With the roof idea on hold until Spring 2012, at which point the roofing job will be finished and weather will be better for a hive move, Eli suggested a spot on the ground, behind the farm’s second greenhouse (which, by the way, holds a 700 gallon aquaponic system for farming tilapia and growing herbs). The land back there was not cleared and was not behind the space rented by the Urban Farm Fermentory but instead it was behind ABC Taxi’s space, so Eli first got permission from the landlord and gave me a tour.
The space was an impenetrable knotweed jungle. Not simply knotweed growing up out of flat ground, but also in and out and up and around piles of junk. This space was next to the old loading dock and garage door belonging to the taxi garage, littered with a car gas tank, buckets, and car parts.
Yet it held promise. It was easy to access, clean up would be pretty easy, because I could simply throw the junk further on into the jungle, and most importantly, it was available. Phil was juggling honeybee queens and nucleus colonies and was eager to resettle one into my still-non-existent hive.
I find areas like this very cool. Here we are, in a spot where tens of thousands of people pass by every day. Within a few hundred yards there are businesses, houses and apartments, busy city streets and Interstate 295. Yet this spot has been virtually untouched by people in years. Well, sure, they’ve obviously stopped by now and then to dump some trash, but they haven’t stayed, and in a situation like this the incredibly resiliency of nature shines through. Plants continue to grow and the junk often provides shelter and captures water for little creatures like bugs, mice and birds. They in turn attract bigger critters, like the red fox Eli told me about, which has a den just on the other side of the chain link fence bordering the farm.*
I started my clear cut. Fortunately, knotweed is not difficult to beat back. It breaks easily, so stomping it down, pulling it up and snapping it in half makes an opening pretty quickly. With the vegetation gone, I found all kinds of stuff. There was a big section of carpet, another thick vinyl covering of some sort, a large plywood platform, trash bags containing who-knows-what, a cracked kiddie pool, pallets, plastic pails and a large pile of rotting vegetation maybe from the clearing of the rest of the farm. I shoveled and pitchforked, picked up and tossed, and lifted and tipped everything further on into the knotweed. It swallowed it all without a trace, like a leafy sea. The only mishap was when I tossed a full 5 gallon pail. I assumed it was full of rainwater, but when the stench of gasoline hit me I realized it must have been gas siphoned from the taxi guys. Oops. No smoking for a while.
When carving out a space in knotweed, the trick is trying to limit its inevitable comeback. Knotweed is the honey badger of invasive plants. It’s indestructible. It spreads by rhizomes plus any tiny piece of the plant can take root. The only practical way to stop it is to lay down an impenetrable layer. I needed to make a knotweed-free space for the hive itself, for the bees to fly in and out and to allow me to work the hive. I decided to use what I had on hand as ground cover. I laid down the carpet, the other vinyl covering thing, and the plywood platform, as well as flat wood scraps, plastic, and anything else on hand. The plywood platform fit very nicely in between the old railroad tracks. Ultimately I cleared a space about 20′ by 10′.
*To get a great perspective on nature under our noses, I highly recommend Suburban Safari by science writer and all-around cool chick Hannah Holmes. It’s a fun, eye-opening read.