Well, first things first, I grossly overestimated the Internet service available as Sequoia National Park. Normally, I can get some variety of service somewhere in the parks, and can quick upload the post. Nope. No bars. There goes NaBloPoMo! I am taking solace in the knowledge that the post was written everyday.
Today, I left the olive farm in Coarsegold and am headed to a cattle ranch in Arizona. Some of you might remember my obsession with cows. I am hoping to get some questions answered.
Before I went to commune with General Sherman and his associates in Sequoia National Park, I got the opportunity to see the operation of a commercial beekeeper located in the valley.
Beekeeping in Minnesota is as different from beekeeping in California as commercial beekeeping is from hobby beekeeping. Fortunately though, beekeepers are the same the whole country over. That is to say, energetic elderly men who have “retired”, and can tell you about the good old days before the mites destroyed everything.
The beekeeper, the former president of the California Beekeeper’s Association,
was warm and welcoming and prefaced everything he showed me with “Oh, here’s kind of a cool thing….” And you know what? It’s always a cool thing.
He keeps roughly 500 hives, down from the 1,000 he kept before he retired. He talked briefly about the seasons and the bloom schedules, and his pollination contracts with almond growers, how many queens he needed to replace this season, the new jars he started using, and the honey varieties he sells the most of.
This is how I know I should be a beekeeper, because that was some of the most fascinating conversation I had in weeks. We chatted about breeders, and how far away the industry is to introducing stable Russian queens. He showed me his extraction set up that had me green with envy. He has a heating element in the large pump and piping that connects with radial, electric extractors to his holding tanks. Which means, unlike my system, he doesn’t need to work in a 90 degree room all day. He even has another “kind of cool” machine that separates wax from honey!
I want it.
In addition to these specialty machines, he uses old Pepsi bottles for his gravity feeders. Talk about reclaiming your waste resources.
The beekeeper and his wife insisted I stay for lunch. While the Beekeeper’s wife, Jane, prepped sandwiches and mint tea, he took out county maps and showed me where his bees go into the high mountains and the almond orchards. He also told me where I could find some good roadside fruit stands.
After lunch, they told me firmly not to leave, they had fruit to give me. He took me around his yard and handed me bags and bags of fruit. He gave me a Fuyu persimmon. I had never had a persimmon before yesterday. It’s almost like a pumpkin and a pear had a baby. They are sweet, but on the edge of savory, and you can eat them like an apple. They have other varieties, but they are used for baking and cooking.
Next, he grabbed a small box of pomegranates. He had to show me how to eat it, which he did without making me feel like a dork. He warned me about bit staining my clothes.
Thinking that was it, I thanked him again, but he told me to wait. He brought me to his tangerine tree and plucked bunches for me. Each type of tree we visited, he cut the fruit open for me and handed it to me to eat while he picked.
He then walked me to my car, listing all the different directions I could go to get back to the freeway, with how many stop signs there were. But wait! Before I go, how about some guavas?
Guavas are little green fruit that you gather up off the ground instead of pick. Again, he cut one for me, while he picked them up. He warned me not to eat the rind. It tastes almost like a melon, except not awful.
While I had a great time learning about his bees, bless this couple’s hearts for giving me a fruit fundamentals lesson. I am not sure why I was surprised to learn that pomegranate bread is a thing, but it makes more sense than friggin’ zucchini
I realize now how truly fruit impoverished I am. I vaguely knew it before, but it really got driven home today. Sure, eating grapes in Washington right off the vine was new to me, but grapes do grow in Minnesota. Not to say Minnesota has bad fruit. With the U of MN ag department, we do our best. So, kudos for Honeycrisp apples and everything, but damn! Is anyone working on hearty guavas? Let’s make that priority one.