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Spring Hive Update from Beekeeper Mel

by Drumlin Farm Beekeeper Mel Gadd

Slovenian hive located at the Farm Life Center at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary

Hive Health

Last year, we had 10 hives at 208 South Great Road: Eight on the Drumlin Farm side of the road, and two on the Mass Audubon Headquarters side.

Since last summer, we’ve lost five hives. Considering last year’s drought and the subsequent lack of blossoming plants by the end of the summer, our losses were less than the average in the New England region.

This season we have increased the total number of hives to 14. There are now 10 hives at Drumlin Farm and four at Mass Audubon Headquarters.

Drumlin Farm Hives

1. Learning Garden Hive (Warré): This hive is slowly building up its numbers. The bees have been active on the few warm days that we have had.

2. Nature Center (Warré): In early May, we installed a new package of bees in this hive and the numbers have been increasing steadily. The queen is doing her job. As with the other hives, the bees have been very active on warm days. Once the clover in the sheep pasture blooms, we hope this hive will take off as it did two years ago with the heavy load of pollen and nectar from the clover.

3. Beeline Trail (Warré): Both of these hives were lost last fall and the hives were removed. The Warré hive is back although it has been moved slightly to take into account groundwater issues. Bees were installed in early May and the hive appears to be doing well.

4. Boyce Pond Hive (Langstroth): We thought this hive was lost over the winter, but upon closer inspection it appears to have survived. We recently cleared some of the brush and growth around the hive to make it more visible and give the bees better access.

5 & 6. Skinny Field Hives (Langstroth)*: Both of these hives are doing very well—full of bees with good levels of honey stores.

7. Skinny Field Hive (Langstroth): The Langstroth hive that had been at the Beeline Trail was moved here, and bees were added in May. The hive is doing well and already required a second brood box as it has been expanding steadily despite the cool weather.

8. Sugarbush Field Hive (Langstroth): This is not a strong hive at this point. Hopefully, as the weather warms the hive will improve. If it does not, we may be able to add bees from some of the stronger hives. The other option could be to add a swarm, if available, to build up the number of bees quickly.

9. Drumlin Community Preschool Hive (Warré): This hive has been running for five years and is doing extremely well. The hive will need an additional box soon to forestall crowding, which leads to swarming. Since it’s a Warré hive with windows, the preschool children are able to look inside and see what’s happening.

10. Farm Life Center Hive (Slovenian): This Slovenian hive, installed in a traditional kiosk structure, is the newest addition to our hive collection. Bees were recently installed, and once they have been established we will teach staff about the hive. The bees are behind interior screening so visitors can be shown the operation of the hive.

We look forward to a good beekeeping year this season. Long-term weather projections for the summer indicate more precipitation and fewer high temperature days (above 90°F) then we had last summer. Hopefully, this will insure a sufficient amount of pollen and nectar sources for the bees as well as a better season for the output at the farm. We plan to start documenting the impact of the beehives on the output and success of the farm crops this coming year.

If you have questions about any information in this update, or anything bee related, feel free to contact Mel.

*I have been experimenting with mushroom extracts to treat varro mites and the viruses they transmit in both of these hives. Based on research done at Washington State University, I have been feeding both of these hives with two different mushroom extracts since last August. The WSU entomologists found 75% reductions in mite levels in the hives using these mushroom extracts and results from these hives are excellent also with extremely low mite and virus levels. I am very pleased with this non-invasive, natural approach to dealing with the mite problem and have started using the mushroom extracts to all of the hives.

One of these hives has an experimental Flow Hive box on it. The flow hive box system, developed in Australia, allows for capturing honey directly from the box without having to open and disrupt the hive. I did not attempt to capture honey from the flow hive box last season, as the box was added late in the season and drought limited the availability of nectar. The flow hive box has a window that allows you to see the plastic flow hive frames and sometimes the bees.

The other hive has an electronic monitoring device, Brood Minder, which will record hourly temperature and humidity levels within the hive. The information can be directly uploaded and used to assess hive maintenance and also is transmitted to a national database tracking the health of bee hives across the country.

Drumlin Farm Crops Update Vol. 2

by Crops Manager Matt Celona

April Showers vs. Last Summer’s Drought

Of late, several people have asked how many inches of rain we’ve been getting in all these storms. “Thankfully, enough,” I tell them. Enough for us to think about things other than putting out the rain gauge to measure our rising level of anxiety as precipitation dwindles! Let’s not do that again until we have to. And what did all our worrying during last year’s drought amount to? The crops that could thrive in the drought did so, while other crops suffered. We had done our best by way of caring for the soil, fallowing fields and building soil organic matter, and we continue our commitment to this system.

