We raise honey bees, sell raw, unfiltered honey, beeswax candles and beeswax skin care products and do public speaking.
Our honey will be used in the dinner organized by Chef Brian Alberg at the Beard House in NYC this Friday. So exciting to be joining other Berkshire growers and chefs!
This five-frame nucleus hive or “nuc” consists of a swarm caught in Sheffield. I kept the nuc in case I had an emergency need for another queen. Many beekeepers keep nucs over the winter, but it will be the first time I have tried. The nuc’s home base has been a SE-facing spot in my garden. When the temperature really drops, I will put a screen over the entrance and move the nuc into the garage. On days when it’s warm, I’ll fly the bees, replacing the nuc in the same spot so the bees remain oriented and can safely take their cleansing flights.
The nuc was filled to the brim with honey when the weather turned cold. I stored extra frames of honey in the freezer to feed this colony when needed.
This for-profit’s mission is “to reconnect diners to the land and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.” They truly caught the wave and have grown their agenda to an astounding 86 events this year across the U.S. and Canada. Prior locations have included this one:
An October dinner will take place on the roof of the Smithsonian; reportedly it sold out in 45 seconds.
The traveling show returned to the Berkshires last night, having last celebrated locally 8 years ago at Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. This time, the Red Lion’s CIA-trained executive chef Brian Alberg produced a spectacular feast for 150 at Elizabeth Keen and Al Thorpe’s Indian Line Farm in Egremont. Indian Line is one of the nation’s original CSA’s. Al and Elizabeth have been farming and stewarding the land for 15 years.
As has become customary at these events, the Outstanding folks and Al and Liz had ample time to tell their stories. Al and Liz then led tours of the farm, talking about the importance for them of starting small, staying debt-free, learning from other local famers, and revealing such secrets as the fact that their greenhouse tomatoes (the earliest around) were grafted onto disease-free rootstock. Even Ted took notice.
Brian’s menu included Lila’s lamb, Ted’s greens, Laura’s cherry tomatoes, Liz and Al’s root vegetables and a host of other local products, including Brian’s pork, and our honey. Brian and crew produced the feast right in the field, just across from the tables. Part of the meal thus traveled no more than a few yards from farm to table.
Among Nancy Fitzpatrick, Lila, Ted, Laura, Liz and Al were an oil industry executive now working in Iraq and her sister, a man working to turn around failing schools, a branding consultant who worked for Prince Charles, a hog farmer from Columbia County. Many of the diners had attended several Outstanding events before; one noted with astonishment that the organizers had greeted her by name.
Diners connected up and down the tables under a dramatic sky. Snippets of thought: a pig’s gestation is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. You know you need a new job if yours has an “exit route.” A different (and very decent) NY State wine accompanied each course. A certain style evolved as diners managed keeping the same wineglass throughout by sloshing any excess over the shoulder, back into the earth.
As temperatures fell, the sun set on an amazing event, seemingly produced without a hitch.
Thanks to Laurie Norton Moffatt for her photo of Brian, to OITF for the photo of the West Coast dinner and to Nancy Fitzpatrick for the photo of the Indian Line tables before the guests arrived.
What’s next for the Berkshires as culinary destination, for area’s many gifted farmers and food producers, for those still on the sidelines, for those who treasure the agricultural landscape, and for all of us concerned with the region’s economic sustainability? As we digest the success of this event, which sold out quickly @ $200/seat, surely there is much to consider.
What a treat it was to discover the good works of Island Grown Initiative (www.islandgrown.org) on Martha’s Vineyard, and to discover that the Vineyard’s interior remains dotted with farms rather than housing developments.
Island Grown is the name for a various aligned food-centered groups operating on the Island. Here are some examples of their work. The poultry group has constructed a mobile poultry processing unit for under $10,000. They’ve had it licensed and trained a crew to operate it. Projecting to process 10,000 Island chickens this year, the group believes the unit has added $70,000 worth of agricultural income to Island farmers.
The poultry and meat groups have commissioned a feasibility study about the construction of a slaughterhouse on the island.
The bee group coordinates installation of new colonies of honeybees so that their numbers don’t eliminate native pollinators.
