Each winter many of us Midwestern farmers gather in La Crosse, WI for one of the largest organic farming conferences in the country. This year I was an exhibitor and brought the Sun Hive to share with the masses. It was a fast conference and I enjoyed being able to connect with hundreds of farmers, gardeners and organic advocates. I’m looking forward to attending again next year.
Back when I was younger I took off and traveled the globe. Eventually I came back and fell in love the the St. Croix River Valley and learned this is where I want to be. However, winters are not my favorite, and are still a challenge! How do you manage the intense beauty of a Minnesota summer and a bitter cold winter? I didn’t! So I used to take off for winters and “adventure” as I’d say. Now that I have larger responsibilities than myself it’s too hard to get away for long periods like an entire winter.
This year I squirreled away for a vacation fund to a warm place. Lo and behold, I discovered dirt cheap airfair to Mexico. A friend and I went to Mexico for 10 days and sat on the beach. It was so wonderful to sit still and relax after a very busy first year on raw land. This was my first time to Mexico and I feel kind of bad I didn’t do anything authentic or exploratory in the least. It was a trip to sit and Be. It was a major success :)
One morning I was walking on the beach, stuck in my head looking at the ocean and the sand until a man approached me. He so kindly asked me about my shirt and explained his connection to it. Queue the smal world factor..
What a funny coincidence this was. Here is David, a producer of Women’s Work: The Untold Story of America’s Female Farmers. This documentary is in the works and had a crowd funding campaign that I was very excited to support. This summer I waited for their inventory to restock and got a T-shirt to spread the word and also contribute to the film. I cannot wait for it to come out. If you aren’t familiar with The Female Farmer Project I highly suggest you check it out. They are doing lots of cool things.
Here I was on some touristic beach on a warm winter day and the film producer of a farming documentary was on vacation with his wife. They were so kind and open about their work and connection to the farming world. I was so pleased to meet a critical person of a project I supported so of course I gave him a hug. Ha! You can take me off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of me..
After 10 days of rest, eating good food and sipping delicious local beverages I hopped back on a place to get home in time for the polar vortex. Bad timing on my part but I was recharged nonetheless. I hope to be able to take a longer trip away over the holidays next winter but we will see what happens. As a farmer, it’s difficult to find time to take a break and unwind. There is really only a specific window of time that it’s possible to get out and enjoy a trip like this and I’m going to try my hardest to make it possible every year!
Over the weekend there was the first ever Arboreal Apiculture Salon. This was an international meeting with bee advocates all over the globe. We met online via teleconference and it was pretty impressive. Technology isn’t my strong suit so I was amazed with the abilities of an iPad and 30+ willing participants to all log in and have a meeting almost as easy as if we were in person.
You can see here where all our faces were on the screen. People from various time zones were “present” and was ranged from the USA, UK, Franc, Germany, Portugal, Poland.. the list goes on.
This teleconference stemmed from the Learning from the Bees Conference that was held last September in Holland. Despite it being the perfect conference for me to attend, as it was started from a group of folks at the Natural Beekeeping Trust in Sussex (that I worked with while I lived in the UK) I wasn’t able to attend. I’m hopeful that the next conference because and many other people that share the same passion and work as I do. Let’s hope it doesn’t fall in the middle of the harvest season!
The focus of this first salon was to look into the arboreal aspect of apiculture. Many people might not know that bees have evolved with trees. As bee advocates, we are concerned with best practices and how we can be of service to these creatures instead of the other way around. By hosting a primal type of habitat for them, they are allowed to live in a way they wish. Have you ever seen a swarm? Think about where they go .. most times in a tree. Think of wild colonies or the remote honey hunters in the jungles.. they are always climbing trees and carefully finding their ways in the the colonies. The bees are telling us what they want but many times we do not hear it. Isn’t it funny to think about how bees are now in boxes? And on the ground!
This brings me to the next topic we touched on: Rewilding. I suppose by default if we are trying to learn from the bees by observation, that it brings us back to the questions of where did it begin and how do we do live with bees now. If we can keep in mind the beginning stages of honeybee evolution, we can work with the bees instead of against them.
