Golden opportunity: Beekeepers turn hobby into a honey-maker

West Hawaii Today
By Colleen Schrappen St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

DES PERES, Mo. — A vegetable garden was first on Tom Millis’ to-do list when he bought his home in the St. Louis suburb of Des Peres a decade ago. Then he and his now-wife, Elsa Stuart, added native flowers to their 2-acre property.

Bees were next. They’d help pollinate the plants and make a little honey, maybe even enough to give to friends.

Last summer, the couple harvested 1,600 pounds.

“What are we going to do with all this honey?” Stuart asked Millis.

They decided to form a bee corporation.

In October, the couple launched Millis Meadows, joining the ranks of hobbyists-turned-entrepreneurs whose fascination with the communal insects blossomed into side businesses selling hive products. In the United States, honeybees have bounced back since colony collapse disorder was identified in the mid-2000s, increasing awareness of the pollinators’ plight. Honey consumption has almost doubled over the past 50 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, even as the use of other caloric sweeteners has dropped.

Most backyard beekeepers start small after learning about the practice from a family member or on social media. Millis and Stuart, both veterinarians, dove into research on the invertebrates and converted their garage into a workspace before they added any flying tenants to their garden. At least six apiarist organizations in the region offer mentoring and workshops to help “newbees” establish colonies, mitigate setbacks and minimize the inevitable stings.

“You can’t just master it in a year,” said John Pashia of Affton. “There’s very much an art to the science.”

Pashia joined the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association 15 years ago after a friend got him interested in the practice. At the time, about a dozen people were regulars at meetings. Now the club claims hundreds of members.

“People are becoming more connected to nature and wanting to know where their food comes from,” Pashia said. “As a hobby, it’s extremely interesting. You’re overwhelmed by Mother Nature.”

Bee colonies are complex ecosystems, and their care requires time and money. Most backyard hives resemble a chest of drawers, with 10-inch-tall wooden boxes called “deeps” on the bottom and shallower “supers” stacked on top. Inside are eight to 10 frames into which worker bees construct honeycomb. The hexagonal wax cells can hold eggs, pollen and nectar — which the workers dehydrate by fanning it with their translucent wings until it thickens into honey.

Honey is collected from the supers — a barrier called an excluder keeps the queen from laying eggs in them — usually in the summer or fall. Extracting equipment can cost thousands of dollars. The process takes days to complete.

Jeremy Idleman of Ballwin was prodded into beekeeping a few years ago by an uncle, after Idleman returned from an Army deployment to Iraq.

“I had some anger issues,” he said.

He learned that beekeeping had been recommended for World War I veterans to help them recover from shell shock.

“I found that I was much more calm when I was working the bees,” Idleman said. “There’s a lot of therapeutic qualities to them.”

The constant hum of the hive is soothing, like white noise. Success is measurable. Every couple of days, he checks on his growing brood. He slides out the frames, each one heavy with bees, and drips of nectar glisten in the sunlight.

At harvest time, Idleman uses a hot knife to slice the caps off the comb, the wax falling away in a long curl. A centrifuge spins the honey out of the frames. It slides down the wall of the steel drum and out a spigot, like a golden ribbon.

“It all forces you to be present,” Idleman said. “I figured if it worked for me, it would work for others.”

In 2016, he formed BeeFound for veterans and first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to the five hives he keeps, he manages a “foster apiary” for the nonprofit’s Bees for Bravery program applicants. He’s given away 20 hives this year and more than a dozen people are on the waiting list.

Idleman bottled 200 pounds of his own honey last year. He sells it online, for $13 a jar, to help fund BeeFound.

Beyond clover

Like beer and olive oil, honey varieties have proliferated in recent years amid a growing appreciation for flavor and style nuances. Clover is the most common of the more than 300 types in the United States, which vary based on local flowers.

Pat Jackson of Hazelwood, Mo., an all-day tea drinker, says she can taste the changing of the seasons when she stirs in her honey.

“In the spring, it’s a very delicate flavor,” she said. “Fall honey is a darker color. The flavor is deeper.”

Jackson gets her sweet fix from Tinker’s Bees and Pure Raw Honey, owned by Guy and Tracy Tinker of Florissant, Mo.

“What the bees are foraging on makes the honey completely different,” said Guy Tinker, a computer technician.

The Tinkers started tending bees in 2014. In their second year, they collected enough honey to give to friends. By the fourth year, they were ready to form an LLC. They sell primarily online and at a few local shops.

Rob Kravitz of south St. Louis pops a teaspoon of Tinker’s each day with his dose of vitamins. “It helps me wake up in the morning,” he said.

Honey, which contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, enjoys a healthy reputation that eludes many other sweeteners. Its sugars have been partly broken down by bees, making them easier for some people to digest. Honey can work as a cough suppressant or a salve for wounds.

Many consumers swear by local honey as an allergy remedy, though clinical studies have not borne that out; the Mayo Clinic refers to it as a “sweet placebo.”

For Ann Shields of Des Peres, buying local honey is more about promoting environmental health, anyway.

