Connecticut beekeepers strive to keep bees healthy
Updated 1:19 pm, Thursday, June 22, 2017
Albert Einstein reportedly once said "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left."
Connecticut's State Apiary Inspector, Mark Creighton, cited Einstein when explaining why people should care about the plight of the honeybee. Aside from providing a necessary service–pollination needed for food–Creighton said "humans and bees have coexisted since the beginning of man; it would be a shame to do things to cause irreparable harm to these fascinating creatures."
June 19-25 is pollinator awareness week, but Creighton and Connecticut's beekeepers work all year to ensure that people do right by the bees.
There are about 1,600 registered beekeepers and 8,600 registered bee colonies in Connecticut.
The Connecticut Beekeepers Association, which has been around since 1891, holds meetings four times a year to support the education of new beekeepers and strives to promote honeybee health. There are about 45o members from across the state.
Here in southwestern Connecticut, the Backyard Beekeepers Association has 400 members who meet monthly in Weston; the organization, which serves southwestern Connecticut and Westchester, has been around since 1993.
The Eastern Connecticut Beekeepers Association rounds out the top three organizations in the state.
While most beekeepers in Connecticut do it as a hobby, Creighton estimates there are almost a dozen beekeepers in the state who work as pollinators, traveling to nearby states with their bees to help pollinate large quantities of crops like cranberries in Maine and Massachusetts. Smaller beekeepers travel around the state to local berry farmers.
Creighton's job is to inspect those beekeepers' colonies to make sure they are healthy because of the vital role bees play in the agricultural system– a $3.5 million industry in Connecticut, according to Creighton.
Creighton also issues mandatory health certificates to bee colonies entering or leaving the state, one of the state laws that was updated just this month.
Here in Connecticut, Creighton said the bee population has actually increased–but it's not because the bees are so healthy; it's because more people are becoming beekeepers. It's a "Renaissance of beekeeping," as Backyard beekeeper Association program manager Patty Pulliam described it.
Plight of the pollinator
This newfound interest in beekeeping is actually contributing to trouble facing honeybees, which has manifested in a loss of 46 percent of colonies each year. "All those new beekeepers have a steep learning curve in keeping bees," he said.
But the real danger comes from more serious things like pesticides and pests such as the Varroa Mite, which transmits viruses and diseases to the honeybees–and there's evidence that some of those viruses are being shared with other native pollinators like bumble bees. "So we can see the whole bee world is being affected," Creighton said.
Another stressor on the bees is large-scale pollination. For example, each year over a million bee colonies from around the country are boxed and brought to California to pollinate the almond crop. "Bees are not designed for that," Creighton said.
Ways to help the bees
Creighton, Pulliam and Steve Dinsmore, president of the Connecticut Beekeepers Association, all agree that one of the best ways to help the bees is to limit the use of pesticides.
It's also helpful for people to let part of their gardens grow wild instead of immediately cutting down plants like goldenrod and dandelions, which are considered weeds. Creighton and Pulliam suggest waiting until after they flower to cut them down so the bees have a chance to pollinate. There are also a number of "bee-friendly" plants for sale at most nurseries that can help stimulate pollination.
For those who really get the "bee bug," as Creighton calls it, beekeeping is a more active way to contribute. Pulliam, who began beekeeping with her husband in 1995, said "if you're considering becoming a beekeeper, come to one of our workshops...you can look into a hive and see if it scares you or if it speaks to you"
Most of the beekeepers in Connecticut do it as a hobby and may sell their honey at local markets. Members of the Backyard Beekeepers Association sell honey at the Aspetuck Apple Barn and Silvermine, for example.
Dinsmore said some people swear by local honey for calming allergy symptoms.
Pulliam said Connecticut honey tends to have a golden color and a fruity, floral flavor.
"The beautiful thing about honey is you can buy local honey from traveling or if you have a gourmet store; you can appreciate the flavors and nuances," she said.