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The Wonderful World of Bees

Albert Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” It’s a scary thought that many people fear may be happening before our very eyes. If you have given any time to following news from the world of agriculture, let it be on the radio, television, news articles, or even just talking to a local farmer, at some point, odds are the topic of bees, and more specifically honeybees, has probably come up. In this article, we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of the hardest working creatures on the farm, and dive into the interesting, wonderful, and sometimes weird world of honeybees.

First, let’s talk about the basic structure of a hive of bees. A healthy hive of bees can house anywhere from twenty thousand (20,000) to sixty thousand (60,000) bees! There are three distinct “jobs'' that all bees will fall under. First, is the queen bee, all beehives have a single queen bee. The queen is responsible for laying all the eggs that will eventually hatch into larvae and be raised into the different bees that compose the entirety of the hive. The most numerous bees are the “worker bee,” the worker bees are the honeybees that you see out and about visiting flowers, collecting pollen and nectar, and helping to pollinate all sorts of crops and plants. To collect nectar, the honeybee uses its proboscis, which is a straw like tongue, to suck out nectar droplets from various flowers. These bees will also gather pollen onto ‘saddlebags’ on their legs. The collection of pollen, and the fact that the bees visit many different flowers is what makes them such excellent pollinators. The worker bees are also responsible for defending the hive if it is disturbed by any kind of outsider, they are ready to give their lives to defend and protect the colony. Another task that falls to the worker bee is caring for the brood, or newly hatched larvae. This sub class of worker bees is usually referred to as “nurse bees” and consist of the youngest adult workers. They are responsible for feeding the young, as well as maintaining the proper brood temperature in the hive. Another sub class of worker bee is the “house bee” but we will talk about that a little later in the article. All these responsibilities and they only have about a six-week lifespan to get it all done, talk about a Busy Bee! Finally, there are the “drones.” Drones are responsible for one thing and one thing alone – mating with the queen. The drones are easily the “laziest” of the bees and are usually some of the first to be kicked out of the hive if the hive experiences some form of stress such as a lack of food. Just to add another interesting fact, all worker bees are female, and outnumber the male drones at a ratio of roughly 100:1!

As mentioned above, the worker bees collect pollen and nectar from the flowers that they visit. But why do they do this? It can’t be simply to help with pollination and to ensure food for all the other species of the planet, can it? Well, while that would be very generous of them, no that is not the reason the bees keep themselves so busy. The pollen and nectar that the worker bees collect are used for very specific things. The pollen that the honeybees collect is used to feed the larvae in the hive. It is extremely high in protein and is the only protein source that the honeybees will eat. Without pollen the young bees would not mature, and the colony would collapse. The nectar on the other hand is used to create everyone's favorite bee product, honey! In order to create honey, worker bees will travel up to 3 miles from their hive to collect the nectar they need from various flowers. On a single trip a worker bee will visit fifty to one hundred flowers to find enough nectar. The nectar is sucked up by the worker bee using its proboscis and stored in their stomachs. Once in the stomach, the bee begins to break down the complex sugars of the nectar into more simple sugars that are less likely to become solid or crystalize, this process is referred to as “inversion,” and is the first major step in transforming nectar into honey. Once the worker bees’ stomach has been filled, the bee returns directly to the hive, where the nectar is regurgitated and handed off to a “house bee.” House bees are worker bees that are between thirteen and seventeen days old. The house bee will take the nectar and pack it into a cell in the honeycomb, where it is dried out by a warm breeze that is created by worker bees fanning the nectar with their wings. Once the nectar/honey reaches the appropriate dryness, the cell that it is in is sealed with fresh wax and stored until winter. This honey store is used during the long winters when bees can’t get fresh pollen and nectar for food. The cells can be opened and shared amongst the hive to sustain them until spring. Therefore, when beekeepers extract honey from a hive, they need to be very careful to leave enough honey behind or they can starve their hive over the winter! As a fun side note, did you know that once a worker bee discovers a good source of nectar and pollen, they will communicate the distance and direction by dancing! That’s right, bees communicate by using a “waggle” dance to tell other bees where they need to go to get food for the hive.

