From Garden to Kitchen with Carla Hogue and Rick Vergot
By Carla Hogue
When Ricky gets an idea for the garden, it’s like grease on Tupperware — good luck getting rid of it. Whether it’s vertical gardening, or the experimental straw bale beds, or that blasted asparagus, or honey bees, it’s less tiring if you just nod approval from the get-go.
To be fair, all these ideas sound good in the darkest part of winter when I would trade a family dog for a home-grown tomato. They sounded especially good after year one, when we were riding the Banzai Pipeline of gardening greatness. That bumper crop made anything possible. Bees? Heck yeah!
Bees made sense on so many levels. For starters, as self-proclaimed stewards of the environment, we felt a sense of responsibility to do what we could to help these angels of agriculture survive the devastating colony collapse disorder we’d been reading about. We had a big enough piece of property and it was far enough away from neighbors. We could easily do this for the environment, for the human race, and of course, for our own garden. Sure, we wanted the rest of the world to eat, but the thought of quadrupling our own harvest was a big motivator. So, greed, basically.
Here’s what happened next. Our friend, Timmy, built us beautiful boxes, ordered the suit, and secured two colonies from some bee source. Meanwhile, we made preparations on our end. I started working the word “apiary” into casual conversation and planting purple flowers in the garden, a bee’s favorite color. Ricky picked up a new EpiPen from the pharmacy, because, oh yeah, he is allergic to bee stings.
When the bees arrived at Timmy’s house near Luray, we initiated a clandestine extraction operation under cover of darkness that would have impressed any Army ranger. Ricky got hit, but refused to go down. We drove the bees home in the back of the pickup and situated the hives in the garden. That night I dreamt that plastic bears full of golden honey were dancing in the pantry.
Two years later, we’ve learned a few things. 1) Bees will do what bees want to do. 2) They couldn’t care less about the purple flowers I planted. 3) We still don’t know how to get the honey out.
It’s true that not everyone is qualified to have children, and it’s equally true that not everyone is qualified to keep bees. We were, like so many unqualified potential parents, undaunted by our ignorance.
At this point, the bees were in the garden. They seemed appropriately busy. They buzzed around our heads as we bent over the beds, and we shouted to each other whenever we spotted one on a vegetable blossom. They were getting to know us, while ignoring almost every purple flower, and we were getting to know them. It was a perfect example of peaceful co-existence.
Then we decided to check on their progress. We lifted the lid on Hive I. Everything seemed fine. We lifted the lid of Hive II. Not fine. They were building their comb on the ceiling instead of in the frames. Bee people advised us to scrape it off. It wasn’t sustainable.
Ricky suited up. I grabbed an EpiPen and pulled out the water hose, in case this endeavor went south. I’m not kidding when I say it was the best idea I had.
He scraped off the blob of goofed-up comb, and over the next few weeks, they proceeded to build it back. He scraped it off a second time; they built it back again. When he scraped it off a third time, Hive II packed their tiny suitcases and vacated the property never to be seen again. Their condo remained vacant all the rest of that summer and the next.
Luckily, Hive I was thriving. On hot days, the bees overflowed the box onto the little bee porch. It looked like a fraternity kegger, but since they didn’t build their comb on the ceiling, we let the frat party go on unsupervised.
Over the next year and a half, we acquired bits of knowledge from the Internet, from a seminar that attracted a mix of preppers and hippies to the Monticello harvest festival. We joined the Loudoun Beekeepers Association. Finally, last September, we were ready to collect our first batch of honey. I had made a list of people getting honey for Christmas and doodled some logos for the labels I thought we should design. Luckily, a seasoned beekeeper stopped us just in time. He pointed out that if we harvested in September, we would deplete their winter stores and basically kill the bees dead.
After running one hive off and nearly starving the other, we registered for a legitimate, eight-week course through the Loudoun Beekeepers Association starting in February. Hopefully by the time this magazine arrives for your reading enjoyment, we will have learned enough to get the honey out of the hive without killing the bees. We look forward to the day when the honey we use in the following recipes comes from our own backyard.
Local honey stuff you’ll love
Bee Chic Naturals offers hand poured 100% beeswax candles, scented with pure essential oils. Also available are unscented pillars, when you want the ambiance of candles during dinner without competing fragrances. The candle maker, Carrie Hughes, says beeswax creates a dense, clean-burning candle. If you enjoy candles, now is the time to get away from paraffin. Ricky’s pick — the lemony May Chang (exotic verbena). Find her at the Purcellville Town Market every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1p.m. or online at www.beechicnaturals.com.
Monastery Creamed Honey is made by the Monks of Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville. We found this at the Home Farm Store in Middleburg, but you can also order online at www.monasteryfruitcake.org. Try the almond flavor.
Loudoun Beekeepers Association (www.loudounbee.org) is a great resource for all bee-related needs and questions. You can find a calendar of fairs and beekeeping events on their website.
About the Author:
Carla Hogue teaches elementary special education, supports animal rescues, and likes to put seeds in the dirt. Rick Vergot sells building supplies, is a sucker for rescue dogs, and likes to design and build NASA-inspired raised beds. Together they are learning about and practicing sustainable methods. This year, the squirrels whole-heartedly approved.