Friday, June 19, 2015

The Flag Day Camp Tours Farm

It was a good day today ,and is always a good day, when we are privileged to sponsor a special group of extremely talented kids from the Flag Camp in Fletcher, NC.  Flag Camp is a day camp that has seen a lot of activity already this summer and today we let them find out what our farm is all about.

We set up four stations on the farm to allow the 52 kids and 17 counselors to better understand what the essence of farming is all about, and that is pollination.  Starting with blueberry picking the four groups spent around 15 minutes picking before going on to the butterfly house, then to the pollinator maze, and finally to the seed bomb and bee hotel crafting center.
The butterfly house still had a couple of monarchs and 4 other native species of butterflies as well as some monarch caterpillars that held the attention of even almost everyone. Including this lucky girl that I let correctly hold her first monarch ever.

The craft area allowed the kids to make "seed bombs" and add to the "Bee Hotel".  Seed bombs are a clay and compost mixture with flower seeds inside are a convenient way to start flowering plants so necessary for pollinators.
Overall, it was a very fun day and ole "Farmer Van" probably had the most fun!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Blueberries Are Here NOW

 We are starting our picking of our highbush blueberries this weekend.  So far, we are ahead of the birds and I have seen evidence of bear scat in the filed.  So, if you want any be sure to call us to get the jump on the critters that eat them!

I am trying out a new thing, wolf urine, placed around the field in little cans.  It might be working, who knows, but I have seen anymore evidence of the bears.  Man and wolves are the bears only real enemies.  A friend gave me a bottle and it is produced by "Leg UP Enterprises", good name, but I wouldn't want to work there.

We still have monarchs in the flight house from the first generation of those butterflies that flew down to Mexico for the winter and flew back here this spring.

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.