Bees seem so effective and efficient in all that they do. Why then is it that we hear so much about bees disappearing, colonies collapsing, and the overall shortage of honeybees that are available to help with crop pollination and honey production? There are many theories about why the overall population of honeybees is on the decline and we wanted to touch on one of the most well-known reasons here. That reason is Colony Collapse. The proper term is Colony Collapse Disorder (C.C.D.) and is characterized by a sudden “death” of a hive. This is normally seen as a sudden disappearance of almost all worker bees, leaving nothing but drones, the queen, and a few house bees in the hive. The reason for C.C.D. is not yet known. There are many theories that are floating around - some of which include malnutrition, the use of pesticides by agriculturists which in turn affect the health of the bees, or even genetically modified crops (G.M.O.s). Again, there is no definitive answer as to what causes C.C.D. but research is ongoing, and experts hope to have an answer soon.

So, what can we do to help our small buzzing buddies? There are several things that can help to boost the health of hives in your area, even if you don’t keep bees yourself. If you live in a northern climate and have a small garden, consider planting early season flowers. Bees need food early in the year, so the earlier the flowers bloom, the more beneficial it will be to the hungry bees who are just coming off a long winter. Something else to keep in mind, if you garden, or just use any sort of sprays on your lawn, plants, or trees, is to be wary of neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids (sometimes called neonics) are a type of insecticide that affect the neurological system of insects. This can be devastating to bees if they come in contact with the spray. Worse, if they return to the hive the neonics could affect other bees that they come in contact with. A tip is that if you are going to spray any sort of insecticide, wait until sundown. Bees are usually not active, or not as active, after the sun begins to set. So, using an insecticide that either has a short effective life or will be neutralized by sunlight (like most organic sprays) will help to keep the honeybees from being affected when the following morning comes, and the bees get back to work!

We hope that this article was informative and entertaining. To wrap up, I'd like to quote Henry David Thoreau, “The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams,” That is to say, raising bees is both fun and rewarding. From the hives that you keep, issue forth the many bees that go and pollinate the world, helping to produce food, flowers, and seed, and hopefully spreading beauty and joy to those around you.


Farm Updates

We have exciting news – on June 30th we welcomed another calf to the herd! We have a bull calf that has yet to be named.

We are officially opened for our 26th season of business. We are open Monday – Saturday 9am – 6pm and Sunday 9am – 5pm

We will be opened on the 4th of July from 9am – 6pm

We are pleased to now be carrying our own homemade salad dressings.

Due to the unprecedented amount of rain that we received last month, we are currently attempting to rectify nutrient deficiencies in the soil and help our plants catch up to where they should be. Please be patient if we do not have products available that we would normally have this time of year.


Verses

My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 24:13-14

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11

If you have found honey, eat only enough for you lest you have your fill of it and vomit it. Proverbs 25:16


Red Potato Salad

Ingredients

· Red Potatoes

· 8 hard boiled eggs

· 1 large onion

· 1/4 cup sweet relish

· 1 tablespoon yellow mustard

· 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

· 1 tablespoon sugar

· 1 tsp celery see

· 1 ½ tsp garlic salt

· 1 ½ tsp onion salt

· 2 cups mayo

· ½ cup sour cream

Instructions

  • Bring large pot of water to a boil. While water is coming to a boil, slice yellow onion into quarters. After water has come to a boil, add onions and whole unpeeled potatoes. Boil on low until the potato peels start to crack (approx. 40 minutes or so - times vary since potatoes vary so much in size). They should be firm but cooked through. When the peels crack, that is a good time to poke them with a fork and see how they are doing (or pull one out and cut it in half). Do not overcook! They should be slightly firm. Remove from heat and pour into colander. Gently rinse with cold water.

  • While the potatoes are boiling, make the dressing. Combine all the ingredients (besides the potatoes, onion, and eggs) in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Taste dressing after it is all combined, keeping in mind that the flavors will meld the longer they sit. This recipe doesn't have the typical strong vinegar taste that most potato salads have, so plan on it being milder. It is a little bit sweet and very mild. Add a little more of the onion or garlic salt if you need a little zip, or maybe a little mustard. If it has too much of either of those, add a bit more mayo or sour cream, sugar or relish might help.

  • When the potatoes have cooled, use a small paring knife to remove the peels. You may be able to kind of "slide" the peels off with your hands. Cut the potatoes into cubes about 1" size and place in a large bowl. After they are all cut up, pour the dressing over the top. Gently fold the dressing with the potatoes, using a large rubber spatula. At the very end, chop the eggs (they don't have to be perfect pieces), and add them to the potato salad, and fold in just a few times. Refrigerate. Right before serving, give it a taste. You may need to add a little more of an ingredient or two. Also, sometimes the potatoes soak up some of the dressing so you might want to add a little more mayo if that is the case, and give it a quick, gentle stir. Sprinkle lightly with paprika, season salt before serving, to add a bit of color.

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