The Bees Knees

Honeybees are important to our food supply. A surprising amount of our wellbeing relies on these underappreciated insects, but bees are dying off at unprecedented rate.

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While some crops rely on wind to pollenate, several flowering plants need bees to help them fertilize. Losing bees could affect not only dietary staples such as apples, broccoli, strawberries, nuts, asparagus, blueberries and cucumbers, but may threaten our beef and dairy industries if alfalfa is not available for feed. For years, the Ontario bees have substantially declined at an alarming rate.

Farmers fear that neoicotinoid’s are largely to blame for the death of the bees. In January 2013, the European Food Safety Authority stated that the neonicotoids posed an unacceptably high risk to bees. Health Canada did find that the pesticide played a role in the death of bees last summer.

Corn and soybean fields claim the use of pesticide is essential in the first months of seeding and can even be responsible for higher yields. In Canada, corn is a subsidized crop producing loads of dollars for those farmers and company’s producing them. Corn can also be used for fuel such as ethanol. The assumption is that it comes down to dollars and cents when determining what to do about eliminating these pesticides.

Despite the argument, the bees are in crisis.

From Athens and as far west as Centerville, local beekeeper, Tom Kaemmer has been raising bees for over thirty-five years. Today, he is retired, but still manages a small production of approximately 100 hives that produce the brand Toba, a delicious golden honey.

I’m a honey lover. Most mornings I slather a piece of toast with the sweet goodness, alongside a cup of tea. Once you discover the difference in taste, in each droplet of his organically produced honey, there is no compromise.

This long winter can’t come to a close fast enough, for this beekeeper. “The bees have been in a torpor state for some time,” says Mr. Kaemmer.

Torpor refers to the sleeping state the bees are in during the winter months versus hibernation.

“The bees are breathing and vibrate to keep warm. During the day, even at 0 degrees they will leave the hive to stretch and flutter about,” explained Tom Kaemmer. “Bees are very clean. Fleeing the hive during the day is incredibly essential to all. Older bees will leave and die off, young ones head back to their queen after a short break away.”

“The queen bee attracts the bees with her pheromones,” said Tom Kaemmer. “The bees are attracted to the queen bee’s signature pheromone, so the workers will always go back to mama.”

Pheromone is a chemical an animal produces and changes the behavior of the same species of animal, including insects. Pheromones can be secreted to trigger many behaviors, in the case of the bees it’s to entice male bees back to the hives (their territory) and to warn off other females to back off and not lay eggs there.

In the fall, Tom Kaemmer packs the bees. “I wrap the bees with a blanket,” said Kaemmer. “It’s almost like a warm sock around the hives, with two small entrances for them to use.”

Any day now, when the snow disappears Tom will head to his bee yards to check the bees. “This is an important time, the Queen bees are laying their eggs. If we have another cold spell they may die off. The Queen will not leave her eggs for anything, if she dies the colony will die.”

In August through to the end of October, Tom will collect the honey boxes and take them to his honey house. He keeps the honey house heated using a wood fire and dehumidifier. The bees remove most of the moisture. So, Tom will remove the caps from the top of the frames and begin to extract the honey. It is then processed through a different tank and then strained through a government certified cloth material and into a heated container for retail use.

The best place for a bee yard is on a south-facing slope, protected from the wind and next to a good pasture.

A typical uniform for Tom Kaemmer is as little as a t-shirt and shorts. Has he been stung? “On occasion,” says Kaemmer, “but really it’s not so bad after the pain subsides, it’s a warm tingly feeling, and you swell up a bit.” When asked if that is his biggest fear, he said, “ No, my biggest fear is losing the bees. Keeping them alive is by far my biggest fear,” said Tom Kaemmer.

He and other local beekeepers are increasingly worried about the decline in bees. They’ve written to local Premier of Ontario, Kathryn Wynn to encourage her to terminate the further use of neonicotinoids. These pesticides are currently banned in Europe, but not in Canada. Over eighty percent of Canadian crops, which makes up to 1/3 our food supply is affected by this decline in the bee population. Some bee keepers are reporting loses of 90 to 100 percent of their bee populations. Ontario beekeepers have had to bring in Australian queen bees to support their hives. Their seasons are opposite to ours, so they are already beginning to produce eggs when they arrive.

