Category Archives: honey

And the World is Little Changed…

The last four weeks have passed in an amazing blur for me.  Two weeks spent in San Antonio at a huge convention and managing a large food-, drink- and music-filled party at the Hilton for clients.  Back home for a week, then off to the Napa Valley region in California for a another week with two other couples joining us for the first weekend.

After the pressures of organizing our party for months, decorating the ballroom and watching its success unfold in the delighted eyes of nearly 450 guests, then spending another two days traipsing all over the convention floor (oh, the swollen ankles!), I was ready for some down time.  More than I, so was my wonderful fiance.

Oh, but we got a LOT more than we had asked for!  (Thank you, dear Heavenly Father!)

We have just spent a week of pure bliss wining and dining our way from Napa to St. Helena to Sebastopol to Sonoma, and another day was spent eating and drinking our way all over the San Francisco Wharf area. Needless to say, I just haven’t been able to bring myself to write another post here.  And doing so was the LAST thing on my mind while gone.

My mind, heart and soul has been far, far away.

There are few places on this earth as beautiful, as bucolic, as cathartic as Napa and Sonoma Counties, a place Sweetheart and I first visited last September in a Diageo Crush Camp.  Because of our waxing poetic since about our experiences and the wonder of it all, we were appointed “tour guides” for our four guests who accompanied us for a portion of our return sojourn this year.  We took the role quite seriously and created an itinerary of outstanding proportions of tasting reservations, sight-seeing, shopping and outstanding dining.  A good time was certainly had by all.

As soon as we arrived in the Carneros Valley from SFO, the vines were ablaze in their Autumn colors for as far as the eyes could see, which only became more beautiful the further we drove.  And the smell everywhere of composting stems was amazingly floral and sweet, and absolutely intoxicating.  For wine heads such as ourselves, we were in Nirvana every moment, whether awake or asleep.

Dinner our first night was at Angele in Napa and was absolutely off-the-charts and delicious.  Angele is a Country French restaurant right on the Napa River and is a favorite hangout of local folk.  I recommend it strongly for anyone heading to Napa!  The French Onion Soup was probably the best I’ve ever had, and my fish was cooked perfectly, as were all of our entrees.  Antipasti at the beginning was outstanding and introduced us all to some show-stopping local artisanal cheeses and salamis and the very best honey I have EVER tasted, a locally-harvested delight from a “Mom and Pop” farm called Eggman Family Honey.  Unfortunately, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t score a jar to save my life.  The Eggmans only sell their honey to a small handful of restaurants throughout California and offer their 8-ounce jars for $3 each at one San Francisco farmers’ market on Saturdays only.  No website, no phone orders.  Dadgummit!

During the next two days, we tasted some of the best wine on this planet from Silverado, Silver Oaks, Cakebread, Domaine Chandon, BV, Beringer, Provenance (a personal favorite), and several more.  The Tokalon Tour at Mondavi was very interesting, and the Historic Tour at Beringer was outstanding…especially for a Fine Arts nut like me.  The Victorian stained glass panels in the Rhine House defy description.  Little surprise came from learning the glassmaker commissioned to build the myriad of panels and panes was one of the leading glassmakers for Louis Comfort Tiffany at the time.  Beyond the Tiffany-esque vibrancy of the glass (sans Favrile, of course), the reverse etching was sincerely stunning.  The Estate Wines were delicious, most especially Beringer’s 2004 Private Reserve Cab and their 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Port was to die for.

Franciscan has a lovely winery, but the wine was predictably atrocious.  Great photo-op at their fountain…

Rutherford Grill was delicious for lunch.  Another strong, strong recommendation.  And everyone should experience the Oakville Grocery.  Best darned deli sandwiches you’ll find anywhere and we thoroughly enjoyed eating on the back picnic table and imbibing freely of our Silverado stash.

One of the greatest highlights was at Go Fish in St. Helena when Tom Rinaldi and his wife, Beverly, joined us all for dinner, a particular delight for our guests.  Tom is the winemaker at Provenance Vineyards now, having spent 22 years putting Duckhorn on the map.  He also developed the reds for Duckhorn’s spinoff of Paraduxx and is especially renown for the exceptional Merlots he has created over the years.  Truly one of the nicest, warmest, funniest, most generous fellows on the planet, so do yourself a HUGE favor and go visit Provenance.  You’ll find A+++ delicious cabs and merlots (even though he considers his reds a “work in progress”), and you will find hands-down THE BEST sauvignon blanc to ever hit your palate.

