Fynbos ‘overrated as bee forage’

At last week’s debate on Lower Tokai, a woman from the floor spoke passionately about the importance of fynbos to the bees. This was news to me. Our five hives at Langebaan have a vast fynbos “pantry” next door in the West Coast National Park, but struggle to produce one small spring honey crop each year. If we are lucky.

So I asked my beekeeping relative Brendan Ashley Cooper, who has 1 200 hives, for his views. He felt that fynbos was “overrated as bee forage” as it was not dependable either as a nectar or pollen producer.

“A few types are beneficial but lots of fynbos is pollinated by other flower-specific insects and birds. There is a little flower in the Rondevlei area which is specific to a long tongued fly but is inaccessible to bees because they don’t have long tongues.

“Diverse forage for bees is a huge issue but to me fynbos is not the answer. It is unreliable year to year and the shorter, colder days affect foraging time. This makes a regular honey crop from fynbos out of the control of commercial beekeeping which in South Africa was based on the abundance of gums. Unfortunately, their mass removal by alien clearing teams along rivers and water sensitive areas, plus the firewood cutters, has impacted hugely on hon-
ey production in the Western Cape.

“Twenty years ago we were annually producing 3 000 tons of honey. Now, even with more hives, we are down to 1 500 tons due to the cutting of gums, pests and diseases.”

As SANParks does not permit managed bee-keeping in any of their areas, Brendan has 15 hives next to the fynbos in Lower Tokai. They have produced less honey since the pines have been replaced by fynbos.

“The value of bees is not just in honey, but their contribution towards food production in pollinating fruit, veggies and seed. The shape and quality of fruit is affected by pollination. There are 10 seeds in an apple and if only six are pollinated the fruit does not form properly, resulting in no demand on the international market.

“Bees help farmers to export quality fruit, contributing towards the employment of 60 000 farmworkers and an annual R12 billion to R16 billion to the economy of the Western Cape.”

Cookbook crush

My Brighter Half returned from the Tokai library last week with a surprise. He’d spotted among the second-hand books for sale, one by my all-time favourite food writer Robert Carrier, for the princely sum of R5.

I used to boast that I went to bed each night with this famous TV chef. It was true. I had a set of his books The Robert Carrier Cook Book and Great Dishes of the World on my bedside table and reading the background stories around the rich and often involved recipes would send me to sleep with a smile on my face.

My favourite chapter was “I remember Christmas”. I could just picture him as a small plump boy squirming through the pain of the loving welcome when he was taken with his parents to see Tante Gustel, his mother’s German aunt who ran a pig farm outside New York. Her bristling moustache and multitude of scratchy diamond brooches and pendants on her ample bosom caused him agony. But the reward was the little glass of Schnaps he was allowed to sip in front of the Christmas tree, alive with tiny candles and little baskets of home-made cookies and sugared fruits.

My new acquisition Carrier’s Kitchen (published in 1995) is without the charming reminiscences. He concentrates on leading his readers through all the classic cooking techniques and skills of the kitchen rather than drawing on his colourful life’s experiences. I’m looking forward to having
a go at his casserole of duck with red wine which seems a lot simpler than Canard Braise a l’Orange in The Robert Carrier Cookbook.

We once carefully followed his detailed instructions and the result was stunning but by the time we had finished making this sauce and that one, we had used almost all our kitchen and pans, and a pile of dishes awaited us in the sink.

Rock bottom

These days my favourite cookery writer is Ina Paarman and at least once a month I haul out one of her earliest cookery books to make a big batch of health rusks. As the recipe calls for numerous ingredients I always check her list to be sure everything is in.
Last week I made the mistake of going for a quick dog walk half way through the procedure. I’d put the 1kg of self-raising flour, salt, bran, oats, sugar, sunflower seeds, raisins and melted butter into two bowls and on return had added the finishing touch of the beaten eggs and buttermilk be-
fore popping the trays into the oven.

I always turn the trays around half way through the baking. That was when I noticed the unopened tin of baking powder and the measuring spoon beside it….

I made a wonderfully tasty batch of rocks!

Flowers in bloom

We are now into August which means the West Coast National Park is open to flower tourists.

The rains have been much better than last year so there are some lovely patches of orange and white daisies in and around Langebaan. There are lots more flowers to come but don’t wait too long. Long-forgotten weed seeds have come to life and promise to put on a spectacular show!

Good dog

Sign spotted outside a veterinarian’s waiting room: “Be back in five minutes. Sit! Stay!”

fionachisholm@iafrica.com