I first came across apiarist (that’s bee keeper to you) Joe Taylor back in April of 2010 when a swarm of bees tried colonizing one of the planters around the square in downtown Leitchfield in front of the sheriff’s office.
Taylor was called to the scene and I took a picture of him as he patiently worked to harvest the swarm and remove them from the square.
We talked again just recently about bee keeping and about some of the problems that have arisen over the past 10 or 20 years or so that prompted many to predict the fall of civilization because of the collapse of so many hives.
Taylor, who lives in Caneyville, had been a shop teacher at the GCHS Vocational School beginning back when the school first opened. He just does substitute teaching now.
He said he had always been interested in bees and in 1985 he began to seriously research and study the art of bee keeping, so it was only natural that he would go to the Kelley Company, in Clarkson, and he soon had his first hive.
He would build his own boxes during winter months, then add to his collection of hives. The most he has ever had at one time is 30 hives. He said he currently has nine, but is expecting delivery of five more queens from Louisiana in April.
With those queens, and any he might find in his current bunch, he figures he will have around 20 by the end of the summer.
Of course where you have bees, you will have honey. Taylor said his bees work the wildflowers and trees around his area and produce different kinds of honey depending on which flowers and trees are in bloom.
As a rule of thumb, the darker the honey, the more anti-oxidants are present, making it very good for you.
“Generally my honey is a light amber color in the spring and gets darker in the fall,” he said.
Some of the blossoms his bees night typically work are blackberries, clover, apple trees, peach trees and pear trees. He said they even work poison ivy, which produces “a nice bloom.”
Around the Kelley plant in Clarkson, Mr. Kelley had planted numerous tulip poplars.
“One tulip poplar will produce as much honey as an acre of clover,” Taylor said.
He said he will take four or five of his hives in May and June each year to the vegetable farm of Danny Van Meter, where the bees will pollinate strawberries, watermelons and tomatoes, which are then sold locally.
“It increases his yield and he can collect the honey as a bonus and sell it under his own label,” Taylor said. Of course, Taylor sells it to him and Van Meter resells it.
As a youngster I learned of the importance of bees in the grand scheme of things, about how bees were one of the most important elements in the production of food around the world.
So it was something of a shock when word began to spread of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and dire predictions of the collapse of the food chain began to be bandied about. I live on Rough River and over the past decade or more I have noticed the complete disappearance of honey bees there, so of course I asked Taylor about this.
He pointed to a number of factors in the occurrence of CCD, including stress on the bees, pesticides and even some herbicides, which to not kill bees, but weaken young bees, adding to the hive’s stress.
Two pests have probably caused the greatest threats to the bees, though, the Small-Hive Beetle, and the Varroa Mite.
The beetle is an import from Africa, as so many bad things seem to be these days. It first showed up in Florida but has spread as far north as Canada today. The beetle, about half the size of a Lady Bug, can survive without finding a bee hive, but it cannot reproduce unless it does.
When it finds a hive, it enters and lays eggs, which hatch into larvae. The larva then begin to basically eat everything. Eventually, the larva leaves the nest and burrows into the ground, where it later reemerges as a beetle, which flies off looking for more hives to infest.
Taylor said the way to combat the beetle is to stop the cycle by not letting the larva reach the ground. He will place sheet metal under the hives which catch the larva. The hot summer sun will then pretty much take care of the soft, vulnerable larvae.
The Varroa Mite, though is a different animal, and it was this critter that caused all the uproar about the end of the world. A female mite enters a brood cell (they prefer drone cells) and lays four or five eggs (one male and the others female) and they hatch out and attach themselves to the developing bee, feeding on the bee’s blood.
When the bee emerges from his brood cell, the mites reproduce and they begin to multiply. One queen can lay up to a thousand eggs and if each cell produces four or five mites, you can see the problem.
The mites also carry viruses which produce harmful defects to the new-born bees, further weakening the hive and leading to collapse.
But all is not lost. Evidently, bee keepers in Europe have been dealing with these villains, as Taylor said, “…for ages and ages.” What they have used to combat them is oxalic acid. A small amount is placed in a tray at the bottom of the hive and attached to a car battery, which heats the pan and vaporizes the acid. The vapor coats the bees harmlessly, but it kills the mites. Voila!
Why, you might ask, haven’t bee keepers here caught on to this. Because they couldn’t get government approval to do so… until this year.
“In the short time it’s been approved, we have seen good results,” Taylor said. He calls it a “Silver Bullet.”
So maybe the world can go on spinning for a few more years.
Taylor said he believes CCD might actually have been a blessing in disguise.
“So many people have become interested in the bee’s plight that many people have become new bee keepers,” he said.
He pointed out when he and some others formed the Grayson County Bee Keepers Association about 20 years ago they had four or five members. They now have 50.
And now the state legislature is considering a bill which would give bee keepers a sales tax break on new equipment, something other farmers have had for years. This could benefit current keepers, especially the larger concerns, and may even grow the number of keepers even more.
Things are looking up in the world of bees. I even saw some honey bees working the flowers around my house last summer.