As the orchard and gardens continue to grow we’ve noticed a host of native pollinators in the garden, from bumble bees, to sweat bees, butterflies, and beetles.  However, there was a relative lack of honey bee pollinators visiting the edible garden and orchard.  In the spring of 2011 we decided to venture into beekeeping.

Our first hive was populated with a large feral swarm we captured from a neighboring property.

Capped honey and nectar

We subsequently captured a small afterswarm from the same parent colony two weeks later.  Later that spring we received two packages of bees that we had pre-ordered in January.  The Curbstone Valley apiary expanded to four bee colonies, the Salvia, Rosemary, Chamomile, and Lavender hives.  That season we had an opportunity to compare the health and vigor of local feral bees versus packaged Italian colonies.

Curbstone Valley Apiary

We shared our experiences on the blog as first year beekeepers, both the highs, and lows, as beekeeping, in the presence of Varroa mites, is more complex than it’s been in times past.

Newly hatched drone with an attached Varroa mite

The first winter we lost both package Italian bee colonies.  The first collapsed in late fall due to a combination of Varroa load and robbing yellow jackets. The second hive met its demise when the hive population suddenly crashed in early January, and then the Queen flew off during a brief hive inspection to see what was going on.

Both feral colonies, however, appeared to come through winter with flying colors, and in late February the following year we split the first of these colonies, Salvia, in the hopes of encouraging the rearing of a new, robust Queen.  At the end of March, we also split the remaining feral colony, Lavender, bringing our total number of hives in the apiary back to four.  By splitting these colonies, we hoped to reduce Varroa load that season, and encourage the production of strong, healthy, local Queens that are better adapted to this area than the commercially sourced bees.  Over time we hope that by splitting our survivor hives each spring that we’ll gradually be selecting for more Varroa-resistant colonies.

Farm-fresh, pure, local honey

Despite the challenges associated with modern day beekeeping, we’re finding it to be a very rewarding, and exciting hobby.  The bees never fail to teach us something new, and the honey they produce is divine.

Field workers returning to the hives

We don’t use pesticides on the farm, and are continuing to bring in more bee-friendly native plants, as such, Curbstone Valley Farm is now certified as a ‘Bee Friendly Farm‘.

Curbstone Valley is certified as a Bee Friendly Farm

Curbstone Valley is certified as a Bee Friendly Farm

Our gardens have always been cultivated using sustainable, organic gardening practices, and our native plants and wildflowers help to support both our honey bees, and our native pollinator populations.