One of the things I love about the Sun Hive is the way it hybridizes a primal way of living with bees. The form and volume reflects the function they wish to live by. However, it’s in a hive that we can live closer to and manage if we see fit. I feel that it’s a respectful way to “keep” bees in this day and age. The beauty of the hive creates a platform for us to honor Her and help guide us to think in a different way. It’s very inspirational. I feel that this is a critical step in the way forward with apiculture.If we do not shift the way we think, and quickly, we are in trouble. Although this is a very alternative hive, I believe that it’s tangible for many people to grasp, which points us in a progression each direction.
Going back to the salon.. It was only an hour and a half and felt like 2 minutes. It was encouraging to talk with likeminded apiculturists and hear what they are up to, why and how they are practicing they way they are. I thought it was very interesting to learn about how bees found people and people found bees. Some people had no background or idea to work with bees but they were called on and are taking action. I’m already looking forward to the next one in February! Hopefully we can dig deeper into the topics and I can report back.. For those of you who participated, thank you for sharing part of your day with me and making this all possible!
Another year gone by. Some people look a date on the calendar to acknowledge the end of the end of one year and beginning on another. I like to focus on the sun and all it does for us. The Solstice is either the longest or shortest day of the year and today I’m thinking of the shortest.
As farmers and gardeners we live by the weather. We dream for that perfect day that isn’t too sunny or hot, where the bugs don’t exist near you and you can just enjoy the day as you are surrounded by the earth’s bounty. Well, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows.. There are many days where it’s raining buckets, the wind blows everything over, the clouds hang too low and for what feels like an eternity. Or if you live here in the Midwest, where the sun shines with intense humidity and you might become one with the clouds. I’ll take it, though!
As the sunlight increases in the spring we all come to life. We as farmers, gardeners, animals and plants. It fills us up and energizes us. I used to relate to the honeybee, a creature of the sun. However, as I think about it now, it’s not just the honeybee that has a special relationship to the sun. We all do.
With that thought I want to wish you a Happy Solstice. What will you let go of this year that no longer serves you? And what intention do you want to set for the coming year?
Every two years the North American Biodynamic Association hosts their conference. This was my third, in addition to the international conference I attended at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland. The international conference is held in the same location each year but the North American conference is in a new location each time. This year it was in Portland, Oregon — wahoo!
Being a small part of a much larger community that feels so far away, I try my best to attend this conference. It is usually an inspiring time that reminds me I’m on my correct path and taking the steps to reach my goals. It is also important to connect and reconnect with other biodynamic farmers and gardeners. This year a friend of mine from Emerson and I bunked up and attended together. She flew in from Colorado and we met in time for a wine tasting and AMAZING spread of biodynamic food. They spared nothing in the welcoming ceremony this time around and it was a treat.
The theme of the conference was Transforming the Heart of Agriculture with a focus on soil, justice and regeneration. I think it’s critical that we are an active part of the evolution of agriculture in all contexts, but particularly as a social one too. We cannot just passively sit here and see what unfolds or react as things happen. I find it important to intentionally shape the way we want to see our world, whether you’re a farmer, consumer or something in between. There was much ‘‘food for thought’’ over the 3 day conference.
There were some improvements to the conference and some head-scratchers this year. I enjoyed the opening with the spread of biodynamic foods and wines to kick everything off. However, as the conference started it felt strange like something shifted and I couldn’t quite figure it out. I was missing the old-timers that have spent their lives immersed in the movement. Although in the past they have been on the dry side, their experience and articulation to the movement is something I see critical to carry it forward. I then heard that the board had been purged of these folks and replaced with fresh faces. I don’t know if this is true or not but at the end of the day, it felt more organic and less biodynamic. I am now reconsidering my regular attendance at this conference, as I can attend the local organic one for a fraction of the resources it takes me to make it all happen. Time will tell..
To all my customers that order from me regularly: I want to simplify this process for you!
Skip the online order forms and text me your order. Once it’s received you can pay via Venmo or PayPal apps. If shipping is required for your order that price will be calculated and added to your order.
Pay Pal: PayPal.me/heirloomista
Over the last two years I started making soaps with herbs I’ve grown and also honey from my hives. I am very happy with my recipe now and have been able to expand a bit. I introduced 5 new scents for the holidays. Check them out!