And DO be careful when passing groups of bicyclists when driving in the area.  Chances are Tom will be among some of them.

PS:  Go Fish is also strongly, strongly recommended.  Best sushi and sashimi I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  Uni straight from the Mendocino coast.  Downright delicious cooked fish, too…!  Best service we enjoyed anywhere along the way.  (I’d adopt Jeremy if I could…)

Another dinner was at Julia’s Kitchen, so named for Julia Child.  I was not in the least impressed and was bloody-well disappointed in what they thought was “Julia Child fare”.  Overpriced for the offerings (we expect to drop $100 to $150 a head anywhere we go, by the way) and well below mediocre in taste at best.  Personally, I wouldn’t recommend Julia’s Kitchen to anyone.  Ever.  Period.  The REAL Julia is undoubtedly haunting them from above.

Once our guests were dropped off for their return flight to Dallas, Sweetheart and I hit our own laundry list of wineries to visit.

We had the exceptional pleasure in meeting and chatting with Mary Rocca at her tasting room in downtown Napa.  Sweetheart and I have long enjoyed Rocca wines in favorite restaurants from Houston to Wichita, so bringing home some of her cabs and syrahs was a non-negotiable intent.  The Coup de Gras was bringing home a bottle she graciously signed for us.  It will go next to and slightly behind our treasured bottle signed by Mr. Rinaldi.  😉

Then came Chappellet.  This is another personal favorite of ours, especially their Mountain Cuvee.  But we were surprised to learn how difficult they are to find.  Chappellet is not only extremely well hidden on Pritchard Hill off Sage Canyon Road, but their intentional lack of signage speaks of their intent to remain off of the tourism-beaten track.  Only two tastings are offered each day to no more than six people, but worth any and every price to obtain an appointment and be further treated to the best, most informative tour you will find anywhere in the valley.  Their cadre of delicious varietals is unmatched.  Delicious, delicious, delicious!  We joined their wine club and have a short ton of additional estate wines headed to our “wine cave” as I write.  I can’t tell you how much we look forward to their club shipments over the months ahead.

DeLoach, where we are already members, provided the zins, pinot noirs and chardonnays we knew they would have and we were happy to replenish some of our past wine shipments.  Their Van Der Kamp Pinot Noir and Porter Bass Chardonnay are delicious beyond description.  Make the trek, folks….  Outstanding stuff.

But our very favorite winery of all provided perhaps the best visit of all throughout our week:  Moon Mountain Vineyards.  Nestled in the hills against Moon Mountain in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon, their vineyards produce the best zinfandels and cabs ever to delight our tongues.  We are also wine club members here and enjoyed immensely every single taste Angela provided of their newer offerings and have a even heightened excitement for the club shipments to come.  Syrah was amazing.  The place itself is breathtaking and it was wonderful to have been able to “come home” to the very first winery that stole our hearts last year.

Back to the quest for local honey…

Not content to accept failure in finding some Eggman Family honey, I broadened my search to any local stuff I could score.  Finding Beekind in Sebastopol was my salvation!  Doug and Katie Vincent have a delightful little shop of every supply and product imaginable for and from the hive, including a honey tasting bar.  I’ve never seen so many different honeys and we tasted our way from honeys made in the Redwood forests on the coast to those made near Sacramento and all points north and south.  What wonderful people, what wonderful products, and what extraordinary assistance they provide to so many others in the area maintaining their own hives.   I now have many jars to enjoy over the months ahead.  And I was thrilled to learn from Katie that no diseases have plagued any wild or homegrown bees in her knowledge base (which is huge), and only the commercial bees have suffered and suffered hugely.  The home beekeeping industry is not only alive and well, but growing exponentially.  Good to hear.

At Katie’s suggestion, we stopped by the Pacific Grocery in Sebastopol and loaded up on some of the most amazing artisanal cheeses produced in the area.  The ladies at their cheese counter were very helpful and were full of inciteful information about the cheeses and their makers.  Another wonderful blessing to find.

So now we are home at last after a whirlwind month.  Precious puppy has been retrieved from Grandmother’s House, wine shipments have arrived unscathed, the laundry is done, but the house left bereft of attention for so long yearns for some tender housekeeping care.

