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Farming for Pollinators: Leach ‘24 at Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary

Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary is a 41 acre farm nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Floyd, Virginia. Spikenard is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, with a mission “to promote sustainable and biodynamic beekeeping through education, experience-based research, and a honeybee sanctuary, and to help restore the health and vitality of the honeybee worldwide.” The global decline of bees and other pollinators is a massive ecological issue, and unfortunately conventional beekeeping and farming practices often contribute to these problems. At Spikenard, the well-being of the bee hives and the land comes before all else. Natural processes such as raising true queens, swarming, and comb building are encouraged and honored.   Spikenard Farm houses three apprentices for a spring or summer cohort of four months. We work Monday – Friday from 8 to 5, with a nice long lunch. Each day starts with a quick visit to each of the beehives. Four of these days we work alongside the farm manager and former Antiochian, Anthea van Geloven, to maintain the many garden beds and the farm as a whole. We’ve spent hours in the greenhouse seeding, repotting, weeding, and watering young plants to soon be planted as bee forage or human food. We shovel compost, harvest herbs for bee tea, mulch, maintain plant sales, set up drip irrigation, snuggle baby goats, apply biodynamic preparations and tree paste, harvest and package vegetables, prepare for events, plant, weed, plant, and weed. The long days in the elements can be tiring, but I am constantly feeling fulfilled and at peace. I’m grateful for all of the things I’ve learned, and for my wonderful team.  

Here in the bottom field grows rye grass for weaving sun hives, vegetables, chamomile, crimson clover, mustard, barley, sesame, and more.

On Wednesdays, we work with the director of the organization, Alex Tuchman, who is also the head beekeeper. On these days we conduct hive health checks and mite counts, occasional honey feedings and harvests, hive expansions, and other bee-related work. One of my favorite projects has been decapping honeycomb cells to be put in the radial extractor, then jarring the honey to be shared with the community. An important practice at Spikenard that sets them apart from conventional beekeeping is their honey harvest season. Rather than harvesting everything in the fall and feeding the bees sugar water (which is extremely unhealthy for the little creatures), at the sanctuary the bees get to use their honey stores throughout the winter. When fresh nectar starts flowing from tree blossoms, dandelions, and other early signs of spring, they actually abandon what honey wasn’t needed, gifting to us the most delicious medicine created from last years’ flowers.

Busy worker bees tending to eggs and larvae before capping the cells with wax for pupae to develop. Note the sacs of pollen being carried in the top left corner!

  Spikenard hosts online and on-site workshops and beekeeping training to spread awareness about the intelligence and importance of the honeybee, as well as ethical, natural practices. They welcome visitors to their campgrounds, including the group of 30 Waldorf fifth and sixth graders that stayed for a few days in May. We apprentices got to learn about the honeybee, make art, and even watch a swarm alongside them. They had amazing questions and insightful takeaways. I also got to lead a small group in a farm project, which was a lot of fun. We made two big loads of potting soil that included earth, sand, and compost from the sanctuary.

Swarm clustered on a viburnum tree, soon to become a new hive named Viburna.

  I couldn’t have asked for a better first co-op. Spikenard has introduced me to the beautiful world of beekeeping, taught me so much about sustainable organic farming, and empowered me to teach, explore, and create. If you’d like to support the honeybee and other creatures that we depend upon, let the dandelions grow and plant pollinator friendly plants, shop organic when possible, raise your consumer awareness around honey and other products such as royal jelly and pollen, and check out Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary. They are a perfect example of an organization working towards a better future, and have inspired so many within the community and around the world.  
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  • What a wonderfUl explanation Of what goes on at the Bee faRm