‘We bought the farm’ is an old-timey way to indirectly say someone has died- often referring to death in a battle, or plane crash. While we did have our share of battles with debt collectors and nay-sayers (no plane crashes though), for us it holds a more literal meaning- after over two years of fundraising and negotiations with family we have finally purchased 28 acres of the family farm lands!

These 28 acres include Sachum Brook, running along the West side of the property. Forest trails through mixed hardwood forest, a vernal pool in Spring and magical hemlock groove, blueberry and apple orchards, our gardens, apiary and chicken coops as well as the original farm house (now condemned) built in the 1790’s.

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Forest path that leads across Sachum Brook to the vernal pool and hemlock groove

 

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Big bend in Sachum Brook, a favorite spot year round

 

The idea of owning land feels strange and disconnected- what does it even mean to ‘own’ land? It has always been our goal to prevent this acreage from being developed, to protect and re-build our four generation family farm and preserve habitats for wildlife, birds and native plants. Our owning the land on paper will allow us to do all this- and more, but we think of ourselves more as stewards than owners.

This land is home to the animals we raise- chickens, honeybees, an Australian Shepherd and three crazy cats. It is also home to incredible wildlife, birds, insects, amphibians and mammals. The old farm house has been a home to little brown bats for years, we have great blue herons fly over the yard regularly. Barred and great horned owls visit and call- bluebirds return to nest each year. This year we had dozens of monarch caterpillars and butterflies- and found a praying mantis in the garden.

We have seen bobcats, a fisher, coyotes, black bear, fox and a mountain lion (yes, it was a real mountain lion!) in the yard. The hemlock grove is home to some very large porcupines, and the vernal pool has had spotted salamander eggs two years in a row. Deer love to come snack on fallen apples, raccoons and skunks are regulars too.

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Bluebird houses on the meadow edge- we have had nesting pairs for the past three years

 

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Our apiary- all 19 colonies- nestled between old apple trees and our vegetable gardens

 

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Our three chicken coops, with a mix of bantams and standard birds stand on the other side of the old apple tree

 

While the work of a farmer is never done- this land purchase is a huge step in the future of Olsen Farm. THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us along the way- we truly could not have come this far without each of you.

If you are local to the Berkshires- please join us Saturday, November 9th from 4-6 PM at Dottie’s Coffee Lounge 444 North street in Pittsfield to celebrate!

We have been looking for the perfect farm pup for nearly a year, finding a dog who meets our criteria proved to be more challenging that we had first thought. With chickens to protect, cats to share a home with and acres of farm and forest to manage we need a dog who can be both a working pup, and a house companion- with appitude to be trained and low prey drive.

In 2016 our chickens were attacked by a neighborhood dog and our rooster was badly injured- he pulled through!- fighting off the curious dog. Last year our flock was attacked by a fox, we lost two hens and a rooster in the fray. Living in the forest means there are predators a plenty- fox, coyote, bobcat, fisher, raccoon, bear, skunk, owl, hawk, mountain lion, weasel, dog- we have had them all in the yard.

After visiting every local shelter, talking with rescue groups and breeders we still had no luck. Would we ever find the right pup for the job?

Our answer came last weekend after a trip to Tractor Supply and a look at their classifieds bulletin board. IMG_5524Meet Aspen! Aspen is an 8 week old Australian Shepherd, she learned her name in just a day and has already picked up a few commands in the short week she has been with us. She met the chickens on her third day here and was the perfect guest in the coop.

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This little pup works hard, plays hard and sleeps even harder! Her first night with us she escaped from the kitchen by squeezing under a book shelf and we found her snuggled on the couch. IMG_5596

Finding the right farm dog can certainly take time, but it was worth the wait. Aspen is just what we were searching for- and we are so glad to have her join us at Olsen Farm. The cats don’t quite agree (Yet) IMG_5612IMG_5614

Our Mom, Susan, had a real gift for gardening. She loved birds, butterflies and beneficial insects and planted acres of beautiful gardens around the property at Olsen Farm.

We are very lucky to still have detailed plans and photos of her gardens through the years, so we can look back and see the incredible growth and spread her green thumb has had over the past three decades.

IMG_5443Dad, (Tommy) getting new beds dug and laid out in 1993. Those tiny spruce trees in the center are taller than the house now!

IMG_5445The first flowers were thoughtfully planted with stone paths between. We are still working to reclaim these stone paths from the hearty perennials that have happily spread over the years. 

