Archive for the ‘Creation Care’ Category

Hiving Day

Last weekend we hived two new packages and attempted to install a new queen into our failing swarm hive. We’ll see today how everyone turned out!

I am continually impressed by how the amazing cohesiveness and intuitition of a honeybee hive. The more I study them, the more I want to learn. The more I want to truly be a bee-keeper and not simply someone who has bees. These bees and the way in which they help our land, our food chain, and even my own sense of responsibility as a caretaker is growing in its importance to me.

I’ve already arranged with a local farmer to teach some beekeeping courses this summer. We planted some buckwheat in the yard and are doing our best to keep the failing swarm hive going. We’re even on the waiting list for another package of bees in May–and, if everything works out (the swarm survives, our original hive requeens properly, our two new hives do well, and the waiting list hive comes through), we’ll be a five-hive property. Very exciting.

My goal for this year is to prepare for a mentorship program next year. It’s so important to me to have an education-based business model, rather than a sales-based one. Good business is built on relationships.  And, for us, good caretaking is built on helping others to learn from both our mistakes and our successes. Not to mention I love being a teacher–but, of course, if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you know that! 🙂

I’m hoping to update our business website as well today!

Blue

One of the most striking differences between living in the countryside of the Tehachapi Mountains and living back down in LA’s urban sprawl is the sky.  Here, the sky truly is blue.

As a kid, I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley in the 80’s. Back then, days known as “third-stage smog alerts” were frequent. These were the days when you would come home from a day at school and your lungs would hurt as you fell asleep. I remember frequently, especially during the summer, I would feel the dull ache when I inhaled–but I didn’t really think about the impact of the dirty air. As a kid, few things seem to have lasting consequences, and since the ache would be gone by morning, it didn’t bother me much.

I’m lucky to have grown up without many breathing problems, but I knew plenty of friends who had asthma. Measures have been taken since those days to clean up the air, but we just didn’t do as much about it back then. Often the sky was a hazy mix of bluish-gray and light brown, or sometimes it just seemed like a colorless white sheet. But when I would go up to the San Gabriel Mountains for summer camp, I remember marvelling at the sky. It really was blue–a blue that I never saw in my daily life. I remember sitting in the ampitheater of the camp as they would do introductions each year, and the blue sky would distract me. It would be the first thing I noticed every single year. It was entrancing.

Now, as an adult, I find myself returning my gaze to the sapphire sky. The air up here at 4,000 feet is clean and crisp. There are never any dirty, hazy days.  The sky retains its magical blue, and the air just smells different.

It’s sad that children and adults alike can’t all appreciate the sky on a daily basis. I know there are things being done, policies taking effect, and awareness being raised…but I think it will be a long time before children in a city like Los Angeles can gaze up into a clear blue sky.  Creation care goes beyond just environmental policy or the politically-laden “green” movement. Creation care embeds appreciation in the hearts of those who participate, and requires a true understanding of the intrinsic value–not utilitarian value–of the various elements of our beautiful world.

Our children deserve a blue sky. Not only because it is healthier for them, or because there are domino effects of the pollution. These are good and important reasons, yes. But even simpler than that–our children deserve a blue sky because God made it beautiful.

Chasin’ Chicks

My uncle has had a long history of picking up my younger brother (who has special needs that keep him at a cognitive level of around 7 or 8 years old) and taking him out for some “guy time.” Usually they will go somewhere and have lunch, visit the toy store, and maybe see a movie. But when they come home and we ask what they did to have fun, my uncle always replies with a grin: “Oh, we were just out chasin’ chicks.”

Well, Rob and I have decided to really chase chicks. As in, eight of them–five-week-old pullets that we got after a long time dreaming, reading, and researching and a short time actually making the decision.  Last Friday, I walked into our local Hay and Feed store to check out some other things they had. There they were–the last of the spring chicks that had been for sale in the store over the last month or so. There were only about thirty left. In the giant, peeping tub were two different breeds: the popular Rhode Island Red, a dependable layer of light brown eggs, and the barred (some might consider it “striped”) Cuckoo Maran, known for laying dark chocolate colored eggs. I asked the lady at the counter how long she thought they’d last. “Not through the weekend,” she sighed almost wistfully. “People have been snapping them up, and these are the last of them.”