Most Canadian bees are from European bees, gentle in nature. Recently, they are trying to introduce a heartier bee that is mite resistant. The Varroa mite infestation, next to neonicotinoid’s is the leading cause of the decline in the bee population.

“A queen bee will usually last one to two seasons, if you are lucky maybe longer,” Said Kaemmer “When I get a new queen, I transfer some worker bees to a new hive and have them work together. It’s a delicate process, but it works.”

Commercial beekeepers look to plant farms that assist bees with pollinating, such as fields of buckwheat to support their bees. “I would stand up for any local bee keeper,” said Tom Kaemmer. “They are producing quality honey.”

The average person can also help support the bee population by planting clovers, bergamot, mint, lilacs and even leaving dandelions and other weeds to sprout.

“I farm on my property and for the past five to six years also on the Groeneweagan farm at Limestone Creamery,” said Kaemmer. “There are benefits to both of us. The bees assist with crop development and the diversity of their pastures supports the bees. Frances Groeneweagn, owner of the Limestone Creamery will allow his second cut of stock to flower which benefits the bees immensely.”

Kathie and Frances Groeneweagn’s and their children, Olivia and Patrick opened the Limestone Creamery in 2012. Their farm is pesticide and herbicide free and their animals are given no antibiotics or GMO’s. The honey farmed here is like liquid gold.

Corn and soybean fields claim the use of pesticide is essential in the first months of seeding and can even be responsible for higher yields. In Canada, corn is a subsidized crop producing loads of dollars for those farmers and company’s producing them. Corn can also be used for fuel such as ethanol. The assumption is that it comes down to dollars and cents when determining what to do about eliminating these pesticides.

“I hate to predict the future of the bees,” said Tom. “It’s like someone cutting a hole in the side of your body and it never gets to heal.” We can only hope that there is a change soon and in time for the bees.

Toba Apiary is raw unpasteurized liquid honey and is available to purchase from Tara Natural Foods, downtown Kingston at 81 Princess Street and the Limestone Creamery at 3127 Sydenham Road.

If you have a foodie biz or local restaurant suggestion email me at ladydinesalot@gmail.com or follow me on Facebook or my blog at LadyDinesalot.com.

Taste of Italy on the banks of Gananoque

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The word is out, grappa your coat and head to Riva Restaurant for great Italian food. Located at 45 King Street, Gananoque, the newly renovated landmark is a wonderful addition to this charming town.

The site was the previous home to the Golden Apple. For decades it remained a staple, filled with loads of memories of lunches in the garden for many locals and visitors. The old institution sold in 2012 and after intensive restoration, re-opened in September 2013, and is a ghost of its former self.

A few readers have encouraged me to visit, so last Friday night, a few of my favorite foodie friends and I ventured in for a dinner.

The little town of Gananoque is a place I frequent in the summer, to visit the Playhouse or drop into my favorite coffee stop, The Socialist Pig. I was surprised how inviting it could be in the winter too. Even on a wintery night, the warm glow of houses and restaurants lured you in, as we drove around the rivers edge to the Riva.

From the outside, I worried that it may be too formal, given one of my guests was a teenage boy. (Although, Ben is very informed about food and a self-professed food snob in his own right.) All the concern was gone, as we entered the space and was greeted by the matri’d. She was by far the most charming person I have ever met. She definitely set the tone, instantly relaxed the place, almost like you were being welcomed home. Many restaurants get this wrong, but know where is it more important, than in a busy establishment.

Our reserved table wasn’t quite ready, so we were led to one in the bar, next to a stone fireplace, stretching up the wall. There are in fact, two fireplaces that offset the spaces, as large and grand as each other. It’s open spaces, loads of natural light with white washed walls and exposed brick may it great night and day. Too often in older establishments you get dark and cozy, not light and modern. This was a nice compliment of old and new. No detail was spared – from the light fixtures, old photographs of the house, the angled roof and nautical flair throughout.

The bar area is more relaxed but still a treat. We began with cocktails of spicy orange brandy and cosmopolitans; then moved inside to the dining room for dinner.

It is separated into two dinning areas, with another large, equally as grand fireplace feature. I can’t say enough about the design of the space. This is a great place for any personal engagement, any time of the day.

