Saturday, January 19, 2013

Our Pollination Trip to Florida-VIDEO

A fully loaded 20' trailer.
Jerry of Rock Hill Bee Farms invited me to join him on a four-day expedition to move about 60 of his hives from a location in South Florida to the orange groves near Vero Beach.  So he loaded his Kubota tractor (with pallet forks) and a bunch of equipment and got the trip started from Northern Virginia about 500 pm on Friday, with the intent to drive straight through the night to our destination.

We arrived at 900 the next morning.  Jerry has been keeping his hives since October at an apiary called Bee Healthy Honey Farms.  The proprietor, Steve Byers, is working with Jerry on this hive set, and Jerry is mentoring Steve on his pollination business and colony expansion.

The trip was a substantial eye-opener for me.  My experience has been generally focused on urban beekeeping, with small and permanent apiaries around the DC area.  The folks in the local bee clubs who influence the beekeepers I mentor are very focused on sustainable beekeeping, resistant genetics, and treatment-free colonies.  To be fair, I have promoted these same ideas, but with perhaps a little less hubris than some.

When you are tending one to three or four hives, it is easy to pay lots of attention to them, treat with homeopathic remedies, and check for swarm cells.  Smaller apiaries may also have the finances and resources to experiment with different bee stock and breed locally-resistant bees for distribution among hive members.  And if one loses a hive or two, the cost of a package or nuc (or two) is just the cost of being a hobbyist beekeeper.

Jerry the Beekeeper
The commercial beekeeper has none of these luxuries of time, easy bee replacement, and deep resources.  Every dead-out costs the hive's weight in pollination fees, transportation costs, feeding costs, and emotional cost.  And insurance does not cover bee losses.  Each colony is an investment of time and resources, and reducing the risk of losing that colony is paramount among the commercial beekeeping community.
Beekeeping down-time in South Florida
So while I remain a great advocate of improving genetics and increasing resistance to our girls' pathogens, I am enlightened that such advocacy and its outcomes may provide long term solution while our friends in the commercial community are living hand to mouth with these problems daily.

Summary:  Let's not demonize this important resource to our farmers and our own hobby.  How commercial beekeepers manage their bees may not gel with everyone's view of long term sustainability, but you would be hard-pressed to find a group of folks more passionate about the health and well-being of the honeybee.

Here is the video of our trip south: