Category Archives: Honey Bees

January At Living Land

January is one of the quieter months on a New England homestead. Let’s take a look.

Snowy day, viewed from our kitchen window

Our Work in January

The ground is frozen, the gardens and orchards at rest. Nothing for us to do there. I kept an eye on our tree guards after some heavy snows to make sure no drifts had covered them, allowing vole access.

The bee hives were wrapped up in November and there’s not much I can do for them in the winter. However, we maybe should have tried. The deep freeze that started on December 27th and lasted until January 8th was deadly for my smaller nucleus hives. When it’s that cold the cluster of bees is unable to move around to get to their next meal. Sadly, I found several lovely clusters of bees had starved just an inch away from more honey. My big, strong hive did great – I guess they could generate enough heat to move the cluster. On the first 50F day that came along – our January thaw – there were so many bees in the air I first thought all the hives must have survived, but most returned to that one as it sun lowered.

At least I was left with a few supers worth of honey to start off the new bees I ordered for the spring with some good nutrition. We are researching hive warmers. We figure that if after a week we’d given each hive just a couple of hours of extra heat they could have re-positioned themselves and survived. Who knows if this will happen regularly in the future or not – now that the climate is becoming more variable it’s impossible to predict and plan. It’s stressful on us agriculturists.

Our goats just need some shelter from the wind and their thick coats even in extended freezing temps.

The other animals did great in the cold. We chose breeds that were known to be winter-hardy, and they have lived up to their reputations. We still needed to do basic care – keep feed and water stations stocked for them, open and close doors, milk the goats in the morning and collect eggs when there were any.

Inside, however, there was work to do.

We used Fedco for our seed order this year, including seed potatoes which will arrive in the spring. It was a good sized order for us since some of our seeds were a few years old and not germinating well anymore.

The winter is time for education – both for learning ourselves and teaching. I have Bee Culture magazines and a stack of books to catch up on. Through Seacoast Permaculture I’ll get a chance to watch some documentaries I’ve been excited about, discuss social permaculture with a small group book study, and take a few classes. I am teaching about beekeeping right now, and will give workshops on gardening later in the winter. I’m also teaching frame drum classes and cirlce dances, working on a writing project, and active in our local storytelling community.

This is also a good time for us to be civically active. The NH state house still goes by an agricultural schedule, doing most of its work in the winter. Works great for us! Steve has a lot of planning board meetings, and our town deliberative session is in early February. I’m catching up on some national issues I care about as well, and contacting my reps about those. So, while the weather drives us in on the homestead, it also gives us a chance to look at a bigger picture and try to have a say in the larger world.

Our Harvest in January

The chickens are laying!

The work is minimal and so are the rewards this time of year. A few things did come in.

A hen in the nest box

Our chickens began laying again after we added supplemental light in their coop at the end of the year. In January we collected 48 eggs.


Our milk supply is very low at the moment. We make some choices that mean less (but healthier, we think) milk in general. But, we also had a breeding failure in Fall 2016 so none of our girls had kids this past season. We are milking 2 goats who gave birth in Spring 2015 and 2 who did so in Spring 2016. We find that breeding every other year works well, but once we get beyond that, they don’t produce very much.

Winter forage for the goats – hemlock boughs

Also, 2 of those goats were first fresheners, thus not going to be big producers yet. All that said, we still brought in 6.6 gallons of milk in January, which I made into plenty of yogurt and soft cheese for us.


We harvested no new veggies, but continue to eat from last year’s excess. Potatoes, garlic, carrots, beets, parsnips, squash from our makeshift root cellar; dried kale, summer squash, peaches and grapes (raisins); canned

Garlic in storage

blueberries, strawberries and peaches; frozen eggplant, salsa, pesto, berries and meat; honey, dry beans, popcorn, and cornmeal. Nothing has run out completely yet! Steve has also enjoyed a few fresh lemons and herb cuttings growing indoors in pots and the aquaponic systems.


The woodstove needed feeding a lot this cold January so we were glad for all our stacked wood. Our solar panels didn’t do well for us between the low amount of sun and the coatings of icy snow that wouldn’t budge for days on end. We’re thrilled they are clear by now and heading back into a productive time as the sun returns to us.

That’s our January update… February should see an increase in animal products and possibly the end of the supply of some of our stored foods. I’ll tell you about it in a month!


Filed under Chickens, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Uncategorized, Weather

A New Year Starts at Living Land

This has been a good week for reflection and planning. We’ve gotten out the new calendars, are noticing the growing light, and we’ve been driven inside by storms and bitter cold!

First, a look back to consider accomplishments on the homestead in 2017. I tend to push forward and move on to what’s next, but I know it’s good for me to take time to learn from successes and problems we had, and to allow for a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for what worked. I will make better, smarter plans coming from this place.

