Beekeeping on a Biodynamic Farm
Imagine the magic of a swarm of bees, and the possibility of connecting to such energy for a farm’s bee keeping, overall orientation and vision. On the farm walk at Friendly Haven Farm, Jacqueline Freeman and Joseph Freeman shared how they do just that by listening and responding to the bees and practicing biodynamic principles. Over the years the Freemans have learned many lessons and share these through workshops, classes, and farm stays. During a farm walk on July 15, 2013 sponsored by Tilth Producers of Washington and the WSU Small Farms Team, we walked this diverse farm and learned about bee keeping, chicken rearing, orchard and pasture management, goat and cow care, composting, and creating pollinator habitat.
On a warm and clear sunny day, 28 people came from many counties and varied backgrounds to learn about bee keeping on this biodynamic farm. Jacqueline and Joseph have experienced relatively strong honey bee hive health and discussed practices that honor the spirit of the bees. The very first thing to establish for bees is a reliable, clean water source that has places for them to land and, if needed, to climb out. A forked stick is more useful to a bee than a straight one which spins when the bee tries to climb out of the water onto it.
This bee keeper allows her hives to swarm, and described the process and the genetic diversity such mating brings to her colonies. The Freemans use the power of the swarm process for renewal and all breeding. Roofs over each of the hives reduce excess moisture during the rainy season, enhancing hive health. Top bar hives demonstrate simplicity of construction and ease of inspection, and no queen excluder is required. Jacqueline explained that feeding bees honey in the winter instead of sugar water provides a whole, nutritious food for bee health. Farm operations include planning for bee forage in all seasons and ensuring adequate pollen and nectar sources all through late summer and into fall. We observed their hedgerow planted for pollinators and funded by an NRCS grant.
The only hives the Freemans have lost in the last number of years occurred on two different occasions when they suffered from pesticide poisoning. Jacqueline believes that it came from a neighbor spraying at the wrong time of day and year. She described the behavior of the bees during those tragic last hours of the hive’s life. An entire hive dies within 48 hours of such contamination.
The Freemans shared biodynamic practices used in the orchard which revive old, diseased trees for a healthy, abundant harvest. They paint a slurry consisting of equal parts clay, sand, and manure from grass-fed cows onto the bark of the trees, from the ground up to the first branches. This serves as a physical barrier to pests and has proved successful in reviving the fruit trees.
Hugel beds demonstrated permaculture practices, where the Freemans dug 30” deep and 30” wide trenches, added wood (from slash to old, decaying wood), covered it with the over-turned sod and compost, and planted trees into the beds they created. The wood will decay and act as a giant sponge for water and release nutrients over time. The external watering needs of those trees are reduced with the Hugelkultur method. This is an example of the numerous ways these farmers act to set operations up and then leave the work to nature.
The Freemans discussed the lessons they learned when they once rototilled the soil, not a common practice for this farm. They experienced a flourishing of weed populations, extremely powdery soil structure, and a reduction of soil-dwelling macro invertebrates. They plan to manage these areas to revive soil structure and native pollinator habitat in the soil.
When administering a NRCS grant for high tunnels they found that they were able to split the total square footage of area since they do not have enough flat ground for one high tunnel space. They also spoke of opportunities for grants to fix barns that are registered on the historic barn register.
Contented Alpine goats yield a three-quarter gallon of milk each day. Their craftiness and persistence to escape their bounds dictate creating a good latching system, collars with a break limit of 10-11 lbs. (so they don’t get hurt when trapped), and a field fence with one hot wire to keep them in check. Chickens are reared with care as the farmers put marbles in the water dispenser to prevent young chicks from drowning, enact rotation strategies to protect young ones from the pecking order, put a ‘touch’ of apple cider vinegar in the chicken water on hot days, and reduce “pasty butt” by feeding an ailing chick with this symptom finely ground organic cornmeal. The Freemans control mites in the coop with the tradition of white-washing the interior and its cracks each year, using a mix of milk, hydrated lime, salt, and water. Freedom Ranger chickens are housed in an adapted overturned trampoline and pen netted to prevent hawk attacks. Nets are held atop simple PVC poles slipped over steel fence posts.
Their sanguine cows are kept in various pastures that are managed many ways: from fields spread with raw milk; others treated with minerals, compost, or biodynamic preparations; and specific weeds pulled with others kept. The cows will self-regulate their consumption of Tansy to manage stomach parasites. Their main milking beauty is a cross of ¼ Brown Swiss and ¾ Jersey, yielding 8 gallons of K2 milk each day. Observation has been essential in learning about the many organisms on the farm and the farm as a whole organism. The intentions and practices of these farmers reveal a harmony and a balance that has become a haven for all beings.
Summary by Jacqueline Cramer
Funding for this farm walk and other Tilth Producers educations programs are funded in part by the USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program.
Farm Walk booklet: HERE