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.
Since my last post we've welcomed two sets of triplets and one set of twin kids to the goat barnyard. Over three days our three does took their turns birthing and tripled our population of four into twelve! Their Nubian billy-papa has endowed them all with long, floppy ears, and when they run, they look like they're flying with wings sprouted from their heads.
First "Rosemary," our pacifist Nubian momma, gave birth. Her babies have the longest ears, and are fully Nubian. Next, the Oberhasli "Sequoia" spent a long, stormy night laboring with her babies. After some help rearranging the presenting triplets from Lily and Luke Frey, she happily delivered triplets with shorter, floppy ears. Lastly, "Rosemary's" daughter, "Jasmine,” who is part Nubian and part Alpine, squirted out twins almost unbeknownst to us (we were still recovering from the late night midwifery with "Sequoia"). She did start hollering a little louder than usual though, and finally we realized that she'd just given birth to mid-sized floppy eared twins. All the pregnant goats have their babies now, and we're looking forward to making our first batch of goat cheese since we dried up the herd (or stopped milking them because they were pregnant and ready to deliver soon).
My own child, Osiris, who will turn two in May, delights in playing with the baby goat herd. He fancies himself an honorary goat-human liaison, since he witnessed the births and has established an intimate connection with the kids. If we allowed it, I think Osiris would move in with the goats!
Welcome to our Farm and Garden Blog! We hope you will join us through the seasons as we share with you the joys and pleasures of our biodynamic farm and family gardens – along with our methods and techniques of sustainability.
This spring we are enthusiastic that we'll soon receive a loving bundle of kids and calves. Our goats are due to kid as early as this week! The cows are more mysterious about exactly when they conceived (they were with a bull for a long courtship). Since the births are on the way, we wanted to add information about the herbal indications for new mothers.
As a general uterine tonic during the pregnancy, and especially near the end, it’s recommended to give them whole raspberry leaf to help prepare the mothers-to-be for their successful births.
Once the babies are born, it’s nice to give the mother a restorative tonic: a handful of fresh ivy (a bigger handful for bigger animals) along with a bowl of warmed water mixed with molasses. This helps the new mother by keeping up her energy levels while she cares for the newborns and lets her milk come in.
Being sure that the calves and kids get enough colostrum from their mothers in their first days, it’s also likely that the dairy animals with have extra for humans; this rich "first milk" is full of essential nutrients for man and animal alike.
May the spring be fertile and full of life for one and all, as the sunlight returns to greet the blossoms of red clover in the vineyards.
I know I’m a novice beekeeper, but I suspect the awe and mystery I experience as I open a hive will last for the rest of my life. Last Saturday Marie and I inspected our five hives. It was only the end of January, but we’d had a month of extremely unusual weather – no rain and daytime temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s. Typically, our bees would be tucked inside their homes, waiting out storms and cold and munching on their stores of honey. But it was spring outside! Lots of bees were out and about and hauling in loads of four different shades of brightly colored pollen. The mustard cover crops in our biodynamic vineyard are flowering, as well as hedgerows of manzanita, willow and winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima).
Katrina and Daniel Frey in bee suits, holding up a honeycomb swarming with bees.
After opening the boxes we found to our wonder bustling activity – freshly laid worker and drone brood and lots of stored pollen, filling every available space in the hive. They had eaten very little of their honey since the end of October when the hives were shrunk down for winter because it had been warm enough for them to be out gathering nectar and making new honey. So we added frames and even a super (an additional box) to one hive and wished them well.
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