Let’s face it … bees get a bad rap. They aren’t welcome at picnics, disrupt a pool day, fall in the “pesky” pest category and can deliver a rather unpleasant sting.
There’s been plenty of buzz about bees in the news lately—about their decline and what that means for our ecosystem. If you ever wondered what our world would be like without bees, here’s the bottom line: It would be bad. Very, very bad.
The evolution of “foodie” culture and focus on healthy products, including organic and pesticide-free foods, have opened a mainstream conversation beyond the quality of food products we shop for and feed our families. How pesticides, farming practices (such as mono crops) and the GMOs impact the birds and the bees and our overall food security is becoming a frequent part of the current dialogue.
Plain and simple: Bees are essential in commercial agriculture. About one-third of all edible food crops in the U.S. are dependent on commercial and wild bee pollination.
While pesticides have been shown to be harmful to birds, both through chemically coated seeds and pesticide runoff that affects the habitats of food sources, honeybees also field negative impacts as seen in Colony Collapse Disorder. The most notable impacts are to commercial bee colonies. From 2006 to 2015 there have been colony loss rates greater than the “acceptable level” … 15% to 18%.
So what does this mean? Are the neonicotinoid family of pesticides—used in modern agriculture on wheat, corn, soy, apples, citrus, berries, tomatoes, cotton crops (to name a few)—responsible for bee die-off? Or are other factors—such as parasites (specifically the Varroa destructor or Nosema mites), habitat destruction, shrinking pollen-rich environments, drought, bacteria, commercial bee management and mono crops—to blame? Would ecological farming revitalize the United States’ 2 million bee colonies by preserving biodiversity?
The questions and answers are complex, and no simple solution is evident at this time. It will likely take time for lawmakers and industry professionals to sort out the complexities and write legislation that will protect vital food sources dependent on commercial and wild bee pollination.
As the conversation about food quality and security grows louder, culinary and hospitality pioneers—like those at Terranea Resort—have taken huge leaps in ecological sustainability. In fact, beekeeping is just one aspect of the resort’s sea-to-land and farm-to-table culinary focus.
Gifted four standard commercial wood hives, Terranea introduced them with active honeybee colonies to provide honey to the resort. VP of Culinary Experiences and Executive Chef Bernard Ibarra along with a professional beekeeper are primarily responsible for maintaining healthy hives. The Terranea honeybees, or “employ-bees” as they are affectionately called, pollinate the 4,000-square-foot Catalina View Garden, located just south of the resort in Rancho Palos Verdes.
An average bee travels 55,000 miles of flight for one pound of honey, and it takes around 30,000 bees to pollinate an acre of fruit trees. Approximately 10,000 worker bees produce one pound of honey. In its short, six-week life span, a single honeybee will produce 1/12 teaspoon of honey.
The amount of honey the Terranea hives produce varies per year; however, a typical healthy colony might yield 25 to 250 pounds per year depending on the type of honeybees. The Terranea colonies are made of mostly Italian honeybees, which are known for their prolific honey-making.
According to Chef Ibarra, the cost of the honey would be “priceless.” They use the harvest at the resort for cooking and have included honey workshops in their culinary immersion programs. Depending on the season, Terranea’s honeybee population produces a light to slightly dark, delicious honey included in pastries, dressings and various dishes at the resort.
The summer months are the busiest time for the honeybees. They are fortifying the hive with honey for the winter months when fewer flowers bloom. Chef Ibarra lays out this simple rule: More flowers equals more productive bees.
For those interested in setting up a backyard hive and thriving bee colony, Chef Ibarra suggests taking a course on beekeeping, finding a beekeeper mentor and registering with the county beforehand. He also suggests online beekeeping communities and reading up on the topic.
Maintaining a healthy bee colony is much more than just setting up a hive. Bees need to live in an environment free of pesticides and herbicides. They need a diverse food source that is within a one- to two-mile radius and need to be protected from predators. Plan on weekly inspections (you will need to suit up to avoid being stung) and staying connected to a community of beekeepers for support and challenges with the colony.
Terranea’s Catalina View Garden is a perfect location for the four hives. Nestled between numerous avocado, citrus and fruit trees, the bees help pollinate the garden and roam free throughout the Peninsula with access to native flora and fauna. It is a special symbiotic relationship that Chef Ibarra and his culinary team value and respect.
After all the bees’ hard work, it’s time to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Here’s a recipe from Chef Ibarra to enjoy with fresh, locally produced honey.
Honey and Meyer Lemon Piquillo/Espelette Chicken Skewers
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 ounces quality local honey
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest
fresh Meyer lemon juice
4 chopped garlic cloves
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, skin on, smashed and chopped
2 tablespoons pureed piquillo pepper
2 tablespoons powdered Espelette chili
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 1/2 pounds chicken tails
1 red bell pepper, cut in 18 small squares
1 green bell pepper, cut in 18 small squares
1 small Spanish onion, cut in 18 small squares
5 green onions, white and light green parts only, cut in 18 one-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
6 Meyer lemon wedges, for garnish
6 cilantro/parsley sprigs
In a blender bowl, combine soy sauce, honey, lemon zest and juice, garlic, ginger, piquillo, Espelette and salt; process until completely smooth. Set half of the marinade/sauce in a small covered container and refrigerate.
In a large frying pan over medium heat, cook the chicken tails for about 10 minutes, covered, making sure to turn them. Set aside, single layer, uncovered in a refrigerator until cold.
Assemble skewers alternating chicken tails and vegetables. Mix with remaining half of the sauce and place in a plastic zipper bag in refrigerator for about 8 hours. Wrap ends of the skewers with foil before grilling.
Preheat grill/plancha/griddle to medium-high heat. Cook skewers, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. While cooking skewers, heat remaining marinade in a small pot over medium heat.
Place skewers on platter. Drizzle heated marinade over meat, sprinkle with parsley and cilantro, and garnish with lemon wedges and parsley/cilantro sprig.
Chef’s Note: Find chicken tails at an Asian market or a local butcher. You can also substitute boneless chicken thighs cut into smaller pieces. Piquillo peppers can be found at La Española in Harbor City. Espelette powder can be found online at Penzey’s Spices (penzeys.com) or Spice Station in Silverlake (spicestationsilverlake.com). And for a warm summer night, try the Bee’s Knees cocktail, a favorite during the Prohibition era.
2 ounces Barr Hill gin
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¾ ounce honey simple syrup (1:1)
Add all ingredients except garnish to shaker. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Written by Kara Mickelson