Summer is certainly the time that bees seem most at home in the world, flying all about the garden, buzzing throughout the warmth of the season's days, and kissing all the flowering blossoms that need the bee magic to produce.
On the Frey farm we have been experimenting with several different styles of creative bee hive designs. The hive that I've been tending and observing the most this past year is a Warre style hive that my woodworking neighbor Kevin designed and built. The hive currently drips with honeybees, coming and going from their floral pursuits (see images below). It's built in the top bar style with multiple pieces of parallel wood spanning the top of each hive-body box. Unique to this model is that the hive-body is built in the form of a hexagon, to honor the bees own sacred geometric building. Kevin also built the hive completely without the use of metal to respect the bees' keen sensitivity to vibrations in their home. This particular model is on the roof of my bedroom, to protect it from unwanted visitors, such as bears, who have been known to go out of their way to taste the farm honey! On certain days, if I sit quietly on my bed, I can hear the bees buzzing and vibrating through the walls!
I've seen the hive swarm twice this year, each time swirling in elaborate lemniscate patterns, up higher and higher until they landed on nearby redwoods: too high for me to reach safely. I hoped these brave convoys made new homes successfully in the surrounding woods. We harvested a small amount of honey recently, which was a deep rich golden/bronze color and tasted of the Spring flora. As the summer winds down, the bees will travel far and wide to seek out late blooms to help flush out their sweet stores for the rest of the year, when forage becomes less and less available. But, for now, the bees are a buzz!
Warre style honeybee hive.
Honeybees taking off from the beehiveHoneybee launch pad!
View inside the beehiveTop of hive-box body.
Our Warre beehive swarmed today! We gathered to watch as the buzz intensified, rose up into the air, and found a place to rest in a tall redwood tree.
Life on the farm is full, as baby goats, little lambs, and spring plants take in the warm sunshine and thrive in the lush green landscapes of the farm and vineyards. This past weekend the Frey family hosted an Earth day celebration with foods from the land, to honor the abundance of life in the spring, and to appreciate the land that we all are grateful to be working with.
In biodynamic news, our preparations went to the BD prep-making conference in Colorado the first week of March along with Luke Frey, the farmer who made them. His preparations were judged to be the best of the conference for their substance, smell, and texture in a panel comparison of all the different preparations being made domestically. Go Luke!
Today we had twin lambs born to a mother sheep under the warm sunshine, while bees buzzed to and from between the plum blossoms and their hives. We're hoping that we get the rain that would be so greatly appreciated in this dry year; and yet, I hope that the fruit trees get a good run at pollination before those rains come down so that we can have a fine set of fruit later in the year. Farmers and gardeners in our climate hardly had a break this past winter. More days than not the weather has been so warm that hibernation just wasn't an option. As seed flats are promising sprouts for the spring and summer, we're looking to make more and more time in the garden to prepare beds for this growing season. Luckily we have had enough rain that the grains in the vineyards are growing steadily, and all our ruminant friends are pleased with this years crop of grasses and pasture options.
Just as the winter solstice came to the Frey Farm, our sheep gave birth in the pasture. We've had three lambs born to date to our herd of Navajo Churros, and all are doing well. Baaaa! For more information about this heritage breed, go to the Navajo Churro Sheep Association website.
The beekeepers at Frey vineyards have collaborated the past several years to create a habitat specifically for bees. This past spring, Luke Frey helped install a bee border to support the pollinators of our locality, and now this hedgerow has come into full bloom. Master gardener Kate Frey helped choose plants that would be beneficial to the bees by having a late-summer onset of blossoms and a drought tolerance for our California clime. Every day I see the bees taking full advantage of the precious August nectars, and I'm looking forward to the future of this perennial garden space.
Preparing the bee hedgerowLuke Frey preparing the bare land for the bee border.
Plants for the bee borderPlants in the pots, ready for planting in the bee border.
Bee plants are plantedThe bee hedgerow takes root.
Bee border in full bloomThe hegerow this August, with the plants in bloom, offering sweet flowers for the bees.
The glory of the summer sun shines down this time of year, illuminating the full palette of colors and flavors in the Frey Vineyards gardens. Out past one vineyard, beyond a blackberry hedgerow, Jonathan Frei works with the soil. His experiments began long ago in his childhood garden where kitchen herbs grew around his New Hampshire homestead.
Jonathan Frei in his garden.
After graduating with a B.S. in soil science from the University of Vermont, Jonathan transplanted himself in the West coast where he’s become an acclaimed master gardener, turning the earth into black gold wherever he tills. He adds that he is a “proud father to three amazing children,” two of which were in the garden when we arrived.
When entering Jonathan Frei’s garden one can see his gardening roots where culinary herbs surround his cabin in the woods. Paths lead out from his home between rows of colorful drought-tolerant bushes, many of which were in full-flower when I interviewed him. I brought my four year old son, Osiris, along to visit, and he found bliss in the several patches of Jerusalem sage, sucking sweet nectar from the abundant yellow flowers.
Little Osiris enjoying Jerusalem sage nectar.
Jonathan and I walked to his experimental garden project, where he is cultivating 20 different types of blueberries amidst native perennial trees, shrubs, and poor soils. We grazed on some of the most successful bushes that have provided a taste of fresh fruit for several years now.
Jonathan Frei's organic blueberries.
Aside from his blueberry adventures in homage to his Northeastern heritage, Jonathan has a history of making gardens come to life along the West coast. He worked at what is now the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, to lead a team of gardeners there years ago. Later, in Mexico, he started the internationally acclaimed organic garden of Rancho La Puerta in Baja, California. These days, when Jonathan isn’t working at the winery to help produce and promote Frey wines, he’s working with the land, perfecting the art of kitchen garden design, and pairing aromatics with vibrant flowers – all to create a whimsical and functional landscape.
Spring is in the air, in the barn, and in the fields! All the animals are enjoying the lush pasture from the rains, and have been steadily munching for months. Our goat herd has grown, and the goats that kidded in March now have attentive young following them on the goat walks through the vineyards. Because of the "bud break" (when the grapevines begin to sprout new shoots for this year's growth), the goats, cows, horses, and sheep are moving out of the vineyards to find forage instead in the meadows and grasslands. The chicken flock has also matured, making eggs for Easter omelets. The free-range eggs reflect the nutritious green grass of the pastures, as the chickens who graze on it have the beta-carotene needed to produce really rich and orange egg yolks. One of our hens went broody and hatched out her first nest of little chicks this week. And we have several "teens" strutting around the barnyard too, enjoying the bugs and grasses that this season brings.
Fresh farm eggs.
Six kids joined the barnyard scene this week. They came every other day, twins for each of our three mama goats. Everybody is nursing well and looking very adorable in their warm little goat coats. The baby goat below was born just this afternoon and the pictures taken during its first hour. It's being licked clean by its very caring mother while it tries out its legs for the first time on fresh hay.
Our goats are ripe and ready to give birth, all of them are full term. On our goat walks through the vineyards I see the kids moving around from inside their mother's bellies. Goat gestation is about 5 months, and last fall we bred our does to a Nubian buck, which should make them all excellent milking kids. For now, we're keeping the barn stocked with fresh hay, and checking on the mothers all day long. This is the other part of animal husbandry: animal midwifery!
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