Outlaw Apiaries: Brett Gingery Beekeeper, Volunteers Rosie and Shelia
Much of our food supply depends on a healthy bee population, which is fading fast through parasites, pesticides and genetics.
For more than a decade, the populations of honeybees and other key pollinators have been on the decline. Scientists have been trying to figure out what’s behind the drop, mostly looking at a combination of factors that include disease, parasites, poor diet and pesticides.
Commercial beekeepers are trying to help offset the decline by raising hives in areas with less commercial farming operations. Local Beekeeper, Brett Gingery and his partner Perry are raising a truckload of bees each year to send out to the almond fields of California, the state with some of the largest farming operations in the country. “It’s amazing what these hives will do in their lifespan.” The bees will work the almond fields in late February, and, from there, they can go north to cherry or apple orchids in Oregon and Washington or south to the citrus bloom.
According to Gingery, they need about 500 healthy hives to fill a semi for transport. He and his partner operate Outlaw Apiaries and have several hundred hives in a dozen yards spread over Grand and Routt Counties. “One of the benefits of raising bees in Grand county is that there are no large farming operations that decimate the bug population through spraying” said Gingery.
Colorado’s honeybee death rate reached a near-record 38 percent last year, coming close to the national rate which was reported at 42 percent. The decline in bee population is a cause for concern to a wide range of farmers and agricultural industry leaders.
Why the cause for concern?
Destruction of diverse vegetation, parasitic mites, chemicals and changing genetics are driving the die-offs, according to the Colorado Bee Keepers Association president Beth Conrey, “We need to increase our bee forage planting.” But, she and fellow beekeepers also blame pesticides. A couple of months ago, Conrey opened her hives, positioned by apple and cherry trees on a local farm, and found trays full of dead bees, victims of a contractor who sprayed a pesticide on adjacent Boulder County Open Space, she said. “We’ve got to reduce or eliminate pesticide use”.
The annual honeybee die-offs are raising concerns from northern Colorado farm fields to the White House. Pollination performed by managed honeybee colonies — which have decreased nationwide from 6 million after World War II to about 2.7 million — add $15 billion a year to agriculture production, according to federal data. The vegetables, nuts and fruits in U.S. diets depend on pollination by honeybees.
Last year, the White House issued their first National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honeybees and other Pollinators. It calls for the creation of 7 million acres of corridors of diverse plants that provide the nectar and pollen needed to sustain bees, monarch butterflies and hummingbirds.
The strategy directs the EPA to assess pesticide impact on pollinators and to propose a rule by December 15th to prohibit leaf spraying of highly toxic pesticides while bees are present in farm fields.
When asked about revenue and land use, Gingery said there are several positive aspects to the business model. Landowners want the apiaries around their farms and will trade honey for real estate space. Two local volunteers were helping Gingery on the day I caught up with him. One training to raise her own hives locally, and, one helping out for some precious nectar. I also managed to sustain several stings in my quest to learn more about this vital industry.
Gingery shared a few pieces of insight related to these tiny wonders, “Bee Hives are healthy when they have a diverse area to forage. Plant flowers and gardens that nourish pollinators.” Also, “If you buy local honey, it has natural properties that will help fight allergies and improve health.”
Did you know? Supporting your local honey providers is good for you. Gathering local pollens and nectar can be beneficial, especially during allergy and pollen season where it can act as a natural antihistamine.
Many plants considered to be weeds, such as dandelions and clover, are critical sources of pollen to bees. Gathering of pollen from local weeds helps fight allergies within the same region. If you feel the need to remove them, avoid the application of pesticides whenever possible.
In the USA, there are beekeepers, from hobbyists to commercial, in every state. Depending on the nectar and pollen sources in a given area, the maximum number of hives in one apiary can vary dramatically. If too many hives are placed into an apiary, the hives compete with each other for scarce resources. This can lead to lower honey and pollen yields and higher transmission of disease. The maximum size of a permanent apiary or bee yard will depend on the type of bee as well. A circle around an apiary with a three-mile foraging radius covers 28 square miles. A good rule of thumb is to have no more than 25–35 hives in a permanent apiary, although migrating beekeepers may temporarily place up to one hundred hives in a location with a good nectar flow.
You can visit the Outlaw Apiaries booth at the Granby Farmer’s Market this summer and get some local honey goodness.
Sources: Colorado Bee Association and Wikipedia.