Susan’s Gardens at Olsen Farm

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

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Remembrance: Happy Birthday to you, Tommy

Many of you may know, in January we lost our father/ father in law unexpectedly after a short illness. The months building up to and after his passing have left us broken and the future of Olsen Farm in jeopardy. Tommy grew up on this land, helping his grandparents to take care of the farm and soaking up knowledge about farming and caring for animals.

Today is Tommy’s birthday. He would have been 65.

In May we spread Tommy’s ashes on the property so that he could be part of this land eternally. We have been working tirelessly to raise money in order to keep the family land from being sold off and developed. The two most important things to Tommy were his family, and this land. There is so much history here and we hope there will be many, many more generations of Olsens and Wheelers here caring for this incredible piece of land.

 

Happy Birthday Tommy! It is an empty feeling to celebrate your birthday without you being here. But our memories are strong and our love for you and this land are endless. Our gift to you is that we keep fighting to save the family farm, that we will do everything in our power to keep Olsen Farm alive.

If you werewith us this year, Tommy, here are some highlights we know you would take joy in:

We planted your favorite, corn- and it was a success! Chris tried three sisters planting, sowing corn, beans and squash in the same bed so the three plants could support each other. Next year we plan to triple the crop. IMG_3854

There were so many monarchs in the yard and one even built a chrysalis on the chicken coop! IMG_4519

We added some cute little fancy chickens to the flock, and Jelly Doughnut hatched and raised a clutch of chicks. She was a great mama hen. You will get a kick out of this- instead of Thanksgiving turkey we will be having Thanksgiving rooster and eating Mr. Alexander Hamilton! IMG_4752

Chris harvested our first jar of honey, super dark and spicy from all the goldenrod in the yard. We lost the hive we had last year in February after a cold snap, but now we have three hives and are planning to double again next year. Susan’s gardens are looking AMAZING with all the extra help from these busy, busy bees. IMG_4681

Chris and I saved an injured barred owl from the side of the road. I remember last year, when I found an injured owl and was able to coax it back into the woods. You were so excited to hear about it then, we know you would have loved seeing this little owl too. IMG_4826

We know you and Susan are always watching over the family and farm and probably already know about all of these things- but it feels good to put them down in writing. Happy Birthday, we love you.

Remembrance is bittersweet, but I believe it is necessary. We know Olsen Farm would not be here without Tommy and the work he did to preserve this land. We will always remember, and while it brings saddness to remember it also brings hope and relief in knowing our fight to save the farm is righteous.

 

The Magic of Silkie Chickens

At Olsen Farm we believe all chickens are special, but there is something especially magical about the silkie breed. Over a year ago we were gifted a few silkie eggs to incubate and once those tiny fluff balls hatched we fell instantly in love.

So, what is it that makes these mini fluffy muppets so special? Here are some unique traits of these sweet little birds:

Silkie hens lay three to four eggs a week. Their eggs are about half the size of a standard chicken egg- but equally as delicious!IMG_2198

Silkies are fibro melanistic, which means they have black skin, black meat and black bones. They were originally bred in Asia and some believe eating their black meat will cure what ails you. While silkies are bred to be both show birds and meat birds, we have yet to eat a silkie because they are just so damned cute!

Three day old silkie chicks- seriously the cutest thing you will ever see. IMG_3110

Silkies have feathered feet, and their feet have five toes- rather than the usual three of standard chickens.

Their feathers remain light and fluffy into adulthood, because of this trait they can become sick or die if they get wet during cold weather. Be sure to keep your silkies dry and warm- they LOVE baths and getting their feathers blow dried! These little fluffs do amazingly well at staying warm during cold weather if their feathers remain dry, they are a winter-hearty breed.

Silkie feathers come in many color variations including black, white, buff (brown/tan), splash (light grey/ black and white mix), blue (dark grey) and partridge (brown mix)

IMG_3627Teen ‘blue’ silkies- this is the awkward phase where their adult plumage is growing in.

Silkie roosters, like most roosters, have larger combs and wattles than hens. They develop these later than standard breeds, and it can be difficult to distinguish a hen from a rooster by looks until they are over six months old and start either laying or crowing. IMG_2802Meet Twister, our ‘splash’ silkie roo

Silkies have a wonderfully gentle temperament and are great for first time chicken keepers. They are calm, tame and very fun to observe. Silkies are also great mothers and will hatch and raise ducks, turkeys, standard chickens- you name it!IMG_2822Even silkie roosters are gentle and calm- they still stand their ground with other roos, but don’t mind being carried around!

