DOAG: "IT’S A GOOD TIME TO BE A BEEKEEPER RIGHT NOW”

            

 

IT’S A GOOD TIME TO BE A BEEKEEPER RIGHT NOW”

 

January 6, 2017

 

HAMPTON - To beekeeper and honey producer Adam Fuller, the hundreds of thousands of European Honeybees he raises are pretty much like livestock.

 

“They’re a farm animal – you have to think of it that way,” Fuller said last week at his A & Z Apiaries, one of several locations in Connecticut and New York where he keeps a total of about 350 hives. “Whether you have a herd of cows or a bunch of goats or a colony of bees, it’s all farming. You take care of them differently, but it’s really the same thing.”

 

One of the larger beekeepers in Connecticut and President of the Eastern Connecticut Beekeeper’s Association, Fuller produces more than 16,000 pounds of honey a year from his hives and also wholesales honey he buys from a New York producer.

 

He says locally-produced honey – which the Dept. of Agriculture is promoting this month on radio, social media and other outlets as its featured specialty crop for January - has seen a steady increase in popularity in the last decade or so.

 

“Demand is up for honey, for pollination services and for bees themselves,” said Fuller, who sells all three as well as hives he assembles in a woodworking shop that is home to his cabinet-making business. “Instead of refined sugar, a lot people want an unrefined product and they want a local product. “It’s a good time to be a beekeeper right now.”

 

But becoming a successful beekeeper capable of tapping into that market is not an easy task. Bees are highly sensitive creatures that require care and feeding year-round, Fuller says, and even after three decades of beekeeping he is still learning their countless nuances.

 

Among his chief concerns is the Varroa Mite, believed to have arrived on bees imported from Asia in the 1980s and which infect bees with a deadly virus. Many blame the mite for the near wipeout of the European Honeybee about a decade ago.

 

 “In 2006, the term “Colony Collapse Disorder” was coined and it was a catchy phrase that led to beekeepers getting serious about fighting it,” said Fuller, who considers the term a sensational label and blames the population decline simply on poor beekeeping practices. “But the bottom line is that honeybees are not capable of living on their own anymore in the wild. If you’re not taking care of your bees they’re going to die.”

 

About the size of a pinhead, the Varroa Mite often lodges behind a bee’s wings. It also reproduces in the cells of larval bees, known as “brood.” The mites jump off when brood are born, killing the bee as it leaves and perhaps infecting other members of the hive. Fuller says the first defense against the mite is to keep bees healthy through proper nutrition.

 

He supplements his colonies’ diet of nectar, pollen and honey with a 50/50 syrup mix of sugar and water, delivered through a small metal tank placed in the hive, as well as plant-based “protein patties” that mimic natural pollen.

 

He also controls pests with chemical “miticides” and organic acids such as formic acid, which is a natural component of honey.

 

“The smart beekeepers are doing everything they can to keep their losses down,” he said.

 

Fuller grew up on a small farm in Plympton, Mass., and said he was introduced to beekeeping through his grandfather, who kept a few hives to pollinate his cranberry crop. He bought his first hives in 1980, and for many years sold a little honey as a hobby.

 

 “I’ve always been fascinated with bees, he said.  “Having honey was a secondary issue.”

 

 

Now, in addition to caring for his own colonies, he takes annual trips to the South to buy bees that he sells to other beekeepers. He also pollinates about ten orchards and vegetable fields yearly in Eastern Connecticut by placing hives for a few weeks every spring. 

 

“We bring them in at the beginning of the bloom and take them out at the end of the bloom,” he said.

 

As summer approaches, the bees go into honey-making mode. Fuller is constantly visiting his hives during the production season, collecting a small harvest in July and the bulk of the crop in September as the bees begin to shut down for winter.

 

After using a chemical repellant to push the bees to the bottom of the hive, Fuller pulls out the combs laden with honey, typically ten to a hive.

 

The combs are then hung in a tub-shaped metal extractor, which spins the combs and removes the honey. Most of his honey is sold to the Willimantic Food Co-op, which he has supplied since the mid-1990s.  

 

The recent and persistent drought has hurt his production somewhat, because stressed trees, flowers and plants did not produce enough nectar for bees to make a large crop.

 

He said the most important nectar producers are honeysuckle and black locust in spring, clover and sumac in summer, and goldenrod and loosestrife in the fall.

 

While each hive typically peaks at about 60,000 bees in the spring, that drops to about 15,000 to 20,000 in winter, when the bees are partially dormant and form a tight cluster to maintain a survival temperature of about 60 degrees.  

 

“They’re spending their energy on forming a nucleus capable of keeping warm,” Fuller said as he pulled a cover off a hive where the faint sound of buzzing bees could be heard.  “They’re consuming honey to do that and they’re not doing much else.”

  

 

Fuller says the popularity of locally-produced honey has been partly sparked by the common belief that it can control allergies and other ailments in those who eat it, but he remains skeptical.

 

“I’m not a doctor and I don’t make any medicinal claims,” he said with a smile. “We’re in the food business and I sell a delicious product that has some nutritional value as opposed to sugar, which has none. That’s it.”

 

For more information on honey producers and recipes please visit:

www.CTGrown.gov/honey