Learning About Pollinators

In late September I was working around in the vegetable patch, and wondering if my squash plants would mature fruit before the frost, when I was struck by the amazingly loud hum of insects nearby. A number of years ago I had planted rapini and probably mustard greens of some kind. Lots of it went to seed and every year thousands of the plants sprout up in the Spring. If they are not in the way I just let them do their thing, and their thing means blooming and going to seed and starting more plants. So they have become an established resident of the vegetable patch, and I get to eat the greens from May to October, without even having to sow a seed.  They are delicious, and their bright yellow blooms add a cheerful note all season long.

I have now discovered that these brassica family plants produce lots of nectar, and letting them flower and go to seed is a boon to the native pollinators, and honeybees.

Like everyone else, I’ve been hearing about the demise of the bees, and I’ve done some reading into the problems with modern beekeeping, not to mention pesticide use. I’ve been thinking of bees for some time, with the idea to have honey bees here on the farm in future.

Well, the bees are already here! This photo is not great, I don’t have a macro lens. These were the little creatures making the buzz in the rapeseed. Honeybees with arrows

What an exciting discovery!

There are not a lot of houses in the area, and no bee keepers within honey bee range, so I assume these are honey bees from a wild hive. They may have swarmed from some distant hive, perhaps more than once. Apparently there is a significant population of feral honey bees now thriving in the wilds of Nova Scotia.

So next year I will be planting rapeseed on purpose, and sowing it in scattered patches far and wide on the property and in wild meadows. The reason I think this plant is so special for the bees, apart from the fact it produces a lot of nectar, is that it blooms and re-seeds, so there are blooms available from June to October. I plan to sow the seeds every few weeks to keep a good number of blooms going. The only reason I noticed the honey bees was that in October there are very few things blooming here. These bright yellow flowers were one of the only blooming plants available. So on every bright day when the sun warmed things up enough to encourage the bees to get out, they came right to this and one other late patch of rapeseed.

And not only bees showed up! There were other wild pollinators thriving and making the most of the last nectar. I took the time to do a little research, and was able to identify four species of bumblebee, drone flies (they look like bees but are actually flies), mason bees, yellow jacket hornets, and several types of wasp… all highly beneficial insects essential to pollination. I was surprised to learn that many of these native pollinators are even more effective than honey bees in the pollination game. By planting lots of flowers, by letting things go to seed and letting patches of the garden go wild, we will help these beneficial insects do their job. Later I will post on specific plants to grow for the benefit of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and all the other pollinators.


Beauty in the Form of a Cow

Molly Makes Herself at Home 

A dream come true for me, the beautiful Jersey cow Molly came here in October, and has more or less taken over. The milk is rich and delicious, and, unlike milk from the grocery store, seems easy to digest, especially in it’s most natural state–fresh from the cow.

Will I Die if I Eat This?

1999 vintage jam1999 vintage jam bottle copy

I found a bottle of berry preserves on the shelf of my cold room–dating from 1999! Probably the first batch I made here at Turtle Hill. The seal was still well intact, and I had a french pastry crying out for something dark and intense, so I popped the lid. Looks good, smells good, tastes…great! I’ll let you know if it kills me!

The Roosters Earn a Living as Models

Gorgeous living sculptures!  They also make beautiful paintings...

Gorgeous living sculptures! They also make beautiful paintings…

The latest product from Turtle Hill Farm is a line of hand-painted cards featuring some of the residents, namely, the beautiful roosters. I like working in this fresh style which is an oriental approach to art, with deftness of brushwork being an important feature; it is not realistic, yet, it captures the essence of the subject. And I would say, the personality!

These works are done on the spot… with a live bird standing in front of me, not from photos. I’ve nothing against working from photos, but these are meditations, and the spontaneous, in-the-now making of the art is the most important part.

If you want to own a little piece of Turtle Hill, and an original work of art, you can buy cards at my Etsy shop!


Signs of Spring…Kung-Roo Fighting

Even the somewhat docile Silver Gray Dorking gets spring fever. I have several males who were living together as bachelor brothers, but when the days started getting warmer, they started to fight, and I ended up having to separate all of them. This one was in with some nice females, adjacent to another pen with another rooster and hens. Unfortunately, the more uppity roo found a way to break through a spliced section of chicken wire, and when I got home I found this poor fellow hiding under a bush, bloody and bruised, but not mortally wounded.

I took him in the house, of course, washed his wounds, gave him arnica homeopathic remedy (which I find very effective in injuries for people and animals) and kept him quiet in the bathroom with the door closed. In a case like this, the priority is to attend to the wounds first, then try and de-stress the bird with a quiet, comfortable place.

His spirit seemed so broken! He sat there and would not eat for half a day or so. Then I realized I had a nice way to perk him up a little, with one of the winter “chicks”… now in the pullet (older teen, young adult stage). They were still with their mother, old Eleanor.

He started to come back to life very quickly with a cute little female around. She started in on the food immediately, and he started to eat and drink again.  Below you can see the size difference between the two.

Social isolation is not a good thing, for flock creatures like chickens.  Nor for humans!  Here’s a cute example of the immune-boosting power of socializing with good company!  For those who like to know how a story turns out, the rooster (Eleazor) fully recovered within a day or so of companionable living, and is now back with his own flock of “girls.”  He is the sire of a new line of Dorkings who are still in egg form, but are being delivered to incubators and broody hens all over the province this spring and summer.  His wee Florence Nightingale is leaving Turtle Hill Farm this very day, to start a new flock of Dorkings on a new farm, with her sister and another young rooster.



Well, I couldn’t let this day pass and not post something!

The incredibly warm Spring turned into an unusually hot summer and very warm Fall, and is about to become a strangely mild winter, though that could change suddenly.

Eleanor is up to her old tricks.  Not only did she hatch out little dorking chicks from her and husband and Lord of THF, Foggy Mountain Breakdown, she also became a surrogate mother to a dozen fuzzy Meat Kings.

Eleanor adopts 12 little Meat Kings

Eleanor adopts 12 little Meat Kings

That’s her daughter in the background, a “teen” from the Spring batch.

Well, that same daughter, now fully grown, has inherited Eleanor’s extreme mothering tendencies.  They hid in the barn sometime in late November, made nests, laid eggs and they have now hatched.  Four chicks each, to boost the Dorking numbers in Nova Scotia by eight.

I did find the nests before they hatched, but I didn’t have the heart to take their eggs away, once they had started developing.

Though it’s warm, it’s not as warm as the little ones require.  Hence, they are in my porch with the mothers, under lights for now.  It certainly creates more work for the farmer.  Whew!  No more babies for now!  Please!

Pictures of the newest babies are forthcoming… In the meantime, I welcome inquiries from potential breeders of the Silver Grey Dorking.  I am running out of space!