This week was a rite of passage for me on the farm. I harvested and extracting honey using all of my own equipment. In the past I have either not had any honey to extract or, in last years case, I took my honey to my mentor’s honey house to use his equipment. This year I made the final commitment, bought the extracting equipment and I am officially in this for the long hall. I am beekeeper.
Extracting is a really exciting time for the beekeeper. It is not so much how much honey you get or that you finally feel like you have something to show for your work. It more of a magical feeling. Seeing the honey flow out of the extractor, opens your eyes to a magical potion that bees alone can concoct. No one else has the means or the recipe to do it. It’s not just the sun, and the pollen and nectar all mixed together and dehydrated, (as if mixing these would be easy enough to do in itself). Honey has a living energy, a life force, and you can feel it in it’s concentrated form when you extract. This is one of the most divine substances on Earth and I feel privileged to be chosen to protect and keep the bees.
Honey bees have been domesticated since before the 6th century according to some sources. They are therefore now depending upon humans for part of their well being. There is a partnership and if one or the other can’t hold up to their end, the relationship suffers. As the beekeeper, I struggle at times to know what is best for the bee. She, though, is so forgiving and continues to give give give. I can only make this promise, that I will always make my decisions with her best interest at heart.
I try to be completely natural in my beekeeping. In this world the mites are the biggest challenge that our bees face, having showed up in the US in 1987. So far, the mite is winning. I use formic acid; considered a natural treatment and used by biodynamic beekeepers. Nosema , a small, unicellular parasite recently reclassified as a fungus, is another big problem. Standard procedure in the bee world is to issue preventative antibiotics for this. I am currently antibiotic free. If ever one of my hives needs treatment for Nosema, I, like most parents, will give the medication needed, but I do not give it as a preventative. I continue to feed biodynamic herbal teas in Spring and Fall to boost the bees immune health. I do not push or manipulate hives to produce more honey than can be produced in good health. I keep the hives in a location that provides diverse nectar sources. The land surrounding the hives varies between organic fields, CRP land, or marsh land, hopefully protecting my girls from poisonous pesticides. Most importantly, I leave the bees plenty of honey and avoid feeding sugar water unless the hive is in jeopardy.
Colony Collapse disorder, continues to be a problem around the world and we don’t yet have a solid answer as to what the cause is. In 2006, 50% of the bee colonies in the US died. The “experts” now say it is likely a combination of different stresses that we have put on our bees; exposure to synergistic pesticides, poor feeding habits due to loss of habitat and sugar/corn syrup feeding, increased migratory beekeeping due to agricultural mono-cropping, and exposure to new disease.
Our bees need help. If they don’t recover from the stress that they are under, both bees and people will suffer. Some 40% of the food we consume depends upon bees for pollination in some way. The world would be a very different place without our only domestic pollinators. Sustainable beekeeping and buying local is just a start to solving the issues. With all of the disease and stress impacting these insects we need to see big changes in modern agriculture, to truly see our bee friends come back to health.
I hope you will adopt me as your beekeeper by purchasing honey from our store. In turn you are supporting the health of our honeybee population and encouraging sustainable beekeeping habits. For more information about honey bees or what you can do to support the bees take a look at these resources.