Monday, February 15, 2010

Bees at the Farm

By Nicole Sugerman

June’s full moon occurred on Sunday the 7th. In many cultures, each month’s full moon has a name corresponding to natural and cultural happenings around that time; for example, many of us still know the full moon in September as the ‘harvest moon’, referencing that month’s abundant food harvests. To some, the June full moon is known as the ‘mead moon’, which makes reference to a fermented alcoholic drink made from honey. This moon marks the time of the first honey harvest, after bees have been industriously collecting pollen from the flowering trees and plants all spring, and the hives are full of honey.

Some of you at the potluck saw the beekeepers who house their bees at our farm. Unfortunately, we do not yet keep our own bees to make honey for the CSA; as a start-up farm, we could not afford to invest in beekeeping infrastructure this season. However, in honor of the mead moon, I would like to offer my praises of the honeybees who do constant, truly invaluable work to grow your vegetables.

Pollination is the process by which pollen is moved from a plant’s anthers to its pistill, both parts of a plant’s flower. A part of reproduction, pollination is important for all the plants we grow on a farm, as seeds cannot be produced without the pollination process, and without seeds, no one would have the ability to grow vegetables next season. Many, many of the plants we grow depend on or benefit from bees for seed production, including cabbage, carrots, turnips, and sweet potatoes. This is hugely important, as the viable renewal of one’s seed supply leads the way to food independence and control over one’s own resources. Thank goodness we have bees helping us save our seeds!

But as a farm with a so-far limited seed saving repertoire, pollination interests us on a personal scale particularly for the crops that we grow in order to eat their fruits. Of the fruiting vegetables we grow, only some need bees. Tomatoes and peas are self-pollinating, meaning that the plant completes the pollinating process itself within each flower. Corn is wind-pollinated, meaning most pollination takes place via wind blowing the pollen between flowers. Plants in the cucurbit family, including melons, cucumbers, squash, and gourds, rely on bees for their pollination, as well as peppers, eggplants, and beans. So, every time you eat one of these vegetables, thank the bees who helped pollinate it.

One cannot write about bees these days without addressing colony collapse disorder, the mysterious honeybee die-off that has been the subject of much recent concern. Because of bees’ pollinating benefits, many large-scale growers bring in many beehives to pollinate their large orchards or fields. Since 2006, many of these large-scale honeybee hives have been suddenly dying without a known explanation. Some people think that bees’ immune systems are weakened due to pesticides, heavy travel, or diets supplemented by corn syrup, which are necessary when beekeepers take all the honey from a hive, leaving the bees no food for the winter. Whatever the cause of colony collapse disorder, bees are observably healthier when they have organic crops on which to feed, and when they are managed without pesticides or overly taxing regimens. We are happy to provide a home to two hives of healthy, pesticide free bees, who in return provide us plentiful pollination so that our fruits are bountiful and beautiful.

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