Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Better days

This photo is from the spring, a day when we were full of hope and enthusiasm, when anything seemed possible.

 It has been a sad summer for us, a summer of more questions than answers and more losses than gains. Our bees just have not thrived. July was a telling month. We lost Andrea's girls, and we struggled with long periods of not having brood or seeing our queens. None of the hives have produced much honey, and in most cases not enough for overwintering. I am not sure what we will do. Colleen's Royal Ruckus has one almost full super which will give us about 3 gallons and if we take anything from the other hives we might end up with 5 gallons. A far cry from the 20 gallons we got last year.

I am at a loss for the causes but I am well aware of the struggle bees are having. I worry that we don't have good nutritional sources, but how can that be after last year. I worry that the one farmer nearby who is using heavy chemicals is hurting our bees, but how can that be after last year. I worry that Varroa destructor is hurting our bees, but how can that be they were new packages. It was a long, cold and wet spring which didn't help the situation and we have not had great weather until recently which is just too late for the bees.

Maybe we just had bad bee juju this year, maybe we got hit hard by a combination of problems. I don't know. I just know how sad and painful it is and I can't imagine being a commercial beekeeper and dealing with losses of a greater magnitude. This is a hobby, an expensive one yes, but a still a hobby. We can recover and go at it again next year but it is a different story for commercial beekeepers who are loosing hundreds of hives and in some cases having to shut down.

I am sad I won't have honey for the Jewish New Year. I am sad I might not have enough honey for my wedding favors. I am sad my bees will die because they don't have enough stores for the winter. I am just sad about it all. I don't want to bemoan but it is hard to get my chin up. I love my bees and I love my time in the bee yard. The past 6 weeks have been a struggle and in the sprit of trying to keep my hopes up I kept all of this to myself. Now that the summer is coming to an end I just have to fess up and admit it has been a very bad year. So there you have it. If you have been fortunate enough to get honey from The Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary your share may be very small this year.

Trousdale Family Farm An "Iowa Century Farm"

I did not know until yesterday that my people on my father's side were from Grundy Center, Iowa. My father grew up in Mott, North Dakota. We were taught a little rhyme about his roots growing up "Mott Mott the little spot that God forgot".  I grew up spending time on the family farm in Iowa but I never bothered to learn the history of this place.

For sometime now I have wanted to go back and see the farm, mostly to remember the fun of my childhood, chasing chickens around the barn, pulling up fresh rhubarb out of the ground, salting it and eating it raw and to just see the land again. So yesterday Tina and I and two of my paternal cousins took my 82 year old father back to the farm.

Jim Trousdale, Cari and Elmer and Bob Trousdale

In 1875 my paternal great grandparents, Mary and Thomas Trousdale purchased three farms in Grundy Center, Iowa. Mary and Thomas had three children, Vira, Robert and my grandfather Elmer. Each of the children inherited a farm. Each of Elmer's children inherited a third of their father's inheritance. By virtue of my mother's trust my siblings and I now own 1/6 of a third of this 330 acre farm. So I am a forth generation farm owner. We share ownership with four cousins and a uncle who will eventually pass his 1/3 to his three children. The farm has now been in the same family for 138 years.

Of course we don't farm the land ourselves but my father does manage and oversee to the management of the farm. In my lifetime I have known four tenant farmers. We cash lease the land and house to a tenant farmer who takes all the risk around the yield. While I have always know this about the farm I gained a much greater understanding of it all yesterday.

Once we reached the Iowa boarder it was just one farm after another but we all noticed something different growing than the corn of our childhood.

Rows and rows of seed corn all meticulously planted, recently pollinated and cut. I didn't expect to see seed corn, especially not on our property. After all this is the stuff of Monsanto and other GMO producers. I had to listen carefully to realize that we don't get to decide what is grown on the property, the tenant farmer makes those decisions. As I was piecing this all together  I am sure Jason, our tenant farmer and his mother were thinking here come the radical lesbians from the big city to tell us to stop the seed crop production. When I made the leap from seed corn to GMO's and then to Monsanto Jason's mother Kathy looked at me and said  "Well think about it, GMO's are really no different than natural evolution which is bound to happen, this way it is just happening faster so just think of it as accelerated evolution." Huh. When we got home I said to Tina "So really, my family is participating in this whole GMO thing".  "Yep, you are." So that was the second big revelation of the day. I am not sure how I feel about it but felt better after a conversation with a brother who said eventually we can probably prohibit the planting of seed corn on the property through a lease agreement. It may mean loosing the current tenant farmer and it surely won't be done until my father passes. While we may technically own the farm he still manages everything.

It was great to see the property and visit with Jasen, his wife and his mother and reminisce about the barn, building the current house and learning more about my family history. After visiting the farm Elmer took us to the Grundy Center Grave Yard where many of my relatives are buried. My grandfather, my great grandparents and several great aunts and uncles. It was here that my father told stories about growing up in Mott but spending summers in at his grand parents in Grundy Center and playing on the farm all summer long with his brother.

I am not entirely sure why I feel so connected to this place but I do. I am sure my connection to the land and memories from childhood somehow impacted my connection to the world today, my interest in slow food, food from scratch, the bees, canning and so on. It was a good trip, fun to spend time with my cousins who I rarely see and to take my dad back to a place he cares about deeply.