One of my bean plants produced this seed. I have no idea what it is – anyone know?

In the plant realm: we expanded our growing areas using swales, sheet mulching and hugelkultur. We planted 5 new trees, 10 new berry bushes, many new perennials, and a big garden of annuals. I tried some new crops: various heritage dried beans, a heritage variety popcorn, and 3 new types of potatoes. My records show that the Bora Valley and Nicola potatoes were my biggest producers this year. Yay for record keeping!

Beautiful Bug-free Broccoli

We had very few insect pest problems this year, other than some early squash vine borers. I had almost no colorado potato beetles, and the cabbage worms didn’t become an issue until much later in the season than usual. I planted both of those crops late this year possibly missing the first reproductive cycle for the pests. That was purposeful for the beetles, but accidental for the cabbage worms.

In our animal endeavors: We raised new chickens using 2 broody hens and 1 incubator hatch. None of our ducks succeeded in brooding, so we just had a few new ones from the incubator. We kept milking the goats, although the previous

Steve Building a Hay Shelter

fall’s breeding failure meant less of it. I built my apiary back up after a lot of winter hive losses. I did have one hive that overwintered well and had an amazing season.  Steve built a new shelter for hay and animals which I anticipate will help us get much more organized thus saving us quite a bit of work in the future.

This year I also taught classes in beekeeping, soil building, animal care and permaculture. I accepted the 2017 NOFA-NH Gardener of the Year Award. I wrote new blog posts to share here on our website.

Successful Bee Hive – Hope to Have More Like These in 2018!

In the new year, I look forward to more plants and animals and continued good work with the earth. Our seed, potato and tree catalogues are spread out to choose next season’s varieties. We did save more of our own seed this year, but not for all crops. We’ve identified where we want to expand to next and even got that started in the long, warm fall we had. I have learned not to order trees or bushes for the areas we didn’t finish yet! We have some unhappy plants overgrowing their nursery beds from the years I was too optimistic about how fast the work would go.

For my blogging this year, I am going to try something new. Often I am asked: “what do you do at your farm?” and “how much do you grow?” I never have great answers. Each season and every day is so different, in terms of what we do and what we harvest. In 2018 I am going to try to give a monthly update, summarizing what we did and what we harvested in the previous month. It won’t be a quick answer to those questions, but it should be informative.

I hope you’ll follow us and join me in charting the next year as we experience it!


Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Gardens, Goats, Honey Bees, Poultry, Uncategorized

Speaking for the Bees

At the Concord NH MAM 2017

[Note: I gave a version of this talk at the March Against Monsanto Rally in Concord NH on May 20, 2017. This was also the day after the news broke that NH lost the majority of it’s honey bee hives over this past winter.]

I am here today to speak for the bees and the beekeepers.

As a chemical-free, permaculturally-based beekeeper I am extremely careful about what I put into the hive. But being a steward of bees means knowing the limits of my control over the world. That’s why I need all of you to help me and my bees.

A bee can travel as far as 5 miles from her hive. That’s 50,000 acres of land that she can cover – far more than I personally can protect for them. Any harmful substance that she contacts she will bring home to her hive where the queen is laying eggs, the next generations are being nurtured and they are creating their magnificent honey. What they bring back will have consequences for all those activities.

I received my first package of bees in 2005, so when the Colony Collapse Disorder news hit in 2007, I started getting questions about bees, most of which boiled down to: “What is the thing causing bees to die?”

I’m not sure what it is about humans, or Americans at least, that makes us crave simple answers. But, I don’t believe that thinking is helping us and I am not here today to tell you one or a few simple tricks to saving the bees. Instead I want to tell you a story about bees, humans, how we got here and how we might walk a better path for all of us.

It is still a simplified story, from the perspective of one human (me) who works with one type of bee, apis mellifera, the honey bee.

Let me tell you more about bees, to make sure that all of you are amazed and in love with them and the sweet, beautiful world they contributed to making.

The honeybee is just one of at least 20,000 species of bees. Bees began evolving about 100 million years ago, when wasps and flowers shifted their relationship from one of predator and prey to one of not just cooperation, but of symbiosis – they need each other now. Forming this partnership, called

A Single Poppy Flower, Opening

The Angiosperm Explosion by botanists, resulted in a tremendous increase in plant and insect diversity and, in our human eyes, beauty. (Iris Murdoch said: “People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”)

By now, 2017, there are over 200,000 species of animals that act as pollinators. Most of those are insects, with bees pollinating the largest number of plant species. There are others, though: birds, bats, and even some mice!

