Bees Knees

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                                            RepRinted with peRmission ©2011 pRinceton magazine

Whether you are a honey aficionado or          “Beekeeping is a commonality that binds        weren’t any bees around and decided to
simply have strong opinions about the          us together,” Schuler remarked, calling        investigate. His query involved many
genus Apis, there’s something undeniably       the community “a great bunch.”                 internet searches and phone calls, finally
interesting about bees. From the way they          The way Schuler speaks about bees          leading to Schuler, who encouraged Guidi
structure their hives to their unique          conveys a mixture of respect and awe.          to take his beginning beekeeping class
genetics to the subtle way they indicate       Bee colonies are structured such that each     that year.
the health of their wider environment,         member has a specific task that                    “It was purely serendipity,” Guidi said
honeybees could very well be New               contributes to the well-being of the hive      of his entry into beekeeping. It started
Jersey’s sweetest insect.                      and Schuler sees worker bees as always         with the course, during which he met
    With over 700 bee enthusiasts              acting “for the betterment of their            other beekeepers who had come to the
throughout the state ranging from    ’s an awesome model for the       class based on experiences in their own
commercial to small-time beekeepers,           way humans could get along.”                   gardens. That year, the state made small
the practice has seen challenges over                                                         grants of $300 to people who were
the past three decades as well as trouble                                                     interested in starting up their own hives.
from parasites and pesticides.                                                                Guidi used $100 to purchase a colony of
Nonetheless, beekeepers are a lively                HONEY IS THE                              bees and the remaining money to outfit
bunch, committed to their brood and                                                           himself with woodware, that is, bee boxes
tending to their pollinators.                     ONLY FOOD THAT                              and frames.
    New Jersey has a statewide                     DOESN’T SPOIL                                  Guidi now has over 60 hives. About 15
Beekeepers Association, a club and                                                            are nestled into his garden in Hillsborough,
meeting place for those tending                   AS LONG AS IT IS                            which he affectionately calls Bamboo
honeybees, and at the governmental level,                                                     Hollow, and the others are in various
State Apiarist Tim Schuler is in charge of        KEPT IN A SEALED                            locations throughout the area, including
all of the bees in the Garden State.                 CONTAINER.                               Eno Terra’s organic acre in Kingston,
    Describing his primary responsibilities                                                   residential properties in Princeton, private
as inspecting honeybee hives throughout                                                       areas near open space, and even historic
New Jersey for diseases and parasites,                                                        Rockingham, where George Washington
educating beekeepers about proper                  In addition to producing honey, bees                                      g
                                                                                              set up his headquarters during the
methods and management, addressing             do work as pollinators. If not for these       Revolutionary War.
specific municipal problems, and               winged creatures buzzing around                    What began as a hobby for Guidi,
checking colonies that come into the state     gathering pollen and flitting from flower                                    ears,
                                                                                              a software engineer for 30 years,
for pollination services, Schuler is in high   to flower, we wouldn’t see any fruits and                                    thing
                                                                                              transformed itself into something
demand and constantly on the go. He’s          most vegetables, because the trees,                                           is
                                                                                              he clearly finds gratifying. His hives
been beekeeping since he was 12 years          shrubs, and vines that produce them are                                        w
                                                                                              produce enough honey to allow for a
old. Working in the Department of              primarily pollinated through bees.             modest business and maintaining thng the
Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health                                                                                         roduct
                                                                                              bee colonies themselves. The product is
for about 20 years, he has focused on          KEEPING THE BEES                                                                 y, n
                                                                                              natural, raw, unprocessed honey, and
apiary for the past five.                                                                                                        m
                                                                                              he labels each bottle with the name of
    If tending to the state’s bees isn’t       In the springtime a few years ago, Pier        the town the hive it came from. His
enough, Schuler also teaches an                Guidi noticed that the 16 fruit trees he had   Princeton Honey originates from hives
undergraduate course at Rutgers, as well       planted in his backyard were no longer         within four miles of downtown and
as a beginning beekeeping workshop for         yielding a harvest after flowering. Upon       can be found in the Whole Earth
those interested in taking up the practice.    closer inspection, he realized that there      Center when in season.

