Featured Farmer: 21 Acres Bee Club

Featured Farmer: 21 Acres Bee Club

  • posted on: November 22, 2023
  • posted by: Val McKinley
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This article was written by 21 Acres Farm Market Team Member, Jen Horner. Jen was raised on a farm in Iowa and loves growing and eating vegetables. 

Wednesdays at 21 Acres are always a hive of activity, when the Farm Market opens its doors for the week, stocked up with fresh produce from our area farmers and other tasty products. Two volunteer groups, Pollinator Pathway NW and the 21 Acres Bee Club, also meet weekly on Wednesdays, folks who are all very passionate about the important work of caring for pollinators.

The Bee Club volunteers and their fearless leader, Nan, are our current “featured farmers”.

The "Heart of the Farm" beehives and apiary at 21 Acres. 21 Acres has eight permanent hives spread throughout the farm. Each of the hive locations has its own microclimate, and hives are nestled into the trees to provide shade in the summer and protect them during winter storms. Horseshoe-shaped raised beds surround the hives to keep visitors at a safe distance, while also providing nourishing flowers, such as double-orange cosmos and lavender, for the bees. These plantings were a volunteer-led project and are an inspiring addition to the farm.

21 Acres beekeepers work year round to care for the four apiaries on the farm, even on cold snowy days. Our beekeepers work very hard year-round to maintain healthy hives. Nan has been the Apiary Manager for five years, and many of the volunteers have worked with her for years and have their own hives. Fun fact: Nan can kill a yellowjacket with her bare hands – it is a very impressive sight! Why would she do that? Because Yellowjackets prey on honeybees and can decimate a hive. 

I was lucky to join the crew on a recent autumn Wednesday as they carried out their duties. In the morning, we cooked up a batch of sugar cakes in the kitchen, which will later be delivered to the bees to feed on during the winter. That afternoon, we fed the bees and performed a weekly check on each hive. An important task was looking for the presence of mites in the hives – mites are one of the leading causes of colony collapse and hive failures across the globe.

Bright orange cosmos flowers grow near beehives on the 21 Acres farm. Honeybees and other pollinators are a critical part of our food system, accounting for one out of three bites of food we eat. As climate change intensifies, scientists have discovered that pollinator populations are plummeting and are being harder hit than other insect populations. According to organizations like the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), climate change is causing many flowers to bloom half a day earlier each year which means that in the spring, plants are blooming weeks earlier than decades ago. This can disrupt the relationship between pollinators and the plants that need them for reproduction. Because of this, some flowers are not being pollinated, and many bees are left with no food. Other threats to our pollinators include habitat loss, invasive species, the use of pesticides, drought, extreme rainfall, extreme heat, and wildfires.

Beekeeper George is one the Bee Club volunteers who cares for the 21 Acres bees. The Bee Club is a popular volunteer position at 21 Acres, with a waiting list to join. I discovered that many of these volunteers are either considering starting their own hive and want to learn more, or already tend to bees and enjoy sharing and adding to their knowledge. If you are interested in learning more about this group and our other volunteer opportunities, click here.

21 Acres honey is bottled in summer and fall to be sold in our Farm Market. In addition to weekly hive maintenance chores, Bee Club volunteers can be found inside the 21 Acres building in late summer and early fall processing and jarring honey to be sold in the Farm Market.  Summer honey is lighter in color with a milder flavor, while the fall honey is darker with a more robust taste. Both are equally delicious and make excellent gifts. Our honey is raw, unfiltered, and collected only on our farm. The Market also sells 100% beeswax candles and bars made by the 21 Acres Bee Club, as well as honeycomb when available.

Not everyone can host honeybees, but we can all take steps to support and care for our native bees: we can plant a garden that will be a part of the pollinator pathway and refrain from the use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. These are ways to take direct climate action and make a positive impact in the world.

The health benefits of eating local honey are many – plus, it’s the best tasting honey around!