Through what little television I have deigned to watch since returning, I see that the world remains as chaotic, depressing and monster-filled as before.  No surprise there, but do understand that my last idyllic week leaves me with no desire to write the obligatory Michael Devlin plea agreement post or to even for a moment fall into the bottomless pit of illegal immigration woes or presidential politics.

For as long as my memories and living life allows, my mind is going to remain in the tastes, smells and sights of Napa, the uninterrupted precious time spent with my love, and in reliving perhaps the most wonderful vacation of my life.

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Scientists Find Virus at Heart of Missing Honey Bees

Remember awakening after Winter to find nearly half of the honey bees in the United States had simply vanished?

Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), limited primarily to commercial genetically-enhanced bees, practically decimated the pollination industry here and in Europe, and left scientists completely baffled…until this week.

For the last six months, a huge team of scientists and researchers have been conducting one of the largest-scale investigations ever seen.  Their result was the identification of a significant connection between an obscure insect virus and the massive CCD experienced across the U.S.

Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) was first identified in Israel in 2004 after massive numbers of their own honey bees began to disappear.  Also in 2004, the United States lifted an 80-year-old ban on importing bees designed to protect US honey makers from pests that plague the insects, and began importing honey bees from Australia.

Every CCD-affected beekeeping operation that was examined [in the US recently] either used Australian bees or had mingled with operations that had them, the researchers said.

Not only did the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council unequivocally deny U.S. bees had been infected by Australian insects, but it is very important to acknowledge Australia has not experienced widespread colony collapses in their homeland.

Therefore, while scientists firmly agree the common denominator and likely trigger in U.S. bee hive decimations is IAPV, they firmly believe other factors are at play, such as predatorial mites, stress from being carted across the country, and pesticides.

Additionally, IAPV was discovered by scientists in royal jelly used to feed infant bees imported from China. 

The advice to U.S. beekeepers is to “maintain healthy colonies.”  Those bees that are well-fed, without mites, and protected from stress have immune systems capable of fighting off this virus.

So now we have a good idea of what happened to the bees and we have further reiterated the perils of trucking colonies from one field to another, states apart.  Moreover, we have underscored at least a dozen times in this matter what happens when you test Mother Nature.

Rebuilding our nation’s honey bee populations will take years.  And, on a pleasant note, those very Moms and Pops who have managed to survive the vast commercialization of the pollination industry are reaping the benefits of so many more enlightened consumers Hell-bent on buying local honey.  Allow me to recommend my FAVORITE in the Dallas area, a frequent vendor at the Dallas Farmers’ Market local produce building:  Roundrock Honey!  I kid you not, this honey has the BEST flavor I have EVER tasted.  And I certainly have tasted much more than my weight from honeys literally from across the U.S. and Europe.

Good news ofttimes comes in small doses.

Science Daily has all the details for those scientifically minded folks.

Roadside Vegetable Stands: Homegrown Scams?

 

Human ignorance – as well as greed – knows no bounds.”  How painfully true.  The ignorance has been mine, by the way…

 

If you’ve read any of my recent diatribes on the safety of our food supply in the United States, you may have formed the opinion that I am something of a highly alarmed purist.  I am.  I firmly believe in the adage that you are what you eat and I further strongly hold the belief that we are suffering a slow death by food poisoning at the hands of a most beleaguered and complacent government, as well as a nefarious underbelly of criminal activity coming from home and certainly abroad.

 

If you’ve read any of my recent diatribes, you know I strongly support local farmers and seek them out at every opportunity to provide me with fresh fruits and vegetables, so that I can spend untold hours canning them for future consumption.  I am, indeed, a “control freak” and derive a huge amount of pleasure in hand-selecting and hand-preserving the foods I want to provide for my family.  I love to eat and I love to cook.  So perhaps it’s easy to understand why canning and food preservation has long been a hobby of mine and one I enjoy immensely.  But with today’s reality of unsafe commercially available fruits and vegetables, my hobby has become a necessity in my world.

 

I have declared the harvest season of 2007 to be my own Year of the Canner and I have great plans for the months ahead.  With the first Brandywine tomato fruit appearing on my single patio plant, I find the call of Spring to be yelling for me to get started!  Shine up the water bath, Sheila – the Maters have arrived!

