Will there be a rise in food prices because of the hurricanes?

This year has been disastrous for the US with Hurricane damage, first Texas, then Florida and then Puerto Rico. While almost everyone in the US is concerned about the people effected by these hurricanes many don’t realize just how much its might effect them too. Most of us have already seen a rise in gas prices because of the refineries in Texas but less noticeable, as yet, is the migrant worker effect.

Many jobs in agriculture are seasonal. Farmers only need workers during the growing and harvesting seasons so they employ migrant workers who come into the country especially to work these jobs and then go home in the winter months. These workers are essential to get almost all of our vegetable and fruit crops harvested and shipped to the supermarkets for everyone to buy. A large proportion of these workers come from either Mexico or Puerto Rico. Here in the northeast for the past few years a lot of the workers have been coming in from Puerto Rico. After the Hurricane disaster all these workers have gone home to help their families and be with loved ones. This is of course exactly what you would expect them to do. Other workers from Mexico have who have families in the Earthquake areas have also gone home to be with their families. This has left very few migrant workers for the remaining harvesting of vital fresh foods.

Farmers are now scrambling to find workers to help with the harvest of the remaining crops. The unusually warm weather which is also an influence of the hurricane has extended the season providing a longer growing period but also ripening crops a lot faster than would normally happen at this time of the year. Produce does not wait, farmers have to work to the plants schedule not the other way around. However with so few workers to do the harvesting much of these crops is being left in the fields. Many farmers are now considering that crops may have to be abandoned and ploughed under because there are no workers to bring the crops in. This may cause an increase in the price of fruits and vegetables since there will be less available on the market, its all rotting in the fields.

Will the price of vegetables rise because farmers cannot harvest crops?
Will the price of vegetables rise because farmers cannot harvest crops?

Many may ask why use migrant workers rather than home grown Americans? Simple. It’s almost impossible to get home grown Americans to do the job. The migrants are the only ones willing to do harder physical labor which is very hard work outside in often unpleasant weather conditions for fairly low wages. Agricultural jobs do not pay high rates farmers cannot afford it because the profit margin on fresh produce is very low. Consumers will not pay very high prices for fruits and vegetables everyone wants low prices. Low prices translate into low wages to grow and harvest the crops. Ask almost any farmer they will tell you without migrant workers there will be no food in Americans supermarkets. This year the prices may be higher. If such devastating weather continues in the future its certain we will see a rise in prices.

If you love plants then you gotta see this!

Sculptures made totally of living, growing plants.

It’s called Mosaiculture. It’s the art of making sculptures from all living, growing plants. These exhibits tend to be on for a fairly long time so keeping the plants strong healthy and most importantly trimmed so that they don’t overgrow the sculpture is a full time job for a whole bunch of garden staff.

Mosaiculture is a very different from any other form of gardening or sculpture it combines the two. It’s not topiary which is forming sculptures and animals from living shrubs that are pretty much permanent. Mosaiculture is temporary for the most part and a corroboration of both sculptures, metalworkers and horticulture.
First there is the design. This can be anything from a man on a horse to a giant woman’s face. Once the design is decided then the ironworkers determine how to create the structure, the build a steel framework welded together. For smaller sculptures this is all one piece. For the larger ones they are created in several pieces and a crane is used to move the heavy sections together at the exhibition site. They are then bolted together to form the whole sculpture.

Canadian Mountie on his horse sculpture
Canadian Mountie on his horse sculpture

Once the structure had been created it is wrapped in water holding material usually a sphagnum moss mixed with soils and nutrients which are covered in a cloth that is stapled in place with very heavy staples. Some structures also contain complex irrigation systems within the sculptures to water and nurture the plants. However supplemental surface watering is also carried out especially in hot sunny weather.
Once the structure has been completed the painstaking task of installing all the living plants begins. From trial and error over many years Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal (MIM)  has determined the best plants to use. These are usually annuals that come in a variety of different colors but also grow well when kept short and can be easily trimmed and maintained to ensure that the sculptures always look their best. MIM is one of the only companies in the world that does this work so its not surprising that most of the exhibits tend to be in Canada.

Fox and her kit mosaiculture
Fox and her kit mosaiculture. The use of grasses for the fluffy tail is delightful.

This year the Mosaiculture exhibit is in Ottawa Canada. Well, actually it’s in Gatineau which is right across the river from Ottawa. So if you want to visit and fly in then Ottawa is where you want to head for. This year is Canada’s 150th anniversary so to celebrate admission to the exhibit is free! Usually there is a charge to see such amazing sculptures so this years a really great deal. If you have never been to Ottawa then there is a treat in store too. It’s a totally enchanting city with masses of things going on and some majestic buildings and museums.