I got on the phone to Rob. A list of verbal pros and cons were discussed. They weren’t day-old chicks, which meant they wouldn’t need the intensive care of very young chicks (temperature control, for one). And since they were five weeks old, they would be laying by September. It also meant we could have them outside in the coop by Memorial Day, when we would be gone for three days in New Jersey. It would be easier to let a neighbor take care of them. On the other hand, the coop wasn’t near ready to house hens. There was no door, no lid for the roosting box, no run, and the inside needed a good once-over. We’d have to put in a lot of work in a little time.  And besides, were we ready? This would make the homestead…well, much more of a “real” homestead. We’d have chickens, for goodness sake.

But in the end, the chicks won. I picked up four Rhode Island Reds and four Cuckoo Marans, bought a 30-gallon tub (which I quickly learned was too small), some wood shavings, and some feed. I brought them home and tenderly set everything up. I whispered a “welcome” to our newest ladies.

This weekend we undertook the job of getting the coop chicken-ready; that way, even if we didn’t have the run ready for a week or two, we could transition them to their new, bigger digs after this cold spell passes (a freak mid-May snowstorm, ugh).  So here’s what we started with:

We swept the inside free of inches of oak leaves and other crud, added a roosting bar, and put in a little ladder up to the roosting boxes. Then we pached the hole under the boxes with a plank of plywood, added a lid and lock to the roosting nests, and added dutch doors (since there is no ventilation built into the coop, we’ll open the top door for now, and hope to add an inner screen door as well). The wood is quite old, so we’re not sure how long this coop will last, but hopefully it will give us a few good years before we need to start from scratch. We’ll paint the whole thing in the next few days, but for now we just painted the exposed wood and added some weather stripping to the door. Here’s what we ended up with:

As for the chicks, they’re doing great. They’re quite entertaining, and I think they’ll have a wonderful life here. Our hope is to let them out into their run during the day, and when we’re home we’ll let them pasture our property in a little portable pen we’ve picked up. The goal here isn’t just about eggs (or possibly meat) for our family. The goal is a dual one: it’s to give back as much as we get. Even though we’ll be getting eggs, I want to give these chicks a shot at a wonderful life. I want to support the home-grown, local movement as much as possible–and this is the ultimate in that support. I want to give our friends and family a chance to really get what “from farm to fork” means.

Plus, it gives Sugar a new job: she’s the official chicken-guarder. So far, she’s doing pretty well.

Bees

The bees arrived on Friday via Next Day UPS.  The delivery man brought the buzzing box carefully to me, smiled and said, “This is so cool!”

We received what is called–in the world of beekeepers, at least–a 3 lb package. Such a package includes both the queen and the 10,000+ bees needed to start your own hive. The queen comes in her own little box with a screen on it, and the bees in the larger box cluster around her and around a can of feed that is included for the journey.

The instructions told us to spray the bees with water to rehydrate them and then to spray them with a little sugar water (through the screens) to calm and nourish them. It worked like a charm. Then, we were supposed to put the box in a cool, shaded, ventilated place until the following evening. The bees needed this time to get used to each other and to get used to their new queen–a queen whom they had likely never met before.

The best time to hive a package of bees is in the evening–they will be calmer and will settle into the hive a little easier. So we spent Saturday doing chores on the homestead (installing a new drip irrigation system, to be exact) and waited for the sun to get a little lower in the sky. We prepared sugar syrup for their feed, got all of our supplies prepped and ready, and reviewed the instructions. When dusk came, we were ready.