 

As my fiancé and I set out upon a journey toward Tulsa last Wednesday, excitement was in the air!  I had a copy of the WSJ to read aloud along the way (which to limited extent prevents me from being as bad of a back seat driver as my mother), and my handy-dandy notebook was nearby to record my findings during the drive.  Tops on my radar were farmer’s markets and roadside stands I just knew would be found around a myriad of corners, bursting forth with delicious homegrown finds.

 

I made judicious notes as to their precise locations for the return drive home.  All along the drive and during our stay in Tulsa, I reiterated my need and intent to Tom to purchase a truckload full of juicy homegrown tomatoes to can into sauces and salsas and jars upon jars of beautiful whole tomatoes for the Winter ahead.

 

God bless this man for his limitless patience.  😉

 

There are seven roadside vegetable stands between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Plano, Texas along US Highways 75 and 69, and Tom and I stopped at all but one on our way home on Friday.  Our resounding common opinion of same in the aftermath?  Scams abound.

 

Instead of finding basket after basket of juicy, flavorful, homegrown tomatoes, we reaped bushels in tremendous disappointment in the quality of the tomatoes available and discovered what we believe is a scam, this time preying upon idiots like me determined to pay any price for homegrown food.

 

Being an opportunist is not a crime in the US, yet I believe the hoax found at each stop along the way to be very much a crime.  These stands have lost any business from me forever and I encourage you to be very careful where you spend your food funds, too.  If you don’t know for a certainty where and how vegetables and fruits are grown, don’t buy them.

 

These seven stands hold a lot in common.  They are identical in looks and ambiance, possessing that wholesome decrepit white-washed charm that draws me in like a fly to…well…a freshly sliced tomato.  Secondly, they were each manned by people who not only had no information about what they were selling, but really couldn’t care less about selling their stuff to us anyway.  Not one of them offered us a purchase-ensuring taste of our tomato heaven ahead.

 

Thirdly, ALL of their tomatoes and peaches were identical, were commercially-grown, were tasteless, smell-less, mealy and hard as rocks.  Next was the fact that each of the seven stands sold completely identical foods and honeys, without variation.  And the final Coup de Gras is that some of the folks at these stands downright lied to us and represented their overtly commercial tomatoes as “homegrown.”

 

With complete sincerity and authority, I tell you that there is NO local produce to be found in the following vegetable stands.  They import their stuff at the lowest possible price, tell you it’s “homegrown” and sell it for egregiously expensive amounts.

 

I hereby present the EHeavenlyGads List of the Seven Vegetable Stands NOT to Stop At Between Tulsa and Dallas:

 

Southbound Stop No. 1:  a roadside stand called “Preston Produce” in Preston, OK.  The first stop just “looked right” to me.  The place even had a sagging roof and a highly tattooed young woman standing guard over their wares.  The place had tomatoes and peaches and a short ton of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” produced by J&S Produce of Calera, OK.

 

This gal, we would soon discover, was the only honest roadside food vendor along the drive.  The tomatoes, she said, had just arrived by truck from Florida from some commercial grower down there.  She didn’t know who, but they had a lot.  The peaches were from Texas somewhere.  Upon inspection (and after finally convincing her to give us a bite), the tomatoes were mealy and utterly flavorless.  The tomatoes from Albertson’s tasted better than these! They were obviously picked green, as is the commercial requirement for long transports, and were as hard as baseballs.  Five bucks for five tomatoes was the going rate.  Egads!  A buck a piece for a tomato that tastes a lot worse than the $.79 per pound maters I can find in my local supermarket?  Hell, no!

 

To prevent complete dismay, we purchased a jar of the honey with its gold label stuck askew.  Five bucks for a 16-ounce jar covered in dust. While I haven’t tasted the honey yet, I’ve bought it before.  It’s nothing terribly special and much better stuff is around, but with the honey bee crisis, I though it advantageous to grab a jar while I could.

 

I was unable to properly communicate my disgust with the tomatoes to Tom, who ended up buying five of the egregiously overpriced baseballs, too.  This wonderful man was still caught up in my hype to buy a truckload of tomatoes and I know he just thought we’d better get started fast!  Nevertheless, a short communication back in the truck illuminated my desire to buy quality over quantity.  I wanted homegrown, or nothing at all.