This is our forth Mosaiculture exhibit and its always a joy to see. If you choose to go, please take the time to appreciate the wonderful work that has gone into these superb sculptures. Its not just the design of the actual sculpture its also all the plants that surround it. These plants create a scene.

Lobster fisherman at sea
Lobster fisherman on sea. Note how well the plants have been used to create frothing waves.

One of my favorites this year was the lobster fisherman. The detail that went into creating the boat and the fisherman and lovely but the sculpting of the earth to plant the Scaevola and blue petunias that mix with dusty miller to form waves on the sea. The whole concept makes the sculpture come alive and is truly delightful.

The delightful use of the long fluffy grasses to create the coat of the musk oxen makes the whole sculpture that much more delightful. Who doesn’t want to take this fluffy thing home with them?

Musk Oxen on tundra
Musk Oxen on tundra

Another of my great favorites was the tundra scene dominated by a large inukshuk, (pronounced in-ook-shook) which is an Inuit (once called Eskimo) creation. These stone monuments are created by the Inuit to help guide them through their arctic wilderness. Here the inukshuk is depicted with a wolf howling up at the northern lights spread across the face of the inukshuk. The whole sculpture is lovely but is made even more so by the wonderful tundra that has been created for it to sit upon. Using red moss roses dusty miller, grasses and other plants to create a colorful landscape it gives the sculpture far more drama. I loved the tundra landscaping here almost as much as the sculpture itself.

Wolf howling at the northern lights up the side of large inukshuk
Wolf howling at the northern lights up the side of large inukshuk. The foreground tundra is superb and so colorful.

The tundra area ranged over a larger area to encompass the musk oxen, polar bear (not pictured here) and the Indian drum dancer as well as the inukshuk. Like to ocean scene earlier in the walk encompassed several different sculptures such as the whale shark, puffins and ships discovering Canada with the horses bursting from the sea as the made their way to the shore.

Horse bursting from the water having swam ashore from the boat that carried it to Canada.
Horse bursting from the water having swam ashore from the boat that carried it to Canada. The dusty miller and Scaevola make stunning foaming ‘water’ cascading off the horses back.

Of course there is always Gaia the mother earth goddess. This sculpture appears in some form in every Mosaiculture exhibit it’s the recurring theme and the most commonly depicted and shared. Its certainly impressive but on its fourth iteration I am far more impressed by other newer offerings.

Gaia the mother goddess a recurring theme at Mosaiculture
Gaia the mother goddess a recurring theme at Mosaiculture. Makes use of petunias and red and lime green potato vines to create her cascading hair.

Mosaiculture is also beloved in China where many of the techniques originated and each time there is an exhibit the Chinese usually produce a sculpture. This year they produced two very complex and totally magnificent ones. The first from Beijing really needs to be studied to understand it.

Dragons in the Rocky mountains
Complex sculpture depicting Dragons in the Rocky mountains

The first impression of course of the giant dragons that reach skyward rising high above the rest of the sculpture. Beneath are the dragon dancers holding the dragons aloft on long sticks just as in real life in dragon dancing. These dancers however are interwoven with small mountain peaks which depict the rocky mountains where a great many Chinese worked to create the railways that were so important to early America and Canada. This railway is depicted in red and white begonias emerging from a tunnel in one of the mountains on the left side of the picture.

Pair of mosaiculture lions from Shanghai exhibit.
Pair of mosaiculture lions from Shanghai exhibit.

Then there are the lions from Shanghai! Wow what a display! A massive complex Mosaiculture to rival anything I have every seen. The largest one at the exhibit it has nine Chinese lions in various poses on stylistic clouds, one dancing on a ball along with a Chinese circle with decorative swirls all fronted by lovely flower beds. This display is truly awe-inspiring. It uses far more plant variety that the other sculptures with the use for fluffy grasses to depict the lions fur and even the unseen underbellies of the lions have been planted with more shade loving annuals. The time taken to create this exquisite sculpture is mind boggling. While I really liked a lot of the other sculptures this was my favorite because of its size, complexity and delightful use of so many different plants to create such a wonderful sculpture, plus I really like Chinese lions.

