Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Feeding the Bees!

It's March and that means that it's time to give the bees a a little snack!  Each Fall as the nectar sources die down, the bees prepare their stores for the oncoming winter.  As the winter comes to a conclusion, it's important to check up on the bees to make sure their stores are sufficient enough to keep them alive until the Spring bloom.  Since the bees won't forage until it is above 54 degrees (and won't be able to function properly below 50 degrees ), we head out on the the first warm and nice day to commence the feeding.

The natural predators of bees, bears, badgers, and  racoons, are all dark-furred; it it therefore important to be dressed in light colors, as the bees will be less likely to attack. The veils are a bit tricky to put on though.....
One of our lovely hives!  The bees have been cooped up all winter, so giving them a chance to go outside must have been a relief! In the Winter, bees primarily deal with keeping the hive warm by constantly moving in a cluster around the queen.  On warm days the bees take a break to do some housekeeping and to take some long awaited bathroom breaks (as our newly stained clothes can attest to).  That dark empty space with the three wax combs in it serves as a feeding reservoir for the bees to access so they don't starve.  Even though we brought our own solution of sugary syrup, the bees don't seem to be low on their current supply.  We did however give them some pollen patties, which will provide them with essential protein until the Spring flowers bloom. 
And a job well done! Until next time folks!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Chuck & Augie's @ SVF

We've been putting together our seed list for 2013 with the help of Chuck & Augie's very talented chefs. Here we are in the dining room at our seasonal meeting. Some of C&A's requests for the coming season include fresh fennel, blue and red fingerling potatoes and a variety of micro greens.

Our produce was featured last season in their weekly lunch specials. Here are some highlights from their 2012 menu: 
sweet potato pasta, green peas, prosciutto, portabella mushrooms, shaved parmesan cheese in a thyme butter sauce

orecchiette pasta with squash, shelled peas and shaved parmesan cheese in an herb butter sauce, garnished with a nasturtium

soy sauce balsamic glazed salmon over Asian greens with a cucumber salsa and pickled red onions
grilled steak tacos with fresh corn salsa and a sriracha mustard cream sauce

sriracha soy glazed salmon with ginger rice and arugulla  

a view of our new greenhouse, captured this summer during the chef's visit to Spring Valley Farm

shelling some green peas picked fresh from the field

Huge thanks to Tyler May for his wonderful pictures and the staff at Chuck & Augie's for their hard work. It's an honor to have such a talented team of chefs showcasing our produce in their restaurant and at local events like the Farm to Table dinner. Here's to another year of great food!

Blog cred: Tanya Lama

Monday, March 4, 2013

CT NOFA Winter Conference

On Saturday March 2nd some of the farmers awoke verrrry early to attend the CT Northeast Organic Farming Association's Winter Conference (and on the way out we saw a big fisher cat in the driveway! But that's another story....). The conference was held in Wilton, CT at the town's high school. All three floors of the school were filled with dozens of vendors including local farmers, agricultural businesses, and various organizations. There were three workshop sessions, and we all split up to attend those that interested us the most. Just a few titles of the workshops that we attended include: "Pruning and Grafting Fruit Trees", "Cohousing = Sustainable Living", "Beginning Farmer Resources and Coalition Building", and "Food Preservation: Canning and Fermenting Your Own Food" - I loved this last one because we got to sample homemade sauerkraut and kombucha tea, and made a giant vat of salsa!

One of our favorite vendors sells delicious loaves of baked breads covered in garlic and herbs and dipped in olive oil. 

our workshop coordinator showing us around the classroom kitchen

fresh tomatoes, cilantro, red and green peppers, garlic, salt and onion

everyone at the workshop helped chop, mix, wash and can our salsa

trying some fresh, uncut kombucha at the canning workshop

Fresh canned salsa - by Paul, Kelsey and Tanya

One of many NOFA vendors, selling produce and local products

Andrew Lyons and Laura also attended a great workshop on maple sugaring, and they will be presenting their findings on Thursday March 7th at 6pm in EcoHouse (Sprague Hall). This is a perfect time to learn about sugaring, because the UConn sugar house will be having its open house on Saturday March 9th from 10 - 2pm!  Overall, the conference was very inspiring and educational, and personally I look forward to putting what I learned into practice at SVSF..... starting with a homemade batch of kombucha :)

Kelsey Sullivan
Tanya Lama (photos)

On Friday March 1st, quite a few EcoHousers caught the shuttle to the farm! Many students had attended the farm-sponsored trip to Logee's greenhouse, and came out on Friday to create terrariums for the plants that they had purchased. While they channeled their inner terrarium-artist in the greenhouse, the rest of the group met up in the hoop-house to work on amending the soil. Alfalfa meal (which smells surprisingly good) was laid down and integrated into the soil in the hopes that it would seep Nitrogen into areas that are deficient due to being cultivated last season. We all got a tutorial in the proper use of the "action hoe" by master Andrew Brown (although some of us preferred to just use our hands!) It was still pretty chilly outside, but everyone who came down on the shuttle got a chance to get their hands dirty.... an early taste of Spring!

:)  Kelsey

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Surviving Nemo

The Beginning

Nemo hit UConn with full force and Spring Valley Student Farm was not overlooked. We ended up with approximately 36 in of snowfall after the storm passed through. In order to keep things from succumbing to complete chaos we worked through the storm day and night. Here is a short record of our Nemo Adventures.

The snow started falling mid-morning and accumulated quickly. By 10pm we had well over 2 feet of snow. We decided it might be a good idea to check on our microgreens in the greenhouse out back.
They stayed warm and toasty in the heated green house but we ended up moving them inside to save on propane until the weather warmed up.

Next on the list was the hoophouse. Due to the heavy snow fall we had to rake the snow off the roof of the hoop house so it wouldn't collapse.We used a special tool called a roof rake to clear the snow of the top of the hoop house. Then we shoveled the snow away from the edges of the structure.

With all of the plants taken care of, we planned our escape! 

Lina attempts a break at freedom on cross country skis
She is unsuccessful

The Morning Aftermath

We abandoned all hope of making contact with the outside world around 2am and went to bed hoping the morning would bring a plow and salvation. When we awoke we realized we wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon.
What are those 5 snow mounds?
No way in, no way out!
Snowy farm
oh they're our cars!

Excavating the Bees

To keep ourselves from getting cabin fever we trudged our way up the hill to dig out the honey bee hives. Bees overwinter in their hives. They survive off of the honey they collect in the spring and summer. The life span of the average worker bee in the summer months is only about 6 weeks due to the excessive energy they exert when gathering pollen. In order for the bees to survive the winter the queen produces special winter worker bees that can live from 4-9 months. The temperature within the hives remains at a toasty 90 degrees during the winter due to buzzing and movement of all the bees inside.

But the digging had only just begun. We also spent much of the night digging out the driveway to the greenhouse so the propane truck could get in to fill up our tank.
During the storm, the door to the greenhouse got stuck open and the heater was working over time to compensate this using up all our propane. Oops.

The Andrews about to start diggin!
Shoveling the driveway up to the greenhouse by headlights

In the end we all made it out in one piece. No one went insane (almost) and none of our plants succumbed to a frosty death.

Surviving Nemo: mission accomplished.