Award-winning wildflower honey doesn’t happen by accident, but the bee program at Southall is about far more than a sweet summer reward. These workhorse insects – by next summer, nearly 4 million of them — are at the center of everything we do on the farm.
Southall Beekeeper Jay Williams is implementing a property-wide pollination plan that incorporates not only honeybees, but native leafcutter and mason bees, each species with a dedicated task. In the conservatory greenhouse and orangerie, for example, about 3,000 leafcutters are pollinating every single day of the year – maximizing yield on everything from citrus to tomatoes, even through the dead of winter. Williams incubates the small, gentle native bees for 21 days under heat lamps, and then releases a few thousand each week indoors throughout the year.
Outside, habitats for native bees has been staggered throughout the farm, tucked away in strategic locations. Wood blocks for mason bees, for instance, are located above and below the orchard to target the apple tree bloom in early spring. Honeybees don’t wake up early enough to be effective in the orchard, but the masons will come out once the ambient temperature hits 50 degrees in late March or early April.
Meanwhile, four different apiaries – each home to multiple colonies of hundreds of thousands of Russian and Italian honeybees, bred by Williams for superior genetics – are being situated to the north, south, east and west corners of the farm. Ultimately, 30 hives and about 3.5 million honeybees will work 10 months out of the year to pollinate crops, flowers and trees in a scenario that Williams controls: where they breed, who they breed with, and the unique types of honey that can be produced.
He’s also incorporating cutting-edge Bluetooth technology to monitor hives, with each beaming temperature, humidity and hive weight data to a mobile app that allows Williams to better control the health and production of the colonies. As with every effort at Southall, our team is leveraging the latest tools available to enhance and refine age-old techniques to continue learning how to make agriculture better, for the land and for all who depend on it.
If during the warm months you happen to spot a hovering ball of drones and queens meeting for a date 50 feet above the lake, just know that they’re perpetuating the circle of life here. As with all things on the farm, it’s a labor of love.