 

Again, God bless this man for his limitless patience…

 

Southbound Stop No. 2:  a roadside stand in Okmulge, immediately south of 6th Street on the southbound side.  This decrepit building had the added charm of squeeking floors.  They had the same going rate of $5 for 5 tomatoes that were also identical to the first ones we saw:  pink, mealy and hard as baseballs, with no tomato scent whatsoever.  Tom took the lead and asked the middle-aged gal behind the counter where their tomatoes came from.  She immediately said “Florida” with a smile, but was quickly “corrected” by a fellow off to the side, who claimed to have just brought the crop back from East Texas.  All homegrown, he said.  (Beware of Stand Scam Boy!)   They did have some lovely looking Celebrity and Big Boy plants for sale at in half quart pots for $5 a piece, and the same exact jars of honey.  But as admirers of heirloom tomatoes, we weren’t in the market for plants or more of the same honey, so off we went.

 

This fellow became the object of lengthy discussions back in the truck.  He said all the things we wanted to hear.  “Yep, they’re homegrown.  Yep, they’re good.  Yep, they’re fresh.”  And thus began an inkling of suspicion that we were smelling a scam going on…people claiming to offer “homegrown” vegetables, who in reality, were trying to make a buck off of unsuspecting folks.    After all, I and we DO know the difference between commercial tomatoes and the REAL ones lovingly grown and nurtured.

 

One point Tom made at this point was profound.  People who grow their own tomatoes, especially, are inherently proud of their crops, because they are not the easiest of vegetables to grow.  These folks can answer ever conceivable question you may have on their variety, any problems they had with insects and the like, what they used to fix various challenges during growth, how long ago they were picked, etc., etc.  And they can’t WAIT to slice off a bite so you can taste just how wonderful their tomatoes are!

 

The same thing rings true among quilters and cattle growers and soap makers and hooch brewers.  They are always proud to show the fruits of their hard labors and more than happy to talk your ears off about every step of the process.  Get me started on my candymaking and you’ll understand what I mean.

 

Not here, though.  Not from Stand Scam Boy, who probably made sure Middle-Aged Gal NEVER told potential customers who followed us that the tomatoes came from Florida again….

 

Southbound Stop No. 3:  a roadside vegetable stand in Savanna, Oklahoma, immediately south of McAlester and right across the street from the Finish Line gasoline and convenience store stop.  Same decrepit white-washed house.  Same pink, mealy, hard-as-baseballs tomatoes selling for $5 for a basket of five.  Same exact lack of information, other than the tomatoes just came by truck from Florida (or
East Texas or somewhere).  They had the same exact jars of “Pure Red River Honey” selling for $5 a piece, too, as well as hard-as-rocks and scentless peaches they claimed were from Mexia.  Pretty impatients, though…

 

Southbound Stop No. 4:  a roadside stand in Stringtown, called the Stringtown Fruit Stand.  Yep, the same falling-down, white-washed ambiance with Florida commercial-grown tomatoes selling at $5 for a basket of five, although these folks blatantly claimed these were all homegrown.  They also claimed to have brought their peaches from Mexia, but they were also hard and totally scentless.  Lots and lots of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” from Calera, though.

 

By the way and for the record, growing delicious, juicy peaches is just as much a religion in Texas as it is in Georgia.  And if you ever have the opportunity to taste one freshly plucked from a tree in Mexia, or from Wise County, you will immediately understand how I know these peaches along the road did NOT come from Mexia.

 

At this point, Tom and I were becoming a bit suspicious that there is one semi making rounds of all of these roadside stands selling them their allotment of commercial tomatoes and likely commercial peaches.  Heck, could all of these stands be owned by the same folks…maybe from the same commercial grower supplying them??  What are the odds that we would run into Stand Scam Boy’s mother in an identical stand down the road?

 

Southbound Non-Stop No. 5:  a roadside stand between Stringtown and Atoka on the northbound side.  This identical decrepit white-washed stand brought a raised-eyebrow exchange of glances between Tom and I, because it had a lady in her 70s who came to watch over us (not greet us).  Surely someone reminiscent of my mother would be selling homegrown tomatoes!  Well, Hell no.  She had the same $5 for five tomato baskets as everyone else so far, and they were pink, mealy and hard.  She didn’t know where “they” got the tomatoes and peaches, but they arrived on a big truck just the day or so before.  And she also sported the very same jars of honey as everyone else, also selling for $5 a piece.

