~ Grassy Roads Farm Life ~
Life as we know it has been turned upside down over the last couple of weeks. I’m lucky. I’m in the category where if I catch the coronavirus, I’ll probably be pretty miserable for a bit, but statistically should recover and be little to no worse for the wear. However, I have numerous family members, friends, and customers who don’t fall into that category. Some of them only fall into a high-risk category because they aren’t as young as they used to be. Some fall into a high-risk category because they have asthma or other health conditions, regardless of their age. And some have multiple risk factors. Even among the people I know who fall into the same category as me, most of them also have friends and family that fall into the higher risk categories. So, to reduce my risk of potentially catching the virus and exposing others to it, I’ve been staying on the farm as much as possible.
As all of this has evolved, it amazes me how much life on the farm has simultaneously changed and stayed the same. I know, those two states should be mutually exclusive, but in some weird way they aren’t. I guess a more accurate description might be to simply say that things have shifted and shifting is normal in my world. The beekeeping conferences and other speaking engagements that I was planning to attend have been cancelled at least through April, but this is the busiest time of year on the farm. The ducks still need to be cared for, the bees still need managing, the nursery is growing like crazy, and there are signs of spring all around me. My time and attention, therefore, have simply shifted to those things.
As the days are getting longer and the weather is warming up, the ducks have kicked egg production into high gear. I have an abundance of duck eggs available as both dozens and half dozens. If you need some, let me know. I’m making my decisions on whether or not to attend the farmers market on a week by week basis, but am willing to work with people to meet up at other times in order to make sure they continue to have access to good, farm fresh eggs and honey. In fact, I’ll be making a trip to Bowling Green on Wednesday to meet a few customers because I decided to skip the market this past Saturday and will be skipping this coming Saturday as well. If you want to meet up with me to get eggs or honey this Wednesday, then let me know by 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday.
This is also the time of year when things start to get really busy for beekeepers. The queen is starting to lay more eggs and the bees are preparing for swarm season. If a hive swarms, not only do you lose a large portion of the bees, but it also significantly reduces the amount of honey the hive produces that year. As a beekeeper, I try to manage my hives to reduce swarming as much as possible, although it is impossible to completely eliminate it every year. The bees don’t always go along with our plans and they don’t read the books to know that if we do “x,” then they are supposed to do “y.”
My original plan was to split several of my colonies this spring so that I could grow my apiary and have more hives. However, I need more hive bodies (the wooden boxes you put the bees in) to do that and I didn’t make it to my supplier before all of this hit. Over the last week or so, I have debated heavily about whether or not to make a quick trip to pick up the hive bodies. I had almost rationalized myself into doing it, before I decided that I didn’t want to take the risk. Too many people rely on me staying as healthy as possible and keeping my exposure risk to a minimum so that I don’t potentially pass the virus to someone else.
Instead, I’m going to change my plans for this year. At least for now, I’m going to manage all of my hives for honey production this year and will work towards increasing my apiary next year. I was a little behind on some of the things I wanted to do before expanding the apiary anyway, so in some ways this decision is actually beneficial in that it gives me time to catch up on some of those other projects. And depending on how long we’re dealing with the virus, I may still be able to make some splits and grow my apiary later this spring and summer. Oh, if you want some of my 2019 honey, let me know soon. I only have around 9 jars left.
Then there’s the nursery…. I can’t believe how well it is doing this year! Most of the species that I tried to grow have germinated. I had a few failures, but so far those have been limited. Some of my trickiest species still need to be planted, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed and am pleased with the results that I’ve gotten so far. I’m already moving many of the seedlings outside under hoop houses. (As always, Mom has been invaluable in helping me keep up with the transplanting.) The young seedlings still need protection on colder nights, on cooler days, and during the heavy rainstorms we keep getting, but they are growing rapidly and should be ready to go in a couple of weeks. I also overwintered quite a few plants, so I would have more mature options available earlier in the season for those who wanted them. I’m seeing almost daily changes in the amount of new growth coming out on most of them as well. Again, it’ll probably be a couple of weeks before they are ready to sell, but I should have lots of options available by early to mid-April.
Although it’s easy to get caught up in trying to get everything done that needs doing around the farm, I always try to force myself to stop at least a few times to get out, explore, and just enjoy this time of year. Two weeks ago, I saw my first butterflies of the season. Last week, on my birthday, we found a red-shouldered hawk nest on the farm and possibly a second one but we haven’t seen anything sitting on the second potential nest yet. I know we have 5 red-shouldered hawks that use our farm because I’ve seen 5 at one time. I also found the first morels on my birthday! Either of those finds would have been a great birthday present and the combination of both happening on my birthday was really special. This week, the spring ephemeral wildflowers have started to bloom and the birds are singing more and more as they begin staking out their territories.
Getting out and exploring at this time of year always helps calm me and keeps me from feeling quite so overwhelmed because every year from mid-March through early-May is absolute craziness for me. I just have way too many things going on, most of which need a great deal of attention in the spring. This year as COVID-19 has added another layer of craziness to the season, I find that my walks and explorations have become even more important. (I can tell I’m a naturalist at heart. I always try to turn COVID into corvid – the family that crows belong too.) With all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, my walks and explorations also help remind me of all the things that I am grateful for including:
- that this happened now, instead of during the winter because at this time of the year I don’t have time to get into my head or dwell on things that I can’t control.
- that I have access to places, both on my own land and on nearby public land, where I am able to get outside and explore and enjoy all the signs of new life that spring brings.
- that no matter what other difficulties this pandemic might bring, I don’t have to worry about my family going hungry. We might not have everything we would like to eat, but I have plenty of eggs and the freezer is stocked with last year’s drakes and gardening season is coming up soon.
- that I can help provide others with local, nutritious, farm-fresh eggs and honey.
- that I have customers who continue to support me and are happy to work with me to find delivery options that keep all of us and our respective loved ones as safe and healthy as possible.
- that I belong to a farmers market that is doing its best to provide a safe and healthy environment for people to continue to have access to fresh, local produce and other goods.
- that my farmers market has so many options to help those, including university students and mothers-to-be, who might be struggling to afford local, nutritious, farm-fresh food at any time, not just during times like this.
- that my husband and mother get along so well and both are always willing to help me, especially at this time of year when it’s so easy for me to start feeling overwhelmed.
- that we have technology that allows us to stay in contact and communicate almost instantly with people across the country and the globe, not to mention order things online that we need (or want) so that direct contact between people (and thus hopefully the spread of the disease) can be limited.
- that the majority of people I know seem to be taking this seriously and are making the sacrifices necessary to protect the more vulnerable members of our community as best we can. It might not be perfect (few things ever are), but at least we are trying.
I could keep going, but think I will leave it at that. I hope that amid all the current chaos and uncertainty that you are able to find some peace and things to be grateful for as well. If you need eggs or honey, have questions about plants, etc., just let me know and I’ll be happy to help if I can.
Shannon Trimboli is a beekeeper, farmer, wildlife biologist, and author. She owns Grassy Roads Farm and Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting. Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting specializes in plants and habitat consulting services for honey bees, native pollinators, and wildlife conservation. In 2018, her first book, Plants Honey Bees Use in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, was published. Shannon also writes a weekly blog called Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife. The blog features profiles of pollinators and wildlife, tips for attracting pollinators and wildlife, highlights of different plants for pollinators and wildlife, and life on the farm and nursery. You can sign up to have her blog emailed to you.