It was time to gear up. For maximum protection, I put on jeans and tucked them into thick, high boots (this is the only time you’ll see me tuck jeans into boots). I put on one of Rob’s white dress shirts and buttoned it to the very top. I put on the protective veil that looks ridiculous but actually proved to be quite helpful. Finally, I put on my gloves, which have hands made of leather and  thick cloth which extends past my elbow. There is elastic that holds the gloves’ “sleeves” tight to your arm so that no bees can crawl into your gloves. You have to cover any crawl-able space when you’re working with bees, and we took every precaution.

Then came the fun part. We lit the smoker, doused the bees one last time with sugar water, and thumped the box hard so that all the bees would fall away from the feeder can and queen box. We extracted the can and put it to the side. Then, we got the queen box, carefully pulled the cork that held her inside and replaced it with a marshmallow (the bees will eat through this to free her over the next couple of days). We put the queen box inside the hive, and then we poured the rest of the bees in, using smoke as we went to help them remain calm. It was an extraordinary sight, and both of us laughed later as we confided to each other that our hearts were pounding. Once the bees were in, we quickly reassembled all of the other parts of the hive–the wax foundations, the top feeder, and the hive top–and stood back to watch.

The bees began to settle in, realize where the entrance and exit was located, and started to acclimate. By yesterday, there were the expected hive guards at the entrance, various bees flying around checking out the area, and an unmistakable living quality about our little hive. It’s extraordinary to watch the various stages of activity throughout the day. In the morning, as the sun begins to hit the hive (if at all possible, hives should face southeast so that it faces the rising sun), the hive begins to wake up. Activity begins. And as the day progresses, the bees go out to explore, find the food and water sources, and learn to recognize the pheromone scent of their hive. Then, as the daylight wanes, the activity slows. By the time it is dark enough to stop farm chores for the day, the bees have settled in for the night. Only a few stand guard at the hive’s entrance, and the hive’s buzz has reduced to a low, comforting hum. It’s beautiful.

In a week, we’ll go back and check on the hive’s progress–to make sure the queen is healthy and that she is laying eggs.

It’s official. We are beekeepers.

Compost Fun

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I realize I haven’t written on some of our homesteading activities in a while. We’ve been continuing along with our homesteading fun, including Robert’s latest love….pickling. But pickling will have to wait for another time. Today I want to talk a little bit about our adventures in composting. It’s easier than you think!

Above you see a picture of Rob holding a handful of our compost. This rich soil is pretty much the best thing you could put in your garden. All you need to create compost is some fruit and vegetable waste, some dried leaves or shredded newspaper, a little arm strength, and some time.

I suppose it’s a little more involved than that, but not much. We start by gathering together our vegetable and fruit scraps in a tightly sealed container in the kitchen. This includes things like apple cores, carrot peels, even coffee grounds. Egg shells are also compostable. No meat, oil, or dairy, however; you don’t want anything that would go rancid or attract vermin.

After a few days, we have enough scraps and we go outside to add to our compost pile. It’s not anything fancy. Here’s a picture:

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 After we add the vegetable scraps (“green matter”), we must also add an equal amount of “brown matter”–dried leaves, grass clippings, even newspaper. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have soy based ink, which is safe for composting, so we use a lot of newspaper in our composting. Getting this ratio is important, however; if you don’t have enough brown matter, the compost will attract flies and smell pretty bad. It also won’t decompose quickly. Often when you hear about smelly compost, this is the problem. Some people even say the ratio should be as high as 8:1 (brown to green) but I don’t think you have to be this precise. Play with it and see what works. If you need more brown matter, you’ll know.

After you’ve added the brown matter to the pile, sprinkle it with a good dose of water. This will help work oxygen into that chemical equation. You’ll also want to use a pitchfork to turn your compost every day. This will aid in the breakdown process and things will go much more quickly.

There are other ways to compost as well–using worms and some types of manure–but these are a little more complicated. Our compost works just fine without the intentional aid of either of those. I say “intentional” because we have noticed that quite a few earthworms have naturally come to our compost. This is great because it helps the compost break down faster….especially since our pile is not in the sun. That’s another thing–being in the sun will make it compost faster, but it’s not necessary. Our pile is in the shade full time, and is doing just fine.

