Image by edmondlafoto from Pixabay
As BeeWeaver gears up to take orders for spring 2012 bees and queens, I am reminded of how much beekeepers have changed in the last 2 decades. When I began answering phones and taking orders in 1994 nearly every customer had kept bees for decades, had 5 or more colonies, lived in rural areas, were well over 50 years old, and about 99% were men. Typically when a woman phoned the bee order in she was doing so on her husband’s behalf (‘he doesn’t like talking on the phone’ or ‘he can’t hear very well’ were typical refrains). Over the next 5 or so years that generation of beekeepers began to dwindle. Varroa mites caused some to give up, for others it was Small Hive Beetle, and still for others it was the hard labor of working bee colonies (lifting honey supers and honey extraction became too much for aging bodies). Y2K brought a dearth in the hobbyist and sideliner beekeepers. One season BeeWeaver’s packages for the following spring were sold out by Thanksgiving as commercial beekeepers raced to get replacement bees to cover losses caused by varroa mites, small hive beetle and other diseases those pests carried. Hardly any of our bees and queens went to smaller beekeepers.
In 2005, though, there was a change on the horizon for the commercial beekeeping world. A sudden decrease in the commercial bee population (now termed CCD) and the lack of bees available for pollination brought lots of attention to the honeybee. Prior to the media focus on the disappearing bees we only heard about bees if a ‘killerbee’ incident grabbed the headlines. Now, suddenly, documentaries, newscasts, and even celebrities were spreading the word about how vital the honeybee is to our food chain and the environment. People began to want to do more to restore pollinator populations, and boost honey bee colony numbers. The attention on honeybees and environment grew with the synergy of awakening environmental consciousness across the spectrum and spawned a new generation of beekeepers. Today we have thousands of backyard beekeepers and environmentally conscious gardeners who not only notice the shortage of bees, they know how to do something about it. Suburbanites, city dwellers and rural agrarians alike found a spot in their backyard, on their rooftop or in their fields and woodlands and began establishing and caring for hives. No longer do we just hear people remark about how their grandpa or great grandpa used to keep bees, those individuals are now keeping the tradition alive and have become beekeepers themselves. Finally, the number of women who have taken up the hive tool is remarkable too. Education and compassion have worked together to bring us The New Beekeeper. The New Beekeeper is our hope for the resurgence of both managed and feral honeybees, all without the use of chemicals to control pests. New beekeepers will be starting tens of thousands of new hives across this country this spring —– and there has never been a brighter silver lining to a dark cloud.