Thursday, May 30, 2013

Where are all the bees?

“This is the biggest general threat to our food supply,”  Kevin Hackett  (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s bee and pollination program)

There are so many issues in the world today that need our attention.  One of those issues that is near and dear to us is the current decrease of the global honey bee population. Most people are aware that today's bees are facing a huge problem, but some reports suggest between 30% -50% of commercial pollination hives may have died in just this last year.  As new beekeepers, our own hive died this winter and as we look to fine tune our beekeeping practices, we are also looking for a deeper understanding of just why these bees are dying. 


So just how big is the problem?

Every year bees die as part of the natural cycle.  Beekeepers figure that about 5-10% loss is normal, but current losses are much higher (in some places up to 50%) according to a national survey.  While commercial and home hives are the big concern this year, wild honeybee populations have decreased by up to 90% according to Target Health Inc as a result of colony collapse disorder.  These losses are staggering!

Why should we care?

Unlike many other animals, our own lives are intrinsically linked to the health of the honeybee population, not only for the delicious honey and beeswax they produce, but more importantly for their amazing powers of pollination.  According to the American Beekeeping Federation, honeybees contribute $14 billion to US food crop production and are solely responsible for pollinating some of our crops (like almonds).  There are about 2.4 million honeybee colonies in the US, and 2/3 of these actually travel around the country every year to help pollinate our crops!  That means that every year over 1.5 million honey bee hives are transported around the country.  A single colony of bees can pollinate an acre of trees.

 "If the honeybee becomes extinct, mankind will follow within four years."
Albert Einstein




 What's the cause?

One of the craziest things about the decrease in bee population is the we don't know completely why.  There are many theories and people often argue that several separate factors may in fact be contributing to the decrease, but there is no concrete, single source, which makes the problem that much more difficult to confront.  Some of the main causes are disease, environmental change stresses, parasites, malnutrition, pesticides and genetically modified crops.  Taken one at a time there is evidence that each of these culprits are causing some problem with the bee population, but the answer to the incredible decline is likely linked to several of these factors.

Disease - Israel Acute Paralysis Virus is often mentioned as a main cause for colony collapse disorder, and causes paralysis in the bees

Parasites - Bees are affected by many different parasites including varroa mites and a fungus known as Nosema apis
Malnutrition - Since bees are often transported long distances to help with pollination, they are fed sugar water and stressed during transport.  This can weaken hives and cause problems over the long term that we may just be starting to understand.  Destruction of natural areas also decrease the variety of food and habitat.
Pesticides, fungicides, etc - Pesticides are widely applied to many crops, and some pesticides are applied directly to bee hives (to help control varroa mites).  There is an even greater concern over pesticides when multiple pesticides are used and can accumulate in the hive.
Neonicotinoids - (or neonics) are one of the prime candidates for the decrease in bee populations.  These pesticides are spread on about 142 million acres of crops as well as in home gardening products.  Three separate studies have named neonics as a prime culprit in bee population deaths.  To learn more about this check out this article.




GMOs - Many of the GMO crops use a variety of pesticides, and some of those are wired right into the plants genetics.  These companies claim that testing shows they don't impact bees, but when combined with other factors, GMOs may play a larger role than we realize.


What can we do?
  • Continue to support research and studies to gain a better understanding of the causes behind the decline of bee populations
  • Become a beekeeper and nurture your own hives
  • Support seeds and crops that are grown organically and don't use GMO's
  • Create habitat that supports bee populations by creating a bee garden or allowing parts of your yard to go wild
  • Keep yourself up to date and aware of the changes in bee populations and help spread the word.

Armed with this knowledge,  the new package of bees that arrived last week has taken on a different meaning.  We've always watched our hive's behavior with fascination, but now we feel a sense of responsibilities for these wee, mighty animals that are struggling in an inhospitable world, and we'll do everything in our power to ensure that they continue to be part of the our future.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Backyard Farming Connection Hop #34

For those of you who check in here often, you may have noticed we've been quite absent this week.  We've been away for a long weekend and it seems to take a few days before and after to get ourselves back into the normal homesteading mode.

This week the features are all about the wonderful, amazing compost!

First from Homegrown on the Hill: Composting 101


And from Homestead Lady, DIY Compost Tea Buckethttp://homesteadlady.com/diy-compost-tea-bucket/


I want to know what's happening, in your garden, on your homestead, in the barnyard, and in the kitchen.  Whatever is in your backyard farm and home, I would love to hear about it.

Each week I will share some of my favorite posts on the Backyard Farming Connection Facebook page.  And in case you haven't seen, I have a 'featured button' so if you've been featured in the past, grab a button.