 

She even resembled Stand Scam Boy a little.  You could see the resemblance in their eyes…

 

Southbound Stop No. 6 was supposed to be a roadside stand in Atoka about a mile south of 13th Street on the Northbound side.  I don’t know where I saw this one on the drive up, because it was no where to be found on the drive home.  Must have been a mirage.

 

Southbound Stop No. 7:  a roadside stand just south of Calera on the northbound side of US 75.  In this decrepit, white-washed falling-down stand, we were greeted (sort of) by a woman in her 60s.  Her tomatoes, she claimed, were homegrown beauties from East Texas and the peaches just plucked from trees in Mexia.  Hmm…  $5 for a basket of five that were pink, mealy, but not quite as “pretty” as the others (their only redeeming feature, in my book).

 

Tom noticed large boxes beneath the shelf of basketed tomatoes hailing from Florida and each full to the top with even less ripe tomatoes than those in baskets.  This lady, a quicker wit, declared that the boxes are all reused.  (Really?  These we saw were all brand spanking new.  Not a smudge, dent or damp spot in sight.)  And while the boxes say the tomatoes are a product of a Florida commercial grower, she said that’s not true.  (Yeah, right.)  The tomatoes were definitely from East Texas, she declared.

 

I don’t think so, Scooter!  But we bought a basket anyway, since these had at least an ever-so-slight scent of tomatoes.  We passed on her “Mexia peaches” and the ever-ready supply of jars of “Pure Red River Honey” found in every place we had stopped.

 

Mind you now, that I have nothing whatsoever against tomatoes grown in Florida, or peaches either.  However, it totally ticks me off to find stand after stand hawking commercially-grown vegetables and fruits as “homegrown.”  To me, that is nothing less than fraud.  It’s lying and the intent is definitely to deceive the buyer.  After all, if you knew these tomatoes were commercially-grown at all, moreover imported across several states at the beginning of our own tomato harvest season, would you buy them?

 

It now would not surprise either Tom or I to uncover a single truck making its rounds up US 75 from stand to stand delivering the commercial fruits and vegetables that the stands turn around and fraudulently represent as “homegrown.”  That’s despicable, but certainly a likely reality in this world.  It’s merely a way for folks to make a buck, and they don’t care how.

 

Caveat emptor, boys and girls…!  Think those roadside stands are as wholesome as they appear?  Think again.  And that’s a real shame for those honorable folks who do sell their vegetables in that manner.   I know the good guys are out there somewhere, but I can authoritatively decree that they are NOT along the roadways between Plano and Tulsa that I have identified above.

 

So, where does one find REAL homegrown fruits and vegetables around cities these days?  Short of growing your own, it takes a little digging to find them, pardon the pun.

 

In the Dallas area, the only really reliable organic grocer is Whole Foods.  At least they demand exacting standards from their providers, who are as local as possible, and enforce bans upon a whole long nasty list of chemicals and pesticides found commonly in our commercial vegetable and fruit supplies in the other grocers.  But you will pay a premium, let me assure you.

 

Another recommended option for everyone is to find a “Certified” Farmer’s Market.  Every state and the USDA itself provide a list of those available in your area.

 

A fantastic site that lists markets and farms nationally is at http://www.localharvest.org

 

The USDA has a national database of certified markets and organic growers at http://www.ams.usda.gov and you can click on your state to find those nearby.

 

If you are so blessed as to live in the Great Nation of Texas, see http://www.picktexas.com and click on the links at the top of the page to find local farmers selling at a market near you, or who invite you to pick your own at their farms.

 

With luck, diligence and a lot of prayers, perhaps 2007 will be my Year of the Canner after all.

 

And you can be absolutely assured that I will be stopping at Conrad Farms in Bixby the next time we head for Tulsa.  They grow every vegetable they sell on their farm and they have been doing so for a long, long time.  Read about the Conrad family here:  http://www.conradfarmsmarket.com/History.html and then poke around their site.  I can’t wait to get there in person!

Where Have All the Honey Bees Gone???

At the request of several folks in the last week, I am reposting this article now buried in my February archives.  Finally, nearly three months later, other folks are beginning to hear about this looming disaster… 

 

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A remarkable phenomenon receiving very little press attention clearly places US fresh vegetable and fruit supplies this year in potentially grave danger.  For unexplainable reasons, nearly half of our nation’s honey bees have completely disappeared.

