two beeves on Sunday, and “cleaned up” the pig pen. No, seriously, that’s what we did! I’m asking questions like crazy, trying to learn everything I can before my time is up. I just wish I could spend more time out there – there aren’t that many more Thursdays between now and April…

I think I will be able to have bees in our next home, so I’ve been really excited to learn about them. Some neat things I’ve gleaned so far:

  • Beekeepers harvest honey once, sometimes twice, each year.
  • Wax comes in lots of colors, from white to deep brown.
  • Bees use tree sap (in Georgia, they use pine sap) to plug the gaps and holes in the hive. This nutrient-dense material is called “propolis” and it is harvested and used in natural medicine. Read about all the great uses for propolis here.
  • When looking at a hive, the bottom “box” is called the Brood Box because that’s where the queen lives. The others are known as Supers.
  • The bees fill the hive with honey from the bottom to the top. Beekeepers add supers as the lower levels become full.
  • Beekeepers tend to situate the hives with the opening to the east – so that it gets warm in the morning as early as possible.
  • Hives with solid bottoms are placed on a slight tilt to allow rain water to drain. For even better drainage, some hives are equipped with a mesh/screen bottom.
  • During the winter, if you notice a hive with a glass jar on top, it’s full of sugar water. Because there aren’t any flowers to visit during wintertime, beekeepers have to feed the bees to keep them IN the hive; if they get too hungry they will leave. However, one doesn’t want to feed the bees too much, or else they might become dependent on the sugar water and refuse to leave the hive in the spring! Also, over-feeding the bees over winter could cause them to think it’s spring, which leads to more bees, and demands even more sugar water.

Beehive

In other news, we’re trying hard to sell our home here in Athens. We had our first showing today and have another one scheduled for Friday! Tripp also spent last weekend in PA searching for our next home. He visited about 10 places, and drove by a few more. We’ve narrowed it down to three, the one I mentioned before is now #3, due mostly to the price. #1 is a really cute, historic home on 10+ acres. #2 is not very cute at all, but is super safe and has a pool. I believe we eliminated #2 from the running today when we learned the owners were not willing to come down on the rent, putting it outside our budget. Here’s a picture of MY #1:

Could this be the future (temporary) home of Owl Moon Farms?

First Day at Lazy B

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from my first day as an intern with Lazy B Farm, so I wore jeans and boots and brought my notebook and pen along too, just in case. I was greeted by half of the children on the farm, and had a lovely conversation with them while we waited for Cyndi to finish up a little household stuff before we headed outside.

First, we fed the animals. Chickens, guineas, cows, dogs and goats. We gathered a few eggs from the henhouse and then we did some gardening. I have a small plot of a garden in our backyard, but it’s never produced more than a few very tart tomatoes, so one thing I am really hoping to learn more about this year is gardening. The UGA Cooperative Extension (just like most Cooperative Extension offices throughout the US) does a Master Gardener class every year, on Tuesdays. It just so happens that this mama, with two days off, filled them up so quickly I was shocked at all the great opportunities I have had to turn down. So instead of gardening, UGA is teaching me to compost. Maybe when we get to PA I can take a more intensive gardening course. Until then, I have Cyndi.

So, anyway, we weeded a bed that was previously home to tomatoes and is currently home to the most delicious-smelling Dill you’ve ever smelled. It was slow-going, carefully pulling handful after handful of Henbit from around the dill, but the smell made it worth it. (Made me hungry too, but that’s another story.) It turns out the chickens and goats really love to eat the stuff, so we filled our buckets and tossed it over the fences, making a couple beasts very, very happy.

After the gardening we headed back to the henhouse. Cyndi had to move some hay, so she instructed me to “gather the eggs, clean out the boxes and then put in some new shavings.” Confession: My first day on a new job is all about figuring out the boss. Does she prefer 100 questions or would she rather I give it a go and ask questions later? So, I chose B, and with the aid of Cyndi’s youngest, proceeded to to about half of what Cyndi expected from me. Luckily, Cyndi was just a quick phone call away, “So, you want me to clean all the chicken boxes?” “Uh, ya, all of them.” So I got back in there, and cleaned out the rest of the boxes. And I added clean shavings to all of them (just to have the silly birds come in and scratch and kick and knock about 50% of it on the floor. Thanks, ladies). Cyndi checked on me, began putting away her tools, and headed for the house, leaving me to finish in the henhouse. When I was finished I went to let myself out of the chicken house and found the door LOCKED. Yes, locked. I thought, okay, you’re an adult, you can figure this out. Is it really locked? Not just stuck? No, it was really locked. Is there an indoor lock I missed? No, it’s a slider bar lock like in a public restroom, on the outside. Hmmm…. I knew Cyndi and the girls were all inside, so yelling probably wouldn’t help. I looked behind me at the door the chickens use to get in and out and seriously wonderered if I could make it through. I called Cyndi’s cell only to get her voicemail. So, I was forced to make my exit through the tiny door the chickens use. But I made it, and walked across the yard to the fence/gate and let myself out. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was a farm-hazing-style prank. I’m still not 100% convinced it was an accident, but, oh well. I’m out, the ladies gave me some yummy lunch, and all is well. More next time!

Clockwise from Upper Left: Ready for Planting, Happy Chicken, Locked In, More Happy Chickens, Weeds

So Much to Share!

