Our summer season is drawing to a close. Every year I feel the same. Sad to see the warm weather go and sad to see the nicest time to be here at the farm pass by. The farm has never looked so good this year with gardens lush with flowers and vegetables. This fall, I look forward to so many new activities here at the farm and if I am honest, the fall and winter is also truly beautiful and also filled with things to do – the snow and cold just make it a little more difficult to maneuver. In Ontario, with our short season of warmth, I believe we want opportunities to enjoy the cold (or some simply head for the beach). The fall for many is welcome with cooler weather and colours. I’m ready to let go of the warm days even though I will yearn for them in about three months! Summer weddings and events are over, but one of my favourite times of the year for making and creating things is upon us; workshops in bread-making, cooking classes and creating magic from beeswax.
During the summer months, our workshops consist of learning about bees. We offer a weekly apiary tour and honey tasting. It is conducted by my eldest daughter, Carlyle who is a self-taught beekeeper. She became interested in bees as a science major in high school, then a biology student in university and as a Masters student in Sustainability Management, she realized more acutely the importance of keeping bees everywhere and specifically on our farm.
We grow a variety of crops on the farm, vegetables, flowers, herbs and more recently have begun planting fruits such as blueberries, currants and raspberries. Bees are pollinators and having a variety of crops as a food source is good for them in honey production. Last year our farmer planted the remaining portion of the fields with alfalfa and I know Carlyle was pleased with a bumper crop of honey; food variety for her little hive was plentiful. Whenever we were out on the property, she would point out one her bees as if she knew them by name.
This summer for the first time, we offered a bee tour and a honey tasting for guests that visited the farm. We set up the honey tasting in the barn with fresh homemade crackers and little glass jars of different honey from the same hive but harvested at different times of the year and harvests from the previous years. The differences in colour and taste was apparent from each year and from each of the harvests as well. Some honey is light, golden-like yellow threads with a delicate taste and some of the honey is bronze and dark like copper with a rich, deep taste. It’s truly amazing to see our environment reflected in what the bees produce.
In one of our first years, I thought it might be best to move the hives to a more sheltered area. A bear attack had devastated one of her hives and we had to protect them with electric fencing. I thought that after the summer a move to our lower garden would offer more food and shelter as it was protected from the winds and there were leftover crops of tomatoes, vegetables and herbs. So late one fall evening, Carlyle gathered the hives and moved them to the lower garden.
That winter was one of those seasons that it was cold and warm and cold again. We were learning as we were doing and didn’t realize this part of the property was susceptible to the sudden rise and fall of temperatures because it lay lower than the rest of the fields. It was a tragedy to find early in Spring that both hives had perished. We started again close to their original spot but protected by some brush. Carlyle spent one weekend painting colourful bee boxes and purchased new bees. It was a bumper crop of honey that year – I’m sure one reason was because they loved their artistic homes!
This summer Carlyle embraced giving the tours. Usually not one for wanting to be in the public eye at the farm rather working behind the scenes, she loved offering information to others about her bees, their daily activities, the importance of bees in our environment. She spoke well and with confidence and people gravitated to her and to the information she provided. Guests came up to me later to let me know how much they had learned, how knowledgeable she was and passionate. She had to deal with a few unpleasant situations this summer for instance swarming. We could never really figure out why this happened. It was as if they all got together and said “let’s leave home – the grass must be greener somewhere else!” They rose up into the trees like a grey cloud; she climbed up a ladder to bring them back – sometimes with success and other times the hive simply vanished, a few always stayed behind to keep house and drum up new honey supplies. On one occasion, she was stung over fifty times in her efforts to bring them home. She also discovered she had a mild allergy to their sting – not a great condition for a beekeeper to have. As the summer wore on, the bees became more protective of their honey and taking groups close by became a bit of an issue so tours stayed longer in the barn for information gathering and lingered at the tasting.
Our summer tours are over but bees need attention every season and there is interesting information to be offered. Our tours will be by reservation only but the best part is we now have time and the supplies to offer workshops in making things with honey and with wax like candles, wraps and skin care lotions. Beeswax is a wonderful byproduct to work with, it’s 100% natural and has a beautiful smell and touch. It moisturizes skin, helps alleviate certain topical skin conditions and is overall such a useful product not to mention the honey we offer in our shop and have in our own pantry for cooking and spreading on toast with butter.
Winter workshops in beeswax are forthcoming and I’m excited to continue offering the education in bees and beekeeping. Carlyle has started something wonderful here that I know will continue to grow. I believe we all yearn for more knowledge about our food, where it comes from, how to use and prepare it and in the case of honey – where it comes from and the importance of bees in our communities.
I’m Danielle French, founder and owner of South Pond Farms. South Pond was founded in 2008 as a small food delivery business. I would grow food in my garden, make prepared meals and deliver them all over the GTA. Since then, the farm has been slowly restored and converted into a culinary destination, offering special events, weddings, workshops and corporate retreats all set in our restored century barn in the rolling hills of rural Ontario. My vision is to create a connection to the land, the food we grow and prepare in our kitchen to bringing people together.