One last interesting aspect of our composting. When we first started, we thought our pile was going to quickly grow to 2 or 3 feet high. It never did. Even though we are always piling more on there (it’s been about 7 months now) it never gets taller than the picture above. Why? It’s constantly breaking down! So you don’t have to worry about a 6 foot tall pile of compost in your backyard. It just won’t get there if you’re doing it right.

Hope this helps anyone out there who has been thinking about composting but has been afraid to try. It’s really easy, and it’s a good way to help reduce waste. A lot of the things we compost would not break down as easily in a garbage dump because the circumstances are far less than ideal. So it’s also a great way to help the environment.

Happy composting!

Fall-ing

IMG_5896I have many things to write and tell about. My heart is overflowing with things to share, both joyful and painful.

But for today, I am content to enjoy with you this crisp autumn morning. Fall is indeed upon us. Not only are the nights cooler, but the morning chill carries with it an expectancy that begins now and continues through Advent. There is an expectancy in the air. The cycle of the earth’s Paschal Mystery has begun again.

It is a good time for reflection. Brew a cup of hot tea, hold it between your palms. Walk out into the brisk dawn, warmed by a sweater that you haven’t had to wear since March. Watch your breath make small swirls in the air. Drink in the slow awakening, for the night is stretching further out into the morning and the stars are becoming hesitant to fade.

It is a beautiful time of year. I know I wrote about it recently, but I can’t get enough of it this year. Perhaps it is because I can feel the cycle of change beginning in my own life. Things are indeed shifting. Some parts are reaching the end of our walk together. Others are just beginning. There is a bittersweetness in it all, but even as the leaves begin to fall they do so with a brilliant last hurrah. A reminder to celebrate what has been. A reminder to hold out hope for what is to come.

The change is not an easy one. All of the earth struggles with it, and many creatures make provisions to anticipate the winter’s lean times. There is wisdom in this; there is wisdom in reading the signs of the earth, to be synched enough with its messages that they prepare themselves adequately. Spiritually, I think it repeats the echo of the prophets throughout the ages: Prepare the way for the Lord. We must understand the cycles within our own lives, read the movement wisely; we must prepare our hearts for the inevitable dying back in order to create fertile ground for the Spirit. God is present in it all…we just have to have eyes to see it.

Empowerment

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi

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One of the most wonderful things about my time as a high school teacher was seeing the students actively live out the values that we discussed in our daily 50 minutes together. It was seeing the “a-ha!” in their eyes when they realized they were capable of truly transforming the world around them. It was seeing them use the tools I had provided for them in a context that actually changed lives, environments, circumstances. But none of it was my doing. They were the ones doing all the work; they were the instruments of change.

I was blessed to be a guest speaker on creation care at my high school today (hi, SL’ers!). It was an important day–not because I was speaking, but because it was another opportunity to empower the future of our church (and our world).  I think so many problems continue to remain and even grow because we don’t give enough credibility to the ingenuity and gumption of today’s youth. We (and by we I mean post-college, workforce, voting adults) assume we can figure out the answers ourselves. Meanwhile, we aren’t giving the younger generations enough credit in their ability to not only comprehend but help solve the problems. This is a mistake.

Young people–especially high school and college students–are one of the most important groups to focus on when we are looking toward changes in ecological justice, food ethics, urban homesteading, and the Christian faith in general. We need to move beyond simply lecturing them and invite them into active dialogue about solutions. We need to be mentors, because a mentored youth will grow to be an experienced adult leader. We need to re-imagine our roles; while we don’t know everything (neither do they), we have expertise to share. And while they don’t have the resources to do everything the older generations might, they do have the creativity that we often lack.

After speaking with this group of high school students today, I feel extremely hopeful. But it will only be through collaboration and open minds that the generation gap is bridged in ministry. Perhaps some of what I said empowered them to act further; certainly their interest and questions empowered me to continue on in confidence that God has led me to speak out on this topic for a reason.