 

We have been bringing Maple (below) our sweetest silkie hen, to the local farmer’s market for a few months. Our original thought was that children would love to pet a cute chicken, and it would be a great educational experience for them. What we did not expect was the intense joy and peace meeting a silkie had on the adults at the market. Many residents came to visit Maple each week, bringing her treats, taking photos and snuggling her. Maple became a therapy chicken simply by being her adorable fluffy magicical self. We are so glad to have been able to share our sweet birds with people who needed a little nature medicine. IMG_4547

Silkies are magical birds. They make wonderful pets, are great mama hens and are cute as hell. Plus, they can cure what ails you.

If you are ever having a down day, pet a silkie- they really are the best medicine.

The Kindness of Strangers

It has been a difficult year at Olsen Farm.

In January we lost our father unexpectedly after a short illness. Since then our world has been turned upside down. Trying to manage the sudden death of a loved one is an impossible task. On top of that tremendous loss we are faced with large debts against the land and are at risk of losing our farm and family home. With such urgency focussed on these critical financial pieces there has not been time to properly grieve.

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From Chris and Kristen’s wedding party last August: Kristen, Chris, Tommy- our father, Aimee and Todd- our sister and brother in law

One piece that has kept us moving forward during this struggle is the kindness of strangers.

Please- don’t get me wrong- we have an incredibly supportive group of family and friends who have been wrapping us in kindness every step of the way. We are thankful to have this base of support, and know that we could not continue fighting for our farm without friends and family there beside us.

 

A group of friends and family came to help dig and prepare beds for planting this Spring- we couldn’t have don it without you guys! 

But the kindness and generosity of complete strangers is something powerful and provides great hope.

In April we started a ‘GoFundMe’ campaign to try and offset the large amount of money we need in order to save the farm (https://www.gofundme.com/please-help-save-olsen-farm?utm_source=internal&utm_medium=email&utm_content=body_photo&utm_campaign=upd_n)

It has not been easy to share our story, and it certainly has not been easy to ask for help- particularly because it involves money. But we had to put it out there. Since we made that leap we have made so many amazing connections by sharing what we are going through. By taking the risk and putting our vulnerability out there we have been able to connect with people all over the country who are going through, or have been through similar circumstances. We have met people who grew up eating eggs from Olsen Farm years ago, and heard amazing stories about what the farm was like then. We have heard memories about our father from his childhood- these pieces have more value than can be put in words.

-Two sisters shared memories of visiting Olsen Farm as children, riding the tractor and feeding the animals with Great Grandpa Olsen.

-A former Berkshire County resident who recently returned to the area found us on Facebook and reached out via email- making a generous donation and becoming one of our best egg customers and Olsen Farm cheerleaders!

-Tradespeople, including a plumber, two electricians and many skilled carpenters have reached out with offers to help repair the farmhouse pro bono after hearing our story.

-An old friend of our father’s shared that there was a tree he and our dad had carved their names in years ago and we were able to hike to that exact spot and find ‘Tommy Wheeler’ carved there in memoriam.

-A young woman beginning to study archeology and her father introduced themselves and generously offered to survey the property, searching for burried history- and treasures.

-Someone made the purchase of a silver spoon from our first yard sale and came to return it after doing some research that night and finding it was a valuable family heirloom. She polished the spoon, wrapped it up and brought it back to us sharing that she thought we should keep it on the farm.

-A gentleman told us his parallel story that he is currently working through similar circumstances while trying to revive his family store after the death of grand parents.

-A couple from Florida, vacationing in the Berkshires, came to the farm this weekend after seeing us in the newspaper and made a generous donation.

Please take a look at the Berkshire Eagle article here: http://www.berkshireeagle.com/stories/lanesborough-couple-on-mission-to-save-family-farm,515057

These moments and stories are what give us strength to push forward with our seemingly impossible task. Once these strangers made the effort to step in to our lives they became part of the Olsen Farm family.

Please, be kind to a stranger. The impact is powerful and lasting. And please, keep reaching out and sharing your stories with us. Your stories give us hope.

Bee Keeping: Filling a New Hive

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

For the birds: Attracting Orioles

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

 

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!

Joey the Draft Horse: Farming before technology

Great Grandpa Olsen used his draft horse, Joey, for all his plowing and field preparations on Olsen Farm for decades. In the early to mid 1900’s farmers all used hand tools and animals for plowing and heavy farm work. By the 50’s motorized tractors became available and were ‘the next big thing’ in farming- if you didn’t have a gas tractor you were falling behind.

Great Grandpa preferred to stick with what he knew worked- Joey was steadfast and reliable. He loved Joey like a child and trusted him like a friend. Great Grandpa had a way with animals, he passed this love of nature and compassion for living things on though the generations.

We still have the remains of the first motorized tractor Great Grandpa was given by the agricultural department as an incentive to expand his farm, and produce more. In the late 1950’s more and more farmers were being incentivized like this to make the switch from hand and horse to mechanical tools for plowing and planting. Great Grandpa was set in his ways. He rarely used his gas tractor, it spent much of it’s life taking up space in the shed. He would always lament about how that new-fangled tractor was his nemesis- a feeling we can relate to often today with all the fast-paced technological advancements.

