In 2015 our little apiary suddenly grew from one hive, to five. We’re learning as we go and it’s been an interesting experience getting to know each hive and comparing their differences during each inspection.
It takes a new hive about three years to get up to full honey production because building the honeycombs themselves requires a lot of labour and resources. We are using the Langstroth system of beekeeping, and starting the hives off with blank sheets of wax-covered foundation. The bees then use these foundations as the base for their honeycomb. Essentially, the bees spend their first years on home improvement projects: gradually building out the wax for each cell. Wax production is very labour intensive and is usually a job reserved for younger bees.
Worker bees secrete the wax through glands located between the plates on their abdomens. They then chew the wax to make it nice and malleable so they can form it into the beautiful hexagonal cells that give honeycomb its highly efficient structure and strength. Building comb is done through a practice called festooning, where they will link together to form a daisy-chain curtain of bees passing the wax along from worker to worker. This is one of my favourite things to observe in the hive. They are so peaceful and focused as they work together to complete this huge task. I’m sure the bees would teach me a lot if I could just sit still and observe them at work!
The food we find in the grocery store has traveled, on average, 4,500 km to get to us. This means extensive use of fossil fuels, decreased transparency, and dismally low nutrition levels in much of our food. As soon as a vegetable is picked, the nutrient levels start to decrease. When you buy local food it is as fresh as it gets. Instead of being picked green and spending days or weeks in transport, our veggies are harvested at peak ripeness and often only a few hours before it makes it into your hands. Fresh food is healthy food, and in a world full of processed food-like substances we could use all the help we can get in finding the produce that's actually worth eating! Eating local also helps us reconnect with the seasons and means that we get to taste the full flavour of homegrown produce at its peak.
Where we spend our money has great power to change the communities we live in. Buying local keeps our dollars in the local economy and provides the demand and support needed to create, and keep, good jobs here in our own communities. We can help provide jobs for not only the farmers, but also for other local businesses like retailers, processors, and manufacturers. Another advantage to supporting local farms is you are helping to preserve agricultural land by allowing farmers to keep working the land instead of having to sell to developers.
Many people suggest that buying local can actually be better than simply buying organic, because it affects so many different spheres and has such a positive impact on our communities. At Bumble Beets Farm we are both organic and local, the best of both worlds.
During late winter it is important to check on your bees to make sure they are healthy and still well fed. It is sadly common for hives to die over the winter, the average rate for hive loss is actually about 30 percent, despite every beekeeper's best efforts. Since this is our first beehive we were especially anxious to see whether they'd survived the winter! We waited for a warmer day with no wind and cracked open the hive. To our great relief and excitement, a few of the girls popped their heads out to greet us. We will do a more extensive check when it warms up a little more so that we don't give them a chill. They seemed very active which is great, and we hope to add more hives this year. It was so encouraging to see the bees doing well, and this is feeling like a great start to the farming year.
Fun fact: Bees hold their poop all winter until it is warm enough to venture out on a cleansing flight.
Organic means different things to different people. Here at Bumble Beets Farm it means that from seed to harvest, the crops are not treated with any chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers. To make this possible we use several different strategies. We do our best to find open pollinated, non-GMO, and naturally disease and pest-resistant seed varieties that are suited to our climate. To give the plants the full range of nutrients they need, we use: compost, calcium, seed inoculant to boost plants’ ability to add nitrogen back into the soil, and rock phosphate, which activates and releases minerals when the roots come into contact with it. Mulch has become our best friend in decreasing weeds and pests and protecting the soil-surface. There are many other techniques that also help with organic crop management, like crop rotations, intercropping, cover cropping, and companion planting. Growing organically often requires far more work, and much closer monitoring than conventional methods, but we choose to embrace the challenge and go the extra step to steward our land and our food well.