They say “a swarm in May is worth a bale of hay,” and working on the farm, I know the value of both! Last February I attended the Honey Bee Symposium at Sommerfield Waldorf School, where renowned Biodynamic beekeeper Gunter Hauk discussed the loving being that is the honey bee, with a panel of Northern California apiculturists. I left the event with a keen desire to build my own hive as a sanctuary for the honey bee. On my quest for a hive design I came across work being done internationally with the “top bar” model, which utilizes the bottom half of a hexagon (the shape the bees draw in wax) as the principle structure. Because of these dimensions the bees are able to draw honeycombs in perfect, heart-shaped arcs, as they would naturally do if they were not impeded by man’s engineering. My husband Daniel and I created two such hives using wax to seal cracks. We added features of which we hope the bees will be able to regulate themselves, such as really small ventilation holes that can be filled with propolis as needed.
Katrina and Marie, on their respective Melissa quests, have found a Biodynamic hive popularized in Germany that has similar aspects to a top bar hive, but with some fancy features added. Called the “one-room-hive” (in German: “Einraumbeute”), it includes such additions as a waxed cloth that can be kept over the hive while one works with the bees, to minimize the disruption of opening the hive. Additionally, these new models offer observation windows to watch the queen cells as they develop. (Knowing the mature cell dates are important in Biodynamic beekeeping, which allows the hive to swarm, as Hauk describes, for the joie de vivre the bees experience). Beveled frame edges, a special insulation layer, and dove-tailed carpentry make these hives a special gift to the bees.
In late May, Katrina and I journeyed down to a local organic beekeeper’s apiary in Healdsburg and collected our bees in the twilight. We brought all of our unconventional hives with us and shook the bees in, all 40,000 of them per hive. With a total of 4 hives in the back of the car, it was over 100,000 bees buzzing as we made our late night sojourn home. Suited up in full regalia, just in case, we unloaded our sweet vessels on the Frey Ranch under the midnight moonlight.
The next morning, at the break of dawn, our bees found their new foraging grounds on the ranch. Daniel’s bees got a little disoriented and decided to swarm. Luckily, they opted to settle into a nearby apple tree in our orchard. We were able to catch them again and put them back into their hive, after which we made some improvements on the design. Katrina’s bees decided to swarm too, and it was quite the climbing expedition to recover them high up in another tree. Katrina and Marie caught another swarm, and this one decided to make its home in a wine barrel. Now, at the beginning of July, all the hives are blissfully buzzing away, gathering sweet nectars from the summer garden blooms.
Katrina grew up in Michigan, enjoying the blooms of her mother’s flower gardens. She spent summers working with her grandfather at his perennial flower nursery in Vermont, and came to appreciate her family’s floral heritage. When Katrina first came to California in the 1970s, her impetus for the adventure West was to learn organic gardening with the eccentric green thumb, Alan Chadwick. Her love of flowers blossomed there in the cultivating of perennial borders, as well as her love for her future husband, Jonathan Frey, who was also working in the nascent organics movement. Together they moved to the Frey Ranch in Redwood Valley, married, and began to grow their kinder garden of organic California children. In those formative days the winery was forged out of their mutual adoration of organics, and Katrina partnered with another Chadwick gardener, Charlotte Tonge, to give birth to a perennial flower nursery on the winery land in Redwood Valley. At the height of their propagation glory, the ladies had over 100 varieties of flowers producing, and they continued to bloom for 6 years. When the winery and its organic fruits needed more tending than there was staff, the flower women became the backbone of the Frey Vineyards office.
