Plainwell, Michigan: a very small, quiet town near Pine Lake. My parents have a beautiful lake cottage up here at which they spend half the year living. The other half is spent living on the east coast of Florida, near the Indian River and the awesome beaches. They’ve got a great life – one they have both worked hard for and greatly appreciate. I can’t believe it’s been 3 or 4 years since I have visited last. Upon my arrival a few days ago, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to spend a bit more time up here than initially planned. So I am!
My brothers and sister in-law made the trip up here as well so it’s nice to have all the family together again. Our aunt and uncle also have rented a cottage on Pine Lake for the week; they just threw a “Trifecta” party for a couple of family events: our uncle’s 75th birthday, my dad’s retirement, and for the 100 year celebration of part of our family living in the US for 100 years (from England).
One thing I love about this place is my dad’s garden. It’s about 20×20 and just bursting with vegetables! Tomatoes, pole beans, potatoes, asparagus, cucumbers, carrots, beets, peppers, and onions. He’s also got some fruit trees (apple and pear), which sadly, didn’t do too well this year due to the frost. And lastly, grapes! I’m not too sure which varieties, but both red and white are growing. There’s truly nothing better than picking something fresh and eating it right then and there – peak nutrition, peak taste.
|asparagus takes a couple years before you can harvest. Just snip off stalks when ready, and they will continue to grow back for years.|
|the lone pear that could!|
|Dad and I|
My parents are also keeping their own bees for honey production and plant pollination purposes. I was able to experience a little bee-keeping myself the other day and learned quite a bit. Suiting up allowed me to get an up close and personal look into life of honey bees without worrying about the possibility of being stung. It was amazing. Honey bees sting only when they feel threatened; one sting and they die, so they must use it wisely. Whenever new slats of the hive were removed to view the honeycombs, the buzzing of the swarm got louder and you could tell they were a bit angry. But how can we blame them? We were disrupting their home and they didn’t like it.
|This box was so heavy from all of the honey inside|
|Frames inside the super box (part of the hive that holds the honey)|
A friend of the family has been keeping bees for several years now, and so he comes to the cottage about once a week for maintenance and to collect the honey. If too many bees are present in one hive, the overcrowding causes them to flee in search of a less crowded area. According to the USDA, bee losses of 30-90% from hives have occurred since 2006 with unknown causes (though etiological theories exist, of course). This is otherwise known as the Colony Collapse Disorder, where “no or a low number of adult honey bees are present with a live queen. Often there is still honey in the hive, and immature bees (brood) are present.” Bee pollination is needed for 80% of crops grown in the US, making this quite an important issue for all who like to eat. The theories about these losses are rather interesting, but I think I’ll save them for another day.
|Yellow area – brood (larvae)
White area – capped honeycomb ready for honey harvesting
Varroa mites are a major pest of honey bees. Just before we were done, powdered sugar was sprayed among the bees. While each bee would eat this sugar off of one another, they would also eat the mites – a simple form of pest control. Once we were done playing with the bees and trying to gather honey, we took a walk away from the hive to get away and unsafely remove our bee suits. It wasn’t easy – they kept following us around for a good 20 minutes. Apparently they were still upset at us for disturbing the peace. I fared pretty well, leaving the scene un-stung. But my teacher wasn’t so lucky. Several bees found their way into his suit and stung the back of his neck and his lip! One bee sting leaves behind a pheromone on the skin, attracting additional bees to that very spot.
Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to help process the honey sometime later this week. If so, I will definitely share!