IMG_5444Olsen Farm farmer, Chris, showing off Mom’s new garden bed layout (and his Little League pride!) in 1993

IMG_5441The farm house in the back was built in the 1790’s and is where our great grandparents lived back in the 1930’s when they immigrated from Norway and founded Olsen Farm

IMG_5440Stunning close-up of rudbeckia and cone flowers- some of Susan’s (and our) favorites! 

IMG_5448Full bloom, Summer at Olsen Farm 1996

Olsen Farm holds so much history for our family. Susan’s amazing gardens are a very important piece of what makes this land such a special place. We have been working to uncover some of the overgrown gardens and bring them back to their glory.

The impact of a well thought out pollinator garden is so much greater than can be expressed through words and photos. Susan really had a gift for color, planting bright flowers to bloom in each season. We know our honey bees (and native pollinators) are thoroughly enjoying all the delicious flowers Susan planted!

 

 

We recently registered Susan’s Gardens on the National Pollinator Garden Network, a part of the Million Pollinator Garden challenge. Please check out their project and register your gardens: http://millionpollinatorgardens.org

Bees are truly incredible creatures. They have complex communication and social systems. They are hardworking, intelligent and organized. They pollinate our flowers, fruits, trees and plants. Without their hard work our gardens would not grow. They make delicious honey- a natural antibiotic and delicious vaccine for pollen allergies. We literally could not live without them.

At Olsen Farm we started keeping bees last year because of the importance of supporting pollinators and our drive to practice natural farm and gardening techniques. We have a responsibility to protect native bees by planting healthy gardens- free of chemicals and pesticides, as well as a responsibility to care for our domestic bees like any other pet.

Our colony survived the winter last year but was not able to survive the unfortunate February early thaw and sudden temperature drop. Bees are powerful and delicate, with our quickly changing climate and growing use of toxic pesticides their world is in great danger- and in consequence so is ours.

This year we have added a second hive, and are continuing our hope for the bees and all they share with us.

Here are some photos of the hive-filling process:

 

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Prepping the smoker, dried grass makes great smoke!
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Chris puts on gear to protect his hands, face and arms while filling the hive
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Prying the lid off to remove the queen’s cage
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Removing lid to expose can of sugar water queen’s cage is attached to during travel
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The queen’s cage is attached by a strap that has to be pried off for removal
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Pulling out the can and queen cage
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This can is covered in bees! As soon everything else will be too…
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Detaching the queen’s cage from the can
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Chris gently brushes bees off the outside of the queen’s cage and into the hive box, setting queen’s cage aside for placement later
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Holding the bee package upside down over the brooding box, Chris gets ready to shake them out
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The most exciting step- shaking, or tapping, three pounds of live bees into their new home. No stings to date!
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Chris carefully places the queen’s cage between two frames so the colony can get used to her pheromones and she can be released in a day or so
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Giving the colony some smoke to calm them
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Chris carefully stacks the super on top of the brooder box
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Stacking on the inner narrow lid
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Placing on the hive lid, or outer cover
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Weighing down the lid cover with a cement flat
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We use a ratchet strap to secure our hive boxes together, making it more of a challenge for a bear to break them apart if ever one gets through our electric fence
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Hive one is live!
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Happy bees, already getting to work cleaning up a honey drip in their new home

Orioles are beautiful birds with an amazing song and bright, sunny plumage. These stunning birds LOVE sweet blossoms and fruit, particularly oranges.

 

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=G7WDLRh7OKg

To attract these beauties to your yard you could simply stick orange slices out on posts in the yard, or you can make a decorative treat with sliced oranges with these simple steps.

What you will need:

fresh oranges

sharp knife

2-3 inch twigs

string or twine, cut in 12-15 inch lengths

a skewer or knitting needle (I used a knitting needle)

 

1. Slice oranges in half

2. Cut a few 2-3 inch twig bits

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I used willow twigs because they are plentiful in our yard and are flexible

3. Use a sharp knife to cut a small nick in the center of each twig, as shown below

4. Wrap string or twine around nick in center of each twig and tie securely

5. Use skewer or knitting needle to poke a hole through the center of each orange slice

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6. Push twine or string through hole in orange from bottom to top, so that twig sits and base of orange

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This step is very juicy and sticky, don’t be afraid to get good and messy for the sake of the birds!

7. Hang your finished bird treats in a tree where you can watch the orioles enjoy them! 

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Orioles love the sweet blossoms of apple trees so I decided to hang some orange slices here for an added attraction.

Orioles build incredible hanging basket-like nests. You can cut some lengths of string or twine and lay them on garden fences or branches for these amazing builders to collect for their nests. Enjoy your bird watching!