Okay, first things first: my husband has accepted a job that requires our family relocate from Athens, GA to Pennsylvania – IN APRIL. We made our first trip up there this past weekend to scope out the area and searched for three straight days for a home to rent that is reasonably close to his new place of work. The problem is – he will be working out of western NJ for the majority of this year, and then from Central PA starting in the fall. That means, finding a place that is “reasonably close” means not really close at all. We’re talking about 45 minutes or more – each way. Coming from our current commute time of less than 15 minutes, that’s going to be a pretty huge adjustment for our family. We are working on a few different ideas to make it as easy as possible, but some compromises might mean putting some of our homesteading plans on hold. We have a few cats (and dogs) so finding a pet-friendly rental will be difficult to begin with. But finding one that allows for a substantial garden, laying hens and bees is probably going to be next to impossible. Luckily, we found one that’s for rent, allows pets, HAS CHICKENS, a GARDEN and BEE HIVES already in place! Only trouble is, it’s about 45 minutes to work. Right now it is #1 on our list, but we will most likely make at least one other trip north before making our decision.

Future (temporary) home of Owl Moon Farms?

NEXT: Tomorrow is my first day interning with Cyndi Ball of Lazy B Farm in Statham, Georgia. Cyndi and I met in July at the Ladies Homestead Gathering which she generously hosts in her home. I knew right away that she would be an important person in my journey to farming, and sure enough, over the past 6 months, I have grown to care for her, her farm, and her family very deeply. Truth be told – she was the first person I told about our possible move to PA way back in November. We had begun talking in September about me doing an internship beginning this month (now that both of my children are in a morning program two days a week) and it is this opportunity and her friendship that I will miss the most. BUT – we get to enjoy a few months of fun and sweat before we make our move, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be out there tomorrow and every Thursday until we leave this place, and you’ll hear all about it!

Folks, This Ain’t Normal was my favorite book of 2011. I loved it so much I sent a copy to my mom and one to my dad, insisting that it would change their lives. Well, Folks, I was RIGHT! Just two weeks into it and my Dad has made HUGE progress in taking his hard-earned money OUT of the Industrial Food Complex and has, in his own words, “begun to locate sources for local food; eggs, raw milk, produce, meat, butter. Grown locally, purchased right off the farm.” How cool is that?!?! I was so thrilled to read those words (in his entertaining blog, Tadventures©) that I had to call him straight away, grinning ear to ear. I have a couple of friends making the extra effort to eat locally, but it means so much to me to know my Dad is doing it too. Just last week I was telling a friend that my Dad and I had recently started talking food (he is, afterall, the first person I knew to own a modern pressure cooker, and the person that encouraged me to get one) and here he is going out, talking to farmers, and buying RAW MILK! [For pet consumption only, of course.] Needless to say, I’m beside myself excited to have such an important person on this journey with me.

Compostiong Class: I am two weeks into the 8-week program and am, therefore, 1/4 of a Master Composter. I hope that after this program I will be able to not only start and utilize my own compost, but have the depth and breadth of knowledge to teach others to do the same. Before the end of the class we have to present a project, it can be just about anything, to the group, showcasing what we’ve learned, and demonstrating how we will use that knowledge to teach others. I’ve asked Cyndi if I can present a Compost 101 for the LHG in March, so I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

One of the blogs I unabashedly adore is Soule Mama. Amanda Blake Soule is an author, an artist, a sewist (sewer just doesn’t seem right), a mother, a gardener, a homeschooler and an inspiration. I was introduced to her a long time ago I have no idea how, and have found her constantly weaving her way back into my life over the past two years or so. So I was reading her blog last week when I came across this:

And today I joined up. From the website:

Whole Food Kitchen will be a place for absorbing, exploring, and transforming. This workshop will teach and speak to a mostly plant-based diet, but is not exclusively vegan or vegetarian. You will find [the] classes infused with a non-dogmatic, inclusive approach to nutrition. In life and in food, [the] focus is on simplicity, patience, keeping it real, and common sense.

Having already committed myself to a local, whole foods diet, I think this workshop will do great things for my less-than-stellar abilities to come up with something to have for dinner, based on the seasonally-appropriate foods and bulk items I am able to procure through the local food co-op. I feel like I’m in college again – only this time I’m taking ALL the classes I LOVE! Plus, Heather has already inspired me to take back my pantry! LOOK:

Book Club & Ladies Homestead Gathering

I was first introduced to Joel Salatin 5 years ago by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. At the time, the concept of a local, seasonal diet was something I had considered, but never really explored. The chapters in the book devoted to describing Joel’s innovative grass-based farm were so inspiring, I haven’t stopped thinking about farming since.

A few months ago I started attending monthly meetings with the most intriguing group of women anyone should have an opportunity to know. Cindy B., the proprietress of Lazy B Farm in Statham, GA hosts, in her home, monthly Ladies Homestead Gatherings. Topics of discussion range from gardening, bread-baking, and wine-making, to chicken butchering, rainwater collection and herbal remedies – and that’s just ONE meeting’s agenda! After years of private exploration of my farm dreams, it is the most incredible blessing to have found this group of women that share the same goals!

Anyway, a few of us are reading Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin and we’re really loving it. After our first meeting this week we’ve pretty much decided the Book Club is a permanent thing and are already looking forward to our next title!

Folks, This Ain't Normal

Folks, This Ain't Normal, Joel Salatin, 2011