The Farm (31)

Haskap orchard with snow – haskap flowers can take a -7C freeze and still produce fruit, which these did

If you want to bees for pollination in the spring, then you need to care for them year round.  And if you live in a place of monocropping and where herbicides are sprayed and whose drift from the spray kills off all susceptible native plants, then you will have to do something to provide for bees yourself.  Honeybees of course fly many miles and are affected by sprays that are applied miles away.  And nectar from canola will crystallize and the bees will starve over winter unless you remove the honey collected therefrom and feed them heavily on sugar water, which the industry now does.  No, there is no more wild honey produced…anywhere.  That is by-and-large a myth.  So we now nurture our local, native bees, whose range is far more limited, sometimes to only a few hundred yards of their nests.  And we do this based on the various conservation elements that we have implemented here that are simply traditional common sense that was known and implemented down through the millennia by those who knew that to nurture their environment allowed for their own survival.

What are these elements?  What did we do here?

  • Establishing waterways – in the first two years we planted 7,000 trees in 5 miles of waterways to conserve soil, catch snow, and establish riparian areas that would support a variety of animals, including a diversity of insects.
  • Planting flowering trees – we have a whole mile of buffalo berry plants as well as hedgerows of chokecherries.  Pollen from our woodlot is the first beebread of the season for numerous insects.
  • Seeding a complex of grasses and legumes – the original 140 acres of alfalfa has been gradually supplanted by multi-species hay mix of legumes and grasses.  What was a silent field when we first came now sings with all sorts of bug noises.
  • Five ponds of various sizes have been dug in different areas of the farm – four of these hold water year round and are a source of water for all forms of animal life
  •  150 apple trees on dwarfing rootstock are protected by an eight foot high wildlife fence
  • 300 dwarf sour cherry trees and nearly 3,000 haskap bushes were planted starting in 2008
  • The woodlot provides firewood and in some years an abundance of saskatoons, pin cherries, choke cherries, morels, and hazelnuts.  It is allowed to regenerate itself with a minimum of our own intervention.
  • Large gardens are still having their soils remediated.

For many years we were certified organic producers of all of these items.  But most of those who came and bought and harvested were uneducated and did not have any appreciation for this, which is still the way in this region.  And since the certification cost us $800 out of pocket every year we eventually allowed it to lapse.  After several years we also cut our ties with the ministry of agriculture here in Manitoba who refused to assist us in charting out and implementing an organic farm that produced hay and fruit.  This is just as well; it felt punitive to deal with them.  Very early on we realized that we were on our own as we used our own university education and broad experience in development to bring back traditional small-scale, environmentally sound agriculture in this place.  Our best local resources for this were retired farmers, some of whom were exceptional agriculturalists and to whom we are especially indebted.

The upshot is that our local bees – bumblebees and solitary bees – are protected and thriving twenty years on.