Tim has just delivered 5 yards of rich, black compost from the adjoining Jasper Hill Farm, Greensboro, Vermont, jasperhillfarm.com. Time has cured this manure into a pure gold for our garden, and the process is moving to capture the gas off of this manure for heating on the farm. Three colonies of honey bees are sitting to the left of the barn.
I helped guide his truck to avoid the garlic and carrots that are overwintering under a layer of hay. A goal on both farms is to restore fertility to the land. We see that the soil is worn out when the honey crops are consistently low in this area. It has been a challenge to farm here in the Northeast Kingdom, and the farmers have struggled to give back to the land. It is not their fault; farming is a challenging and tough business. This is why the work in our area with the Cellars at Jasper Hill, Pete’s Greens, High Mowing Seeds, and Caledonia Spirits is so exciting. Value added agriculture offers a way to give back to the land, and healthy soils support strong families.
I recall one day when our daughters and I passed a dairy farm in Vermont. They remarked how good the smell was from the fresh manure that had been spread in the field. I was proud of them for realizing how valuable a resource this was and not being offended by the aroma. Then I realized that I was successful at being a father. O, there are other things that may determine this, but here in Northern Vermont, we realize the importance of the land and never stop nuturing her.
The first snow is on the ground. It was 16 degrees this morning here in the Champlain Valley. Inside the hive, the bees have massed into a ball to keep themselves warm. Now comes the time when we trust that they can withstand the cold weather of the year. We too withdraw to the indoors as the days of gratitude and celebration come upon us. Barr Hill Gin, Vodka, and Elderberry cordial help to keep us warm and remind us of the astonishing work the bees do every year. Without the honey bee, we could not make our wonderful products, which are outstanding because of the honey they contain. We are truly grateful for the bees.
Photo credit: © Jon Shave 2012. Title: Beehives in the Snow. Taken in the Dolomites of Italy.
Used under this Creative Commons license:
“Chicory and Thanksgiving” by Annie Watson
We had long warm fall, which allowed the bees to forage late into October. On many days the temperature got well above 60 degrees, allowing the bees to fly, and, we hope, make more honey to prepare for the winter.
During the warm fall the lasting blooms of the chicory flower (Cichorium intybus L.) were one of the flowers bees could visit. Here, a worker bee gathers both nectar and pollen from this beautiful blue flower. The sprinkling of pollen on her head and thorax looks like stardust…
Introduced from Europe, Chicory is widespread in North America. Like the dandelion, it’s a superb medicinal plant. The chicory used as a coffee substitute is a slight variation on the wild plant.
As Thanksgiving approaches we voice our gratitude for family, friends, a bountiful harvest, and the opportunity to share healing, compassion, and nourishment.
This is a great year for our native purple New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) . These perennial flowers provide beautiful fall color in our meadows, hedgerows and roadsides, and food for many creatures including bees and other insects, wild turkeys, deer, and rabbits. The flower petals can be purple, lavender, or light pink in color, while the central disk florets are yellow or gold — the complementary color for purple. When two complementary colors are put next to each other, each color “pops”: The purple looks more purple and the gold looks more gold. This is the last big summer flower to give food for the honeybees. The honey made from these flowers has a hint of spice in its flavor and it crystallizes very quickly in the comb. The flower itself exudes a subtle spicy scent.
As the leaves on the maples turn yellow, orange, and red, warm sunny days have allowed the bees to gather the maximum amount of nectar and pollen from these flowers, as well as the smaller White Heath Aster (Aster pilosus), in their preparations for the colder weather to come.
For more information about this wonderful plant go to http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/ne_asterx.htm
Yesterday we walked the Champlain Valley, surrounded by the richness of the peak of summer. The honeybees foraged in the hot sun on burdock, white sweet clover, purple globe thistle, chicory, white clover, black cohosh, motherwort, and more; the hummingbird moths and swallowtail butterflies sipped from bee balm, and the bumblebees and many other native pollinators enjoyed it all. Passing the beehives, our noses caught the yeasty aroma of honey in the making. The blackberries are ripe; within twenty minutes we filled our baskets with two quarts of summer’s “black gold”, pollinated by native and honey bees a month ago and now come to fruition.
We so appreciate the bees and all they and the thousands of other pollinating species do to provide our food. Speaking of fresh picked blackberries: Pick some up at your local farmer’s market or grocery, or if you are lucky enough to live in the country, pick your own beside the road or hedge. You can make a Blackberry Cobbler for dessert – or perhaps a blackberry gin fizz with Barr Hill Gin. Try this recipe at Epicurious.
There is nothing so thrilling as lying in the grass on a hot May or June day while thousands of bees fly in a circular pattern overhead, the air filled with the sound of their wings. Drawn by the queen’s pheromone, the swarm comes to temporary rest in a large clump on the branch of a tree or other structure. Here they hang in an amazingly quiet cluster until scout bees have found a suitable permanent home. As the sun beats down and the soft grass tickles your arms, you experience Life and Nature in all their glory.
There’s nothing to fear here. Contrary to popular misconception, a honey bee swarm is not particularly dangerous. Swarming is the natural way for a honey bee colony to reproduce, and the bees are at their most gentle when swarming. If you see a honey bee swarm, DO NOT spray it with water or pesticide! Call a beekeeper (find your local beekeeping organization on the Web) to come and remove it. In the meantime, enjoy watching the swarm from a distance.
For more information about honey bee swarms, go to these sites:
June is the month when the wild berry plants blossom here in the north country. As I write, blackcaps (aka black raspberries or rubus occidentals) are blooming. This unassuming little flower is a big favorite of honey bees. The first blackberry (rubus alligheniensis) flowers are about to open. When the patch by our beehives is in full bloom, it looks like a beautiful May snowstorm all around the beehives.
Now is the time, when the white flowers make them easy to spot, to locate your wild blackberry patches at the edges of fields and in the meadow. Note where they are so you can come back and pick the fruit in July. Look for the first ripe berries about a month after flowering — and thank the bees and other pollinators, because without them, there would be no summer fruit, purple, sweet, and juicy on a hot summer day.
For the past two days the bees have been coming in absolutely loaded down with bright yellow willow pollen and grey red maple pollen. I wonder how they can even get airborne, the pollen baskets on their back legs are so encumbered with huge blobs of the stuff. It’s funny to watch them as they arrive on the landing board and waddle into the entrance with their booty.
The worker in this photo graced my shirt with her presence for a few moments before she took off for the hive entrance to deliver her load.
Pollen is as important as nectar for the honeybee family, because the protein and other nutrients it contains feed developing larvae. The honeybee colony must produce as many new bees as possible in order to have workers to gather nectar to make enough honey for next winter. Without pollen — no honey. This is the time of year when, in a strong colony, the population is exploding. ~ Annie Watson
The bees were busy in the warm weather yesterday. The workers came back to the hive looking like they’d spent some time in a bakery — all dusted with very light tan pollen. It could be red maple, or maybe elm — I’m not sure. Red maples bloom around this time. Now, on warm days, the bees can feed their young, and the more food that’s available the more numerous and stronger the colony will be come summer. Nectar and pollen producing plants promote brood rearing and wax production — both important to the “spring buildup” of the colony.
We love these warm days when the sun is shining and the bees are overjoyed to be out after the long winter cooped up in the hive. It’s so live affirming to see them bringing food back to the hive. I was blessed by one bee visiting my hand before she delivered her load. Note the blob of pollen basket on her back leg.
For more about pollen plants, check out this slide show from the Northeast Kansas Beekeepers’ Association.