Flight of the Bee

Monday, May 21, 2012

I apologize for my absence on Farm to Philly. Although this farm season has gotten off to a very fast and exciting start, my actual reason for my lack of writing is that I just recently got married and spent the last two weeks in Italy. In future posts I hope to make up for my absence by writing about the culinary gems we uncovered while traveling. But for now, I have a story with such perfect timing that I would be remiss not to tell it.
As I thought about what I wanted to write about for my first entry home, I started scanning the pictures and came across this one
Italybees
This is a bee frame from a farm that my wife Elisa and I stayed on in the Tuscan countryside. In order to stay in business, many of these farms incorporate what the Italians call Agriturismo’s. These are working farms that host travelers for “authentic farm stays.” I use parentheses because I imagine that some of these farms are a little bit more on the “turismo” side and less on the “agri.” But not Vecchio Maneggio. This farm is owned by a wonderful couple named Tiziana and Mauro whose cuisine will be the subject of many more entries. The farm is also staffed by their son Simone and their brother Paolo, who is the resident apiarist. Although some of our family thought it strange that we decided to do bee keeping for a honeymoon activity, it was actually an amazing experience. The language barrier was difficult. But aside from a few off color jokes about virgin queens that I can’t repeat here, Paolo explained that Italian apiaries have not suffered from colony collapse at the rate of countries such as the US. For those of you who don’t know, colony collapse is a phenomenon where entire hives of worker bees disappear leaving only the drones and an endangered queen. This phenomenon has been reported in Italy, so I think Paolo was boasting a bit when he said it never happened there. But I do think he was on to something when he explained that because Italy has been so vigilant against industrial fertilizers and chemical pesticides, their bee populations have not suffered the losses that countries that use these destructive techniques have.
This was a very interesting and impacting part of our trip and it really made us appreciate just how healthy and well-stewarded the land was around us, aside from being completely beautiful.
I call it ironic though, because being the crazy gardeners we are, we went right back into the garden as soon as we got home, taking care of some over due tasks. One of those tasks was pruning back a very unruly Juniper tree in our front yard. While up in it, trying my best to not fall off the ladder, what should I see but a whole swarm of bees on a tree branch over me head. I called out to Elisa and our housemates to come look. Everyone was very interested and close until I calmly explained that I was going to cut them out of tree. This sent our housemates taking a few steps back out into the street. My initial advice is if you see a swarm, you should contact the folks at the Philadelphia Bee Keepers Guild to come help you. But since I have done this before, I was confident to remove the swarm by myself. So there I was, in the tree, with a handsaw, holding onto the branch for dear life as I sawed away. As the branch began to give I could feel the weight pulling on my arm, but I held on and as it came loose, in one motion I let the bees down into a Rubbermaid bin that Elisa was holding beneath me. Once the lid was put back on, my housemates came in from the street to tell me how awesome it was to watch. Had I dropped the bees on Elisa’s head, I’m sure their reaction would have been different. But they were in awe.
beeswarm
Those who weren’t in awe were my neighbors. They were very upset and adamant that they were my bees in the tree. When I told them it was a swarm from another hive, they didn’t react well to the word swarm, telling me that they could have killed someone. So after I let my adrenaline settle, I calmly explained to them that when bees swarm, they are at their calmest because they are so disoriented and have no home to protect. That’s not to say you can’t get stung, but the chances are very low. This placated them for the time, but I knew I needed to explain a bit more, so I went back the next day and got in a little deeper to explain colony collapse and the danger of losing bees in nature. Although they were still of the opinion that bees belong in the country, they could see my point and all is well again on the homestead front.
So I let it rest there. The bees are now with a friend from the bee keepers guild and all is at peace in the neighborhood (well, as much peace as Kensington can give). But what I wanted to explain further was the reason that the bees swarmed to our yard. In my opinion it wasn’t because there was another bee box as my neighbor hypothesized. I believe they came because they found a healthy piece of land in the city. And as was explained in last month’s Grid magazine, the diversity of flowers in the city along with our longer growing season and wide-spread organic practices make the city a very hospitable place for keeping bees. Even though nuclear weapons, disease and war seem like the obvious paths to the apocalypse, a world without bees would lead us to a similarly frightening end.
Even if you don’t have plans to make beekeeping your summer hobby, if you see a swarm and you don’t feel like hopping on a ladder and cutting them out of the tree, give a call to the beekeepers guild because if you like to eat, then a bee is really your best friend. And speaking of eating, it’s good to be back and I look forward to giving you all a few more stories and some great Italian recipes from the farm. Until then, keep it growing.

Posted by Nic on 05/21 at 05:22 PM


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