SODAK

While we were in South Dakota last week, Dina had a dream:

It’s morning and we’re inspecting our garden, as we normally do, and Dina notices something unusual growing up from the ground.  She reflexively calls it was a weed, walks closer, fingers the leaves and spots the tell-tale periwinkle blossoms. “Borage,” she says. “From Mom’s garden. A seed blew it in the wind from her garden to ours, and here it grows!”

Though it’s a dream, it’s a moment of truth.

A poignant picture and one that’s beautifully symbolic of the farm dreams we share in our waking hours.

Our week on Kate and Lee’s farm felt immensely rich and we hope it was a dry run for good things to come.

Below, in photos, is a glimpse of some of that richness…

 

 

 

The one and only thing Dina has asked that I be sure learn at Farm School is how to grow is GIANT beets. If I can, she says, everything will be right with the world. Well, they are still proving hard for us to grow, but turns out they aren’t the mythological creatures we were expecting either. Kate has figured out how.

 

Dina harvests fresh mint while in the background Lee, Kate’s husband, works on their new chicken palace (more about that later).  While we were in town, Lee got the nickname Lee Flower because when you caught a glimpse of him in the distance, wearing that bright orange hat, he looked just like – well – a flower.

 

The best darn barn cat ever, doing an impersonation of garlic. (If you’re not seeing it, check out the whiskers on that garlic.) We think her name is Python, but Kate’s not sure. On the farm, only the four goats, three dogs and two geese get the honor of being named.

 

Having the grocery store in your back yard is pretty handy. In Boston, our quarter of a mile trips to Whole Foods can come as frequently as cravings or culinary inspirations strikes. In the Black Hills, not so much. Notice the elusive Lee Flower again in the background.

 

There was quite a stark contrast in between the dead grass of drought-strickened South Dakota and the verdant bounty of Kate’s garden. Despite what it may look like, it’s a serious uphill battle to farm the rocky thin topsoil of the Black Hills. Every bit of dirt these vegetables grew from, Kate made by combining truckloads manure, kitchen scraps and straw, which with a lot of muscle and some magic turned into compost. Did I mention Kate weighs about 100 lbs?!

 

Fava Beans getting shelled for dinner. Turns these suckers are pretty labor intensive. Once you do all the work to get the beans out of the pod, you have to blanch them and shell the beans too! Above is a photo of the beans before they’ve gone through their second round of shelling.

 

The finished product: Fava bean salad. Made with corn frozen from last year, garlic and mint from the garden and onions and turmeric…. this is nearly a 100% yard-born meal. Adorned with borage flowers, of course.

 

Homemade hummus. Unfortunately since 40 acres of chick peas wouldn’t be enough to keep Dina and I in hummus, they had to come from the can. The candle to the left is from the yard (made of bee’s wax from the Lee Flower) and the beer behind it is local (Pile O’ Dirt Porter – Amazing).

 

Yes. From the yard.

 

Beautiful Wheat Berry Pie – bursting with garden kale and zucchini and dill seed. Oh and a bunch of eggs from mom’s 35 hens.

 

~ 75 % yard.

 

THIS, is where half of Lee’z Beez live. (Yes, he calls them that.) Each box contains a separate colony, each with their own queen.  We learned that the medium-sized boxes at the bottom contain the comb and honey that the bees live off of during the winter. The smaller boxes on top are for excess honey which can be harvested.

 

This grid gives the bees a template which they CAN (but sometimes don’t) follow when building their combs. According to Lee, there is research to suggest that manufacturing these sheet with the cells slightly small than what the bees would naturally produce helps to protect against the varroa mite, the parasite involved in colony collapse disorder.

 

This is the face Lee makes when he is imparting knowledge while trying not to be put off by the annoying camera people.

 

In case you haven’t heard there is a school of thought that says all personalities can be divided into two types: Chaos Muppets and Order Muppets. Same logic apparently hold true for Lee’z Beez. These are the chaos muppets (explanation to follow).

 

These are the Order Muppets.

 

This is also a Muppet, of one form or another, who is allergic to bees. He is holding a smoker to ward off potential stings. (Dina’s note: no he is not.) Contrary to what I’d thought, it isn’t the smoke itself that pacifies the bees. It is the honey they instinctively gorge on after they get hit with the smoke that makes them friendlier.

 

Here you can see why the Order Muppets get their name. Like good bees, they are following the pattern set on the grid to construct their honey combs.

 

Bee colonies are unbelievably fascinating. Did you know that honey bees communicate by dancing?  A colony of bees is considered a “superorganism” because their social interactions are highly complex and much like cells working together in a single body.   Did you know the lady bees are the workers and will fly 55,000 miles to make one pound of honey while the guys bees do nothing but sit around and mate?! Did you know a queen be will lay one egg per minute, day and night?  If her performance isn’t up to the standards of her workers they will move a recently laid egg into a queen cell and give it “royal jelly” to produce her replacement. And then they kill her.

 

That’s regurgitated and dehydrated nectar (AKA honey) glistening at the bottom of those combs!

 

And THESE are the Chaos Muppets at work. As you can see, they didn’t get the grids to build with, only a top bar to hang their combs from. (Apparently Kenyan beekeepers have success with this method.) As you can see these independent ladies have built their combs is all over the place. I think it is pretty but it makes very difficult to harvest the honey.

 

You prove to be a pretty popular girl in South Dakota with a bag full of hamburger buns.

Gawkers.  The one of the left is Custer.  He is currently having hormone rages akin to that of a teenage boy. (Lee suspects to a testicle that escaped the castration bands when he was a kid.) This renders him quite fond of rocks, trees, Dina, other boy goats, you name it.  He’s into most anything including his goatee beard (no further details to follow – google “urine + goat + beard”).

At the end of the day – Lee in the woods with a bottle of whisky and four goats. This is the stuff dirty jokes are made of…

 

Despite his concern, Wendell Berry made the trip as well. Sadie (on the left) was not concerned.

 

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