“Those bees live happy lives, and it feels good for me to support that,” she said.

She uses Millis Meadows’ $8 wildflower honey in marinades for her barbecue, spread on toast and as a throat-soother when she strains her voice from teaching.

It’s delicious, and it’s easy, Shields said: “I get the benefit without the buzzing.”

BBC Nature – Honeybee virus: Varroa mite spreads lethal disease

A parasitic mite has helped a virus wipe out billions of honeybees throughout the globe, say scientists.

A team studying honeybees in Hawaii found that the Varroa mite helped spread a particularly nasty strain of a disease called deformed wing virus.

The mites act as tiny incubators of one deadly form of the disease, and inject it directly into the bees’ blood.

This has led to “one of the most widely-distributed and contagious insect viruses on the planet”.

The findings are reported in the journal Science.

The team, led by Dr Stephen Martin from the University of Sheffield, studied the honeybees in Hawaii, where Varroa was accidentally brought from California just five years ago.

Crucially some Hawaiian islands have honeybee colonies that are still Varroa-free.

This provided the team with a unique natural laboratory; they could compare recently-infected colonies with those free from the parasite, and paint a biological picture of exactly how Varroa affected the bees.

The team spent two years monitoring colonies – screening Varroa-infected and uninfected bees to see what viruses lived in their bodies.

Dr Martin explained to BBC Nature that most viruses were not normally harmful to the bees, but the mite “selected” one lethal strain of one specific virus.

“In an infected bee there can be more viral particles than there are people on the planet,” Dr Martin explained.

“There’s a vast diversity of viral strains within a bee, and most of them are adapted to exist in their own little bit of the insect; they get on quite happily.”

But the mite, he explained, “shifts something”.

Canada seeks to breed a better honey bee

OTTAWA – FOLLOWING a massive bee die-off in parts of the world, two Canadian universities on Wednesday launched an effort to breed honey bees resistant to pests and diseases.

Led by the universities of Guelph and Manitoba, the programme will try to breed a better bee through genetic selection.

It will also screen new products for pest and disease control, and try to come up with new ways of managing pollination colonies that face risks that include parasites, bacterial infections and pesticides resulting from the impact of human activities on the environment.

Ottawa is providing US$244,000 (S$300,748) to the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association to participate in the project. The goal is to ‘help beekeepers secure sustainable honey harvests and provide essential pollination services to the fruit and vegetable industry’, the government said in a statement.

Honey bee colony declines in recent years have reached 10 to 30 per cent in Europe, 30 per cent in the United States, and up to 85 per cent in Middle East, according to a United Nations report on the issue released earlier this year.

Honey bees are critical to global agriculture. They pollinate more than 100 different crops, representing up to US$83 billion in crop value world wide each year and roughly one-third of the human diet. — AFP

Canada seeks to breed a better honey bee

Beekeeping Is Flourishing Inside City Limits

MIKE BARRETT does not have much of a yard at his two-story row house in Astoria, Queens. But that fact has not kept him from his new hobby of beekeeping — he put the hive on his roof. When it was harvest time this fall, he just tied ropes around each of the two honey-filled boxes in the hive, and lowered them to the ground.

Eventually, Mr. Barrett loaded the boxes into his car, took off his white beekeeper suit and set off for a commercial kitchen in Brooklyn. There, along with other members of the New York City beekeeping club, he extracted his honey, eventually lugging home 40 pounds of the stuff.

He was happy with his successful harvest, but he also reaped something he did not expect. “I was surprised how much I really care about the bees,” said Mr. Barrett, 49, a systems administrator for New York University, in reflecting on his inaugural season as a beekeeper. “You start to think about the ways to make their lives better.”

Until last spring, Mr. Barrett would have been breaking the law and risking a $2,000 fine for engaging in his sticky new hobby. But in March, New York City made beekeeping legal, and in so doing it joined a long list of other municipalities, from Denver to Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Salt Lake City, that have also lifted beekeeping bans in the last two years.

Opinion: Plan “Bee”: Hawaii Government Stings Honey Bees | Hawaii 24/7

Posted on October 13, 2009.
Sydney Ross Singer

In case you haven’t heard the buzz, the honey bee in Hawaii is gravely threatened by a newly introduced parasite, the varroa mite, which can wipe out our bee population within a few years, and is spreading across the state.

The question is, should we save the honey bees, or is the mite doing us a favor?

If you ask residents, farmers, and beekeepers, the honey bee is a blessing in Hawaii. They provide delicious honey, they help pollinate all sorts of fruit trees and crops, and they are interesting creatures to raise as a hobby. For most people, our islands would surely be less sweet without honey bees.

On the other hand, if you ask some conservationists who only value “native” species and wish to eradicate introduced ones, the honey bee is an invasive species curse in Hawaii. They compete with native pollinators, and they pollinate alien plant species that are encroaching on native forests. For these people, conservation would best be served by the eradication of the honey bee.

Unfortunately, the Hawaii government holds both of these opinions. And this spells doom for the honey bee.