Honeybees & Apple Trees
According to the Vermont Beekeepers Association, European honeybees were brought to America in the 1600’s to provide honey and to pollinate clover, the newly introduced animal forage. Since then, the honeybee has become vital to our food production as it pollinates more than 80 commercial crops. Domestic honeybees pollinate approximately $10 billion worth of crops in the United States every year.
Bee cross-pollination is essential to many plants as it enables them to reproduce as well as produce seeds and fruit----the apple crop at Shelburne Orchards requires pollination. Nick explained that “there are other bees in our area, but bringing in Champlain Valley Apiaries hives insures that the apple crop will be pollinated and we appreciate having them here.” Nick continued, “The bees need the sun to navigate and the temperatures warm enough so we leave the hives at the orchard for a few days”. Other Vermont crops that benefit from bees include asparagus, blueberries, cucumbers, pumpkins, raspberries, soybeans, squash, and strawberries.
An 1868 U.S. agriculture survey showed Vermont as the leading honey producing state in New England, and that is still true today. With 12,000 to 15,000 hives producing from 400,000 to 1,000,000 pounds of honey annually, Vermont honey is typically mild flavored and light colored.
Unfortunately, native pollinators as well as domesticated bee populations are declining. “They are threatened by habitat loss, disease, and the excessive and inappropriate use of pesticides,” explained Laurie Davies Adams, Executive Director at Pollinator Partnership. A reduction in acreage for bees to forage, the alarming use of pesticides, and the problem of mites and disease have all contributed to the decline.
In Vermont, a loss of more than 100,000 acres of hay fields since the 1980's has reduced the amount of blooming alfalfa and clover. Cutting hay fields for cattle doesn't bode so well for bees. "Everything with bees is a negative. They don't have anything going for them right now," explained Chaz Mraz of Champlain Valley Apiaries.
Although the decline in the bee population seems incredibly discouraging, I lean toward providing a positive spin. There are some things that each of us can do as farmers and gardeners to encourage bees: *Choose plants that will provide nectar and pollen throughout the entire growing season. Dandelions are typically the first flower of the season to which bees are attracted. Apple blossoms, willows, and other flowering trees provide pollen and nectar early in the season as well. Later on, asters, clover, goldenrod, herbs and mints (including monarda which is in the mint family), salvias, and squash blossoms are preferable. Biologist Anna Beauchemin suggested some resources for plant lists that would be beneficial to bees: the Xerces Society at http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/northeast-plants-for-bees-xerces3.pdf and the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab at http://www.helpabee.org/seasonal-bee-gardening.html. *Eliminate the use of pesticides. There are so many natural options for pest control. Please check this website for some ideas: http://eartheasy.com/grow_nat_pest_cntrl.htm. *Native wildflowers, planted in larger clumps of the same flower, seem to be best. Annuals that have been highly bred are deceptive to bees. Even though they may have attractive colors, they lack pollen and nectar. *Biologist Anna Beauchemin explained that “one of the best things you can do to promote bees is to manage your gardens, homes, and public green spaces in a way that attracts pollinators.” She continued,”Providing food (flowers), habitat (bare dirt, stems, and dead wood), and water (pond, birdbath, or dripping faucet) are three essential steps.”
Champlain Valley Apiaries, started by the Mraz family in 1931, is one of the oldest commercial beekeeping operations in Vermont. They've provided beehives for the orchard's apple tree pollination for many years. A delightful video about bees, the process of extracting honey, and honey's benefits was hosted by Vermont Public Television's Sean Buchanan. The video showcases Champlain Valley Apiaries and can be seen at www.champlainvalleyhoney.com/cva-video.
There are also many local workshops and events about bees. On Monday, June 30, a workshop titled “What's the Buzz on Pollinators: Habitat Enhancement on Your Land” will be held at River Berry Farm and The Farm Between. For more info, please check http://vlt.givezooks.com/events/what-s-the-buzz-on-pollinators-habitat-enhancement-on-y. On Saturday, October 4, we're hosting a family-friendly event called “Bee Here Now”. Chaz Mraz (Champlain Valley Apiaries), Anna Beauchemin (a Biologist who works with native pollinators), and Hope Johnson (Vermont Quilt Bee) will present workshops and activities to educate all of us about the importance of bees and how we can each do our part in saving this precious link to our food. Please check back here, sign up for our newsletter, or go to our “Shelburne Orchards” Facebook page for more details as they unfold.
Bees often show up in our language. Phrases such as “busy as a bee”, “float like a butterfly, but sting like a bee”, the “bee's knees”, “a bee in your bonnet”, and “the birds and the bees” remind us of the importance of bees in our culture. We'll all need to pitch in to save bees, and in doing so, save our food.
Champlain Valley Apiaries
Charles Mraz established Champlain Valley Apiaries (CVA) in 1931 in Middlebury. This honey of a business has now been handed down to Charles’ son, Bill (who purchased CVA in 1980) and grandson, Charles, as they continue to delve into the sweetness. Charles Sr. passed away in 1999 at the age of 94 and the New York Times noted that he was “an inventive beekeeper…the country’s leading evangelist for the therapeutic use of bee stings.”
From Canada south to Orwell in Vermont, 1,000 Mraz hives are placed at 30 different locations…including here at the orchard---lucky us! It’s a win-win relationship as the bees pollinate our apple blossoms and the bees gather nectar for honey. In the autumn, we sell CVA honey right here at the Cider House Farm Market. Most of the Mraz honey is the result of a blend of clover and alfalfa. Raw honey contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants in small amounts. Please take a moment to check out a wonderful video produced by Vermont Public Television and hosted by Sean Buchanan at www.champlainvalleyhoney.com. And thank the bees for all of their help in growing the apples we eat!