Memphis Backyard Farmer

My Own Private Napa Valley
May 29, 2011, 7:51 am
Filed under: Gardening

I hate to keep going on about this, but here’s an update on the grapes. Chardonnay, anyone?



Spring Bees
May 28, 2011, 10:36 pm
Filed under: Bee Keeping

It’s been a crazy spring this year. In case you haven’t heard (where have you been?) Memphis, home of the Blues, Elvis, and all things bar-b-que, has been submerged under a big stream called the Mighty Mississip. In all honesty, it was considerably less exciting than how it was portrayed in the media. But we really have seen more than our share of rain. It’s been hard on the bees. They haven’t been able to get out as often as they’d like. And my main field has been swamped to the point where it was all but impossible to get to my hives. So I haven’t seen my hives – except from the road – since early April when I put this year’s honey supers on.

I’ve been in high gear this weekend since it’s a long weekendand we’ve had great weather. We built 3 new supers to add to those already on hives. We inspected the hives here at the house and they look great. And today my number 2 son and I got to inspect the hives out at the field.

We have honey! We’re just a little behind last year’s production, but we should have our first “pull” in a few weeks.

Something about bee “breeds” that might be worth noting: I’m a huge fan of Russians. I’ve been running Russian bees for about 5-6 years. I moved to them because they over winter well and they’re resistant to mites. As we’ve tried to move away from chemicals and antibiotics, a hearty bee is an absolute must. Italians, on the other hand, have not been great for me. My first few years with them were bad. I lost more than a few hives each year. So when I found out that I had picked up a hive of Italians last year, I was disappointed. They didn’t build up much last year (never went beyond 6 frames), and I was sure they wouldn’t make it through the winter, but they did. Not only that, but they’ve built up faster than the Russians, which is unusual. But Italians have a reputation for putting up a lot of honey, and they are definitely doing that. My Ruskies are getting there, they’ve got honey in the comb, but my Italian girls have stuffed it in every cell and covered it over with a layer of pearl. I hope they’re able to stay healthy and fight off the critters, but in the mean time, I’ll enjoy what they’re known for and pull that sweet stuff off next week.

Food Desert Where?
May 14, 2011, 5:25 am
Filed under: Policy

Some things just don’t make sense.

This week I became aware of a new “Food Desert Locator” published by the USDA. I followed the link and looked at my home town of Memphis. I looked for some specific areas where I’ve done volunteer work, places that are among the poorest in the nation. No surprises.

But then as I broadened my search, I found something that made me go “hmmmm…” And then ask, “Why?”

A couple of days a week I work in Henderson, TN, about 80 miles from where I live. It’s a drive that is picturesque. A half dozen small towns along state highways 64 and 100 guard the roads. There are small Mennonite farms with attached bakeries, right next to large orchards. Acres of corn, cotton and soybeans draw your eyes to the horizon. There isn’t much that is more beautiful than a sunrise coming up across the farmland and wilderness on this drive.

And this is a food desert.

How is it that this land of potential has become a place where people can’t get the food they need? How is it that country people have lost their ability to feed themselves? There was certainly a time when to be  a land owner in the country meant that, while you might not be wealthy, you could always eat like a king (which is worth a fortune).

We often think that urban centers are the places where good food is scarce. We often equate nutritional poverty with the inner city. My mind can’t fathom the idea there are open spaces and farmland along Highway 100 that are food deserts.

Things are worse than I thought.

May 14, 2011, 5:05 am
Filed under: Gardening

GrapesWe have grapes! And not just a few – this vine is loaded! I planted this vine 2 years ago only to have the boys trample it into the ground. Last year, to my surprise, a shoot came up, then absolutely took over the side of my house. This year, already, we have little white grapes. I’m both excited and amazed. Through really no effort on my part, we have fruit. Brilliant.