Straw bale garden

Straw Bale Gardens: An invitation to do it differently

As you know, Reader, bees need flowers. They need flowers because they need both nectar and pollen which are found only in flowers. I could go on and on about why they need nectar and why they need pollen, but I’ll save that for another post.

I’m often asked what people can do for the bees and other pollinators, and this is my answer: Plant wildflowers. Please, friends, allow wildness. That’s the answer. Let’s not try to control every inch of our lives. Let’s not mow every dandelion and violet and clover. I am forever encouraging my friends to allow a part of their yards and their lives to go freaking ape crazy extravagantly loose. (I wanted to throw in some curse words there, but I resisted. So far.)

But it’s not easy to change, is it? It’s not easy to dig up some part of our yards and introduce wild things. Which is why I love this idea of Straw Bale Gardening (SBG). This SBG approach doesn’t require a complete overhaul of our yards. It’s not permanent. We can sneak these bales into odd little areas of our yards or on our properties and fill them with things that are not only good for pollinators but that are also good for us. (By the way, if something is good for pollinators, Reader, it’s also good for us. That’s a good thing to keep in mind.)

We can produce vegetables and flowers in places we’d never before considered viable. Which will give us good things to look at and good things to eat. It will also bring the wild things. Which will make us happier.

I’ll be hauling some bales into my yard soon. Then I’m gonna plant vegetables and flowers in it.

Before I leave you, here’s the book I’m using to guide me:

Clover

The Glory of Single-Hive Honey

What makes TwoHoneys honey different from almost any (even any local) honey you can find? The answer, dear Reader, is single-hive honey. Let me explain.

  1. When you purchase your honey from the grocery store, you’re probably buying honey shipped in from other countries. That honey is combined with all the other honeys and heated and filtered beyond description in huge vats. Then it’s filtered again and bottled and shipped again and again and again and yada yada you eventually you eat it. And it all tastes the same. And all the good stuff is long gone. The end.
  2. When you purchase your honey from a local beekeeper (and this is indeed a wonderful first step!), you’re purchasing honey gathered from trees and flowers in your own neighborhood. This is healthy and excellent. However, it’s probably NOT single-hive honey. The beekeeper from whom you buy your local honey probably combines all of the frames from many of the hives and runs them all together through a machine we call an “extractor.” This extractor acts as a centrifuge and slings all the honey from all those frames into a common tub. Then, your local beekeeper bottles all that combined honey in jars. You buy it and eat it. But all the honey from all the frames is all combined, so it loses much of its distinct flavor.
  3. When you purchase TwoHoneys honey (you can get some at Coffee Please in Madeira!), you experience the glory of single-hive (and, frankly, it’s really single-frame) honey. In other words, I cut the honey-containing comb from its frame or bar, and I squeeze that honeycomb with a machine called my hand so that the honey from a single frame runs directly through a sieve and into a small bowl. I then immediately pour that honey into a jar. It’s that simple, pure honey that you eat and marvel about.

This is what makes single-frame honey unique: The honey in each frame tastes like whatever was blooming when the bees stored it. For instance, if goldenrod and asters were blooming when the bees stored nectar in that particular frame, then the honey harvested with that frame will taste like goldenrod or aster. Each frame tastes unique to whatever was blooming. The TwoHoneys honey you purchase tastes unique to whatever was blooming where that hive lives that season that year. It’s always a wonderful experience because YOU CAN TASTE THE DIFFERENCE.

We can’t always identify the flower we taste in the honey, but we can certainly taste the uniqueness.

And, like wine, the honey from that hive this year will taste different from the honey from that hive next year. Because the weather differs and different flowers bloom in different strengths. This year, clover bloomed for a long long time. And Queen Anne’s Lace was prolific in the wild countrysides. And right now, the goldenrod is yellowing the universe. So, the early honey we bottled tastes like clover. The mid-season honey like Queen Anne’s Lace, and the dark fall honey like deep-yellow goldenrod. And, Reader, these flowers taste different. And you can experience it.

 

Clover
Queen Anne's Lace
Goldenrod

 

 

 

Plant these for the bees. :)

Reader, even though it snowed like crazy last night, it’s not too early to think of bees happily flying in the sun and foraging on beautiful flowers. So, in the spirit of the spring that will surely cometh, please enjoy this poster. And use it to plant something in your yard that the bees will love.

(And if you’d like to own this Hannah-Rosengren-designed poster yourself, go here. I ordered two, and they arrived within only a day or two.)

 

Hannah Rosengren poster

 

 

Pine cones on the bee hive, and candy at the door

Bees Are Everywhere in the Yellow

The bees are feasting…absolutely feasting out there, and I’m sooooo happy about it.

Today is cloudless, and the temperatures are hovering right at 50 degrees. So, I made my first batch of bee candy and delivered it to the hive. When I got there, those girls were already kicking ass. I mean, they were hauling dead bees out of the hive, and they were flying in and out and getting down to business. I was thrilled to see them so alive. They were noisy. I was elated.

I took my smoker with me in case they were a little pissy and rambunctious after being so cooped up, and I smoked the entrance just to calm them down a bit…and the moment that smoke hit the entrance to the hive, a fat mouse scampered out. Ooooh. That made me mad. I should have put an entrance reducer or a mouse guard in place because those little rascals can create havoc in a hive.

Anyway, I removed the protective, black cardboard box for the season, and I plugged up those little air holes with pine cones so the cold air that’s coming later doesn’t make thing any harder on them than need be. I placed a layer of bee candy inside the top lid of the hive, so they can eat it when the weather gets bad again. But I also decided to simply leave a pan full of the stuff at their front door so they could come outside and have a little sugar party.

But then I realized that they were already having a party…a yellow-flower, first-bloom-of-the-season party. We’ve got these tiny yellow flowers that bloom mid-March on our hill, and I realized that the bees were going deliriously crazy in the flowers. I stood out there with them, and I could literally hear the buzzing. And once my eyes relaxed, I saw bees everywhere in the yellow. I am so so so so happy.

Pine cones on the bee hive, and candy at the door
Pine cones on the bee hive, and candy at the door

Everything Feels January

This blog looks bland. Flat. Blah. We need to snazz it up, don’t you think?

But you know, most things look sort of blah in January. The hive boxes out back look downright depressing all dressed in black.

I planted hundreds of daffodils on the bees’ hillside in October and November, and I’m itching to see it burst out in color in a couple of months.

Today, if the sun comes out and hits the hive boxes, I plan to tap on the side of the box containing the weaker colony (if I named each of the colonies, writing about them would be easier). I hope I hear buzzing, but I’m thinking they’re dead. Why? Because there is no activity at their site. The ground outside their hive box is not littered with dead bees that have been removed by the living. Last week I thought the pile of bee corpses outside the swarm-hive colony was a sad sign; now that I’ve learned more, the absence of those corpses at the weaker hive worries me.