 

At the heart of the problem is a near total absence of mature worker bees, the ones which fly out and obtain nectar from flowers, pollinating plants as they go along, then return to the hive and actually make the honey from their collected nectar supply.  They’ve simply disappeared without a trace, leaving behind their hives, their honey, their broods, and their queen.  And, without the worker bees, hives are completely doomed and have died in the many thousands.

 

This die-off is primarily afflicting commercial bees, those that have been bred and genetically altered to create “super polinators” and the like.

 

Scientists are calling this mysterious phenomenon “Colony Collapse Disorder” or “Dwindle Disease.”  Whatever the cause or title, honey bee colonies are being decimated at a terrifying pace in 24 states so far in the last six months, with that number expected to grow as northern US beekeepers check on their own populations once the snows begin to thaw.  My own state of Texas is seeing a 70% loss of entire colonies since November of last year.  The West Coast is reporting up to 60% losses.

 

This spells sincere disaster for a myriad of fruits, vegetables and nuts that depend upon bees for pollination.  Topping the list of crops in peril is Florida’s orange crop and, from across the country, California’s most lucrative crop of all:  Almonds.  Running a close second are the blueberry crops of the north and northeast.  And there are so many other crops we consume by tons annually that are totally taken for granted.

 

This is certainly not the first disaster to strike honey bees in the US, with five or so outbreaks of wide-spread decimations going back to the late 1800s when records were first maintained.  But today’s plague is unquestionably the greatest destruction in not only numbers of bees affected, but in the likely damage and cost in unpollinated crops (and dearth thereof) ahead this Spring and Summer.

 

Of additional worry is that today’s dwindling beekeeping profession – at its very healthiest – maintains less than half of the honey bees that were used to pollinate crops in the continental US only 25 years ago.  As with so many other industries, modernization over the years has forced a multitude of beekeepers into other occupations to make a decent living.  And the remaining beekeepers have been forced to breed stronger and “hairier” bees to enhance every available characteristic necessary to improve pollination and remain competitive.  Bees no longer stay put in an area, but are loaded into tractor trailers and trucked all across our nation to pollinate crops.

 

No one really knows what is causing the die-off, but scientists, universities, extension offices and industry leaders are honing down the list of culprits.  A meeting of these folks was held just last week in Austin, Texas and another held last month in Florida, and both are citing the same list of targets.

 

Defined symptoms of Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, are:

 

         Adult bee population suddenly gone, with no evidence or accumulation of dead bees and cumulative “dead-out” rate of greater than 30% of the colonies;

         Queen bee remaining in the hive with only young bees;

         Brood, pollen and honey remain untouched in the hive; and

         Little or no evidence found of robbing, wax moths or small hive beetle attacks.

 

The tentative hypothesis of scientists is that a virus, likely an Aspergillus species, is at fault, since high concentrations of that strain have been found in dissected bees.  But for that virus to have attacked, bees must have become susceptible because of lowered immunities and/or extreme stress.

 

The source of lowered immunity and stress has been suggested to be the likely culprit of a multitude of pesticides used to control mite populations that have plagued bees in the past, which are further causing Queens to spawn fewer workers and which are also living shorter lives than ever before.  A cited source of stress is due to beekeeper’s common day practice of loading up their hives and trucking them from one crop to another across the nation.  This, scientists say, may be spreading the Aspergillus viruses, while the bees are contained in these trailers, and certainly adding to the stress of the bees by being constantly uprooted.

 

Personally, this concerns the dickens out of me.  I understand and respect the symbiosis of honey bees in our food supply, so my fear level here is very high.   I also have long turned away from commercial honeys in favor of the incredibly fragrant and flavorful honeys from local sources, which I have supported strongly for years.  So my self-interest in keeping local bees healthy and happy is stellar.

 

Want to learn more?  The New York Times did a nice article last week found here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/27/business/27bees.html?_r=2&hp&oref=slogin&oref=login 

 

Further reading and information is available at the American Beekeeping Federation at:

http://abfnet.org/ 

 

And all the scientific data you can digest can be found at the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research & Extension Consortium (MAAREC) here, with links to all the state’s individual data and comprehensive mappings:

http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/index.html 

 

 

Trust me folks:  If the honey bees go, so do we.

 

 

 

Where Have the Honey Bees Gone???

A remarkable phenomenon receiving very little press attention clearly places US fresh vegetable and fruit supplies this year in potentially grave danger.  For unexplainable reasons, nearly half of our nation’s honey bees have completely disappeared.

