Six kids joined the barnyard scene this week. They came every other day, twins for each of our three mama goats. Everybody is nursing well and looking very adorable in their warm little goat coats. The baby goat below was born just this afternoon and the pictures taken during its first hour. It's being licked clean by its very caring mother while it tries out its legs for the first time on fresh hay.
Our goats are ripe and ready to give birth, all of them are full term. On our goat walks through the vineyards I see the kids moving around from inside their mother's bellies. Goat gestation is about 5 months, and last fall we bred our does to a Nubian buck, which should make them all excellent milking kids. For now, we're keeping the barn stocked with fresh hay, and checking on the mothers all day long. This is the other part of animal husbandry: animal midwifery!
January on the farm has the taste of fresh grass for all our hoofed friends. The cows, horses, and goats are pasture feeding in the vineyards again, in-between rows of cultivated wheat and oat. Our herds have the dual purpose of fertilizing the vineyards and keeping the grass populations in check, like live-powered mowers. Our daily goat walks take us through the vineyards to favorite oak trees where acorn browsing gives the goats rich, luscious coats for the winter weather. And, while they munch on the wild blackberry hedgerows, the pregnant ones get a dose of herbal medicine to help tone their reproductive tract before the Spring kidding. We're expecting several births in the next few months, which makes this time of year extra exciting.
Our chicken program has also taken to the vineyards, where egg layers are happily scratching up grubs and weeds along the edges of the cultivated vines. All these animals make the land seem more like a farm, where a walk along the rows now has the sound of moos, neighs, and clucks! For biodynamic agriculture the element of having the animals on the land is especially important because the animals impart a special quality to the land. Additionally, the farm animals help us maintain the land as a sustainable system, which feeds us while we feed it with "black gold" manures.
In the gardens our family members are ordering seeds and getting out old saved seeds from the previous year to grow cabbages, peas, kale, broccoli, and other early crops. I just pruned the raspberries in our garden last week, and the fruit trees are next.
Our biodynamic farmer friend Hugh Williams of Threshold Farm was here for the past two weeks, teaching workshops on apple orchards and pruning our trees using his unique method. We also just hosted the Winter meeting of the Biodynamic Association of Northern California here at Frey Vineyards; it was a wonderful success and inspiring to have all the farmers come together to discuss truly sustainable agriculture amidst the backdrop of the vineyards. Frey Vineyards, which has become a model for biodynamics, was the first BD certified winery in the United States. Also, Katrina Frey is now a member of the Demeter board, spreading the conscious farming movement in the hopes that more farms will join.
For now, it's time to get back out into the fields, making flat mixes to sow our seeds in for the first crops of the year!
After a long pregnant winter our farm is showing the first signs of spring. Among our new farm friends are six baby goats (kids), a flock of lambs, and three growing calves. All of our animals are happily grazing in the vineyards, eating fresh green, biodynamic spring grasses. Cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and horses are all delighted to go to pasture on the spring bounty before the grape buds break open. The draft horses have been in training to work the land for the hay season to come, and the chickens we raised from our own eggs are now beginning to enter their first laying season. Additionally, on the homestead, we've added some angora rabbits and piglets to our family.
If you would like to visit our farm, we are hosting a farm day once a month, (geared to the interests of young children, especially). This month we'll be making our rounds on the property, visiting all the animals on March 13th. We will meet at the Winery at 2pm, and explore the ranch life, rain or shine. Come join us!
In the garden, we're so pleased that Redwood Valley is getting such an abundance of rain this year. The gardens are lush with fava bean cover crops, and we've sown our first spring crop seeds in the greenhouse in flats (brassicas and greens mostly). On sunny days the bees come out to sip sweet nectars from the flowering manzanitas, and from the dandelions that have just begun their season here. We're off to a fine start of the year, and are looking forward to the grape season to come!
Helping the bees has become a way of life for us at Frey Vineyards. We love our bees, and do everything we can to give them the healthy habitat they need to thrive. Biodynamic beekeeping is a symbiotic relationship between the beekeeper and the bees, who both give and receive from the exchange.
During these recent weeks of sunshine, we took a peek into the hives to see how they weathered the winter so far. Some hives sadly did not make it. We're now working to further support the bees by creating a bee-border hedgerow that will provide delicious fodder for our hives between the gardens and the vineyards: just for them!
