Farming, Foodshed

The Elegance of the Honey Bee

Michael Thiele removing the bottom of a Sun Hive.


Around this time of year, a healthy honey bee hive prepares to swarm. Most urbanites might be alarmed by the sight of 10,000 bees clinging together like a living beard hanging from a tree limb, but our ancestors would have been cheered. After all, a swarming hive is one that is reproducing.


Artisan Producers, Modern Grange

Biodynamic Education Series at SHED

The methods that came from the factory floor to the farm in the late 1800s coupled with technology developed to serve WWI had made a startling dent in the fields by 1924. That was the year that Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf school system, addressed a group of farmers in a town now found in Poland about methods and practices to redress what then was organic farming and was then beginning to fail.

Today, we call it Biodynamic farming and it is in huge increase around the globe. Grape growers have particularly embraced it as a way to combat the monoculture that large grape production can cause. Europeans have embraced it because Biodynamic farming practices serve the soil and every inhabitant upon that soil, from the insects to the bees to the plants to the people. And slowly, Americans are beginning to understand that foods and wines produced in the Biodynamic method are healthier not only for people, but for the very land itself.

Here in the U.S., Biodynamic farming and food production is overseen by Demeter USA, the national certification organization that precedes the USDA Organic Certified seal by some 17 years. We are proud to support Biodynamic education and to help spread the word about this rapidly increasing practice.

To that end, we host a series of educational workshops on Biodynamic farming and products the first Sunday of each month, Oct. 5, 2014, through March 1, 2015. Presentations are at 10am unless otherwise noted.

We hope that you'll join us for some or all of this series. Here's a sneak peek at what you can expect:

Oct. 5: Elizabeth Candelario, co-director, Demeter USA. Wonder what all the Biodynamic buzz is about? Our series kicks off with a discussion about the origins of organic and Biodynamic agriculture and an exploration of the trends in Biodynamic food and fiber.

Nov. 2: Cynthia Sandberg of Love Apple Farm. The practice of Biodynamic farming means adhering to organic, holistic, and cosmic tenets. Learn the differences between organic and Biodynamic growing and how to integrate its principles into your garden from Cynthia, who has partnered with renowned chef David Kinch and his Manresa restaurant in order to remain sustainable.

Dec. 7: Colum Riley of Malibu Compost. Explore how healthy soil functions and how composting and Biodynamic preparations can bring unhealthy soil back to life. Learn methods, materials, and uses for your own home garden or farm. 

Jan. 4: Michael Thiele of Gaia Bees. Biodynamic apiculture treats the honeybee nest as "One Bee-ing" in its formation and life gestures. This class will explore current issues to the health of bees, and asks what they and we need to survive together. Michael is truly a miracle man who understands what our bees need to survive. And if they don't survive — neither do we.

Feb. 1: Harald Hoven of the Rudolf Steiner College. Learn how to use the astronomical calendar to guide your decision making about planting, cultivating, and harvesting your crops. 

March 5: The wine industry was an early American adopter of Biodynamic farming. As a grand finale to our class series, and with a glass of wine in hand, we will hear from grape growers and winemakers who are pushing the envelope on ecological farming and product quality. Note: This is a 5pm event.

Farming, HomeFarm

Bees: The Mammal with a Thousand Bodies

SHED co-founder Doug Lipton with a hive ready to swarm on HomeFarm; photo by Caitlin McCaffrey


You can hear them in the video before your eyes have a chance to understand what you're seeing. The hum is loud and unwavering, not melodic, but not unpleasant. It sounds warm.

And in fact, it is warm. Not the sound, but the mass of honeybees that the man is holding in his hands. Working with the bees just as they are about to swarm, he gently cups hundreds of them and, just as gently, shakes them from his hands, like sloughing delicate grains of sand onto the log he's suggesting they occupy. The phone recording this movement wobbles. "Oh. WOW," a woman says.

For holistic beekeeper Michael Thiele, moving a swarm of honeybees without smoke or fuss — with his bare hands — is not only a natural thing to do, it's the kind thing to do. The bees are ready for a new home, a reincarnation if you will, and he is merely their midwife.

Also called a "radical" beekeeper, Thiele owns Gaiabees and co-founded the Melissa Garden pollinator sanctuary in Healdsburg. He presents two workshops at HomeFarm Saturday-Sunday, April 26-27. Saturday is "Biodynamic Apiculture for Beginners"; Sunday, "Zen and the Art of Living with Bees."


Farming, Modern Grange


"One-third of our food wouldn't exist without bees. But the bees are in trouble. A few years ago, they started dying. And not just our bees. They're dying all over the world."

So intones narrator John Hurt in Markus Imhoof's 2013 documentary, More Than Honey. Universally acclaimed (achieving a rare 100 percent approval score on the rancorous film review site Rotten Tomatoes), More Than Honey takes an objective look at the international state of the honeybee.

We're proud to screen this new film in our upstairs Grange on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 7pm.