Our Epoch Honeybees

Hi everyone!  Welcome back to our Epoch Blog, and welcome to an introduction to our newest members of the Epoch family, our honeybees!  When tasked to share with ya’ll the much-asked-about deets on our new insect friends, it took me a moment to decide where to begin.  Then, I settled on the tried-and-true, “who, what, where, when, why?” method.  Through my research, I have come to learn that bees are extraordinarily interesting, boasting one of the most complex organized family structures in all of nature.  Oh- also, I never EVER thought that I would find an insect cute, but you might find yourself agreeing with me after seeing these photos.  Without further ado…

 Who?

Honeybees on a frame, held by beekeeper Annie.

A hive of Italian honeybees.  We chose Italian honeybees because they are among the most docile of honeybees (very well bee-haved) and are great honey producers!  Currently, we have one queen and about 30,000 workers and drones.  The queen’s job is to produce strong chemical scents that help to regulate the unity of the colony, and of course, to lay lots and lots of eggs.  Queen bees are royal since birth; that specific female larvae that is destined to be a queen is fed a more nutritious food, called royal jelly, by the worker bees.  This social baby formula allows that larvae to fully develop ovaries necessary to lay eggs.  Worker bees do not consume royal jelly as larvae, therefore, they do not develop the reproductive organs to be a fertile queen bee.  The rest of the female larvae grow up to be worker bees.  Workers are responsible for a LOT, including housekeeping in the hive, feeding the queen and larvae, collecting pollen and nectar, and making wax.  The rest of the members of the hive are called drones, and they are all male.  Their primary job is to mate with the queen.  When they leave the hive, they fly in swarms releasing pheromones to attract queen bees looking to mate.

What?

We have a wooden hive home for our buzzing friends in the apple orchard on York Mountain.  Right now, the bees have a “pollen patty” that they have been eating from and feeding to the larvae as it has warmed up outside (in lieu of gathering pollen from plants and flowers).  Our hive currently has 2 deep and 1 medium frame(s).  Frames are the thinner sheets that you see beekeepers pulling up and out of the hive, covered in bees.  Medium frames can hold 4 pounds of honey, and deep frames can hold 6!

Where? 

The hive is in the apple orchard on York Mountain, the same property where our York Mountain Vineyard resides.  This placement is anything but random.  The bees will visit all of the apple blossoms on these trees, directly aiding in pollination.  Bees pollinate flowers when some pollen from stamens, the male reproductive organ on flowers, sticks to the fine hairs on the bee’s body.  When she visits her next flower, some of the pollen that is stuck to her rubs off on the stigma, or the female reproductive organ of the flower.  And then, BOOM, pollination occurs, which leads to fertilization, which allows a fruit to develop.  Our long term goal is to have multiple hives on both our York Mountain property and our Paderewski Vineyard property, to increase our overall biodiversity of both of those sites.  Of course, producing more Epoch honey is an awesome by-product too!

 

A bee covered in pollen. Thank you Chicago Botanical Garden for the photo.

When? 

Our bees have been with us for about a month!  They came from a local beekeeper in Templeton.  In terms of their future…we plan to keep them for as long as we can.  Bees are very self-sustaining.  Either they will hatch a new queen every 2-3 years when our current leading lady loses productivity, or we will aid in replacing her.  So, our current hive is set to continue rocking-and-rolling until at least 2022!  Annie, our Barn Manager and beekeeper, hopes that in the next year we will be able to add more hives to our bee family and, possibly, use the existing genetics that we already have by splitting our current hive when it becomes very populated. 

Why?  

Currently, our bees are assisting in the pollination of our apple trees.  Assistance from bees is awesome because it will result in a higher yield of apples (cider, anyone?) than we would see if we were a bee-free Mountain.  Pollination is great for everyone because it gives the plants a better chance to produce seeds in order to continue coming back year after year.  Biodynamics, another agriculture buzz word, can be simply defined as a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming.  Having honeybees in our vineyards and orchard falls under the umbrella of biodynamic practices.  Biodynamic practices, like raising bees, are really great for diversity of plant species, which the bees have a hand in by pollinating and promoting productive plants of all kinds. 

An Epoch honeybee pollinating an apple blossom.

There we have it folks!  A dab in the honey of what our bees are all about and why they are so valuable to us, you, and everyone.  If you are keen to learn more about these guys and gals, don’t hesitate to send an email or make a phone call to ask!  When the Tasting Room is open again, be sure to take a look towards our orchard from The crush pad and see if you can spot some of the hardest working members of our team.

 

 

What was that? A question already? What kind of haircut does a bee have?  A buzz cut, of course!

Thanks for reading, everyone!  I hope you learned something you previously didn’t know and gained a greater appreciation for these furry little powerhouses.

Alissa Loftus