At Long Meadow Ranch, we believe honeybees are an integral part of a sustainable farm. Full circle farming utilizes all parts of the ranch to maintain the health of the whole. The crops at our Rutherford Estate are pollinated by the honeybees we have on property, plus we get to enjoy the honey these amazing creatures make.
We have 10 colonies at our Rutherford Estate, each with three kinds of honeybees:
a queen, workers and drones.
Let’s start with the queen, as she is the largest and most important bee in the hive--she produces all of the progeny. There is only one queen per colony and her only job is to lay eggs. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs per day during peak season!
Next up, we have the worker bees. They are infertile female bees that make up the majority of the colony’s population and keep the hive going. Worker bee jobs change depending on where they are in their lifespan. Jobs include cleaning the hive, taking care of the larvae (nurse bee) protecting and feeding the queen, collecting nectar and pollen, making honey and wax, and gaurding the hive.
The bees we see flying around are most likely worker bees.
And finally, we have the drones. All male, drones are the bees that come from unfertilized eggs. There are at least 100 drones per hive and they are kicked out by worker bees in the fall. They have larger eyes than the queen and worker bees, their bodies are larger and broader and they live longer than workers, and they are the only honeybees that do not have a stinger. Drones carry all of the genetic material for the hive. Their job is to build morale before they leave the hive and mate with virgin queen bees.
Beekeepers (ours is the uber talented Rob Keller) use smoke on their hands and arms to calm the bees when entering a hive. The smoke masks alarm pheromones released by guard (worker) bees, creating an opportunity for the beekeeper to open the hive and work relatively safely.
Our apiaries have 8 frames and two follower boards in each box, allowing the bees to move the air around inside the hive.
There are more than 2,500 native pollinaters in California, but only the honeybee genus (apis) produces wax. Worker bees produce wax from four sets of glands in their lower abdomen. The wax scales are passed from the abdomen forward to the front legs, then into the bee’s mouth. The bee then uses its powerful mandibles to masticate the wax for building the comb. The hexagonal shape of the comb is vital to the success of the hive, as it is used for rearing the brood and storing pollen and honey. The size of the cells determine the sex of the egg the queen lays inside the cell (drone or worker). It takes approximately 1 pound of honey to create 1 ounce of wax!
The forager worker bees fly around a 4-mile radius to collect sugary nectar (50% water) from flower blossoms to bring back to the hive. When their honey stomachs (they have a food stomach, as well) are full, they return to the hive to share the nectar with the other worker bees. They pass the nectar from bee to bee. The heat from this activity activates the enxymes that turn the nectar into honey. After it’s fully processed, the wet honey is transferred into one of the cells, which acts like a jar. To dry the honey, the worker bees fan it with their wings, until it becomes the sticky honey we know and love (18% water). At this point, the bees cap the cell with wax to keep it clean.
Each time Rob visits our hives, he not only checks the frames, but he is looking for any signs of unusual activity or disease, as well as the various pollens the workers have collected. He does this by reading the monitoring tray that sits below a screen under each hive. Particles fall onto the monitoring trays, often mirroring the lines of the frames. These particles tell the story of the hive.
Rob takes meticulous notes each visit and smears a little bit of the various pollens he collects, so we can track the differences through the seasons. Someday, we (the collective we) hope to be able to see where bees are actually foraging by studying the pollen they bring back to the hive.
Now for the part we all patiently await--the honey! Once 80+% of the comb has been capped, we can pull the frame and process the honey. We often keep the beautiful frames for events at our restaurant at Farmstead, but we extract most of the honey from the comb to produce the sticky, sweet, delectable stuff you can find at our farmer's market and general store.
Rob uses a small basket press lined with a mesh cloth bag to extract the honey from the comb.
He breaks up the comb and puts it into the mesh bag inside the basket of the press.
Next, he spins the handle at the top of the press, pushing the metal plate down into the basket, gently compacting the comb and extracting the honey.
The honey comes out into the tray and funnels through a fine mesh sieve to make sure no particles other than honey make it into the final product.
There are a hundred and one ways to use the remarkable, sticky, golden substance (cough “medicine,” allergy symptom reducer, eliminating dandruff, and, of course, in your morning cup o’joe and with peanut butter on toast). The blend of sugar, trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids is unlike any other sweetener on the planet and it’s finger lickin’ good!
ARTISAN OF THE MONTH
Name: Rob Keller
What is your role for Long Meadow Ranch (LMR)?
