Appalachian Headwaters Newest Beekeepers

The declining coal industry has left nearly 100,000 former miners unemployed in West Virginia. A new nonprofit, the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective (ABC), hopes to bring beekeeping as a revived Eco-friendly industry to the region.

The charity was funded using some of the $7.5 million settlement from a lawsuit against coal mine company for violating the Clean Water Act. Some of this money has been used to fund environmental restoration projects and to develop sustainable economic opportunities in the once-thriving region that now has the highest unemployment rate in the country.

So far, the collective has trained 85 former coal miners as beekeepers with more to be trained this year. Graduates of the free class “Introduction to Beekeeping” can receive free or reduced-cost bees, equipment, and access to ongoing beekeeping mentoring and training. The students can opt to maintain between two and 20 hives.

The trained beekeepers have harvested their first honey from this Spring of 2019. The non-profit then will collect, bottle and sell the honey for them, paying them market rate about currently $7 a pound. With the potential to earnings of around $700 per hive, 20 hives could earn $15,000 per season. The organization also are also offers training in making candles, lip balm and other wax products for additional income opportunities. For very part-time work from home, it provides a decent supplemental income for people struggling to make ends meet.

Plus, beekeeping helps ensure the survival of threatened honey bee (Apis mellifera) populations by supplying colonies a place to live, and improves the health and biodiversity of local ecosystems.

“It’s not common knowledge that the honey bee can only survive in many parts of the world due to the beekeeper,” writes beekeeper Paul Webb and continues to say, “Wild colonies have dwindled to the point of extinction due to modern agriculture. Huge expanses of land which now grow a single crop were once home to thousands of plants providing nectar and pollen for the honey bee and many other insects. Woodland has also disappeared, where traditionally a honey bee colony would find its home in the hollow trunk of a tree. This reduction of biodiversity, and decrease of animal populations has a huge environmental impact.

Sustaining honey bee numbers means the pollination of crops which otherwise could not come to fruition or have reduced harvest. it is true that some plants will be visited by many insect types, and others can only be pollinated by the honey bee. Honey bees are incredibly effective pollinators, when a source of pollen or nectar has been discovered by a scout bee, a large amount of the bees from that hive will soon visit the same planting multiple times. The bees will always pollinate the whole flower, which produces perfect fruit.

For more information see the Appalachian Beekeeping Collective (ABC) website, and the following:

Happy Beekeeping!

Quotation: Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee

“The Apinae has characteristics so distinct and well-marked that one is inclined to credit all its members with one common ancestor. The disciples of Darwin, Hermann Müller among others, consider a little wild bee, the Prosopis, which is to be found all over the universe, as the actual representative of the primitive bee whence all have issued that are known to us today.

The unfortunate [primitive] Prosopis compares to the inhabitants of our modern hives as cave-dwellers to those who live in our great cities. You will probably more than once have seen her fluttering about the bushes, in a deserted corner of your garden, without realising that you were carelessly watching the venerable ancestor to whom we probably owe most of our flowers and fruits for it is actually estimated that more than a hundred thousand varieties of plants would disappear if the bees did not visit them and possibly even our civilisation, for in these mysteries all things intertwine.”

Maurice Maeterlinck, 1901, The Life of the Bee

A Passion in Beekeeping Begins…

It all began on Saturday, 19 May 2018, a cool gray afternoon when the beekeeper I have pestered for a year showed up at the greenhouse and asked, “Do you have an hour to help us install a couple packages of bees?” “Sure!!!”, I replied, and off we drove to the Apiary.   I was handed a veil, and put it on, incorrectly BTW.  Haven’t donned a veil in 15 years, and then again at least my face was covered. I’m tetchy about stuff striking, buzzing, and surely panic would ensue if my face were stung.  Anyway, started to help haul hive bodies, frames, and two 3lbs packages of bees.

My history with bees is as a child I helped an old German beekeeper in the summers near my grandparents’ house for a couple years.  Herr Schmitt was a kind and patient teacher and had kept bees since before the WWII. He taught me how to be calm and walk up to the entrance of the hives in his beehouse, but always to the side of the entrance. Bees will get grumpy and eventual angry if you block their entrance with one’s smelly mammalian form. I have been interested in bees ever since, and since the early 2000’s, I have been an Armchair Beekeeper. (Armchair Apiarist, sound cool too.  Doesn’t it?) I read a book or two a year on bees.  My excuse for not having my own hives is “Just could never find a place to keep two hives of bees or a mentor.” and always let external things prevent me from diving into actual beekeeping.

It is important to note that a smoker was not lit for installing the bee packages in the hive; the bees were fairly placid. Their tone, hum, or buzz was surprisingly calm for having been transported from goodness knows were for days in a breadbox-sized cage. Even a couple spare bees that had escaped the package clung on for dear life waiting for things to get better. While standing observing the two beekeepers install the hives, my inner dialog and feeling were wonderfully calm!  I whole process had my wrap attention, and I was a good helper.

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The first hive, named Aristaeus, is placed in the apiary.

We talk about what they had lost more hives than expected this year because of the cold damp weather all spring and that there was room in the apiary.  Dare I hope?  A little pilot light of an interesting in bee flared up in my mind, heart, and even soul!  The beekeepers said I had done a good job, and if I wanted to could keep two hives in this Apiary.  BOOM!  My mind was a BLAZE!  “Sure,” I said, “I’ll get some hive ASAP, and thank you.”  Thus a log languishing passion was set ablaze.  It is a full-blown obsession now.

Where to start?  I will need a book, I have misplaced my beekeeping books, so I went online and found a Kindle copy of the  “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping” by Dean Stiglitz and Laurie Herboldsheimer.  I started watching Beekeeping videos on YouTube for every spare moment, and went to Dadant and started shopping for equipment.  Why Dadant?  Out of a sense of loyalty because for years they sent me catalogs even though I never bought anything as an armchair beekeeper; persistence can pay off.

Finally, my wife says I came home a changed man.  She has often seen the result of me developing a new interest usually after several weeks, she used to travel 80% of her time when we were first married, and I was always so happy to have her home, that it screened other passion that was on my mind.  She laughs that she never witnessed the birth of one of my passions (i.e., gardening, cooking, model soldiers casting, furniture making, aquaria, etc.), but on this day she said: “I could see his mind was literally a buzz!”   From inside my mind, I will confirm it was A BUZZ!  So this is how an Armchair Apiarist became a Beeyard Beekeeper!

Happy Beekeeping,

BernieBe