Friday, April 29, 2011


Wednesday night while I was sitting at the computer I saw lightning strike the top of the mountain.

There's a window facing the mountain just to the left of my computer screen and two long lightning bolts came from way up in the sky and struck the top of the mountain ridge.

One on top of the other.

I immediately started to count.

one thousand one.

One thousand two.

one th....

... and there was the thunder. A double explosion loud enough to shake the windows.

A little over two seconds. How far away does that make the storm? (the cliffs, according to my gps are 6/10ths of a mile from the house).

That put the lightning right up on top, on this side of the cliffs.

And the storm was moving this way. I stood at the window staringout into the storm waiting for the next lightning strike. I could hear the wind picking up. Where are farm is located, storms suddenly appear from the west as the clear the mountain and then come rushing down over the forest.

When it happens there's usually not even enough time to run for the house. one time, back when we first moved out here, I didn't realize how dangerous it was and instead of throwing down whatever I was doing and running, I had stayed repairing the goat fence at the edge of the forest.

A lightning bolt came down not twenty meters from where I stood and split a tall poplar.

One moment it was an entire tree. The next it was a splintered wreck. Pieces flying through the air and then the remains of the trunk, began, with a horrible sound, to crack, I remember it smoking and shattered, wavered back and forth, and then falling in my direction.

This isn't something where you can get up and run out of its way. Before I could even begin to react, the trunk split wide open and from a spot twenty feet up broke and fell in my direction.

Missing me, but not by much.

The splintered stump of the tree, maybe rising no more than ten or twenty meters in the air continued to stand for almost another decade and everytime I'd walk by it would remind me just how much violence is in one of those afternoon thunderstorms.

Last night, It couldn't have been more than a handful of seconds before another flash of lightning. I didn't see it strike but I'm sure it destroyed a tree half way down the mountain.

And another flash, this time the thunder booming almost on top of it instantly followed by the rain.

A loud drum roll began to beat on our metal roof. and I was up and running around the house making sure the windows were closed.

A major downpour. Within fifteen minutes my weather station was reporting more than half an inch had fallen.

It was too dark to see the fields but it made me worry about the crops we had planted Wednesday.

Ten thousand onion seedlings. 3000 leeks. Beets, kohlrabi, fennel and two hundred pounds of blue potatoes.

Even more vulnerable to such a downpour was the fields we had just recently plowed and tilled.

With the forecast of a coming rainstorm we had spent Wednesday hurrying to finish, preparing several acres of land for planting and then Wednesday afternoon we had hooked up the plastic mulch attachment to our smaller tractor (the larger one does the plowing and tilling) and had rolled out several thousand feet of plastic mulch and irrigation drip tape.

Rolling the mulch out so the rows followed the contours of the land., hoping to limit the amount of erosion caused by a downpour.

That was the thought, at least, but that much rain coming down so quickly?

Our weather station says Wednesday nights storm fell at a rate, at its heaviest, hit
six inches an hour.

But then, fifteen minutes after the storm started, and 8 tenths of an inch of rain later, the storm had passed.

Dropping more rain in a few minutes than fell in any one month during last summer's drought.

And then there was this morning.

Another cloudburst.

This one could have been the heaviest storm we've had in years. In less than ten minutes the weather station reported 82/100 of an inch.

Watching the field below the house I thought it was going to wash away the plastic mulch.

I know that without those long sheets of plastic to hold the soil in place it would have eroded a gully across our fields at least a foot deep.

We came out of those two abnormally heavy thunderstorms in amazingly lucky shape.

This seasons onions seem to be fine. Hilled with the contours of the land the onions protected the fields.

The kohlrabi, fennel and beets also look in good shape. And maybe, even, if we don't get any more rain and if it doesn't rain again by tomorrow we'll be able to pull our waterwheel planter down the rows of plastic mulch, poking holes through the mulch and planting the tens of thousands of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, pac choi, mustard, Swiss chard, arugula, and lettuce seedlings that are now ready to go into the ground.

Our planting season is ready to go.

Shareholders are invited to come out to the farm this weekend. (This is part of our CSA where paying members can come out and pick vegetables before the delivery part of the season. Right now we have greens (arugula, three different lettuces, a salad mustard and some stir fry a hot mustard called Giant Red), that grew in one of our greenhouses, plus asparagus, sorrel and herbs. Shareholders that come out to the farm also get free eggs. The details were sent out to shareholders in our newsletter.

What else happened on the farm this last week?

Honey bees.
Tuesday morning an e-mail came from a local beekeeper saying the ten packages of honey bees I'd ordered had arrived.

'Your bees are here. Come and get them.'

So I drove out to his apiary on the side of a mountain in Rappahannock County and got back to our farm just before dark. Not wanting the bees to sit in the cramped cages for another night I went to work on them in the dark (which it turned out is easier than doing it during the daylight).

We had set up the bees new homes several weeks before so it was simply a matter of opening up the packages, bees when being shipped like that are put into a wire cage with a queen in a queen cage plus a can full of sugar water.

I took the can out of the cage, along with the queen locked in her private cage, poured the bees into the hive, and, because I didn't want to traumatize all of the bees I, pulled out half a dozen frames of comb and put the cage with one side open into the hive,.

Then I pulled the cork from one end of the queen cage and put her into the hive too then closed up the hive.

In the morning I came back, opened up the hive, by now most of the bees were out of the cage and going about setting up house in the hive. I took the cage out and shook out any bees still inside, made sure the queen cage was in a good position. While I had pulled the cork there was still a thin barrier of candy keeping her inside. In a day or two the bees would have eaten the candy and released the queen.

I put the frames back into the hive.

I then put a feeder on top of the hive and poured in a mixture that is one part sugar and one part water. this gives the bees something to eat until they can go out and start collecting their own food. I also put a frame full of honey into each of the new hives so there would be plenty of food not only to feed the bees but to feed the baby bees as soon as the queen started laying eggs in a few days after she is released. by then we would have ten healthy hives building up for a season of pollinating our vegetables.

I noticed this morning the acre of red clover I planted last fall as a cover crop is beginning to flower. There should be plenty of food for our new bees to gather.

In two weeks I'm driving down to Georgia to pick up another ten bee hives. These, instead of coming in packages will be in nucs. I'll tell you more about that next week.

And that's it for the week.



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