044 – Amanda Welch, Grubby Girl

We love bees!

Bee Work. Welcome to Episode 44 where we meet Bee Charmer and Farmer Amanda Welch of Grubby Girl. Amanda has been a fixture at the Charlottesville City Market for years, selling her all-natural soaps, bath products, and granola, all produced with honey harvested at Meeting House Farm. I’ve loved her Farmer Person soap for a while. So nice and gentle with a honeysuckle scent that wafts about you without the threat of the plant taking over your entire garden. I could use her Cucumber Mint right now with this heat! So it was a thrill to finally sit down and talk about the triumphs and challenges of running an apiary.

I first met Amanda when I took her bee class at the Jefferson School where I learned there’s more to running an apiary than meets the eye. It is not a lovely, pastoral Martha Stewart project. This is real farming. To be successful you’ve got to have some knowledge of working with livestock, picking up on non-verbal cues to prevent the variety of diseases and issues facing our bee population. It’s a lot of work and definitely not a weekend hobby. With our overabundance of pesticides it’s a real challenge to keep their immune systems strong and the hive healthy and pest free.

Bees are facing extinction. That’s a fact. So in my mind Amanda is doing the most important work possible. Without pollinators we have no trees. No crops. No environment. They are delicate creatures and the overuse of pesticides threatens their very existence. But bees weren’t always so fragile. Our dependence on pesticides and herbicides like Roundup have made them sick and their very existence has become precarious. Colony collapse is a real thing. We discuss this as well as the very real divide between conventional and organic agriculture. Why pesticides are a death knell for bees. When they collect pollen and nectar from plants treated with pesticides they get a non-lethal dose which they end up taking back to the hive. It builds up in the hive, the wax, and the population. Which means we are getting that in our own bodies.

Bees have immune systems just like humans. Items like lemon balm tea and spearmint oil boost the health of bees the way probiotics do. They also prevent pests. Can’t afford to keep a hive? No worries, go plant some lavender, tansy, echinacea, and mint. Even if you can’t have a hive, you can help the health of our bees and make sure they stick around a good long while. What’s the best way to make sure the honey you’re getting is free of pesticides? We discuss that in this episode.

Bees have seasons just like apples, corn, and tomatoes. They hibernate in winter since they physically cannot move if the temperature falls below 40 degrees. So it’s very important the person keeping the hive makes sure they have enough food to last. Then in early Spring, bees collect nectar and the Queen starts to produce more young bees call the Brood. A brand new hive requires the bees to build wax to store the honey which is eight times more effort than just producing honey. This also happens in Springtime. Once established, bees collect in earnest and start producing honey from about mid-late April to mid-July. One year Amanda collected 400 pounds of honey from 18 hives. Wow! Honey is a natural anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and sealant. Capped honey never expires and doesn’t need refrigeration. So enjoy that honey sitting in the back of your cabinet. If it’s raw and all-natural, it’s probably just fine.

What work is being done to breed a stronger type of bee able to handle our modern pesticide-full environment? What are some common misconceptions? Are there health benefits to royal jelly? Do bees have personalities? Why is the Queen the most important member of the hive? What’s the difference between Workers and Drones? What does it mean when a hive swarms? Is it possible to have a honey that tastes of just one flavor? Like lavender? Listen to find out!

Did you know Amanda’s family wrote a memoir? Tragically she lost both her parents at a young age which of course affected the entire family. You can find the book, The Kids Are All Right at Amazon. And no, it’s not the movie with Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo.

Like other local small businesses, Amanda got some help from the Community Investment Collaborative (CIC). She has also trademarked the Grubby Girl name. We talk about it. Valuable information for anyone out there in the same boat. Like me.

We also talk extensively about concerns revolving around the current incarnation of the Charlottesville City Market. What’s good? What needs fixing? What needs to happen? Is having numerous farmer’s markets around the city at different times the answer? This is a terrifically ambient episode recorded in the Spring. You’ll hear birds, bees, and her lovely Newfoundlands. Need a lift? Join the conversation and give a listen. You can find Amanda’s products on her website, at the Saturday Charlottesville City Market, the UVA Hospital Farmer’s Market on Thursdays, and The Virginia Shop. Go grab you some!

This episode is sponsored by In A Flash Laser Engraving.

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