For details on linking up visit the hop page.



(If the HTML for the buttons doesn't work, feel free to just save the photo and link it back to this) page.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Farm Chit Chat Giveaway

Over the last few months I've been lucky to be a part of an ever revolving group of fellow bloggers over at Farm Chit Chat.  If you haven't visited this page, you will find a dedicated group of homesteaders and farmers sharing their experiences and expertise in an online community from around the country. 

These people inspire me everyday.

Recently we've gone through a few changes, including having to change our name and creating a new blog and Facebook page.  To celebrate we're having a huge giveaway (actually 2) of handmade and hand grown items and a few of our other favorite items.  I'm excited to share this giveaway with all of you and invite you to join in!

To see photos of all the amazing giveaway items, visit the official Farm Chit Chat Giveaway Page, or simply enter below!

Giveaway 

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hatching Egg Giveaway

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Homestead Highlight: Call for Entries

Do you homestead?

Do you farm or garden, or grow herbs on your deck?

However you homestead, I invite you to share your story here at the Backyard Farming Connection as part of the homestead highlight series. Come share your insights, successes and failures. You don't need to be a blogger to share here. You can learn more at the information page.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Backyard Farming Connection Hop #33

Our garden here in NY state is bursting into life.  Most of the seeds are planted and everyday there is always something outside on the to-do list. 

Just a quick note if you haven't seen the fabulous giveaway going on over at Farm Chit Chat on the new page, stop over and enter to win some great prizes.

This week's featured posts both discuss specifics to get your garden growing and producing this year.

If you haven't checked out the Homestead Garden - stop over and see all the great resources there, and check out this one on Pepper Varieties.


And from the Self-Sufficient Homeacre, get all the details on growing fruit trees.

  

I want to know what's happening, in your garden, on your homestead, in the barnyard, and in the kitchen.  Whatever is in your backyard farm and home, I would love to hear about it.

Each week I will share some of my favorite posts on the Backyard Farming Connection Facebook page.  And in case you haven't seen, I have a 'featured button' so if you've been featured in the past, grab a button.

For details on linking up visit the hop page.



(If the HTML for the buttons doesn't work, feel free to just save the photo and link it back to this) page.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Beneficial Flowers For Your Edible Garden

For us food growers, it can often feel like flowers just take up space where a food crop could go.  But growing flower alongside other crops can be beneficial on many levels.  Including flowers in your garden can deter or attract bugs, create microclimates by shading certain areas, add some color to your existing vegetable beds, and can become food themselves.


Now if you know me at all, you know I would never suggest pulling up your garden and replacing it with all flowers, but there are many ways to tie flowers into an existing food garden.  Placing flowers at the end of rows, or interspersing them with the other plants can completely shift the feel of your garden space.  Traditional cottage gardens used this method and squeezed a variety of plants into a small space including ornamental, edibles and anything else that took the gardeners fancy. Marigolds are one of my favorite flowers to add to the vegetable beds to help deter nematodes from attacking my vegetables.  I also love to go through my flower gardens and stick extra vegetable seeds and plants in any empty holes.

If you are looking to add flowers to your vegetable gardens this year, here are some things to consider.

Choose Flowers to Attract and Deter Bugs

There is a bit of controversy out there as to how well flowers can work to deter bugs, but the idea that certain flowers deter bugs is an old one.  Here are some plants that may help deter pests:
  • 4 o'clocks - help kill japanese beetles
  • Chrysanthemums - kill and deter Japanese Beetles and nematodes
  • Nasturtium - deter a variety of pests
For more flowers that deter bugs, check out this article by Greg Holdsworth at Vegetable Gardener

Not all bugs are bad, and we often want to attract beneficial bugs to our garden to help with pollination and controlling other bug populations.  Here are some tips on attracting those good bugs to your garden: 

  • Plant a diversity of plants  and flowers to attract pollinators (especially those with lots of pollen and nectar)
  • Choose umbrella shaped flowers that attract certain wasps that feed on other pests
  • Native plants often attract beneficial insect indigenous to your area

Edible Flowers

Adding flower to your garden can also be good for the dinner table.  Flowers can add a bit of color, style, and nutrients to your table.  You do need to be careful since some common flowers are in fact poisonous, so make sure you do your research, and also only eat flowers that you know were not sprayed with something weird! Here are just a few edible flowers:

  • Basil
  • Allium
  • clover
  • Dandelion
  • Lilac
  • Sunflowers
  • Violets
  • Nasturtium
For a few more ideas for edible flowers, check out Tree Hugger and 42 Flowers You Can Eat

Adding flowers to your garden can help create a beautiful, edible, organic garden.  How do you incorporate flowers and edibles into your landscaping?







Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Homestead Highlight: Mary

 My greatest inspiration in my own backyard farming adventure has been to hear the experiences of others. I invite you to read along here as Homesteaders share their adventures and experiences from their own farms, backyards, and homes.
 
Want to be featured as a Homestead Highlight? I would love to hear about your experience. For more information follow the link to the information page and share your own homestead here at the Backyard Farming Connection!


Today I welcome Mary to this space

My name is Mary Woollard and I blog over at Homegrown on the Hill. (http://www.homegrownonthehill.blogspot.com/) Our 5 acre farm is located in Southwestern Ohio, and I live there with my handy husband, Aaron, and our two children.









We have been backyard farming for the past 3 years starting out with a small garden and doing more and more things each year! We started our chicken coop just last April when we hatched out our first girls. A year later, we currently have 15 hens. This spring, we also raised meat chickens to process and ended up with 19 chickens for our deep freezer. We got started on our journey, because I was reading more and more about what exactly was in our food that we purchased from the grocery store. All the unnecessary chemicals, ingredients, and the increasing of GMOs led us to grow our own food, let us be in control of what exactly we ate - to an extent.



I have a 8 yr old son and 5 yr old daughter who won't let me go completely whole foods (hahaha), but I try to substitute where I can hoping that we'll show them there are a lot healthier options than what we can buy from the store. I'd say our biggest success is just in everything we do, surprising our family and friends, and ourselves! Neither myself or my husband grew up on a farm, so we've been very fortunate to have success in just about everything we've done.


When my mom asked me last year where did I learn how to do all this, because she didn't teach me this, I felt like she was definitely proud of what we were accomplishing, and I was proud too! We haven't had any major mistakes yet, but I would say a sad setback was just recently when our turkeys didn't hatch. We received some turkey eggs from a friend, and had them set to hatch just a week ago. Unfortunately, something happened, and none of our eggs hatched. It is disappointing to all of us, the kids were excited about having baby turkeys, but I know we'll try again and hopefully have success next time.

 Our plans for the future is to just grow our farm to be more self sustaining. We're planning on purchasing some cattle this summer to start a herd for beef. I've already purchased some berry plants (blueberry, blackberry, & raspberry) that are planted, and I'd like to order some fruit trees as well. We've worked our compost for the last couple years and this year was the first year we incorporated it into our gardening, because we had enough of it! I'm looking to find a good place for an asparagus bed and growing garlic in the fall. The possibilities are endless and we just want to do as much of it as we can!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Backyard Farming Connection Hop #32

I hope you all enjoyed celebrating mothers day this past weekend.  I was spoiled and spent the day with my little ones in the garden - just my kind of day!  This week I'm showing appreciation for all those young ones who make us mothers feel so special.

From Learning and Yearning: Go Play in the Dirt


From On The Urban Home: Train Up a Child

From Little Mountain Haven (for the second week in a row): How to Garden with Your Children


From the Garden at Oswegatchi School: Many Hand Make Light Work

I want to know what's happening, in your garden, on your homestead, in the barnyard, and in the kitchen.  Whatever is in your backyard farm and home, I would love to hear about it.

Each week I will share some of my favorite posts on the Backyard Farming Connection Facebook page.  And in case you haven't seen, I have a 'featured button' so if you've been featured in the past, grab a button.

For details on linking up visit the hop page.



(If the HTML for the buttons doesn't work, feel free to just save the photo and link it back to this) page

Monday, May 13, 2013

Pass it Forward


Homesteading is a new way of life for so many people (and an old way of life for many folks as well).  If you are currently engaged in homesteading, how do you share your lifestyle with others?

Lately I've been thinking about all the ways to pass it forward.  For many it is as simple as sharing something grown on your land with a friend or relative, while for others is may be creating a community garden, or writing and sharing on the internet.  Whatever your reasons for homesteading, one of the most important things you can do is pass on the passion and desire on to others.  Today I challenge you to think how you are passing it forward?

Here are some of my thoughts on how you can share the love of homesteading:

  • Share food or other produce from your homestead with others
  • Invite people to see your space, give a tour, or just have folks for dinner
  • Talk about your experiences with others, even if it is just the mailman at the post office when you pick up your chicks
  • Start a community garden
  • Teach a class on an aspect of homesteading
  • Start a blog or Facebook page about your farm or homestead
  • Teach a kid how to garden or care for animals
  • Volunteer at an event that will allow you to share your experiences
  • Sell things at a roadside stand 
This is just a starting list - how do you pass it forward?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Homeskills in the Kitchen

Have you visited the Homeskills Resource Guide here at the Backyard Farming Connection.  Come check out some great links to practicing homesteading skills in the home.  Today I have 3 features to share from the Homesteading in the Kitchen page.


