Friday, May 15, 2015

Monarchs and Hops

The monarch population has been getting a lot of publicity lately.  It's about time, maybe almost too late really.  In case you hadn't heard, the population reached critically low last year and it was foretasted by some that the migration may not recover. This years numbers were almost double what they were last year however and some hope was restored.  But, those numbers are still really low.  

Fourteen years ago the population of monarchs was almost 1 billion reportedly in Mexico.  This year, a little over 2 million.  I only saw one or maybe two monarchs this spring and got no caterpillars from my milkweed patch.  I was lucky to get 15 cats from a friend  and raised them to the chrysalis stage that formed just yesterday. Now, we will be able to continue our supply of monarchs for the tours here at the farm. 

 In more news concerning the butterflies here, I have planted 1/8 acre of zinnias for a great nectar source not only for the monarchs return to Mexico in October, but for all of the other pollinators in our pollinator habitat.  I am really excited to also add another 1/8 acre in native wild flowers as well.  If all else fails, it will be beautiful here to say the least this summer!

Now for the really bad news.  I definitely have downy mildew in my hop yard this year.  Chemical treatment for the disease if expensive, repetitive, and not very friendly to humans.  I refuse to lay the chemicals on my plants so this may very well be my last year raising hops.  It has been a good ride, and has definitely drawn some national attention to the farm, but I think it is over for me.   
The ugly spike phase of Downy Mildew

Although I was one of the first in NC to start up a hop yard, I am not the first to surrender to this non productive crop.  I know of 4 other hops farmers who have tried and have already plowed them under.  So much expensive infrastructure and work was involved for such a little return that when they tallied up their expenses, they found that there was no profit involved in the game.
Note the small leaves and short internodes.  It's a never ending battle from here on.

I, on the other hand, knew that right from the start, but managed to stay with the crop due to expanded niche markets.  But handling these disease problems from here on out is not what I intend to do, so for that reason "I am out", as the Sharks would say.  

We still will hold the hop harvest tour this summer on August 22 at 1 pm. with beer made from my hops by Lookout Brewery right here in Black Mountain.  This has been one of our most popular and fun events. We will have music again this year and food!  So, stay tuned for that.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Means Business

Eastern bumble bee on blueberry blooms
It seems we went into spring at full steam,  It all of sudden means there is no time to sit around and write unless it is raining or too wet to plow as they say which is the case this morning.  I have just recently taken some pictures of my blueberry bushes specifically looking for native pollinators which are responsible for most of the pollination of these plants.  Here is one of those pictures.

And who can stop the most aggressive plant at the farm now, the hop.  Once she gets out of the ground, is is on.  The constant battle of trimming out unwanted bines goes on until the day they settle down for the winter.  I just finished stringing up and pruning my plants last weekend with the help of an old friend.  It took around 20 man hours.
Although I usually don't have to string my hops from a ladder with my system, occasionally I have to go up and fix a problem using one.  Here is a shot of me on the ladder adjusting a line 18 feet above the tiny 3 foot long bines.  Hard to believe that in one month, they will be close to the top.  They grow about 3 or 4 inches a day right now.

I often ask myself if it has been worth it to grow this crop and each year I say, this is the last, but I somehow can't seem to give it up just yet.  They do draw a lot of attention to my agritourism farm business and do make me some money.  I figured with sales, workshops, and festivals, I made a whopping $4/hr last year.  Sales alone would not even pay for the first month of work. The bottom line is "It's all about beer", and what's there not to like about that!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Last Of Winter?

It has been quite some time since my last post, but, when the farm doesn't change much during the winter, there is not much to see, except for these pics of our last snow.
vAlthough this light 4.5 inch snow was only the second for the year, our first snowfall of 3 inches occurred just two days ago.  Our average for winter here in this area of NC. is about 28 inches!
The butterfly fight house
One of the wildest things on the farm was the butterfly flight house under a cover of snow.  This is why we don't have butterflies in the winter.

The Ruth Collins Butterfly House
The entrance of the house looks the same, but inside the house was really a different look for me.  It appeared to have a hard covering over it.
The other photos are of the Bee Hotel, and The Chicken Coop (as seen from Mars)
Inside the butterfly house with snow cover
Native Bee Hotel 

The chicken coop as seen from space
If the earth thaws and it doesn't rain, we are going for a whole new crop planting.
More to come on that.