Today, Katrina plants colors on the canvas of her garden landscape, sticking to the tradition of her Eastern relatives, while incorporating organic gardening into the heart of her mission on the Frey Ranch. Additionally, she’s become one of the ranch’s Melissa, forming an intimate bond with the honey bee Bien (the being of the bee hive, including all the flowers that they take pollen from, the environment where they fly, and of course the bees themselves). You can see Katrina in her garden throughout the year, tending her hives and painting with the palette of possibilities as she plants out her garden. She recommends to aspiring perennial borderist the following suggestions:
When arranging your motif, consider the overall appearance of your border as it will look over the course of the seasons. Your aim is to create the illusion that there are always flowers in bloom. To do so, stagger plantings so that each area will have something to show at any given time. Consider placing the shorter blooms in the front of the border, and the taller behind. Besides probable heights, imagine the bloom itself, and mingle different textures together, i.e. plant side by side the umbel heads of valerian with a bush, showcasing the softness of rose petals. Planting in clumps gives a rich thickness that helps create the physicality of the border and intensifies the floral drama of a particular color or form.
In the last few years Katrina has added to her repertoire of flower wisdom, a love for the bees, and the plants that they seek out. For instance, since Katrina started to keep bees, she has included‘Gaillardia’ in her border, and looks out for flowers to especially please her wee friends. Interviewing Katrina in her late Spring garden is a delight, seeing her revel in the crescendo of culminating blossoms, cheering with the bees (native pollinators and honey bees alike) for the fertile florescence of a sunny day in May.
"Laughing, laughing, laughing, laughing,
comes the summer over the hills.
Over the hills comes the summer,
hahaha, laughing, over the hills."
The sun cometh as we enter the longest days of the year with the approach of the summer solstice. To celebrate the return of the glorious heat, our farmers and gardeners have readied their summer scenes with eggplants, tomatoes, basil, squash, corn. We got out our shovels, prepped beds, and planted our annuals – and had some perennial fun as well! In the weeks ahead, the Frey Farm and Garden Blog will chronicle the gardeners and what they're growing on the Frey ranch. Stay tuned for Frey folk interviews, delicious recipes, and beautiful shots of our spring and summer landscapes to help you get a feel for the Redwood Valley terroire, where the grapes for your organic wine and biodynamic wine are grown.
LIttle Osiris Frey learning to drive the wheelbarrow.
Here's an amazing Organic Strawberry Tart with an elegant twist.
Organic Strawberry Tart
(plan for 2-1/2 hours, which includes cooling time)
For Tart Shell - (to fill a 10-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom)
3/4 cup Organic Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1/2 cup Organic Unbleached White Flour
3 tablespoons Organic Sugar
1/4 teaspoon Salt
6 tablespoons Organic Unsalted Butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon Organic Whole Golden Flax Seeds
1 large Organic Egg Yolk
1/2 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
1/2 teaspoon Fresh Lemon Juice
3 tablespoons iced water
For Filling & Dessertage Glaze
1-1/2 lb strawberries (about 1-1/2 qt) trimmed and quartered
1/4 cup Organic Sugar
3/4 cup Frey Organic Dessertage Port Wine
2 cups Mascarpone (1 lb)
1/4 cup Organic Confectioner's Sugar
1 teaspoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 teaspoon Grated Lemon Zest
1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
MAKE TART SHELL by blending flours, sugar, salt, and butter in a bowl with a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) until mixture looks like coarse meal. Don't overwork -- pieces of butter should be pea-sized. Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon juice, and water, then drizzle over flour mixture and stir with a fork (or pulse) until mixture is blended together.
Gently knead with floured hands on a lightly-floured surface until a dough forms, then gently knead a few times. Press into a 5-inch disk. Place in the center of the tart pan, and using your fingers, spread and push dough to evenly cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Prick the bottom of the tart shell all over with a fork and place in the freezer while the oven is preheating (about 10 minutes).
Preheat oven to 350°F with the rack in the middle.
Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until side is set and edge is pale golden, about 15 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and continue baking until your shell is deep golden color, about 15 minutes more. Allow tart to cool thoroughly, about 45 minutes.
PREPARE FILLING WHILE TART SHELL COOLS
Stir together prepared strawberries and sugar in a bowl and let stand about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain in a sieve set over a small saucepan, reserving berries. Add Dessertage to the liquid in the saucepan and boil until reduced to about 1/4 cup, which may take up to 30 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool slightly.
In the meantime, blend the mascarpone, confectioner's sugar, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and just a pinch of salt.
