I had the stimulating experience of heading to Miami University at Oxford, Ohio for the past few days. Professor Peggy Shaffer and her husband Ben Jacks are working to develop an Institute for Food as an interdisciplinary unit that engages the university, community, and broader region in the culture of food production and consumption across time and practice--obviously with a big-picture goal of teaching and encouraging healthful and sustainable food systems for the future.
The video does a good job of describing the local history and projects at the Austin-Magie Farm where the mission is underway. To further develop the vision and potential of the site, Peggy and Ben are busily building the path forward by securing grant funding. One of their successful submissions resulted in the weekend symposium/workshop that assembled about a dozen scholars from various disciplines and viewpoints to collaborate on the cultural heritage and public value of the Austin-Magie Farm at Miami University. Dozens of others from the university and community attended as well.
My part naturally involved apicultural possibilities, particularly in connection with the story of L. L. Langstroth ("inventor" of the movable-frame hive). Langstroth lived in an Oxford cottage for about thirty years, arriving soon after patenting his hive earlier in the 1850s. It would be great for them to share the Langstroth story, technological significance of the hive, and build the whole story into the actual practice of beekeeping at the farm (there aren't any hives at the site yet). I actually had not visited the cottage previously, so it was a perk to have a reason to mark that achievement from my list of obligatory pilgrimages in the name of bee history. Here is the cottage and commemorative posting:
Ultimately the plan is to develop a digital map of the site that will permit its perusal and interpretation online--at least as a first step in the cultural build-out around the farm. There is massive potential, and I hope everything falls in place to help them make the most of the opportunity! I will try to remember to post again when there is more to see as a result of this "Agricultural Legacies/Rural Opportunities in Southwest Ohio" symposium.
The timing of the event was helpful--it was probably the last weekend I could be absent as the bee season has arrived. Two months of haste now commence.
I got my annual thrill of spotting truly significant pollen returning to the hives a couple of Saturdays ago. While it's not terribly uncommon to see bees scrounging something up in March, hitting the lottery in February is much less common in Iowa. Here is a video and an image from one of my recent journeys down to the Muscatine area where I pollinate some melon fields. They did pretty well down there in terms of honey, and the landowners are really happy with the bees' performance in the past couple of years too.
Today and tomorrow are supposed to be around 60F, so there is hope that the video below is essentially on replay for the next two days!
The video showed a corrugated cardboard carton that is probably going to be bonfire material after this winter, but here is another site down in Muscatine County where I still have the bees on traditional bottom boards and wearing colony quilt for the winter. I think most of our quilts are twenty years old at this point, so while we've massively shifted over to plastic cartons for labor savings and 4-way pallets, I have to say that the quilts hold up wonderfully for the most part.
Of course this annual pollen watch would be somewhat less exciting or pivotal if we shipped our bees around the country to warmer climes and almond pollination, but that's not a route we've taken to date. I am developing a suspicion that if Andrew develops a professional interest in the bees he may take them on the road just to drive forklifts as much as possible He actually tried to ride one of his eight-inch toy loaders when he was about a year old. He loves pretty much anything with forks on it--here is a happy moment in one of his favorite construction supply stores.
Andrew has asked to help deliver honey to stores for a number of months. Since it's generally not in the cards for him to "help" when I have several stops on the agenda, he has not received his wish--at least until today!
There was only one stop on the list for this balmy Saturday morning, so we went tandem to take care of Natural Grocers in Cedar Rapids before visiting the grandparents.
Here he is with the bill ready for presentation, and he took the opportunity to grab a quick ride upon the old delivery cart as well!
I think I started doing a few deliveries when I was sixteen years old (the whole drivers license thing), so I think Andrew has me beat by a few years
With any luck the bees survived in decent shape and we will have a new crop to deliver in several months!!!
Here is a picture from one of the good survivors near Swisher. A good share of our bees look quite strong, but we're hearing a lot of horror stories from other Midwestern beekeepers despite a mild winter. It looks like we'll have somewhat worse overwintering than I've seen in the last couple of winters, but it doesn't look terrible in our case. I hope they continue to build strength! There are a good number that look like this as of this point in February--we are enjoying three consecutive days of +60F for them to stretch their wings! That is record-setting weather in Iowa. I even saw pollen coming into several hives today. Unreal!
The package bees that we distribute from California in April are almost sold out, so please call the Lynnville location soon if you are eager to get on the list. We will also sell some nucs in May, but nuc availaiblity will depend on survival rates and strength, which we are in the process of gauging in the next couple of weeks.
This past fall of 2016 I had a University of Iowa student working part-time with the bees two or three afternoons per week. She had the interesting double major of sculpture and environmental studies. It turned out that her beekeeping foray helped combine her academic interests and inspired a senior honors thesis in art/studio, which she titled "Dear Bees, I love you." The project turned into an interesting blend of carpentry and photography, and the studio exhibit included background sounds that she recorded of bees going about their hive business. Overall I thought it was an astute sensory approach in terms of creative process and public presentation. I unfortunately did not take a photo of the actual exhibit night since I was herding my son and his trail of hors d'oeuvres, but here are a couple of publicly posted images.
Here is the picture that provided the main graphic for the exhibit opening:
And here are a few of the photos depicting notes to the bees, which she placed in some fall hives for their insect contributions (i.e. chewing, wax construction, and propolis deposits.) They were displayed on a nicely aged log at the exhibit and presented photographically on the wall. This note endeavor probably worked much better in fall than it would have in spring or summer--earlier in the year they probably would have chewed the notes into tiny bits and kicked them out of the hive. Seasonal art I guess! My favorite is "Thank you for all of the butt-shaking dances!"
I think it must have gone well--I overheard another student tell her that it was the classiest exhibit he'd ever seen. Having a toddler running around the premises no doubt put it over the top!
Link here for the text description of the honors thesis.
A little while ago one of the area Hy-Vees started to put up these attractive "buy local" biographies for a number of their producers--this one was in Iowa City where we have honey in all of their stores:
They have also started posting "dietician's choice" signs that often promote local products as well. This is all further evidence about the return to more local options rather than depending on mass distributors to fill the shelves. It's a much different (and I hope healthier and happier) market than when we started selling direct to stores in the 1990s!
These types of signs have also reminded me of the measuring stick conundrum. For example, the sign from Hy-Vee states that the honey is sourced from Lynnville, 79 miles away. That is specifically our bottling location, whereas the bees and their honey production are situated elsewhere. About two hundred of my hives are distributed in locations within 15 minutes of this particular store, but that's rather difficult to communicate to the customer A lot of honey buyers in recent years have been encouraged to buy honey within 15 miles of their home in order to get the benefits of the most local floral exposures. It would be difficult to quantify the exact distance of our honey from the buyer in a realistic way since we have about 60 hive locations. Still, I'm obviously thankful for the time and interest that goes into this sort of marketing!