Everything from the menu is made on site; except the gelato. We started with Caesar salad, a bowl of olives along with risotto balls filled with cheese. The neighboring table was having the roasted tomato and mozzarella caprese salad, which admittedly I had to hold myself back, before I reached over for a taste. The menu has loads of choice from woodfire pizza, pasta, chicken, pork and beef mains. I had the farfalle alla arrabiata, which is a spicy pomodoro tomato sauce, paired with a shiraz. (I know…I can hear the wine snobs yelling at me.) I was craving a shiraz, so I had the shiraz. Although, it was a poor choice by me. I love a tomato sauce with fresh torn basil leaves and nothing surpasses it with a kick of spice. I like things hot. However, I was disappointed as I found the spice over took the freshness of the pasta and basil. In hindsight, it was my poor judgment of a spicy cocktail, followed by spicy pasta and a spicy shiraz that was the fail. Next time, I will order a white or a lighter red. The fierce cravings prevailed over rationale good sense at the time. However, my friends enjoyed the woodfire pizza and the pollo al carfiofo, a stuffed chicken breast with artichoke hearts, spinach, roasted garlic, parmigiano sauce and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. The portions are small and boutique, so much so we couldn’t have a salad instead of vegetables with the chicken, but once it arrived it made perfect sense. We decided some may quibble about the portions, but we prefer quality to quantity.

On a chilly day or during the hot summer sun, Riva is bliss. We were the last to leave that night, given I could of stayed all night by the fire.

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A delightful spot, even if the fire alarm went off. The staff and maître d were swift in ensuring all was fine and dinner did not miss a beat. I am already planning my next visit back. You’ll be seeing more of me on the banks of Gan!

If you have a restaurant or foodie biz for me to try, email me at ladydinesalot@gmail.com or follow my blog at LadydinesAlot.com.

Seeding a Summer Garden

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Are you dreaming of a summer vegetable garden? In the past, I’ve had mixed success with gardening, but this year I’ve committed to getting it right!

Gardening provides people with fresh, nutritious fruits, herbs and vegetables. Growing your own garden can be a very rewarding experience. Gardens provide those on low incomes with the opportunity to grow organic food, which is often expensive in retail stores. A garden allows those concerned about the environmental impacts of food, to have control over the food they eat.

My vision is of neat rows of vegetables, with a bountiful harvest, filling baskets with fresh food. I’ve devised some useful tips to help me with my planting goals this year. I am sharing them in an effort to help you do the same.

1. Plan ahead.
Most keen gardeners begin careful planning in January, plotting out what seeds to buy, indoor preparation of plants, and purchasing soil and materials to get started. Make a list of vegetables you purchase from the grocery store to determine what you’d like to plant. Don’t forget to consider how much time it will take to maintain your garden. If you have a small space or an apartment you could consider a container garden located just outside the door or even inside by a window. For me, I have loads of space, but little time to maintain a large garden. My plans are to build a raised garden, which I will manage better.

2. Think small.
One of my past mistakes was over planting in a large space. In order to enjoy a garden, you must be able to maintain and control it. Don’t be too ambitious.

3. Choose plants that require little effort but are big producers.
Determine what kind of soil you need and how fast things grow. For example, zucchini grow like wildfire; one hill is probably enough for a small family.

4. Share with others.
Whether it’s seeds, equipment or your harvest. It’s cost effective and rewarding to support each other. In fact, why not grow an extra row and donate the food to Loving Spoonful. Each year this Kingston based charity organizes a “Grow A Row” campaign where you can drop off your surplus fresh healthy food at key sites around the city. For more information visit: lovingsoonful.org

5. Ask for advice.
It’s important to research and glean as much information as you can about gardening in your community. Ask farmers or friends and relatives to share their experiences on what works and how to prepare.

6. Choose a good site.
Build your garden in sunshine and in good soil. Ensure ease of access to taps or rain barrels to keep garden watered. You can change the soil quality by adding nutrients and top layers to benefit the effectiveness of your growing crop. Some plants grow better when they are next to each other. Companion planting is also a good way to keep your plants healthy and even keep insects away.
No room for a garden? Get involved in a local community garden. Community gardens play an important role in helping people to eat well. They are generally maintained by its members and still offer a great way to access fresh food. For more information visit lovingspoonful.org to explore the network of community gardens in your area.
This year is going to be different. I am excited about the growing season, however short it may be.

If you have a foodie biz or a local restaurant for me to visit please email me at ladydinesalot@gmail.com or follow me on Facebook or my blog Ladydinesalot.com.