This year I took on some custom orders for clients that wanted to have specialty soaps. It was really fun to be able to collaborate with other farmers and create a soap with part of their farm in a bar of soap! If you have something special from your farm or garden and want to create a custom soap you can contact me here. Below are a couple whole loafs of soap that just came out of the molds.
I’m so happy that I can host workshops on the farm now instead of having to travel all the time for it. I do enjoy being able to collaborate with wonderful people and travel to beautiful places to teach my craft but to have the option to do it at home is great. It allows to have more workshops overall since it’s hard to get away during the farming season.
The first workshop was a success. It was chilly but we made it work. I am looking forward to the spring workshops already! IF you are interested in attending one please sign up for the mailing list and you’ll be notified as soon as ticketing opens. Here are some photos of the workshop below:
This year I wanted to diversify my outlets as much as possible to see what works best for my farm. I did two farmers markets; Lindstrom and the Tiny Diner (in Minneapolis). This had me at market three times a week. In addition to the markets I sold to restaurants and was also a hub farmer for the North Circle Food Hub based out of the Women’s Environmental Institute.
I love being able to connect people to their food so markets have been a fun and satisfying experience for me. This year, especially, it was good to have these regular days to get off the farm and talk with other farmers and just people in general. You can see me having fun below at Tiny Diner and a little spread at Lindstrom below that.
Next year I won’t be doing as many markets because I want to work toward spending less time off the farm. I plan to keep one market for the social aspect but focus more on being a private farmer for families. The basic concept of this is 1-2 custom orders of produce a week per household and I deliver it to your doorstep. More on this later — probably over the winter months!
Now that the slab is cured and waiting for something to happen I just had to get that farm store up! Next year this will be not just beautiful but full of goods for those of your who venture out for a visit can browse. My online farm store keeps me busy so having an actual store front will be so helpful so stay better organized. I can’t wait for my inventory to be all in one location! Here we are putting the huge panels together.
Once the walls were up and bolted to the foundation we were able to frame in the roof. When I say “we” I really mean Franc. He has been the keystone to all things infrastructural here at Heirloomista. I’m grateful for this because it allows me to focus on the crops. I may have dabbled a bit and helped him with the large pieces from time to time..
By the time spring harvest comes around in 2019 you will be able to stop by and check out the store. I cannot wait!
For 8 or 9 years I’ve been volunteering at the State Fair. I am usually not a fan of crowds, bad food and walking around four hours on end in the masses but there’s just something special about the fair. I’ve entered my honey, tomatoes and other farm goods at the fair over the years and enjoy the whole process. I’ve done demonstrations on how to make beeswax cosmetics and the likes but now I just like to simplify things and work at the Minnesota Grown booth.
What is Minnesota Grown? It is a marketing organization that helps connect Minnesota producers of food, fuel and fiber to customers. It is a part of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and something you must register for. They have a directory you may have seen. The directory covers everything from strawberries in spring to Christmas trees in the middle of winter. If you’re looking for a local product they will find you a farmer that makes it!
This year we talked to people about how they can locate their local farms and markets to better suit their needs. One of the activities we did with kids was give out vegetable tattoos. I don’t know how effective this is but it was fun. Maybe next year you can stop by and pay us a visit!
With so little time to write during the season I’m left to photographic documenting. I mean, really, how could you describe how beautiful the bounty is in words when photos do the job far better than I could. Most days I’m in awe of how stunning this produce really is. I grow heirlooms so that can translate to all “the weird” stuff that looks different. Tomatoes with stripes, green ones, pink ones, small peppers, skinny eggplant, multi colored beets.. the list goes on. Here are some of the usual suspects you’ll see around my farm.
Tick that off the list! What a day! I’ve been so busy this season that I haven’t had any time for friends to hang out or even check in. Once May 10th came I was at the farm working 14 hour days trying to catch up from the crazy winter that never left. So once I felt I was caught up and had something to look at I opened the farm up to any and everyone.
The day was magic. It was great weather in the morning when I was harvesting veg to offer for visitors but by the time everyone started coming it was very sunny and hot. I enjoyed it but it may have been a bit warm for everyone else. People started coming right at 10:00 and stayed well after the intended close of the day. It was SO wonderful to have all my people come out to the farm and see what I’ve been up to — even taste it too.