Large group of Chinese lions is massive mosaiculture display from Shanghai
Large group of Chinese lions is massive mosaiculture display from Shanghai. This stunning sculpture is enhanced by marigolds and begonias in the foreground giving it even more color.

While not the most impressive Mosaiculture exhibit I have seen yet – that prize must go to Mosaïcultures Internationales Montréal 2013 at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. This exhibit was much larger and more impressive, plus the setting the botanical gardens offered much better backdrops to the sculptures where there is no distraction of high rise apartment buildings, hotels and bridges.
The first mosaicultures were held at the Montreal waterfront with a backdrop of grain silos, but somehow this seemed better and more fitting that apartment blocks. However focus on the sculptures and the buildings don’t matter.
Sadly almost all the Mosaiculture exhibits tend to be in Canada, most often in Montreal. Others have been held in China (2006), Japan (2009) and Turkey (2016). The only exhibit in the U.S. was in Atlanta botanical gardens in 2013-14. Most commonly these exhibits seem to be held every 2-3 years so if you want to see one then head to Ottawa this year. Next time it may be a lot further away and less accessible. Only some of the exhibits are pictured here so go see the others for yourself.  It’s really a site worth seeing and should not be missed.

Killer whale
Killer whale
indian drum dancer
indian drum dancer

Our New drying Shed – Part 2.

It’s on its way to being great.

The shed is in place. It still needs a lot of work done on it to make it into what we really need but most of that will have to wait until the winter and early spring. For now we needed to get it so we could use it immediately.

So. First we pressure washed the whole of the inside, a wet job but at least its hot weather so we dried off fast.

After leaving it two days to completely dry out we put a white tarp on the floor to catch the seeds. We want to put down proper flooring later but finding the right stuff at the right price is going to take some time. We are not paying to price for flooring for the shed!

Next it was put up the shelving for the drying racks. Does not look like much but it took all day to put these in.

Finally we could add the drying racks and get some material in their to dry off. It get pretty warm in their so it should only take a day or so before the material is really dry. This extra capacity is really going to speed up our farm performance.

herb drying in storage container
Phase one of our new drying shed.

Since we have no ventilation at the moment we are leaving the main doors open to the air and only shut them on threat of rain, which sadly has not been very often these past few weeks.

So we also had to add some deer fencing across the doors to stop the critters getting in. It’s a bit unlikely that a deer will jump in there but not impossible. Fortunately we have not seen any bears this year but its guaranteed if we assume they have gone that one will get in there just to prove us wrong.

Its not perfect yet but its getting there. The next installment on this project wont be until the winter or early spring when the harvest is over.

Shelves in herb drying shed
First shelves in our new drying shed.

Where Are All The Bugs?

My windshield is Clean.

This weekend we took a road trip, not a really long one just up to the north of the state to visit a festival. It was fun so we stayed late and drove back in the dark. A lot of it is on smaller country roads. We had been going for a couple hours before it hit me. There was not one bug splat on the window. There were no bugs being caught in the headlights as they zoomed past.

Then I realized that I had not had to clean bugs off the windshield at all this year! Where have all the bugs gone?
This is really bad. If we loose all the bugs then we are really going to be in trouble. No bugs, no pollination no food. We might not like bugs, we might think they are creepy and unpleasant but we need them, without bugs there will be no food.

There is a lot of fuss going on about the reduction in bee colonies and how the bees are dying. This is certainly true, but its not just the bees that are dying its lots of different insects. I have certainly noticed a vast reduction in the number of insects on our farm this past year. Where plants used to be covered in pollinating insects there are few if any around.

Certainly bees are important but bees don’t pollinate all flowers. Take a look around almost any garden and you will see that different insects visit different flowers. Most plants with umbel like flowers , that means flat open flowers like Dill (Anethum graveolens), Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Queen Annes Lace (Daucus carota), and a multitude of other plants don’t attract bees. I have never seen a bee on our Yarrow, Fennel or Dill, not on the Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) or Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) either. I have seen a multitude of other kinds of insects all over them. So if we loose those insects then we don’t have any more of any of these plants because there will be so seed to perpetuate them.
The same is true of many plants, rarely do I see bees on our holly bushes, or the euphorbia’s, euonymus or boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) but there are usually dozens of other plants.

bug on boneset
Single bug on Boneset.