 

At the heart of the problem is a near total absence of mature worker bees, the ones which fly out and obtain nectar from flowers, pollinating plants as they go along, then return to the hive and actually make the honey from their collected nectar supply.  They’ve simply disappeared without a trace, leaving behind their hives, their honey, their broods, and their queen.  And, without the worker bees, hives are completely doomed and have died in the many thousands.

 

This die-off is primarily afflicting commercial bees, those that have been bred and genetically altered to create “super polinators” and the like.

 

Scientists are calling this mysterious phenomenon “Colony Collapse Disorder” or “Dwindle Disease.”  Whatever the cause or title, honey bee colonies are being decimated at a terrifying pace in 24 states so far in the last six months, with that number expected to grow as northern US beekeepers check on their own populations once the snows begin to thaw.  My own state of Texas is seeing a 70% loss of entire colonies since November of last year.  The West Coast is reporting up to 60% losses.

 

This spells sincere disaster for a myriad of fruits, vegetables and nuts that depend upon bees for pollination.  Topping the list of crops in peril is Florida’s orange crop and, from across the country, California’s most lucrative crop of all:  Almonds.  Running a close second are the blueberry crops of the north and northeast.  And there are so many other crops we consume by tons annually that are totally taken for granted.

 

This is certainly not the first disaster to strike honey bees in the US, with five or so outbreaks of wide-spread decimations going back to the late 1800s when records were first maintained.  But today’s plague is unquestionably the greatest destruction in not only numbers of bees affected, but in the likely damage and cost in unpollinated crops (and dearth thereof) ahead this Spring and Summer.

 

Of additional worry is that today’s dwindling beekeeping profession – at its very healthiest – maintains less than half of the honey bees that were used to pollinate crops in the continental US only 25 years ago.  As with so many other industries, modernization over the years has forced a multitude of beekeepers into other occupations to make a decent living.  And the remaining beekeepers have been forced to breed stronger and “hairier” bees to enhance every available characteristic necessary to improve pollination and remain competitive.  Bees no longer stay put in an area, but are loaded into tractor trailers and trucked all across our nation to pollinate crops.

 

No one really knows what is causing the die-off, but scientists, universities, extension offices and industry leaders are honing down the list of culprits.  A meeting of these folks was held just last week in Austin, Texas and another held last month in Florida, and both are citing the same list of targets.

 

Defined symptoms of Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, are:

 

         Adult bee population suddenly gone, with no evidence or accumulation of dead bees and cumulative “dead-out” rate of greater than 30% of the colonies;

         Queen bee remaining in the hive with only young bees;

         Brood, pollen and honey remain untouched in the hive; and

         Little or no evidence found of robbing, wax moths or small hive beetle attacks.

 

The tentative hypothesis of scientists is that a virus, likely an Aspergillus species, is at fault, since high concentrations of that strain have been found in dissected bees.  But for that virus to have attacked, bees must have become susceptible because of lowered immunities and/or extreme stress.

 

The source of lowered immunity and stress has been suggested to be the likely culprit of a multitude of pesticides used to control mite populations that have plagued bees in the past, which are further causing Queens to spawn fewer workers and which are also living shorter lives than ever before.  A cited source of stress is due to beekeeper’s common day practice of loading up their hives and trucking them from one crop to another across the nation.  This, scientists say, may be spreading the Aspergillus viruses, while the bees are contained in these trailers, and certainly adding to the stress of the bees by being constantly uprooted.

 

Personally, this concerns the dickens out of me.  I understand and respect the symbiosis of honey bees in our food supply, so my fear level here is very high.   I also have long turned away from commercial honeys in favor of the incredibly fragrant and flavorful honeys from local sources, which I have supported strongly for years.  So my self-interest in keeping local bees healthy and happy is stellar.

 

Want to learn more?  The New York Times did a nice article last week found here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/27/business/27bees.html?_r=2&hp&oref=slogin&oref=login 

 

Further reading and information is available at the American Beekeeping Federation at:

http://abfnet.org/ 

 

And all the scientific data you can digest can be found at the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research & Extension Consortium (MAAREC) here, with links to all the state’s individual data and comprehensive mappings:

http://maarec.cas.psu.edu/index.html 

 

 

Trust me folks:  If the honey bees go, so do we.