I had all the intentions to document this day and share it on the web with you all but it was so busy and full of fun that I wasn’t able to do any of that. Thanks to a friend I have a very short video she took of part of her tour. I asked her to send it to me and here it is:
With so much of the really big pieces of infrastructure under my belt, I cannot tell you how much I’m looking forward to next season. I will be able to hit the ground running and share more with you all. I want to open the farm up to you and your family to visit! My heart was so full at the end of my first farm day. Thank you to all of you who came out and walked the fields, the pollinator habitat and took some Heirloomista goods home with you. Your support makes my business happen. For those of you who haven’t been out, I look forward to seeing you.
As you’ve noticed there’s a trend happening here on my posts.. I keep telling you I bought raw land and that all the infrastructure must be built. Well this is another big one that came up; I had a slab poured. I’m fortunate enough to have a friend in the business so he so kindly squeezed me into his schedule.
You may be wondering what a slab is or why I might want one. A slab is a concrete foundation to build something on. Homes here in Minnesota usually are built on a basement but I don’t need a basement here at the farm so a slab is the other option. I wanted a slab so I could create a space on the farm for people to gather: the farm store.
About 6 years ago I bought a farm store because I couldn’t see my farm without one. The problem was that I didn’t have a farm yet so it was stored in a friend’s barn (stacked in 8 huge panels) for that time. Now that I have my own farm I can invest in making my vision and actual visual for us all to see!
Below are some photos and short videos of the day. I must say it was terribly exciting to have that many people out at the farm working all at once. It was, hands-down, the most productive day on the farm yet.
The crew came with all their tools and equipment. You can see a skid-steer that came to level the area and make sure it was perfect. From there we had a load of class 5 delivered. This creates a foundation for the actual foundation. They then spread it out and made it perfect as well. Seen below.
Once everything was level and packed down, they framed the area where the slab was going to be poured and layed rebar down. The frame holds the area so the cement stays where you want it and the rebar acts as a reinforcement for the slab on top. With such an extreme climate we live in, the hot to cold can contract and expand the cement, which will break it. This helps keep it solid and safe. Photos of this are below.
And then there was a cement truck on the scene! It all happened very quickly and the guys did a great job of making this happen. Here is another short clip of them working..
Once the concrete was poured and smoothed over, they used a broom to make it perfect. Of course I had to write my name in the finished work and date it. The guys were not happy about this but I don’t care — it’s my slab! Ha!
Now with that complete it’s on to the next big thing: Getting the store up and building a propagation greenhouse. I plan on getting the store up by the end of the year but will have to wait on the greenhouse for next year. A reminder that each time you buy my produce, soaps, lip balms and Sun Hives, this money is funding projects like this! Thank you!
Well, well, well.. it’s been nice to have running water but it will be better when I don’t have to hear the sound of a generator. Today is the day! As I mentioned before, I am off the grid here at Heirloomista so anything that requires power must be solar. This is a very intentional choice I made. It seems foolish to not harvest the sunshine when we get it everyday— and for free! Having this type of setup requires a slightly different technology than what you may have at home.
I invested in a solar well pump for my well. It cannot pump as much as what your home might be able to pump per minute but it pumps more than I need, 12-14 gallons per minute at my well depth. It runs on direct current (DC) so if the sun shines, I get water. If a cloud floats by, I must wait until it passes. Should I want to pump water at night then I can simply get some deep cycle marine batteries to store the sun’s energy until I need to use it. For now, I have no need for that.
Seeing that my well is an irrigation well for a farm and not a residential well, I considered winterizing it. This would mean that I have to go without water once it drops below freezing and then drain the pressure tank and all the hoses that connect to the drip irrigation lines. Instead of going without, I decided to get a hydrant. Yes, I will still have to drain the hoses and such but I can get water from the hydrant 365 days a year no matter how cold it is. This meant I had to bury my pressure tank below the frost line.
So the well guys, George and Todd, came back with their backhoe to dig a huge hole in the earth. They dug around the well and connected the pressure tank to the well. The water is pumped up from the earth then goes into the pressure tank until the right pressure is reached. From the pressure tank you can see a blue hose going along the ditch and this connects to the hydrant.
