A tent of bird netting protects haskap berries from being consumed while still allowing bees to pollinate. (Contributed)

A tent of bird netting protects haskap berries from being consumed while still allowing bees to pollinate. (Contributed)

Vernon berry farm keeps bees buzzing

Organic haskap berries bloom thanks to busy little bumbles

Imagine standing in a field that is buzzing with the activity of bees.

“Yes, you can actually hear the buzzing all around you,” said Amber Stamm’ler, of what happens every April at Indigo Valley Farm.

The BX farm is a three-acre certified organic haskap berry farm in Vernon.

Haskaps are one of the earliest fruits to ripen in the Okanagan which means they are also one of the first to bloom. And rather than bring in honeybees, as many other fruit growers do, this farm is completely pollinated by wild bees.

“When you look closely at the blossoms, you will see many species of native bee species,” said Stamm’ler, who owns the Day Road farm with Kris Broadhead. “The Okanagan has over 350 of the 450 species of bees in B.C. In fact, there are more types of bees here than anywhere else in the country.”

And because April can still be cold and rainy, many of the bees that are working hard at Indigo Valley Farm, are in fact bumblebees. Bumblebees, unlike many other bee species, have internal thermoregulation that allows them to forage in cold temperatures.

“These determined fuzzballs are active even in the rain,” said Stamm’ler, who is a registered holistic nutritionist and a certified BioIndividual nutritional practitioner. “Haskap flowers can survive temperatures as cold as -7 C. Thus, a match made in heaven.”

Haskap leaf buds begin to open as soon as the snow melts. But before the leaves have fully emerged, the flowers begin to bloom. And as long as there are two compatible varieties of haskap bushes, cross-pollination can occur. Berries will begin to form soon after the little obscure creamy yellow flowers have dropped.

But the story does not end there. While the orchard is still buzzing with bee activity, at Indigo Valley Farm, the netting starts to go up. Covering three acres in a tent of bird netting is not an easy task for a family-run farm. So, this activity starts early and continues throughout the entire month of May.

Little by little, the panels are stretched over a wire grid system that spreads across the entire orchard on 10-foot-high posts. And just in time, because come early June, the berries, although not fully ripe, attract an equally determined creature of a different sort, the North American cedar waxwing.

“No one would think all this netting activity would deter the wonderful bees from dropping by. But rest assured, these insects fly under, over, through and around any obstacle in their way to pollinate the bushes and make the berries possible,” Stamm’ler said.

To repay them, Indigo Valley grows a crop free of chemicals of course.

“Because the use of pesticides is one of the main threats to our bee population and therefore our food system. In fact, one-third of what we eat is the direct result of bee pollination. And by supporting organic growers such as Indigo Valley Farm or growing your own chemical-free bee garden, you can also help to ensure our bee population will survive.”

Indigo Valley Farm’s haskap berries are available at Nature’s Fare throughout the Okanagan, the Vernon Farmer’s Market and directly from the farm.

READ MORE: Local farm ready to share new superfruit with Vernon

READ MORE: Okanagan camp to run this summer


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