Way to Bee!
by Laura Frerichs, Tastemaker in Residence
As an organic farmer, we are not only concerned with growing healthy vegetables, but on fostering an overall healthy, thriving eco-system on our farm. Part of our eco-system includes honeybees that provide pollination for many of our vegetable crops, like cucumbers, zucchini, butternut squash, and also provide us with some of the most delicious honey we have ever tasted. Bees and pollinators are just darn cool creatures to watch and observe too!
I took a beginning beekeeper class from the experts at the University of MN and they set me up to confidently start my own hive a couple years ago. Beekeeping neighbors of ours also have around 20-30 hives they place on our farm. My bees winter over in their hive box and every Spring I cross my fingers and check their hive to see if they made it through the winter. I am in luck that for the 2nd year in a row, my hives are alive and thriving!
I have seen the bees around the farm collecting the first pollen of the year from willow and maple trees, carrying back little nuggets of yellow, orange, and brown pollen on the hairs of their back legs. They will feed this pollen to the young "brood"--baby bees hatching out that need a high-protein source. The bees are also out scouting for the first dandelions and wildflowers to bloom so they can begin to collect nectar.
There are hundreds of types of wild native bees and bumblebees that also rely on flowers and plants like dandelions that we consider "weeds" and these native bees pollinate crops like tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, and eggplant that honeybees are not able to efficiently pollinate. Honeybees and native bees have been struggling of late, often because they do not have enough flowers and food sources available. Another reason to think before your spray those weeds in your lawn... On our farm, we have found that the bees especially love the mint family of plants, so we plant lots of basil, oregano, sage, bee balm, monarda, spearmint, and hyssop, and let it all go to flower to provide nectar for the bees. It results in a light, almost minty honey too!
As rhubarb season approaches (it is bulbing in our gardens!), bookmark this recipe for Olive-oil Cake with Honey Roasted Rhubarb. It is light and lovely, perfect for Spring and early summer.