Seasons of Backyard Beekeeping
by J. David Weidner
There is little doubt that the popularity of backyard beekeeping has exploded in the last several years. Backyard beekeeping can be a very rewarding hobby that, similar to completing the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle or a sudoko, often involves critical thinking and problem solving skills. Beekeeping also comes with a large amount of responsibility. I am often approached by homeowners who express interest in creating their own apiary. Many of these well-intentioned homeowners wrongly believe that maintaining a colony of honeybees is as simple as purchasing a hive online and then tossing in a package of honeybees, only to collect honey in the autumn. I can assure you, keeping honeybees is fun, but it is also one of the most challenging endeavors that I have ever taken on in life.
Most people have by now heard about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a combination of maladies affecting honeybees worldwide. Honeybee populations have been negatively impacted by habitat destruction and the elimination of native wildflowers that are so critical to providing the diverse variety of pollens and nectar for pollinators. Certainly, home gardens provide some of these nutritional components, but we must do more to encourage the creation and maintenance of natural pollinator friendly habitat buffers statewide.
Honeybees have few natural predators including insects such as yellow jackets and hornets, birds and black bears, but by far, the most devastating threat to honeybees is a very small ectoparasitic mite – Varroa destuctor. The varroa mite feeds on the body fluids of honeybees; weakening them and making them susceptible to viruses and other pathogens. Varroa mites are without a doubt, the number one killer of honeybees and must be managed effectively in order to be successful in any beekeeping venture. Unfortunately, because of their small size, many beekeepers ignore this threat and don’t take the necessary steps to monitor and treat for these parasites. Their honeybees frequently pay the price.
I purposely began this series by bringing these two serious issues to the forefront because I have learned that responsible beekeeping is a serious commitment. Honeybees should be considered agricultural commodities and must be managed in much the same manner as other livestock including poultry, bovines or cattle. They must be inspected routinely, fed and medicated when deemed necessary in order to successfully overwinter them and establish a sustainable apiary.
In the upcoming issues of Home & Garden NJ, I will explore the many facets of backyard beekeeping while establishing a backyard apiary at Serenity Acres Farm in Cream Ridge, New Jersey. We already have a great head start as I have installed three small hives that have been established with overwintered honeybee stock. We will follow their progress throughout the seasons, which promises many trials and tribulations, but also many more sweet rewards!