First Impressions: Beekeepers’ Association Shares Responsible, Healthy Practices

First Impressions: Steve Davis

Beekeepers’ Association Shares
Responsible, Healthy Practices

The Leatherstocking Beekeepers’ Association recently held its Introduction to Beekeeping class at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown. Thirty-five enthusiastic attendees were treated to a wide variety of beekeeping topics. The LBA is a local group of primarily backyard beekeepers dedicated to responsible, healthy beekeeping. Our activities include educational programs, social events, outreach programs, lending of equipment and mentoring. Established in 2015, the organization has included members from Otsego County and beyond. Our numbers include anyone from Master Beekeepers to “new-bees.”

Honeybees are an essential part of our ecosystem. They are responsible for pollinating more than one-third of our crops. Bees are also crucial for pollinating wildflowers, which serve as a food source for other animals. When we think of honeybee products, most people obviously think of honey. But bees produce a vast array of products. Beeswax is used in cosmetics, candles and wood finishes. A bee’s royal jelly can be a dietary supplement, rich in vitamins and minerals. Propolis, the sticky substance made from tree sap, is used to seal cracks in the hive. But it has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Pollen, which honeybees bring to the hive, can also be collected and used by humans as a great source of protein and vitamins. And that stinging bee venom also has anti-inflammatory properties and is sometimes used to treat arthritis.

As beekeepers, we strive to provide a healthy environment for our colonies. Life is tough for bees. Last year, about 58 percent of the back yard honeybee colonies did not survive the winter. Varroa mites vector in many diseases. Cold wet winters cause hypothermia. Poor weather can limit plant growth and the bees’ honey supply for the winter. To properly manage our beehives, we monitor and treat for pests and diseases. Preferred treatments can be natural products and techniques or may involve the use of chemicals if conditions warrant. We also need to feed them when natural sources are scarce, or adjust hive equipment space and ventilation. A critical activity for beekeepers to learn is to monitor for healthy queen activity. After all, she is laying approximately 1,500 eggs per day! The colony is typically 50,000 bees, with worker bees only living about six weeks.

Our motivations for beekeeping are as varied as the people in the group. Some of us want to harvest honey or products. Others want to contribute to the critical pollination benefits from honeybees. Many are interested in the educational aspects. And most enjoy the relaxation and wonderment of how insects, plants, weather, and the seasons all dance as one in our natural world.

Our monthly meetings include educational topics from biology to bears, beneficial plants to equipment. The LBA also has guest speakers such as Joan Mahoney, New York State’s apiculturist, who explained the state program for control and tracking of a devasting honeybee disease, American Foul Brood. We also learned about the commercial pollinating business from Kutik’s Everything Bees’ Lindsey Moroch. About two-thirds of the U.S. honey bee colonies are shipped annually to California to pollinate almonds.

Group discussions are particularly valuable as we share our experiences and, unfortunately, our failures. Beekeeping is local. That is, techniques or timing can vary greatly from one region to another. So best practices from Internet sources may not be applicable to our region.

What can you do to promote healthy honeybee populations? You can take simple actions, such as planting bee-friendly flowers, reducing your mowing to allow grasses and wildflowers to grow, and avoiding the use of harmful pesticides. Attend some of our outreach programs, such as The Farmers’ Museum Harvest Festival or Earth Day events. You may learn why you should not eat bananas before inspecting your hives. Watch a bee perform the “waggle dance.” Or find out why Heinz pickle relish is an essential explanation of bee behavior for new-bees.

The Leatherstocking Beekeepers meet monthly at The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown. Meetings are free and open to anyone. For those who want to join, there is a nominal membership fee which entitles members to use our equipment and participate in the mentoring program.

So, please feel free to join us in our meetings and explore this fascinating hobby. For further information about meetings or training events, please refer to our website, or Facebook page Leatherstocking Beekeepers’ Association.

Steve Davis is mentoring coordinator for the Leatherstocking Beekeepers’ Association.

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