This photo is framed and displayed in our living room to remind us of our roots, and the importance of working the land by hand, and horse. Thank you Joey for all the work you put in at Olsen Farm!

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Olsen Farm: In the News

photo credit: Andy McKeever iBerkshires staff

Olsen Farm, and our story were recently featured in an amazing article on iBerkshires.com. The parallels between our struggle to save the farm now and our great grandparent’s struggles over 80 years ago are striking. Olsen Farm has been here before,  and because of our blood ties to this land we will persevere- like our great grandparents did facing the same odds so many years ago.

The community support and outreach generated by this publicity has been incredible. So many people have contacted us with suggestions, resources, offers to help fix up the farm- people have been recognizing us from the article and coming to talk with us about Olsen Farm’s story. This kindness and generosity, from friends and strangers alike, has helped us feel like the overwhelming tasks we are wrapped up in are not so unreachable.

Being part of an incredible community is what us makes small, local farms a success. Thank you, thank you!! to everyone who has reached out with resources and donations. Each small piece goes toward preserving our family farm, and through your donations and support you all have become part of Olsen Farm’s legacy as well.

 

Please check out the article if you have not already had a chance:

http://www.iberkshires.com/story/54452/Lanesborough-Couple-Fighting-to-Save-Historic-Family-Farm.html

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We were so excited to find this old sign with great grandpa’s name while cleaning out the basement and are planning to re-create a new ‘Olsen Farm’ sign in the same style

photo credit: Rachel Payne 

Beneficial Insects: Praying Mantids for Tick Control

Ticks are a serious problem in Berkshire County. Not a day goes by when we don’t find them on ourselves and our pets and we are always searching for ways to manage these horrible pests without the use of toxic chemicals. Our chickens and guinea fowl offer great tick control but can always use some help in their daunting task- we discovered these little helpers in praying mantids, a beneficial insect and natural predator to ticks and other small insects.

Mantids are native to our area so there is not risk of introducing one invasive species to manage another. Be sure to check your area before purchasing and releasing beneficial insects to be sure there is not risk of introducing invasive species. 

Two years ago we bought a few egg sacks and hatched them in a clear cup. There are about 300 tiny mantids in each egg sack- we bought the egg sacks in late April and they hatched in early June. Hatching times may differ for different geographic areas. These tiny critters sounded like popcorn popping when they hatched and bounced off their container!

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Be sure to release the tiny mantids soon after hatching to avoid cannibalism. Praying mantids are carnivorous and do not discriminate from their own species. When releasing mantids you can sprinkle them in the garden, on plants and trees and off ground level. Ants are predators to tiny mantid hatchlings and will take advantage of any babies they find on the ground. 

Mantis babies are itty bitty and a light brown color. They turn the bright green as they mature in order to blend in with the vegetation they hide in.

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You can keep a mantis or two as pets but they must be separated or they will eat one another. It can be a challenge to catch insects small enough for them to eat, ants will eat baby mantids and should not be offered as a food source. Fruit flies and gnats make a great mantis meal!

A few weeks ago while walking the orchards we found this mantid egg sack wrapped up in some dried tall grass. It was an exciting discovery and proud mantis-parent moment to see that our beneficials were breeding on the property. IMG_9802

You can order praying mantid egg sacks from Arbico Organics, they are a wonderful resource for organic and natural pest control options. Egg sacks can be place directly in the yard to hatch or hatched inside for your viewing pleasure. Make sure your insect nursery container has only tiny air holes- baby mantids are tiny and will escape all over your house if they can! 

 

 

Saving Olsen Farm: a call for help

In January we lost our father unexpectedly after a short illness. He grew up helping his grand parents take care of the chickens, cows and pigs at Olsen Farm. Those were his fondest memories from childhood, and he always loved to reminisce about what an incredible experience it had been to grow up on this farm. He then built his own home on the family farm lands, where he raised his children with a love for the outdoors- creating his fondest memories from his adult life.

His recent passing is part of what inspired us to make Olsen Farm opened to the public as it once was when he was a child growing up here.

We now live in the house he built back in the 1980’s and recently received scary financial news. Because of debts and outstanding bills against the estate we are in jeopardy of losing our home and the farm. This news has come after the sudden tragedy of losing our dad, and has been an unfair piece that has interrupted our grieving.

One day we hope to raise our own children on this land, and continue the legacy of Olsen Farm. This farm is special. This land is meant to be planted, grazed and harvested. We need your help to ensure the future of Olsen Farm.

 

Below is the link to our GoFundMe campaign, please donate if you are able and share if you are comfortable. Every little bit is one step closer to saving a small, local farm. We truly appreciate your love and support.

http://www.gofundme.com/please-help-save-olsen-farm

 

Thank you all,

 

Chris and Kristen