The education group, headed by Noli Taylor, oversees the farm to school program in delivering locally grown food to the Island’s schools. That’s not all, though. They have installed gardens at many of the schools and also put together a full curriculum of garden and cooking lessons tied to the MA state standards, and they freely share their work. We had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful Edgartown School vegetable garden and seeing the warm partnership at work between Melinda DeFeo of Island Grown and the school’s food service director, Gina. Though it was the last day of July, these two and a group of volunteers were hard at work for the benefit of Edgartown’s students. Besides supporting the state curriculum objectives and adding to students’ share of healthy, locally grown food, here’s their statement of objectives:
We hope to teach our students to:
- Appreciate the farming profession
- Recognize the difference between the industrial and local food systems
- Understand the connection between healthy soil, healthy plants, and healthy people
- Know that everyone can grow food
- Feel confident in making healthy food choices
Gleaning program coordinator Jamie O’Gorman noted that 96 billion pounds of edible produce is wasted each year on US farms. Thanks to IG, the Vineyard has begun to reverse this trend. Last year IG oversaw the delivery of 22,000 pounds of produce to schools, senior centers and food pantries at less than $1/pound for program expenses. (Are we in the Berkshires ready for a gleaning program?) Nearly 20 other volunteers arrived to join us at Morning Glory Farm — check out their gorgeous photo and recipe book– to glean nearly-perfect summer squash, with the hope that these rows of produce could be gleaned once more before the fall frost. We gleaners were rewarded by this discovery among the squash blossoms:
Thursdays are bee days, necessitating a list of needed equipment guided by the hive record book, and careful packing of the car. We start with our home bee yard in Great Barrington and then make rounds to Egremont, Sheffield (2 stops) and Stockbridge. Here we are taking a look at progress inside a recently installed nuc. (Thanks, Eric!)
This hive has a good-sized population. In just over a week, the bees have gummed together their older frames. The brand new Frame 1 shows only the original foundation; it hasn’t yet been drawn.
A closer look at Frame 2 shows the bees’ progress in drawing out the hexagonal honeycombs from the surface of the beeswax foundation. Beeswax is the bees’ most precious commodity; it takes 7 pounds of honey to make a pound of beeswax. Usually the younger bees take responsibility for making honeycomb. They secrete wax flakes from a gland on their abdomen and shape the flakes into the six-sided comb. Newly secreted wax is snow white, as seen on this frame. Why use the hexagonal shape? It’s most efficient, holding more honey per weight of beeswax. Human math geniuses have recently completed written proof of the bees’ wisdom.
Here she is, Her Highness the Queen! Sometimes beekeepers mark queens with a dot of paint. But the paint isn’t really necessary. The queen’s elongated abdomen and different coloration makes her stand out. Why an elongated abdomen? Queens can lay their weight in eggs every day. We’ll replace this frame especially carefully, as the queen is key to the hive’s productivity. She makes her presence known to the workers by means of scent hormones, or pheromones. A queenless hive gets nothing done unless and until a new queen can be raised by the workers. Eggs destined to become queens are fed a richer diet than worker eggs, beginning on day 4.
Some 15 honey supers dot our blue and yellow hives. More will follow, thanks to BWH and Wolfe Spring interns and their skill at hand-crafting the frames. Keeping fingers crossed for the first comb honey comb honey production from our Great Barrington yard, without provoking a swarm. We’ll record and post a hive inspection later this week.
One of the many blessings of the summer has been seeing day to day tasks through the eyes of Emma, a talented photographer interning with BWH this summer.
Whether it’s the wax works, the bee yard or early morning at the market, Emma finds a new angle.
One intern especially seems to relish close contact with the bees.
BWH will maintain 15 hives this year, up from 6 last year. New colleagues, including summer interns, are taking turns helping with the wax works, baking, bee yard, garden and markets. A pause to remember and honor Moira Dobson. I think of her so often.
Just in from a snowshoe with faithful friend Jim.
Found greenhouse plastic frozen to the ground, so a peek into the cold frames must await a warmer day. Was there enough snow to snowshoe? Not really. The outing was a test run; heavier snows will surely follow. (How could comfort on snowshoes depend so entirely on the tiny piriformis?) Still, there were hopeful signs. First: at 4:46 PM, it’s still light. And second, our path intersected that of two flocks of geese, flying north.
This year’s garden seeds have begun to arrive, new bees were ordered in time and new woodenware awaits construction in the basement. Today’s task: Michael Phillips’ The Holistic Orchard. I have avoided spraying any of the fruit trees, but much more could be done to support them without endangering people, veggies, chickens, bees or dogs.