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Friday, July 16, 2010

Misbeehavin’ in the Valley

M.H. veiled

It is a cloudy morning in the Valley although there’s a veiled threat of sunshine. As I approach Ed’s blueberries, I see a white truck and a veiled figure puttering around a pallet of bees placed there for pollination. Ah, a fellow beekeeper, one of the Order, a kindred spirit, a Keeper of the Bees. I pull Gladys over to the shoulder and introduce myself, find out the latest buzz, so to speak. I meet Mathew Higgins, owner and manager of Duvall True Value Hardware. He has set his bees at Broer Farms gratis, in exchange for good bee forage. Roadside and in the Valley the blackberries are in bloom and Matt has high hopes for a good crop of blackberry honey. Last summer’s unusually hot, dry weather stymied the blackberry nectar. Matt and I drew a blank. Hardly enough surplus to sweeten a cup of tea.

Matt is “supering up” his bees. Some boxes have yet to be painted. It’s been my experience that the season always outpaces paint. In our neck of the woods the honey flow may last only two weeks; timing is essential if you want to get a honey crop here in the Valley. Super up now. supered up You can always slap on a coat of paint after you pull the honey at season’s end. (I have even hauled a can of paint and brush to the beeyard and painted there, a tactic I wouldn’t recommend. A paint daubed bee may be colorful but she is doomed. Better let the little gal gather her life’s work, a tenth-teaspoon of nectar.)

He hopes to produce some comb honey this season, Matt tells me. Special conditions need to exist before bees will work in comb honey supers: hot weather and a heavy honey flow (usually cause and effect). Both rarely happen simultaneously in our cool, maritime climate. Matt hopes to fudge things along a little by crowding a colony of bees into one box and throwing on the comb supers. Considerable manipulation and precise timing are paramount, suffice it to say. But if Mother Nature balks, all his efforts will be for naught.

Depending on the crop, there’s a certain ratio farmers use—colonies per acre—for maximum pollination. Commercial beekeepers then provide the grower that number and place the colonies in strategic locations throughout the crop. I knew Matt had another pallet of bees at the south end of Ed’s second thornless patch and asked him how they were doing. “I had to move them out,” he replied. “Why?”I wondered. “The neighbors complained.” Ed has new neighbors and even though pollinating bees have been placed there for years, these Johnny Come Latelys protested. Matt told me he tried to reason with the folks, but after he discovered some cans of RAID beside piles of dead bees, he decided further negotiating was futile and moved his bees. “How neighborly of ‘em,” was my response.

Many folks—out of just plain ignorance—would as soon suffer a serial killer or level three offender in their neighborhood as a colony of bees. A bizarre aspect of this honeybee extermination is that Ed’s new neighbors are not new to the Valley, have just relocated next to the blackberry patch-- unfortunately for the bees, Broer Farms—and beekeeper Matt. Not only does this act seem senseless and inconsiderate but selfish as well. In a Valley where berries are a cash crop, seems to me interfering with the bees’ purpose is depriving a hard working farm family of a portion of their livelihood.

Without the industrious honeybee, the produce selection in your grocery store would be much diminished, and the fare on your dinner table would be much slimmer, too. These are hard times for honeybee colonies: Colony Collapse Disorder, Varroa and pharyngeal Matt Higginsmites, parasites both-- and suspected disease vectors for bees-- pesticides and herbicides… all present a perfect storm of stressors for the struggling honeybee. I’m sure Mathew would agree that fear and ignorance should not be added to the mix. 

Perhaps that’s why when I return home just in time to see a DOT spray crew creeping along the shoulder, spritzing herbicide on the BLOOMING blackberries, I prance about, wave my arms like a berserk, and try to get their attention. “I’ve got bees back there!” I scream. Sadly, there’s a lot of ignorance in this world. I know. Some of it just passed by this very moment.

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  1. Sorry B-I-L, but it's a known fact that the DOT does not always employ the "sharpest tools in the shed."

  2. Hmmmm.... I wonder where Roller fits in the tool shed then??? TJ