Life in a slow place that quickly steals your heart.



Our summer with the bees

They emerged from the hives and swarmed up and sideways in a buzzing disorganized chaos that had me re-thinking the wisdom of this whole idea. What will the neighbours think? Will they sting us? There are too many of them. This is kind of frightening. Might have to call Tim back and say we have changed our minds.

A corner of our little farm became a bee yard in May of this year after winter discussions with local beekeeper and bee inspector Tim Bouwmeester of Desert Flower Honey. He rents bees out to local orchardists and has several more permanent bee yards in the area. After looking at our raspberry farm he agreed to place some hives here year-round after erecting an electric fence to discourage roaming bears.

We were pretty excited on the day the bees arrived.

Tim warned us that the bees would be disorganized for a few days until they settled in and oriented themselves to their new territory. After a few days of giving them a wide berth my anxiety waned and the love affair began.

Checking on the bees

We watched as the bees developed their routes to find nectar and pollen and their flights into and out of the hives became much more organized. Tim would come by every two weeks and calmly work with the bees while we watched and peppered him with questions. Wearing only the beekeepers hat and veil and tucking his socks into his pants he checked on the status of the queen, checked and treated the bees for mites and generally determined the health and strength of the hives. We helped in minor ways and I took photos.

Part of Tim’s bee passion is breeding queen bees and he selects for what I call niceness. His bees are as non-aggressive as they come. “As an inspector I see lots and lots of hives and many bees fly up all around you and get much more agitated,” Tim says. Who knew that we have exactly the right bees for rookie bee hosts?

We had a bee sting free summer and supportive neighbours interested in the project. Tim did get the odd sting working with the hives by inadvertently squishing a bee here and there that let him know but he says he used to that and after a brief hand wave the sting is forgotten.

Fascinated by what Tim tells us and shows us about the bees, we are happy to have them on our little farm but also not tempted to get our own hives and learn to be beekeepers. There is so much to it and the science to good beekeeping is evolving all the time in the face of climate change, diseases and pests like mites. “It is not a hobby to be taken lightly,” says Tim. “You really need to get educated.”

As for what we can do for the bees and other insects in our yard and in the Okanagan where we live, Tim says the biggest problem they are facing is lack of good forage. Our wine growing region is not great for the bees as grapes are wind pollinated. By cutting down orchards to grow vines we are creating a bee desert.

“We are too good at controlling weeds as well,” he says. “I am encouraged by new organic vineyard practices though. Cover crops of clover in between the vines is great as is using less herbicides.”

As for what all of us can do with any plot of land, Tim says don’t cut the grass as much. Let the weeds go. “Plant a meadow like you did or let even a part of your yard go a bit wild.”

Tim does regular tests and treatments for mites.

In addition to our raspberries, blueberries, haskups and blackberries (which bees love) we planted our meadow this summer and it was alive with bees and hummingbirds.

I now have another excuse as a gardener to plant more flowers.

We love showing visitors around our farm and the bees have become a part of the fun.

Visitors have often been lucky enough to be here when Tim comes to check on the bees.

I like the look of the hives…

Even with the hottest summer on record in the Okanagan, the bees did their thing. “It was a crazy summer,” said Tim. “I was surprised by how well the bees did. I still don’t know where they got their nectar from.”

Tim takes the supers filled with honey to his honey house on Naramata Road (near Hillside Winery) at the end of the summer.
Fancy machine that extracts the honey.
End product after filtration.

As a bee host Tim ended the summer by dropping off a 3 kilogram pail of honey for us and it’s the best honey I’ve ever tasted.

We have a lovely winter’s worth of honey for us and some to give to friends and family.

Must love bees: It takes hundreds to make berry tarts

Our raspberry farm is abuzz today.

Each raspberry “flower” has many stamens and styles, each attached to a carpel with two ovules. Because the small individual flowers on each receptacle open over an extended period, bees must visit each plant several times to ensure that enough individual flowers are pollinated to make enough fruit for us to sell.

We are relying on wild bees to do the work for us.

The flowers are kind of pretty close-up

We are talking 100 to 125 pistils, per raspberry to which pollen must be transferred to create a mature seed and the tasty red druplet surrounding the seed. If each and every one of these druplets is not pollinated, the overall integrity of the fruit is compromised and the fruit will be misshapen and crumbly.

I feel like I should be bringing out pitchers of iced tea for them or offering them tiny, careful massages.

Some of the many variety of bees I spotted include honey, bumble, carpenter, cuckoo, digger, mason, yellow-faced and mining bees. I would just get them in focus and they would be off before I could capture their photo. These few photos in the post were among about 100 of blurred or vanished bees. They are busy right?

You can tell that this guy is a honey bee as you can see the pollen basket on its hind leg (white). The bee moistens the pollen with nectar and packs it in the pollen basket for transport.

During this time of the year it’s important not to water the raspberries too much as the nectar will drip off the immature berry and the pollinators won’t be attracted to them. Pesticides are a concern too but not for us and we don’t use them on our organic berries. Even it the pesticide is not toxic to bees, they often repel them.

Encore raspberries.

We made mason bee houses at a recent Naramata Garden Club meeting. I plan on making more to give the little guys a reason to stick around and help us out.

There are so many recipes that use berries made possible by the work of all those bees. Here’s an easy one that looks and tastes great.


Easiest ever elegant dessert…part of the dessert table I made for my lovely niece Nicole’s wedding…

Chocolate berry shells

  • Buy pre-made chocolate shells
  • Daub a teaspoon or so of jam onto the shell and spread it around…it will act as “glue” for the berries
  • Decorate with a mix of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
  • Finish with a grating of lemon peel

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