Farming in the Woods
California and Oregon are not the only states with people living out in the woods, post-hippie lifestyle. This weekend, on my way down Island Run in Roane County, I saw a few homesteads where privacy is a priority. And yet, there are many many more people living on back roads and down the hollers who are there, not to hide from the community, but because a secluded lifestyle is what fits.
Shelly Hutcheson of Twiggity Farm took us out to her first farm, where Don’s daughter Leslie and Diane Dean live. Leslie and Diane have built a livelihood on Island Run Farm producing honey, mushrooms and elephant garlic while raising a hog every two years, growing their own vegetables, and raising chickens.
Living in a house built by the owner prior to Shelley, there is electrical service that allows for most comforts with careful scheduling of activity for the low amperage. There is excellent spring water which can be heated for a great bath inside. Cooking using propane is switched to the wood cookstove in cooler weather. So, a bit of rustic living but in comfort.
After suggesting I wear a hat with a veil to block the bees, we walked up to the apiary. They have 3 classic Langstroth hives which provide the bees a frame on which to deposit honey. They also have 3 African hives where the slats that lie across the top of the box offer a place for the bees to build the honeycomb. Each system has an advantage. Leslie and Diane are also building African hives for sale, as they believe the benefits should be considered in this area. They informed me that there are about 60,000 bees in each hive, having the potential production of about 15 quarts of honey annual on average.
We spoke about the Varroa destructor, an external parasitic mite that attacks honey bees. They believe their hives overwintered well. Last year about 50% of the hives belonging to members of the local beekeeping club were lost. They have researched a natural preventative treatment made with hops. They check their hives and bees regularly for the red colored mites. Perhaps the isolation in the woods may be helping. Bees forage about 2 miles from the hive; in the immediate area there are plenty of flowering trees and some meadows with clover.
The shitake logs are the other income producer. After felling a hardwood (oak is preferred) and then cutting it into lengths, they drill offset holes and pack in some substrate sedium. The logs then rest for a year and the growing cycle then begins. The mushrooms flower in the spring and if left natural, will flower again in the fall. Diane and Leslie provide instructions to buyers how to increase mushroom production.
Last year at the Mountain States Arts and Crafts Fair in Ripley they sold almost all their shitake logs and believe this coming year will also be a good year.
This is not a lifestyle for a princess; there is no television reception and the outhouse is out back. But for these two delightful young women, it is a lifestyle that provides for self-sufficiency and pride.