“Bees are responsible for about 80 percent of insect pollination, and close to a third of the United States’ food supply is linked to pollination. Without pollinators there would be no apples, berries, or almonds—or many other fruits and vegetables.(1)”
Do you know any Back Yard Bee Keepers? One of the incredible things about living in Vermont is that one finds themselves in acquaintance with all sorts of buy local foodie activists and enthusiasts. The result – I know a Back Yard Bee Keeper.
I was preparing to make and blog gluten free Struffoli, a classic Neapolitan dessert popular during winter feast days, especially Christmas. Struffoli are lightly fried “puffs” which are tossed with nuts and/or candied fruits (like Citron), completely covered in honey and then set as a mound or wreath. During winter, they are small reminders of the sweetness of warmth and community with all creatures.
I reached for my honey. When there is honey in my kitchen, it is always from a Buy Local Bee Keeper, in this case, Kim Wells of Rob’s Mom’s Honey in Berkshire Vermont.
Kim considers herself a naturalist, stating “we are responsible for what happens on the skin of the earth.” Bee Keeping is Kim’s activism. She said we are losing our pollinators at such an enormous rate; we need to do something about it. So she became a Back Yard Bee Keeper. Her way of paying back for all of the good things of the Earth, she feels we need more people to do this or we might all starve. Kim’s Honey Bee knowledge is exhaustive; I would happily spend a day listening to her.
I am allergic to Bees. I grew up with insect allergy years before Epi pens and have a healthy and respectful fear. When I am in the company of insects which can kill me, I peacefully move along. Bees exist (but are disappearing), we and our food supply need them and they can kill me. This is about all I previously knew about bees. I decided to call Kim and ask about her Bees.
I explained my rudimentary knowledge of honey bees, we giggled and Kim took it from the top. A colony is a house of bees and it is one family habitat. To begin Bee Keeping, Kim purchased a nucleus (or a nuc) of bees. It includes frames of brood (baby bees before birth), the queen is already mated and laying eggs. This is the start of the colony. Ultimately, a colony becomes thousands of bees which live in the hive. If the queen dies early enough in season the Bees can re-queen. If she dies too late in the season, they sometimes can’t re-queen and the colony dies.
Overcrowding makes them angry and creates swarming. They will swarm in places they aren’t normally located. Bees create hives which go up, if they don’t have room enough for this, problems begin to erupt. Bee boxes accommodate this need, but as the hive grows it is imperative to introduce new boxes, otherwise they will swarm. Close to the end of season they begin to die. The queen makes sure she has enough honey and attendants to survive the winter; the rest of the hive perishes.
Bee Keepers maintain the queen box during the winter. Kim believes contact should be extremely limited at all times; however, she helps the bees for winter by insulating the boxes, and periodically checks them. The bees keep the internal living habitat of the boxes at 90 degrees year round. At the end of season she makes sure they have extra room because they are working really hard to prep for winter. Kim’s queen and attendants are down to two deep boxes this winter and one “super” box which is shallow box – full of honey.
During winter, the bees require internal space small enough for the bees to maintain consistent 90 degree temperature. The queen needs enough honey to feed herself and the small brood she chose to keep for the winter. During Vermont’s January thaw, Kim will open hive and make sure the bees have adequate food, if they don’t, she will feed them. She will not place more honey in box, she will feed them a bee patty – pollen and honey compressed to a less than inch thick strips which and they will live off of that for rest of season.
Honey harvest is possible because the bees will not need all of their honey. The hive reduces its size naturally. If the honey were left, damage to the hive from predators would occur. Removing honey is imperative to assure the hive is strong enough to defend itself against insects, mice and bears. Natural hives during winter in Vermont can be found up high, generally inside of something, like under siding or in the attic of a house or barn.
Kim’s advice to Bee Keepers: Know your Queen Bee! Don’t get into your hive a lot – the less interference the better! Bees don’t really like humans, they are not pets. She feels lucky to facilitate the process. During season, Bee Keepers must check for insect interference (like mites), occasionally bees need to be medicated. Honey bees build upward and need enough room in the hive box. Bee Keepers must make sure they have enough room, and add boxes as necessary. This season’s bees were so successful Kim ran out of boxes, she had to borrow extra boxes from a Bee Keeping friend.
