So, I really enjoy reading the Rogue Farms crop reports. For some reason, I find it so adorable that they want us all to know how the farms are doing and how it effects their beer production. I’m also a little bit of a secret nerd, and I love learning about their bees, what they plan to grow, what they’re harvesting next, etc. So, I put out a tweet to find out if anyone else cared or wanted me to share what they send me. Turns out you do! Here are a couple of excerpts from their latest report.
HIVE SPLITTING: THE BEES ARE DOING AWESOME!
Andrew, Rogue Farms Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture: Department Bee, surveyed the colonies and came back with the news we were hoping to hear. After spending winter in the almond blossoms of California, and coming home to a strong nectar flow in spring, our 7,140,289 honeybees are as healthy as we’ve ever seen them. It was time to split the hives and grow more honeybees.
Splitting a hive looks simple – at least on paper. Move the queen and about half the worker bees to a new hive somewhere else on the farm. The split hive grows into two new colonies. Our colonies were strong enough to split several of them, increasing the size of our apiary by another 20 – 30 colonies. All that adds up to more honey we can harvest for our meads, kolsch, braggot and soda.
But what may look simple requires a lot of careful planning and hard work
First, we want to know a colony is strong enough to survive a split. We’ll open a hive to see how crowded it looks. The more bees, the better our odds. If a colony is on the verge of overcrowding, then our timing is as good as it gets. Next, we check for a healthy queen and brood. When the queen moves with the workers, she’ll need to be up to the job of laying hundreds of eggs every day for the new colony to grow to full strength. Some of the brood stays behind. The original colony no longer has a queen, a situation that’s intolerable as far as honeybees are concerned. The remaining workers feed a special substance called Royal Jelly to a select group of eggs, one of which will grow to become the new queen. As long as the workers know a new queen is on the way, they’ll remain calm and carry on. Finally, we move the split hive to a location that’s far enough away so that the honeybees don’t try to return to the original box. Then we put an empty box on top of the hive so the new colony has room to grow.
Hive splitting is our way of helping the honeybees do what comes naturally to them. When a hive becomes overcrowded, the queen and half of the workers depart en masse to find a new home. It’s called swarming, and it’s a normal part of a honeybee’s reproductive cycle. Splitting the hive gives us a say on the timing and allows us to keep the new hives here on the farm.
With the start of the summer nectar flow, our honeybees have an abundance of wild berries, wildflowers and crops awaiting them. Taste our Dream Pumpkins, Prickless Marionberries, Jalapeños and all the other flavors of the farm in the next crop of Rogue Farms Wildflower Honey. At Rogue Farms, we do our part by sending our honeybees south during winter, by planting a diverse group of crops for them to forage and pollinate, and by planting wildflowers so they have even more sources of pollen and nectar. Our honeybees take care of us by producing the honey we use in our beers and sodas. We do our best to take care of them.
PRICKLESS MARIONBERRIES – FOR THE BRAGGOT DUH!
This spring we planted two acres of Rogue Farms Prickless Marionberries. It’s our biggest patch of berries ever. 1602 starters. 1602 holes. All dug, planted and watered by hand. Marionberries are a type of blackberry that originated right across from river from us in Marion County, Oregon. They don’t grow fruit until they’ve experienced a hard frost. Around here, we don’t get that kind of weather until late September, and more likely not until October. So we’ll have nothing to pick from this new planting until next year.
The one thing that drives marionberry farmers crazy are the prickly thorns. They make it harder to harvest and every so often a consumer bites down on one and gets a nasty sting in the mouth. Not exactly good for business. Breeders have been trying to develop thorn-free marionberries for years. They got rid of the thorns, but the berries were small and flavorless. A few years ago, one of our neighbors stumbled across the Holy Grail. Growing in a field he discovered a thornless marionberry that produced excellent fruit. Mother Nature had outsmarted all of the best berry breeders. Rogue Farms is proud to be among a handful of farmers growing his prickless marionberries.
None of this would be possible without the 7,140,289 Rogue Farms honeybees. They’ll pollinate the flowers that grow into marionberries, and bring the nectar back to their hives to produce honey. Only then will Brewmaster John Maier use our marionberries and our honey to craft future batches of Rogue Farms Marionberry Braggot. It’s a long time from planting day to brewing day, but it will be worth it.
JALAPENOS: KEEP THE FIRE AND THE FLAVOR
The last of the ingredients we planted this year was an acre sized patch of Rogue Farms Jalapeños. We started them a while back in the greenhouse. But as they outgrew their tiny pots it was time to move them to where they belong, into the soil next to the Prickless Marionberries, Wigrich Corn and Dream Pumpkins. Look for them along Wigrich Road the next time you head into the farm.
Our secret to growing jalapeños is waiting. Wait until the soil is warm enough and there’s enough sun before planting. Wait even longer for the peppers to fully ripen and turn bright red. Unripe jalapeños are edible and spicy, those are the green ones you see in the grocery store. But we don’t only want spice, we want flavor. So we leave our jalapeños on the plants to mature longer than most growers. The last of the crops we plant is also the last of the crops we pick.
After harvest, we’ll dry the peppers using the kilns here on the farm, the same kilns we used to dry our hops. Then we’ll drive them 77 miles over the Coast Range to the Rogue Distillery in Newport and dry smoke them over fires of cherry and alder. The payoff comes when John uses the peppers we grow, kiln and smoke to brew Chipotle Ale and mash Chipotle Whiskey. It’d be easier and faster to buy someone else’s peppers, or import capsaicin extract from China. But that wouldn’t give us the quality and flavor we want, so we do it ourselves.