We had a long, cold and wet winter in southern Missouri this year. Seemed like the cold weather would never break. April was the second coldest on record in Missouri. May, on the other hand, turned out to be the warmest May on record. It was also very wet, presenting all kinds of challenges to Devon and his farming team. As the Missouri Climate Center describes it on their website, “Missouri experienced a spring where April behaved more like March and May was typical of June. The last time a flip in extreme temperature anomalies for consecutive months occurred in Missouri was December 1989.” The running joke around our office in Purdy -or lament, depending on how you feel that day- is that we had one week of spring this year. The elderberries seemed to tolerate the temperature extremes without much difficulty and the 5 plus inches of rain we received in May probably helped a lot. This year has been a great year for elderflowers, and if our luck holds, will also be a great year for elderberries. The elderberry field that is just a few blocks from our office in Purdy was in full flower during the second week of June, when these pictures were taken, and even the heat couldn’t take away of the joy of being surrounded by such beauty.
Andrew, our accountant, is an avid bee keeper and volunteered to place a couple of his hives on the edge of the elderberry orchard, adjacent to a large field of clover. Andrew has been tending bees for about 8 years now and keeps two other hives at his home in Joplin, Missouri. About once a week Andrew checks his hives to make sure that the bees are active, bringing pollen into the hive and keeping the hive tidy, all signs of a healthy bee population. During his weekly inspection he also looks for any pests and checks to make sure that the queen is doing well, often evidenced by the presence of eggs and larvae. The two hives that Andrew has situated in one of our elderberry fields contain more than 50,000 healthy bees, and they don’t seem to mind Andrew’s weekly tending in the least. On the day we were visiting the field with Andrew we noted many native bees, flies and other insects flying from one elderflower head to the next. We didn’t see any honey bees on the elderflowers, but elderflower pollen was thick in the air. Honey flavor and color is directly impacted by the pollen the bees bring back to the hive, and Andrew figures that even if the bees don’t gather the pollen directly from the elderflowers, they are likely to collect the elderflower pollen that drifts onto the clover and other flowers in the elderberry field. Andrew is looking forward to sampling the honey from these two hives and comparing it to the honey produced by the hives he keeps in town. There is a very good chance that the honey produced by the bees living among the elderberries will have a flavor and color influenced by elderflower pollen. If all goes well, Andrew hopes to harvest as much as 35 pounds of honey off each hive in August sometime. We can’t wait to try it!