                                                                                                     SUMMER 2011 PRINCETON MAGAZINE   | 37
                                            RepRinted with peRmission ©2011 pRinceton magazine
     When placing bee boxes, Guidi looks        natural antimicrobial properties, Guidi         COLONY STRUCTURE
for areas away from pesticides and              pointed out. Honey is the only food that
herbicides, which often interfere with bee      doesn’t spoil as long as it is kept in a        A healthy colony consists of between
development. Thus, non-organic farms            sealed container.                               30,000 and 60,000 bees, and when
are usually not tenable for beekeeping,              When beekeepers extract honey, they        beekeepers order a package of honeybees,
and cornfields are particularly                 typically take the frames where the bees        they typically get 9,000 to 10,000
unattractive.                                   have built their honeycombs out of the          or about three pounds of bees.
     Bees can fly up to two or three miles      bee boxes and slice away the wax caps                While pointing out that hives have
when foraging for nectar and pollen, and        before putting the frames into special          a seamless, highly regimented structure,
Guidi acknowledged that it is difficult to      centrifuges to spin out the honey. After a      Guidi explained that based on the size,
find locations in New Jersey that are three     quick filtering through a stainless steel       sex, and age of the bee, one can know
miles away from a cornfield. He seeks out       mesh, the honey is ready to be bottled          exactly what their job is in a given
open space, meadows, and locations near         and consumed.                                   colony.
public parks in order to set up hives, and           Guidi noted that a typical hive in New          As the matriarch of the group, the
almost everyone Guidi has reached out to        Jersey can produce about 20 to 30 pounds        queen bee is tasked with all the
over the years has been enthusiastic about      of honey per year, and that approximately       reproductive duties. In the spring and
having bees on their land.                      60 to 70 pounds of honey need to be left        early summer, she can lay up to 2,000
     “I look for trees and what’s growing       in the hive so that the colony can feed on      eggs a day, which grow into bees and
there,” Guidi said of ideal sites for bees.     it to survive during the winter. Due to the     populate the hive. The queen is larger
Black locust trees, Autumn and Russian          fluctuating temperatures over the early         than regular worker bees, and is fiercely
Olive trees, fields of dandelions, clover       spring, as well as the density of               protected by the colony, which could not
and “anything that blooms naturally,” are       development in the state and the tendency       survive without her, since she is the only
all ideal for honeybees.                        toward monoculture crops, the yield on          one that can regenerate it. She lives
                                                honey production is somewhat low. Other         between two and five years, and mates
HONEY                                           locations in the country can produce            only once on her “maiden flight.”
                                                more; for instance, Florida’s honey                  A virgin queen will leave the hive
While being delicious for humans, honey         season is almost year-round, and parts of       on such a journey, mate with six to ten
is food for bees too. They collect nectar       Vermont can harbor hives that produce up        drones, or male bees, whose sole purpose
and stir it together with enzymes in their      to 120 pounds of honey per season.              it is to mate with a queen, she will then
tiny stomachs before regurgitating the               “I try to limit [the extraction process]   store their sperm for the rest of her life.
mixture back up into the cells of their         to one time over the season. In New             When she lays fertilized eggs, they all
honeycomb, which is made out of wax.            Jersey the foraging for nectar and pollen       develop into female worker bees that are
The water content of the bee vomit is           starts up in March and usually ends by the      sterile. Most members of a hive are such
usually too high to be the honey that we        end of June, Guidi said. Our flowering          worker bees. But when she lays
eat, so the bees fan the liquid to reduce its   season is short, but it may start up again      unfertilized eggs, those larvae turn into
moisture levels and when the water              in September. I usually extract honey           male drones, which only carry the queen’s
content is reduced to 17 percent, they          around the end of July,” he added, careful      genes. A typical hive may have about
create a cap on the cells with more wax so      to note that when growing a new colony          1,000 drones.
no more moisture can get in or out.             he never extracts from them in the first             Within three days, the eggs hatch and
    The low moisture levels and the             year. “I let the bees enjoy themselves and      turns into larvae, which collectively are
high pH of honey is what gives it its           build up their family.”                         called the brood. These pre-bees grow

