Michael and Michelle Cabral don’t know how to scratch an itch just a little bit. The South Kingstown couple applies creative energy to a wide range of homesteading activities that provide the family with amazing healthy food produced at home and foraged nearby.
A self-described “city girl”, Michelle found that her house in a field lacked any interesting plants other than a giant old apple tree whose bearing years were mostly long ago in the past. She and Michael felt compelled to search for knowledge that would expand their relationship with food, the land and their community. Fruit tree plantings led to a vegetable garden.
They added Rhode Island Red chickens that convert ticks and grass into delicious pastured eggs with dark creamy yolks. Maple syruping and beekeeping were obvious next steps. I met the Cabrals at the SK Farmers Market and spent a recent afternoon with them transferring recently arrived Georgia bees to their new hive boxes.
The Common or Western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a cornerstone of food production all around us and an important measure of the health of our environment. Bees pollinate local gardens, trees and wildflowers while collecting nectar that they digest and turn into the golden magical food that sustains the hive through the winter and that people have loved for millenia. It takes 12 bees their entire lives to make a teaspoon of honey. 100% of California’s almond crop requires the attention of bees. 80%-90% of apple blossoms are pollinated by bees. Do you like squash or blueberries?? Give a shout-out to the bees for your pies and ratatouille.
The highly adapted female society works together to raise young, communicate and forage, store food for winter and protect the hive. That’s right – worker bees are all female – the male drones have no purpose other than fertilizing the queen. They don’t even have a stinger !! Honey never goes bad and has been found in Egyptian pyramids still edible. The amazing bees huddle in a vibrating mass through the winter keeping the core temperature over 90 degrees while rotating from the outside in and back out.
Sadly, the bees are not doing well. Wild hives are almost unknown these days – virtually all bees come from managed hives that need occasional mite treatment and feeding support (with sugar water) during times of low nectar flow. Cabrals had two hives last year but lost them both in the long cold of March – starvation due to inadequate stored honey supply. Think about planting native plant species that provide nectar and pollen over a long seasonal bloom sequence rather than sterile hybrids developed for color display. Many bee hives have recently been struggling with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The phenomenon that has caused hive losses of 30%-70% in some areas is not fully understood and may be attributed to a combination of pesticides, genetically modified crops, parasites and physical stress linked with increased effort required to find high-value nectar sources. It seems that this “perfect storm” of stresses places the bees in an immune-compromised state. Read about CCD at www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/ccd/. You’ll find a wealth of information and club listings atwww.backyardbeekeepers.com or www.ribeekeepers.org
With the energy of a worker bee (though we hope a longer lifespan), Michelle bakes the bread, makes great fruit leather and volunteers on the board of the South Kingtown Community Garden located at Broad Rock School. She has recently taken up wild mushrooming and launched Shea Bunny, a line of all-natural shea butter botanical skin care products - email@example.com.
Down along the driveway the old apple tree was heavy with fruit last fall. As for me, I’m already planning a return visit for more of their “Black Gold” late-season goldenrod honey. Earthy, complex and exquisite !!