They worked hard to get the job done. One of the things I really appreciated about them is they were so patient to explain the process to me and really let me be part of it. One fascinating thing that I so thoroughly dorked out on was when I got to see a cross section of my soil. This is very rare to be able to witness so we spent some time documenting the awesomeness. Check out my three feet (!!) of black topsoil:
After they finished digging the huge hole to install the hydrant and pressure tank, they filled it all back up and leveled it nicely. I must say that my favorite thing about this well drilling experience is when they left their tractor at the farm for a weekend. And the keys! Yes, they gave me permission to use their equipment.
I went from hauling manure around the farm with a wheelbarrow to a tractor with a bucket the size of my car. I cannot tell you how helpful this was! I was able to create some raised beds for landscaping purposes in a fraction of the time. In addition to making landscaped beds, I tidied up the windrow of manure I have. It is a nice tall and straight row now. Next summer my farm will be significantly more beautiful thanks to the use of the tractor.
And there was water, folks. The sun so effortlessly provides me with a perfectly silent supply of water. A quick rundown on this process: The panels capture and convert the suns energy, that current moves through the cables that run from the panels all the way down to the well pump, the pump moves water into the pressure tank, which helps keep a steady supply of water that goes to the hydrant. From the hydrant I have hoses that connect to drip irrigation. Just like that I’m in business and have no monthly bill to the power company.
Today I am soaking in the sun, the love and the abundant life this place yields. Life is good.
Buying raw land has been an adventure. I have had a realistic scope of work planned out for me but it really sinks in once the long days begin. That being said, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I have the best job :)
Since my farm has basically been a wildlife corridor for as least 8 years, the critters are used to passing through, hanging around and settled here — it’s their home more than mine. However, my crops are for human consumption so I need to protect them. With the deer being so densely populated up here my main focus is to keep them away. I chose to install an electric fence around the entirety of my fields and it’s run off of a solar powered battery. This area is about 3/4 of an acre, small enough for me to manage on my own and grow into.
I am an advocate of working smart and then hard. Because deer are my main pest up here, I had to think about their capabilities. We all know they can jump very high. They can also just very far. But you know what? They cannot jump very high and very far at the same time! In order to work smart first, I installed a double perimeter fence. The hard work followed. To give you a visual, if I were to draw this on paper, you’d see a box within a box. The inner fence is seven feet tall and has four wire electric strands. Next, the outer fence is four feet away and five feet tall with two electric wire strands. The wire is thin and hard to see so taking a photo won’t help. More importantly, it’s confusing for the deer to sense where it is so they won’t attempt such feat. And, honestly, I sure hope they don’t because I really don’t want to redo the fence.
Below is my doodle friend, Sampson. He’s like velcro and doesn’t ever want to leave my side.
The farm doesn’t really look like a farm yet. It’s more of a blank slate right now, which sometimes relieves me and totally overwhelms me at others. The thought of shaping it into how I see fit is very freeing but then there is the financial leash of building all the infrastructure necessary to make a living from the land. Buildings and water are a big chunk of change.
The first thing I need to do in order to have a somewhat predictable crop is to get water. We didn’t get more than a 1/10’’ of rain for the entire month of May. Yes, I was that crazy lady doing a rain dance daily. My soil is like a sandy beach and holds water for only a moment in time. You can imagine how often watering was necessary..
What do you do when it doesn’t rain for a the month you are planting the seedlings you started a couple months ago? You haul it in. That’s right: by the 55 gallon drum. Thanks to neighbors, I was able to fill my (2) 55 gallon drums with water almost daily. This routine of hauling water was hard work. Each barrel weighs 450 pounds when full. I had a 3 step system that allowed me to keep everyone watered “enough” to get by.
Step 1: Place barrels in the back of my truck. (Amen for my F250!) Attach short hose to threaded cap on the lid after they’re full. Drive back to the farm.
Step 2: With all my might, push barrel over on it’s side. The water in the truck barrel would run through the hose and into another 55 gallon drum with a spigot on the bottom. This drum sits on a small wagon attached to a lawn tractor. This little lawn tractor quickly was named the “Water Wagon.”
Step 3: Drive the Water Wagon to the fields. Fill a 2 gallon watering can and proceed to water crops. Yes, water them individually so no water goes to waste.
Some of you are probably wondering why I didn’t just attach a hose to the spigot from the Water Wagon barrel: I did. It was such a low pressured trickle that it was faster to fill the garden watering cans. This was all very ridiculous and took up much of my days. So when this beast pulled up one day I was near tears with happiness.
