The Art of the Apiary – Beekeeping in Connecticut

30 Mar The Art of the Apiary – Beekeeping in Connecticut

The Art of the Apiary

Photos by Ryan Lavine

“It’s like JFK when the planes are landing and taking off,” says Fairfield resident Rick Glover (pictured below left) describing the honeybee traffic to and from one of his four hives. “I love to stand on the side and watch them as they tell each other precisely where to find the garden and to see the pollen they’ve gathered. It comes in all these gorgeous colors, it’s so amazing.”

As a board member of the Back Yard Beekeepers Association, BYBA, one of the largest regional clubs for beekeeping hobbyists, Glover is an enthusiastic beekeeper. And like most beekeepers, Glover appreciates the way his interest positively impacts the environment. After all, about one mouthful in three directly or indirectly benefits from honeybee pollination.

“Forty to 50 percent of all the food we eat is pollinated. If we lost that, people would starve. You would walk into the grocery store and the shelves would be nearly empty. Bees pollinate almost every fruit and vegetable we eat, many of the seeds and nuts, too,” says Glover, who started beekeeping on a whim.

After paging through a continuing-education catalog one winter afternoon, he enrolled in a workshop to learn how to build a beehive. That was nine years ago. Today his hives yield between 50 and 60 pounds of surplus honey annually—not bad considering it takes two million flowers to produce one pound of honey. The bees forage for pollen and nectar over a two-square-mile area.

Beekeepers use hives that resemble a chest of drawers wherein lay the frames that bees fill with honey. This allows beekeepers to harvest honey without decimating hives. Because hives need at least 60 pounds of honey to survive the winter, beekeepers are careful to only harvest the surplus.

While beekeeping is an ancient art (cave paintings from the Stone Age depict the practice of honey collection) honeybees aren’t native to the United States. European settlers brought them here in the 1600s. By the time of the American Revolution the honeybee had spread from coast to coast.

Honeybees represent a highly organized society where each bee has a specific role. There are nurses, guards, construction workers, royal attendants, undertakers, and foragers. The queen presides over all. With a lifespan of between three and five years, she lays up to 2,000 eggs per day.

That’s something Winthrop Baum, of Fairfield’s Bee Baum Honey, appreciates. “It’s very interesting to see another mini-civilization. There’s a whole process that is just fascinating,” Baum says. “You would think a simple creature like an insect wouldn’t have the capacity to perform tasks, but you see how honeybees do have an amazing capacity to perform tasks.”

Baum, who is on the board of BYBA, started beekeeping in 1992. Bee Baum Honey now has 60 hives and harvests 3,000 pounds of honey a year. It sells wildflower honey, hand-poured beeswax candles, and local pollen by appointment only.

When Carl Frisk graduated from college four years ago he had a tough time finding a job, so he started attending organic-farming classes with his father Eric, a master gardener and composter who runs Fairfield’s community garden.

“At almost every class I went to someone was talking about the importance of honeybees and natural pollinators,” Frisk, also a BYBA board member, says. “The more people I talked to, the more I realized there were certain ways hobbyists could help create a better situation for honeybees.”

Today Frisk and his father have between nine and 15 hives, which produce 325 pounds, or 28 gallons, of honey annually. They sell jars of their Comb Over Honey at local farmers’ markets including Greenfield Hill Grange and the Ukrainian Club winter market in Southport.

Although honeybees aren’t naturally aggressive, beekeepers do sometimes get stung. “It’s an occupational hazard, but bees don’t get aggressive unless they are agitated or something or someone disturbs their hive,” Baum says.

Honeybees also become more protective with the onset of autumn. They know they need enough honey to last through the winter, a time of inactivity. They survive the winter by clustering and shivering for warmth. No matter how low the outside temperature plummets the center of the cluster remains 92 degrees Fahrenheit.

Come spring, the honeybees once again venture outside in search of pollen and nectar. Baum welcomes the cycle.

“Beekeeping puts you very much in touch with nature.”

 

Note: Conventional wisdom says it takes one acre of blossoming trees or shrubs for bees to thrive.


FIVE EYES ON YOU – If you’ve ever felt eyeballed by a honeybee, chances are you were right—studies find they have been shown to recognize individual faces. Just like humans, they recognize groups of lines and shapes as a pattern, known as configural processing.

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