Today’s post is all about the birds and the bees. Actually.
Yesterday at the Sharing Farm I met with beekeeper Brian Campbell. He owns Blessed Bee Farm, and keeps some of his hives there. It was a splendidly foggy Autumn day, and upon arriving I was introduced to the Sharing Farm’s newest resident: a great-horned owl. Gretchen – the Sharing Farm’s communications director – had gotten some incredible photos of it the day before.
Not a bird to be messed with, as one poor little barn owl found out.
After exploring the birds, we visited the bees. Brian has been a beekeeper for about 14 years, and has a serious wealth of knowledge under his bee bonnet.
You can tell he’s a naturally curious person, and while he originally took up the study of bees as a project with his home-schooled sons, it eventually became a career. With his Blessed Bee Farm, he produces local honey as well as providing educational classes and workshops in which people can learn the basics of urban beekeeping.
He brought me my very own bee suit, the veil of which smelled like burnt sugar. Once we were well-covered, he gently removed the lid from the hive, like so (I apologize for the jerky camera work):
Inside, there were 20,000 – 30,000 bees preparing for winter. I came just at the end of the season; once the chilly weather sets in, Brian leaves the bees to themselves. They bundle up in a giant, buzzing mass and survive by eating their honey throughout the winter.
In discussing how much honey must be left for the bees to survive, I learned something new, and very signifcant: some beekeepers remove the entire harvest of honey from their hives, then feed the bees sugar syrup throughout the winter. Other beekeepers, like Brian, take out less than half of the honey to sell, and leaves the rest for the bees to eat. Of course, if they’re low on food and starving, he’ll feed them sugar-based syrup (he stressed he’s a pragmatist, not a purist), but he only sells honey that comes from naturally fed hives.
Apparently, the sugar syrup that’s fed to bees makes its way into the honey itself, meaning that what you’re buying isn’t always 100% honey. This was discovered in wartime England, when beekeepers were given extra rations of sugar to help keep their bees alive. Just as subsidized farm gasoline is often dyed purple so it can’t be sold on the black market, the sugar was dyed green, and the honey that was later extracted from the sugar-fed hives was also green. So if you’re concerned with buying natural honey, Brian suggested a very simple solution: get your honey locally, from farmers markets for example, and get to know your beekeeper. It’s as simple as that.
Here’s an interesting article from the Vancouver Sun about French beekeepers experiencing a different problem, but one that’s also resulted in alarmingly unnatural coloured honey.
Brian and I also talked about the vital role bees play in the natural world. As pollinators, they’re responsible for the health of countless plants, flowers, and trees. This means much of our food – including coffee, tea, and herbs – depends on them. Due to a variety of problems including habitat loss, increased use of pesticides, and climate change, the worldwide population of bees (and other pollinators) is in decline.
So what can you do? Plant a garden! One that’s diverse, colourful, pesticide-free, and that includes a little bee bath. Truly. Just fill up a shallow dish with water, place a few rocks in it that sit above the surface (they’re not strong swimmers and need something to lounge on), and you’ll be the most popular neighbour in your local bee neighbourhood.
A huge thank you to Brian for taking the time to share his career and passion with me yesterday. I picked up a jar of his honey awhile ago at Galloways, and finished it quickly. It’s excellent. Just like estate wine, honey collected in one area holds the flavours of that particular region, and Brian’s honey is local and distinct. It’s sold at Galloways, West Coast Seeds, Benton Brothers Fine Cheese, and you can buy it online at www.blessedbee.ca.
Before I move on from the farm, I must share one more picture:
Have you ever seen a table of such glorious gourds? Well done, Sharing Farm, well done.
After my bee lesson, I cycled further down the road to the West Dyke trail. For the number of times I’ve visited Terra Nova, it’s strange that I’ve never made it to the end of the road leading into it.
There’s a little slope up to the dyke trail, and quite a view. A cattail-filled marsh extends out to the water, and right now there’s a constant trumpeting of geese above heading south. The flat, misty scene reminded me of northeast England, actually.
As golden, brown, and beautiful as yesterday was, it was also quite chilly. As I cycled back towards the city centre, all I could concentrate on was getting a hot cup of tea. I stopped as soon as I saw a Pho Cao Van.
It’s an outdated but comfortable restaurant with a fairly large menu, and of course, the hot beverage I was seeking.
I assumed I’d get pho, but my very friendly server thought I’d enjoy especially enjoy the grilled chicken and spring roll with vermicelli. So that’s what I got! It cost $10.15 with tax, and was just what I wanted.
It was so large I actually laughed out loud when it arrived. It came with a bowl of sweetened, vinegary sauce, which I poured over the pile of vermicelli noodles, bean sprouts, sliced carrot, pickled daikon, grilled chicken, and a large, crispy spring roll.
The spring roll was filled with ground pork, shredded carrot, pepper, and translucent rice noodles; I often find that spring rolls taste like nothing but the deep-frier, but this one actually had a lovely, savoury, well-seasoned flavour. The grilled chicken, flat and cooked with the skin on, was good but rather grisly. I enjoyed eating the noodles, coated in the vinegary sauce and scooped up with bean sprouts and chopped peanuts. I felt immediately warmed up, satisfied, and rather amused that the meal had nothing to do with bees or honey. There was, however, a Busy Bee drycleaner across the intersection, so that, and a lovely recipe, will have to do. How about Almond and Yogurt Waffles with Orange Honey Syrup?
Vegetarian options available