Clif Notes

Keeping Bees the Natural Way

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blog post by Drew Erickson, Assistant Farm Manager

My Grandfather Clifford grew up on a farm in Door County, Wisconsin. That’s the thumb shaped peninsula that sticks out above the town of Green Bay. On the farm the family grew the area’s prized crop, sour cherries, a tree that requires pollination to produce fruit. He told me stories about what it was like growing up on the farm. A favorite story was how he and his two brothers were tasked with gathering the fire wood for the winter. As a ten year old young man he was felling trees with a cross cut saw, skidding logs behind a horse, and splitting the wood with an axe. I recently saw a census report that showed him and his brothers working 60 hours a week. Not surprising that he left the farm for the big city of Chicago at sixteen. He left the farm as a young man but never lost his connection to the land, and always understood the value of fresh, home grown produce.

In all his stories and during our visits back to Wisconsin, I never remember him talking about bees on the farm. My grandfather has passed away so I can’t ask him about his experience with bees, but we are lucky to have a great teacher in Rob Keller. As a new bee keeper Rob has helped me get over my fear of getting stung and taught me everything I know about bee keeping. He likes to remind me, “don’t get jiggy, and you won’t get stung.”

Today’s commercial bee keepers truck there bees around the country from crop to crop at the precise time of flowering. Drive through an almond orchard in California’s central valley in the spring and you will see shipping pallets stacked with four hives each. This is the bee’s first stop of the spring after a cold winter in the Dakotas. From the almond blossoms they bounce around the country strapped to the backs of 18 wheelers pollinating trees and making honey from the nectar of the crop. While this method has its place, and is responsible for effective pollination of a huge amount of the food we eat, this is not the life of our bees that live on the Clif Family Farm.

At the farm Rob has taught us a different way to care for our bees. We find a good spot for a colony. A place east facing to the morning sun, in a bright spot where it will get a little shade on a hot summer day, but not too much shade in the winter, near water, and most of all surrounded by a bounty of nectar and pollen producing plants. Once we find that perfect bee space, we build a stand and place the colony with the intention of leaving it there for the entire life of the hive.

Now that we have several hives placed around the property it’s time to let them grow. Throughout the season of nectar and pollen production we continually check the hives to make sure the queen is laying eggs and the workers have plenty of space to grow the colony. While a young colony will effectively pollinate trees, it does take some time to grow the hive to a point where it will produce honey. Most of our colonies are in their first year. For the first year it is important to leave some honey in the box to help the bees survive the winter. Once established, a healthy hive can produce loads of honey, given proper forage. So help a local bee keeper and plant some nectar producers in your yard.

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