Chickens on the Move

Thanks to the efforts of Livestock Manager Caroline and her assistant Alyssa, we’ve now introduced chickens into our fallowing plan so as to further improve the soil. You’ll see two mobile chicken tractors in the resting field near the entrance to Boyce. Our hens are eating insects and helping limit pest pressure while also processing the clover we planted there two seasons ago. Hopefully sheep will follow hens in the field and further enliven the soil.

Greens, Greens, and More Greens

So while we’re not worrying about water, we are thinking a lot about how to get the greens to grow faster in this cool weather so as to supply chefs, the Union Square Farmers Market in Somerville and our new spring CSA program.  Early lettuce and spinach are on the cusp of being ready for harvest, so this past Saturday, Josh, Will and I hand-weeded to make future harvests more efficient.

While we were killing weeds on Saturday, Sarah, Laura, and Avril were killing it at market. Nice work market team! Last year, Sarah introduced the market loyalty program for Somerville patrons. It’s a version of CSA where a customer commits money up front in return for a discount on produce and flowers. Sarah also experimented with bringing lots of greenhouse-grown microgreens to that first market, and they were a big hit.

Killdeer in the Field

In birding news, we’ve marked two killdeer nests that really good parent birds brought to our attention. In both cases, a parent aggressively marched toward the approaching tractor instead of just leaping up at the crucial final moment, as is more often the case. Two days after noting the nests, we saw six hatchlings scurrying around. We assume that must be the result of an additional two nests because we’ve never seen more than four eggs in one nest. But we have no idea where they came from. The parents are still sitting on the two nests they helped us identify.

Perhaps by next week, the mystery will be solved.

See you in the field,

Your Farmers

Summer Crops Update: August 30

Crops Updates are written by Drumlin Farm Crops Manager Matt Celona

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Mighty Crops
It’s surprising that any plants are thriving under these hot and dry conditions. But the soil retains some moisture, and we’ve had a great melon and tomato season. We are reaching the end of our sweet corn harvest. We have white corn available at the stand today and perhaps for a few days more. We’re also beginning to harvest our last watermelon variety of the season—little baby flower. It’s red-fleshed and meant to be small or personal-sized. You can find a bunch at the farm stand.

The Greenhouse
During last Friday’s quick shower of .15 inches, we sheltered in the greenhouse and seeded the next round of lettuce while waiting it out. Lettuce and bok choi are the only crops we’re still starting in the greenhouse at this point in the season. The greenhouse is now primarily a place of storage for winter squash, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. Feel free to step inside and take a look during your next visit.

Keeping Up with Demand
Mid-August through September is the busiest time at Union Square Farmers Market. People are back from vacation and eager to buy all the summer favorites. Each Saturday, we mount an intricate and large display under three tents, including a whole table devoted to cut flowers. Farmers Sarah, Jessica, Katie, Cara, and Erin have been doing a great job keeping up with long lines of customers on some scorching days on the pavement in the city. Thanks to you all and to the market volunteers for doing such a good job representing the farm and Mass Audubon!

See you in the field,
Your Farmers

Summer Crops Update: August 16

Crops Updates are provided by Drumlin Farm Crops Manager Matt Celona.

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We Got Rain. We Need More.
We did get about one inch of rain on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Many crops look revived and happy. However, it’s a good bet that the warm weather will last, since the outlook is for 90s continuing into next week and beyond. That’s not good news for the farmers or the crops. According to Weather Underground, Lincoln received 16 inches below the precipitation average in 2015. To date in 2016, we are 19 inches below average! This drought is at least two years in the making.

How Are the Crops Doing?
The young bean plants that we watered through the driest stretch are now mature and looking good. The second round of eggplant is fairing much better than the first. These are perfect for grilling whole or sautéing. Our last round of sweet corn is beginning to mature, while storage beets, rutabaga, turnips, and radish have finally germinated. Unfortunately, it looks like the seedings of storage carrots are not going to come up. We’re in uncharted territory with the emergency carrot seedings that we tried over the following weeks —we hope that we can still get a good harvest out of these, but it’ll depend on how mild the fall is.