TO ASSEMBLE THE TART
Spread the mascarpone mixture evenly into the cooled tart shell, then top with the strawberries. Drizzle the Dessertage glaze all over the tart.
Makes 8 Servings
Honeybees gained national attention last month when Michelle Obama installed two hives in her organic White House garden. I’m excited about the stream of children and adults who will visit and become inspired to care for bees. About one-third of our human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.
Spring is the time of year to establish new colonies because it’s the season when the bees are expanding their populations. Wintertime colonies typically number about 10,000 individual bees, but now in springtime the queen bee in each hive is busy laying as many as 2,000 new eggs a day. By early summer a healthy hive will house 40,000-60,000 residents!
When a new bee is born it crawls out of its nest built within a tiny hexagon of pristine wax. Male bees are drones, named for the low humming noises they make, and are large and hairy with huge eyes. They are free to travel and visit other bee colonies, perhaps as ambassadors and communicators. During the warm late spring and summer days thousands of drones congregate with other neighborhood males high up in the sky just above the treetops in “drone zones.” This congregation of males from different colonies ensures genetic diversity for the queens who will soon appear. The drones wait patiently until they meet and mate with a queen bee during her virgin flight. After mating in the air, the drones die, hopefully ecstatic up to that point, and plunge to earth. The queen mates with about a dozen drones and goes home filled with a lifetime supply of sperm. The queen bee is by far the longest-lived member of the hive, living up to three years, much longer than the six weeks to three-month life span of the other bees. By the end of August, the drones’ work is done and they will die at 3 months of age and the queen will lay no more drone eggs until the next spring.
Throughout the brief but wondrous life of a female worker honeybee, thirteen different glands fire up and then recede to assist in the current task of the bee. When a female bee emerges from her shining cell of wax she quickly goes to work cleaning out used cells and readying them for new brood. She does this with juice from a specialized salivary gland. Her next task is to feed the baby bees (brood) with royal jelly, nutritious “milk” produced from yet another gland near their mouth. The brood is also fed with “bee bread,” a mix of pollen and honey. A circle of female bees constantly attends the queen, feeding her with royal jelly and assisting her with the all-important work of egg laying. In other parts of the hive, bees are busy creating new comb from tiny drops of wax secreted from their wax glands. The comb will soon be filled with pollen and nectar that slowly evaporates and ages into exquisite honey. Next, the versatile worker bees become guards, and start to use their bee sting venom glands.
After about a month of housework, the female bees graduate and go outside into the sunlight for the first time. They emerge as part of a great cloud of comrades, turn around and face their hive, and staying within a few feet of their home, fly in lazy lemniscates (figure eights.) They are orienting by memorizing the outline of the horizon behind their home. Now they can begin their foraging career. During one sunny warm day a bee will visit hundreds of individual flowers, gathering nectar and pollen to bring back to the hive and at the same time performing the invaluable work of pollination, spreading pollen dust from flower to flower. After a few weeks of foraging, a honeybee will finally fly her delicate wings to tatters and will die at about 6 weeks of age.
On a 45-minute foraging flight, a bee visits 200-300 flowers of the same plant species. Honeybees are known to be “faithful to flowers”, because they will continue to visit only the same kinds of flowers as long as they are blooming. This consistency is what makes honeybees such desirable pollinators compared to other native bees and insects that tend to flit from species to species. Honeybees fill their crops (honey pouches) with nectar equaling half of their body weight. Honeybees from a typical hive visit around 225,000 flowers per day. The bees make an average of 1,600 round trips and will travel up to three miles from the hive in order to produce one ounce of honey. To make one pound of honey, honeybees must visit some 2 million flowers and fly about 55,000 miles.
The next time you spread a delicious nutritious spoonful of honey on your toast, take a minute to marvel upon the complexity within each drop of honey.
“Honey is something so valuable that it is impossible to put a price on it.”