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                                            RepRinted with peRmission ©2011 pRinceton magazine
inside the cells of the honeycomb itself,           “Based on my readings, I would say
which is used to gestate and raise young        that 80 percent or more of feral, or wild,
bees, as well as to store honey, where          honeybees are just gone,” Guidi said
bees get their carbohydrates, and pollen,       somberly. And beehives managed by
which provides other nutrients. The             beekeepers face the same troubles too.
young bees’ first task is to take care of the       Schuler agreed that “we’ve been
new eggs and larvae by feeding them and         having serious issues,” observing that in
cleaning the cells and then capping them        2009-2010, the state saw a winter death
to allow the pupae to grow. They produce        loss of 35 percent, and 37 percent in the
wax and create a honeycomb filled with          previous year. “Before the mites came,
perfectly hexagonally-shaped cells. As          people would average around five
they grow older, they also police the hive,     percent loss.”
protecting it from invaders, and by the             Beekeepers can treat populations
time they are about 17 to 19 days old, the      affected by Varroa destructor and other
worker bees go outside the hive to forage       diseases with chemicals that are on the
for nectar and pollen.                          market, or by swapping in different
    Guidi noted that worker bees have a         species of bees that may be better
six-week lifespan in the summer, wherein        equipped to handle pests, but “there’s no
“they literally work themselves to death.”      magic bullet,” Guidi acknowledged.
Whereas in the winter, workers can live
for three to four months. During the            A BEE’S LIFE
colder months, worker bees deplete the
population by getting rid of the drones,        Despite the challenges, bees in New
pushing them out of the colony’s home,          Jersey that can survive our typical winter
and then clustering around the queen to         of temperature fluctuations, are usually
keep her warm. Her temperature needs to         hardy strains, and Guidi mentioned that
remain a constant 93 degrees for her to         Jersey “survivor queens,” that is, those
survive and they all feed on the honey they     that made it through the winter, are
have stored to last them through that time.     “highly-prized.”
    If the queen is injured or is unable to         North American bees derive from a
produce eggs at a rate sufficient to sustain    few different European strains, with those
the beehive, the entire colony makes a          harboring Italian genetics evincing the
decision to replace her by choosing             typically golden color. Commercial
between six and a dozen newly fertilized        beekeepers tend to have such species, and
eggs and feed the newborn larvae a              some have between 2,000 and 4,000
high-protein mixture called “royal jelly.”      hives. At such a scale, the goal isn’t
The new virgin queens begin to develop          honey production, but instead pollination
and the first one out emerges, kills the        services. Hives are trucked down to South
other queen-candidates, and leaves on her       Jersey to pollinate the blueberry crop
maiden flight, hopefully to return having       there, and some are taken as far as Florida
mated with drones from outside and to           during the orange bloom, or even
begin her task of laying eggs.                  California.
                                                    Bees are also essential to the flower-
CHALLENGES                                      producing industry. Our lives are intertwined
                                                with those of bees in myriad ways.
Aside from the various factors that could           “One out of every three spoonfuls that
impede the hive (if the new queen               go into your mouth wouldn’t be there
didn’t come back from her first flight,         if not for honeybees,” Schuler
for instance), pollinator populations           acknowledged. “And oftentimes it’s the
worldwide have been dealing with                highlight of your food consumption,”
various troubles since the mid-1980s.           he said, listing “the finer things in life,”
Varroa mites, whose scientific                  including blueberries, cranberries,
nomenclature is, aptly, Varroa destructor,      cucumbers, watermelons, squashes,
are parasitic to bee colonies, attaching        apples, and oranges, among other fruits.
themselves to larvae, pupae and adults.         Bee’s knees, indeed.
Worse, they are disease vectors, thus
exposing hives to other diseases, mites,
and infections. These pests, as well as the
increased use of chemical pesticides and
herbicides, has made healthy life difficult
for honeybees.

                                                       SUMMER 2011 PRINCETON MAGAZINE    | 41

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Description: Article published in Princeton Magazine titled "Bees Knees" about beekeeping and how one person started and in 4 years had a small honey business. Some references to the plight of honey bees in the US and the world over.