By Helen Brody (March 2, 2009)
There are indeed chickens strutting about Cutting Farm on Sanborn Hill Road, and no shortage of vegetables growing in neatly tended rows, and beef cattle graze placidly in its pastures, much like countless other New Hampshire farms. But what gives Cutting Farm its defining signature are the honey bees and their delicious harvest gathered lovingly by Keith and Susan Cutting.
Spending time listening to this couple tell of the wonders of the honey bee is fascinating, all right, but beware. The tale they weave is compelling, so much so you may catch the passion and the urge to become a beekeeper yourself. More, once you grasp the partnerships in a hive, chances are not remote you’ll actually gain considerable insight into the complexities of human community living.
“I have a lot of respect for Susan’s father, Kneiland,” Keith begins “and my interest in beekeeping all began with him.” He was the Superintendent of Corbin Park in Croydon and in the 1980s after he retired, we used to hay Bill Ruger’s property together. It was “enjoyable as all heck but backbreaking work, and periodically we would stop for a few moments to talk about his hives.” Keith became fascinated with the creatures and in the early 1990s he and Susan decided to purchase their first hives. Because of his youth and keen interest, the existing beekeepers in the state paid him special attention.
In 1993 Keith and Susan bought their 44 acres in West Springfield. It was all forested so “we started in cutting trees, and pulling stumps. “Susan was in charge of brush fires, some of them larger than I would have liked, but she kept them under control.” Memories of an orchard on his father’s dairy farm inspired the planting of a small orchard and a vegetable garden pretty much just for the family.
In 1996, the Cuttings decided to turn their spread from a “hobby farm to a farm for profit.” Susan put together a business plan, and Co-operative Extension – an element “that was very, very valuable in building our farm and that of the farming community as well. Unfortunately its existence is being threatened,” he commented.
Right from the start, beekeeping was incorporated into their business plan. Keith noted that there are two types of beekeepers: the pollinators who need to build the hive up quickly with sugar and pollen to meet their first contract in the spring for pollination; and there is the beekeeper with honey on his mind, and who feeds the bees at a more leisurely pace to allow the hives to build up more slowly and fill with honey. Considering that Keith works full time at Dartmouth College, constantly moving hives, as a pollinator must, would not work for him.
A beekeeper chooses a breed of bee based on what the production goals are. The key to being a good beekeeper is having the queen, with her foreign pheromone or scent, accepted by the worker bees. The farmer passes the queen into the hive in a protective cage less she be killed as a foreign intruder. In three or four days, the pheromones of worker bees blend with those of the queen guaranteeing her safety and she is able to join the worker bees. The next step is for the queen to fly out several times and mate with the drones who circulate around the outside of the hive (mating,alas, is their only responsibility in life). She then commences her royal duties by laying her eggs in some of the hives’ cells. The worker bees clean the cells that she turns down. The longer the day light the more eggs she lays – up to about 1500-2000 future female bee eggs per day, all of which will have the genetics of the queen and the drone.
As the females fill the hive with nectar, the worker bees evaporate moisture out of the nectar with their wings and move warm air from outside the colony to the inside. If the air is too cool going into the hive, bees move their wings against their body hairs to create friction and heat.
Keith’s 24 hives, white boxes called “supers,” are scattered around in various gardens. He never moves them or charges for keeping them in place. Once during the summer, he removes the frames from the supers, cuts the tip of the six-sided cells holding the honey and drains it out into a pan and then, through a settling process “for gravity to do its thing,” the excess wax floats to the top and the fresh honey flows from a spigot at the bottom. Clearly, on Cutting Farm the honey bee reigns.
Cutting Farm Keith and Susan Cutting 266 Sanborn Hill Rd.
West Springfield, NH
mailing address: PO Box 605
Grantham, NH 03753
Phone number: 603-763-3239
Points of sale: farmhouse: 266 Sanborn Hill Rd (off rte 114), West Springfield, NH Farmers’ Markets: summer: Wilmot
winter: Lebanon and Danbury
Direct sales only except for some wholesale honey.