George and Todd worked on my well for a week. They were very accommodating to my curious mind and answered my 8,000 questions. Can you believe that he bought this new? in 2018 they used a truck that was made in 1972.
145 feet later we reached water. After weeks of hauling water and days of watering by hand instead of planting, I was able to water with a hose. Not ideal but significantly more efficient! I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to switch gears from watering all the time to weeding, harvesting and washing instead.
One minor detail I haven’t mentioned is that I am off the grid. Although I have a well now, I do not have anything to power the pump (more on this later) so George was incredibly kind and generous as to bring a generator up to the farm and install an old pump until my solar pump was ready. This meant that each time I had to water I had to start the motor up and listen to the song Honda sings until it’s shut off…… Not perfect but a major improvement to hauling water!
Sun Hives are a beautiful sight to see but what I really love about them most is making them. The craft of weaving has been around for thousands of years-- they say since Paleolithic times! The fibers to weave with are endless but with these beehives eye straw is ideal.
The straw is known for being very tall, which helps the weaving process because it requires less material. It creates a very tidy , continuous coil. The silica content gives it structure and form.
In biodynamics we explore more than the things we can see and touch. There are other qualities that reveal themselves in a process or having certain characteristics that lend themselves to a plant or animal. Rye straw's high content of silica is important because there is a special relationship to the sun . It uses the sun's light to work with the formative forces that relate to to form and shape. In a way it sensitizes it and the bees are more receptive to it. I could go into this more but will save it for a later date. For now, I just wanted to share a bit about the weaving process.
Sun Hives take two days to complete. The cleaning of the rye is just as methodical as the weaving. In my workshops I try to include the cleaning as part of the weekend because it's so wonderful to work with. It's amazing how one can really get into cleaning.
Then the weaving process begins. It's almost like a dance. Your whole body gets into the rhythm of it and you simply don't want to stop. The stitching is very simple so it's easy to do this. Some workshops people share the process of weaving a hive and others the students get to complete their own.
THere are two skeps (or baskets) that makeup a Sun Hive and they are slightly different in size and shape. When out together they make an egg shape. These skeps are the protective skin to the colony of bees. There is a piece of wood that holds the two skeps together.
The colony of bees lives inside and draw out ther wax comb within. They are able to start their comb on a set of half moon arches. They have to freedom to make their comb as big or little as they feel is necessary. This is very different from conventional beekeeping.
After being mesmerized by the sun hive project as a whole, there comes a point where you must stop weaving. Some simple finishing stiches and it's done. Below is a photo of the very first skep I finished 6 years ago! And it's followed by my first completed Sun Hive back at the very fist SunHive workshop in the UK. Time flies..
As you know, this was definitely not my last.. I look forward to upcoming workshops!
Well, I did it. I bought my farm.
This year on my birthday I bought myself pretty much the best present of all time. It sure doesn't look anything like I envisioned it to be but it's mine. That's a pretty good feeling to have! No more renting land and wondering what next year will look like or being limited to space. This is a game changer. I feel so lucky to have snagged a piece of land in my favorite river valley.
I remember the day I saw it. The drive up consisted of winding roads lined with red barns, big oaks and lindens. The sky was blue and there was a warm breeze. As I pulled up to the property I was surpsingly drawn to it. (Surprising because it's surrounded by corn and beans=lifeless abyss) I turned off the car and got out only to be surrounded by the most beautiful silence. No traffic, no people, no machinery. I could hear myself breathe. I could hear myself think. Nothing but a chicken in the background and a field of goldenrod buzzing with life. This was IT.
I was so sure of it despite being absolutely nothing like I'd looked at before. As I tried to call my agent to say "let's do it" I realized there was no cell phone service. I thought to myself, "how could it get any better-- no cell service! This is perfect!" So I texted instead. I always say that all the best places don't have cell service. At least this fit some of my criteria..
After putting in an offer and working with my bank for a bit, I was told we could have a quick closing and be done in just three weeks. Everything happened so easily and so quickly that I can't help but believe that this is exactly where I'm supposed to be. Even though it's a blank slate, each time I'm up there working I can see everything just how it will be once summer is here. I can't wait to spend my first year on the land and see what it has to say for itself.