January 2023

An excerpt from North Coast Voioce Jan 2023 Homegrown! Spotlight on Local Food

Happy New Year, friends and family! This article focuses on the local food movement and happenings related. 

Winter bee watch: While we may be cuddling up, the worker bees are busy. A conversation with several local bee enthusiasts 

During the last big snow storm, with hands around a thick ceramic mug filled with mint tea and honey, the question arose, where do the bees go when it snows in NE Ohio? Fortunately, a few days after the question, several bee enthusiasts happened upon the shop and were able to sit down and chat for a bit about honey and bees. 

Whether you drink honey or not, bees play a vital role in food generation. Pollination is the act of moving pollen from the male part of the plant flower to the female enabling growth and reproduction. Over 250,000 species of plants depend on pollination to reproduce and one-third of crops eaten by United Statesians comes from crops pollinated by bees; called entomophily. Imagine a life without apples, watermelons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, zucchini, roses, blackberries, raspberries, cherries,  and blueberries as these are some of the plants that require pollination to reproduce (ie.form seeds). Wild plants require pollination, too. Fortunately in Ohio, we have over 500 species of native bees and we have many honey bees, too. Honey bees are not native but we foster their existence and growth for the reasons listed above plus their ability to produce honey is widely appreciated. 

The fascinating honey bee story as told by Zana of Coltman Apiary and Linda Dole of Windy Hill Farm goes like this: there are three kinds of honey bees in a hive – the Queen, worker bees and drones. The Queen bee can lay as many as 1500 eggs in a day during peak production while the worker bees, all females, tend to the work of keeping the hive clean, producing and storing honey, caring for the larvae, building cells, guarding the nest and foraging/pollinating. These worker bees are wonderfully productive and live 4 to 6 weeks during the summer. The drones are male bees who wait to mate with the Queen. When winter comes, the drones are kicked out of the hive. The worker bees will form a cluster around the Queen and flap, shiver and shake to keep her warm. These workers take turns eating and clustering and a hive can go through as many as 80 pounds of honey in a season. This is why it is important for beekeepers to allow the bees to keep some honey for their wintering months. There is no hibernation and sleeping for these bees – winter is a musical and collaborative dance in admirable teamwork. 

Honey bees, valued for their sweet honey production, have an agricultural benefit 10 to 20 times that of honey. They estimate $15 billion in added crop value nationwide. They are necessary in the work of pollination and we, in NE Ohio, would find it difficult to eat as well as we do without the bees. Included in this process are native bees that do not produce honey but work hard at pollination. Native bees have a much higher pollinating capacity than honey bees. They work hard at keeping food production alive through the summer. Our symbiosis with bees ensures delicious gardens! So what can an average person do to keep these pollinators happy? 

We can keep bees fed, happy and working by easily adapting a few concepts into our own gardening. Enjoy looking around your own garden environment this spring and notice these tiny creatures performing subtle work that makes all of the difference. 

  • Start a pollinator garden 
  • Plant many flowers in between your garden rows and around trees 
  • Plant flowers that will be in bloom throughout the whole spring, summer & fall 
  • Let your lawn grow – go wild! 
  • Minimize the use of pesticides and herbicides 
  • Build bee housing 
  • Involve the kids – neighbors, too
  • Plant more natives 
  • Don’t cut back all the old plant stalks and brush in the fall, these are great nesting places 
  • Leave piles of compost, leaves, and grass clippings around, these are great nesting sites for bumble bees
  • Go to a virtual class this winter to learn more (see below) 

In other local food-related news: There is a large hazelnut farm in Geauga County – Newcomb Nut Farm – inspiring folks to consider planting more nut “trees” in NE Ohio. They were in Ashtabula recently giving a demonstration of all the tasty vittles one can make with hazelnuts including hazelnut butter, cream, toasted as a salad topper, chocolate covered and hazelnut oil! 

A few events happening this winter: 

Jan 11 – Mar 8; Wednesday. 1-3pm; virtual and free: Western Reserve Land Conservancy hosts “Inviting Biodiversity into our Gardens.” This is the first in a series. Register at www.wrlandconservancy.org/events. Free 

Jan 11 – Mar 8; every other Wednesday. 7pm. Northeast Ohio Pollinator Society. “Homegrown conservation: Stewarding our landscapes for pollinators and other wildlife.” register at go.osu.edu/neops. Free – donations happily accepted. 

Jan 14, 2023; Saturday. 1-2:30pm; Henderson Memorial Library hosts, “Youth Intro to beekeeping.” 

Feb 16-18: OEFFA Conference (Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association). Join in person and learn to grow your own farm, business, adventure!

Want to get more intimately involved with bees? Check out your local beekeeping association! There are several in Ashtabula, Geauga and Lake counties. 

Question for the new year: how can we become completely self-reliant regarding food in NE Ohio?  We have the land, access to fresh water, clean air, knowledge and equipment. What steps are needed? 

Native Sochan, a towering, edible & gorgeous perennial, and a native pollinating bumble bee in Ashtabula 2021 (photo by Gallo, garden by Sarah Brower) 

Local bee enthusiasts enjoy a cup of tea with honey at Harbor Gardens in December, 2022. L to R Quin Coltman, Zana Coltman, Linda Dole, and Ethan Coltman (of Coltman Apiary and Windy Hill Farms). Photo by Gallo