We’re going to have to take very good care of all fall crops in order to maximize yields from plants that are already stressed by the heat and lack of water. We’re hoeing and fertilizing storage crops, stringing the second succession of tomatoes, and preparing fields for fall cover-cropping.

Many Thanks to Our Volunteers and Workers
This morning, teacher-naturalist Sally Farrow brought a group of Lowell City Corps youth to help us harvest onions. The kids apply to the city for summer employment in environmental work, and thanks to Sally’s relationship with Lowell schools, they have come here for the past two years. Additionally, volunteers Anne and Sheila removed crab grass from the Brussels sprouts patch—not an easy job even when the weather is nice!

Last Friday, we said goodbye to fieldworker Maggie as she returns to Colby for her senior year. Thanks, Maggie, and all of our volunteers for your good work and positive energy!

See you in the field,
Your Farmers

Summer Crops Update: Special Water Zombies Edition

Crops Updates are written by Drumlin Farm Crops Manager Matt Celona.

Photo by Pei Ren

Photo by Pei Ren

Call Us Water Zombies
All day long and into the night we haul barrel after barrel of the precious ichor to our plant overlords, and yet they are forever thirsty. We became Water Zombies on Saturday, when yet another round of thunderstorms decided we could do without it: “They have so much organic matter at Drumlin Farm, they can get by on humidity! Let’s go rain on a place that really needs it.” (While it’s true that our soil is very rich, we still need at least some rain to keep our crops healthy!)

We’ve started watering the tomato patch to keep this important crop from flagging. In these relentlessly sunny and hot conditions, the precipitation we had last Tuesday didn’t go far. We’re encouraged by the forecast for thunderstorms over the next several days, but we will continue to water and seed until we get a real rain.

First Watermelons in Two Years
We will begin harvesting storage onions and watermelon this week. We never watered these crops, but they still look good! The electric fence has so far kept the coyotes out of the melons. We are excited by the prospect of our first watermelon harvest in two years. We are now harvesting larger quantities of husk cherries, cherry tomatoes, and heirloom slicing tomatoes. Tomato flavors are intense this year as a result of the weather, so, if you’re a tomato lover, come to the stand today to sample one positive side of the drought.

See you in the field,
Your Water Zombies

Summer Crops Update: August 4

FlowerinRain

Rain!
Hooray! The light rain this past weekend amounted to only 0.1 inches in Lincoln, so Monday morning’s steady rain was a welcome sight. It appears the rain has worked its way below the soil surface. We had been watering via bucket brigade and by raising the transplanter above crops and driving over the plants with the water streaming down. We’ll see how the crops hold up this week!

Bucket Brigades Brought To You By
Volunteers helped us water beans and chard last Tuesday between harvesting potatoes. Food and Farm Educator Emma led groups of campers in hand-watering flowers and string beans in the front field. The whole team, with help from many volunteers, has been working hard to water melons, strawberries, eggplant, and peppers during the drought and heat wave. Thanks to all of them for their dedication and good cheer during this stretch of extreme weather!

Living with New England Wildlife
Now it’s time to catch up on other pressing jobs like stringing tomatoes and battling pests. We installed an electric fence around our watermelon patch to keep the coyotes out. Last year, they damaged almost every watermelon! The deer have been swiftly eating sweet potato vines, too, so we’ve sprayed garlic oil on the leaves to keep them away.

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Flower Harvest
Farmer Jessica has been doing a fabulous job leading the Friday flower harvest and making beautiful bouquets at the Union Square Farmers Market. Many thanks to last year’s CSA coordinator Katerina for taking the time to give Jessica pointers in flower arranging. For those who remember Katerina, she is now the head flower grower at Allandale Farm.

Drumlin Farm on WBUR
Reporter Andrea Shea of WBUR is a fan of our produce and frequents the Union Square Farmers Market. It was there that she made a connection with us and reported on the effects of the drought in Massachusetts. It’s a great story to read and hear, and paints a picture of how farmers across the state are handling the dry weather.

The Farm Stand: Designed by Farmer Katie
Farmer Katie has been responsible for setting up an attractive veggie display at the farm stand, and today you can find white corn, melons, and heirloom tomatoes. Note the impressive size of the corn and tomatoes! We were never able to water these crops by hand, so all that growth is the result of minimal rain and healthy soil maintained by our sustainable growing practices.

