By Linda Halley | Thursday, April 12, after the most spring-like afternoon of the season, we were all a little giddy. There was a spring in my step and bird song in the air. The farm team had just finished marking the rows for the new orchard and were heading home. As I packed my gear into the truck I had an urge to put on my winter hat. A gust of north wind confirmed the weather forecast: a spring blizzard was headed our way.
Glancing up the hill I could see Quentin, the beekeeper, making his final preparations in the new bee yard. The bees would be arriving this evening from California. In spite of the inhospitable predictions Quentin had no choice but to pick them up and do his best to settle them in to their new hives. He would make sure that they had honey in some frames, a pollen patty and some syrup to feed them until the storm passed. There would be no foraging anytime soon.
I got a text the next morning, “Bees late, didn’t get off the hill until 10 pm,” Quentin. Well at least they have a dedicated beekeeper they can count on to keep them safe until Mother Nature sees fit to grace us with Spring.
Saturday brought wicked wind and cruel sheets of sleet. I had a cozy place to weather the storm but I wondered how the bees were getting along. Sunday blanketed us with snow, more than just a dusting. I settled down to lamb stew, watching the flakes drift down. I popped on the radio to a timely topic that was on my mind: BEES!
Marla Spivak, a University of Minnesota professor and MacArthur Fellow, was passionately explaining the importance of bees and the peril they have been facing. You can view her talk here:
Beginning about seven years ago, colony collapse disorder was identified. Hives would be found in which all the bees had perished or simply disappeared. “Did you know,” she explained, “that now, on average, a beekeeper loses 30% of their bees annually?” Surely, that’s unsustainable!
Dr. Spivak explained that bee survival has been in decline since WWII. There’s no single villain in this story. It is a result of a combination of many different “modern” agricultural practices. I had heard this before, but this weekend, with our bees barely settled on the hill, it hit home. Seems most bees have it stacked against them. Our bees are lucky to call Gwenyn Hill home, and not just because they have a dedicated beekeeper. Our organic practices will help give them a fighting chance to survive beyond this season. We plant flowering pastures, hay fields, cover crops, flowers, and, of course, fruiting crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. We maintain brushy fence lines and field edges that provide refuge. Our fields contain a diversity of crops, not an expanse of a single grain. And, of course, we don’t use bee-killing pesticides.
I was oddly gratified that a Sunday message for my soul had been delivered by a bee scientist. She helped me connect the dots; why we farm the way we do and why it matters in the big picture. It matters to those that eat our organic food, of course, but also, in invisible ways, it matters to our whole community. Even if we don’t recognize it, wild and domestic bees play an important part in the connected ecosystem. And, how appropriate it is that Gwenyn Hill’s very first “livestock” (because that’s what domestic bees are, after all), is the honeybee since, as many of you already know, Gwenyn is Welsh for Honeybee.