I manage 10 colonies of bees at the Rutherford Estate, process the honey, and educate the staff about sustainable hive management practices.
How long have you been working with LMR?
I believe I’ve been with LMR 5 to 6 years.
What has been your favorite project at LMR?
There are a lot of things that make LMR one of my favorite places to work bees. Probably, the one thing that stands out the most, is how the entire staff is behind the project. Everyone is completely engaged with wanting to know more about what’s going on and they want to be involved.
Ohh, also, another great thing about managing the bees at LMR is how the apiary is laid out. Our hive inspection routine starts in the front and works counterclockwise throughout the property, ending in the back forty. All the hives are easily accessible, which makes it really painless to harvest honey and move equipment around.
Tell us how you got into beekeeping. Was it a natural fit from the start or did you take various avenues before landing in the field?
It was both natural and through various paths. I started keeping bees while working on my MFA at UC Davis. I incorporated bees into my art practice and was working with them visually in the fine art arena. That was nearly 20 years ago, many avenues, streets, and bridges away.
Prior to getting my Masters at Davis, I worked in veterinary medicine. My mom was in the field and ran pet hospitals at military bases around the Bay Area, so that’s where the natural part fits in. Sure, I mostly worked with puppies and kittens, but there was definitely a connection to the natural world.
Today, after two decades of keeping bees, I manage over 100 colonies regeneratively throughout the Napa Valley, teach Montessori kids those practices (the next stewards of the movement), and have built a successful business around what I believe is right for the bees.
What kind of trends are you seeing in your industry?
Ohhh gosh, there are so many trends in the way people are managing their bees. In my opinion, some of the trends are in the best interest of the species and some are not. A lot of attention is being put into how to deal with a little mite, varroa destructor, and the best way to eradicate the parasite. I do my best to stay out of the way of natural selection, deal only with locally adapted stock, and refuse to hustle bees for anything other than stationary pollination or photoshoots.
What inspires you?
To be a leader in the grassroots movement of regenerative beekeeping. I’m inspired by seeing all the hard work of selective breeding starting to pay off. I’m incredibly moved watching all the people around me invested in the bees and jumping on board of putting them first.
Best vacation you have ever taken?
I’ve had so many great vacations. By the time I finally get out, time off is so far overdue. A simple day trip to the coast can be the best ever! I also love Paia Maui, the wild Atlantic Coast of Ireland, Big Sky Montana, and, of course, Paris is a blast. I’ve met amazing beekeepers in all those places.
Red or white wine?
Ahhh, beer….Anchor Steam, Russian River, 21st Amendment, Rouge, and Ballast Point. I’m always up for having my growler filled at a local brewery. I tend to be less of a hop hound, leaning towards the lighter hefeweizen style. But, if you twist my arm, I prefer pinots and lighter reds.
Bike or motorcycle?
Both, I can't live without my mountain bike, we have some of the best riding here in the valley. I also just love my new Kawasaki KZ 1000p retired highway patrol bike for running up and down the valley working bees.
Sushi or pizza?
That’s tough one, I definitely prefer sushi, but I’m a third generation Italian, so how can I deny a fatty slice?
iphone or Android?
Ohh, come on, really? iPhone and Macs for sure!
Mountains or ocean?
Both, love the hills on my bike and skim boarding at the beach.
AT THE TABLE
BOURBON AND HONEY ROASTED BABY CARROTS
Recipe Courtesy: Kipp Ramsey
2 lbs baby carrots with tops
2 tsp olive oil
3 T butter, divided
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 T bourbon
2 T honey
1 T chicken broth or water
¼ C pistachios, toasted and chopped
¼ C goats milk feta
Soft herbs such as tarragon, basil, cilantro, and chive
Place a small roasting pan in oven. Preheat oven and pan to 500°.
Cut tops from carrots, leaving 1 inch of greenery on each carrot.
Stir together olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in preheated roasting pan. Add carrots, salt, and pepper; toss to coat. Bake 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallot and sauté 1 minute. Remove from heat, stir in bourbon, honey and chicken broth. Return to heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes or until mixture thickens.
Drizzle mixture over carrots, toss to coat. Bake 5 to 7 more minutes or until carrots are crisp and tender. Transfer to a serving dish, top with goat feta, toasted pistachios, and soft garden herbs. Finish with Maldon salt, bee pollen, and cocoa nibs to taste.
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