Nothing on the farm seems to work as hard–or with as much purposeful industry–as our honeybees. Sometimes I’ll just sit back on my elbows near the hives and watch the daily, wandering bustle of their lives: their black-banded bodies freighted with nectar from thousands of obliging flowers, their legs dusted in motes of pollen; so determined and ambitious, so organized. It’s hard not to feel like an idle slacker around them.
Being there: All magical bustle and industry
We’ve been keeping bees (or they’ve been busily keeping us) for almost five years now and they’ve become so essential to the macro organism of the farm that it’s hard to imagine growing without them. Beyond their remarkable, ambrosial honey, they are the planet’s primary pollinators, responsible for thirty percent of the food we humans eat.
What they draw from the floral landscape, the raw honey we harvest, is one of nature’s miracles. Honey is the only food that never spoils (they’ve found edible honey in the tombs of the pharaohs), and, in its raw form, is an excellent anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal (it can even be used topically to treat infection). It’s rich in anti-oxidants, a boost to your immune system, and local, raw honey (not the pasteurized yellow stuff at the supermarket) even helps with allergies: A tablespoon a day of raw honey from within a 100 miles radius of your home acts as an allergy immune booster, since the bees are processing the same pollen that’s making you seasonably miserable.
Deep, Rich, Raw: honey ready for CSA members
The world would be bleak without bees, of course, so deciding to keep them–despite their unpredictable wildness–is an act of stewardship and conservation(oh yeah, there’s the reward of all that honey too). But I learned the hard way that becoming and apiarist isn’t just about setting up a few hives and letting the bees work their magic untended; like anything on the farm, there’s a fair amount thoughtful management and care involved.
Sweet, pleated quince blossoms in the orchard are delicious spring forage for bees
We’ve had our colonies collapse, or swarm out of their sticky, comfortable digs for no apparent reason, or perish in the brutality of a polar vortex, but we’ve persisted each year. Besides pollination and honey, keeping bees makes you something of an activist. Since bee populations have declined precipitously and mysteriously in the last decade (most likely due to the overuse of systemic pesticides), caring for a few of your own hives not only keeps you in delicious raw honey, but makes a small but meaningful contribution to the survival of this remarkable species. –Mb
Our old school honey harvest meant using the slow drip method; letting gravity do its thing as open combs were warmed in front of the fire.
Newly-jarred honey, almost a gallon of it, glows on the window sill.
A planet without bees is not just a planet without the miracle of honey: bees pollinate 30% of our fruit and vegetable crops. The imbalance will lead to increased consumption of petro-chemical grains and feed lot protein – already a scourge in our fast food nation.
If the vanishing bees are a warning, their decline may be prophetic. Monocultures made possible by corporate profiteers such as Monsanto, ADM, and Cargill will be all that’s left; acres of GMO produce dripping with lethal chemicals It’s no wonder we’ve been kicked out of the garden by higher powers.
Einstein wisely said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” and small organic farms are on a mission to change consciousness, one bee at a time. –Mb