Keeping History Alive. The Florida Cracker Trail

The Bee Barn (on Steve Roberts Special, right off of Hwy 64) is right on the Florida Cracker Trail. The annual ride came through yesterday with a hundred or so horses and a few wagons thrown in, passing right by the store. They had the horse in the pasture runnin' wild ...an absolutely beautiful sight!

Here's a little history from the Cracker Trail website.

Towards the middle of February each year, members of the Florida Cracker Trail Association begin their annual cross-state trail ride, beginning on the state's east cost and ultimately ending on the west coast. Today's participants are dedicated to preserving Florida's cattle and horse heritage by conducting this annual cross-state horseback ride. The riders are passionate with their endeavor in keeping history alive as they make the trip which spans over a six day period. These riders focus on commemorating, not only the Florida "Crackers", but also the country’s first cowboys. The Annual Cross-State Ride serves to highlight and preserve the importance of Florida's role in the introduction of horses and cattle into the New World as well as the birth and continuance of the cattle and horse industries by Florida's future settlers and their descendants.

In 1521, Spanish conquistador, Juan Ponce de León attempted to colonize Florida. Attacked by Native Americans, the colonists abandoned their quest, leaving horses, cattle and hogs behind, the first livestock in North America. They bred and ran wild for over 400 years. Following the Civil War, a rugged brand of individual settled along Florida's east coast and central corridor. These early settlers became known by their Northern neighbors, as Florida Crackers or Cracker Cowmen, a reference to the cracking sound made by the braided, leather whips they used to flush cows out of the palmetto scrub and spur on oxen that pulled their carts and wagons.

Each year, the Crackers gathered west of Fort Pierce to drive their giant herd of scrub cattle across the state toward Bradenton and then to Punta Rassa, to ship them to Havana, Cuba. Needing provisions for the trip, but having no money, P.P. Cobb let them fill their saddlebags with his merchandise and pay him after they had sold their herds to the Cubans, who were willing to pay in Spanish gold coins.

The Cracker Trail was the only dry route across Florida. To the north, the Kissimmee River and its floodplains blocked the way. To the south, Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades made passage impossible.

The Crackers relied on bullwhips to herd the cattle and communicate with each other, like a form of Morse code, and were able to identify each other by their whip cracks. Today, the term Florida Cracker refers to an independent, self-reliant cowboy and the lifestyle that goes with that character. Community developers are moving into the heartland of Florida, buying huge multi-thousand acre ranches and converting this wild land to tracts of housing. As a result, the area's history is being threatened. The Florida Cracker Trail Cross-State Ride honors the Cracker Cowmen and their history.

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Here's an interesting bit of information concerning almonds and honeybees that I ran across for all you admirers of Mother Nature out there. Honey bees are more effective at pollinating almonds when other species of bees are present.

The research, which took place in California’s almond orchards in Yolo, Colusa and Stanislaus counties, could prove invaluable in increasing the pollination effectiveness of honey bees (Apis-Mellifera), as demand for their pollination service grows. When blue orchard bees and wild bees are foraging in almonds with honey bees, the behavior of honey bees changes, resulting in more effective crop pollination. Researchers have found that in orchards with non-Apis (non-honey bees), the foraging behavior of honey bees changed and the pollination effectiveness of a single honey bee visit was greater than in orchards where non-Apis bees were absent. Through species interactions, the behavior and effectiveness of a dominant pollinator species is altered. It seems that honey bees move more between orchard rows when non-Apis bees are around. Something they need to study is the reason why the bees move. One route to explore is the chemical footprints that the bees leave on the flowers. Studys from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. show that native bees, through their interactions with honey bees, increase the pollination efficiency of honey bees--the principal bee managed for almond pollination--and thus the amount of fruit set. (The wild bee species identified for the project in 2008-2009 totaled 50 species, included bumble bees, small carpenter bees, sweat bees, digger bees, mining bees and blue orchard bees). And here's the important part - These field experiments show that a diversity of pollinators can improve pollination service. With increasing demands for pollination-dependent crops globally, and continued challenges that limit the supply of honey bees, such strategies to increase pollination efficiency offer exciting potential for more sustainable pollination in the future.

The declining population of honey bees, particularly due to colony collapse disorder (CCD) is troubling. Bee scientists attribute the mysterious malady to multiple factors, including pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress. California’s almond acreage now totals 800,000s, and each acre requires two bee hives for pollination. Honey bee-health problems have sparked new concern over pollination services. Almonds are a $3 billion industry in California,

Trivia: it took about 1.5 million colonies of bees to pollinate 750,000 bearing acres of almond trees, producing nearly 2 billion pounds of nutmeats. That means that on average, every colony pollinated about 1333 lbs of nuts, and at a wholesale price of about $2/lb, each colony’s efforts contributed to a gross return to the grower of $2666.00! If we divide that value by the approximate number of bees in an 8-frame colony (14,000), that means that each individual bee, on average, pollinated 19¢ worth of nuts. And at a $150 per hive rental rate, each bee rented at 1¢ for a month’s wages.

The Peace River Honey Bees have produced 100% pure, raw, natural honey since 1979 in a family owned and operated apiary. While the Peace River Bees consider Zolfo Springs (on the banks of the Peace River) in Central Florida home, they are migratory pollinators. These bees travel all over the country pollinating crops, creating honeys with a variety of flavors and characteristics. The result of their work is some of the tastiest raw honey you’ll ever try. They produce the famous Florida Orange Blossom honey and Saw Palmetto honey. They also make a Wildflower honey and Blueberry (yes, I said Blueberry!) honey, too. You can also find freeze-dried pollen, fresh royal jelly and other honey specialties.

Peace River Bees Botanical Skin Care is an effective line, made with enough honey to be therapeutic, and all natural & certified organic ingredients. Utilizing ingredients "From the Heart of the Hive" and others, they include: raw honey, organic royal jelly & pollen, propolis, organic aloe vera, organic sunflower oil, organic jojoba oil, shea butter...all known to promote softening and healing, rejuvenation and nourishment, as well as much needed hydration and the restoring of resiliency. Honey soaps too, all made with Peace River Bees honey. Embrace a positive approach towards the natural process of getting older - a little something we like to call "Healthy Aging".

All Natural. Pure and Simple.