Because the bees need everyone's help these days, I encourage you to watch "Queen of the Sun," a documentary made by Taggart Siegel (who also produced "The Real Dirt About Farmer John"), and is showing across the country right now.
In the last several years we have grazed sheep in the vineyards to give back to the soil, and to help create a biodynamic farm, replete with animals. This October our new flock of sheep await the end of the grape harvest to explore the tastes of the Mendocino terroir.
Also, two draft horses joined our family farm this past season. Ready to pull a plow, they are enjoying eating home-made biodynamic hay, baled on our property. Fueled by a sustainable source of Horsepower, they also hope to graze in the vineyards after the harvest.
This past spring, Katrina and Marie added an innovative type of hive box construction to the ranch apiary. Both hives are thriving in their specially designed homes, and the engineering of the boxes allow the beekeeper to be less invasive and more observant, while fostering natural comb building tendencies of the bees. For more information on biodynamic beekeeping, and the "golden" one-room hive design, check out the Melissa Gardens of Healdsburg, California.
In the photo above, Marie's bees dwell at the entrance to the winery, welcoming one and all to Frey Vineyards. Situated between an Asian pear tree and a small orchard of hardy lemons, the bees are across the road from the winery weigh station for grape gondolas. The bees find themselves "helping" out with the wine grape harvest by tapping the grape juice flowing in during this season. We wonder if we can tell the grape honey from the other floral creations the bees provide throughout the year.
Late last night, after all the ranch had gone to sleep, we heard a bellowing coming from the barn. The much anticipated births from our cows had come, and the mother, Gracie, was announcing her first calf. This morning we celebrated the calf's first day!
They say “a swarm in May is worth a bale of hay,” and working on the farm, I know the value of both! Last February I attended the Honey Bee Symposium at Sommerfield Waldorf School, where renowned Biodynamic beekeeper Gunter Hauk discussed the loving being that is the honey bee, with a panel of Northern California apiculturists. I left the event with a keen desire to build my own hive as a sanctuary for the honey bee. On my quest for a hive design I came across work being done internationally with the “top bar” model, which utilizes the bottom half of a hexagon (the shape the bees draw in wax) as the principle structure. Because of these dimensions the bees are able to draw honeycombs in perfect, heart-shaped arcs, as they would naturally do if they were not impeded by man’s engineering. My husband Daniel and I created two such hives using wax to seal cracks. We added features of which we hope the bees will be able to regulate themselves, such as really small ventilation holes that can be filled with propolis as needed.
Katrina and Marie, on their respective Melissa quests, have found a Biodynamic hive popularized in Germany that has similar aspects to a top bar hive, but with some fancy features added. Called the “one-room-hive” (in German: “Einraumbeute”), it includes such additions as a waxed cloth that can be kept over the hive while one works with the bees, to minimize the disruption of opening the hive. Additionally, these new models offer observation windows to watch the queen cells as they develop. (Knowing the mature cell dates are important in Biodynamic beekeeping, which allows the hive to swarm, as Hauk describes, for the joie de vivre the bees experience). Beveled frame edges, a special insulation layer, and dove-tailed carpentry make these hives a special gift to the bees.
In late May, Katrina and I journeyed down to a local organic beekeeper’s apiary in Healdsburg and collected our bees in the twilight. We brought all of our unconventional hives with us and shook the bees in, all 40,000 of them per hive. With a total of 4 hives in the back of the car, it was over 100,000 bees buzzing as we made our late night sojourn home. Suited up in full regalia, just in case, we unloaded our sweet vessels on the Frey Ranch under the midnight moonlight.
The next morning, at the break of dawn, our bees found their new foraging grounds on the ranch. Daniel’s bees got a little disoriented and decided to swarm. Luckily, they opted to settle into a nearby apple tree in our orchard. We were able to catch them again and put them back into their hive, after which we made some improvements on the design. Katrina’s bees decided to swarm too, and it was quite the climbing expedition to recover them high up in another tree. Katrina and Marie caught another swarm, and this one decided to make its home in a wine barrel. Now, at the beginning of July, all the hives are blissfully buzzing away, gathering sweet nectars from the summer garden blooms.
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