The secret to this past season’s a successful hive? Kim believes it has to do with habitat. She chose to not cut their downhill field this past season. She feels by not having cut down the “weeds” and letting things grow, the bees a healthy natural climate in which to stay. Inviting them to stay and forage at home rather than visit GMO corn fields.
GMO plants don’t offer pollen, they offer poison. The seeds are coated with a formulation which keeps weeds out of the field; the coating goes into the plant. GMO crops genetically contain systemic fertilizers, “when applied to pesticides, the term systemic means that the chemical is soluble enough in water that it can be absorbed by a plant and moved around in its tissues”(3). Whatever feeds on plants with systemic pesticides die, including the bees. They eat the poison where the flower pollen should be, carry it back to their hives, and feed it to their offspring. Ultimately all in the hive die. This is not a sustainable model, and this is very scary. This contributes to colony collapse (when worker bees suddenly and abruptly disappear, called colony collapse disorder).
Growing up, I never cared for honey. I have since learned that much of the honey sold in supermarkets does not contain pollen(2) and therefore does not contain nutrients and natural flavors from the plant pollen they have ingested. Moving to a state with local Bee Keepers changed the opinion of my palate and I now find honey very enjoyable. Honey from spring is different than summer honey; it is lighter and has the flavor of new growth plants. Summer honey is deeper in color and has a deeper flavor. Honey has tones and signature tastes from the pollen the bees have gathered. I used Kim’s spring honey for my gluten free Struffoli recipe (https://kitchenwisdomglutenfree.com/2014/12/13/struffoli-gluten-free-forget-what-you-know-about-wheatc-2014/ )
Kim’s advice to new Bee Keepers? Bee careful, use full gear, have respect when interacting with the bees. Kim has not been stung by the hive, however, because she comes from a family with Bee sting allergy, she chose to get stung prior to embarking upon this project. Because this allergy can suddenly appear, she recommends all aspiring Bee Keepers get stung in a controlled environment with someone else present. If the sting results in medical emergency, you will be ready. Get a bunch of books and read over winter, in the spring you will be ready to start your journey!
“Honey from a Back Yard Bee Keeper” by Liz Conforti(c) 2014
- “Canada Moves to Restrict Pesticide Linked to Bee Deaths”; Eileen Fisher; Takepart; November 25, 2014; http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/11/25/canada-moves-restrict-use-pesticide-linked-bee-deaths?cmpid=tp-ptnr-upworthy
- “Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey, Ultra-filtering Removes Pollen, Hides Honey Origins”; Food Safety News; November 2011; http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/#.VICNxzHF-Sq
- “What is a Systemic Insecticide?”; Insects in the City; Texas A&M AgriLife Extension; http://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/landscape/sapfeed/ent-6006/
“Canada Moves to Restrict Pesticide Linked to Bee Deaths”; Eileen Fisher; Takepart; November 25, 2014; http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/11/25/canada-moves-restrict-use-pesticide-linked-bee-deaths?cmpid=tp-ptnr-upworthy
“Honey Bee Health & Colony Collapse Disorder”; Organic Consumers Association; https://www.organicconsumers.org/old_articles/bees.php
Interview with Kim Wells, December 4, 2014
“Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies”; Harvard School of Public Health; May 2014; http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/study-strengthens-link-between-neonicotinoids-and-collapse-of-honey-bee-colonies/
“Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey, Ultra-filtering Removes Pollen, Hides Honey Origins”; Food Safety News; November 2011; http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/#.VICNxzHF-Sq
“The History of Honey as Medicine”; Keeping Backyard Bees; October 2014; http://www.keepingbackyardbees.com/history-honey-medicine/
Vermont Bee Keepers Association; http://www.vermontbeekeepers.org/
“What is a Systemic Insecticide?”; Insects in the City; Texas A&M AgriLife Extension; http://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/landscape/sapfeed/ent-6006/
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