Most people maybe will not notice the lack of flying insects or even be happy about it but it will take its toll. If we have no seeds for our herbs then our cuisine and our herbal medicine will suffer. So think very carefully before you get that insect spray out in your garden and spray it around arbitrary

We also really have no understanding of the life of these chemicals and how they affect other systems. Something may have been manufactured to kill a flying insect or specific pest but what happens when it hits the ground. How do the soil insects and microbiota (all the tiny tings that live in the soil) fair. It has been well documented that Glyphosate (Roundup) will kill everything in the soil basically making it sterile and thus fairly useless to plants, what I wonder are all these other chemicals doing.

It might not seem like a big deal, many insects eat a lot of stuff that we don’t want, they are our garbage disposal. They eat the dead leaves, animal carcasses and just about anything organic around the world. If there were no insects, bacteria and fungi then nothing would decay and we would be drowning in garbage and smelly waste. We need all these animals even if we think they are creepy crawlies without them our world would not survive, and we would die quite quickly. We may not realize they are there but without them our life would really not exist. So we need to stop the chemical spraying our ancestors got along fine in agriculture without tones of toxic chemicals so can we. Please do your part, don’t spray unless you have to and support campaigns to ban toxic chemical. Make this world a better place of us, our children and grandchildren.

Our new drying shed. Part 1.

The container arrives.

Drying herbs, and especially material for seeds is time consuming and takes a lot of space. As our farm has grown so has the amount of material that we need to dry. For many herb farms it’s a one step process. They gather the herb and dry that for sale. For us its two step. We gather herbs to dry but we also leave a portion and gather that for seed.

This takes a lot of space, more and more as the farm grows.

So we need a new place to dry our plant material. After some discussion we decided to do like many herb farms do and use a shipping container. These wonderful extremely versatile boxes have a multitude of uses and one of them is as a drying shed. We decided on a 20 foot model to begin with, although I think we will need a larger one later we have not cleared enough space for such a container as yet.
After walking around our property and discussing locations we agreed on one near the front of the property as a interim. We are restrained at present where we can have things delivered because the house is situated between the driveway and the fields with trees around it making it almost impossible to get large vehicles back into the field areas. So things have to be delivered to the front and then we have to move them, or they have to stay in front it we cant.

Our shipping container fortunately can be moved later. At present we have chosen the only remaining sunny location that is not being farmed to put it in. It was also ‘lawn’ – read short green stuff. So there was not a lot of clearing to be done.

We needed to put down wooden beams to place the container on but that was all.
The container arrived at 8.30am Monday morning. The driver was an expert and easily maneuvered his truck to line the container up between our marker sticks and drop it on the wooden beam that we had put in place to receive it.

The trucks they use have mechanical sliding decks which allow him to raise and lower the container off the back of the truck and slide it into place. It was almost worth buying one to watch the guy install it!

Location for container
Location for the new shed with wooden support logs. Back on is in place and sticks mark the exact position where the container will be placed.
Container arrives on truck
The container arrives strapped on the back of truck and is slowly backed into position.
Straps are removed.
Straps are removed.
Container is now backed carefully into place with extreme accuracy.
Container is now backed carefully into place with extreme accuracy. The truck driver is really good at this.
Moveable truck bed slides the container back and down to allow for easy placement.
Moveable truck bed slides the container back and down to allow for easy placement.
backing container into position.
Truck is backed up a bit more to lower the back end of the container.
adjusting the container positon
A little more sliding and lowering to get the container right on the mark
Container is dropped perfectly onto the back log.
Container is dropped perfectly onto the back log.
Front log is pulled under the container before it is finally lowered into position.
Front log is pulled under the container before it is finally lowered into position.

So we have the beginnings of our drying shed. We just need to pressure wash the inside and let it dry before we can start installing our stuff.


Lavender harvesting all alone.

Today was lavender harvest day, well the beginning of lavender harvest anyway. The weather forecast says hot today so I started early 6.15am. Its really pleasant out in the field at this time of the morning, just me and nature, the birds tweeting and a few passing cars in the distance. After an hour the sun comes up over the trees on the western side of the property and the warn golden light washes across the field. Now it’s a race to get as much done before I fry. I tend to keep my head down concentrating on harvesting. I use a sickle to cut lavender and if you don’t concentrate on what you are doing you can have a nasty accident with one of these things.

lavender field blooming
Some of the lavender in our field

I stop to watch a bunch of turkeys go by a few rows over, they are used to me working out here now and are quite happy to co habit with me. Then I look up and down the rest of the row I am working on. (my rows are 190 feet long, which is a LOT of lavender). That’s when I realize there is a problem.

My lavender is not moving.

