by Melissa Waldron Lehner
Fertile Ground USA
Bees have been seein' red these days. Well, actually they can't see the color red, Ted Jones explains, they only see black. But they have been getting pretty ornery from all the rain here in Connecticut. While picking up some eggs, I had the pleasure of running into Ted, expert bee-wrangler, owner of Jones’ Apiaries in Farmington, Connecticut, and president of Connecticut Beekeepers who was at Hard Rain Farm in Burlington with his son to smoke out some bees. Hard Rain Farm rents 10 of his hives to pollinate the myriad of apples, kale, eggplant, herbs and other vegetables and fruits that grow on the 4 acres of well managed farmland.
Today, father and son were out to collect the honey. A thunderstorm had just come through and the sky was bluish-black. Tom eyed the sky and held out his hand for rain, not a welcome thing for bees. “Bees don’t like the rain too much, it’s best to stay away from them.” That’s why Ted was sending in his son to check on the hives. His son, dutifully suited up for what looked like a trip to the moon, had a long-nosed smoker by his side. The smoke apparently sedates the bees and reduces the chance of being stung. Ted explained that a bee’s behavior is triggered by pheromones, or rather, chemical signals which then elicit a response from the bee, a response like stinging for example. “Another thing is, you don’t ever want to go near a beehive with a banana, you know,” says Ted dryly, as if there was a punch line coming. The only punch line is for the poor sucker who peels one back while standing in front of a hive - even one lone bee can wreak havoc. Bananas have an aroma which set off the alarm response and can cause quite a stir of stingers directed at said banana holder. “It could be ugly,” he grimaced.
Only 10% of honeybees remain in the wild. Tom says his business has really picked up nowadays and he has hardly had a day off. “It used to be that you just dropped off the hives at the beginning of the season and then you come to pick them up at the end. But no more.” Now Ted needs to visit the hives every two to three weeks to make sure all is well. “Some get wiped out when farmers spray their crops with all those pesticides, others have been wiped out by disease.”
Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious syndrome with unknown origins, has wiped out most of the bee population around the country and the globe. Ted, who has been a beekeeper since 1972, says that there are several possible explanations, and cell phones, a longtime rumored agent held responsible for the bees’ demise, are not one of them. “I have a cell phone right here on my side and I still have my bees.” Ted, like most beekeepers, suspects that the bees’ demise stems from the intense use of herbicide, fungicides and pesticides that are currently used on most conventionally grown crops in this country. “I see some honeys that are being sold as ‘organic’. Now that is just not possible,” Ted claims. Bees travel at circumferences of half miles, which is 4500 acres. “Can you tell me that in Connecticut, you have 4500 acres anywhere without chemical spraying? I don’t think so.”
Some experts say that the bee collapse has been caused by regular old fashioned Varroa mites and insect diseases. But no matter the cause, Ted reassured me that the future of the bees is looking up. “They are holding their own this year. I wouldn’t say they have recovered but they are looking better than they did.”
Right now Ted is busy getting next year’s colonies re-populated by splitting his colonies in half and getting a Queen bee imported from California or possibly using one of his own. You gotta start early to catch that honey.