Honey Gardens Apiaries

Sound Consumer | June 2005

by Todd Hardie

(June 2005) — Almost 40 percent of the food we eat is pollinated by insects — mostly by honeybees. Bee populations, however, have been in decline for years worldwide, weakened by a degraded environment that makes them vulnerable to mites and viruses. Most of the wild bees, more than 90 percent, have died. It’s the beekeepers and hobbyists who are keeping them alive.

We moved through a miracle this spring. About 65 percent of our bee colonies died over the last year. Now these bee families are recovering. We have been working with the bees since March, encouraging them to grow after the winter losses.

Bees normally do fine in cold weather. But our bee families were weakened from environmental stresses that allowed mites and viruses to become more expressive. The surviving bees wouldn’t have made it through the winter here in Vermont. We saved them by moving them to South Carolina for the winter. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

We spent weeks in December gathering the colonies in the snow, driving truckloads 950 miles south to save them. More could survive in the warmer days and nights there. Plus, with 60 days of additional spring, the families could rebuild. They do so well in the flowering Tupelo swamps and honeysuckle, the honey comes in like a tidal wave. Now our bees are home again in Vermont enjoying the dandelion and apple blossoms that are so abundant here.

Sam Comfort, with the help of Tim McFarline, orchestrated the revival of our bees to where they were last season. He’s raising queens from the survivors.

“The Honey Gardens’ bees are rebounding from coping with the varroa mite,” says Sam, “and we’re strictly following an organic treatment plan. By raising our own queens and promoting mite resistant behavior, we can continue to avoid the chemical treatments that many beekeepers have caused bees to become dependent on.

"The mites have quickly grown resistant to chemical medicines. None of that is conducive to the Honey Gardens vision. A queen-rearing program supports our sustainability and the future of bees.”

We never raised queens before this season. When the weak stock dies off, you’re able to see what beehives are resistant to the mites and you raise queens from that stock. The most important thing is not to put chemicals into the hive. Chemicals hide the symptoms and allow a disease to spread throughout a hive.

Honeybees are so sensitive, when the female worker goes out to collect pollen, if she picks up something that’s not good, such as chemicals, she’ll die before she gets home. In a healthy environment, bees can fend off mites and viruses. Bees are an indicator species, like frogs. We see reports from places like Spain, Canada, California and Florida, where bees are dying because the water, air and environment are crashing. Rudolph Steiner said this would happen 60 years ago.

It’s an international effort now to save our bees. Many of our survivors come from the bees raised by Anicet Desrocher’s organic bee farm in the High Laurentian Mountains of Northern Quebec. He has been raising queen bees that originally came from Russia. These are the hope of the world’s bees.

These Russian stock bees allow us to be organic beekeepers and not use chemicals. They’re hygienic and clean the mites off each other and kick them out of the hive. Mite-resistant queens also come from Rick Shubert in California and other northern beekeepers. We raise our queens now from this Russian stock.

We follow organic procedures and use organic controls, such as the Russian queens. Our colony count is down to around 350, but we’re dedicated to organic beekeeping and with some queen-rearing of the survivors, our hope is to bring the colony count back to 1,000 this summer.

Our honey is raw — never heated and not filtered — which allows it to be a medicine and food as well as a sweetener. Raw honey contains more than 75 different compounds, including an exceptionally high enzyme content, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates and organic acids. The enzymes in particular help with digestion and reduce demands on the pancreas and other digestive organs.

Our honey also has little flecks of pollen, which help build immunity to get over allergies. And it contains propolis, a natural antibiotic that studies show has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and liver-protecting properties. Propolis also sweetens your breath and is good for your gums.

There are ways for city dwellers to help the bees. First, stop cutting the lawn so often and so short. Consider letting your lawn go. Let the clover and dandelions bloom and you’ll help the bees get more food. Planting trees such as locust, apple, cherry, poplars and conifers will help the bees. Bees get propolis from poplars and conifers.

Honeybees are gentle. When people get stung, most of the time it’s not by a honeybee, but an aggressive cousin — hornets or wasps. Honeybees don’t want to sting you, you have to get into their path and they sting you by mistake.

The market for raw honey and plant medicine produced organically allows Honey Gardens Apiaries to continue. We’re grateful for the PCC community. You encourage us on our farm with our work. Thank you for your interest and support for the bees and plants. Without the encouragement of the market, we could not do this. You give us courage.

Visit honeygardens.com to learn more.

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