How to Make Granola in a Crockpot by Everything With Carol

 How to Render Fat from Farming my Backyard


Dehydrating Strawberries by Summer Acres


To see more posts about Homeskills in the Kitchen, check out the link below, and if you blog, share some of your own posts here or in any of the topics on the Homestead Resource Guide.

If you are reading this on email, click through to see these posts.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Homestead Highlight: Kathryn



 My greatest inspiration in my own backyard farming adventure has been to hear the experiences of others. I invite you to read along here as Homesteaders share their adventures and experiences from their own farms, backyards, and homes.
 
Want to be featured as a Homestead Highlight? I would love to hear about your experience. For more information follow the link to the information page and share your own homestead here at the Backyard Farming Connection!


Today I welcome Kathryn to this space

We are a family of five and we have a  tiny urban farm in Portland, Oregon.  It’s a 5,000 square foot lot with a 880 square foot house.  We currently raise goats and chickens and have several gardens tucked around the house.   I blog about our adventures at Farming My Backyard




 
How long have you been backyard farming?  What got you started?
I first got into backyard farming when we purchased our home and I thought it would be fun to get a few chickens, so we built a little coop out of salvaged wood and raised three chicks.  Those original birds somehow expanded into a flock of 12.   I think chickens are so much fun and even my husband, Edward, (who doesn’t like animals) loves having fresh eggs and doesn’t mind (too much) building, expanding, or making a new coop.  We are building our fourth right now, I swear it’s the last one!



What does your backyard farm look like?  Where is it?
We have a 50 by 100 lot in the city with a 880 square foot house. Edward and I run our businesses out of our home as well.  We heat the home with a wood stove and our garage plays multiple roles including workshop, wood shed, hay shed, and dairy parlor.  Pretty much everything in our home is multi-purpose in some way.  In the front yard we currently grow herbs, flowers, strawberries and asparagus, and the kids have a swingset.  In one side yard I have four raised beds, potted plants on the patio and the other side yard are two long raised beds.



In the back we have two stubborn dwarf dairy goats, 8 noisy hens, and four chicks, a trampoline, the clothesline and a tire swing..  We are working on growing fruit trees and berries out back as well.  We just added a third garden this week by breaking up some old concrete along the side of the driveway.  We also have a dog who thinks he is a surrogate goat mother, a retired cat that sleeps in the middle of whatever patch of garden has the most sun at the moment and another crazy kitty that stalks the chickens from above.



What has been your biggest success and biggest mistake?


I think my biggest success has been learning how to garden.  Not because I successfully garden, but rather because it is my biggest weakness and I’m starting to overcome my black thumb.  I manage to kill about three quarters of what I attempt to grow, even when it’s mint or blackberries.  Part of that includes my biggest mistake, which is inconsistent watering.  I forget to water and then end up drowning my poor little plants, but I’m getting better, especially since I started using soaker hoses.  The trick is remembering to turn them on...and off again.


What plans do you have for the future?

I have a lot of plans for the future!  This year I plan to add meat rabbits and a lot more fruit trees and bushes and construct a top bar bee hive.  I have a humanure system all set up and it works well but I need a reliable source of sawdust.  I’d really love to have ducks someday and coturnix quail.  I certainly hope I become a better gardener and can grow more vegetables year round.  We have old windows in the garage waiting to be turned into a greenhouse and empty bed space awaiting more asparagus and strawberries.  Also on my to do list is an aquaponics system, greywater system, rain barrels, a cistern under the driveway, solar power, red worm composting, raising silk worms, growing mushrooms and growing more plants without killing them.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Backyard Farming Connection Hop #31

Thanks for all those folks who shared posts at the Homestead Resource Guide Link Up last week!  Don't forget to come back and add more in the future!

This week I'm featuring 2 posts about gardening.

From Little Mountain Haven, here are some thoughts about using rocks for the edges of a raised bed


And from Mommy the Teacher: 10 Reasons to Plant a Garden


I want to know what's happening, in your garden, on your homestead, in the barnyard, and in the kitchen.  Whatever is in your backyard farm and home, I would love to hear about it.

Each week I will share some of my favorite posts on the Backyard Farming Connection Facebook page.  And in case you haven't seen, I have a 'featured button' so if you've been featured in the past, grab a button.

For details on linking up visit the hop page.



(If the HTML for the buttons doesn't work, feel free to just save the photo and link it back to this) page