Hudson Valley Beekeeping: How to Raise a Bee Colony, Harvest Honey, and Prevent Colony Collapse Disorder

The bee’s knees: The Valley is abuzz with honeybees and their keepers

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megan denver beesBusy bee: Megan Denver shows off her honeybees in the wild

Several additional factors contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder — chief among them the use of pesticides, and the agribusiness practice of having bees pollinate just one crop at a time. “That’s like a human eating only soda pop while pregnant,” explains Harp. “The embryo doesn’t get a nutritious, balanced diet to develop properly.”

Part of the reason why CCD is so hard to combat, according to Rice, is because it is so widespread. “But on a small scale, you can plant good forage — like sunflowers or goldenrod — in your neighborhood,” she says. “And don’t freak out about your dandelions. They’re a big part of building the honeybee’s immune system.”

Rice and Harp recommend that rookie beekeepers take informational classes and join a bee club, which offers opportunities to get hands-on experience with apiaries. They also reassure those with smaller backyards that bees don’t necessarily need lots of space, but rather good forage plants from which to collect nectar and pollen. In short, almost anyone can take up the hobby. “It’s wonderful to see new beekeepers get these big eyes when we hand them 20,000 stinging insects,” says Rice. “They get so excited.”

bee with flower

National Holiday

August 17 is National Honeybee Day. HoneybeeLives marks the occasion with a lecture at their New Paltz apiary aimed at “the general public, gardeners, and wanna-beekeepers,” says their Web site. Harp and Rice discuss the anatomy of a hive, the purpose of each bee, and Colony Collapse Disorder, among other topics. Admission is $30 and preregistration is required. 845-255-6113;

Helping Hands

Donna Simons, founder of Pound Ridge Organics — an organic food co-op — is on a mission to help honeybees. “It’s funny, because I’ve always been a little afraid of bees,” she confesses. “But these bees are so docile.” This year, she started a program called the Pound Ridge Organics Honeybee Project, through which co-op members host a hive or two on their property. And that’s all they need to do; Ardsley-based beekeeper Jean Japinga — who provides the bees and helps set the hives in appropriate locations — regularly visits to maintain a healthy colony. At press time, Simons had found homes for six hives, with more scheduled to be placed. “Anybody who’s hosted a hive will get honey at the end of the season, but no one is looking to get anything out of this,” says Simons. “We all have to help the bees, because without them we’re in big trouble.”

bees honeycombBees deposit their nectar into the honeycomb

The Great Debate

Eating locally produced raw (unheated) honey has long been touted as a antidote for allergies. The theory goes that bees carry allergy-inducing pollen back to their hives, which winds up in their honey. If allergy sufferers eat a small amount of honey each day, they will eventually build up immunity to that pollen and thus no longer have a reaction. But there is no consensus as to whether or not this is actually true. Little scientific research on this topic exists, and a quick Google search yields a number of articles that swear by the practice — and an equal number that decry it as having no effect whatsoever.

“Beekeepers have a million opinions on everything,” says Megan Denver of Hudson Valley Bee Supply. “I believe a teaspoon of raw, local honey each day can absolutely build an immunity.” Grai St. Clair Rice of HoneybeeLives is more skeptical. “Most people are allergic to wind-borne pollen, but bees don’t pollinate wind-borne pollen,” she says. “What they pollinate with is too heavy and falls to the ground. I would say eating honey does nothing for those types of allergies.”

So, can consuming local honey cure allergies? The question remains.

Have honey on the brain? Next month we’ll delve deeper into the sweet snack, and let you know where you can get your paws on some local jars.



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