not wild Fires
October 2018 by Sheila Hlubucek
The nip of frost at Drift Farm suggests we've dodged the worst burn season in the history of the western United States. Fires crews worked hard to hold back a nearby Sierra Nevada blaze in August, and we continue work on our farm to replace flammable sagebrush with blooming beauties. I hope other homeowners living among sagebrush do the same.
A landscape without a gardener is a fire waiting to happen here at timberline. Sagebrush may be the Nevada state flower, but reducing fire danger near homes means getting rid of it. Replacing sagebrush with blooming native shrubs is a major goal on our 2.5-acre parcel.
Firefighters liken Sagebrush to a giant Roman candle, because it explodes in a fire. Sagebrush seedlings spread widely with little precipitation, and they sprout new growth on top while their bottom limbs dry out and die. They provide a web of fuel on the ground. A fire moves like a string of explosives in sagebrush, running until it hits a pine tree, which mushrooms into a larger flame with the capacity to tip and spread 40-plus feet in another direction.
When we cleared land for our home and gardens, we viewed sagebrush as a plant that would keep the rest of our land from blowing away in the winds that roar down from Mount Rose. Following local wildfire prevention practices, we eliminated sagebrush for 100 feet around all structures. We planted sod, fire resistant shrubs, trees and perennials, and we connected irrigation to ensure our no-burn zone.
It took us a couple of years to realize our irrigation and wet winters accelerated the growth of sagebrush and cheat grass in a thick band outside our 100-foot landscape zone. We could either despair about our new ring of fire fuel or respond. We chose to respond.
Sustainability and fire prevention are major motivators for converting our property to a cut flower farm. After we unwittingly messed with Mother Nature by carving a home into this habitat, we began our measured response. Landscape architects Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy write about the dynamic edge between a living habitat and a home in “The Living Landscape.” They advise on design strategies for creating beauty and biodiversity. We are following many of their best practices.
Drift Farm design practices can be distilled to three fundamentals:
- Reduce fire and erosion
- Provide wildlife habitat
- Grow food and flowers with sustainable practices
Growing cut flowers also benefits our habitat. For example, by replacing a sagebrush with a lilac, we have a bloom we can sell, and we’ve reduced our fire hazard and stabilized our soil with a long-living plant that provides wildlife habitat. By harvesting the blooms for sale, we are also pruning, which is necessary to keeping the lilac healthy and in concert with its environment.
With thoughtful plant selection, we are creating a sustainable, dynamic edge at Drift Farm that is also beautiful and allows us to rejoice another season without fire along with our bees, chickens, vegetables and blooms. Join the blooming, fire-free ranks by tending your high desert landscape.
Bees without A bonnet
September 2018 by Sheila Hlubucek
I suspect the bear took a karate chop to my bee hive before he freed the bees and gobbled up the honey, leaving only a pile of splintered wood at Drift Farm.
I mourned the bees that winter. In my two years of having a top-bar hive, I had found the Italian babes to be such easy keepers. I felt good about my little part of the fight against colony collapse, and I was getting large yields of vegetable crops thanks to their pollination efforts. We got so many cucumbers one year, I convinced my teenager to become a pickle tycoon. Marek’s Lucky Pickles sold briskly among family and friends each fall until he grew to cool to cook.
With my hive gone, I agonized about a new bee-ginning. I honestly didn't have the courage for beekeeping. I kept reliving the day my friend convinced me to be featured in her lifestyle blog. She wanted photos and a story about me winterizing the hive. On game day, the bees sensed I was nervous when a crowd of neighbors joined my blogger friend. They were all cheering me on as I pried open the hive to find thousands of loudly buzzing bees. I accidentally crushed a bee under my pry bar, and the bee volume got louder. Soon I was running fast and screaming for my husband’s help. I had “a bee in my bonnet,” so I ripped off my hat and veil to release the final attack team. Hubby bravely crushed the bees caught in my curly hair with his bare hands. That night when I took the pickle tycoon to football practice, I looked like an avatar with three bee stings between my eyebrows, causing my face to bulge, but I had a good story to tell the moms.
Thankfully, I was able to track down another brave rescuer. Al Sindlinger, a fearless beekeeping veteran, agreed to put hives on my property. Known widely as Al the Beekeeper, he sells his Sierra Nevada Honey in grocery stores that are cool, and, yes, some of it comes from my bear crime scene. Thanks to Al, who just gifted me with a new honey stash, I have the privilege of bees and local honey without any of the hardship. The electric fence he installed to keep the bears away from his hives has been tested in September, which seems to be preferred honey harvest month for man and bear, and the fence is winning.
You can bring bees into your garden even if you fear getting a bee in your bonnet. Consider bringing in an expert like Al. It's the bee's knees!