Monday, June 23, 2014

Beekeeping, Honey and the Plight of the Honeybee in 2014

At Ninth Street Bakery, we primarily use natural wildflower local honey as a sweetener instead of sugar for our breads (and have been since the 1980's).  As the North American bee population has experienced severe dieoff, the price of honey has skyrocketed by nearly 30%.  I hear all the time from Heidi Pirtle Moore, our honey purveyor, how difficult it is becoming to source good honey, and wanted to share with you her trials and tribulations, hopes and fears for the bees and the future of honey, the newest luxury good.  From Heidi:

Hi Ninth Street Bakery Fans!
June marks my 20th year of selling local honey to Ninth Street Bakery.  I am a broker that buys mostly from local beekeepers and sells to local bakeries and natural food stores.  I’ve seen a lot of changes since 1994.  First of all back in the early years, my beekeepers (I had 5 back then) seemed pretty confident about treating the two different mites (the tracheal and the varroa) that plague the honeybee.  Second, my beekeepers always had a surplus of honey every year.  And third, the price of honey could either go up OR down.  In 2014, speaking now to my one and only beekeeper, he is not at all confident about controlling the mites; they have become resistant to most of the treatments available.   Also, we have not had a surplus of honey in at least 6 years.  During the past 5 years, we have contended with severe weather that has made it hard for the honeybees to gather nectar and make honey.  As a result, there have been years we have not made it through with enough local honey to serve all of my existing customers.  And finally, prices have risen so dramatically that honey is now becoming out of reach for many people to buy.  (I have not seen a price decrease in at least 12 years.)   Being a beekeeper is an expensive, labor-intensive job to have.  And despite his hard work to keep his bees healthy, my beekeeper loses a substantial amount of bees every year and more this year than in previous years.  Because the mites are resistant to the treatments and the losses of bees each year is substantial, beekeepers have a hard time making a living off of making honey.  

So why such changes over the last 20 years?  I’m not an expert on honeybees, but I have been following the research.  No one knows the exact cause of why bees are dying at such an alarming rate.  But the research suggests a complex set of factors that together create an overwhelming burden on the honeybee (and other pollinators).  Those reasons include:  the increased use of pesticides, changes in weather patterns that may be related to global warming, and the loss of natural habitat for enough good food for bees to eat.
Here are some sites if you are interested in more information on  Colony Collapse Disorder and the plight of the honeybee:

What can be done?
First, I think it’s important to see yourself as part of the natural world.  Everything that happens to our planet, we as humans will be affected by as well.  Considering that honeybees pollinate one-third of the food we eat (blueberries, watermelons, almonds, broccoli, beets, cabbages, peppers, papaya, oranges, lemons, coffee beans, cantaloupe, cucumbers, squash, carrots, sunflowers, apples, avocados…), we are highly indebted to them.  

With that in mind here are some things I have been doing to help honeybees and other pollinators:
-Support local beekeepers by buying their honey and local businesses that use local honey in their products!  Ninth Street Bakery has been doing this for over 30 years!
-Support organic farmers by buying organic produce.  They keep their plants pesticide free for honeybees and other pollinators to stay healthy!
-Plant honeybee and other pollinator foraging plants: 
-Encourage your community to keep un-mowed, wild spaces available for bees to forage!
-Take a beekeeping class with your local Ag-Extension office and keep bees!

Below is a picture of my beekeeper with his son Christopher:

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