Homegrown honey from backyard bees: Part three

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114184809111335.jpg’, ‘Photo by Janice Thompson’, ‘A dissapointing sight to any beekeeper, these bees fell victim to pesticide sprayed in a nearby field.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114184812811840.jpg’, ‘Photo by Janice Thompson’, ‘Honey bees succumb to hazards both natural and manmade.’);

Many, while tending their garden, are struck in horror at the sight of a bee. Before keeping bees, we, too, had been known to thrash indiscriminately upon hearing one or more buzz nearby. But since we have begun to foster them, we have come to revere the honey bee. They are exemplary in their teamwork. They are selfless in their quest for communal survival. Now, when we are quietly working outside and hear a gentle hum, we are more likely to stop what we’re doing to marvel in wonder of this marvelous insect and the precision in which she executes her task.

We no longer take them for granted. At one time, we assumed that much like other insects, they could withstand any degradation, any transgression, any insult we or the natural world could throw at them. I was stunned when the former owner of our farm warned us that the small orchard on the property did not bear well the previous year because of some plight that had befallen the bee population in the area. He said we might think about looking into renting a hive from someone that still had some. Rent a hive? From someone who still had some?

During the 1980s, a parasite known as the Varroa mite made its way into Florida from Mexico. This particular parasite, though disinterested in and posing no threat to the honey itself, was creating havoc on the bee population. It would gain entrance to the hive and nourish itself on the incubating larvae of the colony. Since a honeybee literally works herself to death, a developing population of replacement bees is essential to the survival of the colony. Before long, Varroa mites were everyone’s problem.

Commercial beekeepers sought to protect their investment and livelihood and quickly utilized chemicals to eradicate the mites. Although initially effective, the mite soon developed resistance to the treatments, and Varroa (as well as the similarly opportunistic tracheal mite, small hive beetle, et al.) severely reduced our domesticated bee population. It seems every state has, at one point or another, experienced a decline in viable colonies as a result of one or more of these invaders. In response, commercial and hobbyist beekeepers have been working hard to devise new, creative, and non-toxic methods to control pests and preserve strong genetic qualities.

As if pests weren’t enough, this year’s hurricanes, drought, and late freezes all took a swing at efforts to bring our bee numbers back. North Carolina was desperate enough to initiate a subsidized program to entice their residents to become beekeepers.

We know that even one hive of healthy bees is a way back from a potentially devastating situation. Any owner of a back yard, filter strip, or flower bed can provide a home for these national treasures. And every community that supports the efforts of a local beekeeper is making an important contribution not only to the local agri-system and economy, but to the survival of a species.

Janice & Ross Thompson are first-year beekeepers and have optimistically named their honey business “BeeBoppin’ Honey”. You can visit their Web site at www.beeboppin.com. This is the last of a 3-part series on bees and beekeeping. You can read previous articles on The Rock River Times Web site in their archives.

From the March 8-15, 2006, issue

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