That may sound like a strange comment about a plant, they are, after all planted, its not as if they jump up and run around. However lavender flowers are on thin, stiff stalks. They are stiff enough to keep the flower upright in almost any weather but they are not stiff enough to stand upright when a bumble bee lands on it. Every year when the lavender flowers the plants are in constant motion the flowers waving around as the bees move from flower to flowers. Its like a dance to music that I am not privy too. It’s a lovely site to see.

This year there is no movement, there are no bees. When I look more closely I realize that there are not many insects at all. The bumble bees are usually the major visitor to the lavender flowers but there are usually others as well, the small native bees, the sand or ‘digger’ bees that build solitary nests in the sand and stock them with pollen, other pollen loving insects and a horde or butterflies.
This year my flowers are alone. Finally I see ONE bee working alone, nothing else. I get up and go inspect the yarrow row. Yarrow has flat umbel flowers that are visited by other insects, not bees but other beneficials. We are a cosmopolitan farm and there is food for everyone in the insect family here. There are very few insects on the yarrow either.

Something had wiped out all the insects. Its 10am on a hot sunny morning, the field should be humming, but its not.

Its been a few years since I saw a honey bee in our fields. Our last hive was killed off by a spraying three years ago, but I was comforted in the masses of bumble bees we had. When we moved into the farm there were only a few, but over the past 9 years their numbers has exploded and we usually have hundreds if not thousands of them all over our fields. Our farm has something in flower from very early spring until the frost kills off the last plants it’s a nirvana for pollen lovers.

rows of lavender in bloom
Portion of our lavender field in bloom

Sadly they don’t just stay on our farm. Insects range, most likely to our neighboring farm. He sprays his fields (soy beans every year). I can’t prove that its his spraying that is killing the insects its only a theory. He did spray the day before my last hive died but I can’t prove it that was the cause.

Without insects we will all die. Without pollinators there will be almost no food. Pollinators make the fruits on the vegetables grow and produce the seeds for next years crop. Without seeds all the plants will die and we will die too. The insect eating animals and the birds will die. The planet will die.

I have long been a big supporter of stopping insect killing pesticides but this is the first time that I have seen the disaster in action. Without bees and other pollinators there will be no farmers and no food. Help save our planet, our food and us add your name to stop the sale of bee killing pesticides. Click Here.

High winds bring down the power line.

They predicted high winds for our area and we got them. First of course we got heavy storms which kept everyone awake for the first part of the night, then around 5.30am the wind really came up. It roars around our house, with all the trees around our little farm it makes the wind sound a lot more ominous than it would without them. The roaring woke everyone in the household but we all tried to sleep again.

Then the power went out! Great! The UPS started beeping and woke everyone up again. I waited, sometimes it will flick back on again, but not this time, so we are up with flashlights turning off all the power we can, shutting down the computers (not the internet servers) and reducing power while Steve went and switched over to the battery backup from the solar panels. Oh how I love those solar panels, and the batteries of course, solar is really no use at all for holding your power without the battery backup. We shut down and all went back to bed ignoring the raging wind.

Several hours later we finally emerged to check the new day. The wind was still raging and roaring around but the sun was up and shining brightly. That’s good we are getting good solar generation. Having checked our output we added the heating to the mix – although its oil heat we still need electricity to run it unfortunately. I went just outside the front door and listened. Its my first test of how bad the power outage is. If we can hear the generators of our neighbours then its widespread, if its silent then its most likely a problem just for us. Silence, Great, its us.

Togged up we went to examine the driveway. Our driveway is 125 yards long and runs through a band of trees. We have our own personal power line and even our own electricity pole near the house. Today there is the top of a large tree had just snapped off and dropped across the driveway ending up in the top of the tree on the other side. It brought down the power line when it fell and is now lodged at least 15 feet above the ground with one large branch open like a fan down to ground level. The power line is curled along the edge. This is a big problem, the tree is stuck up off the ground so its not easy remove, the power line is down so we cant get near it even if we wanted to work on the tree and its blocking the driveway so we can’t get out. So we are stuck here until the power company comes to rescue us. Fortunately there is always more than enough to do on a small farm so we can all keep busy, its just that our agenda will have to change from what we originally planned.

Hopefully the power company can get to us soon. Tomorrow is Monday and some of us have to work off farm during the week. A downed line they often do but its going to depend on how many other problems there are. One small rural farm does not come high on the priority list. We could be trapped for a while. Thank goodness for solar!

wind snapped tree
Wind snapped tree, brings down power line and blocks driveway