The fact that there is such a diversity of pollinators in existence, tells me how important they are. This is a job that cannot be left to just a few. We are lucky that this redundancy and resilience is built into the system given the losses that have occurred or might happen, but it’s time to heed nature and learn to respect and protect them.

A Sign Held at the Concord NH MAM 2017

There are now 8 bee species on the US endangered species list (7 in Hawaii plus the Rusty Patched Bumblebee). Even more disturbing, a study released in March 2017 by The Center for Biological Diversity found hundreds of North American bee species now face extinction. The reason for their decline is believed to be the complicated interplay of: loss of habitat, pesticides, diseases/parasites which move easily around the world with our current transportation system, and climate change.

But, let’s take a small step back… the trouble for our bees did not start in 2007.

The best way to track this would be by looking at colony losses over time or wild bee numbers, but that data isn’t available going back very far.  We do have information about overall colony numbers in the US going back to the 1940s, which American entymologist & MacArthur award winner, Marla Spivak, used to piece together at least a part of the story.

Spivak pointed out that honey bee colony numbers have been declining in this country since the end of World War II. In 1945 there were an estimated 4.5 million managed honeybee hives in the US and in 2007 that number had fallen to 2 million – despite an increase in crops planted that need insect pollination.

What happened?

A number of changes occurred, one being World War Two’s legacy of dangerous substances and technologies which we are still dealing with.

As a permaculturist, I am all for turning problems into solutions. But I am really coming to question the idea of turning swords into ploughshares in any literal sense, especially given the research showing the plough to be one of our oldest, ongoing agricultural sins.

Of course, these corporations were concerned with profit not peace anyway. Rather than shutting down their war-making factories in 1945, companies including Monsanto managed to keep running by setting their sights on a new target, and a chemical-dependent agriculture system started to take over. A DuPont Farm Chemicals brochure from the 1950s told us outright: “Man against the soil… rise from savagery to civilization.”

This new system concentrated crops into huge monoclutures, which could not support pollinators, but did create the opportunity for certain crop eating insects to proliferate in an out-of-balance manner, leading to a huge call for pesticides. With synthetic fertilizers now cheap and available, the practice of cover cropping, which had been great forage for our beneficial insects, diminished. And abundant herbicides meant weeds could be eliminated in crop fields and at our homes – but

Bees Love Dandelions!

many plants we call weeds are great food for many insects. (Let your dandelions grow!)   (See Marla Spivak’s TED Talk for much more detail on the post-WWII agricultural shift)

In his book Natural Prophets, Joe Dobrow describes our culture as we came out of that war as encouraging social and political conformity, respect for authority, patriotism, faith in science and government. But within a few decades other voices started to emerge – they are our predecessors.

Many people will remember that Rachel Carson predicted a silent spring due to a decline in birds linked to DDT, but not as many know that she also warned of a fruitless fall, a time when “there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.” This is what we face today.

(Of course, there are even more issues affecting agriculture and bees.  Farm policy, US diet patterns, food growing economics, and specific beekeeping economics are a few.  Remember that the world is complex!  But, I can only tackle so many issues here.  I provided some links for your further research if you are interested.)

What do we do?

A Bee, Making Honey

This winter I heard natural beekeeper Ross Conrad speak. He reminded us of the fact that one honeybee can only make 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime to contribute to her hive, which needs about 150 pounds of honey per year. And yet, she does not fall prey to the illusion that what she does doesn’t matter. She does not waver in her work or dedication. She knows her place in this world and embraces it.

We humans are not blessed with that certain knowledge of what we are supposed to do here. But, I believe that we are alive in a time that is calling us to find our place and make a contribution.

I know that we live now with some terrible examples of what humans can do, and we should let that inspire us to be very cautious. But, we’ve also been able to fix problems, such as banning DDT. The great news is that a lot of solutions in front of us will bring only benefits. A sustainable food production system can provide good food for pollinators, grow healthy soil which can pull carbon out of the atmosphere, offer meaningful work for people, and produce much healthier food for all of us.

So, I ask you to consider all these options to help bees: YES – plant for pollinators flowering plants, especially trees (make sure they are pesticide-free!), choose and grow your own organic food, buy local honey! ALSO – take back our food supply and our health from companies who do not have our best interests at heart. Work to curb corporate power (so we can stop these problems before they are started), promote peace, build more democratic institutions, organize your communities, attend rallies.

Don’t just resist – commit to participation and action as part of your life, not a task that will end when one politician or company is defeated. Let’s take back a sense of responsibility and ownership for our lives and communities, shake off the illusion that our actions don’t matter and support each other in creating a healthy world.

Poster at March Against Monsanto 2017

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Filed under Gardens, Honey Bees, Uncategorized