See you in the field,
Your Farmers

 

Summer Crops Update: July 19

beetleweedout

Potato Beetles: 1, Potatoes: 0
The potato plants are nearly gone now, having been entirely defoliated by the Colorado potato beetle. Much of the potato crop is still safe underground, but our yield may be smaller due to the early defoliation. Now the weeds are growing quickly with no competition from the crop, so it’s a good thing today is Weed Out #2 at camp. The work of the campers will make harvesting potatoes much easier. Thanks to Emma, Cara, Katie, and the counselors for organizing the weeding in a very buggy field.

Other Plants in Danger of the Beetle
We noticed the potato beetles leaving the potato patch over the weekend in search of more food. They are now on every crop, with eggplant and tomatoes at high risk. We’ve spent hours over the past two days picking them off the eggplant as we wait for delivery of an organic pesticide: Mycotrol (made from the spores of Beauveria bassiana, a fungus). If it works, it will take several days for the fungus to multiply in the gut of the beetle. So we’ll be picking beetles off eggplant, and possibly tomatoes, until we get control of the situation (or until we wave the white flag).

Where’s the Rain?
Yesterday’s thunderstorms went to the south and north of Lincoln. We saw beautiful lightning, but received no rainfall. About a quarter-inch of rain has fallen in the past week—helpful for direct-seeded crops, but not reaching the roots of established plants. Drumlin Farm’s impressive soil keeps amazing us by producing healthy crops in these dry and dusty conditions. We put a lot of effort into building soil organic matter through fallowing fields and spreading compost. The organic matter holds what little moisture there is. We hope the plants can hang on until the fields get the soaking they need.

Volunteer Shoutouts
Last Friday, volunteers helped us harvest crops for Saturday’s Union Square Farmers Market. They picked string beans, cucumbers and eggplant before digging all the potatoes for Wednesday’s CSA distribution. Thanks also to the weekend farmstand volunteers who have sampled veggies and shared recipes to (hungry) curious visitors. Nice work, all!

See you in the field,
Your Farmers

Patio Dining + Drumlin Farm = Perfection

One of the best perks of summer is when all of our favorite restaurants open their doors and break out the patio dining, serving up grilled eats, ice-cold drinks, and all the twinkle lights you can handle.

Did you know that nearly 20 restaurants in the Boston area receive produce from Drumlin Farm? And oh yes, some of them even have patio seating.

Here are four local spots that combine (what we think) is the best of summer: Patio dining and fresh Drumlin Farm produce!

The IndoThe Independent | Somerville
Brunchers, get ready for an Irish breakfast, roasted beets, and baby kale salad. Sunscreen optional.

Bronwyn | Somerville
If you’re looking for a cozy, casual patio experience, stop at Bronwyn for some knödel with hakurei turnips, radicchio salat, and pickled eggs with beets.

CBC

Cambridge Brewing Company | Cambridge
The pizza specials at Cambridge Brewing Company are amazing: fig and arugula or peach and dandelion greens? One of each, please!

Brass Union | Somerville
People-watch your way through a meal at Somerville’s new Brass Union. Their brunch menu features roasted veggies, and chorizo with scallions. Pair that with coffee and orange juice and you’ll be set for the weekend.

Can’t get enough Drumlin Farm produce in your life? Feast at Moon Over Drumlin, where some of Boston’s top chefs will prepare our produce and meat to perfection. Tickets are going fast!

Summer Crops Update: July 13

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Greetings from Mexico!
The winter squash and pumpkin crop are growing vigorously in the newly opened field we are calling “Mexico” (because it’s south of the field we call “Texas”). One advantage of growing crops in newly worked ground is that there is almost no weed pressure in the first year. Not having to manage weeds in Mexico allows us to devote more time to the harvest and to weed-control in the flower patch, perennial garden, and strawberries.

A Rough Year for Garlic
It looks like our entire garlic crop has failed. We’re not sure what the problem was, though many of the plants burned over two cold nights in April. It’s a big loss for us and for those of you who love garlic.

The Tomato Countdown
On a brighter note, the onion and shallot crops look bountiful, and the tomato patch continues to look excellent! We expect to begin harvesting cherry tomatoes next week. The cucumbers and eggplant harvests are about to reach a size when we can include them at the farm stand, our CSA, and restaurant deliveries.

We hope for rain in the coming days to keep our crops growing strong.

See you in the field,
Your farmers