|Eintime Conversion for education and research 04-08-2008 @
Copyrighted by originating associated source: Original
THE delicate fragrance of newly made honey and the murmur of bees have greeted visitors to our Hudson Valley home all summer. My husband, Bill Bakaitis, who tends our two hives, has put them in the front yard right beside the driveway. The bee-phobic sometimes get nervous, but for us the suspense is pleasant: between the music and the perfume you cant leave the house without wondering what this years crop will be like.
The flowery 2002, for instance, thickened to velvet within weeks of harvest. The spicy 2003 is still liquid (whats left of it). Each is a summary of its seasons flower parade, from locust, clover and dandelion to rose, raspberry and garlic chives. (The bees adore them. They smell like lilies.)
Bees usually visit just one nectar source at a time, and it is possible to capture the flavor of a particular source by harvesting each in turn. But our honeys are always the house blend, because for Bill, the family beekeeper, one crop a year is enough.
That means our October harvest is also a weather report; drought and deluge both discourage flowers. In 2005 we got more than eight gallons of honey. Last year there was almost none. Usually, there is enough to keep us well supplied without depriving the bees. Taking too much would kill them by starving them over the winter.
Sometimes they die anyway. Losses to cold or pests or disease are a normal part of beekeeping, no matter how well the bees are cared for. Ours have been replaced a number of times, but I never paid attention to where the new bees came from or what kind they were until early this year, when colony collapse disorder, the mysterious killer that was wiping out huge numbers of commercial honeybee hives, started making the news.
It made me wonder about the genetics of our bees and whether we should raise heirloom bees, the way we save heirloom seeds.
I figured if we kept our own Carniolans or Buckfasts or another old-fashioned variety, we could be preserving important genes (to say nothing of having niftier bees). The resident beekeeper said he was willing to try the heirloom plan, but finding the right bees to raise was my department.
I called Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine (beeculture.com), a publication based in Medina, Ohio, and directed at backyard beekeepers nationwide. He would know where to find heirloom strains and which ones were best suited to the northeast. Mr. Flottum said my effort was about 30 years too late.
In the United States, most of the heirloom strains were wiped out, along with most of the feral honeybees, by the tracheal mites and Varroa mites that arrived in the 1980s. Many beekeepers simply quit, roughly halving the number of hives in this country, to about 2.5 million. Twenty-two years ago there were 9,000 beekeepers in Ohio. Now there are 3,100, and that trend is mirrored everywhere, he said.
As honey prices dropped and demand for pollination services rose, the market for bees became a market for good pollinators, Mr. Flottum explained. The gene pool narrowed as breeders concentrated on that one trait. Any weakness in the bees was masked by an efficient arsenal of pesticides and antibiotics.
But that isnt working anymore, he said. Resistance develops more and more quickly each time a new pesticide is introduced. The cost of treatments is rising, he said. Weve got to get off the chemical wagon and broaden the genetic base.
Some expert beekeepers have been keeping chemical use low and paying attention to genetics all along. One of them is Charles Mraz, who owns Champlain Valley Apiaries in Vermont, founded by his grandfather Charles Mraz in 1931.
Mr. Mraz breeds most of Champlain Valleys bees, selecting the stock from hives that have successfully fought pests, diseases and hard winters.
We breed from our survivors and we have quite a bit of genetic diversity, Mr. Mraz said, adding that those survivor bees had more than once proved their value. You could breed from your survivors too, he said. In other words, the best way to have healthy bees is to breed your own, but starting with your own healthy bees rather than named heirlooms. With roughly 1,200 hives, Champlain Valley is small as commercial operations go; the big pollinators have 10,000 hives and more. But its gigantic compared to us. I wondered if people with just a few hives could really make any difference.
Even novice beekeepers, he said, are of tremendous importance. The more local bees there are, the stronger the gene pool will be. Start with bees from a local beekeeper, because having bees adapted to the climate is important. Spread your hives out, if you can, and stick to natural treatments.
Just raising local bees will help, he said, but if you want to breed from survivors its best to have at least 4 or 5 hives to allow for normal losses.
Given that two hives are enough to pollinate the whole garden while also making us self-sufficient in both honey and holiday presents, thats probably where well stop. But the next time we have to buy new bees you can bet theyll be survivors bred by somebody local.
EXPERTS recommend that beginners learn about bees by joining a local beekeepers association. Those who spend a few winter evenings with practicing beekeepers will be a lot further ahead next spring when its time to set up their own hives.
The Internet can help, too. Beesource.com has an extensive list of associations; a bee news blog and active forums on topics from apitherapy and natural beekeeping to product reviews and classifieds. Beehoo.com is a directory to over 1,000 sites worldwide, organized by topic and region.
The Bee Lab (www.extension.umn.edu/honeybees) is a cutting-edge center of bee research that offers instructional pamphlets and courses.
Dadant and Sons (dadant.com),
the home of American Bee Journal, which covers professional concerns, is
a source for beekeeping equipment (except the bees themselves).
(Original Len: 10921 Condensed Len: 6804)
04-08-2008 @ 12:48:18