The honeybees had made their buzz very clear, however not a comforting one. Since 2006, there has been a steep rise of Colony Collapsed Disorder nationwide. The honeybees lost most of the worker bees while the hives were left unattended, sometimes only with honey, the queen bee and younger bees. Scientists suspected neonicotinoid, a cocktail of chemicals meant to keep pest from crops produced by Bayer and Syngenta, was responsible for the disappearance of most bees, including the honeybee and bumblebee. Beekeepers and farmers also noticed other problems such as Varroa mites, small hive beetles and wax moths that contributed to the loss of nearly 30% of honeybees in the United States per year. Why is the plight of honeybees such a big deal? Because bees pollinated about 90% of our food. Without bees there will be no almonds, strawberries, pumpkins, and almost 140 other types of vegetables and fruits.
Nine years ago, Pollinator Week was first designated to celebrate pollinators. This year, June 20-26 are celebrated as National Pollinator Week. There are many events in Cincinnati you can join from the Cincinnati Nature Center. However the effort to save the honeybees as one of the most crucial pollinators won't have to stop only this week.
Beekeepers and non-beekeepers alike can contribute in supporting honeybees and helping them to thrive instead of dying off. Cory and Krystle, who founded Gaiser Bee, Co. in 2006, shared their two cents with us on how to support honeybees:
1. Rethink your lawn: plant wildflowers
Honeybees don't actually make their honey for us. They do so to store food for their younger bees and the queen and to keep food for winter months. They search for a certain kinds of flowers that have nectar. They especially love native wildflowers, such as dandelions, clover, poppy and cat's ear.
2. Plant flowers that bloom year round
According to Cory, July and August are especially dry months for the bees, with the spring flowers are already gone. Keeping a calendar of blooming flowers in your garden may be a great way to help bees to find nectar year around. July-August blooming flowers are butterfly weed, browned-eyed susan, and giant hyssop. This link from Indiana Department of Natural Resources has a complete list of flowers and their blooming time.
3. Use only organic treatment and soil for your garden
Neonicotinoid is used to coat seeds for beans and corn, but also used in plants sold in some big home improvement stores. When a honeybee flies close to a neonicotinoid coated plant, they lose direction, become paralyzed and die on the spot. Also keep in mind that mosquito spray can kill birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects.
4. Buy products from local beekeepers
Many farms have hives and produce honey for public consumption. When we buy from local beekeepers, we help them increase the number of their hives, and in turn help the farmers and the local economy too. It's a win-win for us since local honey tastes better than commercial ones. A few extra cents will help the farmers to keep more hives and turn around this massive loss of bees. Many beekeepers sell their product at farmers' markets, health food stores (Clifton Natural Foods, Whole Foods), and soon the Cincinnati Nature Center will have honey available from Gaiser Bee, Co.
For some of us, we're ready to keep a hive but don't know where to start. Gaiser Bees, Co. offers an introductory class on beekeeping, as well as adopt-a-hive and educational programs. The bees sometimes get a bad rap from its sting, but they would rather not sting you. Do you know that the stinger is their last defense? Once a bee stings, it'll die because part of their abdomen goes off with the stinger. Ouch. Another important thing to know is that drones or male bees do not sting. Honeybees care more about finding nectar and taking care of their hives than giving you a sting. As long as we do not disturb them, they won't be bothering us.
When I took the Gaiser Bee's class, I got as close as one foot to the honeybees and their hives. I wore the beekeeper suit that covers my whole body and face, but it could get very hot in there. I took mine off and went around the bees unprotected, and I was fine. Cory smoked the hives before we open one to check in it. The smoke somehow mimics forest fire that makes the bees go into survival mode and therefore didn't sting us. Cory mentioned that these bees are very sensitive to odor, which they need when they look for nectar. Since I didn't wear any perfume or smoke, I had nothing to worry about. The worker bees love the pheromone, a lemony odor produced by the queen bee to attract drones. The pheromone somehow calms them.
Hosting-a-Hive doesn't require acreages of flower garden, though that will definitely help the bees. Honeybees travels up to two miles in each direction to find food. Planting fruit trees, wildflowers, and seasonal blooms will be a great idea but not required.
It is also a good idea to check on regulations on your respective jurisdictions. Beekeeping is permitted in Gaiser's area (Golf Manor), but not yet in mine (Norwood), although hearings and interests in keeping bees have risen in recent months in Norwood. If your city/village does not allow beekeeping, may be it's time to discuss it withcity hall and village administrators.
Asking your neighbors consideration is important too. They need to know that you will have a hive, The Gaisers have been sending "hush honey" to their neighbors, and so far they're okay with it.
Taking the introduction to beekeeping class will get your feet wet about keeping honeybees. It really is not intimidating! Or just skip to the next step of hosting a hive. The Gaiser Bee's Host-a-Hive program has a variety levels of involvement depending on how hands-on you want to be. As a host, you need to provide a bee safe location free of pesticides. The entry level is maintained and owned by Gaiser Bee Co, where the high level is fully owned by the host and Gaiser Bee Co. mentors the new beekeepers through their journey.
The Gaiser's Story
Cory and Krystle Gaiser became interested in beekeeping through Cory's dad. As a physician, he sometimes received gifts or services as payment for his practice. One year, he received a couple of hives from his patient along with mentoring to beekeeping. Corry's dad has been keeping bees for decades now. Cory and Krystle have always been interested in pursuing self-sustaining life and after they finally settled in Cincinnati, they decided it was time to keep several hives. Their business idea came after more and more people asked about beekeeping, and they wanted to provide this service to the community.
Krystle said watching the bees could be therapeutic, she could spentd hours peeking on what they're doing, but to check on the hives doesn't require that much time at all, only a couple of hours every two weeks or so. They keep the bees alongside fruits trees and vegetables in the backyard, along with chickens, quails, four dogs and a turtle. The chickens actually help them manage the varroa mites by consuming them when they fell off the hives.
This year has been especially hard for beekeepers in Ohio, with cold weather in April and May. They lost quite a few number of hives because of this. The cold weather kept the bees inside the hives and they were not able to search for food.
What's a Swarm?
There are a few phone numbers you could dial if you have a swarm around you, one of them is Gaiser Bees, Co. The swarm is actually a way for a hive to reproduce. When a hive has become crowded, the queen abandons the hive and some of the worker bees followed her. The worker bees would scout for a location nearby and the queen bee will settle after the new hive is ready. Cory and Krystle get quite a few call for swarm cutting, almost about once a week.