The Bee Side of Sustainability

There is always more to what meets the eye in the natural world. So much of the beauty we see is sustained by expressions beyond the surface, waiting to be discovered. Once you learn to tune in and start to grasp the whole picture, you will really start to appreciate Mother Nature for the artist she truly is.

How all the different aspects of nature work in harmony to sustain each other has always been something we revel in here at Charlotteville. By leaving much of our land untouched, we observe and learn about these holistic arrangements: where ‘holistic’ is defined as relating to the whole of something; to the total system, not just its parts, but to their interconnectivity. We always seek to apply these lessons where we can on our farm and in the gardens. We cultivate our own systems that support, feed or inspire the next.

How we build a home for the bees on our farm?

Our honey harvest this past fall illustrates this flow of resources. Our bees have had a great year; their colonies have grown in size, which you may have noticed if you’ve been out on our patio, or wandered around our grounds this year. Their success was fueled by a healthy and diverse diet, making them productive and resilient through the tasks and challenges of each season. They survived the winter last year and came out strong through the spring and summer, right through to our fall harvest. They’re tucked into their winterized hives for now, so allow me to take the story back to where we started, while they get their well-deserved beauty rest.

Four years ago, we started working with ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) and planted a pollinator hedgerow. It’s full of wildflowers and shrubs, all native species of Norfolk. This has provided a great food source for the bees and the other pollinators that find refuge and home on our farm. The row really took off and matured this year, and was complimented by a few additional species we added into the mix. We also planted hundreds of sunflowers to border our gardens, and the bees loved them, naturally drawn to their bright colour and pattern (bees see in ultraviolet light!). Our organic vegetable garden has many flowering and medicinal plants amongst our rows of produce. Clover and dandelions remain uncut in the grass near the hives; these all contribute to energy and resources readily available to the bees. The harvest reflects all this growth and tells its story.

The bee side benefits in our farm

Nutrition:

Random jars of various sizes filled with harvested honey from our hives
Honey Harvest 2022

Our honey is organic and mirrors the unique terroir of our biodiverse land and the quality and characteristics of our soil. This is displayed in the rich colour and taste.  It makes a beautiful addition to our cheese and charcuterie boards. The nutritional value is quite diverse! Raw honey carries antioxidants which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The antibacterial properties from the propolis (tree matter) in honey promotes dental health and hygiene.  It contains many vitamins and minerals that contribute to a healthy immune system. Honey also carries enzymes that aid in the digestion of essential foods like carbohydrates, sugars and starches.

(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583289/)

An Opportunity for Education:

Serving our honey to our guests offers an opportunity for education, not only on the nutritional value, but we also get the chance to tell the story of how it made it to their plate. In these ways, we nourish our relationship with the land and those that live off it. We also offer beekeeping classes here; education on how to do this all yourself and sustain the true Norfolk tradition of living off the land.

In our farming practices, instead of just focusing on total output, we consider the quality of what is being produced, what went into the production, and how it may inspire us to move in new directions. We really appreciate the alternatives we find, and the value they add to the mix. While we seek diverse ways to use our land to reduce climate change and environmental impact, it’s not just about reducing negatives, but considering how we might maximize the benefits over a wide range of areas (Farm Gate Podcast: Carbon Tunnel Vision). It’s not just about how eating local and organic reduces our carbon footprint. But who can benefit from learning about how to be more productive while we do so?!

Flower Power:

mix of freshly cut flowers from the garden
Freshly cut flowers

“The sunflowers!” They not only draw the bees into the gardens but our guests as well. Many enjoy walking among the flowers and taking pictures. As they walk through the rows of produce, they get curious and often come out with questions for us such as, “What is that plant called?” or “Are those the chillies in the stout I’m drinking?!” It’s fun and engaging for both us and our guests.

Another connector is the cut flower bouquets we place on our tables throughout the summer. They’re made up of wildflowers from the ALUS row as well as some other flowers we grow like Zinnias. They’re fun to make and engage us all in mindful dialogue.

 

 

 

Bee Side Recognition:

We are proud to now be recognized as an Amazing Place by the Longpoint World Biosphere. This is a result of our commitment to sustainability, and by creating experiences that showcase the unique environment of Norfolk County. We connect people to nature and local culture through the tourism experiences cultivated on our grounds. For instance, an initiative that we’ve recently joined is the Species at Risk Stewardship Program through Carolinian Canada and Ontario Plant Restoration Alliance. We’ve planted a grove of both Cucumber Magnolia and Pawpaw trees here on our grounds, both species native to Norfolk County. As they grow, they will provide a nice view to the patio; a place to meander through. Offering an opportunity to educate our guests and another native food source for our pollinators. The pawpaw fruit can be harvested when it matures and served on our seasonal menu or used in brewing. We’re excited to see how these trees inspire us to grow and what new opportunities we will sustain. Even if it’s for our children or our grandchildren. We hope they appreciate the bee side of things just as much as we do… 🙂

By: Ms. E Hoey 

Further Inspiration:

  • Farm Gate – Podcast

The Podcast I referenced is one we listen to regularly. It is a regenerative agriculture podcast that aims to focus on practical solutions for climate and food security. You can access it on Apple, Spotify and Google.