Now and then we'll post interesting news for you from the world of organic wine and organic agriculture. The following is from CCOF Magazine, Spring 2009 Issue:
"The Pesticide Action Network-Europe conducted a study of pesticide residues in European wine and found that on average a conventional bottle of wine contains four pesticides (one bottle in the study contained ten detected residues, while all bottles contained at least one). In comparison, the organic wines tested contained almost no residues (one residue was detected in one bottle). Grapes are one of the most contaminated crops in Europe and elsewhere, and the problem is growing in the wine industry as many farmers opt for synthetic pesticides. These pesticides are not fully removed in the winemaking process, as this study and a 14 year study conducted by the French Ministry of Agriculture have both shown. Organic wines are virtually pesticide free, as organic farming requires alternative pest control methods."
Rain or shine, the gardens of the Frey Vineyards ranch are thriving as warm Spring weather helps the starts take off. The greenhouse is filled with shoots and sprouts of veggies, flowers, greens, and herbs. As soon as the frosts end the greenhouse flats will be planted to yield homegrown organic food for the community over the Summer months. Already our gardens are holding the promise of future roots with carrot, turnip, parsnip, beet, and radish seeds. The cover crop of fava beans that we planted for the winter is flourishing; they help fix nitrogen into the soil, and we'll be able to use some for green mulch, some for delicious food stuffs, and some of the seed we'll save to make this our 5th year with this particular strain of fava bean on the ranch!
Our small herd of ranch goats are lamenting the loss of their vineyard foraging days since the grape buds opened. Now starts the season of creative goat walks as we shuffle them to different pastures while avoiding the tempting vineyards with their succulent new grape shoots. Fed on wilder fields until the grape harvest next Fall, our ladies are milking twice a day, helping us to experiment with new cheeses (a feta, a goat cheddar, and of course our signature chèvre). On the homestead, the cows are expected to calf soon, and the chickens are lavishing in the Spring sun and producing eggs with a fervor that is unparalleled to other seasons.
Katrina Frey's Leeks in Wine Sauce is appropriate this time of year when the leeks are in full allium! Begin your Spring cooking expedition by pouring for yourself and friends a glass of one of the Frey dry organic red wines, and save about 2 cups for the following recipe:
Leeks in Wine Sauce
Take 6 medium sized leeks from your Spring or Fall garden, or organic food store
Slice them all lengthwise, and clean them really well (all the folds)
Then slice them into 5 inch pieces and they're ready
Heat about 5-6 tbsp olive oil in a deep cast iron skillet
Add the leeks and stir them on medium heat until they have all wilted
Pour two cups wine (we recommend the Frey Natural Red, although any of the reds would work well) over the mixture
And add water as necessary to submerge the leeks in liquid
Mix in 2 tbsp tamari or 1 1/2 tsp salt
Cover the mixture, turn to low heat, and let stew for about 35 minutes (or until very tender), checking every 10 or so minutes to make sure they aren't sticking
Enjoy your vegan meal as an entrée or as a delectable side dish
Alan Greene, M.D., here with Katrina Frey at Expo West Earlier this month, is the pediatrician at the Stanford School of Medicine and a board member of the Organic Center. He promotes the benefits of organic food for a healthier future for our children and also enjoys an occasional glass of Frey Organic Wine.
The Organic Center generates peer reviewed scientific studies that verify the benefits of organic farming.
The Organic Center held their VIP dinner at Expo West where they announced their 2009 campaign to promote and research the huge capacities of organic soils to sequester carbon and reverse global warming. Frey Vineyards provided wine for the dinner.
After a winter of curing, we have our first batch of homegrown, home-brewed olives, just in time for the Spring Equinox!
We harvested these olives last fall. The trees were planted several years ago along the edge of our biodynamic Cabernet vineyard. Most of the fruit hung in shades of green, some with accents of red and black. The olives filled two large 5-gallon glass carboys, along with an assortment of tenacious stems and leaves.
To leech out the bitterness, we rinsed the olives in fresh spring water from last October until the new year. Then we cured the batches by adding garlic, lemons, and salt. Several brines later, we bottled the olives and delivered them to the community. They made great table olives. The year before last we pressed our olives and had our first run of homemade olive oil, which we’ll talk about in a future post.